A white flag signifies to all that an approaching negotiator is unarmed, with an intent to surrender or a desire to communicate. Persons carrying or waving a white flag are not to be fired upon, nor are they allowed to open fire. – wikipedia.org
A few nights ago I was on a Zoom for parents of middle schoolers and an impromptu theme emerged – waving the white flag. One mom shared, that’s it, I’m waving the white flag when it comes to getting the kids to sleep at a decent time. What followed was a cascade of white flag waving.
In addition to bedtime hours, parents shared about letting go of many before time rules including keeping devices out of bedrooms, insistence on family meal times, and enforcing exercise routines. On my computer screen heads in squares were vigorously nodding in recognition. We shared the laughter that comes with the combination of, PARENTING IS SO HARD and I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE.
Being a so called parenting expert (believe me when when I say there’s no such thing), I wondered, “Isn’t there something we want to hold on to? What do we want to prioritize?”
There is something. Connection.
Even though many of us are in the presence of our children now more than ever, that doesn’t necessarily translate to quality bonding time.
On a recent evening, after a typical day of not crossing paths with my 14 year old daughter I told her I missed her and that I felt we hadn’t seen each other in so long. Mistakenly I asked, do you feel that way too? She looked at me, raised her eyebrows and laughed, no… not at all. I’ve seen you a lot mom.
Developmentally this all makes sense. It also makes sense that we’re experiencing this togetherness differently. I can only share what I feel which is intermittent connection and I’ll take it. My mom just shared with me this NYT op ed which brings more context to this story of my daughter. But back to me….
I’ve coached myself to be available (like I did 12 years ago), even when I feel I’ve got something important waiting to be done. For example, inevitably she walks into the kitchen just as I’m leaving and eager to return to a project I’ve got bubbling ideas about.
Stop lisa and stay. Stay here and just be.
So I linger and half the time she actually lights up, betraying that she wants my company. I take what I can get. I plunge my finger into her rice and beans to make sure it’s warm. A huge smile spreads across her face. What I’ve done is so gross and so hilarious that her body leaves the floor as she dances with laughter. Most days I enjoy laughing at myself so I smile not quite able to match her glee.
I’m unarmed, a white flag wrapped around my shoulders.
No two children are the same and you likely have a different dynamic but the constant remains:
Our kids, regardless of age, need us, at times, to hang out, unhurried and casually listening.
How have you experienced quality time during Covid? Have you found new ways to connect? Please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear your story!
It’s summer and my daughter and her friend want to go to the pool to play. I fantasize that the girls will occupy each other and I’ll be able to read or at the very least get some knitting done.
Turns out, they want me to join in their amusement. They plead, watch us, watch us as they scheme to perform synchronized, dramatic water jumps and dances.
Quickly it’s apparent that I’ve got three options in how to respond to their pleas:
- Go old school and brush them off saying “No girls, I’m reading.”
- Middle of the road it – “Okay girls – show me what you’ve got” but meanwhile I knit or attempt to read in between requests.
- Go all in with the kids – book closed on the ground, knitting tucked away in its bag – I sit up actually looking directly at them.
The thought of going Old School on them is familiar and slightly guilt inducing. I grew up with parents and children pretty much doing their own thing, all the time. Sometimes we’d watch football, 6o Minutes or Murder She Wrote on TV together on Sunday evenings (I loved this) but my brother, sister, and I wouldn’t dare to ask directly for attention from grown ups.
It just wasn’t part of the program 40+ years ago. It wasn’t the way our family operated.
There is a time and a place for old school. It’s not only okay, but it’s downright healthy for children to have time when they’re not getting direct attention from an adult.
Here’re two good articles on this topic:
Middle of the Road
Middle of the road is something I know well!
This is the lack of making a conscious decision.
I want to be reading, but my knee jerk parenting shoulding voice says you should be paying attention to the kids Lisa… at all times humanly possible. (Wonder if this is related to the old school way I grew up??? 🙂 )
Then, another part of me says Lisa you’re at the pool, for 3@!$ sake, read your book!
These competing voices are crazy making — nothing is done well with divided attention.
