“Children are like a river with their own natural flow, pace and direction. If you go against it, the parenting is going to be tough – but if you go with it – it’s an amazing journey.” ~Gonan Prfemfors, Parentology
One day, my son was feeling badly about not living up to his potential. He expressed negative beliefs of “not being a good enough, being lazy, stupid, feeling guilty and shame about his choices and behaviors.” It hurts me tremendously to hear him share these deep negative core beliefs as they are the same ones I have battled through trans-generational trauma and sadly often triggers me into a negative reaction. Thus, no matter how much my partner and I told him how much we loved him and highlighted all the good things he does, he could not hear us and resisted. As a therapist, I know too well that our reactions and attempts to minimize his emotional pain were invalidating and actually making him feel worse. That one must first truly listen, accept, validate the speaker’s feelings and expressions so they may be able to process their pain and move on. Yet being a parent, feeling so responsible and sad for hearing your magnificent child feel so bad is hard to accept and cope with, especially on top of all of life’s other stressors.
After becoming conscious of my own insecurities and triggers, I then chose to respond by cuddling with him and remaining silent as he cried and vented. I agreed how painful this must feel. I apologized for the times my actions have led him to feel this way. How I will keep working on improving myself. I shared how I woke up early yesterday and caught a glimpse of the intense orange from the sunrise. I was reminded of how blessed we are that God* gives a beautiful new horizon to awake and go to sleep with every day. I thought about Easter approaching and how many are celebrating how Jesus rose from the dead. I told my son that holidays are symbols of the gifts God gives us every day. We have been given the gift to rise every day and try again to be more kind, helpful and align our beliefs with our actions.
My son immediately said “Thank You!” He gave ave me a kiss and popped up exuberantly. He hugged and expressed gratitude to the many items on his bed: his books; his new big, blue, soft blanket; his giant stuffed elephant, his fan, his light, etc. I then read him some stories, the last one was I Believe In Me.
The next morning, I was awoken early by my son meditating “Ohmmm, Ohmmm, Ohmmm.” He was inspired to start his day on a positive note. I wish everyone to see the beauty and miracles given every day and when you don’t, forgive yourself and others, and rise again.
Deep breaths and baby steps,
*I believe God is universal and defined by what feels best for you and your family’s belief system.
Thank you Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting for this very useful post.
“When our child acts out, or lashes out, it’s natural for us to panic. We move into “fight, flight or freeze” and our child looks like the enemy. We all know whatever we do next won’t serve our child’s growth and healing, but we’re in the grip of strong emotions, and we can’t help ourselves. Or can we? What if there were three steps that would help you shift back into calm, AND keep your child from getting upset as often? There are.
“STEP 1: Get Your Own Emotions Regulated
1. STOP, DROP whatever else you’re doing and BREATHE deeply.
2. Reduce the pressure: Remind yourself that there is no emergency. No one is dying.
3. Change Your Thoughts: Say a little mantra in your mind: “She’s acting like a child because she IS a child. I’m the grown-up here.”
4. Physically release your tension: Notice where you’re holding tension in your body and shake it out. Take a deep breath and blow it out. Make a loud (but nonthreatening) sound. Get a drink of water.
5. Be Here Now.
If you can bring yourself into the present moment, your upset will drop away. Give yourself permission not to worry about the future or the past. In this moment, what action would be healing? Anything else can wait.
“Step 2: Shift the Energy
1. Make things emotionally safe. Say “We’re having a hard time, Sweetie. Let’s try a Do-Over.”
2. Empathize. Acknowledge your child’s perspective. “Seems like you want ______. ”
3. Find the common ground. “But I need _______. What can we do?”
4. Help your child get emotionally regulated. Kids usually do this best by crying or raging in the safety of our arms/presence. Breathe your way through this, reminding yourself that afterwards, he will feel safe, connected to you, and cooperative.
“Step 3: Learn the Lesson
1. Learn. When you’re calm, reflect on what you can learn from what happened. How can you support yourself to stay more emotionally regulated? (Allow more time, get more sleep, better organization, fewer commitments, see things from your child’s perspective more?)
2. Teach. Later, when you and your child feel calm and connected, say “We had a hard moment today, didn’t we? I’m sorry I got upset. I guess I was worried. When you _____, I feel ______. What can both of us do differently next time?”
