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

 

When parents fight at Christmas

Dear Santa

There are many children who could have written this. Some of their parents are together – and fighting. Some are divorced parents, or separated – and fighting. What could you say this Christmas that might be helpful for families that don’t get along together?

PercyPostElf

 

Dear PercyPostElf

Yes, grown-ups fighting is one of the sad things that sometimes happens at Christmas. Sometimes it’s a heartbreak story, and other times it’s those little irritations when families don’t get along together. Here are some helpful tips when there’s the risk of adult conflict over the festive season. But first and foremost I encourage parents to ask themselves: ‘Is home a SAFE PLACE for my child?’

1. Make home a safe place

You’d do anything to protect your children – right?  But where do your children turn for safety if you turn into the raging tiger? You’re not thinking about it at the time – but when you start snarling and roaring at your ex/partner/spouse you become someone who is unsafe to be around.  No matter how angry you’re feeling, remember that your reaction can be upsetting for the children. It’s also never okay for your children to experience you being abused. If you or your children are in physical or psychological danger please get help immediately. Your children (and you!) deserve a home that is a safe place.

2. When temperatures rise, take a breather to cool down

When something happens that makes us feel unsafe, the survival instinct is triggered. The brain puts all its energy into ‘fight, flight or freeze’, so the thinking part of the brain temporarily ‘shuts down’. This means that when you’re in ‘fight’ mode you’re not thinking/reasoning. You may be trying to get the other person to ‘see reason’ – but neither of you is able to do this while you are upset. If you want to have a different outcome take a breather until you’ve all calmed down.

3. Your rising sense of anger is an indication you need change

But choose to listen to what your anger is telling you and figure out what’s helpful before your anger boils over into an uncontrolled rage. When someone’s pushing your buttons, take action to bring the change that’s needed whilst you’re still calm enough to think.  Here are a few thoughts:

* Recognise: ‘Their behaviour is about them, my response is about me.’

* Sometimes what can be helpful is to use lighthearted humour – when you respond in a way that they don’t expect, it usually changes the whole game plan, providing you all laugh with each other (not at each other!)

* We can choose to deal with upsetting incidents without resorting to aggressive words or actions.

What else can help parents to stop the fighting?

For more insights on how to behave (children and parents!) in a way that’s going to create connection, I recommend popping Val Mullally’s Parenting book, ‘BEHAVE -What Do When Your Child Won’t’ into your own Christmas stocking.

The Parenting Book you want in your christmas stocking!

* Remember that people who have already ‘flipped the lid’ or who have been drinking excessively have moved past reasoning. Don’t try to reason with an un-reasoning person. Just do what’s needed to calm the situation. Focus on keeping yourself and your children safe (emotionally as well as physically).

* Sometimes the only thing you can change is your own attitude. You don’t have to ‘bite the anger hook.’ At one point Val created a poster for herself with fish swimming past a baited hook and the words: ‘Swim on by.’

No-one ‘makes you angry’. It’s your choice.

Percy, sometimes families don’t get along, but if even one person chooses to do differently there can be a different outcome.

Of course every couple has a tiff sometimes, but what matters is not to let it get out of hand.

Before Parents end up on the slippery slope of anger, I wish they’d ask themselves:

‘Am I ensuring  home is a safe emotional space for my child?’  

When Parents fight at Christmas

May it be a peace-full Christmas.

Love Santa

Day 1   What to do with Children’s ‘Great Expectations’?

Day 2  ‘Need’ or ‘Want’

Day 3  Dealing with Disappointment

Day 4  Christmas Surprises

Day 5  Three Key Questions Regarding Purchases

Day 6  No Money This Christmas

Day 7  Christmas is for Giving

Day 8 When Sad or Bad Things Happen

Day 10 An Attitude of Gratitude

Day 11 Can’t Forgive

Day 12 Christmas – What Really Matters

 

 

 

 

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Last edited December 07th 2018

An Option to Meltdown

‘We had total melt-down this week.’

It was the fourth week of our Parenting Programme, and  Jane shared her story with the parents and myself, as facilitator, in her group. She’d had the flu during the week and one day was so off-colour that she left her five year old son, Timmy, to choose his own clothes for school. Later in the week he decided that he didn’t want to choose from the either/or outfits that she’d put ready – he wanted to choose his clothes himself. He started whining. She can’t stand him whining so she became increasingly uptight. He started having a meltdown and Jane left the room before she exploded. The other parents gave little chuckles – it was easy to identify with this situation.

‘How do I do it differently?’ she asked.

I invited her to role-play the situation, with me being the mother and her taking the role of the child.  I wish I’d had the video camera rolling, but this is roughly what transpired.

