I have a good friend, Chrisy. She was my first parent educator at PEP (the Parent Encouragement Program), and it is not hyperbole to say that she changed my life. Not only is she an excellent parent educator, she is also a loving and great mom to three children. And since two of her children are older than mine, I often look to her for guidance and reassurance.
She has given me so many valuable nuggets of wisdom to me over the years, and one of these valuable nuggets came at a crucial time.
My eldest child was six and a half, and the eye-rolling, sighing, and outright sassiness and rudeness was beginning to pick up speed. My formerly respectful, sweet, even-tempered, and compliant girl was turning into a teenager before my eyes.
I was telling Chrisy about the burgeoning sassiness with exasperation and fatigue. She looked me in the eye and told me “Nip it in the bud.” “What does mean?” I asked her.
“Don’t wait and chalk it up to normal developmental stuff. She is not four years old anymore.”
I was allowing it to slide and I was trying to wait it out. I was hopefully (and lazily) thinking it would get better. What was happening was a habit of her disrespectful behavior and my anger….the cycle was going round and round.
So, what exactly does “nip it in the bud” mean when a parent educator says it to another parent educator?
Here are a couple of steps to consider:
1) Everything must be grounded in love and empathy. This is an attitude switch from “this child is trying to make me angry,” to “this child wants my attention and her misbehavior is working.” Love and empathy are the foundations that allow you to do this hard work. If you are too angry, you cannot complete these steps. It will turn into punishment and shame, hence making everything worse.
2) You call a meeting with your older child. In this meeting, you let him know that you have noticed these behaviors and that they are increasing in frequency and duration. You emphasize that this is not okay in your family; this is not how people speak to one another. You say, “from the now on, if you speak to me like this, we will leave wherever we are. I will not warn you or lecture you. We will simply leave.”
3) When it the rudeness happens (and it will), you must must must must stick to your word and leave. If you do not leave, you are teaching your child that your words and intentions have no meaning behind them. The child will be left feeling in charge (which, truly, is an awful feeling for the child).
4) As important as leaving is doing it kindly and quietly. No whisper-yelling, no spanking, no “what did I tell you was going to happen?” No “you are embarrassing me and this whole family!” Just usher the child away, looking straight ahead. The child will beg for another chance…stay silent. The child may try to hit you…keep yourself safe and keep going. The child may cry and really start to scream…keep going. Don’t negotiate. Don’t give in and don’t shame the child. As the parent, remember to breath and keep your focus. This will be extraordinarily difficult at first, but repetition will bring ease.
5) Finally, after the child calms down and you feel relaxed and positive, hug them. Tell them you love them. DO NOT LECTURE. If the child cries or says sorry, say, “I forgive you and I know it will be better next time.” You may not feel confident when you say this, but say it anyway. You have to be the person who believes that it can be better; your child needs you to do this.
6) Congratulate yourself for doing this hard work. You will be emotionally and physically exhausted, but you held your boundary kindly and firmly. This is the work of parenting, and you will be rewarded (just not when you think!) Plan something fun and kind to yourself while you are doing this kind of work; you’ve earned it.
His name? Mr. Nobody. His favorite activity? Smoking…really. Neither my husband nor I smoked, and Sophia did not spend much time around people who did smoke. Disturbing, right?
For months, we watched my daughter sit and wait. “Sophia, what are you doing?” we would ask. “Mr. Nobody is on a smoke break…he is coming back soon.” My husband and I would smile and nod then turn around and look at each other in horror. Our daughter had willingly created a friend who smoked, and even worse, he wouldn’t play with her. Ugh.
I decided to take a “wait and see” approach (more on this later), and after a couple of weeks, Sophia dumped Mr. Nobody, and we moved on to bigger and better imaginary friends.
So, what’s the story with these imaginary friends? Some parents worry (kids can become very attached, creating elaborate plans and scenarios that involve their fictional buddy), some parents lose their patience (ever not been able to leave the house for an appointment unless the plastic pork chop was found?) and some parents totally buy in and support the fantasy full-tilt.
