Kids Hitting Kids

As you know, occasionally I like to delve into an internet search (well, it’s not really delving, per se, since it takes three microns of a second) on a parenting topic. This time it’s something that’s been coming up in my work with families: namely, siblings wailin’ on each other. Parents have been asking me what to do in this situation, and as all parties (including the kids) agreed that it wasn’t a good thing to hit each other, we were at a bit of an impasse.

So here goes. One of the first articles to come up, at least in my info bubble, was kinda preachy and alarmist: the title says it all. Aside from pointing out in no uncertain terms that it is bad for people to hit each other (we’re in! We bought a ticket!), we’d like to know how to get to the bottom of it. How do we help our kids to try something else next time?

This next one was very promising. It focuses on how to talk to siblings about hitting when one is able to express himself in words and the other is not. It was written by an extreme parenting genius with perfect recall of a 15-minute conversation (did the author transcribe it from tape? Does she have a dictation team?), and really it is totally worth reading. She makes sure both of the kids are able to talk, and able to listen to each other. Which is really what they wanted in the first place.

Because, say it with me: “all behavior is an unmet need.”

Which is one of the 31(!) tips featured in this list which turned out to be the winner of the parenting internet this week. Note the first one: “Remember that this is normal,” and note as well that this makes it the complete opposite of what the first article said. Maybe it’s useful to tease out the meaning here. By “normal,” I think we’re saying both that it’s “something that happens” and that “the world does not end when it does.” The children do not explode (unless they are actually attaching explosives to one another, in which case it’s a more serious problem than this post can address), and one presumes that the hitting is not so frequent and vicious as to spill over into something else, which is called abuse, no matter who’s doing it to whom. Again, different blog post.

The fact is, though, when children are siblings (or in the same classroom, or sharing playground equipment, etc etc), sometimes they whack each other. What does it mean? In almost every case, it’s frustration, or tiredness, or hunger, or some combination thereof (“It’s an unmet need.” Everybody, now).

What do we do about it? That’s where it gets tricky, and where the author is smart enough to not give a straight answer. Or at least, a single answer. What I like is that she wants us to mostly look at ourselves. Should we interfere? If we do, are we actually just performing for the other parents in the room? Are we bringing our frustration into it? Are we blaming (this time or every time) one child or the other?

One of the answers is “do nothing.” I love when people give that advice. What if they can work it out? Isn’t that a skill?

Another is “make sure they have their own toys.” If they have things that they don’t have to share, there are no grounds for disagreement. Also, “don’t make toddlers share.” Word.

Also, too, “take them outside.” In my work that sometimes means to literally take them outside (we have swings, and a lovely meadow), but more generally it means that we need to change the environment. Move to a new place, find a new activity, take the energy up or down. Make it different.

Who knew there were so many things we could do about it? Come on kids. Bring it on.

Share

On Chores, Revisited

A couple years ago I wrote about our first attempt to institute chores for the family. In that article, I described how my wife and I had decided to approach chores and how they aligned with the values of our family. I wrote, “In my house chores are presented simply as expectations: they are what need to happen in order for the home to run smoothly. There is a place for everyone to chip in, and we emphasize the importance of each chore in our day-to-day home life.”

Reading back on this, I see that this theory still holds up. In the article, I also detailed the chores chart I had made, with chores listed on a whiteboard and movable magnets for each child, to be rotated according to age level and need. This means that each child would have different chores from day to day. I can only imagine, when designing this system, what I was thinking: that the variety would keep them from being bored, or the novelty would be exciting, or something.

Well, that just didn’t work.

It wasn’t a disaster or anything. It was just too complicated for the kids (the little ones especially), and too much homework for the adults (ie: me). We gave it a go. But soon the kids were complaining about their own assigned chores or coveting those of their sisters (or just refusing to participate in my rigged game). At the same time, the magnets started falling apart and wouldn’t, you know, magnetize anymore. So after a few weeks, my brilliant chores chart fell by the wayside. Okay, it actually just fell off.

I don’t remember how much time went by in the interim, but eventually my wife struck upon a way to make the chores list work within the structure of her homeschooling day. Instead of rotating chores, each child now had their own laminated sheet with a list of duties. They could mark them off as they went with a pen, or draw pictures around them, or pull them down and lose them under the sofa. Their choice!

