Quotes

Are We Gaslighting Our Sensitive Kids?

In my work as a parent coach, I often hear parents describe their children as “too sensitive” or “overly sensitive”. Okay, I’ve even called my own youngest child this many times in the past and still catch myself doing it. I finally stopped to examine the meaning of these words one day while listening to a dad retell a story of a fight he’d gotten into with his daughter. The dad had reprimanded her for some small thing and she’d almost instantly burst into tears and yelled at him, “You’re so mean!” She ran to her room and slammed her bedroom door. Understandably, this reaction upset him. He took it personally and got defensive; “I am not mean!” he yelled back. Because he had interpreted her words as disrespectful and a disproportionate response to his original request, he got into a “You can’t talk to me that way, missy” mindset. His focus was on the surface behavior which of course was problematic. He never stopped to ask himself, what is this behavior trying to communicate? His basic understanding of the situation was this: Child was rude and unreasonable and I can’t allow that. You can guess the power struggle that ensued…

This dad was completely perplexed by what happened. He told me his daughter often “over-reacts” to situations. Listening to him talk about it, I knew what was coming next; “I can’t say anything without her getting upset…she’s just so sensitive…”

A light bulb went off for me in that moment and several new questions came to mind:

  • What if we take the child’s word for it – that she really did experience her father’s reprimand as mean?
  • How would she be feeling and likely to react if we take her experience of the event as valid?
  • How might taking her experience as real and valid change the way the parent responds next?

When we don’t trust another person’s experience as real and valid, that’s a tactic of gaslighting.* When we tell a person they shouldn’t feel a certain way about something, or that their feeling is unreasonable, that’s a form of gaslighting. When we deny another person’s version of reality…Yup, gaslighting. When we make a person doubt themselves and question the validity of their emotions, again, gaslighting.

Gaslighting can also take the form of policing someone’s emotions. It probably happens more often to women than men because culturally the ‘fairer sex’ has a reputatuion for you know, getting all hysterical about things. In relationships and at work, certain reactions by women like crying or ‘getting emotional’ are labelled as irrational and dramatic by others (usually men). These emotion cops want to set the parameters of the exchange; anything falling outside their comfort zone is dismissed as inappropriate, unnecessary, invalid. Gaslighting is a shitty manipulative thing to do to a person. And you know what, I think we parents are guilty of using it on our sensitive kids.

I’m curious, if we’re calling our kids “too sensitive” and approaching them from that framework, is that a form gaslighting? As I said, I often describe my youngest this way due to her penchant for running from the room in tears over the slightest negative feedback. Her feelings get hurt easily; she empathizes with people, animals, and even inanimate objects; she experiences her emotions in BIG, often intense ways, and she needs frequent physical closeness and affection to feel balanced. It is often difficult and exhausting to be her parent. It can feel like I’m walking on egg shells or waiting for a grenade to go off. Although it often feels to me like something might be wrong with her, having a sensitive temperament isn’t a disorder or an illness. In fact, her sensitivity brings many gifts such as creativity, empathy, and spunk!

We give ourselves permission for policing our children’s emotional landscape because we are older and supposedly wiser. We are the authority. Yes, we do know better about many many things. And yes, it is our job to make sure they learn to behave in prosocial ways which means teaching them to regulate their emotions. It’s probably not great for sensitive kids to break down crying in the classroom every day, for instance. However it is not our job, nor is it in the child’s best interests, for us to be telling them how they should feel or how they should experience our treatment of them.

Let’s go back to that example of the dad’s fight with his daughter. As soon as he asked her not to do something, she called him mean. He deemed that to be an over-reaction. A rude and disrespectful way to speak, rather than as a true expression of her emotional reality in that moment. He focused on the words she used, rather than the pain behind them. What if those words, “You’re so mean” had signaled to him a need to connect with his daughter before charging ahead with teaching her a lesson?

