Support, Don’t Hover, to Raise Independent Kids

helicopter

Sometimes it feels like parenting is a no-win situation these days. If you stick too close, you’re a helicopter. If you hang too far back, you’re not engaged. If you let your kids ride their bikes alone, you might even be reported for neglect. Okay, maybe that last one is a little bit extreme, but you get the point.

Parents are constantly under a microscope today. Parents read articles and books on parenting to gather information and perhaps solve a few parenting mysteries (we all have them from time to time). That’s a good thing. The flip side is that input is everywhere…even when you’re not looking for it. That’s not such a good thing. That can damage the self-esteem of the parent. That can cause parents to question their instincts. That can cause arguments and frustration.

New research, for instance, shows that “helicopter parenting” is detrimental to kids no matter how loving the parents are. This particular study shows that children raised by controlling parents are actually less engaged in the classroom. While the researchers thought they might find that love and support neutralized the controlling behavior, they didn’t.

The quick takeaway, of course, is that helicopter parenting is no good. But what does that actually mean?

For purposes of the study, the researchers defined “helicopter parenting” as engaging in over-involved habits such as solving problems for kids or making decisions for them.

The term “helicopter parent” first appeared in a book in 1969, referring to a parent of a teen who hovers too close. It gained steam in the 2000’s as college deans reported such behaviors as parents looking to get grades changed and calling to wake college kids for classes. I’m not sure my parents even knew when my classes were when I was in college – I can’t imagine a daily wake-up call.

Somewhere along the line, “helicopter parenting” trickled down to parents with younger children. Today, if you stay too close, according to the judgment of another, you’re a helicopter. I get tons of questions from confused parents – they want to do their best to love and support their kids, but they don’t want to hang too close and cause problems by “hovering”. Sigh.

Young children need parental support. They need help and guidance along the way. Do they need you to solve every problem? Of course not! Do they sometimes need help brainstorming problem solving strategies? Absolutely.

The best advice I can give on this one is to strike the term “helicopter parenting” from your vocabulary. It’s overused and often misused, and that’s a problem.

Beyond that, try this:

Trust your instincts.

You know your family better than anyone else. Some kids need close supervision at the park, while others need room to spread their wings and fly. I know, for instance, that my daughter can climb super high and never fall but if my son follows her I need to trail him – he often catches up to her only to realize that he doesn’t love heights. I also know that my kids have potentially fatal food allergies, so all parties require close supervision.

Trust your parental instincts. You know what your kids need and how to fulfill those needs. If you worry about what others think, you might not make the best choices for your family. Stay focused on your own family and tune out the white noise.

Talk about feelings.

Kids need to be able to experience and cope with frustration, anger, sadness, and every other feeling that comes up throughout the day. Too often parents jump in to solve a problem so that kids don’t have to experience big emotions.

Emotions are good and all feelings matter. Talk about the feelings that occur when something is hard or just out of reach. Let your child cry and express her emotions as she sees fit. Then label those feelings, talk about what caused them, and discuss ways to feel calm.

Problem solve together.

Solving every problem for your child leads to learned helplessness. Solving problems with your child provides guidance and support while empowering your child to become a problem solver.

Brainstorm together. Ask leading questions, but don’t provide the answers. We all have moments when we need sometime to listen and provide support, right? Kids feel the same way. Sometimes they need someone to sit close and listen while they try to find a solution.

Listen.

Listen for the sake of listening, not for the sake of crafting the perfect response. Too often we get caught up in partial listening – we listen to respond. The best listeners, however, need time to respond. They need time process what was said and respond when they have something thoughtful to add to the conversation. The best listeners…listen.

Listen to what your kids say. Let the feelings and emotions hang in the air for a moment. Sit with them. Experience them. Take the time to empathize before you problem solve. When your children learn that they won’t break every time they experience big emotions, they will be better equipped to cope with the hard stuff along the way.

Make time for play.

Kids learn a lot from free play. They learn to solve problems. They learn to resolve conflict. They learn to cope with emotions. Play is the business of childhood – make time for it.

For more on the importance of free play, check out these articles:

Parents, Are Your Kids Getting Enough Free Play Time?

5 Ways Even Working Parents Can Factor in More Free Play

Why Free Play Is Important During the Summer

Parenting with Presence with Susan Stiffelman

parentingpresence

I read a lot of parenting books.  When parents come to me for help, I need to know what they’re reading and why it speaks to them.  When they come to me with the latest and greatest parenting “theory”, I need to understand why that particular style appeals to them.  I stay on top of the current research, I read until my eyes fall out, and I help parents apply that coveted information to their daily lives.

The truth is that parenting is challenging at times, and while books are full of useful information – learning to apply that information to the bumps in the road can also be a challenge.  If you really want to practice mindful parenting but find that it’s hard to do so when your children arguing about that one toy (again), you’re not alone.  Sometimes what we read at night doesn’t always work the next morning.

This time is different.  From the moment I opened Susan Stiffelman’s book, Parenting with Presence, I felt a sense of calm.  The chapter on throwing away the snapshot is worthy of a book of its own.  I think we all do this, to some degree.  We create a snapshot of what we want our families, our lives, our careers, and even our friendships to look like.  When those snapshots conflict with reality, we feel disappointed, angry, and sometimes depressed as a result.  We have to learn to start where we are – parent the kids that we have – instead of desperately trying to live up to the snapshots we created.

With a focus on self-love, acceptance, and compassion, Stiffelman guides us through the hard stuff – making peace with our own feelings and emotions while understanding why our children might feel hurt or upset at times.  Stiffelman provides practical strategies for parents and, more importantly, she also provides hope.  Parenting with Presence will shift your thinking and calm your soul.

