Reflections on Silence

Back from 5 nights away from the family.  In the spirit of mindful awareness, I came to the Mindful Schools annual retreat at the Garrison Institute in the Hudson Valley (across the river from West Point!) with a playful curiosity.  I was interested in the content of the two seminar days, but not totally sure what the first 2 days OF SILENCE really meant and even if I really wanted that.  What I got from the experience was something magnificent.

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The Garrison Institute–where we stayed and learned…surrounded by beautiful hikes, a labrynith made out of bushes, and bamboo groves!

“Welcome to silence”

When I heard those three words, I was scared.  I was walking into the unknown and, as new experiences are, I was feeling uncomfortable, weird, and stressed.  We alternated between sitting guided meditations (focusing on our breath, our bodies, compassion, self-compassion, letting go of thought for 30-45min) and walking meditations (walking back and forth between 20 feet or so for 30-45m in a clip).  I was surprised at how exhausting the sitting and walking was–by afternoon I was tired and by evening I was downright exhausted.  Meals were incredible, vegetarian and healthy–a la the famous Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca.  We made little eye contact with each other and did not even worry about normal social norms like holding doors for eachother.  The experience was designed for each of us to go completely into our own bodies for 2 days without distraction.  Each evening we had a talk about our mindfulness practice.

During the silence I practiced staying in the moment without judgement over and over and over again (read: Intro to Mindfulness).  It was hard.  Our minds have so much practice swinging from thought to thought like a monkey that stilling those thoughts is usually very difficult.   It takes a lot of practice to get good at quieting your mind and it is completely dependent on practice.  You can not read about it and be good at it, much like swimming or riding a bike.  You have to do it. Instead of thinking through every thought or attaching a story to every emotion, I tried to just notice it and let it float on like a leaf on a stream.  It was very comforting to allow myself the space to practice this because so often I can get caught in a story that eventually turns into a rumination, which eventually makes my jaw tight, which eventually gives me headaches, which eventually make me tired or cranky, which eventually make me not very nice to be around.

I found the silence to be:

  • mundane and profound
  • boring and fulfilling
  • painful and peaceful (physically and mentally)
  • …and so much more

The hardest times of the silence were when I was physically uncomfortable which made focusing on breath very difficult.  I also found interesting to note that I really dislike boredom.  I would go up to my room and just hear the call of my book to read, or my body to offer going for a walk in the woods, and especially not surprisingly, my phone to call home and hear the voices of my loved ones.

During silence, I can legitimately say I never tasted food quite like what I ate while my sense of hearing didn’t have as much input.  My grilled cheese that day was a type of magic I will never forget.  As I ate slower than ever before (and everyone else did, too) I got to first notice, then appreciate, than savor every single bite.  It was something I had never experienced before and while some moments went faster than others it gave me a deep sense of gratitude I had never had before for a simple sweet potato let alone a veggie burger, bread, or bean salad.

The Tao Te Ching (ancient Chinese text that is referred to as “The Way”) says “We shape clay into a pot, but is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.”  This simple truth is what I got from the silence, the gift of finding space within myself to hold whatever is dearest to my heart.

With humble gratitude and boundless joy,

Emily

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PS. I had nothing to worry about:  The kids and my husband went camping and had an amazing few days without me.

 

Archaeology of Parenting: Unearthing Yourself

Your essence is the most authentic, honest, real version of you.  Over years of development it often gets built over with other’s stories of who you are (or who they want/need you to be)–good or bad–but not essential truths of who you are on the most elemental level.  Eroding those stories we were told were your identity is a difficult but essential part of raising one’s own conscious awareness.

You don’t want to look ‘there’.  Maybe you tell yourself it doesn’t matter.  It’s in the past.  Let’s just forget it.  Or maybe you were told to ‘accept it and move on’ or ‘life is painful’ or ‘life is unfair’.  Sure you heard those words as a child, but who was telling you? Why were you asked to put your essential questions aside and let others articulate truth for you?

Your parents greatest flaw was their own unconsciousness.  Their own unawareness of their raw vulnerabilities and how that affected them.  Hurt them.  How they felt betrayed. Scared.  Alone.  They chose to candy coat those events–make them seem like sad but OK parts of who they are.  But they are not.  There are stories in them.  Unarticulated truths of existence that could lead them to their own divinity.  And get you closer to yours.  Proof of a life that means so much more than what it seems like on the surface.  How could one not be affected by the horrific truths that have been woven into the story lines they were a part of? How could that generational trauma not affect you?

With that bundle of perfection that you coddle with the warmest love, your are scraped into acknowledging your rawest essence–beyond your culture and your parents unconsciousness– and forced to look in the mirror and see–really see–who is looking back.  When we acknowledge our true being and remove the false layers of who we were told we were or who we “should” become, then we honor our unique way of being, and as a parent traversing the spiritual journey of raising humans.

