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When She’s Asleep

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We party!  No, really!!!  When she’s asleep, her Papa and I pull out all the stops and celebrate!  It usually looks a little like this,

Seriously fun!

There are many, many pictures circulating around the internet advertising, nay, taunting those of us who have not and will not likely ever capture one of these precious moments, until our kids are nearer 16.

 

Yeah right.  Not my kid.  Nope.

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So, I find it funny when people tell me they are going to miss nap number 3, then eventually nap #2 goes by the wayside… ah.

Nap #1 was a thing of beauty and wonder in our house, and it lasted a mere 3 years.

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Thing is, she’s never missed a moment, and when you talk to her, you know it.  And while I think her father and I would love a few more moments to share together with just the two of us, we know that this is temporary, that she is growing exponentially, that she will sleep when she’s a teenager, and that it’s worth every moment of sharing with her, even if it means the only time it’s quiet around here is when we’re all asleep.

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I was reading some comments on a site tonight about parents and their sleep dilemmas with their children.  It was the usual.. my kid either won’t nap anymore or some other ‘not as the parent expects/wants’ scenario.

I get it.  I tried for a couple weeks to hold on to my daughter’s afternoon nap when she had everything else to do but sleep on schedule.  I’ve been there.  I battled.  I begged.  I even went so far as to be told where I could put my idea of HER being asleep while I wasn’t.  Imagine all she would miss!  Yeah.. imagine.  Nothing like watching mom plop down on a couch and stare off into space for an hour, or do the laundry and dishes.  I know, crazy exciting stuff!

Anyway, point is, I realized too late in my case, as it took my daughter asserting herself in a way that made it very clear that I was being a jerk and selfish, to get me to open my eyes and stop trying to tell her when she was to sleep, instead of granting her the same consideration I grant myself and my partner regarding our sleep needs and preferences.

I learned the value of allowing someone space to manage their own body and mind very early with my daughter.  It’s a lesson I will carry with me for the remainder of my life – it’s given me the gift of acceptance and respect on a level for others I didn’t have previously.

And here are a few little things I also learned along the way –

Some children do not want to sleep, in spite of you thinking they need to. This might seem odd, but what if you had another person telling you when to sleep? 

Coming from a mama with a little that has been more alert, aware, and absorbing from the moment of birth than any of us could imagine… Instead of “putting her down for a nap”, what about trying something a little different? Why not try watching her signals and instead of telling her what to do with them, give her credit and allow her to follow her natural rhythm

When you see her start to wear out, slow down yourself. 

When you see her becoming overwhelmed with stimulation, calm your environment and quiet your mind. Provide a conducive atmosphere for rest, and allow you and she to define what is restful to each of you, independently.

Our society has this idea that children can’t figure out how to sleep on their own… Our society would serve itself well to stop trying to force children and their patterns into those that fit an adult’s world and adult’s expectations and patterns.

She will sleep when her body tells her to, if you don’t try to manage and modify her natural patterns. And you will find that if you don’t interfere, but instead follow her lead, you also will have much more opportunity to rest and restore while she rests, instead of the battle that you will both remember.

If you are interested in the studies and thoughts related to the damage caused by those who insist their children sleep when they (the adults) deem appropriate, you can check out the following links:

Becoming as Wise as Your Baby
The Dangers of CIO
Anti CIO Community
Becoming Babywise
The Natural Child Project: Sleep
Neglect & Sleep Training, Ignoring
Refusing to Diminish, Choosing to Respond

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Trusting the Process

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Being worthy of their trust, by first demonstrating our trust in them

 
A while back, I saw the following comment on a page from which I often take a few moments to share, learn, and find my inspiration.  The site is Natural Motherhood, and the FB page has continuously active conversation.One day, I came across the following request for encouragement, and it stayed with me for a while.  So often, I wish I could reach out and wrap my arms around these brave women and men, choosing to parent against the collective, and instead forging ahead in the way they know is most beneficial for their children, their family, and our world.    I wish I could step into their space, smile gently face to face, and share the quiet knowing that flourishes inside us.
Here is the thought; I hope you will journey through this with me.
“Hi, I need some advice please. My little ones are almost 3 and 15mos. We practice gentle, compassionate parenting. Lately I have been getting the, I told you so” from family members. I am having a hard time and am at a loss. My kids are both wild, rambunctious, whiney and just don’t hear me when I talk to them. We can’t take them places because of how they behave. My littler one screams and throws tantrums almost all day long…if I don’t give her exactly what she wants when she wants she loses it completely. I am just exasperated and exhausted. I’m not sure what to do and I feel like I’m failing miserably as a parent. My grandma says my parenting style has “created little brats.” It breaks my heart.”
Reading requests for help like these, my first response is to shake my head side to side, like an eraser is used.  I actually visualize an eraser sometimes, like the Mister Eraser on the show, “The Color Crew”.  Aeehghhh… I want to say.. “Neh, stop, back up, start over, scratch all that.”  I want to say, “Go to the beginning.  Start there, find your gentleness and find their eyes, then take a step forward in the process.  The forest, the trees, the entire system, we have to have water, sunlight, and roots.”  Find some dirt, and start drawing whatever comes to mind, maybe you’ll be blessed and your children will join you.

