My Mirror Makes Me Fat

 

When you have one of those ‘not-feeling-beautiful’ days (or weeks or years!) do you avoid the mirror?

When we moved into our new home we bought a new dressing table.

Whilst I love thepiece of furniture, the attached mirror makes me look fat. Fat and hippy. The mirror distorts and enlarges the parts of me I least want to see enlarged. Do I really look that bad! I avert my eyes when I walk towards the mirror so I don’t have to see myself like that, or else I scold myself about how I should be working harder on my weight. Not that it helps – the fat image makes me feel ‘not ok’ and demotivates me from achieving my healthier me.

Ironically I have another new mirror in my house that has the reverse effect. I love this jewellery cabinet with a place for every pair of earrings, every necklace and my bangles. And when I look in that mirror I look thin! First time I saw this reflection of myself it jolted me.Then I got to quite like this mirror. Hey, I really look slim in this new dress. Great! But this mirror doesn’t really help either. I can kid myself I’m looking fine and that also doesn’t motivate me to make the health changes I really want to make.

I need a regular, kind and realistic look at myself to see how I am and to remind me of what’s working and what I need to do differently to be the healthy me I want to be.

I’ve been thinking that the same applies to parenting. There are those ‘expert’ books and people that are like the ‘fat’ mirror. They make you feel not good enough in your parenting. That ‘not ok’ experience leaves you feeling – ‘not ok’, not good enough – and instead of motivating – you feel resigned nothing is going to change no matter how hard you try.

Then there are the people, perhaps even your best friends, and the articles that are equivalent to the ‘skinny’ mirror – ‘You’re fantastic! You’re brilliant!’ And deep inside you know that’s not true. That’s not how you really are. And either you choose to pretend to believe the lie – and go on as you were (which ultimately isn’t helpful); or you remind yourself that’s just an illusion. Either way it doesn’t motivate you to be the parent you’d really love to be.

Imagine having a gentle, rose-tinted mirror that lets you see how you really are, in a way that helps you to really notice your best bits. The bits of you that you like and are working for you. This mirror accurately and kindly reflects what you need to work on. The good news is – you do!  I figure every parent has one or more of those mirrors in their home – they just haven’t noticed that mirror is there all the time.

So you want me to tell you where to find this mirror that will give you the helpful reflection you need about being the parent you want to be? I figure that mirror is our children’s behaviour. The thing is, our children love us and want to cooperate with us. And their behaviour tells us when our parenting isn’t helpful in creating the enjoyable and fulfilling family life we all need.

Many ‘experts’ tell us how to manage our children’s behaviour – but that’s not possible. The only person’s behaviour you can manage is your own. Rather we need to learn to understand our children’s behaviour – to recognise that all behaviour has a cause and all behaviour has an intention. Rather than focusing on how to manage your child’s behaviour, ask yourself, ‘What might this behavour be telling me?’

In other words, ‘How is my child’s behaviour an image of what’s really going on here?’  The family behaviour (including yours!) is a pretty accurate reflection on how things are really shaping up in your family.

The rest of this letter is sharing with you about my latest resource for parents who are facing the challenge of children’s challenging behaviour. If you want to know more, please read on:  

You may be wondering, ‘But how do I figure out what my child’s behaviour is trying to tell me?‘ I’ve been asked that question so many times that it’s spurred me on to produce resources for parents specifically on this issue. Some people are so keen to get this material that, rather than you having to wait for the book, I’m giving you some of the insights in my audio for parents: ‘Behave – an introduction to Parenting Challenges’, because I know parents are looking for answers now!

In this audio you will discover two significant signposts that help you make sense of your child’s challenging behaviour.  And when you have the signposts, you can understand how your children’s behaviour is a message. Sometimes it’s a message about what they need. Perhaps their behaviour is telling you they need you to be more consistent, more firm on boundaries, or maybe more relaxed. And you’ll also discover that their behaviour might be telling you when you aren’t looking after your own needs. They get ratty when we get ratty. They’re happy when we’re happy. They’re relaxed and go with the flow when we’re relaxed and go with the flow. After all, didn’t you have kids because you wanted it to be fun? Didn’t you want having kids to be an enjoyable, pleasant experience? If some days you feel as though you don’t like the parent you see when you look in the mirror, here’s practical help to discover how to use what your children are reflecting as helpful feedback to be the parent you really want to be! If you want to know how to see your child’s behaviour as a reflection to guide you to be the parent you want to be you’re only one click away on iTunes!

