So often as parents, we say, “no.” We have to say “no” for safety reasons, teaching-good-manners reasons, friendship reasons and maybe medical reasons. It can be hard hearing “no” so often. It can help to experience what this feels like with a little exercise.
Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Say aloud “NO!” about 5 times, sometimes sternly, sometimes in a neutral tone. Then, take note of what your body feels like, what emotions come up and what thoughts come up. Now, stay in that comfortable chair, close your eyes again and take another deep breath. Say aloud, “YES!” about 5 times, sometimes loudly, sometimes quietly and sometimes in a neutral tone. What did you notice? Which felt better? What thoughts and emotions came up with each?
In the next week or two, choose when to say “yes” and a little more carefully, when to say “no.” Also (and this is more fun), pick some times to say “yes” to things you never say “yes” to, like eating chocolate for breakfast, or eating in the living room or wearing a quirky outfit to the grocery store. Experiment with it — what happens when you allow your children to do these quirky “yes” things? Think about what happens to you, as the parent and what happens to your child. Have fun!
Going slow is good but sometimes just stopping and standing still, like you’re rooted to the ground is even better. In parenting, sometimes it is our first reaction to say something profound, give a direction, lay down a consequence, come up with a new rule or say a loud and emphatic “no!” Or, things are going well and we think we have to move on to the next thing before someone (it might be us) gets bored and into mischief. During those times, it may be best to just stop, be still and quiet. Hard? Absolutely. Necessary? Absolutely. Even our own silence is golden.
The other day, I went swinging. I was at the park and the swings beckoned. The sky was blue, trees brilliant yellow and sun shining and no one else was at the park except me and my young companion. She wanted company and I wasn’t about to disappoint. I got going higher and higher and really felt the carefree lift that only swinging can give you and it was delightful. I had to stop myself when I surprisingly started to feel sick and dizzy but for those few minutes, there was not a care in the world. It was exhilarating to feel that even for a little while and to get that “real” feeling of being a kid. Too often we don’t take the time to truly empathize with our child in the good times let alone the challenging times. So, when an opportunity next comes up to swing, dance, roll on the floor, or run the bases, do it. Sense what it feels like and tune in to what memories it stirs up from your own childhood — Good? Bad? Neutral? All that information is of value. Your inner child is worthy. And it is incredibly valuable to your child.
Moms and dads and anyone in a parenting role, this video emphasizes the importance of how influential, how good you are for your kids. In essence, you matter. A lot. The children in your lives need you and need you to be healthy physically and emotionally so that you can care for them, teach them and love them. Because you matter so much, build more skills if that’s what you need. Build a bigger support system if that is what you need. Strengthen the relationship you have with your child or children no matter what age they are or you are. And if you need help with any of it, ask. It is always OK to ask for help. And, if you see someone needing help, give it. You’ll be helping more than one person but it also is OK to just help one.
Many children, especially young little people, benefit from pictures to help them understand what emotion they have or the emotion others are having. If your child is younger or struggles with the demands of language, try drawing pictures to communicate something important to them. For example, the other day I explained to a 3 year-old that her screaming, throwing things and stomping her feet made me think she was very angry and mad. I reflected the same angry face to her to have her understand I was “getting her.” In addition to teaching her the words of angry, mad, frustrated, etc., I drew a picture so that if she couldn’t come up with the words, she could just show the picture to her parents or teacher. There are dozens of resources for helping children identify emotions and express them (two places to start include the Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation at Georgetown University and the Center for Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) at Vanderbilt – don’t let the poorly chosen stock image on the front cover of this document scare you!). But when you don’t have time to search through existing resources, just have your child draw how they feel. Or, grab some play-doh and mash out that anger. The message to get across is all feelings are OK and that your child is still loved and lovable with all those feelings, even anger. But, the behaviors associated with the anger (kicking, screaming, etc.) are not OK.