It seems to me that labeling someone as ‘too sensitive’ puts the burden of managing a relationship’s ups and downs on them; as in, “It’s not my fault your feelings are hurt, you’re just too sensitive!” We never have to reflect on our own behavior or make changes when we have the excuse of calling our friend/partner/child too sensitive. It becomes their problem. They should learn to deal with it; to not take things so personally.

I’m a parent. A parent of a sensitive kid; so I have to make decisions about how I will raise her and help her work with her temperament. Am I responsible for somehow putting a thicker skin on my sensitive child? Is it my job to toughen her up? No – I don’t really feel good about that. It is my job to teach and model for her emotional regulation, but it’s not my job, nor even my right I would argue, to take my sensitive kid and harden her against the world – to do so would be asking her to feel less; to be less than she is…

Too sensitive. Overly sensitive. There is such judgment in that. The implicit meaning being, the child is “too much” – their feelings and responses to situations are disproportionate to what we, ‘the authorities,’ feel is appropriate, normal, or warranted. When we make such statements, we put ourselves in the position of arbitrator over someone else’s experience, as if we get to tell people how they should or shouldn’t feel. And you know, we don’t get to do that. Not even as parents. We do not have the right to tell our kids how to feel. Of course we have a right and responsibility to guide their behavior, but that is something very different from emotions and we must be able to teach our kids the difference. So I am waiting for the day my sensitive child has an outburst and calls me mean or screams “I hate you!” Hopefully I’ll be able to take a breath in that moment; to catch myself before I give in to my own overwhelm. I want to be able to ask her with genuine curiosity and acceptance for her feelings to please tell me more about that….

“Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality.” Stephanie Sarkis, PhD.

Quotes

Set the limit. Soothe the upset.

I often have parents ask me if giving empathy and comfort to their upset children is rewarding them for misbehavior. I’m sure you’ve been in the scenario where you set a limit on a behavior and your child goes berserk. Some parents seem to be of the belief that holding a firm limit means ignoring the child’s upset or keeping a stony resolve the face of it. I’ve even seen some parents goad the child on, seeming to derive pleasure from making them more miserable. The thinking goes something like this: If I offer a hug or soothe my child after I’ve reprimanded them, I am ‘giving in’. It sends the message that I’m not really serious about the limit I just set.

I’m of the belief that we can be kind to our children even when we are being firm about their behavior. We can soften to their emotional reaction to having been told, ‘No’, while simultaneously holding to that ‘No’. We do this by separating the child from the behavior. Remember, limits and consequences are about teaching the child that certain behaviors or words are unacceptable, and offering them a prosocial alternative. If you’re setting limits from a place of punishment then it’s harder to make that distinction between child and behavior. It’s easier to withhold comfort and refrain from helping our kids calm down because in that moment we’re likely thinking some version of: “You were naughty and you deserve what you get” or “Good! You should be upset!”

Setting the limit with the intention to teach children allows us to affirm the child’s inherent goodness while still correcting the behavior. We can assure them that they are still loved, that they are not a “bad kid” but that they made a mistake and need to correct it. As the mother of a sensitive child who often dissolves into tears the second she is reprimanded, I often get frustrated that she is so quick to upset. I try my best to remember that she can’t get the teaching she needs about her behavior when she’s in a state of extreme upset, and so my most effective parenting move – if I’m going for skill development – is to guide her in how to calm down (being a calm presence myself, breathing with her, using loving touch) and then when she’s calm I can go back to the limit and address her skill deficit. She doesn’t ‘get away’ with any bad behavior. This approach might take a little longer, but it is effective. It creates an environment where people are allowed to make mistakes and still feel loved and supported. It moves children away from shame over their behavior to self-reflection.

So do we send the wrong message when we comfort kids after setting limits on them? Think about what you would need and want in that situation if you were the child. Would some gentle-kindness and understanding help or hinder you in processing your behavior? What might it feel like to be told, “You are a good person. This isn’t about you, it’s about a behavior that is harmful and needs to stop.” Most of us haven’t been told that. When we mess up and someone calls us out, we feel awful. We might feel anger, sadness, shame, or blame others for our behavior. It is the same with our children. As parents, we could stand to be reminded of that more often.

