The third blog of this CHRISTMAS series:

What bugs me about Santa is that the one question he asks children is, “Have you been good?”

Where’s the unconditional love in that! Have we even stopped to question that!

What are the presuppositions in our society that are shaping our perception of the world?

At an individual and a societal level, we create a narrative of life from what we experience. This narrative subconsciously influences our thinking, our interactions, and our way of being.

R is for Relationship

Neuroscience is opening amazing new doorways to understanding that Relationship is essential to our well-being. But for at least the last century we’ve been seduced into believing that relationship is the poor cousin to what really matters. We’ve been brought up to perceive a false narrative as truth.

The narrative we have been sold is snake oil. We have ingested it, believing it will do us good. But it is a lie that has eroded our societal well-being. It undermines the fabric of society.FAKE NEWS that independence is maturity

And what is this snake oil that has been promoted as the solution to our problems?

Here is the 20th century deception that is still plaguing us, stated by Nathaniel Branden in The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem:

the central goal of the maturational process is evolution toward autonomy

What is True Maturity?

We were fed the lie that independence is the pinnacle of maturity. We were made to believe that if we were truly mature we wouldn’t need anyone else. Autonomy – pursuing a course for myself , often regardless of the consequences or impact. Doesn’t that sum up what’s wrong with our world today. Autonomy as the mark of maturity has been a dangerous and destructive narrative. That narrative is one of the greatest 20th century deceptions. It’s a narrative that destroys lives and destroys society. If we are focused on independence we lose sight that we are born to be relational beings. We forget the humanity of the other. It is a narrative that feeds fear and war. It’s a deception that has caused us to disconnect from who we are – beings who are made to be in relationship.

It is FALSE NEWS that independence is the mark of maturity!

Scientific Discoveries About Human Well-Being

A new and healthier narrative is evolving – one our world desperately needs. And interestingly that narrative is evolving from science. Neuroscience has proven our brains are designed to be in relationship. The neuroscientist Cozolino perceives a parallel between the neural synapses of our brains and what he terms the “social synapse – the space between us’. He states that our brains’ development is directly impacted by social interaction as “people, like neurons, excite, interconnect, and link together to create relationships.” Amie Senland*

Neuroscientist and parenting expert Daniel J. Siegel states,

For ‘full’ emotional communication, one person needs to allow his state of mind to be influenced

by that of the other.

It’s time to create a new narrative – a narrative of interdependence and co-operation as the goal of maturity – drawing from both ancient wisdom and cutting-edge science for a healthier, happier society. Human well-being is dependent on healthy relationships. We are not designed for isolated independence, we are made to be in relationship – to be collaborative and interdependent. We need to model this to the next generation, while there is still time to create a tipping point back to harmony and balance.

If we use how we were taught yesterday to teach our children today, we are not preparing them well for tomorrow.  Daniel J Siegel

Relationship

At an individual and societal level we need to heal breaches in relationship. What makes us fully and joyfully human is being in collaborative, nurturing connection with others. And this is especially true in parenting. Our children rely on us to heal the ruptures in relationship. We as parents are responsible for the emotional temperature in the home.

If this thought challenges or inspires you, you may enjoy reading my blog post on MyKidstime, “How to Avoid Christmas Meltdown By Understanding Your Child’s Temperament”.

Maturity is about collaboration and cooperation. This Christmas I invite you to think about how to create relationships that recognise this as the true goal of maturity. In our homes, education, work and social environments, how do we let go a narrative of authoritarianism and independence to embrace a narrative of collaboration and cooperation?

FAKE NEWS: independence equals maturity

So it’s over to you. I invite you to notice where you may have encouraged or modelled independence rather than cooperation.

What’s the one doable step you choose today that nurtures interdependence and cooperation in your relationships?

 In what ways can you support others to value cooperation and collaboration?