By not making a decision and by default, choosing the middle of the road, you literally split your attention and feel like you’re in No Man’s Land. There’s no upside for yourself or your kid. I see this as the unconscious back drop for many parents these days, particularly with the constant distraction created by our smartphones.
Going All In
Finally, the somewhat novel thought of going all in actually feels like a relief to me when it flashes across my mind as an option.
The me time to do’s (like writing, reading and even knitting) fall away and I feel light, even floaty.
[tweetthis display_mode=”box”]News flash! I can let go and simply focus my full attention in one place.[/tweetthis]
The girls are asking for me and I decide to let go of the fantasy of me time and watch them like they are qualifying for the Olympics: with my entire being.
As I do this, my body unwinds into the moment and I feel a tremendous, relaxing sigh throughout my entire being. I only have one task at hand and I can do this and actually do it well.
(I use Headspace to support my on-going meditation practice – I recommend it!)
Having two, much older sons, I know the days of “watch me, mom!” will soon end.
During the next hour I had a singular, beautiful focus. Even now, a year later, it’s a rich memory for me. I can still see the girls’ lit faces, their determination, their playfulness.
Other days I’ve chosen to say “no” and that’s positive, too. It’s healthy for children to see you pursue your interests and to know that they can occupy themselves without your attention.
It’s not an either/or dilemma. We have time in our lives for both.
How often do you find yourself in the middle of the road with your parenting?
The next time you’re in this situation, take a moment to consider where you really want to be and BE THERE instead of staying in the middle.
Shortly after Eric finished up my 7- week parenting series, he sent me this story which beautifully illustrates the power of asking for a hug.
Last week on my way home from work, my wife Stephanie sent me a text that our daughter Grace (5) was being a handful, was in a horrible mood and that she had had it with her.
When I got home, I walked into the house and went straight to Grace and asked her for a hug. At first she turned her back and crossed her arms, and said no.
I then decided to ask her one more time and after a 5-second pause, she turned and gave me a big hug.
Steph said it was like someone flipped a switch on Grace. She went from being in the worst mood to acting as if she was having the best day ever.
It’s amazing to see the kind of impact and dynamics that something as simple as asking for a hug can have on a 5 year old.
Honestly, before taking your class, I probably would have come home and punished Grace for misbehaving and the entire afternoon would have been ruined for the whole family.
Asking for a hug sounds almost too easy, right? Too simple to be true?
However, while it’s simple… there’s a subtle tweak that’s key to the effectiveness of this parenting strategy.
“I could use a hug” vs. “Can I give YOU a hug?”
The first taps into your child’s deep need for significance and belonging. When you ask for a hug from your child, you acknowledge that they make a difference to you and in fact have a positive influence on your life.
In the later, you are reinforcing what your child hears and perhaps feels frequently: That children need help from grownups to feel better.
The parenting tool of asking for a hug (for YOU) is simple, easy, and effective if done from the perspective of genuine connection, genuine desire for your child to assist you! (Plus, who doesn’t love hugs? I love it!)
Try it out.
Ask a friend to be your parent and say these two phrases to you:
Could you give me a hug?
You look like you could use a hug.
Do you notice a difference in how you feel after each?
This week look for an opportunity to ask your child for a hug.
I’d love to hear how it goes in the comments below!
Here’s Part Two of the 3 part Sibling Series: More Good, Less Ugly: Everything you Need to Know to Foster Healthy Sibling Relationships. In case you missed it, you can check out Part One here.
A month ago, after a parent education talk (ironically, NOT about sibling issues), parents came up to me afterwards wanting to ask specific what do I do when questions.
This night each parent had a sibling challenge that deeply distressed them — and they wanted advice on how to work them out — how to FIX them.
After each told me their story of fists, tears, tussles and injustices, I asked, sincerely, so you want this to stop because ________?
It sounds like a joke but I was serious.
Here’s a snippet of their answers (and my thoughts):
- I don’t want my kids to fight. Period. (We get confused thinking peace equals the absence of conflict — not true)
- I’m afraid my children will seriously hurt each other — (it won’t happen if your kids have some skills — it makes sense to focus on teaching these skills).
