The Real Lesson in the Tantrum

The other day my son was screaming about how unfair it was that he didn’t get a toy at the store like his older brother did.  The four of us were in the car and his intense scream was piercing our ears and putting us all on edge, especially because we physically could not distance ourselves.  It was unfair that one kid got a toy and the other didn’t, on the surface and to a 4-year old, but we had our reason for not getting him one. We tried to tell him to quiet down and take a breath…and explain to this little guy why he didn’t get anything but he went on crying.  He was unable to listen to his reasonable, calm, doting parents who were just trying to help.
But four-year-olds don’t have the cognitive reasoning skills that adults do.  Fairness is a huge part of their lives because morality develops from a more concrete (black and white) thinking to more a more abstract way (many shades of gray) of understanding the world.  When an injustice has happened, especially involving coveted objects such as toys, they react.  Instead of trying to use adult reasoning on our child, we decided to try a different approach.  We let him scream.  We let him own the intensity of the moment: his his fists were clenched, his jaw was tight, and his throat was probably burning.  Instead of trying to reason with him and instead of trying to silence him we just let him go on like we would have if he were a toddler throwing a tantrum (this basically was a slightly more advanced version of that, was it not?).

Love me for who I am,not who you want me to be.png

Both a little skeptical but having no other good options,  we let him go on.  We held a safe space for him to let out his feelings by staying near him (this was easy because we were in the car), acknowledging his big feelings without judgement, and staying silent so as not to inject our agenda into his emotional process that really just needed to be felt.  The staying silent part is CRITICAL because that is where the safety is really created.  Without punishment, threat, coercion, or judgement we let him feel his anger to get through the anger.  And you know what? By holding this emotional container for my son, the screaming stopped almost immediately and didn’t say another word about it…ever.
Us parents are so well intentioned to have our kids see the other side of a story and it feels harmless to interject our life experience to the matter at hand, but in fact it can be a very selfish attempt to get them quiet.  Silencing our kids pain is detrimental to them. Our kids need to feel anger, sadness, and discomfort and learn to travel through those emotions so that they can learn to move beyond those emotions.
What if we instead approached our children’s “bad” feelings with a gentle curiosity to help them explore these feelings?  What if we don’t even see this feelings as “bad” anymore but just as they are: sadness, anger, discomfort without the label of “bad” (and therefore miserable) and instead welcomed the range of emotions as tools of learning and growth?  Imagine the courage we could show our kids by letting them feel the full spectrum of human experience and knowing that they are OK during those feelings and that we are OK with them during those feelings.  Imagine the intense safety we adults would feel if we could experience all emotions without judgement?
We want our children no matter their age to feel their emotions, all of their emotions, not just the ones we “like” or are comfortable with.  Squelching our child’s feelings would have given him the underlying message that 1. we cannot tolerate his big feelings 2. big feelings are bad he should ignore and/or repress them and 3. our love is conditional to his “good” behavior.  Certainly none of these are messages we want our children to learn, even if it means short-term compliance to behavior we like.
So the next time your child is expressing their big emotions stay close, stay curious, and stay silent and surly keep your arms ready for when they collapse towards you for a great big hug full of warmth, connection, and safety.
Contact Emily for a free parent coaching consultation to see if she can help your family become a safe haven for peace and connectivity.
(c) 2017 Nurture: Family Education and Guidance

 

10 Thoughts on Bringing Mindfulness Into Your Home

The other night my 6 year-old son was having trouble sleeping.  I got up to his bedroom and he just couldn’t calm himself down.  “Honey, do you want to try some mindfulness?” I asked and waited for him to laugh and say no-way.  But he didn’t.  I had taught him some basic skills (mindfulness of breath) a few weeks earlier and practiced a few times and as soon as I asked, he knew it was just what he needed.  We did a short practice–listening to our singing bowl 3 times and then noticing our breaths go in like we are smelling a flower and our like we are blowing out a candle.  When he calmed down, I simply said “I am going to ring the bell one more time and then I am going to leave the room”.  Then I did.  As I was leaving his room he said “Mom, turn my music on” and then he cut himself off “….no, no, never-mind” and he literally rolled over and went to sleep.

I am not perfect (by far!) and my kids are not saints (also by far!) but this mindfulness stuff is really working for our family.  For one, it has made me more patient and present with my kids and able to modulate my strong emotions better.  For my kids, they have started to really notice their own emotional states more and become more aware of their needs within those high’s and low’s which is an amazing life skill.

