Archive for December 2010

Make a New Year’s resolution to practice encouragement

December 27, 2010

When I realized my parenting skills were making my children’s behavior worse instead of better, I made a commitment to learn a positive approach based on encouragement.

First, I had to admit that yelling, time-outs, punishment, spanking [yes, I have spanked and regretted it] reward and praise were bankrupt techniques to get my three children under age  4, to behave better.

My family environment changed when I learned how to use the art of encouragement. I discovered the four most powerful words in the English language- You can do it.

My children began responding differently to me. They began making better decisions. The need to yell, punish or praise, faded away.

Encouragement is different from its evil cousin of praise, which is extrinsically focused. Encouragement is intrinsically focused — on how the child thinks/does/feels, versus how the authority figure thinks and feels. 

Praise can only be used after success. I’ve never heard a parent say, “Meg, I’m so proud of you for coming in last place in the swimming race!” Instead, say, “Your stroke looked stronger. Did you improve your time?”

Notice that encouragement can be used after effort. “You have put away one truck. Can you pick up all the red trucks now?”

Or, on a test the teen failed, “You answered question 3 right, that’s a start.”

To the child responsible to empty the dishwasher, “You put away the silverware. What’s next? The plates?”

Encouragement focuses on the deed, not the doer. Encouragement is low-key. Praise is always high energy. Encouragement requires a parent to be specific and look at what the child has done. “Nice combination of colors in that painting, Mike.” Praise is general and often inflated. “I’m so proud of you! You’re going to be another Picasso!”

Make a resolution this year to practice the enjoyable art of encouragement. It’s especially useful with children who misbehave. “A misbehaving child is a discouraged child,” according to Rudolf Dreikurs, MD.

“A child needs encouragement like a plan needs water.” Alfred Adler, MD.

My third child was my most difficult child — I loved him while not liking his behavior much of the time. He was only 2 years old and could really annoy me and his older brother and sister. By learning how to encourage him and see the positive in what he did, set limits and spend a small amount of time with him daily, our relationship totally changed.

You can learn the art of encouragement in 2011 one step at a time. Start by encouraging yourself and noticing effort made. Make one encouraging statement to your difficult child each day. Make sure it’s specific, about the deed or effort and how they feel/think about it, not about how you think or feel.

I guarantee results. There’s a tip sheet here and a chapter on it in my book. Practicing is the best way to learn it.

Let them work it out. It will work out better that way.

December 20, 2010
Sibling rivalry is a part of growing up. Holiday times intensify everything -- including rivalry. WHen children fight, the best thing is to let them. Children learn how to negotiate from sibling rivalry. You might be afraid the children will hurt each other. They might. Then they learn that fighting hurts and bigger people are dangerous and can hurt you. Little people have their ways to find revenge against older and stronger and smarter siblings. When parents are judge jury and executioner, it sets up a dangerous precedent.

Two of our family's most prized creatures: Snow Bear and Gonzo.

That’s Snow Bear, given to our four children by my in-laws about 20 years ago. My children, now in their 20s, will see Snow Bear this week and say in jest, “Snow Bear! I want to sleep with him!”

Snow Bear made a limited appearance every December, which heightened his special-ness. You can see, despite his age, he is still pristine. That’s Gonzo beside Snow Bear, another fought-over treasure in our home.

The children fought for the privilege to sleep with Snow Bear and Gonzo. Many tears were shed over who would sleep with Snow Bear.

Christmas is already a time of heightened emotions and expectations that children can barely contain. We adults forget that intense feeling of Christmas anticipation,  which for us would be like a combination of: dynamite about to explode; an unrequited crush on someone; sexual desire; worry over job security; looking forward to a vacation; and meeting your idol — all on the same day.

Kids are going nuts for the next six days until Santa arrives and they have the 15 minute present orgy. Take it easy on them and know that their emotions are on edge. Every feeling will be intensified, including sibling rivalry.

Especially sibling rivalry because brothers and sisters will see each other get something more than they got; or see them get something they wanted and didn’t get; or perceive that mom and dad love brother or sister more.

The best medicine for sibling rivalry:

1. Let them work it out.

2. Even if there’s a big or small age or size difference, Let them work it out. They will and they will learn so much more than you will ever teach them by serving as judge, jury and executioner.

3. Even if you are worried for their safety, let them work it out. Smaller people will learn an important rule of the world: bigger people can hurt you, so don’t mess with them. They will all learn that fighting hurts.

One year Snow Bear went back into the attic because the children couldn’t work out a sleeping schedule for him. Removing a toy is very effective: “Either you all figure out how to share Snow Bear, or no one gets him.” Then take action — quickly and with as few words as possible.

When my children fought, they were escorted outside to resolve the disputes, where on cold nights without an audience, the disputes ended rather quickly.

When children are allowed to work out their differences, they learn negotiation skills, that fighting hurts, that scarce resources can be shared, and most importantly, the self-confidence that they can work it out and make good decisions.

Make sure your children are getting daily doses of positive attention without asking for it and they don’t have to use fighting or other negative behavior to get your attention. As you know, assure them they are all loved equally. Do not show favorites. Do not imply favorites. Just don’t.

The yin-yang of school vacation

December 15, 2010
yin yang of college students brings changes for parents and children. LEarning to roll with the developmental stages of college students and teenagers and life is a skill. Discipline and family meetings and structure are a part of getting along with college students who come home.

Kristen prepared this delicious dinner of macaroni and cheese, carrot raisin salad and a green salad. Yum.

One of the hardest parts of life and parenting is the constant development and change, and eventual growing up and leaving home by children. When parenting is hard and we have to put our own needs second, it’s hard to stay in the present moment and enjoy the age and stage of our children.