So you’re an adult now, a ‘grown up’.  It doesn’t always feel that way.  When you find yourself lashing out at a child you know there is more–has to be more–from where those automatic stories you tell yourself are coming from.  How do you figure out where?

In the  solitude of the breath.

What artifacts do you need to unearth from your past to analyze, understand, and refile in your emotional database with a story that actually makes sense?  That gets to the heart of the matter?

On the breath.

What nuggets of truths can you uncover when you scuff off the layers of pretend and posing?  Will you be able to confront the pain of your family’s skeletons?

Breathe.

The truth is when you get closer the buried treasure might seem like bomb.  It may scare you and make you wonder who you are and why are you here?  How did you get layered into this mess.  It will make you question the stories–you may now call them lies–that you once owned as truth.  But be brave.

Inhale.

It may take time–maybe even a lifetime–of digging, sifting, and triangulating the data points to where they line up and make sense.  You may have to reach out to other willing family members (aunts and uncles) to unearth the real story of what happened to your parents.  You may not find anything for a long while.  

Steady now. 

Until you do.

Let go on the exhale.

The truth is the only way and making meaning of that is all you can do.

Keep breathing.

And you may realize all you have is emptiness. Nothingness.  This is not bad.  This is the starting point to rebuild a new civilization based in consciousness.  Reality.  Essence.  Pure joy.  With the emptiness there is wholeness.  The ability to be.  Anything.  Your choice.

 

Conscious Parenting Series coming up soon! Details on “Upcoming Events“.

Free Introduction to Conscious Parenting Webinar THIS WEDNESDAY 5/3 at 8-9:30pm EST.  All are invited!! Register at: https://app.webinarjam.net/register/39213/1f49240fc9

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.

Picky Eating: What Do We Do?

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.  imgres-1.jpgDoes 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/

 

Introduction to Mindfulness for Parents and Other Educators

Breathe in to the count of 5.  Breathe out to the count of 5.  Relax your body.  How does that feel? That took about 10 seconds. Do you feel a little more calm? A bit more in the moment? A little more aware? That is what mindfulness is all about.

A lot of people are talking about mindfulness these days. This Q & A will help explain some questions surrounding this ancient tradition and its modern uses in your home or classroom.

Q: What is Mindfulness?

A: Mindfulness is cultivating a non-judgemental awareness and acceptance of the present moment.  One can be mindful at any time in any location.  It involves 3 main skills working in conjunction with each other: sensory awareness, mental clarity, and equanimity.  (Equanimity is mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.)  

mindfulness-300x225.gifQ: Why do parents and other types of educators need mindfulness?

A: Parents and educators can use mindfulness to help them become less reactive and more responsive to the needs of the kids they work with.   If you ever have found yourself saying (or being told!) to “calm down and pay attention”?   Mindfulness can be helpful in teaching how to calm down and how to pay attention.

Q:  My kid is learning mindfulness at school.  Isn’t that good enough?

A: That is great that your school is open to mindfulness and it will surely be a skill they can use for the rest of their lives.  If you really want to integrate more calm into your life though, it is not just about “fixing” your kid.  Any sort of change you want to see in your family or class, begins with you, the leader, making a committment to learn a different way of being.  Simply showing up with calm energy you want them to exude can actually change their brain chemistry.

Q: You can change brain chemistry with mindfulness?

A: Yes! The pre-frontal cortex is literally strengthened when you pay attention to your feelings and reactions such that you can begin to create space between those and give a more thoughtful response when being challenged instead of an automatic reaction.  Further, when someone has a response to a stimuli, the people around that person can also experience similar firing of neurons if they can anticipate what comes next.  This concept is called mirror neurons.  For example, your child just has a joyful lick of ice cream; their neurons are fired and dopamine (the happy chemical in the brain) is released.  You are watching their joy and delight and feel a similar feeling of dopamine release in your body without ever having touched the ice cream.  That is the powerful effect of mirror neurons.  The same thing happens with all different sorts of emotions, even calmness.

Q:  What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

A:  Meditation is setting specific time aside for mindfulness.  Meditation is usually in a silent seated position.  The word “meditation” has some religious connotations (from Buddhism–like zen and karma).  Mindfulness can be a religious or a secular pursuit and can be done anywhere, at anytime.  One can be mindful of everything: how they move, what they think, what they are eating, or how they are feeling or acting.

Q: I am so busy and this is just one more thing.  Is this really valuable?