Truth be told, very young kids are the experts on mindfulness.  They are the masters of living without judgement or attachment but exposure to culture and unconsciousness teaches kids to care more about doing and achieving than being attuned and grateful of  the present moment.  Adults in their life may want to teach them a different way: the way of mindful awareness. Being on this path with your child, and in alliance with them on their journey through the highs and lows of life, will be a divinely gratifying and nourishing to you as their parent and greatest teacher.  But it is important to go on this journey with intention but also of awareness of these basic tenants so that the pendulum does not end up swinging back into more frustration, anger, or control for you or your child.

1. Start with parent.  The first step to bringing mindfulness into your home is to ask yourself what motivates your interest?  If your authentic answer is to change your child, it will not work.  Mindfulness is a way of paying attention, non-judgmentally, to the current moment and if your child does not want to do that it will not work.   Instead of forcing it on them, invite them to participate with you and be ok with them not being ready to learn it at this point in their life.

 2. Learn basic techniques.  It is important for adults to have a basic understanding of mindfulness before you start sharing it with your child or you are setting yourself up for failure and frustration.  Learn about how to have a mindful body, how to listen mindfully, how to bring your focus back to your breath, and how to integrate heartfeltness into your moment-to-moment interactions.

3. Choose a time of day to insert mindfulness.  Think about your daily routine.  Is there a time of day when behavior is generally good and your kids are ready to listen?  If your answer is like most parents, that may be hard to identify.  Try talking them in the car when everyone is contained.  But again, be mindful of your agenda, and willing to drop it if they are not interested.

4. Give them ownership of their practice and let children lead mindfulness.  Allow them to ring a special bell to practice listening,  cueing you to focus on your breath, or leading you through a body scan.

5. Don’t use it as a consequence.  Being aware of your present moment and your breath is not a punishment–it is the sweetest gift you could give a child.  Don’t allow it to be associated with anything bad or your child will resent it.  That being said, if you want to use it as an intervention for behavior, make sure a practice is established.

6.  Be consistent.  You can not do a mindfulness activity and expect it to be suddenly integrated into your child’s brain.  Like all learning, practice it regularly to strengthen the neural pathways in your child’s brain so that it becomes more and more natural for him to use it.

7.  Institute short moments of awareness many times throughout the day for yourself and invite them to participate.   Simply asking them to “notice how you are feeling” is a good starting point.

8.  Integrate simple rituals. Taking some deep breaths before starting a meal or putting your fork down between bites during a meal is a good way to fold mindfulness into your regular life.   

9.  Let them teach you what they know.  Listen with attunement and presence–exactly how you would want them to listen to you if you were explaining something new to them.  Ask questions and look for answers, together, if your child stumbles over their explanation.

10.  There is no one-sized fits all approach to mindfulness.  Kids of different temperaments, ages, and abilities will need different approaches to learning mindfulness.  Some kids might be interested in learning about the brain, others maybe interested in learning during a peaceful hike, and yet others in totally different ways.  There are so many directions to try.   

We will be sharing more mindfulness resources in the coming weeks so please follow us on FB/IG @NurtureFamilyEducation

© 2017, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance, nurturefamilyeducation.com

Confronting Independence

A large part of becoming awakened and growing up as our children need us to has to do with letting go of our attachment to, need of, and dependency on our own parents….By binding ourselves to our own parents for approval, permission, a sense of belonging, and love, we keep ourselves small and childlike.  This symbiosis of selves ultimately leaves little room for each to grow and thrive.  It then gets projected onto our children, enslaving them to our parental fold beyond what’s healthy”

-Dr. Shefali Tsabary “The Awakened Family”

When you birth a child, you birth two new people.  Your baby and you.  You are never the same, never disconnected to this life that came of you.  It even feels like you could never be independent from that soul–the one in front of you and the one within you. But you were once a new life in front of doting parents, and so were they.  What age is it time to let them be free again (are we ever?) and who decides?

Everyone grows up with some level of attachment to our parents–in some cultures and some families, that attachment is stronger than others.  Initial attachment is our emotional bond to our parents that gives them the desire to take care of our primary needs (eating, sleeping, safety) and eventually becomes the “engine of subsequent social, emotional, and cognitive development.” The confusing reality of this is that in order to be able to have a healthy attachment to your child-which has multitudes of short term and long term health benefits to you both, one must be able to honestly assess their own emotional bond to their parents.  One must ask, how did my parents do at keeping me safe, seen, secure and soothed?  