When we can see the world through our children’s eyes, from the perspective their minds can comprehend, our own eyes are opened and our understanding, compassion, wisdom, and most importantly, our grace expands exponentially. Gentle grace with ourselves and one another allows us to patiently trust the process of life as it unfolds and develops.

When we are struggling, it is most often a result of discomfort, strain, or our own emotional needs being unmet to some degree. Our children are mirrors. Step one, identify expectations and determine whether they are there out of mutual benefit and meeting of needs, or an underlying fear/concern/need for control.

The judgement of others comes, and when we let it in, it impacts us and we end up questioning ourselves. Instead, we can choose to empower ourselves by choosing to bring our mind to a place where we can see the world through our children’s viewing portal.  Instead of expectations imposed by the adult world, we see the value of being a child. Bringing yourself to their physical height, while making this choice to see through their eyes, has a profound effect, btw.

Children hear so much more than we sometimes realize, both in the words we do say and those we do not.  They “hear” us at a core and integrated level that we, as adults, have often forgotten.  Compliance and Listening are two very different concepts.

How often, as an adult, do we appreciate our day being managed extensively?  How apt are we to happily comply with constant overseeing, herding, redirection, correction, scolding, disapproval, annoyance, irritation, expectation, and the reproach of someone who sees themselves as “over” us, for whatever reason.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not much in the market for being told when to use the bathroom, what I will eat, when to get myself dressed and what to wear, how to speak, when to speak, what I should respond to because someone else thinks so, how to spend my free time, and finally, precisely when and how I am to cause myself to sleep.  It’s a cacophony of being controlled and not being good enough.

Step back.  Step out if you have to.  Change your expectations, discover what is worth appreciating and being downright in awe of, and watch how your approach and reactions follow the shift.

If your children are whining, they are not being heard by you.  Their needs are not being met in ways that they need most, or they cannot trust that you will respond reliably.  This is the purpose of whining, to be acknowledged and have our needs be addressed.

If your children are wild and rambunctious, relish their energy.  Find a way to catch their excitement and their enthusiasm, and enjoy some for yourself. The more you move, the more energy you will have. The more you laugh and squeal, the more laughter and joy your life will know.  The more you look, the more you will see.  The more you listen, the more you will take in, the greater your perspective and understanding will be.

Screams, tantrums, outbursts that are not positive, these are desperate attempts at being heard and understood.  Adults do the same, but some with a bit more refinement and calculation for effect, children act on impulse.  I love their purity of spirit.  They do what they know, what they have been shown, and whatever they have discovered is effective.  If you want your child to stop having such outbursts, then hear them and respond in a loving and fair manner BEFORE they have to resort to such efforts.

It’s a tough job, and it requires something that all of us can give, but some of us have to find and develop first.  But when we realize the difference parenting in a way that guides but doesn’t diminish, encourages curiosity without expectation of performance, and truly reveres the process and challenge that is Childhood, we end up with harmony and flow.

I will begin to write with specific example/scenario for the purpose of comparison, and to bring to real life all the concepts here.

Also something to remember… Our Little Persons are just that… they are not supposed to be small adults. The mind develops on its own schedule, and when we, with grace and wisdom, nurture those minds with acceptance, and trust the process of growing and developing, we are able to step beyond the realm of negativity, fear, expectation, and judgment…

When we choose to revere their childhood, and admire their accomplishment of meeting the challenge of growing and developing, then the natural result is our respect and admiration of them and their autonomy, and we can then truly love them, unconditionally.

 

 

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Driving the Point Home

Yesterday we took our daughter to an egg, er, scramble.  The group that put it together was thoughtful and split up the field into three age categories.  She ran with the 1-4 year olds, their parents..and older siblings.  She came out ok, but next year I suspect she will be a bit more aggressive…. oh, what we teach our children from the very beginning.

After the hunt, we went over to the playground for a while.  There is a feature on this playground built for wheelchair fun; there is a long incline ramp, a bridge, and then a very gentle slide.  Needless to say, the kids on two feet and wheels really seem to dig it, including my daughter.  She spent quite a few moments on this particular piece of equipment, until one time instead of going down the slide, she decided to go up.  She did so at the peril of another girl about her age.

The mother of the other child, my daughter, and my daughter’s father were all within arm’s reach, so the girls didn’t end up with any serious injury physically, but the interplay between my kiddo and her Papa that followed is something I want to talk about.

My daughter has a very solid sense of self, she is articulate and opinionated and we encourage this. She tends to see things for what they are, doesn’t follow the crowd too much, and generally just sort of blissfully fits wherever/whatever she’s doing.  She spends most of her days with me, but often Papa is around, and when he is, she is happiest.  Her desire for his attention, approval, interest in her, and general involvement with her seems to exceed her desire for the same from me.  Consequently, she is much more sensitive to his responses toward her.

She listens to his ideas, to his guidance and suggestion, and to his heart, and most of the time, she does so silently. You can see the acknowledgment on her face, if you’re looking for it, and sometimes in her body language and movements, but her acknowledgement of his communications is almost never verbalized (at least not until later).