THE ‘KOEMBA–CONNECT’ MODEL

I reminded the group of the ‘Koemba – CONNECT’:

‘PARK – CONNECT – FOCUS – EVOKE before you PLAN.’

As I role-played Jane’s part I consciously chose to PARK my own stuff (particularly I recognised I’m parking my worry about what the group might think).

I also imagine what I might have to PARK as Jane:

my own agenda  (‘We’ve got to get going!’ )

my perspective  (‘What’s wrong with the clothes I’ve chosen?)

my frustration (Why can’t he just co-operate?’)

my opinions (He’s just doing this to annoy me!)

my fears (If I let him choose, he’ll put on something ridiculous!)

All this is ‘my stuff’ and will pollute the space between us, unless I choose to park it.

Only when I put myself in PARK  (In ‘neutral’ position) can I CONNECT.

I gently move in closer, I make eye contact at his level, using a ‘soft gaze’, I’m aware of keeping a calm tone of voice and open body language. Because I’ve already PARKed my stuff, what’s happening on the outside is actually a reflection of the inside– my intention is to CONNECT (Not trying create an instant solution, nor to cajole him into doing what I want). I know it will take time moving through the process to get to PLAN.

Timmy: I don’t want to wear these. I want to choose my own clothes.

Jane: You don’t want to wear those today.

Timmy: No, I want to choose my clothes for school.

Jane: You want to choose your clothes for school?

Timmy: Yes, when you were sick, I did it myself.

Jane: When I was sick you chose your own clothes.

I ‘timed out’ the conversation and checked in with the group. I recognized that as I was role-playing the mother, I wasn’t feeling up-tight and there was no sign of tension in ‘Timmy’. I checked in with ‘Timmy’  – he was ‘feeling heard’. I checked in with the group  – what did they observe? They were aware of the calmness. There was no whining or emotional temperatures rising. And ‘Timmy’ was not doing an out-of-control pre-schooler reaction  – but speaking in a very rational tone of voice. I (as ‘Parent’) had FOCUSED on the situation and EVOKED a response (rather than a reaction).

The Parent group then imagined what would be the situation now if this was an adult-to-adult discussion. We’d PLAN – we’d work together to find a solution that met both our needs.  Jane laughed.

‘I guess I’m worried he’d make a crazy choice but actually he dressed very sensibly when I was too sick to organize his clothes.’

Another mum shared,

‘It’s always a rush in the morning.  I think if we just do it ‘my way’ it will save time.  But when I push my own agenda and ignore what my child needs, it takes much longer and we’re all uptight and upset.’

HELPFUL PROBLEM SOLVING TOOL

‘I get that,’ said one of the dads, ‘but sometimes that’s not practical.’

We discussed a great tool that Faber and Mazlish introduce in their book ‘How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk.’

My YouTube video clip ‘Power Struggle Solution’ demonstrate this approach – click here if you’d like to discover this tool. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at how ‘copped on’ your children are at coming up with workable solutions and it’s a great way to build their problem solving and negotiation skills.

THE POWER OF THE ‘KOEMBA – CONNECT’ MODEL

The group recognized the power of the Koemba-CONNECT approach to move out of the power struggle and to create harmony in the home.  What it’s sometimes hard to remember in our Parenting, is that it’s not our job to persuade our children to think the same as we do.  Our role is to support our children to be themselves, with their own thoughts, experiences, emotions and viewpoints. What we can do is to guide them to be response-able.  We can CONNECT so that they can articulate their own opinions and respect others’ – we can model how to connect and compromise.  That’s the potential power in our day-to day parenting struggles. Every upset is an opportunity for growth.

Instead of our children growing up thinking ‘my way or the highway’, they’ll absorb powerful tools to deal respectfully with conflict in relationship.

 

Last edited December 14th 2016

‘Good girl’, ‘bright child’, ‘difficult’, ‘ADD’, ‘ ‘slow’, ‘shy’, ‘lazy’.

The list goes on and on – but what is the impact of the labels we put on our children?

Think about going to the store. You pick up a tin of peas.

What do you expect to get inside?

Peas.

What you see is what you get – right?

The label on the can refers to what’s on the inside.

The labels we put on children are putting a name on what we see on the outside.

When we label the child we’re naming a type of behaviour that we’re seeing on the outside.

We’re seeing the lazy behaviour, or shy behaviour, or whatever.

And we’re presuming that that’s what’s on the inside.

The label is ignoring all the other wonderful aspects of this child.

The label limits us to seeing just some aspect of our child’s behaviour, as though that is who the child IS.

When we’re labelling children ‘What you see is what you get’ is often the outcome.

We’re putting blinkers on ourselves regarding all this child’s wonderful potential.

