Relevance & Regret

When we know better, we can do better….

We educate our daughter independently, in a manner that is driven by her curiosity and interests. This method works beautifully because it inspires, encourages, and ignites her (and us), it also requires relevance be at the root of our activities, which means her mind is ready to receive and expand.

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This is what learning looks like in our home

Yesterday, for whatever reason, instead of flowing with her, I screwed up everything. Instead of observing, I became utterly blind and unaware. Instead of listening, I only heard my voice. Instead of noticing and being, I demanded and shoved. Instead of a joy filled opportunity with her, where her intellect is ablaze, her inexperience a delight, her growth a wonder, and her little Self is safe, I came down like a wrecking ball and smashed her-in the name of accomplishing an agenda I apparently had, which I went on about through force (forcing). Something in me was very off yesterday….

I’m not afraid of her progress being insufficient, not worried by external judgment, and not unimpressed in the least with what she can and cannot do, does and does not yet know. On the contrary, I’m continually impressed, continually in awe, and consistently filled with joy at the wonder of how her mind and body develop. How she directs this development, how she flows and determines her fluidity, is something I revel at observing and having the privilege of being a part. None of that was at play yesterday, and the real trouble here is that I am uncertain what was at play within me – it was a reckless reaction, and one that I regret deeply. The entire experience was a mess, a distorted and negative malformation of what is usually a beautiful, complex, intriguing, and fluid expansion that she and I share together.

My daughter is 8 and academically, with few exceptions, functions at about a year/grade 6 (11-12 years of age). She carries conversations with educated adults, at her initiation, that leave them (and us) with an obvious reverence in their smile, along with an expression of captivation and satisfaction. She resolves things for other kids, invents her own solutions, and is a confident and capable, peaceful little spirit. She does not struggle to keep up with her peers, does not find academic growth challenging, does not have issues with self esteem, and does generally interact positively with all of us, except when her mama flattens all that. I don’t know why I was so intent on her cooperation and delivering of results yesterday, as we worked through a new mathematical concept that was clearly not one her natural development has so far opened a door. I thought it was a simple concept, and in one sense, she did too, but the connection wasn’t an organic one for her, and my pushing of it was the worst possible thing I could have done to support her.

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So, today as I write this lament, I am re-awakening; I remember now my purpose, my intent, my work. I am reminded of the value of non-violence, of gentleness, of empathic connection, of listening. I know all too well how awful it feels to have someone force learning upon a little soul – which never results in learning; I experienced it over and over as a child. Yesterday, my little one, broken in spirit, had tears dripping from her eyes because of my recklessness. Instead of flowing with her, I snapped and threw TNT into her stream. I suppose I can find an explanation or two for my behavior, but doing so would harm even more than I have already succeeded at damaging. So, I will leave all justifications where they lie, and instead pick up today with eyes and ears open, and hope that she will grant me grace and forgiveness.

And when she is ready, the concept we tried to sort through yesterday will come, without force or expectation, but instead a natural clarity, in gentleness.

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This is my baby, thriving in her accomplishment, learning with every single step and breath

 


 

Coping, Emotional Management, Empowerment, Universal Benefit

I received a comment from a reader today that relayed their concern over how shielded and protected our ‘parenting’ approach might seem to be.  The concern was primarily that providing such a regulated environment for a young child could be a disservice in that the child would be rendered unprepared when the harshness of reality came knocking on their door.

I wanted to address this reader’s genuine concern because it is one that I am presented with frequently from those who do not have the benefit of seeing what it’s like to spend “A Day in the Life of… Us”.  🙂

The gist of the comment offered is as follows: 

“…in an ideal world, no child would ever feel any stress, but the world is far from ideal… I am worried, you seem to be obsessed with making everything just wonderful for them. Not that there is anything wrong with that as such, but I am a bit worried about how you will react when something terrible happens to them, that you cannot do anything about? Say when a boyfriend/girlfriend dumps them, or a pet/relative/friend dies.