A:  Well, we can’t ascribe the value it will be to your life but if you are so busy, this could very well be the skill you need the most.  Mindfulness will allow you to show up to each activity you are a part of with presence, awareness, and openness so that you are able to attune to your (or your child’s) actual needs and don’t feel as overwhelmed with everything you have to do.

Q: How can I learn to be a more mindful parent or educator?

A:  An amazing resource is called: “Getting Started with Mindfulness”.  We also recommend you find a community of people to practice with so you can hold each other accountable as you grow and flex this new muscle.

 

We offer seminars, smaller facilitated groups, and individual coaching.  Contact us to learn more at emily@nurturefamilyeducation.com or leave your information below.

 

(c) 2016. Nurture: Family Education and Guidance

Parenting is Not an Instinct

The idea of the ‘maternal instinct’ is old, tired, and culturally irrelevant in this day and age; what ALL parents–mothers and fathers– must start hearing is that parenting is a muscle and a mindset.  Instinct implies either you’ve got it or you don’t.  Parenting is neither of those things.  If you adapt easier to your role as a parent, great.  Good for you.  That’s not typical.  If you feel sometimes inadequate, often stressed, and frequently confused–congratulations, you’re A PARENT.

Undoubtedly there are some natural inclinations that do exist and scientists have proved this time and time again (example: we are biologically programmed to want to snuggle our babies).  But it would be amiss for parents to think that the birth of their first child comes a graduation cap of achievement for themselves.  Birth is just the beginning of the journey and you are never an expert at the beginning of a journey.  Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to be considered an expert.  But the problem lies within the fact that your children are not static beings and their constant development requires constant new skills to train your parenting muscles.  Training your parenting “muscles” takes intentional practice until it becomes muscle memory and you do it automatically with unconscious competence.  Before parents can reach unconscious competence their must be an entire journey of consciousness–raised raw awareness of their own needs and desires.  And truly that journey never ends.

 

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Mindset is another valuable way to look at parenting.  Mindsets are beliefs—beliefs about yourself and your most basic qualities. Think about your intelligence, your talents, your personality. Are these qualities simply fixed traits, carved in stone and that’s that? Or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life?

People with a fixed mindset believe that their traits are just givens. They have a certain amount of brains and talent and nothing can change that. If they have a lot, they’re all set, but if they don’t… So people in this mindset worry about their traits and how adequate they are. They have something to prove to themselves and others.

People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Sure they’re happy if they’re brainy or talented, but that’s just the starting point. They understand that no one has ever accomplished great things—not Mozart, Darwin, or Michael Jordan—without years of passionate practice and learning.

Flex, stretch, grow, and practice practice practice.

Mindset and muscle. Flex, stretch, grow, and practice practice practice. If you are feeling like your kids are not “doing childhood” the way your envisioned it for them, that is OK.  Being conscious, present, and attuning yourself to their needs (as opposed to your  needs or your projections of what you think they need) will allow them to grow into their own authentic self.  Believe in cultivating your own truths and let your child teach you theirs.  Follow their lead, strengthen your skills, and practice your parenting intentionally to feel competent in your journey.

What parenting skill do you need to practice?

(c) 2016, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance

Giving Trust the Conscious Parenting Way

Tonight my husband and I genuinely shocked our 5-year-old son (and ourselves).  He announced he was done eating mid-meal because he was ready for dessert.   He hadn’t touched a bit of his brisket –which he loves — but was excited to eat Nana’s double chocolate layer cake which had been staring him square in the eyes since we arrived yesterday.  We were in the middle of  a proclamation about how he had to eat 4 bites more if he wanted to eat dessert.  This has been the typical pattern for us–ordering x bites more to get x reward–and truly we thought this was out of love and concern.  My kid would have whined, stuffed himself by our conditions to eat more than his body wanted and been unconsciously reminded that he is not trusted to make decisions about his body. Conscious-parenting-fail.

“Conscious Parenting means you spot the gap between the lesson you intend to teach and the lesson your kids are learning. Then you adjust your technique and improve messaging”

Instead, we tried a different approach tonight and adjusted our message: “you are going to get dessert whether or not you eat more dinner, but you do need to be reminded of couple things before you make that decision.  First, besides from dessert, this is the last food you will have until breakfast tomorrow.  We will not entertain whining or begging later if you tell us you are hungry.  And two, you are getting one small serving of dessert so don’t depend on that to fill you up significantly.”

We are desperate for him to learn how to be aware of his body’s hunger (and emotional) signals–so why would we not get be him the chance to practice just that?  Why would we interject our worries about his fullness with a really quite random number of bites?  To satiate his hunger or our fear?  Well we’re human and parenting is a muscle.  Conscious parenting takes intention and practice until it becomes automatic because of the neural pathways (muscle memory) that gets created in the brain.  The fate of the firstborn is that he is our guinea pig–we are learning to step back from our egos’ fears and allow him to unfold with the gift of allowing him practice to learn new skills and that means sometimes learning the hard consequences. It also means that we have to try out new approaches in our parenting and adjust as necessary.

