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So we parents are convinced that we want more time and space in our lives. To do this, we have chosen to integrate a mindfulness practice in our lives. This may be a formal meditation, or this may be through different techniques to slow down and focus on our breath more frequently. Either way, this eventually leads parents to experience great relief, optimism, and desire to share this journey with their children. Kids can reap the benefits of mindfulness and it can help them self-regulate and learn to concentrate their attention. Before you embark on bringing this journey to your children be aware of your intentions and do not push these activities. I repeat: do NOT push these activities on your children. If they resist, no matter how well-intentioned you may be, drop it. The best way to encourage your child to slow down, listen to their body, and breathe is to authentically role model this behavior through your own practice. Children will naturally drawn to mindfulness when they are interested and forcing them will be counterproductive.
That being said, below are several resources I recommend to share a mindfulness journey with your children starting with focusing on their breath. (Future posts will focus on mindfulness of body, emotions, heart, and more–so sign up for our mailing list!)
1. Hoberman Sphere: Use this fun toy to visually show how breath expands and contracts and the appropriate speed to do so to calm down. My child liked playing with this toy more than using it to monitor his breath, so I took my own advice and abandoned (for now) us using it together. Instead, I used it alone and found it very helpful in staying focused on the cadence of my breath and sustaining attention on my breath.
2. Noticing Breath: Have your child get a special stuffed animal lay down. Put it on your belly and have them notice what it does when you breathe (go up and down). Now put it on your head or legs and have them notice what it does when you breathe (nothing). Have them lay down. Have them try moving it slowly up and down 5 times. Ask them how they feel when they take 5 deep breaths.
3. Breathing Technique: Have your child inhale like they are smelling a flower and exhale like they are blowing out a candle. I did this with my kids at a family yoga class we recently attended. It is a relatable visual for the kids which will help them understand the 2 main parts of their breath more clearly (inhale and exhale). If you have another tangible object for them to inhale and another to exhale (like a balloon), use it! It will make the “lesson” more fun and memorable.
4. “Calm” App. We carry our phones with us wherever we go, so this app is nice because it is practically always at an arms lengths aways! This program has some neat features which kids (and grownups) will enjoy using including: a visual breath tracker telling you when to breathe in and when to breathe out. It also has a “sleep story” feature where you can listen to a calming story before bed. The app can record the frequency of your meditations which is helpful. I personally don’t love having an app be a part of my mindfulness routine, but if it works for you, go for it!
5. The Boy Who Searched for Silence by Andrew Newman: I got this book at Dr. Shefali’s Tsabary’s Evolve conference last year. She gave a beautiful endorsement of this book. This book is a beautiful tale of boy who is looking for silence and the amazing feeling he experience he has when he finds it. My son is inexplicably drawn to this story and I am fascinated that he keeps picking it for bedtime. Instead of asking him, I am just riding the wave and enjoying the process…I hope you do too. This book gets 5 stars from us.
Again, a note of caution about getting so excited about your mindfulness journey that you force it on your children. You can expose them to what you are learning, but they will reject it if it gets pushed on them. The breath is their most sacred home that they will find peace in–whenever they choose to go on that journey. Don’t taint it with your expectations, judgements, and intentions.
What other mindfulness of breath tools do you recommend?
@2017 Nurture: Family Education & Guidance, nurturefamilyeducation.com
Introduction to Conscious Parenting
In this introductory talk, you will learn about the basics of Conscious Parenting including what is/isn’t, the difference between traditional and conscious parenting, how mindfulness fits in, what are ways to speak to your child that facilitate connection vs. disconnection. This course is the foundational course in the Conscious Parenting Series and is based on the work of Dr. Shefali Tsabary and Dr. Dan Siegel. Participants will leave with actionable information and a new perspective on the hardest job they’ll ever love. Cost: Free
Thursday 3/23: 7pm-8:30pm at East Avenue Chiropractic (1641 East Avenue, Rochester 14610) (click here to register on Facebook, or email email@example.com)
“It’s just ice cream! We’ll get you another! Stop crying!”
“Your hair is a disaster, stop screaming and let me brush it. Now!”