Many of us do not want to assess our attachment to our parents in any sort of negative light because we were told to “honor thy mother and father.”  But honor does not mean cover up, sideline, or perverse the truth.  Honor means telling the truth (sometimes to ourselves, first) about them, and their journey through life–because, whether they understood this or not, they were your first iteration of the universe’s expression of wholeness.  If that iteration had a facade of wholeness and perfection, or at least a good-enough version, we may still trust them to be the truth in our lives.  And if not your life, than in the life of your child.  So many of us turn to our parents in our own parenthood looking for answers, truths, affirmation of how we are doing.  Someone to say ‘you are ok. You are doing a good job.”  Mostly that is okay, until you allow that fine line of affirmation to be blurred into an outright acceptance of truth and you end up trusting your parents more than you trust yourself.  It is not a parent’s job to set your boundaries in an adult child’s way of being with their child, that is your job.  It is a hard part, maybe the hardest, of growing up.  Letting go.

You let them in as much as you need or want them there, but honestly assess whether you are giving them this power over your parenting because you need them or because you want them.  Confronting your own independence takes maturity, trust, consciousness and vulnerability.  Maturity to acknowledge that you are a grown up (even if you don’t always feel that way when you feel like you got lured into an argument with a child).  Trust to allow this process of unfolding your children to happen naturally with the good and bad.  Consciousness to awaken out of your blind acceptance of enculturation–of your parents and yourself.  And finally, vulnerability to admit you may have been wrong and will be wrong in the future.  

Setting parents free is different than kicking them out; it is a gift to you- and to them- and a way of stating that “you did a good job here but your job here is done, I’ll take full responsibility for my development from here.” It is a mature way of accepting your own adulthood and relieving them from any unintended damage they may have unconsciously done while raising you.  It is freeing both of you from dependence, codependence, and enmeshment and gives you the chance to have a mature adult relationship, as intimate as your boundaries allow, with your parents.

Not from our culture and not from our parents will we learn to parent.  We will learn only when we are willing to accept ourselves as unfolding on a perfect timeline for our evolution and that of our children.

Conscious Parenting series will be starting again soon! Details at: “Upcoming Events.”

Read More about Attachment here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/attachment

PS. I love you Mom and Dad–now more than ever.

Gift Yourself Presence to Your Heartache

I am in Fundamental Political Shock. Shocked, surprised and sad are just the beginning.  Hurt, deceived, angry, and stupid are also some of the feelings.  I want to hug my children and explain to them…explain what?  Today we are just surviving.

The first and last thing I want my kids to learn from today is that when we are on our Anger Mountain* lets start by focusing on being gentle. To ourselves.

The healing and recalibration process begins by starting with our feelings.

But its hard.  On one hand it’s personal.  This was not an affront or attack on our physical body but on our ideas.  But our ideas are just that ideas.  They are not who we are: we are our spirits, our hearts, our souls.  So let’s extend a physical hand and actually share our convictions, dreams, hopes.  Lets accept our vulnerability and be open to the differences percolating out there.  Lets not come up a cognition-driven explanation to satisfy our egos need to understand.  The reality is that people all over the world and our country are really different from us.  That is what we supposedly celebrate. So let’s walk with them. Let’s just be present with them and not try to talk through the differences or even celebrate our similarities-first lets just be.  And find a way to be OK with not doing–pro or against their ideas.

But I also feel stupid because I bought the lie.  I guzzled it up and proselytized it: Media made us believe that it was about a binary option; that this was: bad vs. good, intelligent vs. stupid, morally elite vs. financially elite.  This was never those things and we all drank the media’s kool-aid.

The lesson for our kids is that it is ok to be and not do.  We will do tomorrow. Today we will just be in our feelings.  Feel our feelings.  Accept our humanity.  Adults don’t always have all the answers and we can teach our kids that we do not always use our brains to solve problems. Our hearts come first.  And right now our hearts ache so let’s start there by dwelling in that, allowing the feels, and being gentle to ourselves.