So, let’s break it down with a quick Q & A, shall we?
Q: Are imaginary friends normal? And at what age do most kids create an imaginary friend?
A: Not only is it normal, but imaginary friends are also the signs of a healthy and developing brain. This creativity is only the beginning of what our children can do with their brains! Imaginary friends can begin as early as three years of age and last until well into elementary school, seven or eight years of age. There even seems to be some scientific correlation between imaginary friends, later ages and the fiction-writer’s brain! Cool, right?
Q: My child has odd imaginary friends, like pieces of plastic foods or a Lego man who has no arms. Is this okay?
A: Yes! When the object becomes an active part of imaginative play and is not needed simply for sleep or comfort (a lovey), your child has applied their wonderful imagination to it…and it is a very important object now! Your child may ask the object about its opinion and thoughts on things like meals, clothing choices, etc., and the object may hate apples. This is normal…if not sometimes irritating. These same “opinions” can also be applied to the friend whom we cannot see!
Photo Source: Thinkstock/Hemera
Q: I feel like our imaginary friend is hijacking our family! The friend has to sit in a certain seat at the table, needs a booster seat in the car and is demanding his own book at bedtime. To what extent do I need to keep this up? When is enough, ENOUGH?
A: I tell parents to pick their battles on this front. Firstly, unless your instinct is telling you that there is something amiss about the imaginary friend, just accept it. Secondly, recognize that this is a phase and will pass. In fact, if you allow yourself to have some fun with it, it is a great phase (unlike tantrums). If you feel as if your child is manipulating the family dynamics with the friend, simply say, “I am willing to read you eachthis book, and then you are going to have to share another book with your friend.” Or try something like, “I am willing to put this chair next to you, and you are going to have to share your dinner with your friend. I am not creating another plate.” Whatever you do, don’t make a big fuss over your boundaries. State them, in the simplest and easiest-to-understand terms, and leave it at that. And when in doubt, meet creativity with creativity! Serve the friend an imaginary meal and ask your child if he sees the green pizza, covered with yellow beans and pink pepperoni!
Q: What if my child argues with her imaginary friend? What do I do?
A: Ah, yes…the disagreeable imaginary friend. Back to Sophia and Mr. Nobody…I started to notice that she was waiting for him and he was being quite rude. It was an interesting opportunity to talk about friendships and create some solutions. I asked her, “What would you do if your friend did this at school? What are some other toys we can play with?” I started to move her away from the waiting and towardproactive behaviors. Likewise, you can use imaginary friends to model some great behaviors, like sharing and asking questions about feelings. I also love to have imaginary friends teach use more about etiquette (nothing worse than a friend who doesn’t say please or thank you, or will not pass the ball!)
So, embrace the imaginary friend! It is relatively harmless, fun and above all, normal. Hopefully, your imaginary friend isn’t a rude smoker…
For more info, go to these websites:
Photo Source: (upper right) Thinkstock/iStockphoto
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!
While 6 PM is often a tough hour for many small children, there are some easy steps every parent can take to have dinner go from frenzied to fun.
1) Recognize that kids don’t typically have much of an appetite for dinner. They have front-loaded their calories (which is good), and are not interested in your meatloaf at 6 PM. It isn’t personal. The less personally you take the misbehavior, the more calm you will be as a parent.
2) Have the children help you meal-plan. They can pick a protein, a carbohydrate and a veggie and create a dinner one night a week, or more! The more invested the child is in the food, the more likely they are to eat it.
3) And speaking of planning, have the children help you make the dinner. Tearing and washing lettuce, stirring, mashing…these are all tasks children can perform, from even very young ages. The sense of pride a child has when they have contributed works meal-time miracles!
4) Keep the focus on the family and chatting, not the food. Ask each other interesting questions (“If you were a color, which one would you be?” or “If you had to live in one room in the house, which one?” or “Which super-power would you want and why?”) Questions like this spur interesting conversations (“What did you do in school today?” is not an interesting question!)