Please enjoy Stiffelman’s 5 tips for parenting with presence below, and get your copy of her book here!

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Five Tips for Parenting With Presence

 

I had meditated from the time I was sixteen, so as I approached motherhood, I was certain I would be spared those dramatic, stressful moments I saw frazzled parents having with their children. Yelling or shouting? I would be too centered to succumb to that level of frustration. Trying to rush my child to get where we were going? I was confident about my ability to slow down and live in the moment.

 

Ha!

 

In theory, parenting with presence sounds easy enough. Putting it into practice in real time with real children is another thing altogether. No one can push our buttons the way our kids can — ignoring repeated requests to come to dinner after we’ve made something healthy and tasty, or refusing to stay in their beds when we’ve run out of steam and desperately want to go to sleep. Sometimes we lose our cool, and our way.

 

Parenting shows us just how human we are. Humbling, yes, but if we relax into the experience rather than resist the difficult moments, it can be one of the greatest opportunities we will ever have to learn how to love more deeply, live more fully in the moment and become more open-hearted versions of ourselves. A blessing of untold magnitude, but one with a never-ending invitation to stretch and grow.

 

Here are a few of the things I have learned about parenting with presence:

 

Be good enough. Our children don’t need us to be saintly or enlightened. We just need to be good enough. Don’t allow mean, critical voices in your head to tell you that you’re not adequately conscious or evolved. That voice — the one telling you that if you were more “spiritual,” you wouldn’t yell at your kids– is not your friend. It is only with a heart that is at ease with our imperfections that we can truly embrace the opportunities for spiritual growth that come with being a parent. When you lose your way, touch your heart with a “There, there” as you would comfort a child, and begin anew.

 

When your buttons get pushed, look beneath the surface. None of us like being ignored or dealing with tantrums. But when we feel especially triggered by our child’s unpleasant behavior, unfinished business from our own childhood may be rearing its ugly head. If your child’s anger makes your blood boil, it may be rekindling memories of a parent’s explosive temper. If you feel painfully disrespected when your kids pretend they don’t hear you, it may be activating the hurt of being ignored as a child. Our children can be invaluable beacons of light, illuminating our emotional dark corners to catalyze deep healing and open us to extraordinary dimensions of love and acceptance.

 

Commit to moments of full engagement. Most of us juggle the demands of our lives by giving partial attention to each activity without being fully present for any of them. We listen halfheartedly to our child’s story about Show and Tell while our wandering mind thinks over the emails we need to send. We rush our kids through brushing their teeth, counting the moments until we can fall wearily into bed. When our kids sense our divided attention, they often generate chaos and drama to bring all of us into the room, even if their behavior results in threats or punishments. Focus on the one thing you’re doing, whether it’s serving a snack or changing a diaper. Investing even a few moments of fully-engaged time with your kids can bring greater joy to your parenting life.

 

Challenge fear. Many parents are driven by anxiety. What will happen if she doesn’t finish her homework? What if he refuses to eat dinner…again? When we are ruled by fear, we tend to come across to our children as desperate and needy, effectively putting them in charge of our happiness. Make friends with the worst case scenario so it has less of a hold over you.

 

Unplug. These days it is nearly impossible to visit a park and not find parents checking their devices while the kids play, or strolling their baby while chatting on their cell phone. Rarely do you see families in a restaurant without at least one person—often a child— on some kind of digital device. We all know that the digital revolution has brought amazing things to our lives, but our children need regular doses of our presence. Yes, it’s great that you can reach out for the support of your cyber-tribe when you’re feeling isolated with little kids. But the next time your cell phone beeps, try staying a little longer in the 3D world.

 

My now twenty-four year old son walks into the house as I’m finishing up this article. I feel the tug of my writing, but the pull on my heart is stronger and I stand up to share a hug and a few moments of “How’ve ya been?” as we catch up after not seeing each other for a few days.

 

I have enjoyed many soul-nurturing experiences in my life but to this day, seeing my son still splits open my heart like nothing else can. Through the many rough patches and the countless days when I fell miles short of being as conscious as I had hoped to be, this love remains. Pure, perfect and miraculous.

 

# # #

 

Susan Stiffelman, MFT is the bestselling author of Parenting with Presence and Parenting without Power Struggles. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a credentialed teacher, and the Huffington Post’s weekly “Parent Coach” advice columnist. She lives in Malibu, California where she is an aspiring banjo player, a determined tap-dancer, and an optimistic gardener. Visit her online at http://www.ParentingwithPresence.com.

 

Based on the book Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids ©2015 by Susan Stiffelman. Printed with permission of New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com

 

Plan the Perfect Playdate With Avery & Austin

Avery&Austin

To drop your child at my house to play is to leave structure behind.  Do I supervise them?  Of course!  Do I feed them?  Obviously.  One thing I won’t do, however, is micromanage the play.

By now you know that I’m big on imaginary play and creativity, and I believe in giving kids the space they need to play.  Is my house a disaster most days?  Absolutely.  Does it make me crazy?  Not so much.  Yes, we put things away and we all pitch in to keep the house clean.  But I gave up on the idea of the Pottery Barn perfect house long ago.  I would much rather have the fun house – the place where kids can be kids.  The place where fairies live in small houses and football players take over the living room floor.  Childhood is short – play while you can (that’s what I tell myself, anyway.)

This approach doesn’t work for everyone, though, and I understand that.  Not everyone wants their couch turned into a campground or their living room taken over by an animal safari on any given day.  And not everyone wants to leave a playdate to chance.