* Quoting Cozolino: “The Neuroscience of Healthy Relationships: Attachment and the Healthy Social Brain”   https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03057240.2014.971483 15/12/2018

Last edited December 17th 2018

How to calm upset toddler

The wails of a toddler in distress ricochets off the walls. I glance at  the mother, who  yanks her crying toddler by the arm, ignoring her wails. The toddler drags behind her, screaming her protest.

The mother stops. Towering over the child she speaks sharply, wagging her finger in the child’s face. Then she marches on, with sobbing child in tow.

We’ve all had parents moments we’re not proud of. But what can help us do differently? Here are some thoughts for stressed parents on what to do when your toddler acts out.

We can handle a child’s challenging behaviour more helpfully when we have  insights about how the human brain develops.

I hope you’ll keep reading, even if you have older children, because if we all knew what toddlers need to thrive we’d create:

– happier, healthier children

– children who will be more successful as adults

– a happier, healthier generation.

Helpful Things to Remember when your Toddler has a Meltdown:

  ✓  Your toddler’s brain is still ‘under construction’.

This means the toddler cannot reason like an adult. She doesn’t have a concept of time. She doesn’t understand that you have deadlines to keep or chores to complete. Trying to explain your agenda to her when she’s demanding won’t help. Rather, focus on connecting with her.

  ✓ When your toddler’s upset, she’s emotionally flooded, so she can’t reason.

The ‘fight or flight’ part of her brain has now been triggered. She’s not reasoning – so trying to logically explain things to her is only likely to increase her frustration – and yours. First she needs your connection and sympathetic understanding.

  ✓ The young child cannot self-regulate.

In other words, she is physically not able to calm herself down. She might cry to a point of exhaustion and then stop – and that’s very different from the child being calmed. When a child’s experience is ignored until she ‘gives up’, her exhausted body is still overloaded with nasty cortisol! Leaving your baby to cry without giving comfort and attention is tantamount to leaving her in a closed room with toxic paint fumes.[i]

Ten Tips for Dealing with an Upset Toddler:

1. Stay emotionally connected to your child.

When she’s upset she’s trying to let you know she needs your support. At times when you child is most challenging tile is when she most probably most needs your love and support.

At these times the young child is emotionally overwhelmed and needs your support to calm her down.

2. Choose to be calm. Get down to her eye level and make eye contact (if she will) with a ‘soft gaze’.

Your toddler physically can’t calm herself down when she’s upset. (She can’t ‘self regulate.’) Her immature nervous system relies on an adult to calm her. So if you choose to calm yourself, it will help to calm her. Your soft gaze will do far more to calm her than any amount of ‘reasoning’  words.

3. Remember her behaviour is about her – your response is about you.

There’s already one immature person having a meltdown. Your job is to remain the calm, collected adult who, rather than reacting, chooses to respond helpfully.

4. Focus on your breathing.

When you steady your breathing your steady your thoughts.Remind yourself this is your young child who is distressed and needing support.

If you have a key phrase that reminds you of the sort of parent you choose to be,  say this to yourself:  for example: ‘calm’, ‘being the adult’, ‘reassure’.

Your steady breathing will also help to steady your child’s breathing.

5. Send a ‘CONNECT’ message through your tone of voice/ body language and your facial expression.

Your child senses your motivation far more strongly than she can hear the words you are using. (When you most want to say’ Listen to me’ is when  she’s emotionally flooded and it’s impossible for her to listen! In upset times your child’s brain can’t make sense of your words. First she needs to connect with you.

She will learn how to deal with stressful times by what you model.

6. Focus on seeing the situation through her eyes, rather than trying to explain yours.

See life from her perspective.

Reflect the same words/ energy / simple phrases that she does.

Focus your attention on connecting with her. It’s helpful to imagine ahead of time, before an upset, how  you might respond in a similar scenario. Here’s how I would choose to respond:

Child: ‘I want the toy.’

Mother: ‘You want the toy.’

Child: ‘I want it!’

Mother: ‘You really want it.’