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The Icky Truth About Vulnerability.

“Sometimes flailing and feeling endlessly uncomfortable are exactly what you need to feel.” ~ Dawn Serra

Thinking about vulnerability today. That scary act of going first with your truth; of opening up to someone; of revealing your pain, your insecurity, your desire, your secret, and not knowing how it will be received.

Yesterday I led a women’s circle on emotional labor. I let some of my messy truth out. It wasn’t so much what I said that’s bothering me today – I share details of my life pretty freely and find a lot of value and connection in that act. It’s what I showed that has me feeling, well, vulnerable today – the raw emotion behind my words, the pained voice, the tears I was holding back…I showed I was in pain. I showed I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing so why would anyone look to me as someone who has answers?? I showed I don’t got this.

So today I’ve been feeling embarrassed about it. Nervous. Regretful. Chastising myself a little for becoming ‘so emotional’ and wondering what the other women must be thinking of me. I thought opening up was supposed to feel good! What the hell, Brene Brown?? You said this would connect me to others! All I want to do is hide!

Vulnerability is messy. It’s complicated. It doesn’t always feel great, even when you’re in a ‘safe space.’ Yesterday the women in the circle were amazing. They bared witness to my pain and never made me feel foolish, and yet today, I’m making myself feel that way…

Vulnerability is scary. No one wants to appear weak. We are allowed to struggle, sure, but not too much and not for too long. We want to be in control or at least appear like we are. We want to move to solution or resolution in a timely fashion. That’s the disease of our culture – productivity at all times!

What happens when we continue to struggle? When things are just not easy for a long time? Do we continue to reach out? Do we continue to open up when people have already heard it? Do we learn to sit in that uncomfortable space of non-resolution? Or do we withdraw and isolate for fear that our pain and our struggle is “too much” and won’t be tolerated by other people? I’m worried about the people who think, “No. Nobody wants to hear the truth from me again.” I’m worried about myself getting to that point.

I don’t have answers or solutions. I am unbelievably grateful that I have places where I can get real, drop my mask, and find support. I hope these places and the people who occupy them will stay. Stay and remain open with me in the discomfort. Stay in the awkward feeling with me where things aren’t getting better yet…No one teaches us how to do that. We have to feel our way into this space; this territory of revelation without answers or sometimes understanding. Maybe just having this space, by simply allowing this icky space to exist, we can find some ease. Make a little room for our pain to just be.

All we have to offer is the messy truth. I’ll show you mine and you can show me yours.

Quotes

Call Your Kids ‘In’ Not ‘Out.’

I often have parents ask me if giving empathy and comfort to their upset children is rewarding them for misbehavior. I’m sure you’ve been in the scenario where you set a limit on a behavior and your child reacts with crying, yelling, arguing, whining, etc. Some parents seem to be of the belief that holding a firm limit means ignoring the child’s upset or keeping a stony resolve. I’ve even seen some parents goad the child on, seeming to derive pleasure from making them more miserable. The thinking goes something like this: If I offer a hug or soothe my child in some way after I’ve reprimanded them, isn’t that ‘giving in’ to my child?

I’m of the belief that we can be kind to our children even when we are being firm about their behavior. We can soften to their emotional reaction to having been told, ‘No’, while simultaneously holding to that ‘No’. We do this by separating the child from the behavior. Remember, limits and consequences are about teaching the child that certain behaviors or words are unacceptable, and offering them a prosocial alternative. If you’re setting limits from a place of punishment then it’s harder to make that distinction between child and behavior. It’s easier to withhold comfort and refrain from helping our kids calm down because in that moment we’re likely thinking some version of: “You were naughty and you deserve what you get” or “Good! You should be upset!”