The truth is that some kids love unstructured playdates, but some don’t.  Some want to get lost in imaginary play while others want to do something more tangible.  Some want a mix of the two.  That’s where Avery & Austin come in.

Co-founded by two moms who have hosted approximately one bazillion playdates between them, Avery & Austin takes the guesswork out of planning the perfect playdate.  The idea behind Avery & Austin is to pack everything you need, including a healthy (and NUT free!) snack for two, into one box and deliver it to your doorstep.  The theme changes from month to month, and the crafts are fun and creative and easy for the kids to do independently.

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My kids had a blast creating bird houses and bird feeders!  They were instantly lost in a conversation about what kinds of birds might visit their houses as they painted the afternoon away.  They came up with names for their new bird friends and discussed perfect placement of the bird houses.

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What I loved about this craft is that it inspired creative thinking beyond the craft in their hands.  They made big plans for a bird neighborhood and brainstormed ways to keep the squirrels away.

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We saved the bird feeders for another day.  The beauty of these boxes is that the crafts are projects – the kids won’t just rush through them in a few minutes.  They can take their time to create and engage in playful conversation while they craft.  The bird feeders were a huge hit!  We actually had enough supplies to make three, and the kids got creative and used different shapes.

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Incidentally, the birds loved these – we had quite a few days of visitors!

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Sometimes crafts can mean a bit of a headache for the mom in charge, but these were easy to use and the kids worked fairly independently.

Another great perk?  Each box contains a special gift for mom!  How sweet is that?

You can check out their subscription options here.

These boxes are great for playdates, but I would also recommend them for siblings and for time spent with grandparents.  They are full of fun and creative activities that don’t require an expensive and time-consuming trip to your local craft store.

Learn more about Avery & Austin here and start planning your next playdate today!

And one more piece of amazing news….

I have a coupon for you!  Use the coupon code below to get $15 off your first purchase!  This coupon expires on June 30 – so get to it!

Coupon code:  PRACTICALPARENTING15OFF

 

Disclaimer:  My friends at Avery & Austin sent me this box to review.  All opinions are my own (or those of my children!)  We love Avery & Austin and we think you will, too!

Your Must-Have Resource for Navigating Social Media With Tweens

Image via Amazon

Image via Amazon

When I think back to middle school, I can’t help but remember the notes passed in study hall or in between classes.  Do you like Katie?  Circle one: YES or NO.  Remember those?  They weren’t always about boys, of course.  Sometimes they were about friends.  Do you think Katie is nice?  Circle one:  YES NO I DON’T KNOW. This social hierarchy thing?  That’s been around forever.  We act like it’s a new development, but this has been happening for years.

What IS a new development is taking the notes (nice ones and not-so-nice ones) and attaching them to something like an Instagram – in the secret code of tweendom (you know, letters that you have to decode – which really means just ask a tween to tell you what in the world “#lmirl” means.)

While many tweens use social media to connect with others, some do make mistakes.  And some intentionally bully others online. That embarrassing note passed in study hall years ago is much worse today because now it’s posted online for others to see.  With a simple screenshot, that note can continue to be posted over and over again.  That note that you tore up on your worst day in middle school has the potential to stick around forever in the life of a tween today.  Let that sink in for a minute.

Helping tweens and teens navigate the bumpy road of social media is tricky.  On the one hand, you can’t just bury your head in the sand and hope that your kid never makes a bad choice.  Kids make mistakes – it happens.  Even though they think they know everything…they do need support and guidance.  On the other hand, they need independence.  They need to have friendships on their own terms.  They don’t need you hovering and “liking” their every move.

What’s a parent to do?

Allow me to introduce you to Galit Breen!  In her new book, “Kindness Wins“, Breen covers all things social media and guides parents through the process – a road she recently began traveling with her own girls.  Breen knows how to weave a story, and her personal anecdotes will capture your heart and help you feel understood.  Not all parents talk openly about the struggles of raising adolescents, and that can feel isolating.  Breen breaks it down and shares her stories in this empowering parenting guide with a simple message:  Kindness always wins.

Also?  Breen is no stranger to online bullying.  She knows firsthand the pain of a hurtful comment or two.  Instead of allowing online bullying to tear apart her soul, however, she turned it around and did something about it.  How’s that for inspiring?

Synopsis

If kindness wins, accountability rules. The need for this mantra is never clearer than when scrolling through posts and comments left online.

Approximately four out of ten kids (42 percent) have experienced cyberbullying. When we were young, our bullies weren’t usually strangers. They were the kids who passed mean notes about us in class, the ones who didn’t let us sit at their table during lunch, and the ones who tripped us in the hallway or embarrassed us in gym class. Cyberbullying isn’t all that different from the playground bullying of our youth and nightmares. But with social media, our bullies have nonstop access to us–and our kids. In fact, we’re often “friends” with our bullies online.

When freelance writer Galit Breen’s kids hinted that they’d like to post, tweet, and share photos on Instagram, Breen took a look at social media as a mom and as a teacher and quickly realized that there’s a ridiculous amount of kindness terrain to teach and explain to kids―and some adults―before letting them loose online. So she took to her pen and wrote a how-to book for parents who are tackling this issue with their kids.

Kindness Wins covers ten habits to directly teach kids as they’re learning how to be kind online. Each section is written in Breen’s trademark parent-to-parent-over-coffee style and concludes with resources for further reading, discussion starters, and bulleted takeaways. She concludes the book with two contracts―one to share with peers and one to share with kids. Just like we needed to teach our children how to walk, swim, and throw a ball, we need to teach them how to maneuver kindly online. This book will help you do just that.