*Anger Mountain is a way I illustrate anger to young children.  Being angry is like hiking a tall mountain–every step towards the top is harder than the last and at the top, you burst with feelings and end up feeling smaller, less empowered, more enraged.  The opposite also exists: Happy Hills.  Happy Hills are also steep, but hopefully more frequent.  And when you get to the top you feel bigger, exuberant, empowered.  So the goal when the child starts to feel Anger Mountain is to help them identify and choose to take other “paths” that can lead them towards a Happy Hill.  The paths don’t have to be positive emotions but rather useful feelings to get through the journey: sadness, fear, helplessness are just some.  It is ok to be in those feelings and need some time to work through them.  And holding hands with the right partner on those other paths always makes them easier to travel.  (And as a sidebar to that; as a parent, I hope to be that partner for my children but it is important to accept if they choose a different journey-worthy person).

What are you feeling?  What are the physical symptoms you feel?

How will you be gentle to yourself today?

 

(c) 2016, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance

Helping Your Child Through Bold Anger: Crisis Management 101

“When we are our angriest, we are our stupidest.”

As a school counselor one of the trainings I went through was called Therapeutic Crisis Intervention.  It is a way of understanding crisis as an Unknown-2.jpegopportunity to connect and teach new behavior and I have found it is also helpful in parenting and raising children.   The Chinese define crisis as danger + opportunity.   This is a helpful way of looking at a potentially “hot” situation because it instills hope that their will be something positive to come of the difficult behavior.

The goal of any intervention is for the child to come away empowered and better able to self-regulate and solve problems without adult help.  What one does not want to happen is for a power struggle to ensue.  Power struggles will only encourage the kid to view their parents as people who should not be trusted, kept at an arm’s length, and not really caring about their autonomy (ability to govern ones-self).

The 5 phases of the Stress Model of Crisis are: the baseline state, the triggering phase, the escalating phase, an outburst (violence, screaming), and recovery.

When a child is in a baseline state they are functioning normally.  When a child is triggered you may want to ask yourself:

1. Why did this happen today, and not yesterday?

2. Is this typical behavior for my child?

3. Is my child expressing a need? 

4. Is this developmentally typical? 

5. Does this behavior reflect an implicit or explicit way of being in our family during a crisis?

(sidenote: these questions are very helpful if you are trying to understand why YOU, as a parent/care-taker, were triggered by a situation.  In addition to these questions you should ask yourself: what happened in my childhood that may have contributed to these feelings.)

If your child’s behavior has escalated it is important to not escalate with them.  It is a luring trap to be weary of because it is so easy to drawn into a power struggle, succumb to your triggers as a parent, act immaturely (yell, threaten), and say/do things to your children that your parents said/did to you that you swore you would never repeat.  So how do you not escalate with them?  Ideas could include: empathize with the fact that they have these big of feelings, take a moment to get perspective on the situation, take a deep breath, walk away, or ask for help.

Now, if a child’s behavior has escalated and is now in the outburst phase some thoughts to consider: is this child’s behavior a threat (to himself or others or property)?  Have other interventions been tried (change environment, talking to kid)?  Physical restraint is NEVER a first choice option but if your kid is acting in a way that could pose serious harm, intervention is warranted.  Carefully and gently restrain child and tell them “I am not going to hurt you, but you may not hurt me.  When you are calm I will let go.  Lets take a deep breath together.”  It is imperative that parents know that physical restraints must never be used as  (a) punishments, (b) consequences, or (c) for demonstrating “who is in charge”.  Not ever.  Also, restraints must be stopped as soon as your child is no longer a risk of harm to self or others.

Once the child has calmed down take them to a quiet place away from distractions.  Face them, get on their eye level or below, and listen.  Speak calmly and respectfully and make sure they understand.  Ask you child to think about outcomes of his behavior and brainstorm other behaviors and their outcomes.  Don’t make it personal, make it factual.  Give you child some time and space to think and do not pressure them to say the “right” thing, remind yourself that they are in fact learning and that is a process of testing out right and wrong ideas.  That being said, do correct them if they give suggestions that would not be appropriate.  End the conversation with a hug or other gesture of love and affection to remind them that you love them despite them having behaviors that you may not love. 

A universal goal of most parents is to create trusting and caring relationships with their children. Showing kids exactly how to treat people, and how they should expect to be treated by people, even during difficult times is a critical skill.  With a little knowhow, parents can feel confident to help their kids even through the boldest of emotions.