7. Don’t give her what she’s demanding – just acknowledge what she wants.

Just because she ‘wants’ the toy, doesn’t mean she has to have it.  But you can still acknowledge her experience. (Think of when you say something like, ‘I’d love that Porsche.’ Just because you express the wish, doesn’t mean you need it explained to you why you can’t have it! )

8. If she uses attacking words, like ‘Silly Mummy’ reflect the emotion below her words.

For example, you might respond,  ‘You’re cross with me.’

9. Give words for your child’s emotions.

When we acknowledge emotions, over time your child will learn to ‘name, claim and tame’ her emotions. As we model this, our children will be more able to use reason to deal with emotional upsets – to ‘find words (left brain activation) for strong feelings (right brain activation) instead of moving into primitive discharge of these feelings. (as in tantrum).’[ii]

10. It’s okay for your child to cry. Don’t try to stop the tears, just be compassionately present and ready to connect when your child is ready to do so.

When we cry when we’re upset, the tears are chemically different to the tears we cry when we’re peeling an onion. Our ‘upset tears’ contain stress hormones. So having a ‘good cry’ / ‘crying it all out’ makes sense.

How to Deal with Toddler Tantrum What difference could this make?

When you see an upset toddler it’s helpful to remember that her brain and nervous system are still ‘under construction’. She is reliant on you as parent (or carer) to calm and regulate the strong emotions that are storming her young body. Her crying is trying to communicate to you that she’s especially needing your support right now. She needs you  to ‘listen to her behaviour’ ; for more about this, see my blog  “My toddler screams when her 4 year old sister ‘bugs’ her!”

Your young child is not out to make your life difficult – she’s doing the best she can.

The bottom line is babies and toddlers need caring, connected parents, particularly in times of emotional stress.

But how to be the calm, connected parent you want to be in times of stress? You can discover more with the three signpost to Mindful Parenting in my new Parenting book, ‘BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t’.  And if you’re a parent who is really keen to discover the practical tools to  a more mindful way of Parenting, you’ll want to sign up now for start-when-good-for-you, return-as-often as-you-wish Online Parenting course.

I recommend Margot Sunderland’s book ‘What Every Parent Needs to Know’. It’s the type of book that you’ll frequently dip into, with chapters on issues such as sleep and bedtimes, behaviour issues, crying and separation. It’s filled with a wealth of knowledge and practical advice, based on scientific fact, about what children need to thrive.


[i] Sunderland Margot at Play Therapy conference in Dublin 2008

[ii] Sunderland Margot ‘The Science of Parenting ‘2006 Dorling Kindersley Limited. London, p. 231

Last edited July 04th 2016

It’s easy to feel pressure from your own parents, in-laws, teachers, or anyone else in your community to get your kids to be ‘good’. Similarly, you’ve probably experienced that nagging doubt that you’re not being a ‘good’ parent.

One of the questions I often hear is, ‘How do I know I’m Parenting right?’ 

Are you worried that you’re not Parenting right?

Confused about what is needed to give your child the best start in life?

How to keep your child safe and help them do well?

There are so many self-help books, articles and television programmes and some of it can be contradictory and confusing. Who has got the right advice? How do you know who to listen to? Whatever way you look at it, how does a parent know what is the right thing to do? How do you know you are being a ‘good’ parent? The thing is what worked in previous generations isn’t working now, because every parent in this new generation is a pioneer parent. What worked (or seemed to work) in parenting for your grandmother’s generation had probably worked for hundreds of years before. But as a parent now, you are facing challenges and opportunities beyond the wildest imaginings of your grandparents when they were young. Words that roll off our tongues were meaningless a few decades ago: Google, Kindle, Facebook, iPad, Skype, Internet, worldwide web, blog, laptop, smartphone, YouTube ….  TECHNOLOGY has created a whole new world. Which means that we need a whole new way of being in the world. So where and how do you find what is needed to parent now? As parents you are pioneering new territory as surely as the voyagers from five hundred years ago left the familiar behind to discover new lands. No one has been there before. You don’t know what the territory is like. You’re unsure of what dangers are lurking along the journey and you don’t know what resources are needed. Parenting in this new territory can feel disorienting, maybe overwhelming or even terrifying at times. Trying to return to the old land of strict discipline and ‘children must do what they’re told’ could easily seem the best option. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that in the long term that’s not going to work.