Russ tends to be very gentle with her, he gets down physically so he is face to face, he plays, he teaches, he leads by example, he shares himself.  Sometimes, however, he reprimands, and it flattens her. He can be too firm, too rough… this is when the impatience sets in. (Can any of you relate?? I know I can.)  But he can also be direct and loving, yet if he reprimands even in this calm and connected state, she just crumbles. And crumbling can look like falling apart emotionally, but it can also look like defensiveness and anger.

The range of emotional response from her toward him is greater and more intense than it is with me.  There are reasons for this, unique to the personalities of all three of us, which I won’t go into in this post, but understanding this is important to understanding why I notice some of their interactions more than others, and why I’m writing about the one yesterday.

After my daughter decided to assume the position to climb UP the slide, and once her Papa realized that it was going to cause a collision, I think he attempted to verbally intervene. I don’t think she responded however, which agitated all involved, and the girls collided. The mom of the girl helped her daughter, who was upset because of the physical “bump” she’d received, and Russ took our daughter aside.  He knelt down, holding her (or trying to), and I assume began to tell her something along the lines of why he thought it was not a good idea for her to climb up a slide with other children concurrently sliding down the same slide.

I watched from a distance, and saw only the body language between the two… He was irritated but seemed to be providing her “Papa kindness” (which means he was not shouting or diminishing her in some way).  He was talking to her face to face, at her height, but she was pulling away from him and wouldn’t look at him.  He persisted, physically trying to get her to stay near enough to him that they could talk by taking her hand, holding her arm and waist, and attempting to have the conversation. She pushed him off, was defensive, and eventually decided she was done and ran off to play on the opposite part of the playground from him.

This is when I walked over to him and asked what had happened.

I got the run down, followed by a papa expressing his dismay that his daughter just won’t listen to him.

I thought about what I’d seen for a moment and concluded that my husband and my daughter need to spend a lot more time together.  He is intuitive and sensitive, and given the necessary amount of opportunity to discover and experience one another (Papa and daughter), together, he would have been able to see exactly what I was seeing. He would have become aware, would have realized his daughter’s plight and need, would have seen the development that had actually occurred (that was masked and hiding from him in that moment), and he would have been able to diffuse the situation immediately in a way that left both Papa and kiddo with positive feelings about self and environment.

He didn’t see however, not this time. He didn’t realize it in the moment, but our daughter was embarrassed. She was embarrassed by him not realizing that she got the lesson in the very first sentence, the first three-five words, or perhaps even in the physical action of either him helping to prevent a major collision (if he did, I didn’t see), or in the collision itself. I don’t think she’s ever climbed up a slide with a kid coming down before… 

I know the signs of not ‘seeing’ soon enough. I have experienced it plenty of times myself when I don’t see – until later – and then I have to repair. Humility is something I seem to be gaining more and more of, as she gets older… And while I suppose this is a good thing, it doesn’t exactly feel so great.

What her Papa and I don’t sometimes realize is just exactly how little can be so much.. He felt he needed to reiterate to her the lesson he knew she needed to get from the experience, not realizing all the while, she had already gotten it.

When he insisted she give him her attention so he could explain and teach (what amounted to her as reprimand), she rejected him. She fought back to hold on to her dignity and he held on because of his reasons.  I suspect those reasons consisted (at least in part) of him genuinely wanting to encourage her social development, increase her knowledge base for the purpose of future self-safety (just a week ago, she was the kid coming down when another was coming up, and she got hurt), as well as perhaps a sense within him of needing to do something because of the other adults around. (I don’t know what his motivations were, I didn’t ask specifically.) The result of the two, each struggling to be heard, to hold on to their own sense of self and need, was a battle that divided them.

They reconnected an hour or so later, but the rift was there and one of them will consciously remember it (the adult), while the other will subconsciously file it away. It will shape future interactions and perceptions, for both of them.

Wisdom comes from screwing things up, and realizing it.  

What if we, as parents, had the wisdom, awareness, and made the choice to step back from the interplay, while remaining engaged, for the purpose of gaining highly valuable perspective?  Doing so would allow our maturity to prevail, our intuition to be heard, and our awareness could do its job. Imagine what might happen in moments of struggle, where we think we are connected and moving toward each other, when in reality each is standing his/her ground defensively for their own reasons and the distance is actually mounting every second that goes by, if we as the parent/adult stepped back far enough to see. 

~  What would we see?

We might see our inner selves shouting, “Hear me! Hear me! I need to be acknowledged and know my thoughts, my feelings, and my perspective is important and valued. I am significant.”

We might see our children silently shouting, “Hear me! Hear me! I need to be acknowledged and know my thoughts, my feelings, and my perspective is important and valued. I am significant.”


Our children are not emotionally mature. Many of us parents aren’t either. It’s our responsibility to give our children an environment safe for them to be emotionally immature, so they can develop at their own pace.  We can give them this environment because of our own maturity. When we, the adults, are aware of ourselves in such a way that we recognize what is motivating behaviors, what is lying underneath our responses and thought patterns, our perspectives change, as do our reactions. When we, the adults, have accepted ourselves fully, and confidently value ourselves, we have nothing to prove… especially to our children (or the other adults standing by, watching).  We also have nothing to have approved, because we know within us that we are ok. We know that we are beneficial and needed.  We don’t seek out that assurance, it is within us.