Bio

Galit Breen was a classroom and reading teacher for ten years. She has a master’s degree in education and a bachelor’s degree in human development. In 2009, she launched a career as a freelance writer entrenched in social media. Since then, her work has been featured in various online magazines including Brain, Child, The Huffington Post, TIME, and xoJane. Breen lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children, and a ridiculously spoiled miniature golden doodle. You can learn more about Galit by visiting TheseLittleWaves.com.

FAQs

1. Why did you write this book?
I had a post go viral this fall about coments I received about my weight on an article I wrote about marriage. Not too long after that, my daughter and her friends began using social media platforms like Instagram. When I looked through some of the kids’ profiles, I realized there’s a lot of kindness terrain to cover. After my experience with unkind comments and fat shaming, I knew I wanted to do something about cyberbullying. This book is my “something.” This is a guide for parents, teachers, youth groups, etc. to use for teaching our kids how to be kind online. I think this can and should be taught. I used my work in social media to inform what needs to be taught and I used my background in teaching (I have an MA in education and I was a classroom and reading teacher for 10 years) to guide the how-to portion of the book.

2. What’s the book’s format?

The book can be read in one gulp or in sections. Each chapter in Kindness Wins covers one habit to directly teach kids about how to be kind online. Each section is written in a simple, parent-to-parent over coffee style and concludes with one resource for further reading, two discussion starters (one to have with peers and one to have with kids), and three bulleted takeaways. At the end of the book there are two Kindness Wins contracts–one for peers and one for kids.

3. What do your kids think about the book?

My kids are my biggest cheerleaders. My tween girls were two of my early readers and they gave me so very much feedback and things to (re)consider. They questioned and redirected my thinking. It was wonderful. Everything that’s right and relevant about the advice I give in this book might just be due to them! And my young son heartily approves of my cover colors. Thank goodness for that. :)

4. Who is this book for? Can kids read it?

Kids can definitely read it; you have my own tweens’ seal of approval for that. I wrote this book for parents in the trenches of raising tweens and teens, older kids who are teetering on knowing more than we do about maneuvering online. Parenting is hard. When our kids were little, we figured out that sharing our experiences, challenges, goals, and wins with each other was a huge relief and help. Now that our kids are a little bit older, we need just as much help but our support system is dwindling because parenting them feels more private, more their story to tell then ours. But there’s so much to be said about joining forces with our parenting peers and helping each other out. So this book is meant to be read and discussed by parents, friends, teachers, coaches, youth group and club leaders. It’s also meant to be read by–and discussed with–kids. Parents and kids, mother daughter book clubs, scouts, teams, classrooms. Reading this book is a step toward online kindness winning. But the conversations your reading will springboard are the leaps. Kids can, and should, read it.

5. What’s your favorite part of the book?

My favorite parts of the book are where my girls gave me feedback and took my social media examples from good to great. I also found quotes from authors and celebrities to begin each with. I love these so very much because it feels justright to have people from so many walks of life–kids to parents to celebrities–touting the same kindness wins message. At the end of the book I also include our favorite peanut butter cookie recipe–so you can make the cookies to have while you engage in the tricky conversations the book encourages you to. This specific recipe connects to the book, I swear, you’ll have to find out how inside, though! And it makes me feel like a good Minnesotan to not show up to the conversation empty handed!

Buy the book here!

Find Galit Breen here.

This book is a great resource for parents – but it also belongs in the hands of teachers and school administrators.  If we want to raise kind kids, we all need to be on the same page.

 

Disclaimer:  I am ridiculously proud to call Galit a friend (a really, really good one) and she did send me the book to read before it went to press, but that doesn’t change my opinion of this book in AT ALL.  Raising adolescents is complicated, and this book helps parents navigate these tricky but very necessary conversations.  It also brings us all together for a common goal:  Kindness.  Who in this world can argue with that?  Are you still here?  Go out and get a copy of “Kindness Wins”!

How to Inspire Your Kids to Spread Happiness

happybubbles

Today is the International Day of Happiness!  While it might seem a bit much to dedicate a day to celebrating happiness, I think a day like this is exactly what we need in this world.  Research shows us that connecting to others increases overall happiness, so it makes good sense that theme of today is making more connections.

Sure, you probably feel connected 24/7 thanks to your super smart phone, but how deep do those connections go?  How often do you carve out time to actually engage with others in a meaningful way?  We are a generation of quick wit and instant gratification, and we need to learn to slow down and consider the messages we send our children.

In this busy, go-go-go time of parenting, we need to learn to step back and find time to strengthen our existing relationships and establish new ones.

Just yesterday and elderly woman stopped me on my way into Rite Aid.  I was in a hurry, but the smile on her face told me that she needed to have a conversation.  Sure enough, she wanted to talk about polarized sunglasses.  It was a new concept to her and she wanted to know if I had any thoughts about them.  For fifteen minutes we stood in the entryway of the store, chatting about the glare, eye strain and saving money with coupons.  Then she patted me on the back and walked into the sunshine with her new polarized glasses.

Did that small connection make her day?  I don’t know, but it sure made mine!  I told my kids about it over dinner.  We talked about grandparents and getting older and loneliness…and then they talked about little things that might make other people happy.

Adults tend to be over-thinkers.  We know too much about the great big world, and that causes us to think big.  We think in grand gestures, and that can stop us from actually taking the time to connect with others.  When spreading happiness feels like another thing on the list, it’s easy to push it down. If we look to our children, however, we find that spreading happiness and establishing connections is actually quite simple.  The key is to think smaller.

