The improvement people are coming for me…and fast.
The clock is ticking into 2015 and it is time to start improving. And now, goddammit.
Get your lists.
Get your workouts ready.
What are your positive goals?
How are you going to change?
How are you going to markedly improve yourself?
Don’t you dare allow 2015 to come in the door remaining as you are.
I am calling bullshit.
You are going to wake up January 1st the same beautiful hot-mess you were December 31st.
You may have some big notions, big plans, big goals….sure.
But the reality? Everything will be the same.
Maybe with a slight hangover.
As I walked the dog today, I started to feel some of the typical worrying I experience as the year draws to an end.
“What should I do about the business this year? I know my numbers…but should I go harder? Bigger? Smaller? Stay the same?”
I shuffled along and stared at the birds in the sky.
They were headed…well, I don’t know where the hell they were going. But they *knew.* Thousands and thousands of years…they get up and fly. They follow each other, form a V and go. They aren’t worried about going bigger or smaller. Just trying to get from A to B, you know?
I decided to not decide.
I am going to feel it out.
Do what feels right. Pay the bills. Help some parents.
I am not making any lists or goals that will mock me, guilt me, worry me. Have me fail or overshoot my own arbitrary yardstick.
Like those birds, I *know* what I am doing. I know.
Having a fearful and worrying kind of day.
I have a loved one visiting doctors, catching up on scary diagnoses.
I have an almost 11 year old visiting the middle school that she will attend next year (Mom, is this shirt ok?)
I have a 7 year old on the Metro, headed downtown to DC for a field trip.
I have a 4 year old in a school bus, in the rain, ALSO headed downtown for a field trip.
My worry was emanating off of me like waves this morning, every move touched with its own anxiety.
“Mom, what is wrong with you?” my middle asks.
I stand up, sigh, and smile.
“Ah, well. You know…getting ahead of myself, Louise. Getting ahead of myself.”
Isn’t that what the worry is?
Sometimes fear is right on the money: “That alley is dark and I am alone and I should go down another street.”
Often, fear is whispering about things that will probably never happen: “Buses crashing, metros bombed, mean big middle school kids, cancer everywhere…”
The thing is, it COULD happen.
I know a woman who works with a man. A father.
Yesterday, a plane fell on his house and his wife and two out of three of his children are dead.
It is him and his one remaining child now.
He went to work, like you and me.
And now, almost his entire family is gone.
All that worrying I do?
It HAPPENED TO HIM.
Because I cannot do both.
You cannot LIVE in this life…see what is front of you, love your people, smooch your dog, see the bright pink jacket, and smile at your neighbor…you cannot do these things if you are kidnapped by worry.
To honor this man and lost family, I am going to be right HERE.
Do I have concerns? Yes, I am not a robot.
But I can see them, acknowledge them, and KEEP LIVING.
How many times have you said that to your children? Once, twice, hundreds of times?
Children join us in our beds during times of real need. Maybe your young one was really sick for a couple days and needed extra love; maybe there has been a change in the family (new sibling, new move, new school, etc.), and the child has been feeling nervous and needing attention. Maybe there have been nightmares, or their imaginations have gotten the better of them. All you know that is that it has been a month, you are being kicked in the ribs every night and don’t sleep for more than an hour straight. And forget about intimacy with your partner!
And beyond the sleeping hardships, you have the nighttime drama. You bathe them, you read to them, you snuggle, you tuck them in and POP. There they are! In the hallway. In the family room. In the kitchen. Needing “one more drink” or “one more hug” or “It’s too dark” or “I think I see something” or “If you get into bed with me, then I will sleep…”
Hours and hours pass, and your anger increases. You have things to do. And more than that, you desperately want to be ALONE. Your jaw clenches, your hand may grasp their upper arm a little too tightly; you may begin to threaten. You yell. You really yell. The child cries. The baby wakes up. The night has gone to pot. Meanwhile, your partner is hiding somewhere in the house.
Or, rather than yell, your anger gives way to desperation and hopelessness. You give up and get into bed with the child, or allow them to come in with you. You stare at the ceiling, wondering, “Will I ever be a normal adult again?”
Oh, I’ve been there.
What are you supposed to do?
You know the quote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players.” You, my friend, are involved in some pretty serious theater, and you are performing with a professional! In order to exit this drama gracefully, you need to decide to do something different.