In the words of Einstein: A new solution is needed for a new situation.

Imagine the adventures experienced by those explorers who were brave enough to journey into the unknown. It makes sense that sometimes they must have felt exhausted. Sometimes they couldn’t imagine how they would have the resources to continue. Sometimes the only option was to keep going forward, even when they didn’t know what lay ahead. And at the same time imagine the thrill of stepping into new territory – new opportunities, insights and awarenesses that would never have happened if they hadn’t stepped out. Pioneering is an amazing experience, whatever the unknown territory is. And pioneering is not something you want to do alone. At times the early explorers came across a person who had journeyed some way along the new path already. Someone who had glimpsed the new territory and could give them an indication of what lay ahead. Someone who had viewed the terrain and could tell them what resources would be helpful. Someone who could give them hope and tell them that the journey would be worth it. The scouts who have reconnoitred this new land of Parenting and who are telling us about what lies ahead are the ones who have journeyed into the previously unknown world of what lies within us. Up until now this landscape has been as unfamiliar as the New World was to what Europe had understood the world to be in the Middle Ages. These scouts are reporting to us about the previously uncharted territory of our emotional world and of the workings of the brain. I’d like to share with you three pieces of really good news about what this means to you as a parent.

The first piece of good news is that some of the key information from the world of neuroscience is as simple as understanding the concept of North, South, East and West. It’s so basic that any parent can grasp the principles, and it gives you a compass to move though the territory of parenting – and relationships in general.

The second piece of good news is that you as a parent have the innate ability to be expert of your own situation. After all, you’re the one who has been there from the beginning, who knows the personalities involved and the dynamics between each of the members of your family. And you’re the one who is going to be there for the long haul. So the good news is that you are the perfect person to be parenting your children.

The third piece of good news is that we’re recognising the value of good old-fashioned wisdom. After all, we wouldn’t have survived as a human race if we didn’t KNOW how to raise our children. So, just as the pioneers to new lands drew on what they already knew and then related that to the new discoveries they were making, you can trust yourself to find what’s needed on your parenting journey. And just as discovering a new continent called for new responses, this new knowledge challenges us to rethink the idea of being a ‘good’ parent. So what’s needed to achieve this?

I recommend that you find yourself a scout, someone who has already taken time to adventure into the territory ahead. Someone who recognised the territory ahead will be different from anything you’ve ever journeyed through before. Not someone to tell you what to do. Rather someone who will encourage your awareness of your own resources and wisdom. Someone who will boost your confidence in your own abilities. And someone who will give you a map of the land, so that you will be able to plan your journey, navigate the challenges when they arise and celebrate your experiences. That’s why I advocate the Koemba Parent Coaching approach. Whether you choose to work on a one-to-one basis with a Parent Coach or whether you prefer a course so that you can journey with other pioneers on this Parenting adventure, either way you have the support to make this the most incredible, unique and worthwhile experience imaginable.

Right now if you are living anywhere accessible to Dublin, whether by air, rail or car, you have the chance to sign up for a three weekend introductory course. Three Friday evenings and three full day Saturdays that could potentially be one the most significant and life-changing experiences you could ever discover. They say that it’s not the things that we do that we most regret later in life. Rather, it’s the things that we don’t do that we regret.