Setting a limit with the intention to teach children allows us to affirm the child’s inherent goodness while still correcting the behavior. We can assure them that they are still loved, that they are not a “bad kid,” but that they made a mistake and need to correct it. As the mother of a sensitive child who often dissolves into tears the second she is called out, I often get frustrated that she is so quick to upset. I try my best to remember that she can’t get the teaching she needs about her behavior when she’s crying, covering her ears, and running away from me (yup, that’s her MO), and so my most effective parenting move – if I’m going for skill development – is to guide her in how to calm down first (being a calm presence myself, breathing with her, using loving touch), and then when she’s calm I can go back to the limit and address her skill deficit. She doesn’t ‘get away’ with any bad behavior. This approach might take a little longer, but it is effective. It creates a home environment where people are allowed to make mistakes and still feel loved and supported. It moves children away from shame over their behavior to self-reflection. In other words, it calls children ‘in’ rather then ‘out.’

So do we send the wrong message when we comfort kids after setting limits on them? Think about what you would need and want in that situation if you were the child. Would some gentle-kindness and reassurance help or hinder you in processing your behavior? What might it feel like to be told, “You are a good person. This isn’t about you, it’s about a behavior that is harmful and needs to stop.” Most of us haven’t been told that. When we mess up and someone calls us out, we get upset. We might feel anger, sadness, shame, or blame others for our behavior. It is the same with our children. As parents, we could stand to be reminded of that more often.

Quotes

On how asking myself the question “Who are you trying to become?”put me on my right path.

The following was written as a guest blog post for Parent Coach International and first appeared on their Facebook page. In this post, I write about what led me to the PCI and how becoming a parent coach was borne out of my struggle to find a new identity after becoming a mother…

When you ask a coach “How did you find the PCI” chances are you’ll hear about a Google search late one night. They didn’t really know what they were looking for, but somehow the PCI came up and the rest is history…

I remember sitting at a table in an nearly empty restaurant with a group of coaches late one night during the last PCI conference in Chicago. We were engrossed in this conversation about our work, specifically, how each one of us had been called to coaching. The really fascinating and moving part of each story was what was happening before that fateful moment at the keyboard. A common theme woven throughout our stories was struggle. Each and every one of us was in a place of discomfort when we began our search.

For me, the pain was borne out of being a full-time mom and leaving a satisfying career behind. I was in the trenches with a baby and a toddler and felt like I was barely surviving. I felt a profound shift in identity when I became a mother and wanted desperately to explore this change with someone who knew how I felt. I didn’t have a way to talk about what I was feeling and experiencing, I just sensed it was BIG somehow.

Fast forward a few years and I had gotten the hang of parenting. Routines were easier, play was easier, I was getting actual sleep, and my kids were happy. I was a “good mom” and reasonably confidant in my parenting. Still, a feeling continued to nag at me; a feeling like this isn’t quite right somehow and I should be doing more with my life. You know how we coaches like to say, “What you resist, persists?” Well, that was true for me. I was resisting where I was. I was telling myself, “You deserve more than this” and “This is a waste of your intelligence and gifts.” Frankly, these messages were often reinforced by the people in my life who were successful and accomplished in their chosen fields and showed little to no interest in my job raising kids. I was resisting being the stay-at-home mom and full of self-judgment for what I thought that said about me.

When I finally stopped fighting my reality, a path cleared in my mind and I started to sense the direction I needed to take. I had finally made space to look at my dissatisfaction and yearning with a measure of curiosity instead of just anger and resentment. I began to think that maybe I’m on this path in order to work with families; maybe there is a way to parent for social change; and maybe I need to grow into a new mindset to figure this all out. That’s when Google took over and I somehow landed on the PCI home page.

Although it wasn’t until the end of my PCI training that I finally saw how the struggle had been leading me here all along and preparing me to be a deeply empathetic coach. And when I did see it, emotion overwhelmed me. Why didn’t I treat with reverence those early years with my kids when I was in the mess of creating and tending to life? Why didn’t I trust myself to find my way? Why couldn’t I just relax with the understanding that this time was but a season in my life? And heres the one that still tightens my throat; Why didn’t I know the value and purpose of my parenting and HONOR IT?