Children are naturally resilient, they have to be as they have to learn that bad things sometimes happen that cannot be avoided…. I am NOT saying that suffering is good… But perhaps some gentle adversity as they grow up might help them to withstand something really bad when life sometimes really hurts?…”

 

I very much appreciate opportunities to talk with others who can see why the approach my partner and I have chosen to employ in creating the environment for our daughter’s childhood can be so wonderful and beneficial, while questioning whether it is realistic.   Many have inquired, and some have outright informed us that our refusal to punish, and refusal to diminish, will lead to a child that is full of her own importance, doesn’t care about others, and doesn’t think authority is anything worth considering submitting to. We run into similar concerns when others discover how we educate our children. Our curiosity driven, child-led environment, unconcerned with expectations or requirements to be part of the “norm” really seems to rattle some people. Our focus is in the full development of the whole human, without expectation of a set timeline or specific outcome. Cheerfully, every once in a while we run into those who genuinely understand the benefit of a peaceful, respect giving, upholding home that honors one another as equals, and reveres our children’s childhoods, yet they still worry children from these homes won’t be able to cope in the ‘real world’.

There is a simple quote, reiterated and slightly shifted from one person to the next, but the idea is that rather than accept that which is not beneficial to life and living things, and force the mind to learn to cope and manage, instead demonstrate through one’s own behaviors and choices, a reality that abandons that which harms, and reinforces that which is universally beneficial. ~ In other words, be the change instead of the victim of circumstance: go and create the world we want to live in.

Granted, this way of thinking is one that is full of ability, proactive thought, action, and empowerment.  It isn’t for those who feel they have no real capacity to impact the world around them.  Well, maybe it should be for them the most, but such a way of thinking has to be developed.  In our home, I think we choose to live the way we want life to be, as much as we can.  In our case, it is an intentional and conscious choice much of the time, but I think maybe it’s become sort of second nature because living with these truths for us is what provides harmony and peace, where otherwise difficulty and negative experiences would overwhelm and take us under.

Recently, and throughout our history as a species, some humans have known intuitively that it is harmful to cause a newly formed mind to cope with that which surpasses the presence of connections necessary to support such experiences. Those that don’t seem to have an inherent sense of this concept have observed and chosen to become educated in understanding that the human child’s mind is “under development” and that causing it to deal with experiences it is not yet equipped to grasp causes development that is inevitably malformed as a result of the cocktail of negative chemicals overwhelming the neurological environment in which the connections are forged.

With neuroscience, we can confirm what our ancestors took for granted—that letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term. We know now that leaving babies to cry is a good way to make a less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated person who can pass the same or worse traits on to the next generation.

– There are many articles that discuss this understanding, and I want to encourage you to educate yourself if you are interested.

One thing that many adults do not seem to realize, especially in Academia, is that children by nature do not need many of the “lessons” we give them, but would gain and develop so much more thoroughly and effectively if we got out of the way and let them explore, discover, and adapt in their own time and space. This method is espeially successful if we walk along side them, providing them insight and security on their journey of developing Self. One example that is relevant in our home currently is the concept of bigotry and racism, as well as religious discrimination and indoctrination. My 6 year old has no concept of there even being anything out there when it comes to humans of a different skin color, gender, or class, any more than she does of a dog having white, black, brown, tan, red or yellow fur. In fact, she has so little awareness of anything negative along these lines (our differences) that any time we have seen her exposed to retellings related to any of these concepts, she simply responds to the ideas of cruelty, injustice, and inequality; she has no concept of there being an external human rational for the harmful behaviors.

Slavery, oppression, punishment, torture, war… These things are not something we prefer to have her exposed to yet, but much like religion, it’s inevitable it will come NOT on our timeline, a timeline dictated by her demonstrating she has attained an emotional and intellectual development to be able to think through things without a resulting negative or damaging impact on her whole perspective of her world. And so, when they come before she is able to really grasp them in a beneficial manner, we sort through them the best we can, offering encouragement to her to ask questions and think out loud as much as she feels like doing so. We don’t say much in these instances, we absorb her experience and do our best to get out of the way of her thoughts, and allow her to form these most valuable connections in a safe environment.

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My hope is to encourage adults to recognize that children are constantly observing and absorbing everything around them, and the input stream is a continual source of information their minds use to form thoughts and responses that shape their existence and who they are.

In our home, our focus is harmony and security, respect and consideration, integrity and gentleness. We all have difficult days, moods that are just not helpful to self or others, and struggles, but when we demonstrate concern for one another, a concern that comes from a genuine appreciation and mutual, equal value, those emotional struggles (often a result of physical or logistical challenges) become opportunities to grow and gain, instead of feeling defeated or ineffective and powerless. When shame, guilt, manipulation, and false consequence are not part of the equation, in their place can be honor, integrity, compassion, empathy, consideration, and kindness.