Play is like broccoli and blueberries for your child’s brain. Maybe even more like hugs and fresh air. In other words, it is so very, very important. It is how children learn about the world, their world, others’ ideas and feelings, their own ideas and feelings and it all happens in a comfortable, fun way. They learn consequences, they learn strategies, sharing, being assertive, being kind or what it feels like when someone is not kind. Play is rich. It is made richer when parents are truly present in the play with their child. It also is amazing to see that even spending 10 minutes actually engaged in your child’s play – getting on the floor with them, pretending to be a patient or a student or “the kid,” acting silly – reduces challenging behaviors. So even when there is dinner to be made, laundry to be sorted or a kitchen floor to be cleaned, temporarily say “no” to it and say “yes” to play.
Being real is being authentic, who you are. Another part of being real is being honest with our children. Perhaps I am the only one on Earth who, in moments of parenting when the ship is going down, I escape with my phone to seemingly greener pastures. I just want to get away from the sibling rivalry, the piling laundry, the sticky floor or the pending bedtime routine. I may text a dear friend for a life line, see how email can save me or be whisked away into a newly remodeled bathroom on Pinterest. Essentially though, I am fleeing the situation. Lately, I have started to verbalize my fleeing in the form of “I’m taking a break for a minute!” Or “This is too much for me, I need to get calm first so I can help you.” Or simply, “I’ll be right back.” It helps to serve two purposes: 1) it helps me get back to a calmer state so I can actually deal with whatever situation is before me and 2) it teaches my kids that it is OK to go somewhere else to calm down sometimes, that we think better and solve problems more effectively when we’re emotionally well.
My smartphone is somewhat regrettably, with me most of the time. I strive to change this habit as I recognize the negative impact of always having a device come between relationships – especially the relationship with my children. But occasionally I think it is OK to use the phone as an escape device. What matters is talking about it, verbalizing how you’re using it. Stating something like, “I can tell this phone is getting in the way of being able to play with you. I’m putting it away” as well as “I’m texting Gran to see how she is doing” or, “I am checking the weather on my phone to see if we need a jacket” are all ways to lessen the phone-as-barrier to our relationships with our kids. Ultimately we want our children to be able to make good decisions about the high tech devices that they will have in the future. Having heard the decisions we’ve made in how to use them effectively will help them make those good decisions.
And when you’re not in escape mode, try to be fully present with your child. Verbalize how you are putting your phone away, storing the tablet or closing your laptop so that you cannot be distracted. And then really do it. Try to put the technology away a little more each day until you feel that your happy-medium has been met. Remember that no hi-tech device will ever be better than just getting down on the floor with your child and being a kid again yourself and playing.
So often we do this unintentionally – we rush through the morning routine only to sit in traffic, we zip up and down the grocery store aisles only to wait in line, we stressfully hurry to a meeting only to find out they have delayed it for attendees who are, coincidentally, stuck in traffic. Alas, waiting can give you space, breathing room, alone time. Embrace the unexpected wait times and more to the point, plan for them. Finding time to have space, breathing room and alone time is a beautiful way to give ourselves some good stuff. Next time you have a scheduled haircut, dentist appointment, or lunch date with your friend, hurry up and purposely wait. Maybe you bring along a magazine, maybe you don’t. Maybe you bring a good book, maybe you don’t. Soak up the free time when you don’t have to be doing anything.
One of the most stressful circumstances for me as a parent is when I really need to be somewhere (at work, for example) and neither child is cooperating with my sweet, love-filled requests (to put it mildly). I can feel my blood pressure rising, my shoulders tensing, my voice increasing in volume and my requests start turning into angry demands. Shockingly, my children don’t suddenly stop the dilly-dallying and put their shoes on and start walking to the car. Often, they become angry, stressed and start yelling too. We all end up in Nowheresville.
About a year ago, I introduced my children to the “British Lady at the shoe shop.” She speaks with an English accent and fumbles around trying to find the best fitting shoe for each child. Think of Amelia Bedelia meets Supernanny. Because I use it sparingly, it tends to work beautifully. Other times, I have introduced a mime, an alien and the Swedish Chef from the Muppets. None of these have special powers (or do they?) but they do change the situation quickly and dramatically. Often when we sense our parenting is spiraling downward and the stress is accumulating, we just need to break that momentum. Whether we create a new character to guide kids through a required task, let them be the parent or we just whisper the requests, it shifts children’s actions (or inaction as the case may be) into doing what we need them to do.