My daughter always reminds me that smaller is happier by way of picking wildflowers for me along our walks.  She puts them in glasses with water and places them on the kitchen table for all to enjoy.  And we really do enjoy them. My son shows his small acts of kindness with his words.  He whispers kind words and leaves me sweet love notes almost every day.  And it works.  His child-sized expressions of love bring me great happiness – and that melts the stress away.

So how can we inspire our kids to spread kindness and happiness?

Point out acts of kindness:

This brings us back to thinking small, especially when it comes to very young children.  You know that bird nest your child created out of twigs and leaves?  That’s kindness in action.  You know that flower your child just had to pick for Grandma?  That’s kindness in action.

Talk about the acts of kindness that you see each day.  Discuss how those acts might make other people feel.  Connect the dots so that your children learn that they have the ability to help others feel happy.

Praise thoughtful behavior:

Kids do kind things because they want to show others that they care.  It’s how they express their love and gratitude.  While you probably thank them for those little pictures drawn on tiny scraps of paper, you might not be as inclined to label that action as “thoughtful”.  You should.

You want to know eight words that will build your child up and inspire further acts of kindness?  Here goes:  “I love that you are a thoughtful person.”  Go ahead, try it.  Your child will smile, that much I know.

Teach positive thinking:

Life can be frustrating, even for little kids.  Negative thinking can get in the way of kind behavior and overall happiness.  When kids have an “I can’t” approach to the hard stuff, they have a hard time seeing a positive end result.

Teach them to reframe their thoughts.  Stop a negative thought cycle with these steps:

  • I can see that your frustrated.  This feels really hard.
  • Take three deep breaths with me to take a break for a minute.
  • Let’s think of some positive words we can use while we work on this problem.
  • I’ll stay with you, and you can let me know if you need any help.

Model kindness:

Take the time to make connections and engage in small acts of kindness in the presence of your children.  Bring in the neighbor’s trash cans, help someone carry groceries, hold the door wide open (even if you have to slow down and wait)…

Kids learn a lot by watching us.  Do we all have great days every day?  No.  But we can model kindness, talk about our mistakes, and teach our kids to spread happiness…all we have to do is slow down and stay connected.

Have a happy day!

Want Happy Kids? Teach Forgiveness.

forgiveness

Forgiveness.

Chances are you’ve talked to your kids about forgiveness at some point. You’ve probably asked one child to forgive the other child for an unkind gesture or unfair treatment of some kind. You’ve probably talked about moving on, letting go, and getting over it. But have you actually taught your kids how to practice forgiveness?

Forgiveness is an essential life skill. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves, if you ask me. There are plenty of adults in this world who don’t practice the art of forgiveness in their lives. They might say they do. They might rely on clichés and phrases that speak to forgiveness, but do they actually take the time to forgive? Do they actually work through the feelings that serve as roadblocks to forgiveness and get to the other side?

Have you ever found yourself on the receiving end of a heated discussion when suddenly past issues enter the conversation? What begins as something seemingly minor can morph into an emotionally exhausting conversation filled with repressed anger and resentment that creeps out when tension spikes. These are the moments that speak to lack of forgiveness skills. These are the moments that cause hurt and sometimes irreparable damage to otherwise close relationships.

I’ve mediated these conversations in my office, and I’ve seen them in my own life at times. When people are unable to practice forgiveness, they carry with them feelings of anger, hurt, and resentment so strong that they struggle to maintain perspective. They have difficulty truly relating to and building close relationships with others when they struggle to forgive.

The benefits of learning to forgive are many. According the Mayo Clinic, forgiving people enjoy healthier relationships, less stress and anxiety, higher self-esteem, better immune functioning, and fewer symptoms of depression (to name a few). People who struggle to forgive, however, are more likely to become depressed or anxious, bring bitterness and anger to new relationships, and struggle to enjoy the present (among other things).

When it comes to raising happy kids, we need to consider the importance of teaching kids how to practice forgiveness. It isn’t just about a simple apology followed by acceptance. Forgiveness takes time and work.

Happiness is not the complete absence of stress; happiness is being able to work through stress, obstacles, and negative emotions and come out with a feeling of inner peace and a positive outlook. That’s a powerful lesson for little kids, and one that will help them for years to come.

So how do we teach kids to practice forgiveness? The obvious answer, of course, is that we practice forgiveness in our own lives. That is important. We need to use the words, talk about our feelings, and share our stories of forgiveness. When our children apologize to us, we need to forgive them out loud. When we’ve made a mistake, we need to own it and apologize and talk about forgiveness within the family. But it doesn’t stop there. Kids need to learn how to get from “I’m sorry” to “I forgive you” without glossing over the hard part in the middle.

Unpack feelings:

Kids are often put in the position of forgiving others without much discussion about what happened. Repressed feelings are a significant roadblock to true forgiveness. When we stuff our feelings, we give those feelings time to grow in size before they finally explode. They will explode at some point. They always do.

Kids need to understand that it’s perfectly normal to experience feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment, jealousy, and sadness when someone hurts our feelings. They need to express those feelings in a healthy manner. They need a trusted adult who can listen (not fix) and empathize. Kids need to work through their feelings before they can forgive.

Recognize their role:

I always tell my clients, particularly the ones with endless stories about being wronged, that even if you’re pretty sure that something is 99% the fault of someone else, there’s always that 1% out there waiting to be claimed. I have this same conversation with my kids, as well. Yes, your brother got frustrated and stormed off because you didn’t agree on a game to play, but what did your voice sound like when you shot down all of his ideas? Could his feelings have been hurt by criticism and voice tone?

When people argue or do things that hurt those close to them, big feelings are at play. Chances are, things are said and done on both ends. We all need to learn how to take responsibility for our roles in relationship issues if we want to be able to forgive and move forward.

