Here are some book recommendations from my summer reading thus far:
The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Development. By Daniel Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson
A common mistake that parents make is not understanding how differently children think than adults. This book helps parents understand how the brain develops, how it communicates across different parts of the brain and how to understand children’s behavior in light of their brain development. Good reading and easily application for parents of elementary age children. My favorite chapters are chapters 2
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace who you are. By Brene Brown
Brene Brown’s work is very popular in the psychology/self help field now. Her primary job as a researcher gives her books support and are not just a packaging of her own personal ideas. The Gifts of Imperfection would be a good read for someone struggling with self-esteem, perfectionism, over-pleasing others or anxiety.
Daring Greatly: How to Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we live, love, parent and lead. By Brene Brown
Most people are not seeking out a book on how to be more vulnerable but Daring Greatly is a good recommendation for those who struggle to connect in relationships. I like chapter 4 the most.
|Freedom from Want, Norman Rockwell
A few days before Thanksgiving you are probably picturing what your day will look like. I think its safe to say that most of us won’t look like Norman Rockwell’s version.
I’ve been thinking a lot of how thankfulness and grace are related or how it needs to be. (grace = unmerited favor, giving good to be people when they don’t deserve it.) When it comes to our families, I think we have to embrace a degree of grace to be thankful. To be thankful for what our family is, we must find a way to have grace for what they are not. Grace for what our parents weren’t to us. Grace for decisions that our kids made that we don’t agree with. Grace for conversations that were never had or for stinging words said.
As Americans, we have really high expectations for everything. We expect the best and believe that we deserve it. We need to be better at accepting things that aren’t perfect. The truth is that all families have failures and hurts. To be normal is to be imperfect.
I don’t mean that we should ignore hurts from our families. Its not possible and its definitely not helpful. Its finding a way for hurt and love to coexist. In your case, there might have been much more hurt than love and that should be addressed maybe with your family or with a counselor. If you are going to continue to have a relationship with those who have hurt you, you must find a way to value something about them or that relationship. Otherwise, all you will have is the hurt.
When that “oh no” moment happens, remember that this is just how family gatherings work when there are imperfect people involved. I hope we can have grace for that, maybe address it in our best adult manner, and strive for better next year.
How do you keep a high octane culture from changing your household? Two main principles: go back to the basics and focus on keeping your calm.
When starting therapy with children, most therapist will start with the basics:
— Is the kiddo getting enough sleep?
— What development changes are going on?
— Do you have an established, predictable routine?
— Do parents and children have fun, positive time together?
— Is there a consistent plan for discipline? Does that plan work?
A lot of family therapy is re-establishing the basics of discipline, positive time together, conflict resolution and communication. Often when things gets stressful and problems arise, we overcompensate and overreact and make the problem worse. Shoring up the basics of your family helps remove the stress of the unknown and of change for kids. It can not be emphasized enough how sensitive children are to change and to ongoing tension. Even if they don’t know what is going on, they feel it and their behavior will show it.
My easiest recommendation for families dealing with stress, change or conflict is to sit and play with your child for 20 minutes. Give your kids an opportunity to reconnect with you. YOU are what makes them feel normal and stable. Parents are a child’s attachment base which means when they feel stressed, uncertain, or anxious, they need your presence to feel calm again. Give their your presence by giving their play your full attention (sit on the floor, turn off the TV, put the phone away). Follow their lead in play and don’t add your ideas unless asked.
Focus on Keeping Yourself Calm.
It goes without saying that children will be trying to your patience. How you respond is just as important if not more than what your response is. Yelling a perfectly crafted logical consequence to your child will have no impact. Your child will be focused on your reaction instead of focusing on their wrong actions. So let’s debunk some myths that cause us to lose our calm.
Must respond immediately. Often parents feel the need to respond to their children immediately when they misbehave. If you have to chose between responding promptly or responding calmly: choose calm.
Must always have it together. No one is level headed enough to respond to everything our children throw at us at all hours of the day and night with the most logical, calm head on our shoulders. If you have been worn to the end of your rope, feel free to give yourself a time-out. A person has their quota of “no”, tantrums, whining, arguments, and attitude she can effectively respond to without a break.
Must always have the right answer. Kids can really surprise you with how they manage to misbehave. You can’t expect yourself to have the appropriate response primed at all times. You might have to think over how to respond. For example, what’s the logical consequence for giving the cat a haircut?
Must go with first response. Often our initial impulse is often the wrong impulse. The right response often requires a greater calmness and thought than we have in the moment. Allow yourself to walk away for a minute. Also our children need to see us model how to regulate ourselves in stressful situations so they will learn to do it too.
Helping Kids Regulate Emotions: Learning through Doing
I had a conversation recently with someone who is a childcare provider. She was telling me how she does not believe in making a child say sorry to another child when they have done something wrong. The reasoning was the child is typically not sorry and the other child knows that so the apology doesn’t do very much for either party. I can’t argue with idea that the child is often not remorseful. Likely, he feels justified in his actions. What I believe was overlooked in this rationale was that children learn through doing.
We don’t naturally think about other’s feelings, consider how others could feel differently than we do, or how our actions might have hurt others. A majority of empathy is learned. I believe it takes practice to learn to have empathy when we are upset. Going through the steps helps us learn what we ought to do even when we do not feel like it.