3. Change. If this is a recurring situation, make a list of possible solutions and start trying them. Life is too short to endure the same lessons over and over again. “You won’t remember these steps in the heat of the moment. Why not print out a little cheat sheet and carry it around with you? A few months of practice, and you won’t even remember the last time you lost your temper.”
Dr. Laura Markham has since removed this original post I copied and pasted above, but here’s link to an updated version: http://www.ahaparenting.com/_blog/Parenting_Blog/post/How_to_Stay_Calm_When_You’re_Losing_It/ Even though this is the advice I’d give, I still printed a copy of this to put on my fridge because no matter how well I know this, I still get stressed and forget it in the heat of moment. No human is immune to emotional hijacking. We all can benefit from deep breaths so oxygen can reach all our cells and open more channels to process the information. I’d check out more blog entries http://ahaparenting.com/_blog/parenting_blog and you can sign up for the newsletter and daily inspirations from Dr. Laura Markham. I am a huge fan of the books she recommends too.
If you’d like further support in applying more coping skills like these in your home as well as learn about normal human development and improving co-parenting relationship Email me Debra@postivereframe.org or check out my profile at wecounsel.com
Make it a Calm and Connecting Day<3
Debra Wallace MS
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
An example of focusing on the positive, being response-able versus reactive, the power of reflection, and my partner and I working together as a team to uphold our family values…
One of my parenting triggers is when my kids scream from another room for my attention. When I am regulated (i.e. well nourished, calm) then my positive response is, “I can better hear you if you come to me.” Now when I notice that the kids screaming for me from another room has become a habit. I take time to reflect on my own behaviors. I can say with certainty, that 9 out of 10 times, I am committing the same offense that I am getting angry at my loved ones for doing. Just now I shouted at my son from another room to take out the compost. My partner kindly said, “If you would like us to hear you, you will need to come here.” Fortunately, I was also regulated enough at that moment that I actually felt my own negativity and hypocrisy as I shouted and I was resilient to accept my partner’s valid request. I’ll be honest, there are many times I am dysregulated (ie. stressed, not well nourished) and I react negatively which I have many self-care plans in place to go do then. I finished my tasked, then walked over to apologize to my son and asked him nicely to take out compost before his grandparents arrive home. His dad agreed and said, “how about you do it now.” My son got up without complaint which I thanked him for doing so. As he put on his boots he said, “Well, I did complain in my mind.” We giggled and I said, “It’s normal to have resistance first and it matters more to me how you chose to act.”
Take wonderful care of yourselves and your family. ~Debra
Then you were born.
You touched my soul to no end:
Your cries burrowed a well
Stirred my consciousness
A collaboration of love and labor in its purest form.
I see my reflection in your brilliance and turbulence;
Shadows of the past to heal
Vital needs to nurture
Dreams to actualize
You have much to teach me,
I am ready to learn.
While cuddling in bed with my 4yr daughter one morning, she asked if she could play on the I-pad. I’ll be honest, there was a big part of me that dreaded to already hear this request so early. Instead of reacting with a snappy “No” (which I really wanted to do), I chose to stop my negativity and respond with, “We have to do are Good Day Principles first.” She then started to count off pointing her index finger in the air, “1- drink water, 2- eat healthy food, 3-exercise, 4- do math, 5- ice skate, 6- write messages for our neighbors and give them to them.” I am happy to share that she enthusiastically did everything on her list except the lake was not safe for ice skating so she played in snow instead, then she got to play on the I-pad.
I want to highlight that she had asked me at different points during the day to help make the letters for the neighbors. Many of those moments were inconvenient times for me. When I wanted to react with a “No,” I reflected on the importance of what I was doing compared to the value we have of encouraging kindness and community connections. I was please she was enthusiastic about doing a random act of kindness. I made a conscious choice to say “Yes”. She ended up drawing pictures on note cards and I wrote:
Thank you for all you hard work and kindness. Your life is a constant stream of miracles. We are glad you are our neighbor.
[I drew a big heart per my daughter’s instructions]
Especially created for by S. A. W., age 4
My daughter sealed the envelops and added stickers. I then wrote on the outside “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood;-)”My daughter and I then walked in zero degree temperature to hand deliver. My daughter pointed out that this counts as exercise and outside time, too.
It really is amazing when you choose to make a positive step and let go of attachment to how things should be, how the positive energy just flows.