Let go of anger:

This can be a hard one for kids (and adults). Anger is a powerful emotion, and it does snowball fairly quickly. One minute you’re fuming over a sarcastic comment that left you feeling hurt and the next you’re thinking about every moment ever that resulted in that same feeling. I see this a lot with young children in my office. One hurt opens the door to past hurts, and it’s very difficult to move forward when overwhelmed by a lifetime of hurt feelings.

Kids need to learn how to let go of angry feelings. A simple exercise in replacing negative thoughts with positive ones (rewriting the script as we refer to it in my office) teaches kids to verbalize their angry thoughts and replace them with positive adaptive statements.

You can’t force others to forgive:

There are those who choose to be forgiving, and there are those who choose to live with anger and resentment. A hard but necessary lesson for kids is that we can’t force others to forgive us and enjoy a positive relationship just because that’s the choice we want to make.

Forgiveness is a skill and it’s also a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes the choices of others will leave us feeling sad and disappointed. Opening the door to forgiveness, even if another one closes in your face, gives kids an opportunity to live a happier, healthier life full of deep and meaningful relationships. That’s a choice worth making, even if someone else makes a different choice.

Practical Help from Dr. G – The Book!

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By now you know that I’m a fan of simplicity. I know I probably drive some of you nuts with my constant plea for parents to dial things down. Let the children play, I whisper (maybe whisper-yell?) over and over again. Try to avoid overscheduling. Drop a few activities. Focus on sleep, healthy eating, and…PLAY.

But I know that parenting is challenging at times. Each age brings new challenges, which can be frustrating for parents. Just when you think you have it all figured out, something new happens. Sometimes that something new is a thing of beauty, but sometimes that something new makes you want to rip every last hair out of your head at 10pm. This is parenting – pure elation followed by other less happy words.

We all need help at some point along this parenting journey. Sometimes that help comes in the form of a grandparent with good advice and a willingness to give us a few hours to regroup, but sometimes that help comes in the form of a book that really truly has something to offer.

Simple solutions are the name of the game here at Practical Parenting, and my friend Deborah Gilboa (or Dr. G, as you might know her) is here to help.

In her new book, “Get the Behavior You Want…Without Being the Parent You Hate!”, Dr. G tackles all kinds of parenting conundrums – from “manners that matter” to relationship (gulp) management. Seriously, she thought of everything.

 

Why you need this book:

 

I know I don’t recommend a ton of books here. It’s easy to get lost in the words but come out wondering how to put those words into action – that can be defeating for parents.

This book is different. This book offers concrete advice and easy to implement strategies.  You can flip through and read about your most pressing issues now, and return to the rest later.

Dr. G can help you in the moment – and you won’t feel overwhelmed by the content.  That’s the kind of parenting book that actually helps.

 

What I love about this book:

 

Ages and stages: Dr. G presents the information in easy to understand language and breaks down strategies by age. The book grows with your child – got a toddler on your hands? Start with the toddler advice in each section and revisit for different ages as your child grows.

 

The three R’s: With a heavy focus on respect, responsibility, and resilience, Dr. G cuts to the core of many issues parents face. We all want to raise respectful kids with a strong sense of community, right? We all want them to become resilient and responsible as they grow. Dr. G gets it – she has kids of her own and she isn’t afraid to share her stories. Her advice is solid, and will help you help your child.

 

Ask Dr. G: Dr. G includes many questions from parents who read her work and write to her for advice. It helps when advice feels relatable. When we see that others face very similar struggles, it normalizes some of those frustrating parenting moments. We’re all in this together, and Dr. G is here to help along the way.

 

Go ahead and buy your copy of the book here.

 

While you’re at it, you might want to check out her helpful tips on YouTube and her website for more great topics!

 

 

 

Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book for this review.

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How to Fix Toddler Sleep Problems

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Tis the season…for tons of questions about formally amazing sleepers who now have sleep issues.  My inbox is overflowing with tired, and ever so slightly frustrated, parents who just want to get some sleep.  And every message (no exaggeration) begins with some version of this:  “My 36 month old used to be the best sleeper.  We never sleep trained.  He just always slept.  Now he fights sleep and wakes up every night and we need help!!!!”

The good news is that you’re not alone.  Ok, maybe that’s not “good” news, but hopefully it’s comforting news.  The other good news is that you can help your toddler (or preschooler or older child) get more sleep.

The bad bad news is that sleep disturbance does require a ton of patience.  Be prepared for some trial and error, and get your partner in on it so that you can give each other breaks while you help your child return to peaceful sleep.

The first step is to change your own thought patterns.

For some reason, many parents have been conditioned to believe that a sleeping child is a sign of great parenting (it’s not) and that kids can be trained like dogs and seals to do exactly what we want them to do without repercussions (they can’t).

Stop worrying about the outside world and what you read in a book at some point and focus on your unique situation, instead.  Books and information are helpful, but you have to treat your child as an individual if you want to help your child thrive.

Given that every child has different needs and different roadblocks to sleep, you have to choose what will work for your child.  Some of these strategies might help, but others might not.  That’s okay.  Keep calm and keep trying.  Before you know it, you will all be sleeping well again.

Find the source:

Young children have ups and downs when it comes to sleep, and that’s perfectly normal.  Most kids wake up at some point during the night as part of the normal sleep cycle.  While some kids drift right back to sleep, others struggle to return to sleep on their own.  Those kids need help learning to self-soothe.