Now when I work with clients, I try to help them to be really attuned to what is already emerging somewhere in the background. Chances are they’ve been poking and prodding at these things for awhile, and they are ready to go deeper with you. I support them by reminding them of how far they’ve already come in their journey to be ready for this moment. I support them by asking, “Who are you trying to become?” Together we move closer to the struggle and we offer it friendship.

Sometimes change is brewing so quietly under the noise of everyday life that we can’t hear it or feel it until finally…we do. My experience with struggle and finding my calling has shown me that even hardship, exhaustion, and pain are conspiring to help me. If I resist it, I may loose my opportunity to be made anew and the suffering will persist until I listen to it.

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“Turn it Up: Parenting From the Heart,” by Janaiah von Hassel

The following article is a guest post by Janaiah von Hassle, mother and founder of Kiro Kidz, which first appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #48 (http://www.pathwaystofamilywellness.org).

My first son was born in February of 2010, just before my 30th birthday. I had dreamed of having a child since I was one myself, and I was blessed to be in a situation where I could leave my career to become a stay-at-home mom. The days leading up to childbirth were full of anticipation, yet with each day that my perfect little boy grew inside of me, my anxieties of how to perfectly care for him grew as well.

I began reading every parenting book that came my way. I subscribed to motherhood blogs, and I took advice from grandparents, neighbors, friends and strangers. After my son’s birth, I joined online support groups and made sure to leave no question unasked. I prepared my list of inquiries for the pediatrician at each well visit, and spent endless hours researching milestones, sleep training, introduction of solid foods, the proper amount of “tummy time,” and any other topic that piqued my intense desire to do everything perfectly.

I breastfed for the first year, and while I didn’t get my period during that time, I developed a new sort of PMS: Perfectionist Motherhood Syndrome. After all, if God saw fit to bless me with this tiny, helpless, perfect little being, then wasn’t it my job to become anxious, stressed, exhausted and completely confused in my quest to do the perfect job raising him?

My exhaustion soon turned to frustration as, despite my newly acquired “Parenting 101” education, nothing was working. The sleep training guide I followed blew up in my face, exacerbated the sleep issues, and caused me to feel depressed and unfit. Likewise, despite our perfect food introduction schedule, we couldn’t figure out the culprit of my son’s eczema, and when the doctor assured me that the steroid cream would fix all of our troubles, I felt a complete unease when applying it.

Over time I realized that everything that came hard for us was accompanied by my fighting a very basic instinctual feeling. How perfectly natural it felt to nurse my son to sleep as we both drifted off into a peaceful slumber in my bed. It seemed so mechanical to set an alarm to make sure he didn’t stay there, or to fight my urge to sleep so I could attempt to return him to bed, only to hear his cries moments later.

Friends weighed in with experiences, but no two stories were alike. Whose advice should I take? Nothing felt right. I had always excelled at my jobs, and most things came to me with some degree of ease. I knew that motherhood wouldn’t be without its challenges, but I had not expected to be so utterly horrible at it.

As my parenting evolved, I found a group of mothers who resonated more deeply with me. Some referred to themselves as “granola moms.” I quickly gained confidence in our co-sleeping habit and found relief in the support of my belief that children needed to be lovingly guided, not admonished and punished. I appreciated my newly acquired friends and soon began to feel I’d found my stride.

However, it didn’t take long for new concerns to catch my ear. Some of my new “crunchy moms” shared devastating research about circumcision with me. They explained the reasons I needed to get rid of my microwave and my WiFi, and expressed their disapproval of common life experiences that would be detrimental to my child. I was quickly made aware of all the things I was doing wrong, and became overwhelmed by the new demands.

As the birth of my second son approached, I was swirling with a new avalanche of information. How would I grow my organic garden, keep up with my household duties, afford all-natural cleaners, and keep my children from being traumatized by sensory-overloaded toys, BPA, fluoride and all the dangers lurking under the surface of my world that was beginning to crumble?

