When Your 4 Year Old Happily Cleans Her Room

At 10pm, no less…

Yes, you heard me right.  Last night, my little one came to me with all the sincerity and gentleness she could muster (I’ve been sick, she knew I was exhausted), and asked if I would be willing to get her “princesses” (Polly Pocket collection) out for her.  She wanted to play with them with her Papa before she went to sleep.

I collected this, um, collection about two months ago and put them up because there are so many pieces that she was having an impossible time managing them. Everything was consistently strewn, which just caused her and me frustration.  (Not to mention the pairs of shoes that were no longer pairs.)

I think Polly Pockets are intended for kids about 6 and up.  My Bugz inherited these about a year ago and she seemed to dig them, even if they drove her nuts not being able to dress the dolls and such without assistance.  But eventually, it just got overwhelming, so I put them away for a while.

Last night, she presented this request, and instead of heaving a big sigh (which, I try not to do because well, it doesn’t feel good to have someone sigh or roll their eyes in exasperation at me… so why do it to my little person), I smiled.  I looked at her for a moment, to determine if she was serious or just grasping for something to stall the sleep sequence (she’s recently become reluctant to go to sleep – something I’ll address in another post).

She was serious.  She’d already spoken to her Papa to get his agreement to play the activity with her, and she a scenario going in her head for the princesses to play out. Though I knew she was tired, I saw a chance to honor her choice to genuinely request (instead of whine), and respect and grant her desires. Even though I thought there might be better uses of time, it didn’t matter, she is her own person and this is what she felt  was valuable at that moment… I had the pleasure of saying “yes”. 

There was one caveat, however.  Her room was rather untidy (like, the floor had gone missing) and I knew that if we tried to add anything to it, it would just frustrate and ruin the experience.  I have been meaning to get to her room for a week or two now, but with all the traveling and randomness of our present life, and my excellent ability to selectively procrastinate, I hadn’t worked with her on it.  So, what a great opportunity (I hoped) to give her exactly her little heart’s desire, AND get her room cleaned… at 10pm, while hacking up a lung.  – This is when I laugh, the kind of laugh that warms the entire room.

I told her, and I quote, “I would be happy to get your princesses out for you, however I think your room has to be clean first, or you won’t be able to find a place to play with them.  Would you be willing to work with me (note: “work with me”, not, “help me”) to pick things up to make room for the princesses?”

“Sure.”

And she did.  She found it tough at the beginning, not knowing what to do and quickly becoming overwhelmed. (How many times have you told your older kids to clean their room, a power struggle ensues, and nothing gets cleaned?  There is likely a really good reason…)  Rather than run her out, tell her to just keep trying (which is defeating in a situation like this), or enter a battle, I have found it very successful to simply give her a task.  In our case, I asked her to start by rounding up all the shoes and putting them in her closet.  Later, I asked her to organize them in the closet by shoving them to one side, but initially just getting them in there was a step she could manage with confidence and success.

As I worked on the various miscellaneous stuff that would overwhelm any kid, I continued to make little piles and ask her to do certain actions with each.  She continued to help, then yawned a bit and sat down.  I asked her if she was tired.  Yes.  Did she still want to play princesses tonight?  Yes.

Now, here is where some parents would respond with, “Well then, you have to keep cleaning.”  In our home, bribery and coercion are tactics that are avoided as much as possible.  So, instead of saying something like this, I simply acknowledged her fatigue, and I continued cleaning and organizing while she relaxed.  No expectation of her, no shame imposed on her need for rest, and no resentment coming from me.

Within a few moments, she happily resumed working with me; she saw something that sparked her interest, that she knew she could succeed at, and she jumped right in.  Within 10 minutes we had completed the task together, one that would have taken her hours alone, one that she would not have succeeded at because of her current neurological development.  And one that, had I insisted she do alone (after all, she did make the mess alone), would have diminished her and left her feeling a failure (sometimes parents force the issue believing they are teaching responsibility… that’s not the lesson that is received however, and the child does not come out the other side with more self esteem or confidence).

Her room was spectacular!  She was beaming with pride, accomplishment, and self satisfaction.  She was also exhibiting gratitude, as was I.

Papa came, princesses were unearthed, and I went to relax with my lungs.

I don’t know when they finally drifted off to sleep, but I don’t care either; thankfully our schedule allows for this. More importantly, I trust that she will now forever have the memory of being safe enough to ask Mama for something that really mattered to her, being valued enough by Mama to be granted her request, being capable enough to work with Mama to complete an important task, being cherished enough by Papa to be played with (even when we’re all tired), and being unconditionally loved so much, that her sleep could come gently.  

When Parents Are at Odds

This morning, based solely on my facial expression from what I can tell, my daughter assessed my general state of mind and, determining something had to be done, came up to me and said, “Mama, you can figure this out.  You’re sad but I have so many happy feelings I can share with you that you will have to be happy and laugh. Besides, you can fix your stuff. I know you can!”

Then, she followed that a couple hours later with, “Papa can understand and so can you, so you both can be smart enough and care about it to fix whatever all has you so sad.”  – Her father is currently traveling on business. It’s actually a positive situation because it gives us a chance at gaining some perspective apart, while keeping things calm where she is. The drawback is she misses her Papa and he would very much like to have her there with him.

We’ve gone through such a massive and prolonged transition, so much more challenging than either of us could have fathomed, that when stuff happens that hits a deep nerve (even if it’s petty), we both seem to lose site of what matters too quickly. You’d think after 16 years of marriage, we’d be better at this…

Thing is, we are getting better, but the challenges are keeping up.  It’s an extremely difficult process.  It seems that there should be other ways.. that it should not be so ridiculous. Some of what we’re contending with runs so deep that the only way we can work through to the other side is to dig up the root and remove the entire plant. When you plant a tree, don’t water it enough, prevent it from sun and proper nutrients, and then force it to contend with wind and no support stake in sight… Well, you get the picture.  If the thing manages to survive, it’s going to be weak, rather humorous looking no doubt, and probably never bare fruit or do whatever it was intended to as a healthy plant.

Another analogy: Build a house without a foundation, on stilts no less… Then expect it to withstand repeated hurricanes.  Yeah, probably not huh.  And yet, how many of us either force our children into situations where they have no foundation, or a pathetic one.  Better yet, how many of us lack that foundation ourselves?

When you don’t have that solid foundation, you can’t give one to your kids either. So, if at some point when we, as an adult (parent), become aware of the ‘missing’, it’s paramount  the work be undertaken to build or provide for what is missing.  This is taking care of us so we can take care of our children.  Akin to oxygen on an airplane, and putting on your own mask first so you can actually be useful to others instead of dead, success means our children will grow without the same chunk(s) missing; they’ll grow whole.

Today, I chose to see her.  It took looking through the mud of hurt and confusion, and a lot of management of my own aggravation (none of which has a single thing to do with her),  but, I managed to find my goggles.

The article that follows is one that I’d like to encourage you to read first, then we can talk about it over the next couple of days.


Parents Who Fight May Harm Children’s
Future Emotional Development

How parents handle everyday marital conflicts has a significant effect on how secure their children feel, which, in turn, significantly affects their future emotional adjustment. This finding, from researchers at the universities of Notre Dame, Rochester (NY) and Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., was published in the January/February 2006 issue of the journal Child Development. It provides powerful new evidence regarding the impact of parental behavior on children’s future behavior.

“A useful analogy is to think about emotional security as a bridge between the child and the world,” explained lead researcher Mark Cummings, Ph.D., professor and Notre Dame Chair in Psychology of the Psychology Department of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. “When the marital relationship is functioning well, it serves as a secure base, a structurally sound bridge to support the child’s exploration and relationships with others.”

“When destructive marital conflict erodes the bridge, children may lack confidence and become hesitant to move forward, or may move forward in a dysregulated way, unable to find appropriate footing within themselves or in interaction with others.” The researchers based their report on two separate long-term studies of marital conflict and children.

The first study involved 226 parents and their 9- to-18-year-old children. The researchers examined the effect of marital conflict over three years, finding that forms of destructive marital conflict, such as personal insults, defensiveness, marital withdrawal, sadness or fear, set in motion events that led to later emotional insecurity and maladjustment in children, including depression, anxiety, and behavior problems. This occurred even when the researchers controlled for any initial adjustment problems.

The second study again examined the connection between marital conflict and emotional problems over a three-year period, this time in a different group of 232 parents and much younger children (kindergarteners). Researchers again found that marital conflict sets in motion events that led to later emotional insecurity and maladjustment. Again, researchers controlled for any initial adjustment problems, further supporting the conclusion that marital conflict was related with children’s emotional insecurity and adjustment problems. Both studies involved representative community samples and everyday conflict behaviors (for example, verbal hostility) about everyday sources of conflict between parents, such as childcare and household responsibilities. Because of this, the findings can likely be generalized to most American families.

Parents and even mental health professionals are likely unaware of the significance of marital conflict for the well-being of children, said Dr. Cumming, and few may know that children’s security is so closely tied to the quality of parental relationships. At the same time, however, other work from Dr. Cummings and his peers find that constructive marital conflict, in which parents express or engage in physical affection, problem solving, compromise or positive feelings, may increase children’s security. “Thus,” Dr. Cummings noted, “this study is a warning to strongly encourage parents to learn how to handle conflicts constructively for the sake of both their children and themselves.”

Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 77, Issue 1, Interparental Discord and Child Adjustment: Prospective Investigations of Emotional Security as an Explanatory Mechanism. By Cummings EM, Schermerhorn AC (both of the University of Notre Dame), Davies PT (University of Rochester), Goeke-Morey MC (Catholic University of America), and Cummings JS (University of Notre Dame). Copyright 2006 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

Andrea Browning
abrowning@srcd.org
Society for Research in Child Development
http://www.srcd.org

Listen to Me!

What does it mean to listen?

Main Entry:
listen
Definition: hear and pay attention
Synonyms: accept, admit, adopt, attend, audit, auscult, auscultate, be all ears, be attentive, catch, concentrate, eavesdrop, entertain, get, get a load of, give an audience to, give attention, give heed to, hang on words, hark, harken, hear out, hear tell, hearken, lend an ear, mind, monitor, obey, observe, overhear, pick up on, prick up ears, receive, take advice, take into consideration, take notice, take under advisement, tune in, tune in on, welcome
Notes: to listen  is to try to hear ; to hear is simply to perceive with the ear

1. to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing; give ear.
2. to pay attention; heed; obey (often followed by to ): Children don’t always listen to their parents.
3. to wait attentively for a sound (usually followed by for ): to listen for sounds of their return.
4. Informal . to convey a particular impression to the hearer; sound: The new recording doesn’t listen as well as the old one.
5. Archaic . to give ear to; hear.

Now, what does it mean to comply?

Main Entry:
comply
Definition: abide by, follow agreement or instructions
Synonyms: accede, accord, acquiesce, adhere to, agree to, cave in, come around, conform to, consent to, cry uncle, defer, discharge, ditto*, don’t make waves, don’t rock the boat, fit in, fold, fulfill, give in, give out, give up, go along with, go with the flow, keep, knuckle to, knuckle under, mind, obey, observe, perform, play ball, play the game, put out, quit, respect, roll over and play dead, satisfy, shape up, stay in line, straighten up, submit, throw in towel, toss it in, yes one, yield
Antonyms: decline, deny, disobey, oppose, rebuff, refuse, reject, resist

com·ply

verb (used without object), -plied, -ply·ing.

1. to act or be in accordance with wishes, requests, demands, requirements, conditions, etc.; agree (sometimes followed by with ): They asked him to leave and he complied. She has complied with the requirements.
2. Obsolete . to be courteous or conciliatory.

Related forms
un·com·ply·ing, adjective

Synonyms
1.  acquiesce, yield, conform, obey, consent, assent.
Antonyms
1.  refuse, resist.

Next time you hear yourself telling your child to “listen to me”… think about this.
Then, think about whether you are asking (not demanding) for compliance, and if so whether it’s fair and reasonable, or you simply exercising your “I’m bigger” factor. 

When is compliance actually necessary? 

What examples might you have to share when, in your home, compliance is compulsory? 
What examples might you have where compliance is a request and one that is just as acceptable for your child to deny as it is for you (parent)?

So Encouraged.

Wow guys!  You all started speaking, and at the same time!  I can’t tell you how big the smile on my face is tonight as I attempt to respond to the comments (most of which have triggered yet another post on the horizon, so please, keep your experiences and understandings coming).  I experienced a rough situation tonight that, for a myriad of reasons, I can’t elaborate on at this moment… but reading through the responses to the “Why We Don’t Punish & What is Discipline” is healing. I want to share a bit about our day, however, in hopes of sharing my smile with you.

My younger brother is getting married tomorrow; my daughter is his flower girl.  My daughter has been 4 since mid October. I still slip once in a while and refer to her as three, and I hear about it from her when I do.  “Mama.”, says my little coherent.  “I am 4. Do you not remember my birthday? It went on for a month Mom.  We are still celebrating! I want to celebrate everything, always. So please remember to stop forgetting that I am not three now. And soon…!!!  I will marry Papa too (wedding theme abounds of late). So, but you have to be 4 at LEEEAST, or maybe 7, to marry somebody.  But I think 22 is really old. It’s big. Are you that old??”  I hear this same line of thought about three times a week and it never ceases to make me smile.

Yesterday we traveled the 5+ hour drive from our home to my brother’s.  Today, she awoke way earlier than I thought she would (have mercy – I should have gone to bed earlier last night) and kept her Grandma (staying with my parents) going for the better part of the morning.  But, by 11am or so, she started whimpering and just being sort of whiny.  At first I assumed she was hungry (we are going through the “hunger satiated after bite two – until 20 minutes from now” development segment), and so when she turned down an offer of food, I didn’t think much of it, until we got in the car to head to the wedding venue.  She was exhausted.  That didn’t make sense.  I asked if she was hungry.  Nope.  Just thirsty.  Ok… but then suddenly I knew I needed to observe her for a moment longer (you know, the parallel sensation somewhere in your core that if you pay any attention to it at all, you realize just how much you can perceive and understand about the world and people around you).  Sure enough.  I took her hand in mine and waited a moment, touched her neck just under her chin, and could feel her body temperature rising. She was succumbing to a pretty significant attempt by the “yucky germs” and when asked how she felt, she replied (that) “The white blood cells in my bloodstream, and the big, tough antibody guys are gettin’em Mama.. But they’re really having to work hard and it’s making me so tired.  But I can heal.  My brain has told my body to get hot on the inside to fry those germs away.  But my head hurts and I don’t like how I feel and so I think I don’t like these germs.”  Followed by, “Where’d they come from anyway!” – My kid has a current thing for anatomy and instead of ending a fever with Tylenol, we hop into a hot bath and help the body do its job to restore health.

Fantastic, I’m thinking.  It’s dress rehearsal for my bro’s wedding, there’s supposed to be a dinner after that, we’re in a hotel in the middle of the mountains in Colorado (though, mind you, it’s warmer here than we’re accustomed to at home), and we have nothing but travel and more travel, oh, and a wedding tomorrow… Eyes watering, flushed, pale and gray.. and I somehow expect this little thing to play grownup tomorrow, at the grownup’s party, and like it to boot.  Yeesh… Ok.  Time to step back and re-prioritize.  Time to ask the kiddo what she thinks about everything.

Upon inquisition, she offered that she was pretty sure her body was strong enough for her to practice for her uncle’s wedding.  Besides, she really wanted to throw flower petals around so she could go collect them and plant new flowers.  🙂    So, I let her participate as much as she decided she wanted to.  She did pretty much exactly what everyone asked and wanted, and then some.  She was brilliant and excellently cooperative, attentive, and even showed a ton of compassion and patience to another little one that was there (1 year old).  Then, the eyes started watering again, the fever began to climb, and my little Bug asked for arms.

She slept through dinner.

Then, instead of going to bed, we took a hot bath.  She reported it being very helpful, and after tolerating me putting her fragile locks into rags for the purpose of hair preparation for the festive event, she and Papa snuggled up and went to sleep.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Eventually I’ll post about the part of today’s experience that I can’t discuss yet.. But to give you some insight into the positive side of it, basically it’s as simple as this, even though my daughter was miserable, sick, exhausted, and generally really miserable, she chose to be involved tonight and she did so not because either her dad or I told her she had to, or kept pushing and prodding her to cooperate, she chose to (and I know this because she communicated her preferences directly to me) be involved because she thought her uncle and future aunt would value her being there.  She asked if they wanted her there, and if so, she’d be there, says the brave little Bug.  And while there, she did her thing, we played, we rehearsed, we ate hot chocolate and marshmallows (and so did half the group, as she went on a mission of marshmallow sharing madness).  Her willingness to learn what the adults wanted her to do, follow instruction, and just generally totally be “there” in spite of how she felt (or what her curiosity suggested she check out), all came from her.  She had no fear or even remote concern of me or her Papa punishing or scolding her for not performing or conducting herself in some way we (or the other adults) expected.  I don’t think she even comprehends this sort of scenario because every time she sees it with another kid/parent, she flips, asks a ton of questions, and demonstrates sorrow at the other child’s discomfort.

I don’t have to threaten.  I choose to explain.
I don’t have to give ultimatums.  I choose to allow her autonomy.
I don’t have to punish. I choose to allow her choices to result as they will, and to stand by her as she experiences those results and learns what to do with them.

I ask for her involvement in our shared life, I explain the details, I educate her as much as possible about the whys/whats/whens, and I have no fear telling her that the only reason something is expected a certain way is because Mama is being intolerant at that moment/about that subject, or some other adult is focusing on themselves and forgetting to see the world through her eyes too.

Does she know when compliance is mandatory?  Yes.  She understood this at about 13  months.
Does she know that if compliance is mandatory and she chooses to refuse, that her mom or dad will step in one way or another?  Yes.  She knows we will do what is necessary to keep her safe and to keep us sane in dangerous or extremely stressful situations.
Does she know that we trust her with the choices and information she currently has?  Yes.
Does she know she has the right to refuse our requests, just as we have the right to refuse hers, and that compromise and flexibility are highly valuable skills and traits to develop? Yes.  But she also knows my love, my grace, my compassion and empathy, my understanding that the world is massive for her right now (like it’s really any smaller for me).

Why does she work with us when we ask?  Because she knows deep within her that we honor her and accept her entirely just because she exists.  AND because we work with her when she asks..it’s a two way street.  She feels good and secure inside when she knows that our family is sharing our lives together in harmony.

Discipline & Being Non-Punitive

The term discipline, and how our society as a rule uses it, is about to drive me batty. Discipline, the way it’s used, means punishment. To me, discipline is a quality of inner self, of integrity.

Punishment is something that happens to someone.
It’s a quality. Something that has been fostered and developed. When a person has discipline they have the inner fortitude to make right choices, to do what needs to be done.   – Source –

The other night my daughter (just 4) was playing with pine cones in our family room. She had them flying through the air, one in each hand.
We were working on various projects in the room, and as usual, I was barefoot. So was she.

After playing for a few moments, one of the pine cones came crashing to the floor, spraying splintering pieces of wood in its wake. So, I spoke to my daughter in a command to not throw the pine cones onto the floor. I did not ask, did not explain, did not expound. I was busy and annoyed. She knew it.

…Not one of my better moments.

Three or so minutes later, another pine cone hit the floor and I initially snapped at her. This, however, not only demonstrates a complete lack of respect on my part, but it elicits a similarly disrespectful and rather dismissive response from my daughter. Thankfully, I caught myself mid sentence, stopped my mouth, took a deep breath and walked over to her and took her into my arms. We then had a conversation.

This time, I decided to remember how to be decent to her, remember to see the world through her eyes and mine, and remember that she is equally valued and equally considered in our home. In other words, instead of being controlling and speaking down to her (or what some might consider a proper authoritative tone), I spoke evenly and with respect.

I explained that I was upset that after I’d just asked her to not throw another pine cone on the floor, one hit dead center and left pieces everywhere. Then I corrected myself, and recalled that actually I had not asked anything but “told” her not to “throw pine cones”, when I should have said, “Please do not allow any more pine cones to hit the floor BECAUSE when they do, they split apart and send sharp pieces of wood flying all over the floor that one of us is then going to either step or sit on and end up with a pokey sticking out of our skin.” This she would have comprehended… This she would have heard. This, she would likely have granted. My demand and annoyance instead immediately caused her to shut off her willingness.

When I restated what would have been a better comment to have made to her initially, her defensiveness dropped and she made eye contact. I could see her shoulders raise, her chin relax (from being rather set just a moment before), and the stress reaction to fear of the big person (who was not behaving very well) disappear from her face.

A moment later, I set her down, knelt next to her, and asked (yes, asked) her to clean up the pieces. My words were, “Bugz, so that no one gets hurt with all these pieces on the floor, will you please pick up every single piece you can find and put them in the trash?”

She began, and, handing them to me (instead of the trash), we both cleaned up the floor together.

I could have thrown her into time out. I could have spanked her for what so many would consider deliberate defiance. I could have ridiculed her, demeaned her, squashed her for not doing what I wanted. I could have lorded over her, assumed my role as parent and thereby big person who is so much bigger that I can MAKE her do what I want, one way or another… Instead I chose to remember the value of not resorting to threat or condescension.

I chose to take a breath and pause. I chose to change my attitude and treat her with the same amount and sort of respect I would an adult who had my admiration. I communicated by explanation, honored my need by my own example (I got down on the floor and picked up the pieces with her), and reconnected by helping to renew and strengthen her sense of self, value, and ability.

Three days later, I have seen a pine cone on the floor (where it doesn’t belong), exactly once. I asked her to relocate it to where she’d like, but where it wouldn’t get stepped on and where we wouldn’t have to worry about the sharp pokey ends breaking off and getting left for our feet to find. She decided to grant my request. She picked it up, took it to the tree, placed it where she wished, with no fuss, no hesitation, and instead of dread or annoyance (having to do a chore), she exhibited interest and delight because she was in control of where it should go.

End result desired – achieved by the mama.
Education and empowerment – gained by the kiddo
.

In our house, my daughter does not comply out of fear of punishment. In fact, she doesn’t know what punishment is and compliance is reserved for safety and inescapable social situations. She chooses to grant requests, when she does, out of her own sense of purpose and reason. She knows she can choose to refuse our requests, and she knows we can choose to refuse hers. This works because, in our home (unlike so many I have seen), we do not choose to control her and do not fear being unable to retain control because control is not what makes our home function. In our home, we live together, support each other, and collaborate on life. All of us. We work together, we work independently, we share and cooperate, we value each other equally and we each know that it takes all of us, together. If today one of us is too tired, then we make up for it tomorrow. Is everything always even and fair? No. Does the Mama (or Papa) screw it all up sometimes? Yes. But humility, grace, and compassion fill in the gaps and keep things going.

Grace and compassion – not permissiveness. Our daughter knows when compliance is mandatory. In her 4 years here, she has demonstrated only a few times her reluctance when it’s clear to her that she “must”. At her young age, we have had to step in a few times and physically cause compliance to preserve her health, but as she’s grown, these instances have become fewer and fewer. In fact, at this point, about the only time I try to actually force compliance is when I am being impatient, demanding (as in no longer requesting her cooperation) or unwilling to see through her worldview. To date she has not once refused instant compliance when she hears threat of danger (or fear) in my voice (i.e., stop! – car coming!). It is rare that I must speak this way anyway, as she has been educated well enough and makes wise decisions appropriate for her age most of the time. But every once in while, a situation arises, and it is during these that the most compelling positive evidence for grace and compassion based parenting, instead of punitive and trained/controlled governing of little ones becomes so easily observed.

_________________________________________________________________What about you? What experiences have you had where you either caught yourself mid stream and changed your approach to a more respectful and considerate one, or where from the very beginning your way of existing with your little ones caused a successful outcome of an event that would result in punishment in a typical home? Share your experiences please, we can learn so much from each other.

Powerful Praise, More Powerful Than You Might Think

“Value judgment.”

Think about that phrase.  How does it sit with you?  What thoughts occur? 
____________________________________________________________________

Praise is an interesting thing. It can, when offered in an appropriate occasion, completely change the environment of all within reach of the effects of that praise.  It can also, when repeatedly used to control and/or manipulate behavior, damage so far beyond the apparent that waves of hurt often remain for a lifetime.

Today I’d like to repost an article that came by my desk, though there are others that I have read and shared before on the same subject.  I will add links to other dialog and discussion concerning this important concept at the end.  Please take a moment to think on this, reflect, and open your mind.

Encouragement or Praise for Children?

by Elvin Klassen

Praise is an expression of worth, approval, or admiration. It is usually given to a child when a task or deed is well done or when a task is completed. Children need feedback on the work they do. How can we provide feedback most effectively?

Observe what happens in the following scenario when the teacher praises Tom. This example provides some interesting insights:

Tom, a 7th grader who seldom finishes any work, was actually writing the answers to the social studies questions in his notebook. The teacher was so surprised by this unusual behavior that he wanted to acknowledge Tom. “Tom, your answers are really great.” Tom looked at the teacher and sneered, spending the rest of the period with his head down. Jim, who sat near Tom, followed the teacher to the front of the room and asked, “How about my answers; are they great too?”

Several things happened in this class­room which are common results of praise. Tom may have felt the comment was manipulative and insincere. He was not used to praise and handled it poorly. The other student, Jim, may have felt slighted because he did not get praise and stopped working to seek teacher attention. He was not secure enough to judge the quality of his own work and was dependent on teacher opinion.

Praise sets the teacher as the standard by which everything is judged. It can be discouraging for those not receiving it. Failure to earn praise is often interpreted as criticism. Some students ridicule others whose behavior or work is singled out for attention. For students who set exceedingly high standards for themselves and fail to meet them, even sincere praise may sound like scorn or may convince the student the teacher does not have very good judgment.

An alternative to praise is encouragement. It refers to a positive acknowledgment response that focuses on student efforts or specific attributes of work completed. Unlike praise, encouragement does not place judgment on student work or give information regarding its value.

Encouragement is specific. Instead of saying, “Terry, your painting is beautiful,” the teacher can make specific comments about the picture like “Terry, I noticed you used a lot of blue,” or “You worked a long time on that painting.” Judgment about the quality of the painting is left to Terry.

Encouragement is generally given in private. When children’s efforts are acknowledged privately, teachers avoid the potential for embarrassing them and diminishing the self-image of other children through implied comparisons. This encourages the potential for an honest exchange of ideas and an opportunity for the child to talk about his or her work. Otherwise, the children who are not being praised publicly may become discouraged and resentful or the child being praised may fear being criticized some time.

Encouragement focuses on improvement of the process rather than evaluation of a finished product. Instead of saying “good job,” it is more appropriate to say “You did that all by yourself,” or “I noticed you have been working here all morning.” When Sally, a poor reader, reads six new words, it is inappropriate to say, “Sally, you are such a good reader.” She knows she is a poor reader. Rather say, “Sally, you read six new words,” or “Sally, you’re learning to read some new words.”

Sincere, direct comments delivered with a natural voice are encouraging. Using encouragement helps teachers avoid overused phrases such as, “Good job,” “Wow, terrific work!” or “That’s beautiful.” By being more specific and honest, teachers can more easily avoid using contradicting gestures or body language such as frowning. Encouraging statements should be offered with honest feeling. They should be credible and varied to suit the circumstances.

Encouragement does not set children up for failure. Phrases such as “Jimmy, you’re such a nice boy” are not encouraging because it is impossible to be nice all the time. Rather, use a comment such as, “Jimmy, I noticed you shared with Mary today.” Jimmy is left to determine for himself if he was indeed nice. The acknowledgment of the behavior is a form of reinforcement.

Encouragement helps students develop an appreciation of their own behaviors and achievements. Statements such as “You looked excited the way you ___” help the child analyze his own behavior and to better appreciate his own efforts.

Encouragement uses the child’s prior accomplishments as a context. Such statements as “You read by yourself for 15 minutes. That’s longer than the time you spent yesterday,” or “You’re getting faster at matching those shapes” promote a child’s recognition of change and progress.

Encouraging statements do not compare one child to another. Most teachers who say, “You are the quietest walker,” or “Jane is the best clean-up person in the room” intend to acknowledge effort, not to compare children. Yet children may hear the subtle comparison. Encouragement for the same behavior might sound like “You walked quietly, your feet made no sound,” or “Jane, you cleaned up the library and placed all the books in their places on the shelf.”

Encouragement focuses on the effort the child has put into the work. It emphasizes the problem-solving process over the product. Encouragement may actually describe the student’s work or behavior, allowing the students to make their own judgment of the quality. Encouragement recognizes the act, not the actor.

Read the following statements and indicate whether they are praise (P) or encouragement (E)1. Remember, praise gives a value judgment and focuses on the person, while encouragement makes an observation about a behavior:

_­__    1.    What a good girl to clean up your room.

___    2.    I’m so glad that you enjoy learning.

___    3.    Your story is exciting and uses very colorful language.

___    4.    I’m proud of you for learning your multiplication tables.

___    5.    I’m pleased with your behavior on the field trip.

___    6.     You figured that out all by yourself. Aren’t you pleased?

Through effort you can begin to use more encouraging statements with your children. The results, in turn, will encourage both you and your children!