I’m Val Mullally, founder of Koemba, and I will be facilitating the training, with two of the Koemba team, Florence Burns and Anca Lupu.  I am an accredited Parent Coach and a mother of two adult sons. I was a qualified teacher before having my children, but I wish I had known what I know now when my children were young. And I know it’s much tougher to parent now than when my children were young. Don’t miss this opportunity. This is your time and your opportunity to be the parent you really want to be. To be the one who will successfully take the pioneering journey of parenting in a new millennium.  An amazing adventure – and one you will always be so glad you took! CLICK HERE to  find out more. (EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT TILL 10 APRIL!)

Last edited April 08th 2013

We’re excited at the release of our new YouTube clip ‘Teen Anger’ 

Teen angst can spill over into anger and aggressive behaviours. Parent Coach Val Mullally chats about a key neuroscience discovery that  helps parents recognise the importance of  choosing to respond.

 

Last edited March 07th 2013

The debate rages and, no matter which side of the argument you’re on, you can see you’re right.  And what if, in one sense, both parties are right?

I say both parties may be right because I’m looking past the ‘to smack or not to smack’ and I’m asking a different question. I’m asking ‘What is it we really want to achieve?’ And I suspect that both parties will agree without hesitation that what we want is young people who are respectful of other people and of others people’s property.

So what would happen instead of trying to outshout each other’s argument regarding whether or not smacking is okay, we reflect on what might be learnt from the mindset of the other.

Here’s what it looks like from my viewpoint:

The ‘Smackers’ are right about children needing boundaries. When you’re standing on the ‘Smackers’’ side of the fence it’s obvious that many good old -fashioned values and behaviours have been undermined.  They are saying ‘children need boundaries.’  And they are absolutely right. Children need boundaries for our benefit and also for their own. A child without boundaries can feel very insecure because he doesn’t know where the limits are. I once heard a wise lady describe a child raised without boundaries as being like a blind person trying to walk in a room that went on and on, without any walls. Imagine how disorientating, and perhaps even frightening, it would be to have no walls to help you gain a sense of direction. Children need boundaries so that they know what to expect and what’s expected from them. In fact, the ‘Smackers’ are cautioning something really significant here – Discipline is essential if we want peaceful society.  ‘Kids who are brought up with firm, fair, consistent boundaries don’t go off the rails so easily.’  Sue Atkins[1] Certainly part of the problem with the UK riots had to do with lack of boundaries and discipline.

And what if the ‘Non-Smackers’ are also right because they have figured out that actually children are people too and all people deserve to be treated with respect?  What if they’ve recognized that violence begets violence?

For some insight into why smacking isn’t going to achieve what’s needed, here are some key points that leading international neuroscientists recognise:

1.  The child’s brain is still ‘under construction’.  This means that the child will not always perceive things as we adults do. Yes, there are times when children will need our intervention and guidance.

2. Because the child’s brain is not fully developed, it also means that at times of strong emotion, children need adults who can be the ‘emotional thermostats’ – helping to keep the heat of roused emotions at a reasonable temperature.

3. When we are upset we don’t ‘think straight’. This is because we don’t have one brain. In a sense we have three brains, and the innermost section of the brain, often called the reptilian brain, is the part that reacts when the person is under threat.  When we sense ‘danger’, the brain focuses its energy on this deep inner brain – causing us to go into reactive mode, of fight, flight, freeze or appease, to help keep us safe in an emergency.  The cost of this ‘survival mode’ is that clear logical thinking temporarily shuts down.  It makes sense that when a child is smacked, they are going to feel under attack, which means the primitive ‘survival’ mode of the brain is triggered, which means that they won’t take any learning from the situation.  All the child will gain is a fear reaction that will get them to avoid being in the same situation again.

Will it teach them not to repeat that behaviour any time the authority figure is present to reinforce the punishment? Yes.

Will it teach them compassion or consideration for others?  No, because the part reptilian part of the brain that is triggered when we are under attack doesn’t do compassion or reasoning – it only does survival.  Crocodiles don’t worry about connection – they just do survival!