So, how does this work?  How do we know it will work? 

Well, we’ve seen the outcome to some degree already in our own home as well as others, but honestly what it comes down to is trust. It takes a rooted and renewable trust… Trust in the process, trust in the science, trust in the knowledge, and trust in the child and their mind’s natural course of development. It takes trusting that they will gain and obtain throughout their life all that they specifically need to live their life, not that which is necessary to live the life of others.

If a child is allowed to obtain in his or her childhood that which they will naturally absorb and integrate into their being, these experiences will shape their mind in such a way that it will cause them to have what they need to navigate their existence, from the first moments of consciousness to the last. Again, knowing this, trusting this, and getting out of the way to allow the natural course of this development to occur is something that doesn’t come to many of us easily. We worry because of what we have been through and how our minds have managed those experiences – we are tainted, and justifiably so. The deepest challenge is to override our own mental conditioning (sometimes at a very deep and integral level) and not allow our own challenges to become those of our children. Instead, we work to empower them to build their own world, and build a world where benefit and compassion are far more common than self serving and violence.

To address the specific concerns of the original comment, and to tie in the concept of “trusting the process”, I will share a bit about what my 6 year old specifically (only discussing her life here, not any other children that have been a part of our home) has experienced and sorted through so far in her 6 years with us. None of these experiences were manufactured by us intentionally, each of them has forced us all to grow, and quite some percentage of them we did our best to shield her from the full blow of because her mind is not yet developed enough to be able to manage them in a way that causes her healthy growth.

At two years of age, my daughter was required to adapt to losing her big sister while simultaneously being moved to a new home, which for months was in a state of transition and change (literally, location change – new surroundings).  Her father and I remained the only constant, along with her dog and some of her most important possessions.  The result? Monsters… They came to our house, lurking around every corner it seemed.  We watched a little girl, previously unafraid of anything and totally calm and secure, suddenly exhibit great fear, dread, threat, and anger.

After a few weeks of this, her father devised a solution.  He walked along side her through that which she had to face (in spite of our efforts to protect her from having to cope with things beyond her developmental abilities).  He walked along with her, and when she saw those monsters start coming for them, she told her Papa and, after getting the full descriptive run down of each one from his little girl, he simply ate them.  With peanut butter, ketchup, mustard, cheese, and salt and pepper on top.  Eventually, she decided she could do the job sometimes herself when her Papa was not available… that happened about the same time we made a very hard decision and chose a home to stabilize us in, even though a good option had yet to present itself.

At four years of age, our daughter was exposed to the idea of us adopting a sibling for her and bringing an addition to our family.  She experienced the whole process, from interviews, to exams, to training, to our private conversations.  It took 18 months, but finally a young boy joined us.  6 weeks later, after we had all started to attach, especially our daughter, we had to disrupt the adoption and could no longer be a home for this boy.  The primary reason? Somehow, in spite of the highly involved social workers and their expertise, they missed something crucial: this boy was entirely not capable of being in a family with another child, especially one younger than he.  Not only were his behaviors threatening and his volatility damaging to our daughter and to our home, but him having to witness our positive and supportive, gentle treatment of our daughter (which was a stark contrast to his own experiences through his childhood) caused him so much pain, and at such a deep level, that the exposure was determined harmful to him (and to us). The adoption was canceled.  And so, my then 5 year old had, at that point, had effectively lost two siblings, one that had been there since her birth, and one that had come from great intention, effort,  and hopefulness.

Simultaneously, my daughter was presented with another intriguing challenge: her father was diagnosed with a stage 4 Melanoma, unknown initially whether it had spread to his Lymphatic system, unknown whether it could be resolved, unknown whether it would (or ever might) return, or if his life might be in jeopardy.  She watched as we grieved, as fear consumed us, as we denied, raged, ran, scheduled exams and surgeries, and went through an emotionally charged experience such that our union was ripped apart and our life as we knew it was literally smashed to pieces.  She watched while we did our very best to not allow fear to fill her mind, and did our very best to keep the full extent of the concern from becoming her burden to bear.

She then watched us rebuild, return, restore, and renew.  She’s still watching this process.