Our children seek that assurance until their emotional foundation is solid and developed to the point where they have the ability to provide themselves with this assurance, and regenerate it when it is temporarily not able to be found. How many adults do you know who are still functioning somewhere within this same realm of underdeveloped emotional security?

Power struggles with children are completely unnecessary.  And when they do occur, it is the responsibility of the adult to cause them to cease, and not by winning either. Let’s use this metaphor: Adult and child, each has a water gun and they’re playing a game with each other. The game is going well, until their guns run out of water.  They both need more water, there is only one hose, both need the water before the other one in order to “win”.  Where some adults/parents will demand the water first, others will give the water to their kid first, but then double up efforts in drenching (or let the kid win, which does the same for that child’s sense of self that doubled up drenching efforts does).

What if the adult had the wisdom and awareness to cause the hose to “run out” of water?  The game would have served its purpose, it would have been fun, and the battle that might have ensued, where each (adult and child) have a need to get met for themselves, would simply not have existed. The concluding moments would have been a “truce”, where each side respected the efforts of the other, and they had fun.

Perhaps you think this story is simplistic and unrealistic, maybe even childish… But I challenge you to reflect with an open mind on either the last, or the next time you and your child engage in being heard, and getting your own needs met.. You might just discover a SuperSoaker in your hands.


I’d love to have you share some of your own experiences where you were able to “see” what else was going on inside a battle or power struggle between you and your kid.

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Little One.. You do nothing wrong.. You are never bad.

My heart aches with the weight of knowing tonight.

Words are not coming slow enough to write…
My mind is a windstorm, swirling without form.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Catch something
anything
hold it
until I understand

My family is struggling right now.
My little one is lost in the mess of the adults’ world and its expectations.

When silence is there not to soothe, but because the scream has no voice to give.
Yet, a serenity exists here.
A simple knowing, that goes to the depths of its complexity and returns.
Jamais vu. – What to do with it?


Little one, you are beautiful.

You are amazing in your transparent, curious, exquisite self.

We hear you.

We see.
Your Papa and I…

We know now.