Anyway, having a stable and routine set of chores turned out to be just the ticket. My wife divided them into two sections: morning, before school, and after lunch, before “rest time” (that period of one to two hours where the kids can have downtime with an audiobook, a DVD, or some reading). It took a while to get it going, but by now it is almost in their muscle memory. They know the expectations and, though they sometimes just don’t want to do it (who doesn’t), it had made chores into what we intended: they’re just what we do to help the household work.

My favorite part is that the list makes it easy to succeed: “wake up” is an item; as is “eat breakfast.” Amazing how the points add up.

 

 

Share

Transitions

A couple of recent changes have come to our house. One is that my wife, in addition to her full-time homeschooling duties, has been leaving town every other weekend to help her sister. The other is that I have rearranged my schedule in order to have an extra day off. The upshot, for purposes of our family, is that I have been parenting solo quite a bit. Now that this is a more or less regular thing, I find that it is…complicated.

I have written on several occasions that being the dad in our particular household means that I figure out what the routines are and carry them out. In other words, their mother writes the script (and revises, and stages, and restages it) and I simply try to follow it.

So, I’m pretty good at making bedtime happen, and I have enough of a repertoire built up to make food for all three meals (and mostly different food, at that! Or at least, in different combinations). I carry out the housekeeping and repairs for which there is no time in the course of a homeschooling day. And as long as I don’t have to improvise too much, it’s fine. As long as nothing unexpected or unusual happens. Nothing different. No worries, right?

One way I know that this is the new normal is that, for my daughters, it has lost all novelty. This weekend I have been told numerous times that I’m not doing things right, and that “they wouldn’t behave like that if Mom was home.” I can only agree.

This experience has brought home the different ways that men and women nurture. And simply how different people do it. Try as I might, I can’t duplicate what their mother does that works. I’m lenient in some areas and strikingly uptight in others. Surely it has always been this way, but for some reason the repetition brings it out. “Wait, I have, like, a thing that I do?”

I’m not feeling terribly successful these days, as the transition continues apace. But I’m trying to be comfortable with that. It’s the nature of transitions.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to watch an old Popeye cartoon before dinner. Don’t tell Mom.

 

Share

All the Answers

mom&daughter

One thing that all parents share is that, no matter what we’re doing, there will be people who think what we’re doing is wrong. If we’re lucky, those people won’t bother to tell us about it. If they do, and we’re still lucky, those people won’t be members of our family. If they are, then we’re probably out of luck, but we hope to have the fortitude to ignore them. Or at least to take it in stride.

I sometimes go online to research the trending topics in parenting. This research consists of typing “parenting topics” into the search engine and hitting the return button. There are the inevitable lists of “hottest parenting controversies” and “parenting topics that draw the most heat” (actual headlines that I won’t bother to link to). I can place these topics into one of a few categories.

One category involves practices that simply go against the research about what is effective. An example, about which I’ve posted before, is the question “Should I spank my children?” If you’re asking, my answer will be “Not if you can do something else.” And there are a lot of other things to do, many of which can be found in this blog and elsewhere on the Parenting Success Network. I would encourage you to check it out.

Another category involves practices about which it is easy to find research, and strong expert opinions, that go either way. Examples of this are “Should I breastfeed after the age of two?” and “Should I cosleep with my children?” and “Should I find out the sex of my baby beforehand?” These are things which as parents we just kind of have to figure out for ourselves. We have done all three of these in our family: two of our kids continued to nurse into toddlerhood and two did not. Circumstances were different for each. Cosleeping worked for us, but we had to get used to not having a bed to ourselves. And we happened to learn the gender of each but it wasn’t something we sought out; it was just right there in the ultrasound. So, I can’t really tell you one is better than the other.

My favorite category includes controversies that I really couldn’t care about one way or the other. “Should big kids ride in strollers?” Really? Do they want to? Will they break it if they do? Do you want to push them around all day? Personally, I always preferred to keep the stroller empty to leave more room for groceries.