Firstly, you need a plan. When I work with my clients, I customize each bedtime routine for what works for them, but most plans have the same key elements:
1) You solve the problem at another hour (that is nowhere close to bedtime). Tell the child he or she will be sleeping in their own bed, and that you are going to help them to do it! You will create a bedtime chart, and this can become a fun and creative activity between parent and child! Display the chart where the child can see it, and let them know we are going to stick to it!
2) You increase the special one-on-one time, but NOT DURING BEDTIME. During the day, after you come home from work, in the mornings: start spending some one-on-one time with your child. As this becomes more and more of a habit, your child trusts that you are available and will start to go to bed more smoothly. When a child receives positive attention for positive behaviors, those behaviors are likely to repeat. When the child receives attention for popping out of bed, whining, crying, begging and threatening, THOSE behaviors are likely to repeat. So, fill that attention cup up when the time is right!
3) Get ready for the nighttime. Have your partner on board and ready to help. Mentally, you need to get ready for a potentially long night. Keep calm, do your routine chart, and then keep putting lovely child into bed. Don’t talk, don’t make too much eye contact and don’t interact too much. Bigger don’ts? Don’t huff around, don’t become angry, don’t eye-roll and don’t glare. So, yes you need to be calm. This is why you need your partner to step in; you are going to need a break. The first thing in the AM, you go into their bedroom and say, “YOU DID IT! YOU SLEPT IN YOUR BED!” There is lots of love and hugs and celebration.
4) BUT! This could be hard. You may quit. You may give up. You may have to start again the next night. IT IS OKAY. Really. Life is short; you don’t have to choose this battle if you are not ready. If it is causing MORE fights, more drama and more strife, then STOP. Your child WILL sleep in his own bed, one day. Of this, I am certain. Do you have the right to your personal boundaries, to a childless night, to your own bed? Yes. But please do not sacrifice your relationship with your child to establish that boundary. Love, patience and repetition…keep it up and your child will sleep in their own bed.
Photo Source (top right): Thinkstock/Pixland
With summer fast approaching, a chief complaint among many parents is worrying about boredom!
“My children are always complaining about how bored they are! We have millions of toys and activities, but if our children have 15 minutes free minutes, they are lost. I am dreading summer!”
As a parent coach with young kids myself, I know it can be tough to allow your children to be bored. And I also know that the answer is as simple and as it is difficult.
You have to allow your child to be bored.
But how? “How do I allow my child to be bored?” you ask. Well, you just do. You have to not get sucked into the whining and complaining. You have to not get sucked into, “All of my toys are stupid” or “I have plaaaaayed that game a hundred times, mooooom.”
To begin, start small with allowing boredom!
“You have time between 1-3 PM to find something to do. I can give your one or two ideas. Let me know.”
Then you have to hold on for dear life. Your child is going to follow you around, whining, crying, and muttering about his or her extreme boredom. As the parent, you will have thoughts like, “This child has everything, how can he possibly be bored?” Or, “I work and work and work and still, these children are sucking me dry. I NEED A BREAK.” Or “I never bothered my parents like this when I was younger.”
As these thoughts cycle in and out, you must simply breathe. Rest-assured that as you weather this storm, the child will eventually tire and find something to do. The more you have interfered in the past, the longer this process may take, but it is worth it. Why?
When children are bored, their creative juices start to flow again. The BBC recently published an article citing the importance of the boredom-creativity link.
“The academic, who has previously studied the impact of television and videos on children’s writing, said: “When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.
“But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.”
It is this sort of thing that stimulates the imagination, she said, while the screen “tends to short circuit that process and the development of creative capacity’.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21895704
The irony is that the more we don’t allow our children to be bored, the more accustomed they become to being entertained. The more entertained the children are, the deeper the brain habits are ingrained. Their young brains are literally conditioned to constant entertainment, whether it is from a parent or caregiver or technology!
Look at this summer as an opportunity to break your children from this cycle! Go on technology fasts and, while I love enrichment activities, think of holding a firm boundary on only one or two.
Stay strong, don’t give into the whining, and watch what happens. Creativity will bloom before you know it!