And without a moment’s hesitation or reluctance,
I accept.

~~~

I will seek the solution until it comes.
I will resolve this for you.

Refusing to Diminish: Holding High Our Children’s Value

From the naturalchild.org website
Emotions are Not Bad Behavior by Robin Grille
Excerpted from Heart to Heart Parenting



A Child’s Right to Receive Attention

One of the most commonly heard parental laments is about how children try to get attention. So many behaviors that adults don’t like are brushed off as “merely” attention-seeking devices. “Don’t worry about him,” we say, “he is just doing it to get attention.”

When children use oblique ways to get attention, such as causing a ruckus, exaggerating or feigning their hurts, picking on other children, showing off, being coquettish – they risk being ignored or put down, as nearby adults roll their eyes in exasperation. Sometimes, this also happens to children even when they directly and openly call for the attention they crave. Instead of scorning the child, why don’t we ask these questions: When a child is being manipulative, instead of direct, how did he learn to do this? How did he come to feel that he shouldn’t openly ask for a hug, an answer to his question, sympathy or just to be noticed or played with?

All children begin their lives with complete frankness about their needs. Babies and toddlers reveal their longings with no compunction: what you see is what you get. If a child reaches out for attention and for warmth and she gets it, her ability to be open and directly assertive is reinforced. By begrudging our children’s healthy attention-seeking behaviors, we unwittingly train them to be indirect. We leave them little room for much else, so they go for the attention they need and deserve through the back door.

We unwittingly train our children to be indirect.

Our society tends to consider children’s needs for attention as a bother. No wonder children become indirect attention seekers, some even going to great lengths to fall ill or get injured in order to be noticed. Children who have too often been denied attention can become insatiable, as if no amount of limelight ever fills their cup. Attention is life-giving, a basic need and a human right. Children deserve all the attention they want.When you wholeheartedly give a child the attention she asks for from the beginning, she soon has her fill. This is precisely what helps her to become more autonomous. As she grows, she asks for less of your attention (research shows that well-attached babies grow into children who are more independent), and when she does want attention, she asks directly, boldly and clearly.


Punished for Feeling

Time and time again children are heavily reprimanded for committing the offense of crying or being angry. Let’s get this straight: emotions are not bad behavior. Emotions don’t hurt anyone. Suppressing children’s emotions does, on the other hand, cause them harm: over time, if done repeatedly, it unbalances their brain chemistry, it stresses their immune and digestive systems, and it undermines their ability to relate to others.

Emotional censorship starts early. One of the most common things we say to a crying baby is “Shhh!” We say it soothingly, but why exactly do we shush them? Think of all the lullabies that start by telling our little babies to “hush”, and “don’t you cry”. Have you ever paused to wonder why, in trying to comfort our babies, we ask them to be quiet? It seems as if the first thing we want is for the crying to stop – instead of connecting with our baby until the reason for crying has gone.

Attention is a basic need and a human right.

Instead of berating your child for feeling her feelings, give her the space to feel, and comfort and support her if she needs it. Sometimes when our children cry, sob or yell in anger we feel overwhelmed, irritated or burdened. Our children don’t deserve the blame for this. When our child’s emotions press our buttons, we need to own the problem. We need to somehow honor our own need for support or rest without making our children responsible.


What Does Listening Mean?

The listening I am talking about here is not just about receiving and storing information, not just about remembering what your child said. I am talking about listening with your heart, not just with your ears. Real listening is all about feelings. All you need to be a good listener is a genuine interest in your child’s emotional world. When you truly want to hear, no special skill is needed. Your child senses your interest in the tone of your voice, in your body language and the look in your eyes. You know you have listened when you feel moved. You might feel compassion, protectiveness, you might feel some pain about your child’s hurts, pride or excitement about his achievements, or joy to meet his joy. Listening means letting yourself feel touched somehow, and being aware of the feelings that move through you.

Real listening is all about feelings.

________

What Listening is Not

Sometimes listening comes easy. You find yourself intently listening in stillness, without even having decided to, and there is a wonderful and natural flow between you and your child. But sometimes listening can be hard. Our children’s emotions spark off our own, and in discomfort we turn away, or we try to talk them out of their feelings. Whether it’s because we cannot bear to see our children in pain or because they are freely feeling something that we were never allowed to express – anger, joy, sadness, fear, passion – we block them out, we nip the connection in the bud.

Anyone can be a profoundly good listener.

I remember the embarrassment many of us felt as students of counseling psychology as we awkwardly practiced our listening skills together in the classroom, how often we appeared to be listening, while inside we were miles away, disengaged from the person speaking to us. It was often funny, and always quite confronting, to ask ourselves and each other: Are you listening right now, or just nodding your head a lot while you wait for your turn to speak? Are you actually listening, or sitting in judgment? Are you really listening, or just taking mental notes and storing facts? Are you listening, or just thinking about how you can change me?

How often we tell ourselves we are listening intently when in fact our minds are wandering elsewhere. It is unlikely that consistently good listeners exist. For most of us, good listening is a skill that comes and goes with our fluctuating moods. All counselors, psychologists and anyone in the helping professions are imperfect (and sometimes lousy) listeners, and we should be honing our listening capacity for the rest of our lives. It is humbling to note that anyone can be a profoundly good listener without any training whatsoever, since all it takes is an open heart and an interest in the other person.


Blocking Empathy

It’s a fact of human relationships that our capacity for listening is elusive; we lose it, we regain it, we lose it again. Sometimes it is hard to see whether we are listening so that our children really feel heard. We kid ourselves. We think we are listening when really we are avoiding contact – and then we are bewildered by and surprised at our child’s frustration. It can be very useful to get a clear picture of what is listening and what is not. When our own fears, our shame, our jealousies or our emotional exhaustion get in the way, we tend to play some pretty clever games to deflect our children’s communications so that their feelings won’t touch us. One of the biggest reasons we avoid listening is because our children’s disappointments make us feel guilty. Our evasive tactics are called “empathy blockers”. Empathy blockers save us the trouble of listening, but they cost us our connection with each other.<

