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

‘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

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

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

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