“Are you seriously crying over Legos? You have so many! Stop throwing them, or else!”
“No, for the 10th time, you are not getting that toy with behavior like that.”
All parents are faced, at some point, with children who are seemingly not able to control their emotions and are acting in socially and culturally inappropriate ways. One expects young toddlers to do this, but as kids grow older, say 3-6 years old, we hope that they are able to start recognizing their feelings more objectively (instead of just feeling those feelings) and respond more maturely. This can be very frustrating when a parent doesn’t know how to help their child deal with their big emotions–usually negative. When children do not understand their feelings they are unable to problem-solve the issue at hand and help themselves out of emotions that might not be serving them.
Self-regulation is the processes that allows people to appropriately respond to their environment. It goes hand-in-hand with mindfulness which is the ability to recognize a present-moment thought or feeling without judgment because both are about insight and awareness of oneself. It is important for people to have the ability to notice what emotions one is feeling and how intensely one is having those emotions so that they can respond appropriately instead of a quick and thoughtless reaction. Self-regulation is important for people all ages and learning it begins at birth. To teach self-regulation, parents must model appropriate self-regulation, give their child hints and cues on how to appropriate self-regulate, and give their children practice by gradually withdrawing their support. Babies regulate by “co-regulating” or attuning to their caregiver and the process evolves as the child becomes more independent, develops more self-awareness, and develops a vocabulary. It is a slow process that develops over many, many years.
An important first step is to get your child to start recognizing the physical sensations of their emotions. Without awareness of how the emotion presents in your child’s body it seems more overwhelming and helpless than it actually is. To start this in your home, parents should attune themselves to their own physical sensations of big emotions and start noticing their child’s. Take cautions not to judge physical reactions, but just notice them. Find a safe and quiet time to debrief with you child after a big emotional outburst when they (and especially you) are calm and in an accepting state of mind. Talking to a child in the midst of a tantrum will not be productive because their brain is unable to receive and process complex information in that heightened state. In the middle of a tantrum parents should first keep their child safe from himself or harming others and then respond lovingly and empathetically to their physical sensations (ex. “I see that you are sad because your ice cream fell. I would be sad about that too. Can I give you a hug?” or “I know you are frustrated that your brother keeps taking your Legos. It is annoying when people just take things without asking. Can I sit with you while you calm down and then we can figure out a solution”.)
Next, help your child label their emotions (aka. “name it to tame it”). Start this by reading stories to your children about kids who have similar big emotions. You can also hang up an age appropriate feelings chart in some common area of the home. An age appropriate feelings chart for little kids, who are more concrete thinkers, is one with pictures of actual human faces and only exhibiting 10-12 different emotions, or else it will be too overwhelming to use. Many adults will appreciate having an adult version too so that they can get back to identifying the nuanced feelings throughout the day, becoming more attuned with their own emotional landscape, and role-modeling naming the feelings.
After recognizing and naming the emotions, it is important to help your child calm down. When your child is experiencing a big emotion, a part of their brain called the amygdala takes over and tells them to fight, flight, or freeze. This has an important function in helping people respond quickly to danger but children need to learn to control this impulse and take a moment to choose a better response. Helping your child to learn how to relax can be done in a variety of ways, some examples include: taking them away from the chaotic space to somewhere quiet and private, talking to them in a softer voice, getting at or below their eye level, slowing your breathing, listening to music, and many mindfulness practices geared towards children.
Finally, by helping the child to focus on something good–the sunshine, a cookie, a parent coming home soon, not with the intention of distracting the child but rather to remind them of something positive is a great way to diffuse attention away from the big emotion and onto something happy.
Coaching your child through these tough times will be difficult but children need their parents to be the calm, unconditional leader to help them mature through their developmentally normal emotional outbursts.
Resources to learn more:
Printable Feelings Chart for Little (2-5) and Bigger Kids (6-11):
To further this lesson with your children: have them look through magazines and cut out pictures of faces and then label them with the correct emotion.