Our children’s disappointments make us feel guilty.

Sometimes we use empathy blockers inadvertently because we are anxiously trying to save our children from emotional pain. Ironically, the greatest salve for our children comes from being heard, not from us trying to change how they feel. For all of these reasons, we all use empathy blockers from time to time, quite automatically and unconsciously. You could say we are all quite skilled at blocking. Here are some of the most common examples used when children become emotional:

EMPATHY BLOCKER EXAMPLES

Downplaying Oh, don’t cry. I’m sure it’s not that bad! It’s not the end of the world.

Denial There is nothing wrong; nothing for you to be upset about. Everything is OK.

Reasoning Don’t cry. Can’t you see that the other child didn’t mean to hurt you?

The positive spin Look on the bright side. Can’t you see, this probably happened for a good reason?

Cheering up Don’t worry. Here, let me tell you something funny I heard the other day. Here, have an ice cream. That’ll cheer you up.

Advising/giving options Why don’t you try doing this, or that? I think you should just ignore that so-and-so.

The expectation You should have known better. Get over it. Don’t let it get to you.

Put down Don’t be silly. Don’t be ridiculous.

Diagnosing/labeling You are being over-sensitive.

Distracting/diverting Hey, have a look at the pretty puppet.

Stealing the thunder Now you know how I felt when the same thing happened to me.

As you can see, on the surface most empathy blockers are not malicious, they are not ostensibly attempts to shame the child, and sometimes they can even be well intentioned, but they do not help the child to feel heard and connected to you. It might seem surprising, even bewildering, to hear that when you try to cheer up a child who is upset, this can often backfire – she might even feel more distressed, even angry. This is because she feels that her feelings are not accepted when what she actually needs is support for feeling the way she does. If this is hard to understand, then think of the last time you felt deeply upset, offended or anxious and someone told you to lighten up. How did that make you feel?

Empathy blockers leave anyone on the receiving end feeling shut out and frustrated, and as if there must be something wrong with them for feeling the way they do. Our children just want to be heard. Take a few moments to check this out for yourself. Have you ever heard yourself use one, a few or perhaps even all of the above empathy blockers with your child? How did your child respond? Can you imagine what you could have done instead? Now, in case you’re tempted to become self-critical, remember: we all put up barriers to listening from time to time. Those of us who teach others about empathy blockers know them too well because we’ve used them so much ourselves.

By the way, not all of the responses in the table above are always inappropriate. There sometimes is a place for advice or a helpful opinion, but unless we take the time to hear our children’s feelings first, advice comes too soon and it alienates our child from us. Before jumping in with advice, we need to ask our children if they want it. The most important thing for us to get is that primarily, our children just want to be heard. First and foremost they want evidence that they are not alone, that someone sees how they feel and cares about them. This makes more of a difference than all the advice in the world.

Empathy blockers really muddy the connection between parents and children; they create detachment and distance, and they frustrate children’s attempts to reach out. The more we use empathy blockers, the less our children are inclined to come to us with their feelings, the less they want to tell us about their lives and the less they want to listen to us. When we are concerned that our children don’t listen to us, perhaps we need to take an honest look at how well we have listened to them.

Listening is at the heart of connection.

It is sad when blocked empathy diminishes our sense of closeness with each other, and particularly worrisome when our children feel lost or in some kind of trouble but don’t turn to us for help. Our children’s trust in us is a function of how safe they feel to open up to us without feeling manipulated, expected of, judged, put down or criticized. Listening is at the heart of connection, and if we can’t listen well, we cease to be an influence in our children’s lives.

Excerpted from Heart to Heart Parenting with permission of the author. It is available in Australia through ABC Bookstores. The USA edition will be available in May 2011 and can be pre-ordered now at Amazon.Robin Grille is a Sydney-based psychologist and author of Parenting for a Peaceful World. He has a private practice in individual psychotherapy and relationship counseling, and can be contacted by email at robingrille (at) gmail (dot) com . More Articles by Robin Grille

I Had Always Just Assumed I’d Spank My Children – One Mom’s Journey to Seeing

This is, quite possibly, the most eloquently written composition on this subject (specifically the Biblical aspect of the subject) that I have ever read.

This woman has two subsequent related posts, of which I will address in separate posts here.  But start with this.. just read and sit with it for the time it chooses to leave you its essence.

____________________________________

Grace

January 8, 2011 by discipleshipmothering

My Letter to Focus on the Family

Hi,

I am a long time listener and supporter of Focus on the Family. From the time I was a teenager, I listened to and from school and college, collecting much wisdom for the path ahead of me. A strange thing for a teen to do, I guess. But, I truly love the Lord, and wanted His best for my future. I hold a high respect for Dr. James Dobson and his marriage advice. I’ve been very happily married for almost ten years.

However, when I had my first child, Dr.Dobson’s advice nearly broke my heart. I’d always assumed I’d spank, and followed his advice for my spirited 2 year old. I cannot express to you in words how wrong it felt. The spirit of God was convicting me, and this precious son, whom I’d nursed for 21 months, and had continued a very close, in-synch relationship with, even through the addition o a new baby, when he was 28 mos….become afraid and distrustful of me. Not only that, it wasn’t working to improve his behavior. He fit the bill for “strong-willed”, certainly. But, could he be beyond hope, since the very method tailored to his personality wasn’t working?

With much prayer, my husband and I began to research other discipline methods. I came across gentlechristianmothers.com in my search, and discovered some very eye-opening statements about Biblical discipline.

Out son is now 4 yrs old. We are complimented often, at church, by family and friends, and even by strangers, on how happy and well-behaved our children seem. Life is not perfect, and he’s not a perfect child. But, we are a much more peaceful, loving family since learning to discipline with the Grace of Jesus.

What I see lacking on your website is acknowledgement that these verses in Proverbs may not mean what we think they mean. You can do the research yourself and find that there are many reasons to doubt that these are commands to hit children. More than likely, they are wise principles for being a constant source of authority for our children. The OT has many things to say that are covered under grace. Another good example is the treatment of women caught in adultery. We all know how Jesus chose to react. This should be the ultimate example, among many in the NT, of how to apply grace.