As a parent I am full of opinions. And as a “parenting expert,” a position in which I am actually paid money (I know, it’s wild), I find little need or opportunity to share them. I have never told a family I work with whether or not they should nurse or cosleep or carry a baby in a sling instead of a car carrier, even though they were adamant choices in my family and we would not have done it any other way. The fact is, parents have been raising children for many thousands of years (millions, if they’re not mammals) and those children have tended to mostly survive to have their own.

Is it fun to argue about these things? Only you can answer that. That’s why there is social media. In the meantime, I advise you to just do what works, and avoid what doesn’t.

Not much of an answer, is it?

Share

A Few Words on Empathy

baby_class

If nurturing means watering the plants you want to grow, what is at the root of those plants?

Okay, I’ll tell you. It’s empathy.

In our Nurturing Parenting programs, empathy is the cornerstone, the trigger, the fuel, the baking mix. See? I could have used a lot of different metaphors. But the root sounds good so we’ll go with it.

What is empathy?

It sounds like “sympathy,” but should not be confused with it. Sympathy is the act of feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is the act of feeling what that someone is feeling.

It’s walking in their shoes.

Even if we can’t understand another person’s exact experience (and we probably can’t, most of the time), we can understand the feeling they have. Maybe we have been through something, good, bad or more complicated, that put us in the same state. And the ability to go there with someone else is empathy.

Empathy is learned.

Some things are determined by our genetics and our family history. Things like whether you will cheer for the Beavers or the Ducks. Empathy is a skill that must be learned. It gets stronger with practice, and more powerful with intention.

Which is not to say that we start out with nothing to work with. When a baby sees and hears another baby crying, they will begin to cry too. Is this empathy?

In any case, it can certainly be unlearned. And that’s where Nature passes the ball to Nurture.

So how do we learn it? And how do we teach it?

Like a lot of learned behaviors and skills, we pick it up from the people around us. Or, and this is important, not. As children, we need to see it modeled by other people, particularly adults.

As adults, we can give kids opportunities to act with empathy. We can discuss with them what another person must be feeling. This person can be real or fictional (how does Sleeping Beauty feel when she pricks herself on the spindle? How does Maleficent feel when she is excluded from the birth celebration?).

More importantly, we can approach them empathetically. We do this by helping them to identify their feelings (“Your words sound angry.” “You must be very disappointed.” “That’s scary.”) and to–and I like how the Nurturing Parenting curriculum puts it–to honor those feelings.

When children know that what they are feeling is acceptable, and normal (even if they don’t know why), it helps them to respond empathetically to others.

Telling this to ourselves doesn’t hurt, either.

Share

The Boat Shaped Bookshelf

fullsizerender-1

The nine year-old has been asking for a bookshelf for Christmas. When I came across one at work–a wooden shelf in the shape of an upturned boat, which knowing her was literally the most perfect bookshelf that had ever existed–and got permission to take it home, there was no way I was going to be able to save it until then. So I set it up against the dining table so that she would find it in the morning.

She has the best reaction to gifts she really likes. I remember her fifth birthday, on which her older sister, aged seven, had bought her a miniature plastic Schleich unicorn that was very fancy, with rainbows blazing in its mane. The birthday girl silently took it out of its wrapping and, after a pause, ran into her room to introduce it to its new friends. After five or so minutes, she ran back to her sister, hugged her silently but firmly, and ran back into her room, where she stayed for some time.

I tried not to have an expectation for the bookshelf, but her reaction did not disappoint. She stopped in front of it and gazed at it silently. Within 15 minutes, she and her sister had set it up between their beds, under the window, having miraculously rearranged their entire room to accommodate its placement.

I had hoped that she would share it, and had been prepared to dictate to her that she would do so. My big parenting moment was that, taking her cue, I had remained silent. She decided on her own to offer one of its three shelves to the older girl, and to preserve the third for decorations, to be mutually selected (they chose a seasonal theme, as you can see).

Having faith in the grace of which my children are capable (at least when they are not engaged in an endless war of attrition over who was looking at whom the wrong way), is an act I can stand to do more of. These are the children, after all, who routinely use their birthday money to buy each other gifts or take us all out for frozen yogurt. It made me wonder how often my expectation that they would not be up to this affects their behavior. For once, I left the door open and kept my expectations to myself.