Feelings Chart for Adults who want to improve their Emotional Intelligence (EQ):
(c) 2017, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance, nurturefamilyeducation.com
Another milestone moment in raising a child: giving him his first allowance. Our 5 1/2 year old came home the other day asking for an allowance (thanks again, school bus) and we decided that it was time to start teaching him about mechanics of having your own money. Our desire to teach him about money is very closely correlated to our desire to teach him about feelings because both are wildly important, yet both can be very difficult to talk about. Luckily, last November I had the chance to interview and see NYT Best-selling author Ron Lieber speak about money. His wisdom guided our first allowance discussion with our child (read here for full transcript) .
None of this is particularly easy to do because, lets face it, money is personal. It is a tangible reflection of the values and culture that your parents, and their parents, were raised in and differing from those can feel disloyal. Conscious parenting is about raising children with awareness and authenticity so that you don’t fall into the pitfall of generational beliefs and patterns. Money is the perfect place to begin to confront those traps.
Good luck to you as consciously confront your relationship with money.
(c) 2017, Nurture: Family Education & Guidance
Question: Today my 4 year old was given his dinner and refused to eat it. He ate this meal (chicken, broccoli, and bread) last week. We don’t know what to do when this happens so we usually end up sending him to his room, but this doesn’t feel right. We also don’t want to get in the habit of making him another meal. What should we do?
Answer: All parents have dealt with picky eating at some point and it is always frustrating and confusing. It is hard to know exactly why this is happening so it is easy to react from habit. This is a very common problem. Parents need to consider their goals for meal time and if their behavior is congruent to meeting those goals. There are a number of feelings and behaviors that both parents and kids come to the table with. Here are 5 to consider:
(Before these considerations parents should always make sure their is nothing medical going on with the child like being nauseous or sick.)
1. Does your child like the food and/or is the child bored of the food or is your child even hungry? This is often overlooked in the busyness of life but it is important to consider. Children are allowed to have preferences, likes and dislikes, just like grown ups. They just don’t always know how to express those and parents don’t always, quite frankly, care because they are not willing to make another meal. Have you ever been exposed to a food that you normally like that you were just not in the mood for? Kids have days like that too, so if this is an infrequent occurrence, do not make it into a big deal. Many well-intentioned parents also serve milk with meals which kills their children’s’ appetites. While the protein is good for them, it fills them up before they have time to eat their actual meal. Also, obviously but worth noting, keep their snacking in check. It is so difficult to not feed them a full meal (calories-wise) when they are begging for food but you want them showing up to mealtime hungry, so make sure any snacking is light enough to leave them ready for mealtime.
2. Is your child really asking for some control? If you have a concern that you child is being manipulative or needing to have some power at the dinner table, we would suggest you listen to that intuition and give them some control. This can be hard because traditionally parents have a strong desire to be in control and be respected at all times but this is counterintuitive to a happy mealtime. For this specific example, we would give the child choice of a dipping sauce for the chicken (give him 2-3 options), a choice of how he would like the chicken cut (cubes with a fork or long strips he can pick up with his fingers-if that is acceptable at your house), a choice over how he would like the broccoli cut and possibly sauced (cheesy might be irresistible for a 4 year old), and whether he would like to eat the bread or not since it is not nutritionally dense. Sometimes parents get go caught up in the dinner wars that they do not even realize that they are demanding their kids eat something (like bread) that isn’t feeding the child’s health but rather the parent’s ego and need for control.
3. Is your child resistant to a certain specific food? If the child is resistant to a particular food, say broccoli, we would suggest you consider doing something called “chaining”. In this process, the child is presented with new foods that may be similar in taste, temperature, or texture to foods the child already likes with the goal of them eating a food in the form which it is normally served at your home. So for example, if you want your child to eat raw broccoli, offer a broccoli muffin to start (assuming they like muffins), then have them eat a blended broccoli soup, then finely diced broccoli in eggs, and so on and so forth until you have them dipping their raw broccoli in dip. Choose delicious ways to chain and your kid will eventually be eating a new food. We also suggest allowing kids to start the chaining process by just having the food on their plate. Period. Just that is a step in the direction of them “warming up” to the idea of eating a new food.