I write this because the advice from Dr. Dobson about strong willed children is at worse, very dangerous advice for new parents. And, at the very least, it is impractical and unecessary. I say dangerous because it’s using God’s Word to convince parents they must hit their children. I believe there are FAR more Biblical principles we can apply to child discipline, besides a few commonly misunderstood proverbs, written by a king who ended his life in such disgrace against God, and was held with such irreverence by his own sons  (Solomon). Let’s instead apply the wisdom of Christ, Himself.  How did He disciple? How did He view children? What principles of love, forgiveness, reproof, and correction can we glean from the NT church?

I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind completely about spanking. It is so ingrained in our culture, most people don’t think twice about NOT doing it, as I once thought. However, I hope my letter will at least open the eyes of Focus on the Family and it’s wide-spread influence, to impact the world with Christ’s love.

My husband and I have experienced a total life change, and it has not been easy in the face of criticism. But, thus far, it has been one of the best decisions of our young life. It is my prayer that one day, Dr. Dobson will realize his mistake and change his heart on this subject.

Many Prayers,
(My Real Name)

I’ll keep you posted if I receive a reply.

 

Spanking is Not God’s Will

This means not allowing your child to go down the wrong road that could lead to a premature death.  This has absolutely nothing to do with actual crying as Dobson and many other Christian advocates of spanking believe!  Children need limits.  We wouldn’t let a toddler run out in the street to be run over by a car.  But instead of spanking the toddler, we should firmly tell the toddler that the street is dangerous, and then show the toddler the safe way to cross the street holding onto Mommy or Daddy hands.  Does hitting a toddler really teach him or her why the street is dangerous and how to be safe?  No!  It teaches them that danger makes Mommy and Daddy hurt me.   That Jesus wants me to be hurt when I’m in danger.  Remember, young children cannot make abstract connections like adults can.

 

Please take a moment to read the rest of the article found here, as well as the three that precede it in the series.

Refusing to Diminish: Holding High Our Children’s Value

From the naturalchild.org website
Emotions are Not Bad Behavior by Robin Grille
Excerpted from Heart to Heart Parenting



A Child’s Right to Receive Attention

One of the most commonly heard parental laments is about how children try to get attention. So many behaviors that adults don’t like are brushed off as “merely” attention-seeking devices. “Don’t worry about him,” we say, “he is just doing it to get attention.”

When children use oblique ways to get attention, such as causing a ruckus, exaggerating or feigning their hurts, picking on other children, showing off, being coquettish – they risk being ignored or put down, as nearby adults roll their eyes in exasperation. Sometimes, this also happens to children even when they directly and openly call for the attention they crave. Instead of scorning the child, why don’t we ask these questions: When a child is being manipulative, instead of direct, how did he learn to do this? How did he come to feel that he shouldn’t openly ask for a hug, an answer to his question, sympathy or just to be noticed or played with?

All children begin their lives with complete frankness about their needs. Babies and toddlers reveal their longings with no compunction: what you see is what you get. If a child reaches out for attention and for warmth and she gets it, her ability to be open and directly assertive is reinforced. By begrudging our children’s healthy attention-seeking behaviors, we unwittingly train them to be indirect. We leave them little room for much else, so they go for the attention they need and deserve through the back door.

We unwittingly train our children to be indirect.

Our society tends to consider children’s needs for attention as a bother. No wonder children become indirect attention seekers, some even going to great lengths to fall ill or get injured in order to be noticed. Children who have too often been denied attention can become insatiable, as if no amount of limelight ever fills their cup. Attention is life-giving, a basic need and a human right. Children deserve all the attention they want.When you wholeheartedly give a child the attention she asks for from the beginning, she soon has her fill. This is precisely what helps her to become more autonomous. As she grows, she asks for less of your attention (research shows that well-attached babies grow into children who are more independent), and when she does want attention, she asks directly, boldly and clearly.

 


Punished for Feeling

Time and time again children are heavily reprimanded for committing the offence of crying or being angry. Let’s get this straight: emotions are not bad behavior. Emotions don’t hurt anyone. Suppressing children’s emotions does, on the other hand, cause them harm: over time, if done repeatedly, it unbalances their brain chemistry, it stresses their immune and digestive systems, and it undermines their ability to relate to others.

Emotional censorship starts early. One of the most common things we say to a crying baby is “Shhh!” We say it soothingly, but why exactly do we shush them? Think of all the lullabies that start by telling our little babies to “hush”, and “don’t you cry”. Have you ever paused to wonder why, in trying to comfort our babies, we ask them to be quiet? It seems as if the first thing we want is for the crying to stop – instead of connecting with our baby until the reason for crying has gone.

Attention is a basic need and a human right.

Instead of berating your child for feeling her feelings, give her the space to feel, and comfort and support her if she needs it. Sometimes when our children cry, sob or yell in anger we feel overwhelmed, irritated or burdened. Our children don’t deserve the blame for this. When our child’s emotions press our buttons, we need to own the problem. We need to somehow honor our own need for support or rest without making our children responsible.

 


What Does Listening Mean?

The listening I am talking about here is not just about receiving and storing information, not just about remembering what your child said. I am talking about listening with your heart, not just with your ears. Real listening is all about feelings. All you need to be a good listener is a genuine interest in your child’s emotional world. When you truly want to hear, no special skill is needed. Your child senses your interest in the tone of your voice, in your body language and the look in your eyes. You know you have listened when you feel moved. You might feel compassion, protectiveness, you might feel some pain about your child’s hurts, pride or excitement about his achievements, or joy to meet his joy. Listening means letting yourself feel touched somehow, and being aware of the feelings that move through you.

Real listening is all about feelings.

________

What Listening is Not