Two years ago, after receiving my youngest son’s autism diagnosis, I contemplated the path my parenting had taken. Where was I? How did I get there? Who had I followed? And why could I reflect back on moments of deep regret, despite the fact that I had done it all “right”? My youngest son was diagnosed with regressive autism, so he had lost abilities that he formerly had, but it wasn’t an overnight occurrence. It was a slow and painful slide toward a rabbit hole of confusion. During that whole time, I struggled to buy into the advice of doctors and friends around me that everything was fine. I fought my intuition on what I should do, and allowed interventions that went against every fiber in my being.

The details of my first three years of parenting do not support, nor do they discourage, any particular parenting style. They neither prove nor disprove any science regarding the causation of autism, and there is no evidence that suggests that either of my sons would be better or worse off had I done one thing over another. But I will tell you that two years ago something in me changed that has made my life 100 percent better, and as the old saying goes, “A happy mom is a happy home.”

An incredible awareness came over me shortly after I began chiropractic care and learned about our body’s innate ability to heal itself with the removal of subluxation or misalignment of the spine. It made such obvious sense to me; it was as if I had known it all along. An “aha” moment, so to speak. When disturbances creep in, preventing the body’s basic ability to connect with itself, disease ensues because the body is basically placed under arrest and unable to respond, act and heal as it was designed to do. There is no substitute for our body’s natural response, because each person is so uniquely created that any one-size-fits-all approach will fall dramatically short of the body’s intricate knowledge of itself and ability to provide exactly what it needs.

It became indisputable to me that the same was true of motherhood. From the moment of conception, our bodies know exactly what to do to grow and nurture our babies. Our body supplies oxygen and nutrients to our baby in the womb, while removing deoxygenated blood and waste products. During this time, our body slowly creates the space necessary for this growing baby, and our entire structure changes to allow a safe passage at birth. None of this happens by our command or understanding. We do not direct our bodies on what to do, how to encourage the growing spine, intelligent brain, beating heart, functioning organs, eyes, ears or nose and their ability to take in those senses through the central nervous system, sending those inputs to the brain and receiving messages. This is done by an innate intelligence that lives within us to create and form life.

By the time babies are born, they can already hear and recognize their mother’s voice and touch, and they can sense their mother’s presence. They innately know to cry when they are separated from their mothers, to ensure that their mothers will return to them and continue to nurture them. How can we believe that this innate intelligence, which creates and sustains life on the inside and then causes our body to create a life-sustaining fluid on the outside, could somehow be shut off on the day that our baby is born?

From the first time you hold your baby in your arms through childhood and adolescence, doctors, grandmothers, well meaning friends, neighbors and strangers will tell you what is best for your baby, and in hasty moments of panic and confusion, we often surrender our God-given connection—our innate intelligence—to the confidence of the outside world. As a mother who has learned the hard way, I plead with you: Don’t shut it off! Don’t ignore your intuition! You are hardwired with a connection and ability to care for your child. You know what no one else can know. You are the best provider for your child, and when something feels wrong, when medical doctors tell you what is necessary but deep inside your gut—that same gut that once held and formed your child from a lifeless egg into a human being—is telling you to look for other answers, then I urge you to listen. Mothers, it’s time we take back the health of our children. As a mother of two young boys, I am eternally grateful for doctors in all different fields who can lend their skills when necessary. But doctors are not equipped to raise our children.

Why are our children suffering? Why is one out of every four school-aged children medicated? Why is this the first generation whose life expectancy is shorter than their parents? Because the noise outside has become too loud to hear the voice within. Silence the world. Believe in your ability.

You are designed with the intelligence and ability to create and sustain life. You have a gift and, with that gift, an obligation to care for your child and ensure that their innate intelligence is left intact to guide them.

I found nothing so freeing as the day I left more than 20 motherhood online groups, unsubscribed from several motherhood blogs, and boxed up a plethora of parenting guidebooks. I’m not saying that these things can’t be useful, encouraging and helpful at times, but I had allowed them to subluxate a guiding system that knew exactly what to do.