5) Do not count “bites.” “Three more bites of peas,” is food-policing and, unless your child has medical issues, this is not a way to spend a meal. Notice when your child tries something: “I see you tried your peas! Delicious, right?” Encouraging the behavior you want to see will get you further, especially in the long run.
6) Do not offer dessert as a reward for “finishing dinner.” This makes children sweets-obsessed and turns you into the food police again. A good policy? Dessert is offered Friday and Saturday nights and the children can eat it whenever they want during the meal. Take the power away from the dessert by simply giving it to them early and twice a week. Otherwise, no sweets during the week.
7) Most importantly, remember that dinner is a time for the whole family to come together, share, laugh and simply enjoy each other. As parents, try not to get mired down in the food choices and number of bites. Stay positive, stay smiling and truly try to enjoy their company. You will be surprised how quickly the children will follow your lead!
Photo Sources: Thinkstock/iStockphoto (upper right) and Thinkstock/Photodisc (bottom)
Imagine you are with extended family, out to a special dinner. Or there is a group play date at the park with lots of parents around. There’s a birthday party where tons of family and friends gather. Either way, you’re in a very public place and your child has decided to have a meltdown — in a big way. Hitting, screaming, throwing things, it isn’t pretty.
A public tantrum is one of the most embarrassing events for parents. What can be annoying and irritating at home is gut-wrenching and horrifying in public. As parents, we start to feel instantly judged by others.
No one else’s children are behaving this way. Everyone is waiting for me to do something here. I look like I am not in control of my own child.
It is this pressure, this embarrassment, this shame that makes it very difficult to parent well in these moments.
Our brains are screaming: This is unacceptable. I must punish this child. This child must learn a lesson.
It is in these public moments that you can only do two things:
1) Get out of the public eye.
With the situation going from bad to worse, the only thing you can do is get out of dodge. If you can go home, go home. If you must stay in the vicinity, then go to the car. If you don’t have a car, go for a walk. Just get out! As soon as you leave, your temperature will start to go down and you are less likely to have your own tantrum. When the eyes are off of you and the child, you can start to breathe, calm yourself, and start to be a positive presence for the child.
2) No punishments, lectures, threats, and as little physical contact as possible
Your child’s brain has short-circuited. When they are in a full-blown tantrum, language is not getting through to them. No lessons will be learned, nothing will be reversed, and the best you can do is to wait the tantrum out. As well as the child not being able to listen and receive, you are not usually in a loving and calm place to speak or act. When you feel publically humiliated, you are more likely to lash out, feeling shame and hurt. Sometimes as parents, we simply need to wait.
Parents often ask me whether they should stay near the child or go into another room. Some children need for the parent to just sit on the sidewalk and wait. Some children want the parent to hold them and hug them. If walking away from a child sends them further into the tantrum, then stay close. If you feel like staying close is making it worse, give them space. You know your child best, so do what is best for them and for you. And as always, if simply being near them makes you feel angrier and possibly violent, then find a safe way to get away from your child.
When this public tantrum has passed (and you have sufficiently cooled down), you can look back at the incident more objectively. Was your child getting sick? Were they hungry? Was it naptime? Were they bored? When you are out again, how can you change the course? Or was it simply a young child being…a young child? Children throw tantrums.
It is that time of year again! School is starting to wrap up and as a parent, you may find yourself wanting to give the teachers something special. But before you make your best cookies or fudge, let’s think about what the teachers really want or need!
I am a parent coach now, but I spent almost six years as a teacher. I have seen gifts come and go, and here is truth: I was grateful for every single gift. Yes, even the “World’s Best Teacher” mugs. Yet, looking back (and seeing my childrens’ teachers now), I know that some gifts aboslutely stand out. So, here is a short list of some great gift ideas (and a couple of gifting no-no’s!)
Whatever you give, be sure to include a personal note and give a big hug (if the teacher is the hugging type!)
I sent my kids to the beach this week (to be with my parents).
How wonderful it will be, I thought, just me and my hubby.