Q: My second-grader has started resisting doing homework. I am unsure what approach to take, while also giving him time to relax and play. If I offer incentives (no TV/game time or dessert until it’s done), then he’ll end up waiting so long it delays bedtime. If I discipline him, it becomes an emotional power struggle. That’s not a routine I want to add to our weeknights, nor do I want to be the one responsible for ensuring he does his homework. I want him to learn consequences early. I’d like to just leave it on him as to whether he does it or not (with just one question — “Do you have homework?” — as a friendly reminder each night), but is that approach developmentally appropriate for a second-grader? I keep telling myself, “Just let him get a bad grade,” and then enforce a consequence for bad grades, but is that too far off for a consequence for a 7-year-old? I keep floating between all these approaches, and I know I just need to be consistent.
A: You are wrestling with all of the issues when it comes to parenting and homework, and this is great. Parenting is usually more questions than answers, and grappling with these things is how you will find your way.
My favorite part of this letter is that you have provided an exhaustive list of what is not working. Let’s look at it.
First off, rewards in the form of TV, game time or dessert. Why is this failing? In his great book “Drive,” Daniel H. Pink describes how rewards and punishments (different sides of the same coin) work for humans when it comes to low-level work, but when it comes to higher-level thinking or tasks that have natural motivations built in, rewards and punishments become a hindrance.
We all kind of know this, deep down. The more rewards or punishments we offer children, the worse we feel. The children can smell desperation wafting off of us like cheap cologne. It also shows that we think we have to dangle a reward in front of our child for them to want to do well.
What else is not working here? You are (wisely) backing off harsh discipline and consequences, because you know that is the fast track to nightly struggles. If you start having power struggles over homework, you will create a strong correlation between fighting and homework, and arguing will replace your child’s ability to become independent and enjoy learning. Constant conflict hinders maturation, and no parent wants that.
But you are inching toward some good ideas by the end of your question. You write, “just let him get a bad grade?” That brings up some of the tough truths of the situation.
It is time to find out what is really going on, and part of that process may involve your son missing some assignments. Don’t go into this with a hope and prayer, though. Create a plan.
First of all, let your son know that he is responsible and old enough to take some ownership of his work, and that you are no longer going to be so demanding or commanding. Create a simple system with him. Get a calendar (I like this one) and have a chat about what works for both of you. Write down your plan.
A sample plan of a homework schedule may be:
Tuesday, soccer until 5 p.m.; 5-6 p.m. rest; 6 p.m. dinner; 6:30 p.m. homework.
Wednesday, 3:30 p.m. quick snack and homework, then playing outside; 6 p.m. dinner.
A plan like this can be changed weekly and customized to fit any family: single parents, overscheduled parents, parents with shared custody, parents who have nannies, or parents who simply need more structure.
The point of creating a plan isn’t for it to be perfect and last forever. Rather, it puts in place the structure that will, in turn, bring about the discipline that is lacking.
Now, here is when things are going to get interesting.
You are going to allow this plan to work (with some gentle and loving reminders but no nagging). You are going to send an e-mail to his teacher to let her know that your son is taking some ownership of his work and that it may get a little messy. Openly ask her for support.
Here are some things that could happen:
●Your son rises to the occasion, flourishes and completely rocks his homework. You can stop hassling him and allow him to soar.
●Your son realizes that this schedule is not working and he needs to change it. So go ahead and work with him on that. (This is awesome, by the way, because it is crucial for your son to understand his learning style and what he needs to succeed.)
●Your son totally slacks off and does not complete his homework. Then you become the “noticer.” Does he understand the assignments but find them boring, repetitive or useless? This may help you to find more challenging work for him. Or does he not understand the work in front of him, making him too anxious to begin? This may help you seek more support for him, in or out of school. Do you notice that he doesn’t know how to organize himself? That he cannot figure out what happens first, second, last? You may need to assist him a little more, help him practice organizing. Or has he simply never experienced a negative consequence of not completing his work because someone is always chasing him, nagging him or rewarding him to do his work? This is where experiencing a negative consequence at school can snap a child to attention. Sometimes all it takes is a look of disapproval from a teacher to help him learn that this is a real expectation. When all the experts say we need to raise kids with “grit” and “resilience,” this is what they are talking about.
But before I finish, let me just give you some words of support.
Homework in second grade is simply not that big of a deal (despite what our culture tells us). So stop harassing him, and take it easy on yourself and your child. Get some perspective, and keep the big picture in mind. Let the feelings around homework be “We’ve got this. I believe in you. We can do this.”
Keep a smile on your face. So many parents are grimacing and brow-furrowing that the overall message is that school (and life) is a grind. Be aware of your body language and your facial expressions.