Mothers, don’t turn off the noise inside. Turn it up!

Janaiah von Hassel, CEO of Kiro Kidz, is the proud mother of two young boys, Landon and Corbin who she happily nurtures alongside her husband, Matthew. Janaiah turned to chiropractic after receiving her son’s autism diagnosis and, in doing so, discovered that her entire family benefited from care. In her desire to spread the word, she has found great fulfillment in her work with Dr. Todd Defayette on the creation and development of Kiro Kidz.

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An Anxiety-Free School Year Is Possible When You Focus on What Truly Matters…

We are just two weeks away from the start of school here in New York! I just wanted to take a minute to wish you and your children a successful new school year. What do I mean by successful? Well, I don’t mean straight As and accolades. Those things can be very nice when they come, but they shouldn’t be the focus or even the goal we are asking our kids to shoot for. I would argue that the real purpose of education is to ignite and nurture a love of learning in our children. To engage their natural curiosity and teach them how to think for themselves. To make their hands shoot up in class because they have yet another question or comment that they just have to share! A successful school year means that every child is participating to the full extent of their ability and contributing their unique strengths to the community. When parents and teachers value participation over performance, all children are allowed to succeed, not just the ones who do well on test days or excel at prized subjects like science and mathematics. Parents, this school year I urge you to look for your child’s strengths instead of their short-comings.

Ask yourself these questions often so you don’t loose sight of their special gifts:

How do you show your support for your child’s interests and ideas?

What are your child’s strengths and talents?

In what ways do you build your child’s confidence?

In what ways do you nurture your child’s own unique timeline for growth and development?

When you are clear on the answers to these questions, share this wisdom with your child’s teacher(s) at the first parent/teacher conference or even sooner if you can. You want the person spending that much time with your son or daughter to know the whole person and what works best to engage him or her.

When we stop comparing our children to the performance of others, or measuring them against some standard set outside themselves, and simply recognize and appreciate them for the unique individuals they are, we all feel relief from the pressure to “perform” and conform. Wouldn’t it be amazing to free your child from that anxiety this year? You can do it simply by letting them know they have value – even when they make mistakes, take a long time to understand a math problem, or fail a test. Let them know their personal best is the only thing that counts in the end.

I hope to see kids at every age and ability saying, “I love school” because it is a place where they are acknowledged and appreciated for the unique qualities they bring to the classroom. Happy September everyone!

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Heart-to-Heart with a Hug

Ever since I read this piece last week about hugging meditation – http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/04/thich-nhat-hanh-hugging-meditation/
I have been practicing the mindful hug with my kids, especially with my oldest who has a hard time releasing/expressing her feelings and dealing with upset. Her instinct is to shut-down and withdraw. Words do not work with her once she’s emotionally stressed – even empathetic, loving words.

When she struggles like this, I often feel inadequate in my ability to help her. The mindful hug has helped me to “be there” for her, while also making me feel like I’m fulfilling my job as the parent to intervene in some meaningful way. I think it’s helping her to regulate her emotions a bit better too. We’ve experienced a lovely feed-back loop where she’s showing more affection toward me, initiating more hugs and kisses. This is something that she’s never been very big on, but is so special to me.

As a parent coach, I’m trained to look for the small shifts, for the signs of new growth that are emerging just beyond my comprehension. I sense that I am experiencing such a time with my daughter right now; one where we are about to grow into a deeper understanding of each other and strengthen our bond. Maybe we just have to keep hugging like we mean it….

“According to the practice, you have to really hug the person you are holding. You have to make him or her very real in your arms, not just for the sake of appearances, patting him on the back to pretend you are there, but breathing consciously and hugging with all your body, spirit, and heart. Hugging meditation is a practice of mindfulness. “Breathing in, I know my dear one is in my arms, alive. Breathing out, she is so precious to me.” If you breathe deeply like that, holding the person you love, the energy of your care and appreciation will penetrate into that person and she will be nourished and bloom like a flower.”