It’s been a long winter and we are connecting poorly.
This time THIS TIME is what we need.
Upon driving home, I call him. “I dropped them off! We are FREE.”
Hubby: “I just started throwing up. I feel like shit.”
Oh, yes. I thought of his welfare first (no I didn’t).
And yes, I worried about how he would get to work (nope, not at all).
Okay…maybe I was a tiny bit PISSED OFF.
We were SUPPOSED TO CONNECT, GODDAMMIT.
I HAD MADE A PLAN. WE HAD CONCERT TICKETS.
Karen Maezen Miller talks about meditating facing the wall. The wall can be a literal wall (which really does suck by the way, until it is an odd relief..and then it is wonderful). Or the wall can be your tantrum-throwing child. Or the wall can be your canceling client. Or the wall can be the rain on your photo-shoot day.
Or the wall can be your vomiting husband when you have MADE PLANS.
WE ALL FACE THE WALL.
All of the time. Day after day. Sometimes minute after minute.
I e-mailed every human I know and pleaded, “I have a concert ticket…will you come? Please…”
Sorry, Meghan…no. I am traveling. I cannot, I am busy. I am tired.
The wall of purchased tickets and no one to come.
I went by myself. I sat by myself. I drank a gin and tonic, by myself.
And the music was better.
No one to make small talk with…no one to check in on…no one to say, “HEY, aren’t we CONNECTING SO WELL?”
I bounced my head to the music. I watched these people create total craziness (do you know how fucking creative people are?)
I came home and took care of my husband. Got him the ginger ale and chicken soup.
He’s doing better.
Life will present what it needs to, when it needs to present it.
And the hubby and me? We are all good. As soon as I dropped my desperate need to attach…we were all good.
This post was inspired by this brilliance, right here.
First, let’s all agree on one simple precept: every human on Earth loathes being bossed around. Every. Single. One.
We are programmed to do the opposite of what we are commanded to do.
That is what a healthy human does! We are not meant to obey rude and brusque commands and demands.
How would we ever become a freethinking, creative, and inspired people if we blindly followed commands?
So, how can parents stop all that bossing around?
1) Acknowledge that you are being bossy and have been calling that “parenting.” This is not a failure on your part. This doesn’t mean that everything is a mess. It means you have fallen into a pattern that is not working for you. Accept the pattern, accept the responsibility, and begin to forgive yourself and move on.
2) Think before you speak. Ask yourself: “How can I say this in a way that is more respectful? More kind?” If you cannot think of another, keep your mouth shut until you can.
3) Check your own stress. The more we stressed we are, the more bossy we become. We need to simply pause and, unless someone is in danger, decide that our request is best left for later. When we are stressed, our brain is telling us everything is imminent. Our brain is trying to protect us (thanks, brain!), but it is really just creating more mayhem. And bossiness.
5) Ask yourself if the request is developmentally appropriate. This is not necessarily by age; this is also about your child! Often, we are commanding and demanding our children to do things, but they are either not ready, brain-wise or physically. The child’s lack of readiness or our poor routines lead to nagging and then POOF! We are bossing them around.
6) Get support. Your spouse, your partner, friends, childcare, other family members…have them catch your bossiness and have them call you on it. Hang up stickies that say, “KIND REQUESTS.” Whatever you need to do!
April is Autism Awareness Month and I felt it would be best to feature a parent who truly knows what is like to mother a child with autism.
E.V. Downey is friend and former colleague from my teaching days. I consider her to be an Autism expert and advocate, as well as all-around great mother. I was so pleased and grateful she agreed to this interview!
When did you realize that your son had autism? What were the behaviors that compelled you to seek out support?