I also want thank my partner who takes my advice and positively engaged the kids to create our “Good Day Principles”. Kids are more motivated to participate in activities and internalize the importance if they are included into the process from the beginning. Yes this does take more time and it may not look how you wanted to, yet, in the long run, it will evoke positive feelings and change in the family. We also home educate so our list reflects this rhythm.
To deep breaths and baby steps ~Debra
“But the first steps to dealing with the fact that your young child doesn’t sleep through the night, or doesn’t want to sleep without you is to realize that:
- (1) Not sleeping through the night until they are 3 or 4 years of age is normal and healthy behavior for human infants.
- (2) Your children are not being difficult or manipulative, they are being normal and healthy, and behaving in ways that are appropriate for our species.
Once you understand these simple truths, it becomes much easier to deal with parenting your child at night. Once you give up the idea that you must have 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night, and view these nighttime interactions with your child as precious and fleeting, you get used to them very quickly.” ~Katherine Dettwyler, PH.D
Sleeping through the Night http://pathwaystofamilywellness.org/The-Outer-Womb/sleeping-through-the-night.html
This understanding helped my sanity immensely when my daughter was an infant and wobbler. I have had this gut feeling that forcing children to sleep alone was counter-intuitive. When I did it to our first-born son, I frequently felt torn. I thought how hard and confusing for him as his parents went to sleep together every night. I love cuddling with another soul at night, how could I deprived him of such a simple and wonderful comfort. I also think having separate rooms is a luxury that many civilizations have not afforded. He must feel alienated and alone. Every night, around 1 AM, he would bump through the dark hallways to climb a ladder to our bed and I allowed him to stay there. Then I worried if he would ever learn to sleep on his own.
When he was 3 yrs old, I learned that 85% of brain connections were made by age 3 and 45% of the connections that were not made are gone. This is huge and pretty much explains how most our society may only be operating on a half of our brain’s potential. Up to that point, I had considered myself well-educated on child development and parenting, and I was when you consider mainstream. I am glad that I have the thirst for knowledge and embrace my weaknesses. I learn something new every day and challenge my “wrong truths” (my son’s wording). Along with a greater of understanding of neuroscience, I also have a theory that forcing a child to sleep through the night may cause the brain to develop out of order and/or skip crucial and formative connections.
Hence, I accept that my daughter (nor I) will not be sleeping through the night till age 3 or 4.
My daughter did eventually sleep through the night. I literally went 3.5 years without a full night sleep, co-sleeping, no allowance for “cry it out” and frequent night nursing. I’ll be honest, I would (emotionally) lose it about every 3 weeks due to exhaustion then I’d review my research, read new studies and reflect on our wonderful relationship and the other leaps and bounds she had made. So I continued. I had very little support. I felt I couldn’t even tell many my experiences and theory as they would think I was crazy. Fortunately, my marriage is stellar so my husband believed in me and loved me through the extremely tiring days. Her progression of sleeping through the night was extremely gradual and even getting a full sleep cycle was sporadic. She still at infrequent times awakes in the middle of the night and stumbles to our bed for a bit of milk and wakes around 6 or 7 AM for some more milk. It didn’t happen overnight and looks more like the second “success” picture:
I believe everything exists on a continuum and there are many ways to reach the same endpoint (equifinality). So there are babies who can and will sleep through the night sooner than later and vice versa. There are many nurturing, respectful, and creative ways to get vital needs met. There are also many emotional, physical, environmental, and contextual variables that play into sleeping through the night too. My oldest son is a rock solid sleeper too. We actually welcomed him back full time into our family bed when he was 4 yrs old for many reasons. At age six, he was ready and motivated to have his own space where he has been ever since (well, about once a month he still asks for a family cuddle;-).
This is a reflection of my unique experience so take what fits with your lifestyle the best and leave the rest. Where ever you are on this erratic trajectory, keep in mind these moments are precious and will be over be for you know it.
To help you find a balance that works for you and your child, I highly recommend listening to this podcast: Attachment Parenting Versus The Science of Attachment, Clearing Up Misconceptions
Some online resources respond to nighttime wakings:
To deep breaths and baby steps, this soon will pass.
My life became so much more peaceful, loving, trusting, and joyful the day I realized my children had more to teach me about life than vice versa… Yet to fully understand, I had to look at them differently. I had to stop focusing on how they seem to make life more difficult and drain all my resources. I had to step in their shoes to truly appreciate what they were giving me…the ultimate opportunity to heal, grow, and transform from fear to trust.