Finally, remember, “connection, then direction.” All children become more cooperative, easygoing and accommodating when they feel deeply connected to their caregivers. Concentrate on all of the great characteristics of your son, keep hope alive, and allow for some discomfort. He will get there.
Find this on The Washington Post.
Q: There’s just no way to ever question a friend’s parenting choices, is there? I recently spent four days with an old college friend and discovered they are a spanking family. I have really never spent much time with people spanking their children, and it was so distressing to me. It seemed so punitive, cruel and, perhaps most important, ineffective. Her nearly 3-year-old received daily spankings while I was there, mostly for “not following directions.” I just felt as though this child was set up to fail as she had meltdowns at bedtime each night (resulting in multiple spankings), which (shockingly) did not stop the meltdowns. It was so counter to everything I have seen with children, and yet I know it is a choice parents make and I just couldn’t think how to even broach the subject with my friend. Is there ever a way to gently question parenting choices with love?
A: “Is there ever a way to gently question parenting choices with love?” Well . . . errr, ummmm, maybe?
This question is about as loaded as they come.
It wasn’t too long ago, in American culture, that you would have been the odd man out in this scenario. Spanking was (and is, in many places) the predominant form of discipline. Spanking was seen as the way to help a child “learn his lessons.” Spanking also clearly demonstrated who was in charge. The order of power was clear, and when the child challenged this order, discipline (spanking) was applied. When the child stepped out of line or tried something dangerous, he was spanked. If he mouthed off to his parents, he was spanked. If he didn’t eat what was served for dinner: spanked.
In most cases, spanking was meant to be a swat on the bottom, and mostly given to younger children. This swat was meant less to hurt the child than to drive home a lesson. It was also meant to bring the child to the point of tears. The tears would signify to the parents (all instinctively, mind you) that change had occurred. In the best-case scenario, a spanking would usually involve a parent who was in control of his or her emotions. There wouldn’t be an overwhelming sense of shame, vengeance or anger in the act. It would feel cursory, quick and slightly impersonal.
While this may sound somewhat acceptable to reasonable people, spankings can easily slip right into beatings. Being hit with objects, being hit in the face, being whipped far after any lesson is learned or felt — these acts are another issue altogether. This is abuse. Beatings are a sign that the parent has lost the control he so dearly wants to keep (though never had to begin with). This is pure anger and violence, and there is nothing to be gained for the child or the parent.
From pediatricians to developmentalists to therapists to children’s specialists, spankings and beatings are now understood to be a counterproductive way to help children grow into mature adults. And beyond their counterproductive nature, spankings and physical punishments have been shown to cause anxiety and depression. Not only does physical punishment not help children mature, it also serves to hinder emotional growth and strength.
Back to your college friends: They see spanking as a form of discipline that clearly makes sense. (They were probably spanked as children, and spanking probably works just enough for them to think it is a good idea with their own child, all evidence to the contrary.)
Here is the real sticky wicket with physical punishment: It works amazingly well when you want short-term results. Nothing beats, for lack of a better term, a beating to make a child “respect” authority.
Fear is a powerful tool and easily wielded by adults, who are both bigger and stronger. But all of the neuroscience studies and longitudinal psychological studies, and heck, our own lives and truths, have clearly shown us the long-term results of a fear-dominated house. We know the physical punishment is the cheap way out. Deep down, parents (even the parents who defend spankings to the end) know that striking a child is a sign of lack of control, not authority. It is a sign of weakness, not strength. It is a sign of callousness, not compassion.
And when you combine fear-based punishment with the immaturity of a 2-year-old (she’s a baby, really), you get a whole lot of misery. If a child this young could control herself, she would. If she could prevent her own meltdowns, she would. These are not willpower issues. Theses are developmentally normal behaviors. We cannot truly spank them out of child. We can manage them, divert them, ignore them, understand them and love a child through these behaviors, but you cannot beat the meltdown out of a child.
When a child is spanked for a meltdown, the brain will eventually learn it is not okay to express big, ugly feelings. The funny thing with these feelings is that they have to go somewhere. The body and brain will literally hold on to them. For days, months, years or decades, if necessary. You don’t spank a child out of behaviors. You spank a child into fear. Of you, the parent. And most tragically, children can come to not trust their own deep emotions and feelings (which is the essence of being a fully mature human).