Now I have no idea what to get her for Christmas. But she says she just wants to spend time with her family. And, you know, to read.

 

Share

Happy Anniversary

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset

So I realized that I have been writing and editing this blog for Parenting Success Network for two years now. I am too lazy to count the number of posts I have written (several have been guest posts, and many of the best were from our featured contributor Esther Schiedel), but we’re in the neighborhood of ninety or so. Mind blown! Ninety-ish weeks of doing what I love best, and sharing with you my routines, successes and struggles. I appreciate all the feedback and comments I have received, and I am honored that you are reading. Thank you.

Something else is happening now. At Family Tree Relief Nursery we are about to launch several new Nurturing Parenting classes. I will be teaching a class for fathers. This has been something close to my heart, and the reason I started a support group, Dads United, around the same time I started writing this blog. Resources just for men who parent continue to be scarce in our community.

So it’s fitting, I think, to present my first post for Parenting Success Network, from back in September of 2014. I stand by it still.

Three Principles for Fatherhood

Howdy! My name is Rob, and I will be blogging for the Parenting Success Network. I’m happy to be here and I hope that you will find my posts useful.

I am father to four daughters, and one thing that is often pointed out about me is that I am male. In my other job I work with children and families at a Relief Nursery. This is maybe more unusual than it should be. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 less than 6% of people who work in childcare were men; in Preschool and Kindergarten, it was less than 2%. There are a number of reasons for this, and this is not the time to go into them. But I find it disheartening, given that around 100% of fathers are men, and they have real work to do.

I wanted to start with a couple of principles to which I subscribe in my role as a father. I didn’t make them up, and I can’t say that I stick to them with anything like total compliance (we all have days, right?). But I think they’re important and worth discussing.

  1. Be on the same page with your wife or partner.

This may take some explaining. My wife and I decided, while the first one was on the way, that it was absolutely essential we were both on board with the hows, whens and whys of raising our children. Having had no experience as a parent, or really being around kids at that point, I took it as a given. Anyway, she seemed to know what she was talking about. It turned out to be one of the most important decisions we have made as parents.

On what did we need to agree? It started before the birth, as we were lucky enough to be able to choose a natural birth with few complications. She wanted to stay at home, at least for the time being, so this required my cooperation (to say the least). I signed on to such practices as breastfeeding and co-sleeping with at least a partial understanding of the work this would entail. And later, the importance of consistent routines such as mealtimes and bedtimes. Later still, decisions about potty training, discipline, and education were made with mutual and conscious deliberation. This is not to say that what we had decided to do always worked, and that we didn’t have to go back to the drawing board again and again. The point is, fathers need to know what the plan is, and what it entails, in order to provide the support that the mother and the children need. We are a team, after all.

  1. Share the duties.

I can’t stress this enough. Fortunately, I have the research to back me up. A recent study found that, when men take part in housework and chores, it has a clear and positive effect on the child—specifically, that “when fathers take an active role in household work, their daughters are more inclined toward picturing themselves in leadership and management roles in potential jobs, as opposed to stereotypically feminine careers.” I was okay with doing the dishes before, but knowing that it actually expands the horizons for my girls’ future lives takes the edge off.

  1. Be present for the kids.

What does present mean? A colleague once shocked me by telling me that my kids were so lucky to have a father like me because, she went on, I was there. Like, physically there in the house. That’s present. Go me. But as I am reminded more often than I’d like, just being there leaves room for improvement. Am I distracted by work? Am I focused on getting the beds made and pajamas laid out for the night? Am I thinking about the episode of The Sopranos I’m going to watch on my phone later? Am I conscious of the fact that, though I just worked an eight hour day, my wife’s job runs to 24, with no overtime?

Kids need time with their father. They need him to ask about their day, to look at their drawings, to listen to what the warrior princesses were doing outside under the picnic table, and how the tea party went. They need him to be patient with bedtimes and give the extra hug, tell the extra story, and know that Tony Soprano will still be up to his shenanigans later. That’s presence. And it’s hard.

Those are my big three, but there are all that and more to be found here.