Common causes of sleep disturbance:

  • Fears:  As kids begin to understand the world around them, they also begin to experience fears.  These often arise at night (when everything is quiet).  Be on the lookout for fear of the dark, shadows, monsters, ghosts, and being left alone.  Nighttime separation anxiety is very common among toddlers and preschoolers.
  • Insufficient exercise
  • Thirst
  • Hunger
  • Exhaustion:  Believe it or not, lack of sleep can lead to lack of sleep.  It’s a nasty little cycle.
  • Illness

Tweak the routine:

You know that perfect bedtime routine you created for your child?  That might not actually be working for your child.  It might be time to make a few small changes.

Review your routine to look for trouble spots.  Are you often hurried and stressed at night?  Kids (even the little ones) pick up on parental stress and will have difficulty falling and staying asleep when under stress.  Does story time become play time?  Consider a basket of “nighttime only” books that helps kids prepare for bed.  Are you starting the routine too early or too late?  Aim for a 7-7:30pm bedtime – start the routine early enough to allow time to feel relaxed during the process.

Guided relaxation:

I can’t say enough good things about using guided relaxation to help kids sleep.  In five minutes, you can help your little one relax their bodies and their brains.  It works.  Try it.

The first step is to practice deep breathing.  Teach your child to breathe the colors of the rainbow while in a relaxed position in bed.  Breathe in the color red for three, hold for three, and breathe out for three.  Repeat with all colors.

The second step is to have your child snuggle up with you and close her eyes while you take her on a relaxing journey in her imagination.  You know your child best, so where you go along the journey should appeal to your child (my daughter likes fairy villages).  Spend 3-5 minutes telling the story in a quiet and even voice tone.

Loveys for big kids:

Nighttime separation anxiety can be a significant roadblock to sleep for little ones.  It’s lonely and overwhelming in a dark, quiet room.  Especially after a busy day!  A little bit of empathy and a few transitional objects can go a long way toward helping your child feel connected and calm.

My daughter still sleeps with an old sweatshirt of mine – we tried that strategy when my husband was on a very long tour when she was three and it worked well for her.  Something of yours will help your child feel less lonely.

Pictures taped to the headboard can also be a big help.

And never underestimate the power of a homemade dream catcher and extra night lights!

Continuous music:

A dark and quiet room is a recipe for scary thoughts in the imagination.  Even small sounds seem huge when you’re left alone in the dark!

Continuous (calming) music can help kids drift off to sleep and get back to sleep when they wake during the night. We love Bedtime with the Beatles around here, but you make the call for your child.  Note:  Classical music isn’t always relaxing…choose carefully.

Anticipate requests:

Kids really do get thirsty at night.  And sometimes one last hug just feels good.  Chances are you already know what your child will ask for, so why not plan ahead?  Fill a water bottle and keep it by the bed.  Factor in extra time for chit chat, extra hugs and kisses, and one last song.

Find the patterns and problem solve in advance to avoid late night frustration.

Choose relaxing shows:

I know, I know…as an expert, I really should caution you to avoid any TV before bed.  As a mom, I know that TV actually can be relaxing.  As long as you choose the right shows.

We rely on our old favorites for calming things down around here:  Curious George, Clifford, and Clifford Puppy Days keep things mellow in our house.  We avoid more stimulating shows like Paw Patrol (great show but action packed) and Wild Kratts at night (those are daytime winners).

As always, follow up TV time with books and other relaxing strategies (like a leg massage) to help your child wind down.

All kids are different.  My son goes to bed without much fanfare after our little routine, but my daughter prefers that I hang around.  So I do.  These things feel huge in the moment, but they are time limited.  Before you know it, you’ll find yourself longing for the little one who wanted extra snuggles at night.  Try to keep that in mind as you work your way through these difficult parenting moments.

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Smartphone Breaks for Moms

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Do you ever wonder if your need to stay connected impedes your ability to live in the moment and enjoy the life you’re actually living?

I read so many articles about creating the so-called perfect work-life balance, but it always feels like more of the same.  Slow down.  Step back.  Enjoy the small moments.

I believe in those things, I really do.  And I have always attempted to live life in the slow lane.  “Do more of what makes you happy”, says my new favorite mug that I use only for tea – relaxing.  Reading a book with a mug of tea by my side during a quiet moment makes me happy.

But I do work.  And I am a mom.  And I do have a husband.  And friends and family.  I like to volunteer at school and help the PTA.  I love coaching my daughter’s soccer team.  Eight 7 and 8 year olds full of energy and girl power?  That rocks.  But you can see where my balance is sometimes off.

Ignoring my phone, while arguably not the best strategy around, helps.  When my kids are with me, it’s nowhere near me.  When my people are safe and in my arms, I don’t need to constant distraction.  It helps to have it out of sight.  The stuff in those emails and messages and status updates?  Almost all of that can wait.  And so it does.

I haven’t found the perfect balance and I’m still working on saying no to helping absolutely everyone…but getting my Smartphone out of my hair for a few hours a day really has helped.

It’s funny.  When I got my very first iPhone years ago, I felt like a world of possibilities was at my fingertips.  Now I feel like a world of distractions awaits every time I pick it up.  It’s amazing what time and age teaches us…

Anyway, head over to mom.me and check out “5 Reasons to Shove the Smartphone to the Back of the Junk Drawer”.  Then get out there and enjoy some version of nature (I miss the horseshoe crabs – is it summer yet?)  You deserve it.

p.s. Give your most important people their own ring and text tones – let the rest wait.  It works, I promise.

How to Stop a Temper Tantrum

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When you have toddlers and preschoolers, people everywhere look longingly at your kids and beg you to enjoy every single second of it.  It goes so fast, they tell you.  Over and over again.  And it does.  One minute you have these helpless little beings attached to you at all times and the next you watch the kindergarten door close with tears streaming down your face because you finally had to let your baby find his own way in this world…something like that, anyway.