4. Most kids will not wither away and die if they do not eat a meal. We would make sure to keep this in mind if you child says they are not hungry. Forcing kids to eat when they are not hungry sends a message that they shouldn’t listen to and respect their bodies, but rather the exterior demands of the person who is in control. Not what parents actually want for their children in the long run. Mealtime should be focused on promoting prosocial behavior and facilitating re-connection after a long day and if your child is resistant to eating tread lightly and do not make too big of a deal of it especially when it interrupts the familial connection you are establishing, which is more important that caloric intake at one meal (unless it becomes a pattern, in which case, you should look below the surface level of behavior and try to figure out what is really going on).
5. Should you make him a new meal? In general, no. You do not want to send the message that they can simply refuse to eat and get something “better”. But if you know the child is truly hungry and in need of calories in his body but still not willing or able to eat the food offered, it is not problematic to offer a simple alternative as long as it does not become a regular habit. Do not cook something that takes much effort, but reheating desired leftovers or fixing him a bowl of cereal is fine. Being too rigid at meal time is just going to exacerbate power struggles and that is the opposite of what family meal time is about.
6. Sending a child away from the dinner table for refusing to eat is not desirable because it does not get them to eat, does not teach them appropriate way of asking for different food or how to politely refuse food, and facilitates disconnection which are all the opposite goals of meal time. Time-outs, during mealtime, or other times are a waste of an opportunity to teach valuable skills like how to regulate their emotions or how to get their needs met. (Click here for link to Rethinking Discipline.)
We hope this helps facilitate a broader understanding of appropriate ways to deal with stressful mealtimes and wish you sweet love and good eats.
We highly recommend checking out this resource for more mealtime and eating ideas: http://itsnotaboutnutrition.com/
The Parenting Philosophy of Rochester Parenting Coach can be summed up in 3 basic foundational parenting principles: KISS, set yourself up for success, and there is hope. Essential to these principles is my mission is to empower parents with reflection, intention, and improved communication. While my hope that your family dynamic improves, my intention is that is comes from the parents trying new approaches as a result of our work together not the kids simply learning new behaviors. This will create confidence in parents and lasting change in their family.
The first principle is KISS–keep it simple, stupid!
So much of modern-day parenting is a bunch of stuff that gives parents anxiety that they aren’t (insert verb here) for their children. While kids can be confusing for adults, they aren’t really too complex if you understand their emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development. All kids (really, all people!) want attention, love, and to be cherished. Yes, obviously you need some ‘stuff’ to raise a child but don’t be confused by what you want to give your child and what they actually need. Needs are: a place to sleep, healthy food to eat, toys to keep them stimulated, a safe environment, a good sleep schedule, medical attention when necessary. Wants are: lots of toys, vacations, added sugar, new almost-anything.
Behaviorally, your kids–no matter their age–need boundaries and love. They need to know what is allowed of them and what is not tolerated (like violence of any sort, for example). Boundaries give them comfort because it lets them know your expectations and what they need to do to fulfill those expectations. Love is a nonnegotiable need for all people. Different kids accept love in different ways. Some may want quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch (See 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman). Give your kids lots of positive reinforcement when they do something you want them to do and give them love unconditionally–no matter what they do.
A simple environment will more likely translate in to a home of more emotional calmness. When your child is quietly engaged in an activity allow them the peace and quiet to focus on what has captured their attention, no matter how trivial it may seem to you. Too many toys in a playroom usually results in the kids playing with none of them. Little children (5 and under) don’t care about expensive experiences–they care about attention from their parents. If you do take them on an expensive experience (ex. far-away vacation, live theatre, fancy dinner) be honest with yourself that it is more about fulfilling your needs than theirs. Overstimulation–in activities or environment–will cause anxiety for you and/or your young children–so try hard to keep it simple and have developmentally appropriate expectations! And remember: the best things in life aren’t things.
It is important to understand your childs cognitive development so that your keep your expectations relative to their abilities. Cognitive development refers to how they think, problem solve, and learn. You want to push them just enough so they are interested to learn but not too much that they are overwhelmed and give up. You want to clarify and simplify your expectations relative to your child’s development and try hard not to compare them to other kids. Carol Dweck, well celebrated researcher on mindset, reminds us to celebrate the process of learning (which includes mistakes), not just focus on the outcome. Being labeled “good” or “bad” (fixed mindset) can have detrimental effects on your child’s self-efficacy but being positively reinforced for their growth, hard work, and effort (growth mindset) will give them the encouragement and knowledge that continually learning is the optimal outcome whether they are 2 or 22.