Share

The Gift of Validation

dadteachboy

I went to a memorial service for a friend today. He was a husband and father, and an exceptionally good one, on both counts. A lot of what I have learned about working with children came from his example. He was gifted in the art of validation: he would listen without agenda to a young person’s feelings and reflect them back, then help to come up with solutions that worked for everyone. In the four years that we worked together, in a residential facility with some of the most “difficult” and “troubled” children in the state, I never saw him lose his patience (perhaps because he also knew when it was time to walk away or to seek help).

Working in this field can give a lot of people the idea that maybe they don’t want children of their own. But it can also instill, or reinforce, the foundation from which a parent can bring these skills home, to the benefit of their own kids and to parents all around them. My friend was an example of the latter (I am fortunate to know others as well).

It can be difficult for a “parenting expert,” regardless of one’s knowledge of child development and strategies for turning conflict into cooperation, struggle into growth, to make these skills translate to their own parenting. I often say that I forget to take these skills home sometimes to my own kids, in my own home. This is why the cobbler’s children have no shoes.

When I am in these moments, I often think of what my friend has taught me about the virtue of really listening. He would sit with an escalated child, through minutes and sometimes hours of rage, confusion and hurt, and that child would come to know that he was there as a witness, validating his or her feelings and holding out quietly for the time when they would be able to move on together.

I try to do this. In some cases I am more successful than others. Sometimes I picture my friend next to me, helping me find the strength to lend to the child.

I’ll miss you, friend. But I’ve got that.

Share

Screening the Screens

Gabe first day

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about bedtimes and how to make them work. I hinted ominously about the importance of keeping electronic devices (“screens”) out of kids’ bedrooms. This week I want to talk more about those screens and what battles to pick around them.

 

I am not going to tell you that you shouldn’t let your children use a phone, laptop or tablet. It’s the 21st Century, they probably use these devices in school, you’re using them, I’m using them, and Grandpa is downloading old war movies on BitTorrent right now as we speak.
I am going to suggest setting firm limits around the use of these devices and I am going to SUGGEST, in all caps, two places where they should not be in your house: at the table during mealtimes, and in the kids’ room at night.
Last things first: keeping phones and other devices off the table allows mealtimes to be quality interactive time for your family. This is mostly up to us as parents, because they do what we model to them (I have to remind myself frequently not to do this). Sharing food with your family is a crucial time to stay connected—in the human relationship sense—and to keep up with what is happening in kids’ lives. Those screens are jealous of our eyeballs.
As for the bedroom, why should these devices be taken out at night?
Because of sleep. There is a strong correlation between sleep deprivation in kids and the presence of devices in their rooms. Dr. Leonard Sax, in his punitively titled The Collapse of Parenting (I recommend reading it, but prepare to feel guilty), presents a stark example:
“He’s staying up ’til 1 or 2 in the morning playing video games night after night. He’s sleep-deprived. And if you’re sleep-deprived you’re not gonna be able to pay attention and all the standard questionnaires, Conners Scales, etc. cannot distinguish whether you’re not paying attention because you’re sleep-deprived or because you truly have ADD.”
Sax suggests that much of our nation’s overmedication of children (and the rates here are way, way higher than anywhere else) could be a misdiagnosis of what is actually lack of sleep. And that, thank goodness, is easier to treat. If we know how to help. And now we do!
Regardless of how we use them, iPhones, tablets, laptops and old-fashioned TVs (remember them?) emit light that disrupts the tendency of kids to wind down. Dr. Claire McCarthy writes:
“Not only does it get in the way of sleep because kids are, well, watching it, but it gets in the way of sleep because the blue light from the screen tricks the brain into thinking it’s daytime–and delays the release of the natural chemical melatonin that helps us fall asleep.”
But how we use these devices is important. Many adults have difficulty with addictive behavior around games, social media and other uses of our phones and computers. And children, especially under the age of 10 or 11, are much more susceptible. In the dystopianly titled Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids—and How to Break the Trance, Dr. Nicholas Kardaras raises the alarm:
“Video games, computers, cell phones and tablets are all ‘digital drugs’ in Kardaras’ estimation, and there is more and more evidence to back him up—recent studies have shown that electronics activate pleasure circuits in developing brains. The amount of dopamine in the brain doubles (food and sex have the same effect) while the amount of gray matter shrinks, compromising the frontal cortex (the decision-making center of the brain). This leads to delays in neurological development and verbal intelligence.”
The upshot is, no screens at bedtime, kiddos. Sorry. We’re the parent.
Being the parent, setting limits around our kids’ use, is the key. There is no reason that our children need to do anything on the internet outside of our supervision.
The hardest part, of course, is to model it. Put down the phone and pick up a book instead. Or a tennis racket. Or a watering can.
We can do it. We’re the parent.