Sometimes listening comes easy. You find yourself intently listening in stillness, without even having decided to, and there is a wonderful and natural flow between you and your child. But sometimes listening can be hard. Our children’s emotions spark off our own, and in discomfort we turn away, or we try to talk them out of their feelings. Whether it’s because we cannot bear to see our children in pain or because they are freely feeling something that we were never allowed to express – anger, joy, sadness, fear, passion – we block them out, we nip the connection in the bud.

Anyone can be a profoundly good listener.

I remember the embarrassment many of us felt as students of counseling psychology as we awkwardly practiced our listening skills together in the classroom, how often we appeared to be listening, while inside we were miles away, disengaged from the person speaking to us. It was often funny, and always quite confronting, to ask ourselves and each other: Are you listening right now, or just nodding your head a lot while you wait for your turn to speak? Are you actually listening, or sitting in judgment? Are you really listening, or just taking mental notes and storing facts? Are you listening, or just thinking about how you can change me?

How often we tell ourselves we are listening intently when in fact our minds are wandering elsewhere. It is unlikely that consistently good listeners exist. For most of us, good listening is a skill that comes and goes with our fluctuating moods. All counselors, psychologists and anyone in the helping professions are imperfect (and sometimes lousy) listeners, and we should be honing our listening capacity for the rest of our lives. It is humbling to note that anyone can be a profoundly good listener without any training whatsoever, since all it takes is an open heart and an interest in the other person.


Blocking Empathy

It’s a fact of human relationships that our capacity for listening is elusive; we lose it, we regain it, we lose it again. Sometimes it is hard to see whether we are listening so that our children really feel heard. We kid ourselves. We think we are listening when really we are avoiding contact – and then we are bewildered by and surprised at our child’s frustration. It can be very useful to get a clear picture of what is listening and what is not. When our own fears, our shame, our jealousies or our emotional exhaustion get in the way, we tend to play some pretty clever games to deflect our children’s communications so that their feelings won’t touch us. One of the biggest reasons we avoid listening is because our children’s disappointments make us feel guilty. Our evasive tactics are called “empathy blockers”. Empathy blockers save us the trouble of listening, but they cost us our connection with each other.<

Our children’s disappointments make us feel guilty.

Sometimes we use empathy blockers inadvertently because we are anxiously trying to save our children from emotional pain. Ironically, the greatest salve for our children comes from being heard, not from us trying to change how they feel. For all of these reasons, we all use empathy blockers from time to time, quite automatically and unconsciously. You could say we are all quite skilled at blocking. Here are some of the most common examples used when children become emotional:

EMPATHY BLOCKER EXAMPLES

Downplaying Oh, don’t cry. I’m sure it’s not that bad! It’s not the end of the world.

Denial There is nothing wrong; nothing for you to be upset about. Everything is OK.

Reasoning Don’t cry. Can’t you see that the other child didn’t mean to hurt you?

The positive spin Look on the bright side. Can’t you see, this probably happened for a good reason?

Cheering up Don’t worry. Here, let me tell you something funny I heard the other day. Here, have an ice cream. That’ll cheer you up.

Advising/giving options Why don’t you try doing this, or that? I think you should just ignore that so-and-so.

The expectation You should have known better. Get over it. Don’t let it get to you.

Put down Don’t be silly. Don’t be ridiculous.

Diagnosing/labeling You are being over-sensitive.

Distracting/diverting Hey, have a look at the pretty puppet.

Stealing the thunder Now you know how I felt when the same thing happened to me.

As you can see, on the surface most empathy blockers are not malicious, they are not ostensibly attempts to shame the child, and sometimes they can even be well intentioned, but they do not help the child to feel heard and connected to you. It might seem surprising, even bewildering, to hear that when you try to cheer up a child who is upset, this can often backfire – she might even feel more distressed, even angry. This is because she feels that her feelings are not accepted when what she actually needs is support for feeling the way she does. If this is hard to understand, then think of the last time you felt deeply upset, offended or anxious and someone told you to lighten up. How did that make you feel?

Empathy blockers leave anyone on the receiving end feeling shut out and frustrated, and as if there must be something wrong with them for feeling the way they do. Our children just want to be heard. Take a few moments to check this out for yourself. Have you ever heard yourself use one, a few or perhaps even all of the above empathy blockers with your child? How did your child respond? Can you imagine what you could have done instead? Now, in case you’re tempted to become self-critical, remember: we all put up barriers to listening from time to time. Those of us who teach others about empathy blockers know them too well because we’ve used them so much ourselves.

By the way, not all of the responses in the table above are always inappropriate. There sometimes is a place for advice or a helpful opinion, but unless we take the time to hear our children’s feelings first, advice comes too soon and it alienates our child from us. Before jumping in with advice, we need to ask our children if they want it. The most important thing for us to get is that primarily, our children just want to be heard. First and foremost they want evidence that they are not alone, that someone sees how they feel and cares about them. This makes more of a difference than all the advice in the world.

Empathy blockers really muddy the connection between parents and children; they create detachment and distance, and they frustrate children’s attempts to reach out. The more we use empathy blockers, the less our children are inclined to come to us with their feelings, the less they want to tell us about their lives and the less they want to listen to us. When we are concerned that our children don’t listen to us, perhaps we need to take an honest look at how well we have listened to them.

Listening is at the heart of connection.

It is sad when blocked empathy diminishes our sense of closeness with each other, and particularly worrisome when our children feel lost or in some kind of trouble but don’t turn to us for help. Our children’s trust in us is a function of how safe they feel to open up to us without feeling manipulated, expected of, judged, put down or criticized. Listening is at the heart of connection, and if we can’t listen well, we cease to be an influence in our children’s lives.

Excerpted from Heart to Heart Parenting with permission of the author. It is available in Australia through ABC Bookstores. The USA edition will be available in May 2011 and can be pre-ordered now at Amazon.Robin Grille is a Sydney-based psychologist and author of Parenting for a Peaceful World. He has a private practice in individual psychotherapy and relationship counseling, and can be contacted by email at robingrille (at) gmail (dot) com . More Articles by Robin Grille