Saying sorry, accepting an apology, telling someone what you did wrong and how you hurt them are skills that we need to be successful in most relationships – family, friends, romantic partners. Although the forced sorry doesn’t produce results now, the hope is that it plants seeds and patterns that children will build upon as they grow up.
Guiding instead of Stopping
My husband has gotten most of my family into watching Duck Dynasty and now the Robertson’s are quoted frequently around our house. The favorite quote has to be Phil saying “happy, happy, happy”. Inadvertently, people have the expectations that they and their children should be happy, happy, happy all the time. People know this isn’t true when you say it aloud but unconsciously it drives how we react.
When kids are sad, we try to cheer them up or if all else fails use “if you keep crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.” When they are angry, we expect them to calm down by sitting in a chair and being quiet. When they are frustrated, we reason with them about why they should be more patient. It is easy to fall into a pattern of only permitting kids to be happy. I think part of what drives this is not knowing how to let kids show emotions.
A place to start is to think of your job as guiding rather than stopping how they express emotions. As a guide, you can place boundaries on what is acceptable and not acceptable, i.e. if your are mad you can hit and punch your pillow in your room but you can not hit and punch your sister. You can offer suggestions of how to cope with the feelings, i.e. would you like to talk to me about what those kids said at recess or do you want to be alone for a while.
Perhaps, the least used but most helpful is you can listen and show that you hear how they are feeling. As adults we often need someone just to listen to us as we are complaining about something that happened. Knowing that someone cares and is listening helps us feel supported, helps us calm down, and helps us think through what happened. For young kids, it might just look like reflecting that someone made you mad. For older kids, it might be listening and asking what they think about should happen next.
There will be happy, happy, happy days but not every day. For the days that aren’t, think about how you can guide children through it instead of trying to prevent negative feelings from happening.
Call it as you see it
I wanted to do a series on helping children handle emotions because it is one of the most frequent topics for children in counseling. Usually, the concern centers around anger.
I think it is helpful to look at the issue as a development task. People do not know innately how to express their feelings or how to calm down when upset. Think about infant. When a baby cries, we pick her up and soothe her because she does not know how to calm down on her own. We continue to learn how to handle our emotions into adulthood. As parents, our job is to help children learn how to handle their feelings.
A good first step is to help your child learn what different emotions they have. Until children know what they are feeling, it is hard to deal with it appropriately. Labeling their feelings through daily events can help children develop a concept for different emotions. Initially, it can be the basic labeling of the feeling: Example: You are angry that your brother took your toy. Then, you can advance to describing their facial expression, actions, or internal experience when they have different emotions. Examples: I see that you are playing by yourself. I wonder if you are sad? I saw you throw your coat down. It must have frustrated you that you couldn’t zip it. I saw all your muscle get tight when you got angry and started yelling.
Just as you point out pictures in a book to a toddler and say what it is, labeling emotions will help children be able to identify the feeling for themselves. The other benefit to labeling emotions is you create an environment where we can talk about feelings outside of the context of being in trouble for their behavior. Often the only emotion we end up talking about with children is anger and this is when they are in trouble for something they did when they were angry. So children develop a vivid picture of what it is to be angry and in trouble. The hope is that with some proactive effort, we can paint a more complete picture of emotions.
Just Good Enough
One of the concepts I love from social science is “good enough” – specifically good enough parents. In an information-saturated society, hearing all the things that parents need to do for and with their children can be overwhelming. It doesn’t take long to come to the conclusion that no human can do it all. Striving for perfection is exhausting and unattainable.
Good-enough parenting in a nutshell is understanding and meeting the child’s needs. A good enough parent can sense what their child needs at a certain time and their parenting will change and adapt as their child’s needs change. So from this mind set there isn’t a list of conversations to have at each age or a supreme way to discipline. It focuses on your relationship with each child and being tuned into them.
Trying to be a good-enough parent frees us trying to do everything by everyone else’s rules. It allows you to be the expert about your family. Today, I’m trying to be good enough and believing that will be enough.
Is it okay to be angry?
I often start with this question when talking about anger with children. Their answer is usually no. They look at me like I am fibbing when I tell them it is okay to be angry.
For the most part, being angry has become synonymous with acting destructively – physically or verbally. So if you are angry then you are doing something wrong. Feeling angry should be viewed as normal and acceptable; however, anger must be expressed appropriately. The anger rules help kids learn the boundaries of healthy expression.
It is okay to be angry as long as…
- you don’t hurt yourself,
- you don’t hurt other people,
- you don’t hurt things.
Now the harder part, what are okay ways to show you are angry?
I find kids most easily incorporate methods that involve physical release such as pounding play-doh, throwing a foam ball, yelling outside, punching a pillow, tearing up designated paper. After the energy is gone, then it is easier for kids to learn to talk through what happened. The goal is over time to be able to need the physical activities less and be able to rely more on words.
Another key is parents typically overlook their influence of helping their children learn to cope with their emotions. Children often don’t know many productive ways to cope their anger because adults often don’t model any productive ways. We either keep all of our anger inside, deal with it privately, or explode in some fashion. So next time you have something that irritates you, share a child-friendly version of what happened with your child and let them see how you handle it.