The second principle is: Set yourself up for success. Parenting is already a hard job–don’t make it harder by bringing your child into a situation that you know will not work out well for them (or you) and expect a miracle. By adjusting your expectations–making them more realistic and honest with what their needs are–you will make your child and yourself happier, saner, and more relaxed. Now, obviously there are times when we know we are bringing them into a situation that will be tough for them. If this is the case, allow them to feel those feelings and recognize your needs versus their needs. Are they/you upset because they/you are tired/bored/hungry? Are they/you upset because your plans changed? Are they/you angry because you are missing out on a fun time? Are they/you sad that you didn’t get to do what you wanted? Do you have unreasonably high expectations for yourself? When I had my first child, my only goal for the first 6 weeks of his life was to keep him alive and to shower everyday. Seriously those were my life’s goals and some days, that was really hard. As kids get older, you grow with them and learn to anticipate their needs. Listen to that voice inside of you–it is the cultivation of a parental instinct and is gets better with the more experience you have as a parent.
There is hope is the final foundational parenting principle of the Rochester Parenting Coach. It simply refers to the fact that no matter how poorly behaved your kids are, how challenging they may be, how stressful parenting is, it can get better. Ask for help early and often. Don’t wait for little problems (my cute little 2-year-old won’t listen, ha ha!) turn into big problems (why won’t my teenager listen?!!?!). I started this business after finding that my son was remarkably responsive to a well planned behavioral intervention and thought that everyone deserves to have some experienced eyes on their children and thus their parenting. Be honest with yourself if you need help–this is a journey and even a slight adjustment can have wide-reaching positive or negative consequences. You decide.
Let your mantra for parenting include the 4 c’s. Confidence, calmness, consistency, and caring. Say it over to yourself. Do any of these words really resonate with you? Do any scare you?
It is hard to remain confident when you are a parent because, internet. Everyone else seems to have an opinion on how they do things and it is easy to second guess your choices. If we were to try to make a list of things parents feel insecure about, it would be too long. But, find your path and stick to it with confidence. The fact that you are many multiples over of their age gives you the life experience to probably know better. So, when the kids are whining and about to win you over on that ice cream snack at 4:30pm, remind yourself that YOU are the adult and YOU know better, despite their desperate pleas.
Calmness is essential in parenting–especially when the kids are testing your patience. If you react, they’ve won. You need to model being in control in difficult situations and that means staying calm when an injustice happens upon your kid. Use it as a learning tool and show them how to get through tough situations in grown-up ways. Like using clear, concise, communication. When you are disciplining your children, do not screech and show them how crazy they are making you. Speak slowly and in a low timber and make sure they are showing you proper listening (quiet, eyes to eyes, body not moving and facing yours, nod/repeat to show understanding).
Consistency is the third part of this very relevant mantra. Are you and your partner (and the other caretakers) able to give the kids the same answer each time to their many varied attempts at thwarting the task at hand? Kids are known for testing boundaries–its their job, and they are good at it. But you are the adult and you need to show them that you are able to sick to the right decision for them even when tested. It’s hard. But if the answer was no more than one TV show tonight, no pleading, begging, or negotiating should be entertained UNLESS you want to have all your answers questioned with pleading, begging, and negotiating. And you don’t, so be consistent.
Caring. The last and most important part of the mantra. Let your love for your children overflow. Love them for who they are and not what you wish they were. Show them tenderness. Give them your attention. Listen to them. Hug them. Relish in their need for you. Show them what it is like to love and be loved.
Be confident, calm, and consistent as ways to show them how much you care about them. You are the adult, so act like one…not perfect but looking for solutions for the imperfections because that is what you will one day want your children to do as well.
We are here to help you actualize this mantra in your home. If you have found yourself heightened to any of these words, contact us. You are not alone and you will not be judged. Parenting is really, really hard and good parenting is really, really, really hard. Why not give your kids your best? Don’t they deserve it?