Share

“They Believed Me”

This week’s guest post is by featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Esther.

Sullen tee w/dad

“They Believed Me.”

 

I recently heard the British journalist John McCarthy say these words. McCarthy was kidnapped and held

hostage for 5 years– some of it in solitary confinement. When asked how he recovered from this terrible

ordeal, he spoke about the help he had received from professionals and family and friends. He noted

how important it was that they knew and acknowledged what a terrible ordeal he had undergone.

McCarthy is now involved with Freedom from Torture, an organization that helps survivors of various

forms of torture and abuse. He explained that some survivors of abuse aren’t believed initially. He

stressed how important it was to have others believe him.

 

What in the world has this to do with parenting? A lot.

 

Our relationships with our children are filled with times when we choose to believe or choose to ignore

or choose to outright reject what they tell us.

 

Our children tell us daily how they feel: happy, frustrated, scared, confident, confused, excited, hurt.

They tell us what they think they can or cannot do. They tell us what they like. Sometimes they can

express these things in words, sometimes in frowns or smiles or body language. When we don’t listen,

or when we listen but don’t believe them, they may express themselves with fists or temper tantrums

or, as my son did on one memorable morning, by barricading himself in his room because he didn’t want

to go to kindergarten.

 

My son complained he was bored. I could understand why some of the kindergarten curriculum was

boring, but it wasn’t like he had mastered everything on it, the teacher seemed nice, and he was making

friends. It was hard to believe it was that difficult for him to go to school.

I know I’m not the only parent who has struggled with believing a child.

 

First of all, it is hard to actually listen to a child because of all the other things we have to do as

grownups: work, responsibilities, worries, self-care.

 

Then, it’s hard to believe a child when what they tell us doesn’t mesh with our own view of reality. Since

we know more about the world than they do, we assume our view is accurate and think the child must

be mistaken.

 

And it’s hard when we are afraid of what might be asked of us. We are afraid of the broader implications

for ourselves and others if we accept that the child is telling us the truth.

 

And, of course, sometimes children deliberately lie to us.

 

What can parents do overcome these barriers to believing our children?

 

  •  Establish times when we are available to listen to our children without other distractions. These

might be dinnertime conversations where each person shares something about their day. Or

bedtime routines. Or a weekly date with each child.

 

  •  Get to know your child. Learn about child development and temperamental differences. Get to

know your child’s world. Visit daycare and school. Talk to teachers and other parents. Talk to

your child’s friends.

 

tell us does not mean that we can or should do something. Believing and validating how a child

feels may be enough. Even when it isn’t enough, it conveys trust. Our trust allows a child to tell

us more about the problem. Trust can give us time and patience to investigate further and

explore options.

 

  • Even when we suspect a child is lying, it may be worthwhile to look at what is behind the lie. Is

the child afraid? Feeling helpless or overwhelmed? Dealing with some larger complicated issue?

 

  •  Don’t be afraid to seek outside help. Know that it may take time and effort on your part. If the

recommendations don’t make sense to you, keep looking for more information and help.

 

The Whole-Brain Child by Siegel and Bryson is an excellent resource for understanding how children

think and grow. It explains strategies parents can use to help children understand their emotions and

fears. And strategies to help children deal with those feelings.

 

And my son? After several conferences with teachers and staff we sought an evaluation from a child

psychologist. The psychologist told us, “he says he’s bored because he is bored.” We believed the

psychologist and so did the school. Some changes were made that helped. It wasn’t smooth sailing for

the rest of his childhood but we all survived. He now has a college degree and works as an engineer.

 

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to three boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

Share