Last edited June 10th 2014

You’ve just had a melt-down!  After Tantrum #7 and many attempts to figure out how to calm your toddler you lost it.  A few seconds later you feel as though you have just watched a bad movie, starring you as the Monster parent!  “I can’t believe I screamed at my child!  How could I have reacted that way?  What an awful parent I am!”  And it probably doesn’t stop there.  You continue to beat yourself up periodically throughout the day.

The Perfect Parent  

You remember all of those report cards.  If you’re like most people in our culture, throughout your life you received messages about how well you were doing, not just in school, but perhaps in sports, in attractiveness, and in how “nice” you were.  You may have been taught to strive for perfection.

And so you learned to measure and judge yourself.  Am I smart enough?  Fast enough?  Pretty enough?  And am I a good enough parent?  With self-judgment often comes self-criticism, which may consist of some fairly harsh, negative, mental thrashing (e.g., “What a bad parent I am!  Why did I lose my temper over something so silly?”).  Clearly such negative thoughts serve to tear down our own sense of competence.

The truth is:

  • There is no such thing as a “perfect parent” thank goodness!  How would your child ever live up to the expectation to be like you if you were perfect!  Talk about pressure!
  • Parents are human beings.  Human beings do not behave consistently all of the time.  You, as a human being and a parent, have many emotions that sometimes just push through your attempts to be calm and rational.  It’s human nature.

So while you may intend to always react calmly to your children, when the unexpected happens (e.g., You sniff out the stench in the house to discover your 10-year-old’s missing baseball socks under her bed, growing mold) you just might scream!

Instead of beating yourself up…

Try a little kindness.  Your child is going to see you get upset for a variety of reasons from time to time.  What’s important is that s/he also sees you treat yourself with compassion.

If you feel you have mishandled a situation with your child, rather than beat yourself up, try comforting yourself. You don’t deserve to be punished for your mistake, but that is what you are doing when you criticize yourself in a demeaning fashion.

According to Kristin Neff, Ph.D. the first step in a self-compassionate approach is to be aware of what’s going on inside:

  • Take a moment to notice what you are saying to yourself.  You might be thinking, “Of course I know what I’m saying to myself!” But most people don’t actually stop to hear the words and how harsh they sound; it has become automatic to say “What a dummy,” etc.  We end up sending ourselves these critical messages over and over again.  Unless you become more consciously aware of these messages, you continue to chip away at your own self-esteem.
  • Pay attention to the “tone of voice” you are using in your self-talk.  If you are calling yourself names, you probably sound angry, and harsh.
  • Then, just as you would comfort your child, or a good friend, be compassionate with yourself.  Soften your tone of voice.  Choose words that serve to comfort.  Practice an attitude of acceptance.  You might tell yourself, “That didn’t turn out the way I wanted…. Like every other human being on this earth, I made a mistake.” You could smile, and even give yourself a hug.  According to Dr. Neff, your body responds to that physical gesture of warmth and care.  It may seem silly, but self-hugging can help to soothe distressing emotions.
  • In this attitude of compassion, seek to repair the disconnect with your child.  For example, you might say, “When I found your socks I really just lost it.  I didn’t handle that well.  Would you like a hug?”  Then just listen.  At a later time you can restate your expectation that your child will put dirty socks in the laundry room.In the case of the tantrumming toddler, just be present.  Hold your child when s/he is ready to be held.  In a soothing voice you might say, “You were very angry when I said we couldn’t go outside…..And then I got angry and I yelled.  I’m just going to sit here now and be quiet.  Do you want to sit with me?”  Even if your little one is too young to understand your words, say them anyway.  Your child will hear your compassion.

I highly recommend the book, Self-Compassion, by Kristin Neff, Ph.D., who writes openly about her own struggles with parenting her autistic child.  Take a few moments to look at her website http://www.self-compassion.org, where she has a brief video clip and some guided meditations.

Last edited June 23rd 2012

I had a parent once approach me with the following:

“My daughter has never failed at anything.  She’s extremely bright; everything seems easy to her.   I worry about what will happen when she takes more challenging classes.  How will she handle it if she finds something that is not so easy for her?

Eventually this mother revealed that she could see herself in her daughter.  She also was a straight-A student in the early grades, but when she reached Chemistry and Trigonometry classes in high school, she was met with extreme discomfort.  Instead of persisting, trying to get help with these subjects, admitting to her parents and teachers that she was struggling, she stopped trying.  She was in the midst of an identity crisis.  She had always been known as “The Brain,” and could succeed at everything she tried.  Now she questioned herself..  What’s going on?  Maybe I’m actually NOT smart!  Her solution was to drop the difficult classes, identify with students who were not so bright, put up a new face that said:  I’m done with all that high-achieving stuff.  That’s for the egg-heads.  I just want to do the bare minimum and then go out with friends.