David Lammy UK author of  ‘Out of the Ashes: After the Riots’ [2] states in an article in the Guardian, where he blames anti-smacking law for UK riots.  “The ability to exercise their (parents’) own judgment in relation to discipline and reasonable chastisement has been taken away. ”

What I’d like to say to David is that I agree with him that children need discipline but Punishment and Discipline are not synonyms.  ‘Chastisement’ is Punishment  – not Discipline. Punishment attempts to work from the outside in. Discipline works from the inside out.[3]

Smacking (a.k.a, Punishment) isn’t going to achieve what’s needed because, in the words of leading neuroscientist Daniel Siegel:

“Discipline” really means to teach, not to “punish”.[4]

What we want is surely to teach our children acceptable social behaviour.

Some parents resort to smacking children because they don’t know how else to maintain boundaries. Some parents don’t smack but resort to other tools of coercion and manipulation that ultimately might be just as harmful,  (and much of this is advocated on popular TV Parenting programmes).

I appreciate that David Lammy  MP is voicing that the violence that erupted in the UK is a signal that this is an issue that needs urgent and serious attention. When Smackers and the Non-Smackers choose to focus on the outcome we desire: ‘What is it we really want to achieve?’, here’s some of the factors we’ll most probably agree on:

Yes, society needs children to have boundaries.

Yes, children need to have boundaries.

Yes, everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

And it’s time to learn from experts in the fields of child development, attachment parenting and neuroscience about what’s needed to raise emotionally healthy individuals who respect themselves and others.

What’s vital is that parents and educators are equipped with helpful discipline tools that work, not just on the short term from the adult’s perspective – but ‘work’ in the sense that they are going to achieve the long term goals of a peaceful and respectful society, where everyone’s needs, including children’s,  are taken into account.

 

Other related articles:

Rioting Teenagers – can your parenting make a difference?

Teenage Freedom?

Helpful resources by Val Mullally related to this topic:

Managing Anger in the Home CD & MP3

 

Dealing with Discipline CD & MP3

 

Soon to be released: Children’s Challenging Behaviour

(Sign up for our newsletter to keep in touch with new releases).


[1] SueAtkins Twitter @SueAtkins 30/01/2012

[3] Adapted from Danny Silk

[4] Siegel, Daniel J and Payne Bryson, Tina, ‘The Whole Brain Child – 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind

 

 

Last edited January 30th 2012

Today in “The Guardian” Zoe Williams is fed up with the clashes of  parenting ‘gurus’.

Parenting is tough enough without this type of “’dagger-on-a thread’ hectoring”.

Here’s my different, and potentially more helpful perspective.

Parent Coaching provides parents with a support person (either on a one-to-one or in a group context) and trusts that you, the parent is the expert on your own situation.

In Koemba we  talk about the ‘contuitive parent’ – the parent who uses both their conscious awareness of what is helpful in the particular context together with trusting their own intuition, ( hence ‘con-tuition‘ ).

Trust your intuition – that inner sense of what your child  really needs. We have parented successfully for generations. We wouldn’t have survived as a human race if we didn’t know how.

Combine this with your conscious knowledge and you have what is needed to successfully nurture your children at both a physical and emotional level.

Yes –  be open to new learning. Neuroscience has discovered more about how the brain works in the last decade than in the whole of human history.

It makes sense that if we know how the brain functions we will also know what is needed for young brains to thrive.

Think about the language we use – the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to parent or ‘good’ parenting-  infers that there’s also ‘bad’ parenting. As Zoe says, parents have enough stress already – so let’s avoid the judgemental language (unless we’re talking about abuse). Try substituting with the question ‘Is what I’m doing helpful?’ When we use non-judgemental language we can figure out what’s working for our own individual children and our families.

I invite you to replace ‘should’ with ‘could’. e.g.  ‘I should be … ‘  changes to ‘I could …’

Once we recognise we have choices we’re no longer helpless victims but contuitive parents who can meet our children’s needs.

Last edited April 22nd 2010