“As a parent, there will be times when you are very challenged by your children – they won’t listen, they won’t do what you ask, they fight when you have asked them not to, they won’t stay in bed when you put them there, they melt down when you are out and other people are looking at you…. That is the nature of parenting. And you have two ways of viewing your child in situations like this: you can view your child as a problem – that’s what most people do – or you can fit specially ground pure crystal lenses and view this child as your teacher. The child who challenges you can teach you more than any other teacher you have ever had or will ever have, and without a student loan. So how does a ‘problem’ suddenly turn into a teacher? Your perspective.” ~Pennie Brownlee
You can read the full article here: http://penniebrownlee.weebly.com/1/post/2012/10/a-short-story-for-far-sighted-parents.html
I was happy to have stumbled upon Pennie’s book, Dance With Me in the Heart at our local library in NZ. She cited research I had already knew yet her words were music to my heart. I was even more grateful when I got to hear her speak at a home-birthing conference. She is an amazing inspiration. I highly recommend her works and creations.
Here is a list I created with some common negative descriptions of children’s behaviors through a more positive lens:
The energy we emit and direct at children (or any vulnerable soul) will be absorbed, internalized, and reflected back out. This process is dynamic, instant, and implicit especially when you consider the following:
- The quality of attachment between the primary caregiver and the child during the critical and sensitive period of a baby’s development becomes the blueprint for all future relationships. (Attachment Theory by John Bowlby
- Much of early human development and learning is done through implicit learning, that is learning from experience without intention or awareness
- Children (under age 6) are process most information using delta and theta brain waves which allow input from all senses to enter the brain unconsciously like in a hypnotic trance (see http://www.renewal.ca/nlp55.html)
- Our bodies are made up of mostly water with babies having the most, being born with about 78%. Water molecules have been shone to change shape depending on the messages it receives. Messages of love lead to beautiful, crystallization yet molecules became disjointed and darkened when messages of hate were expressed (see http://www.spiritofmaat.com/archive/aug1/consciouswater.html)
We are all born full of goodness and inherently want to be helpful yet don’t have all the skills to do so. All negativity (i.e. acting out behavior or conflict) comes from a state of stress and/or unmet needs. More times than not, kids are feeling overwhelmed by big and conflicting emotions that they don’t know how to identify or handle. They might be tired, scared, hungry, or confused… If we think children have negative intentions, then we tend to react from a negative frame and end up adding more stress to an already stressed out soul who has fewer skills and resources to handle appropriately. However, when we perceive a child as having good intentions and can see how something valid is affecting their ability, then we can better meet their needs and help them connect to the skills they do have and learn more.
To build a secure attachment, four specific needs children have are to be Seen, Safe, Soothed, and Secure (see “Four S’s of Parenting” by Dr. Dan Siegel). Focusing on their positive intentions eases stress as well as allows for greater opportunity and integration of positive beliefs, feelings, traits, and actions to manifest. What we focus on is what we will get more of. Repeatedly hearing you are naughty or lazy will take its toll.
“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” ~Peggy O’Mara
I adapted a list like this which I got over a decade ago from a Dare To Be You (http://www.coopext.colostate.edu/DTBY/. This list is meant to be a guide, not an absolute. It is a work in progress and an example of how we can learn to see “negative” behaviors in children more positively by viewing the quality of their behaviors from a different perspective and/or context such as being assertive, expressive of one’s needs, and protective are actually healthy, responsible and honorable traits.
Notice when you are reacting and thinking the worst of your child. Take a few deep breaths and time to gather more information and understanding. Get down on their level and try to see the positive side of the negative behavior…Believe good intentions…Avoid criticism and blame…and Appreciate something, anything…I have found that shining a light on others’ strengths and positive intentions cultivates more love, trust, positivity, and deeper connections for all. Having this positive reframe on children’s behaviors has inspired me greatly. I am better able to be present and supportive of children and connect at a level they respond well at. I have seen over again how positively motivated they become because when they feel good, they will do better.
“Thinking of your child as behaving badly disposes you to think of punishment. Thinking of them as struggling to handle something difficult encourages you to help them through their distress.”
You can learn more about me and my services here at WeCounsel
Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. The online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, engaging in respectful dialogue with friends and family as well as seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state of Illinois, USA