On further discussion, the mother said that her parents had made such a big deal of her being “smart.”  When she learned to read at an early age, her parents had her read for relatives and friends who came to visit.  Everyone exclaimed about her smart she was.  This became her identifying label.

It would have served her better if her parents had simply enjoyed her reading with her.  She must have felt a growing sense of competence, as with accomplishing whistling or snapping her fingers!  Her parents might have said, “You can read a lot of words all by yourself now.  It looks like you really like to read.  Is that right?”

When we assign the labels “smart,” or “bright,” to a child when she is successful we are saying, “Because you can do this, you are smart.”  When the child encounters a more challenging task, it just stands to reason that she might say, “Because I can’t do this, I am NOT SMART.”  This is what Martin Seligman (The Optimistic Child) calls a “stable attribution“.

If we think of “smartness” as stable, that means it doesn’t change.   It is a characteristic that remains in us, not malleable.

If, however, we attribute our accomplishments to conditions that are malleable, our whole outlook changes.  We remain in control of how well we perform.

Suppose 4-year-old Jack is reading along and comes to the word “traffic.”  The “tr” blend and the length of the word make this one a challenge for him.  If he has often been evaluated for his reading ability (e.g., “You are so smart!”) he might fear how he will now be evaluated (Yes, they pick up on this evaluation thing pretty quickly!).  But if the parent is sitting beside him, just noticing Jack’s own feelings of competence, the evaluation doesn’t come into play.  It might go as follows:

Jack:  I don’t know this word.

Mom:  Wow.  That’s a new one for you.  And it’s tricky.  Let’s sound it out together.

Later, Mom might later share with Dad, in Jack’s presence, “We found a new word today in Jack’s book on trucks.  It was a hard one, ‘traffic.’  We had to work at that one, so we sounded it out together and then Jack went on reading.

Again, a common thread this week is the importance of our interpretation of successes and failures.  Our children will follow our lead.

See if you can pay attention to your own attributions and the labels you might give to your child.  Are you aware of any?  Please share!

Last edited May 22nd 2011

This is a very good question!  As parents we tend to worry about our children’s hurt feelings when they don’t measure up.

The important thing here is:  How does the child explain her low grade?

Does she say, “I guess the teacher doesn’t like me,” or “The test wasn’t fair,” or “I can’t do math” ?

The first two responses put the responsibility of the low grade on external sources, meaning it has nothing to do with Elena.  There’s nothing she could have done differently to get a better grade.

The third response points to her low ability to explain her grade.  “I can’t do math,” implies that she sees herself as incapable and therefore not able to improve.  Her performance in math is stable, doesn’t change.

But perhaps Elena says, “I didn’t study enough.  I planned to study, but I got busy watching tv, and then I forgot about the test.”

Here she has taken responsibility for her low grade.  Her belief is that if she studies more, she can do better.   Her performance on this particular test was a result of something over which she has control:  how much she studies.

Next:  How parents can guide their child to a more accurate, healthy view of their successes and failures.

Last edited February 03rd 2011

The Little Scientist

We often see our little ones work hard to accomplish something new.  The child who learns to whistle for the first time has tried over and over again.  Learning to snap one’s fingers is a similar process.  There are lots of trials and errors.  The child takes the feedback (not consciously) from all of the failed attempts and fine tunes those small movements until finally the SNAP is heard.  How exciting!

Here is a perfect opportunity to reflect to your child what you have observed.  Notice the effort:  “Jake, you worked hard to do that.  You tried over and over again until you finally could snap your fingers.”   There’s no need for a lot of hoopla over this.  Rather, calmly notice the effort.

Children have a natural drive to accomplish.  If adults make a “big deal” over new skills, the child may feel more motivated to get the reaction from adults than to learn on their own.  So it’s best to comment on the effort and mirror the child’s feelings:  “You certainly worked hard at that.  I think you’re feeling proud of yourself?”

Research scientists know that they may have hundreds of failures before they get the answer they are seeking.  In pharmaceutical research, for example, the right formula may be trial #583.  Imagine how the scientist feels when trial #198 is yet again not having the desired effects!  In order to complete her goal, she must persevere and try again and again…. and again.  Each failed attempt gives her another bit of information to guide her next trial.

People who fail the most have the most successes!

Last edited February 02nd 2011

How Failure Builds Self-esteem

“What?  Did I read that correctly?   How can failure build self esteem?   My child gets very upset when she fails at something.  She brought home a D on a science test last week and her self-esteem was out the window! “

Allow me to explain.