You know what doesn’t go fast?  Temper tantrums.

They all have them.  I don’t care how “mellow” or “easy going” a toddler or preschooler is.  I don’t care how much of an “old soul” you have on your hands.  Temper tantrums are part of child development.  They all have them.  Some more than others and some louder and longer than others…but they have them.

And they seem to last an eternity.

Here’s the good news:  Temper tantrums are time limited.  Yes, kids of all ages experience big emotions and big kids will cry and yell when upset, but the irrational tantrums of the early years do fade away as kids grow and learn to regulate their emotions.

Here’s the other good news:  YOU can help your little ones learn to regulate their emotions.  You don’t have to wait for a “phase to pass” or for them to “grow out of it”.  You can be proactive.  And probably save some of your sanity in the process.

Before the tantrum begins….

Play detective:

All kids have their breaking points.  If mine are hungry or tired, look out.  Emotions are high.

A few common triggers:

  • Hunger
  • Exhaustion
  • Thirst
  • Stress
  • Loud environments
  • Crowds
  • Illness
  • Sensory overload
  • Overstimulation
  • Frustration
  • Fear

Life is busy and sometimes we forget to look at the clock and think about things like hunger, thirst and/or fatigue, but all three of these things can cause a tantrum in a hot second.  We have to pay attention to the unique needs of each of our kids and plan accordingly.  To drag a child out for a late night is a setup for the child, especially a child who is used to an earlier bedtime.

Look for clues.  After a meltdown, take a moment to jot down time, place, circumstances, what was happening just prior to the meltdown and any other important information.  A pattern will emerge, and that will help you figure out where you can make changes to your habits and routines.  I once worked with a child that couldn’t stand bright lights – a fresh coat of paint (in a soothing color) in the bedroom and lamps with lowlights changed everything.

Watch your stress level:

If you are stressed, your child will pick up on it.

Take the time to take care of you so that you can remain calm when your child needs you.  Easier said than done, right?  It’s true.  It’s hard to find “me time” and cope with our own emotions when we are always helping our kids, but we need to hit the pause on being everything all of the time and dial back the busy schedules so that we have time to breathe.

Here’s what helps me:  We all have 45 minutes of quiet time every day.  No exceptions.  I try to pack lunches at night or before breakfast as much as possible to avoid the morning rush.  Shoes and socks are kept in individual bins by the front door to avoid searching for them on the way out the door.  No more than two after school activities per child (my son only likes one per week, anyway – he knows his limits) at a time.  When all else fails, pajama parties in the middle of the afternoon with tea and books galore.  It works for us.

Teach feelings identification:

Get or make a feelings faces chart and use it daily.  Use it to talk about your happy feelings (“I feel so happy because I ate a delicious apple and I love apples!”), use it to describe your worries (“I’m feeling worried because I can’t find my wallet and I think I lost it”) and use it to describe your frustration (“I feel angry because I can’t get this phone to work”).

Point to the feeling.  State the feeling.  Describe the feeling.  Identify one solution.  Have your child do the same.

Prepare:

Once you’ve established your child’s triggers, you can troubleshoot.  If your child tires easily (like my son), avoid late night gatherings or saving all of your errands for one day.  Break things up and prioritize sleep.  If hunger is an issue, don’t ever leave the house without a healthy protein packed snack and water.

Prep your kids for big outings by describing what’s happening.  If your child goes into sensory overload at parties, for example, describe what’s happening at the party before you get there.  Keep big parties short and stay near your child.

During the tantrum….

So you did everything exactly right and were totally prepared with snacks and a well-slept toddler and he still had a huge meltdown?  Welcome to parenthood!  Kids are predictably unpredictable.  Try to keep that in mind while you do your best to keep calm through the low moments.  We’ve all been there and we all feel your pain.  Don’t spend a single second worrying about what other people think of your screaming, flailing toddler.  Chances are they are thinking, “Wow, that brings me back!”

Breathe:

The middle of the tantrum is not the time to start talking, lecturing, or asking questions.  Your child can’t hear you.  He’s too busy yelling out those very big feelings.  Kids need to learn how to calm down in the moment.

Deep breathing (in for four, hold for three, out for four) is the best way to calm the physical and emotional response that children experience during tantrums.  The trick is to stay calm (so maybe do it with them) and walk them through the process.  I always cue my kids to blow up imaginary balloons or breathe the colors of the rainbow.

Empathize:

Keep your voice calm and empathize with your child.  Your child is upset, overwhelmed, scared or any other number of emotions.  Attempting to correct the behavior in the moment won’t work; your child needs you to love him anyway until he calms down.  Then you can deal with the issue at hand.

Repeat calming phrases such as, “I know this is frustrating; I understand” or, “I’m here to help you.  Mommy can help.”  Try to use a gentle hug or back rub to provide calming touch.

Relaxation break:

Time outs leave kids feeling alone with their big emotions.  That can be scary and overwhelming and tends to exacerbate the problem.  Consider creating a relaxation corner somewhere in the house where you and your child can calm down together.

My kids each have a cozy chair with a favorite quilt near their books in their bedrooms.  We like to snuggle up and hug it out then follow that up with some reading.  We save the talking for later.

Stress balls, cozy blankets, soft pillowcases, and soothing music can all help cue relaxation.  Establish a calming place where you can take a relaxation break together and help your child calm down.

Out in public when the tantrum erupts?  Leave the situation and find a quiet place to sit and work through it together.

Over time, your kids will learn to regulate their own emotions and tantrums will decrease.  The more you help them now, the better prepared they will be in the future.

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