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Welcome Home! Rituals for a Smooth Move.

Since having kids, my family has moved four times. Twice cross-country. We learned a few things with those experiences about what to do and what not to do (avoid moving cross-country with a newborn if at all possible!!). I have a good friend gearing up for a move (WAHHHH!), and so I wanted to share my thoughts about the best ways families can prepare for such a big transition while helping their kids feel secure and even excited admist the upheaval.

The first thing – and I hope this is obvious – is to talk about the move; a lot. This is somewhat age-dependent so use your head. A two-year-old doesn’t need to know about the changes six months ahead. A twelve-year-old probably does. Whatever age the child, allow them to talk about their feelings and fears openly. Acknowledge the sad aspects while also highlighting the positives. Involve children in the preparations by allowing them to pack boxes with you. Get kids acquainted with the new home, community, and school by visiting. If it’s a long-distance move, give them information and show them pictures on-line instead.

Remember that children will feel anxious about their possessions being packed away and fearful about never seeing them again. If the move includes purging many items, talk to your child first before getting rid of their clothes, toys, games, etc. I was surprised to learn that my daughter was really attached to a chair. I wouldn’t have ranked it as very important, but to her it certainly was! Bottom-line: don’t make assumptions about what your child values. If you can compromise about what stays and what goes, the process will be much smoother for everyone.

You will likely notice a change in behavior and mood leading up to the move. Kids will seem grumpy, out-of-sorts, and may act-out (that goes for you and your partner too!). There could be regressive behaviors like pee-pee accidents in potty-trained kids or clinging and whining for your attention. Whatever new or unusual behavior presents itself, understand it as your child’s way of expressing feelings. They might be trying to tell you, “I need more of you!” or “I need help making sense of this”. It may or may not be directly related to their feelings about moving. It could just be a response to your being preoccupied with other things, and the overall stress levels in the house going up. Take a time-out from the packing to do something fun with your child. Get out of the house and focus all your attention on them. They likely just need to know you haven’t forgotten about them! As much as possible, AND I STRESS THIS, keep to your regular routines in the midst of moving craziness to reassure kids that not everything has changed!

Now that you know the basics, here are some ideas for making the transition meaningful by connecting kids to their new home:

* Saying good-byes is important for children at any age. In the weeks leading up to the move, schedule time with friends or host a going-away party. Make a point of visiting favorite restaurants, playgrounds, and museums. Ask your child what they would really like to do before you leave.

* If possible, try to have some key objects already set-up at the new house like your child’s bed, favorite books, and toys. At the very least, know which box to find these special items in and un-pack them first.

* Younger kids love mail; both giving and receiving. Exploit this fact and generate some excitement about having new pen pals. Give an address book and fill it in with all the contact information of your child’s friends. You could include nice stationary and stamps with it.

* About a week before moving time, invite a small number of close friends over and have the kids make pictures and letters for each other. Put their work into envelopes, address and stamp them, then walk to mailbox together. When kids arrive at the new house, this special mail will be waiting for them. Their friends will also have a nice reminder of them as well.

* Create a welcoming ritual for the new home such as planting a tree together or making a piece of art for the walls. I think it would be really lovely to write a family mission statement or “rules” together and represent it artistically on a canvas. Something like this:

* Involve kids in the set-up and decoration of the new house, especially their bedroom. Painting the walls? Kids can help! Choosing new decor? Ask for their opinion. When kids participate in making the house a home, they will feel a sense of ownership and attachment to it.

* Don’t spend every minute of every weekend making the new living space perfect. Get out and explore the neighborhood. Make a list of all the cool things there are to do in your new city and start your adventures. Older kids can help do the research and write their own “outings wish list”.

* “Camp out” the first night. How fun would it be to spread a blanket in an empty room, order a pizza, and have a picnic dinner? And your kids will really love a family slumber party!

* Bake cookies – okay, the baking sheet isn’t unpacked yet – BUY cookies and go introduce yourselves to the neighbors.