First, try to recall your little one learning how to walk.  He was crawling fairly well and now was beginning to pull himself up by a chair leg.  Many times he fell back down before he actually brought himself to a standing position.  But he kept trying.  And then finally that first step, and many more attempts to walk. He might have gotten hurt here and there, bumping his head into a sharp corner, perhaps.  Might have even cried.  But did that stop him?  No way!  He was on his biologically-driven developmental course, and he was determined to walk.  Did you worry about his self-esteem?

In The Optimistic Child, Martin Seligman describes a self-esteem movement that began in the United States about 40 years ago.  Schools developed self-esteem programs.  Every child was to succeed.  They should all feel good about themselves no matter what.  Teachers were reluctant to give low grades. lest children feel discouraged.  But the result was not an improvement in self-esteem.  Instead we have more depression in children and teens and lower self esteem than before this movement began.

Seligman points out that what really makes people feel good about themselves is accomplishments.  This doesn’t mean blue ribbons or straight A’s necessarily, but acquiring any new skill.  The child who learns to whistle after trying over and over again feels good about their new talent!  If that child had concluded “I just can’t whistle, “ and gave up, he or she would not have had the opportunity to succeed.

It is the child’s (and parent’s) interpretation of failure that is important.  A child who is struggling to understand division may have the interpretation “I’m not good at this; I must be dumb.”  This statement suggests that he or she can’t do any better.  But if she believes, “This is hard, so I’ll have to work really hard at it,” she is likely to persevere until she gets it.

In trying to protect children from the uncomfortable feelings of discouragement parents have sometimes contributed to that first interpretation.  Imagine the following scene:  a  7-year-old boy is trying to draw an airplane.  “This looks stupid.  I can’t do it!”  Mother might say, “Oh, that’s the best airplane I’ve ever seen!”  Her statement is inauthentic and her child knows it.  He knows his airplane does not look like any real airplane.  Also, she is telling her child that it is important that it’s “the best.”

The mother could instead validate her child’s feeling of discouragement.  “I can tell you’re feeling crummy about your drawing.  I feel that way, too, when I don’t do as well as I’d like.  If you practice your drawing I’ll bet it will get better.”

Watch for the next opportunity to respond to your child’s feelings of discouragement.  What could be a helpful way to respond to your child’s frustration?

Last edited February 01st 2011

When Emotions Get Heated

Imagine being a fly on the wall observing your own parenting.

You might figure:

‘Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ (Albert Einstein)

You recognise that there are repeating patterns of behaviour in your family, that aren’t helpful.

You want to choose a different way  – to respond rather than react.

You know you’re the only one you can actually change.

So, the next time you have an upset with your … (Click here for full article)

Last edited December 14th 2010

Anita’s song captures all our mothering worries, whether we say them out loud or if they’re the thoughts chasing through our heads.

‘Are you sick? Are you well?’

Mothers seem to be programmed to be continually asking questions about the child’s welfare.

You’d think Anita’s talking to a two year old.

We forget these questions may be about our need and not helpful for the child .

Keep listening to her verbal torrent in her three minute ‘Mum Song’ rant- this is obviously a much older child.

Anita’s tumbled into a parent trap.

If we ignore the developmental stage of the child we’re ignoring what they most need.

Quentin Blake’s ‘Zagazoo‘ is a fabulous book for a light-hearted look at developmental stages –a parenting book disguised as a child’s book! What’s helpful for the toddler or the preschooler is not necessarily appreciated by the child as s/he becomes more competent. Result – frustration on both sides.

Be aware of your child’s level of development. When we give instructions and comments that are past their ‘sell-by-date’   we’re throwing verbal garbage at our children.

Check through your daily interactions.

What space could open up in your relationship if you put a plug in your verbosity?

Last edited September 02nd 2010

Parent Contradicts

What effect does it have on children when they receive conflicting messages?

Anita Renfroe’s ‘Mum Song‘ captures our ludicrousness with her opposing instructions: the child must chew her food slowly and  hurry.

It makes us smile as parents.

But inconsistencies are frustrating and confusing to children and sometimes damaging to their self-esteem.

And often the incongruity isn’t so blatantly obvious.

‘I love you,’ says the Parent without making eye contact or any other warm connection.

‘You know I love you.’ –‘Don’t bother me.’

‘Do what you’re told.’ –‘Can’t you think for yourself.’

Are your children getting mixed messages from you? (Not only with your words – but what about your body language or way of being with them?)

What impact might this be having on your children?

What is the message you really want them to get?

What could you do differently that would be more helpful?

“When a child has no doubt about your love and admiration of him, his contentment is the ground on which he can succeed in his endeavors. He will be able to act on his own behalf authentically …” Naomi  : the child must chew her food slowly but must hurry., Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves 2006, p. 43

Last edited June 04th 2010