And we may well be putting blinkers on the child as to all he is and all he’s capable of becoming – his wonderful potential.

Label a child and he’s likely to live up to your expectations.

Even pet names: ‘My little monster,’  ‘cheeky monkey’, ‘my baby’ can have an alarming way of becoming a self –fulfilling prophecy.

So what’s wrong with positive labels, you may be asking.

We’re still limiting who that child is.

The child who owns the label ‘clever’ may find it difficult to relax, have fun.

He’ll have to be living up to his reputation of always knowing the answer.

And that might mean always having his head in the books.

”Little miss sunshine’ may end up denying her sad feelings, her angry feelings. She may become a people pleaser – because the message she received was that it’s her job to be the sunshine in every situation.

What about ‘good girl’?

Doesn’t every parent want their child to be good?

Well, yes, of course we do.

But stop and think about it.

We use the label  ‘good’ when the child is doing what WE want them to do.

Does that mean that they’re ‘bad’ if they’re not complying with us?

When the child’s agenda is at odds with ours, she’s likely to resist or protest.

We might not like that behaviour but what’s it trying to tell us?

If our focus is to raise competent children who have a sense of who they are and where they’re going in life, it’s helpful to resist labels as far as possible.

I was recently at a Parent and Toddler group and watched a four year old carry the plastic cups back to the counter.

Resisting the automatic  ‘good girl’ comment, I said, ‘Thank you.’

She came back with two more cups. I said thank you again.

The third time I said, I figured I needed something else to say:

‘You’re picking up the cups and bringing them back for us.’

Round four:

‘And now you have two more cups!’

Round five:

‘You’ve picked up all the cups off the tables. That was helpful.’

I had to think harder to find a meaningful response that fitted the unique situation. I also named the impact that this had.

If she hadn’t picked up the cups, that wouldn’t have meant that she wasn’t a ‘good girl’. She might have been tired, or occupied with something else.

Sometimes labels are given because we are seeking to understand some challenge the child is facing.

Perhaps a clinical diagnosis has been given.

This can be very helpful for the parent to have some sense of what challenges  they’re facing.

I’m just asking that we bear in mind that this still only describes some aspect of who the child is.

There’s a big difference between saying,

‘My child is dyslexic.’

and

‘My child has dyslexia.’

The dyslexia (or whatever) is the challenge your child is facing.

It doesn’t define who he is.

Think about the difference between saying,

‘My child has a learning disability.’

And

‘My child has a learning challenge.’

A disability is something you have to live with.

A challenge is something that the courageous can overcome.

Language can limit.

Or we can choose to use language that affirms and believes in our child’s amazing, unlimited potential

Like the name on the tin, a label is just something that we attach.

It’s something we can also discard.

If we recognise labels that aren’t helpful– we can toss them today.

We can choose to see the incredible richness, the wonder of who our child is and can be.

Last edited April 12th 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

Get my kids to listen, How?

In the ‘Mum Song’ how many orders do you count ?

I make it seventy-three.  And the Mum Song is only three minutes long!

And that’s not counting the criticisms and the questions.

Anita Renfroe’s exaggeration is glorious.

If we were to record our morning serenade would we hear a similar monologue?

Anita demands her child to hear what she’s saying.

Children don’t hear us when they don’t feel heard.

What‘s the morning song in your house?

What might it be like listening to you?

Is it working?

What would you prefer to do differently?

What would be more helpful to create the atmosphere you desire?

“To listen to someone, to take respectful turns discussing the issue until you reach an unforseeable, good agreement is to dignify you both, to keep you both thinking clearly and acting responsibly.”

Kline Nancy, ‘Time to Think’  Cassell Illustrated, 1999, London, p. 235

Last edited May 14th 2010

‘Here’s your hat. 
And your scarf.’

These words could be part of the ‘Mum Song’ lyric. Anita Renfroe’s Supermum runs round doing everything for this child. She gives her her clothes and her shoes – and presumably everything else. Imagine this same child on her first day at school.

Where’s Mummy? Teacher’s asking me a question.

I don’t know what I should say. And I’m so hungry.

Mummy’s not here to open my lunch box.

Everybody else is eating sandwiches.

I can’t open this. I can’t open my lunchbox.

I’m so hungry. And I want to pee.

Hold my legs tight together.

I can’t go by myself.

I want to pee so bad.

Uh oh.

Doing everything for your child does not equal loving your child. Love is about helping your child to develop her own competence. Observe your own actions. And your child’s. What are the things that your child could be learning to do for herself? Being a coaching parent is not about throwing your child in at the deep end. It’s day by day gentle support towards competence. What could happen if you choose to support your child to do as much as possible for herself?

Last edited April 27th 2010

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