As for your friend, it is most important to do more listening and less talking in these situations. Anything that begins to sound like judgment or a lecture will probably create defensiveness in your friend, and that will shut down communication. You can help her if she asks for help or it comes about naturally. If she says, “Man, little Susie is SO HARD,” offer an empathic ear and say something like: “Do you wonder if spankings make things better or worse?” If your friend expresses guilt or worry, you can say, “Yes, spanking doesn’t seem to be helping, but there are other ways to help your toddler.” You can mention some great parenting classes nearby (like PEP, the Parenting Encouragement Program, here in the D.C. area) or a peaceful parenting book (such as anything by Laura Markham). As much as you can, keep the lines of communication open.
I believe all parents want the best for their children. The spanking parents, the parents who beat their children, all of them. So, remain supportive and loving, and do your best to keep your judgment from getting in the way of your compassion. Good luck.
Find this on The Washington Post.
Looks are so deceiving.
Yes, we are happy in this picture (the smiles are real), but if you look at my littlest girl, she is wearing a nightgown.
In fact, this early began with us dragging her into the car with nothing but a nightgown on.
No shoes, no nothing.
The kicking, the screaming, the scratching, the tears.
It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut and not jump out of the car on Connecticut Avenue.
You see, the five year old is having some “issues” when it comes to us transitioning into Fall here in Washington DC.
This is not rare for children. Many young children are having transition issues right now.
Socks, long pants, sleeves…it’s ALL TOO MUCH.
I knew I couldn’t spend the morning “talking this out” with her (so rarely does talking work with young children), so we moved it along. How?
Gotta keep your eyes safe from scratching. Gotta keep your privates from getting kicked (men, especially). And you gotta keep a loving and firm stance.
My (silent) mantra is: We Can Get Through This. We Can Get Through This. We Can Get Through This. We Can Get Through This. We Can Get Through This. We Can Get Through This.
We Can Get Through This.
I whisper it while I click her in. I repeat it while I hear her scream, “I HATE YOU!” I declare it as I grit my teeth. I state it as my other children complain.
I say aloud, “We are going to have a great morning,” all evidence to the contrary.
I smile. I lower my shoulders. I take a breath in and a long, slow breath out. I repeat that until my eyelids feel heavier.
I turn on Taylor Swift and realize that, less than two minutes after the skirmish began, everyone is watching the trees go by. Quiet.
When we get the pumpkin patch, there is more drama (socks and sneakers!), but we make it through…again.
My only desire, in all of this, is to not destroy my relationship with my daughter.
I can endure this shit show. Every day. I can.
And I believe it will get better. I know how to make it better. I know how.
I know that connection is the answer to preventing and healing the drama.
But when I am in the sh!t show, all I do is believe that, “We Can Get Through This.”
My family is tears and smiling pictures.
If you are ready for some support, don’t miss my October “Meghan is turning 40” 3 Sesh Special!
It expires October 31st!
If you are feeling like YOU need some support this fall, sign up for my Special Three Sesh. $580. (My regular SIX Session package is over $1000.00, so this may be a great way to try some parent coaching.)
This offer expires on October 31st 2015, so just go ahead and sign up.
If you are interested in learning more about this or about other coaching packages, set up a time to talk with me. I would be happy to chat with you for 20 minutes!
I have protected my children, like you, from many massacres. From Sandy Hook to the Navy Yard Shootings, I have hid newspapers and shut off the TV. I talked about the Baltimore riots with my eleven year old, but I mostly hid it from the rest of the children. I personally followed the events with passion and interest, but did not discuss it with my husband or children.
Something in me popped.
I saw the baby-faced murderer, I stared at the beautiful faces of the people who were praying when they were killed, and I knew it was over.
The time of looking away was over. The time of shaking my head and wondering how, why, who? was over.
We know how this happened.
We know this why this happened.
And we absolutely know who it is happening to.
The time of playing shocked is over. And the time of staying silent is over.
In The Rule of St. Benedict, the main lesson is: always we begin again. This gives me great comfort. Whenever I have screwed it up, not been brave, averted my eyes, I remember: I can begin again.
We can all begin again. We can allow the murders in Charleston to define us, or we can own this story. We can either proceed with our lives as usual, or we can bring witness to pain. We can either allow our children to not understand racism and how alive it is, or we can begin a gentle discussion. We can either avert our eyes from suffering or we can look at it. Head on. Eyes unblinking. Fully seeing. Without excuses. Without shame.