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Now, at 6, she is contemplating the impending loss of her Nana, her canine companion that has been by her side from the moment she was born in our bedroom.  This sweet soul, and member of our family, still tries desperately to play with her 6 year old charge, in spite of a lack of mobility and loss of sensory function.  We are all here, supporting and loving her, as she finishes her time with us and makes her way to her place of rest.

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In the last 5 months, I have become pregnant twice, and twice have been presented with a situation where for one reason or another, the pregnancy did not continue beyond barely knowing about it.  My daughter was aware each time, as symptoms were impossible to cover – she is empathic, as well as empathetic… she knew something was up when Mama stopped playing with her while simultaneously renovating our house.  (Yes, I am renovating our entire house, myself, on top of everything. This is why the choice I mentioned to “stabilize” in a home, in effort to put an end to the monsters, was such a challenging one. Three years later, I’m about 70% done with the renovations that were supposed to be cosmetic and have become everything from structural to plumbing and electrical, to finishing, and without a reliable pool of professionals or local materials source to rely upon).  We still are not entirely certain of the full reach of these losses for our family, particularly our 6 year old.  However, signs that it impacted her more negatively than we desperately hoped against, appear now and then, mostly in the form of her stating she doesn’t think she’ll “ever have a sibling because there is no way for her to have one that seems to work”.  She’s now resorted to sometimes informing us she doesn’t ever want a sibling, while other days begging for one, and still other days being outright angry with us for yet  having provided her a brother or sister (that is still a part of our family anyway).

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Along the way, my daughter has grappled with unkind children, children who have been abused and therefore harm others, unkind adults who diminish, witnessed children and animals being poorly treated, attempted to understand the benefit of the relinquishment of her fish, the death of family members, and most recently the continued absence of her father, as he struggles to balance work with living.  You know that move I mentioned we chose to make a few years back? We made that choice out of necessity for career reasons, in order to provide us with a quality of life we thought to be impossible without the relocation and career shift.  That very decision now renders me a single parent most of the time, and my child and her father, as well as he and I, find ourselves scrambling to make the most of every single second we have together because there are so few (not to mention the additional awareness of the fragility of life that greatly impacts this desire for togetherness).

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So, now my daughter, at 6 and half years earthside, is intimately observing the strain and stress her parents are experiencing, facing her own grief and continued dread of her father’s absence, trying to grasp and deal with the impending death of her cherished canine companion, and somehow stave off resentment in the shadow of the loneliness the absence of a sibling has cast, as we work to better our life.  So much for protecting her from having to cope with anything before she is really ready.

Or maybe not…

She now observes and absorbs our actions and conversations as we once again open our minds and commence our search, and resume our journey. For now, we are generating the life we want to live, instead of living the circumstances that .  She is now taking her own steps, no longer being in our arms all the time, and we are all walking side by side, together, arm in arm.

This is real life.

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**** When we force children to cope, we cause defensive and non-productive mental connections to be made. The neurological science that explains this phenomenon is actually very clear and simple to grasp. In the place of children having to figure out how to cope, instead we walk along with them through what comes, and protect them from that which is more complex than they’ve developed neurological processes to comprehend. In so doing, we allow them the natural environment necessary for their minds to make the connections in a timeline and course of development that doesn’t harm or cause fear or threat.  When those positive and effective connections solidify, instead of a defensive, protective response generated by a replaying of threat and negative chemicals being released in the body, the mind provides a proactive and beneficial alternative.  That alternative empowers our children to seek positive options, and advance and improve their world. The result is an empowered mind that will change our world in ways that lead to universal benefit.

Punishment is Retaliation

Such a simple sentence, yet so profound, it has permanently changed me.

Punishment is retaliation.

Discipline is a choice from within, rooted in integrity, awareness, and purpose.

Management of self and one’s emotions is necessary to provide a stable, reliable, harmonic environment for relationship and the beneficial growth of children’s minds.

Sometimes we just need to look at our world through their viewing portal… What a generation of empathic, aware, and respected humans we could grow.

I will begin a series on the value of guidance vs consequence delivering/punishing (what our society so often labels, “discipline), including punishment vs simple result over the coming weeks.  I have not had the ability to devote the amount of time and focus here that I have hoped this past year, but with a bit of luck, our conversations will inspire and much thought will follow.

Welcoming a year of blessing, benefit, and reverence.

 

 

Trusting the Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.  

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.

Powerful Praise, More Powerful Than You Might Think

“Value judgment.”

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