As is the case with many kids with Asperger’s, our son initially presented as a typically developing child. In fact, we first saw signs that he was extremely bright by about 18 months, he knew all his letters at 21 months, and was teaching himself to read at age 2. In hindsight we realize that these are signs of hyperlexia, an early indication of Asperger’s. By age 3, he was emerging as a child with an incredible ability to learn and retain information, plus he was adorable, relatively easy-going (always intense, but not unpleasant) little guy. We started to realize that there was something “wrong” after he started school at age 3 ½. It was actually around age 4 when he started reacting poorly to the other kids around him at preschool. He was bothered by the noise, wouldn’t play on the playground, had problems with certain activities. He was also extremely late in potty training (another common trend with Aspies), resistant to costumes, new clothes, had poor gross motor skills. We started with his pediatrician and progressed quickly to an Occupational Therapist who diagnosed him with Sensory Integration Disorder and a Physical Therapist who diagnosed him with hypotonia (low muscle tone) and delayed gross motor skills. He did both OT and PT for approximately 1 year. He has been in one therapy or another (or several) for the 7 years since then.
What has surprised you about parenting a child who has autism?
The biggest surprises are how incredibly good I can be at parenting sometimes and how incredibly bad at it I feel at other times. The other surprise is how judgmental other parents are despite my efforts. I have lost from friends due to this.
What is the hardest part, in terms of parenting, of having a child who has autism?
The hardest part is that my autistic child is so delayed in gaining independence from us as his parents. The other hardest part is the impact on my daughter. No matter how much we do for her, and it’s a lot, she feels like she’s not as important as her brother because he gets so much attention. She’s jealous of his therapies (because I take him to them without her) and the attention he demands from others and us.
What has been your experience re: getting your son the resources he needs in school?
Ah, I could write a book on that topic alone! It has been an absolutely constant struggle for every day that he has been in school to get him the resources he needs. Asperger’s poses a particular challenge in school because Aspies are often (as our son is) quite bright and advanced academically. It is hard for schools to understand that, despite their academic abilities, Aspies need A LOT of support at school. I will leave it at that.
What is like to parent a child who has autism and a child who is neuro-typical child?
I hate to say it, but our neuro-typical child is just SO much easier. There I said it. Our daughter makes us realize what it would be like to have a “normal” child and, at the risk of angering every parent of a neuro-typical child out there, it’s just SO much easier. There, I said it again. Our son is just so much MORE.
How has parenting your son changed you?
How hasn’t it changed me?!? There’s really no way to answer that. It has made me a better person, a more patient person, an exhausted person, a poorer person. In has made me somewhat of an activist. It has made me a whole lot more compassionate and a whole lot less tolerant of intolerance.
Which aspects of your son’s character do you cherish? What have been your parenting triumphs?
My son is so incredibly bright, it is actually frightening sometimes. His brain truly operates on a way that other brains do not (certainly not my own). Because this is common with Aspies, I can only assume that it is a part of the Asperger’s. He has shown evidence of this intelligence since he was not even yet walking. He is an amazingly loving child and extremely dedicated to his family and friends. He is, usually, a genuinely delightful person with whom to spend time.
What do wish parents of neuro-typical children knew about your parenting life?
I wish they would understand that, just as they make mistakes, so do we. It is so hard to parent any child, let alone one with needs. We try to do all we can and be at the top of our game at all times, but sometimes we just can’t accomplish what we should. Please don’t judge us!
What have seen change over the years, re: resources and support for parents of children with autism? What do you see as the glaring need, right now?
Public school programs for children on the spectrum are, generally, absolutely inadequate to meet the needs of our children. In order to, supposedly, save a small amount of money and a lot of face, the system is determined to attempt to educate our children, despite multiple failures. There are many excellent people in the system, especially the teachers, but there are so many prohibiting factors that so many of us are desperate to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education or, really, an education, for our children. This is especially true for kids such as our son who can achieve academically but needs the right atmosphere and support in order to do so.
Downey School Consulting provides services to families to help them navigate the educational system in the Washington metropolitan area. Families can come to a group lecture and/or have a private consult or a series of consults to learn about and apply to public, charter, and private schools that are appropriate for their child/ren. For children with special needs, services can include advising on testing, reading results from tests, evaluating IEP’s, and selecting an appropriate school for the child. https://www.facebook.com/DowneySchoolConsulting