With our egos aside, he ate some more bites of pepper. A couple bites of challah. And then a small piece of cake. He left the table with his dignity intact and with an affirmation of trust from the people who love him most.  It will be a good new year.

1. For more read: http://itsnotaboutnutrition.com/2016/09/20/improve-messaging/

Parenting with Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation

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Behavior.  Ah. There is so much noise out there on the internet about how to get your children to behave better.  The commonly accepted way of getting your children to do something usually comes back to what social scientists refer to as Behaviorism.  Behaviorism means conditioning someone to alter certain behavior patterns in spite of thought or feeling.  There is an entire branch of social science devoted to exactly how this can be done called Applied Behavior Analysis.  It is fascinating because used specifically and scientifically, you actually can get your child–or dog, for that matter–to complete any task you want.  But it is not a perfect answer for parenting a child (with average non-pathological behaviors) for a number of reasons.

A part of behaviorism that parenting literature is ripe with is the idea of positive reinforcement.  A simple explanation is: “Do this and get that“.  This can be very valuable to use as a parent but should not be the model of shaping behavior for one to use in the long-term.  I will explain further but first lets look at how is this different that a bribe.

Bribes are when you give the reward before the behavior is completed.  (ex.  Your child asks for a new toy when you are walking through the store.  You oblige and give them the toy but tell them that you expect they are going to clean their room when you get home).

Positive reinforcement is when you complete the behavior and then get the reward.  (ex. Your child asks for a new toy when you are walking through the store.  You oblige and tell them that AFTER they clean their room, they can have the toy).

Bribes are ineffective because the child has no motivation to complete the desired task because they already have the reward.  Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, gets the behavior completed and is therefore considered effective.

While positive reinforcement does get the behavior completed, the problem lies in giving rewards for completing behavior.  Implicit in positive reinforcement is a power dynamic that tells kids that they are less than the adults.  The problem with having this belief is that you are trying to raise individuals with thoughts, feelings, and hearts and a controlling paradigm does not teach kids to act responsibility, it only elicits compliance. Simply stated by Alfie Kohn in his book “Punished By Rewards” he asks: “Do rewards motivate? Yes, they motivate to get more rewards”.  So yes, you will get the behavior completed, but only because their was a reward.  There have been scientific experiments that actually prove that “children whose parents believe in using rewards to motivate them are LESS COOPERATIVE AND GENEROUS than their peers” (Kohn, p.174)

So what about punishment? How does that fit into this equation?  Punishment reinforces the power dynamic between parent and child to an even greater extent and this can be detrimental to a positive parent-child relationship where your child sees you as someone to be turned to and trusted with the good and the bad that they need help sorting through as they mature.   While a parents ego might feel good for having power, a child will feel unimportant, incompetent, impaired, weak, and unable which are exactly the traits you do not want someone who is learning about how to function as an individual in the world to have.   Your relationship with your baby might be a matter of providing for mostly physiological needs but as children develop they need parents to guide them through the higher level needs as shown below on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

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So the question becomes, if we are not supposed to use rewards to get our children to behave in a certain way, how can we elicit compliance when we want something to get done?  It is time to talk about intrinsic motivation.

“There is a difference between forgiving ourselves an occasional blunder and refusing to admit that certain approaches are blunders” (Kohn, p.233)

Instead of using your power to exert control or manipulation over your child, try tap into their innate desire to solve problems positively.  Think about the content, collaboration, and choice.  Content refers to whether the behavior you are trying to elicit is necessary and developmentally appropriate.  Then, work with your child to collaborate on possible ways to get the behavior done.  This problem-solving technique views the child as a parter who has equal power in coming up with solutions, not merely a droid who will do as we say.  Give your child practice in problem solving and they will learn how to solve problems.  Tell your child what to do all the time and they will always be looking for direction to follow.  And finally, the final part in how to improve our child’s intrinsic motivation will be to give them choice.  Let the kids be a part of choosing how the desired action will be done.  Empowerment for a child does not have to mean disempowerment for a parent–it means you are doing your child (and yourself) a favor to unfold this human into their full potential instead of forcing your will on them.

I encourage you to process this information and come back to me with questions and comments. I am available to meet privately or speak publicly on this topic.   Please contact me for further information.

Sources:

Kohn, Alfie. Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. Print.

Tsabary, Shefali. The Awakened Family: A Revolution in Parenting. New York: Viking, 2016. Print.

(c) 2016, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance