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.

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

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

Seeing Through to Validity

Validating Children
Their Thought Patterns, Feelings, and Perception of Their World.
_________________________________________________________

We are still traveling. My daughter has become a Little Traveler. I have become a wreck of an excuse for a woman, to say nothing of a wife or mama.

On the upside, we are finally under contract on a house, but won’t close until the end of the first week of September; posts between now and then will be minimal, though likely therapeutic. We have basically been carting the clan around from Grandma’s, to a furnished condo for a month, to a hotel for a couple weeks, and who knows what in between, for the last 7 weeks. So, like I should expect anything else but turmoil and difficulty from my two year old who understands so much, but not quite enough, and very little when it comes to abstract things like the future.

Wanting to keep discussions going however, I thought I’d throw out my latest topic of the week.   Monsters.

Yep, my daughter suddenly sees monsters. They’re everywhere. I ripped her from her foundation, her stability, and from the security of “home”, and to say the fallout compares to that of Chernobyl would be an almost fair comparison. Perhaps I should have seen the Monster thing coming.

This is a nightmare.

She never saw monsters before and was certainly not afraid of those she did see on tv. She liked them in fact, especially the Sesame Street variety. Now she and her baby are constantly demonstrating insecurity and trepidation. I am so grieved that I can’t make it through a single day without tears or silently breaking down. Her Papa and I have both worked so hard to instill confidence, security, and strength in her and we knew that this “move” was going to be really tough. But none of our plans have worked out the way we’d hoped, so we’re just sorta winging this day to day, and that is the single worst thing we could have allowed to become reality at this stage in her development.

Let’s talk regression. Let’s talk no longer will she poop because she wants to go home and won’t poop anywhere but home, and she refuses to tell me when she has to pee… AND since she doesn’t have a home and her bathroom, or the run of her environment, etc., she won’t just go pee on her own because well, the toilet is too tall, the seat is split and her legs get hurt, and the Bumbo actually tore a few days ago. Oh and she’s terrified that “this” toilet (insert toilet model/location of choice) is going to either flush on its own and thereby send her into an instant and horrified panic, or it will be so loud when it does flush on command that she doesn’t want to go anywhere near it. Pick an issue (the bucket is full), or combination thereof, or random reason (like she’s stuck in a damn car seat for hours on end as we traipse across the state trying to make this work somehow). No surprise she just doesn’t see the point in tending to her pottying needs effectively.

It’s horrible.

And I can’t let her think for one second that I have no clue what I’m doing. Or can I?

If she sensed that I am floundering just as much as she is to grasp this situation, just from a different angle, she will likely fall apart at the seams, or so I thought. But, I learned something this week. I learned that my kid has a perceptiveness and awareness light years beyond even what I thought, and I had already given her a pretty high ranking. Her cognitive development seems to have chosen now to kick into high gear. I’m not sure this is a good thing, but here we are.

I lost it the other day, couldn’t keep up the facade, and just broke down and told my little kid what I was dealing with. She asked why I was sad and why I was crying. I told her that I was so sad that we couldn’t just go home right then, as she’d asked me to. I was sad that she was struggling with the environment I had placed us in, and all the stress (details of this in part two of this post) that her little self seemed to be dealing with. I was very sad that she was scared of monsters and that she couldn’t just have her room, her house, and her Papa right then! (He was working a couple hours away for a couple days and stayed at a hotel.)

She told me that she was also “Scrug-gul-ying a lot because (her) baby was afraid of the kabooms (thunder) and the monsters (that are everywhere now, in the dark, the light, otherwise), and that she (her baby) needed her (my daughter), but that it was hard”. Which, of course, brought a new flood of tears from me. The ache is unable to be ignored.

She has decided to choose this period to first become very attentive to a doll, her “baby”. She has also decided to personify her own needs, thoughts, and feelings through those of this doll, and in her tending to it. The really positive side of this is my husband and I get to see first hand, tangibly demonstrated, how she sees our parenting of her, and her life. Particularly, as she is a girl (she says) she is the mama (she says), and so she mimics with her doll what she and I share and do together. I am humbled and so pleased because I know from this that I’m doing what this little one needs. BUT I am also horrified because in the same vein, I am forced to see exactly what harm and damage I have allowed to occur to her through all of this.

I cannot adequately explain all of what our life is like right now, but basically, we have chosen to make a career path modification that will eventually lend the opportunity for all of us (Mama, Papa, Bug 1 and maybe others, and canine kid) to spend a much greater amount of time together. No more of Papa having to leave for an office at 8am, not to return until at least 6pm, work from home half or more of the time, overnight a good amount, and basically be at the beck and call of the company around the clock, all the time. – Not so good for family…

We have chosen this path to give us the opportunity to live in an area that is diverse culturally (though some would question the validity of that statement, it is true nonetheless). It is also an area that provides for more real estate for less money than we are accustomed to struggling through, less population and stress than we’re used to tolerating, and views as far as the eye can see. In fact, the only objects that obstruct those views are mountains 50 to 100 miles off.

This path will allow for more time and energy to be given to our creativity, our craft, our passions, and her education and growth. Basically, it is a dream come true in that it pays more, living costs are less, and as a whole, our family will just simply be together a lot more and Mama and Papa get to equally raise and parent, instead of Mama’s work being parenting and Papa’s work being something else that leaves no time or energy to give the parenting gig a fair chance.

So, in the end, we will be much better than where we have been, but the getting there is a monumental effort and lesson in a thousand things that go in as many different directions, and my little tiny person is stuck right in the middle, being pulled apart.

I have had a lot of people tell me recently that I am making too much of this, that my daughter will adapt just fine, and that she won’t remember any of it anyway. Unfortunately for them, and more so for me, they’re wrong. I will write later about how I know her memory is undeniably accurate and undiminished, and in the mean time, I will tell you she is adapting only in that she is becoming cynical. And as far as this situation not being the impact in reality that I am “making it into”, I will let her voice speak for her reality (will follow this topic throughout this thread, which will likely span a few posts in the next week).

Seeing through the mess to validation. Facing the face of insecurity, crumbled foundation, and the calloused need of others to make less of everything as a method of assisting the guilt and grief ridden mind of the responsible adults, who aren’t asking for relief, but empathy. This is my daily task. This is my little bug’s daily misery.

In the midst of this, as if it’s not already enough, I am being forced to defend the validity of the very real feelings, thoughts, and new found experience with fear my daughter is struggling with to those with whom we are interacting in person (and not so in-person, for that matter). These people have an influence on her daily activities and existence, to one degree or another. They believe they are helping, but one key factor is forgotten and/or overlooked in their method, my daughter’s legitimacy. They don’t want to allow themselves to acknowledge the grief and guilt, as it might strike at them too, so they tell her (and me) that she’s just fine and that she is actually quite oblivious, or at least won’t remember any of this turmoil.

But I am here to tell the entire world that – if only – my daughter WERE just fine and blissfully oblivious, I would go to, and HAVE BEEN TRYING to go to such lengths as whatever were necessary to continue her being able to exist in such a state. Alas, that is not the case. My kid is too aware to miss a single detail, too sensitive to miss even the tiniest hint of expression, and too discerning that she could possibly sail through this mercifully unaware. So instead, I have to be brutally honest with myself, and accept the consequences of this journey. I must be omnisciently, selectively, intuitively honest with her (since I hold this power…). And I must summon an emotional stability beyond anything I can comprehend just to keep her eating, sleeping, pottying sort of, and playing in her safe and happy world to some decent duration on a daily basis. And where am I in all this? My husband and I have our own issues, relational challenges, and where am I? I can’t exist, except in theory and performance.

See why we so desperately need this to be concluded? In all of it, one benefit I have gained is the perspective I now have of just how immensely aware of her world my little bug really is. This compels me to never loose site and never become careless of the reality that absolutely everything I do, we do, or that happens within close enough proximity that my baby’s bubble is bumped, has an effect on her.

We’ve tried pretending everything’s fine.

We’ve tried acknowledging her concerns, but trying to either distract or encourage her to see them in a lighter hue of ominousness.

Neither worked. Neither are working. It doesn’t work to tell her she shouldn’t, isn’t, or can’t feel what she is fully capable of communicating she is feeling and is her reality. She tells us exactly what’s going on in her mind and it brings me to my knees, usually literally (that’s about where I have to be to get face to face).

As a result, we have reluctantly, and with extensive consideration for the long term effects, chosen to instead deal with each comment, each nuance of body language, and each whimper in her sleep as directly and with complete and utter validity, on her level and our own, as we can muster. We’ve decided to leave ourselves completely open, exposed, and vulnerable to her, and she seems to be willing to accept nothing short of this. She sees through anything else and tells us about how we’ve made her feel like she is not important, intelligent, or old enough to fully and openly acknowledge at a core level. Children don’t buy it… they don’t know how to play the game much less want to. Furthermore, they aren’t even aware that there is a game until we (the stupid adults) decide to force them to become aware and learn.

I can’t say yet what good I hope comes of all this, but I do hope something useful and beneficial reveals itself.. I know the end is near and worth the journey, but my daughter didn’t have a choice in whether she was going to join us on this journey. She is too young to think in future terms, her mind hasn’t developed that function yet, but she sure can think in the present and tangible, and she’s mad at me. And in my utter sorrow, she has every right to be.

Mother-Toddler Separation

I am in tears… of validation.  I cannot put into words what reading this article has done to me.  But my smile might be enough, and my tears might communicate the rest.

Yes.

Thank you.

Thank you.

________________________________________________________________

Mother-Toddler Separation

by Dr. George Wootan, M.D.
Author of Take Charge of Your Child’s Health


I’m going to open up a big can of worms here, one that gets me into as much trouble as my thoughts on weaning: mother-toddler separation. Imagine for a moment, that you are at the grocery store with your six-month-old. She starts making hungry noises, and you look down and say reassuringly, “I’ll feed you in half an hour, as soon as we get home.” Will she smile and wait patiently for you to finish you shopping? Absolutely not! As far as your baby is concerned, either there is food now, or there is no food in the world. Right in the middle of the grocery store, famine has struck!

Babies and toddlers, up to about the age of three, have little concept of time. To them, there are only two times: now and never. Telling a toddler that Mommy will be back in an hour, or at 5:00, is essentially the same thing as telling her that Mommy is gone forever, because she has no idea what those times mean.

Let me submit to you that the need for mother is as strong in a toddler as the need for food, and that there is no substitute for mother. When he’s tired, hurt, or upset, he needs his mother for comfort and security. True, he doesn’t need Mommy all the time, but when he does, he needs her now. If he scrapes his knee, or gets his feelings hurt, he can’t put his need on hold for two hours until Mommy is home, and the babysitter – or even Daddy – just won’t do as well as if Mommy was there.

So, yes, this is what I’m saying: A mother shouldn’t leave her child until about the age of three, when he has developed some concept of time. You’ll know this has begun to happen when he understands what “yesterday,” “tomorrow,” and “this afternoon” mean, and when your child voluntarily begins to spend more time away from you on his own accord.

Of course, if you know that your child always sleeps during certain times, you can leave her briefly with someone while she naps. If you do this, however, the babysitter should be someone she knows well, since there is no guarantee that she won’t choose this day to alter her schedule and wake up while you’re gone. This could be traumatic for her if the person is someone she knows, and doubly so if the babysitter is a stranger. It is important that you make every effort to be available to her when she is awake and may need you.

I realize that not separating a child from his mother for the first three years of life may be difficult. Living up to this presupposes that the family is financially secure without the mother’s paycheck, and, unfortunately, this is not a reality for some people. I would not argue that a mother who must work to support her family is doing less than her best for her children by working. However, I believe that many women return to work not out of necessity, but because they (or their spouses) want to maintain the two-income lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed. These parents need to do a little soul-searching about what they really need and not sacrifice their child’s best interests.

If you must leave your child for several hours a day, there are some things you can do to try and compensate for the separation. One of these, of course, is nursing until the child weans himself. Another issharing sleep with your child until he decides he is ready for his own bed. If you have to spend 8 hours away from your child, make an effort to spend the remaining 16 hours of each day in close physical contact. That extra effort will go a long way toward helping him feel secure an develop a healthy attachment with you.

In our family, we have found that many events that would require leaving our baby or toddler at home are the ones that we don’t particularly mind missing. We also have found that because our children have their needs attended to promptly, they are happy and secure, and we are able to take them to most social gatherings. I don’t mean to suggest that you’ll never encounter any problems, but generally, you’ll find that if you take care of your child’s immediate needs by holding him, nursing him, and loving him, he’ll be a pleasure to have around.

George Wootan, M.D. is a board-certified family practitioner and medical associate of La Leche League International. He and his wife, Pat, are the parents of eleven children and the grandparents of twenty-one. Dr. Wootan has practiced medicine for 33 years with a focus on pediatric, family, and geriatric care and chronic illness. He speaks nationally on the subject of children’s health, healthy aging, nutrition, wellness and Functional Medicine.