Reprinted from the March 1999 issue of Parents Teaching Overseas. Permission is granted to copy, but not for commercial purposes.

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What Every Parent Needs to Know About Praise
Why Praise Sabotages Your Child — And What To Say Instead

What To Say Instead of Praising

“Say It, Mom!”

 

 

Needing to

Tonight, I am compelled to write.

I don’t know what yet…

It’s been a long while that I’ve had the precious few moments I have now to write and share with you.  As such, I am exhausted now and so won’t edit this right away; please grant me grace. Much has happened in the past months, as my little one has grown extensively and on so many different levels and layers.  I am learning daily.

I have come across three (maybe 4) excellent resources for parents in the past season.  Some of these have simply been reassuring, while others seem to be uncanny in their timing of critical information as it relates to my present experiences, often brilliantly the very day it is most beneficial to receive the external perspective.  I’d like to share them with you and will do so at the end of this post. In the mean time, however, I’d like to share what our family is doing now, and some of the challenges and triumphs we’ve had of late.

My daughter awoke the morning of her 4th birthday to discover sand beneath her feet and a very large ocean 50 or so steps away.  We took her to Northern California for her birthday and first official family vacation.  We managed to land the RV on the coast after dark the night before her birthday, timing it wonderfully for her special day. She squealed with delight (as did her big “sister” who was with us) and ran on the beach for an hour non-stop.

What is it about seeing your child run free on the beach, playing in the sand and kelp, jumping over waves and off rocks, and stopping every two inches to explore and discover the many creatures and debris washed up on shore with each new movement of the ocean that just sets the spirit free?!  It’s surreal.  And much to the dismay of a few in my family, I am thoroughly convinced we belong on the coast (as in our residence) and I intend to make it so.

The joy and pure, simple delight I observed my daughter bask in while on the beach, and then wonder and curiosity (and courage) as she relished the giant Redwoods, moved me beyond words or even clear thought for a few days.  It was all I could do to just watch and admire as she grew and developed right in front of me.  Honoring her right where she was, as she was, and how came as naturally as breathing.  I will hold on to that sensation and experience and recall it when reality returns and she and I engage in the daily grind that sometimes generates some rather intense conflicts and challenges for us to overcome.

My daughter, all of 4 and a few weeks, is a formidable opponent.  I am thankful for this.  She speaks her mind, states her intentions, makes known her desires, and stands her ground.  She also has the compassion and empathy of a wise old woman, weathered and tendered from a lifetime of choosing to find the beauty and bestow the love that can be found and given.

I am starting to see another trait in her that, while it is not at all surprising, it is quite intriguing to me.  My little one has a sense of justice that rivals my own, and is very insistent on her need for it to be recognized and respected. It is a very effective method of me having to be genuine and fair consistently. And though at times this aspect of her being is aggravating from the adult perspective, when I stop and see through her eyes, our world takes a shape that allows me to re-evaluate my actions/thoughts and create a sense of peace and justice for her that I’d not otherwise have bothered to generate.

Lately, my daughter has been exhibiting some significant feelings.  In short, she’s demonstrating anger.  I assume it is related to the many transitions, and the seemingly endless list of tasks her father and I must accomplish while still making sure we are available to play (and inviting her to play as well).  She also wants a sibling, which is an interesting point of debate she and I have gone rounds over.

Her feelings are big, her actions are intense, and her ability to communicate clearly grows daily.  She senses things more than even I had realized, and she is in a stage of mimicry that is as precise as it is intelligent.  As a result, her father and I are reviewing our own behaviors and actions almost constantly now and working where work is required.

I hope to begin chronicling our daily experiences that might be useful to you all again soon.  I understand that the dialog and interplay relayed in story form seems to be the most appreciated and useful, so I will endeavor to allocate an appropriate amount of time to write.

And as I’ve said before, it is valuable to have your feedback as it encourages me to share, as well as provide invaluable perspective to me and to each other.  Thanks for taking the time to see the world through your little one’s eyes tonight.  May your day tomorrow be intentional, and may your child(ren) know you (the internal you) in a way that comforts them and renews their security and self-esteem.  Wholly respected and loved without condition… imagine what can happen in a single generation.

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Peace for Parents

Aha! Parenting

Peaceful Parenting

Respecting Children: Gently Parenting a Wholly Loved & Honored Generation
Please feel free to join in the discussion

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