- I was mistreated and abused by my siblings and my parents did nothing (if you’re reading this post, or trying to understand the issues, you’re not doing nothing. You’re learning how to respond rather than react).
It’s important for you to get to the bottom of your frantic need to end sibling fights.
When you feel desperate, your children tune into your urgency and — baBOOM! — their fights gain greater importance and power.
No matter what age they are, you can see the wheels turning in their mind… “Hey, I’m onto something here — mom’s lost her mind over this bickering — it’s energizing to have her so plugged in so I’m going to persist and/or do it again soon.”
[tweetthis]Even if a child is scared, negative engagement with you is better than the alternative, no connection[/tweetthis]
Your children are wired to get your attention (think survival) and this sibling stuff is just the ticket.
So what if you don’t react when the fight breaks out, and instead acknowledge them by:
- Letting them know you notice what’s going on and you’re here if they need your help (hint: think of yourself as a consultant rather than a cop) or
- Saying, “I can see you’re struggling with each other and I have faith that you’ll be able to work it out together.”
What’ll happen next? They’ll be flabbergasted that you haven’t jumped in to fix or solve.
Jane Nelsen says surprise leads to confusion. When a child is confused because she doesn’t get the reaction she’s used to, she’s ready to consider a new behavior.
- If the surprise results from a respectful interaction, her confusion will include a feeling of belonging and encouragement, so her new behavior is likely to be positive.
- If the surprise is a result of disrespect, then her previous misbehavior is likely to intensify.
After a recent sibling talk I got this email from a mom who’d bravely tried what I’d suggested, the very next morning:
I wanted to tell you my success story from this morning. I feel like one of the examples from the book (Siblings without Rivalry), I was so surprised at its effectiveness!
This morning my 5.5yo son Eden left his favorite transformer toys on the floor, and his 1.5yo sister Lulu ran to them and started playing. He saw that, ran over, and pushed her backwards so her head banged the floor (she’s had worse bumps, but it was still rough and it hurt her).
I calmly went over and said, “Do you two need some help? Lulu doesn’t know why you pushed her. Use your words to tell her. I know you two can work this out. I’m going in the kitchen now so you can work it out.”
I walked away as Lulu whimpered a few times, just sitting next to her brother, probably unsure why I hadn’t defended her better.
Only 5 to 10 seconds after I walked away, Eden said, “Hey Louie, do you want another one?! I’ll get you one!” and jumped up to get her the one transformer he wasn’t playing with. He gave it to her, she happily accepted, and she scooted away a few inches to play with it in her own space.
I COULDN’T BELIEVE IT! It was exactly like the book and you said it would happen! Even though it worked so well, I admit I felt a bit guilty about seemingly abandoning Louie to her big brother in a moment of distress. But I get that their relationship benefitted from his problem-solving so much more than if I had stepped in.
Based on the book, if we can be consistent with this kind of conflict resolution, soon both kids will not feel this as abandonment, but as empowerment instead.
This story beautifully illustrates that [tweetthis]you don’t stop teaching your kids just because you don’t get involved in the moment of conflict.[/tweetthis]
Rachel admits the guilt she felt in trying a new behavior — I think many of us don’t try new tools and responses, even though they may be more effective in the long run, because of the dreaded parent guilt – what’ll happen if it doesn’t work?.
There may be times when you want to step in — how do you do that without fixing?
Here are three Positive Discipline Tools to help in the moment with a dispute between young children:
- DISTRACTION — “I’ll give you something else to do now.”
- SEPARATION — “Let’s move you over here for now.”
- PUTTING KIDS IN THE SAME BOAT and recognizing that CHILDREN DO BETTER WHEN THEY FEEL BETTER — “I’d like to read you both a story now – it will help put us in a good mood. Then you can try to play together again… when you both feel better.”
So often when you plunge into a sibling fight, you think you know what’s going on.
This week, pretend you don’t and put the kids in the same boat.
Do your best to stay out of their business (or consult from the sidelines), and see what happens.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
If you’re not already on the list, sign up to receive Part 3 of the Sibling Series: From Squabbles to Sharing: Proven Strategies to Improve Sibling Relationships by email.