Childhood sometimes feels like it moves like a turtle, then all of a sudden, it has flown away like an eagle and the nest is empty.

When Kristen, 22, comes home from graduate school for holidays and Ian, 26, temporarily roosts here between seasons of organic farming, it feels wonderfully familiar and good. That’s the Yin.

The Yang is, “They left the kitchen dirty AGAIN! What happened to my routines and my food!?” And again after they leave, “I have way too much food in the fridge,” “I’ve gotten used to them being here. The house and my heart feel stripped, quiet and abandoned.”

The Yin-Yang of children living with us and growing up is part of the constant change of life’s seasons. Adjusting to empty nest is often under-rated in significance. It is a HUGE change.

For those of you with little ones, you have regular milestones where they don’t need you as much. Giant steps in development accumulate regularly. My mother said, “Babies need mothers less and less every day from birth forward.” Very true.

They stop nursing, start walking then start school and day care. Later on, their friends become more important and they stop talking to parents as much. Tweens and teens spend more time at school, work and with friends. The increasing separation during the high school years prepares us for the final separation.

The four to six years of revolving door to and from college is fraught with adjustment. As soon as I get used to them being here, they’re gone.

The good news is that we have some agreements on living together, will share in the cooking and cleaning, and enjoy the present moment for as long as we have it. It feels good to have family dinner together again.

The past is history         The future is a mystery

So we must celebrate the gift of the present

What holiday memories are you creating?

December 13, 2010
family time is celebration time at the holidays. find special ways to celebrate the holidays together that are low stress and fun. you don't have to spend a lot of money or go to a lot of trouble. children are easily pleased, especially at christmas time.

My mother is holding Brian, her last child, born on Dec. 6. She managed our family, Christmas and a new baby in 1960. You do what you have to do! I'm sitting on my father's lap.

Everyone says the holidays are about MORE than buying, giving and receiving.

Think back to your childhood. What made Christmas or Hanukkah really special?

For me, it was the whole package of everyone getting ready for THE special day. Special food, special decorations, special gifts. Everyone and everything stopped to acknowledge the holiday and the darkest day of the year.

My mother made a huge batch of Christmas cookies — 12 times the recipe in her roasting pot.

I learned:

  • how to crack an egg with one hand because I had 12 eggs to practice on;
  • how to cook for a group. Making 12 times the recipe is almost as easy as making a single recipe; and
  • to view cooking as a joy, something to be shared with others because it brings joy to others.

What are you doing with your children and teens this holiday season to teach them about celebrating and life? It’s likely it will stay with them for years to come.

What are some of your childhood memories of holiday traditions and rituals?

How do you de-stress the holidays?

December 10, 2010

mrs. claus gets none of the credit for making Christmas happen. Christmas stress can affect everyone in the family. High expectations, over spending, over partying and over sleeping causes a lot of stress around the holidays. Children need a break from all of the GO GO GO . Stop the engines and do less

I heard another strategy to reduce the load on Mrs. Claus/Martha Stewart/moms this month and I’m going to do it: instead of a big dinner, serve appetizers, desserts and finger food on Christmas Day.

My kids were always too excited to eat any special Christmas breakfast, so why not set up a day of grazing?

When I was a child, my parents played Santa to their nine children. So they stuffed the stockings with Pop Tarts, mini-boxes of cereal, nuts and a gigantic navel orange, all of which were treats bought only on Christmas.

It eased the stress and cost of filling up nine stockings, and I looked forward to the contents of the stockings.

Other ways I’ve quarantined the Ho Ho Virus that makes everyone crazy this time of year: I retired from Christmas cards and mailing a holiday newsletter and photo. I might email a short update on how we’re doing and call some old friends in lieu of a holiday card.

How are you and your family de-stressing the holidays in the coming weeks?

Turn down the ‘Martha Stewart’ factor and turn up holiday fun

December 5, 2010
Destress christmas and hanukkah, make the holidays stress free by not doinying too much, not worrying too much, choosing to spend time with those you love and who nourish you. Avoid people who create stress for you. Holidays can be fun when you make good decisions and don't over-do it. Forget martha stewart!
Happy Hanukkah.

Some parents gave me some wonderful ideas on how to minimize stress during the holiday season last week when I spoke at the Ayer Community School. I enjoyed the remarkable atmosphere among the staff and between staff and parents.

Here are some of the ideas to make the holidays as calm as possible for families by setting simple ingenious boundaries that make it easier for everyone.
 
1. Let children know in advance that Santa Claus will bring three presents and parents will bring three presents — such as socks and underwear :-). When children receive a pile of other gifts from relatives, three Santa gifts will suffice.
 
This was my favorite suggestion to contain the what I call the “Ho Ho Ho Virus” that infects everyone and makes us crazy with over-buying, over-partying, and over-decorating.
2. Announce to extended family members, “We will be spending Christmas Day at home.” This is a no-fault way to set a boundary around family time and avoid spending a special day in a stressful situation with difficult relatives. The holiday will be more fun and relaxing by spending the with people you enjoy.
 
3. Lower your own expectations for creating the holiday. Most pressure comes from within. Keep in mind that Martha Stewart’s Christmas tree takes a staff of 41 and $11,000 to create.  It’s okay to set a lower bar. A little decking of the halls can go a long way.
 
4. At a family meeting, ask your spouse and children what traditions are most important to them, and then make the time to do them. It can be as simple has making hot chocolate with a marshmallow on top, lighting a fire and singing carols.
 
5. Emphasize other aspects of the holidays rather than gift getting and gift giving. Set aside some time and money to give to others this holiday season. You’ll set an example that will be forever in your child’s hard-drive.
 
6. If you can’t change the source of stress — and there’s no remedy for the “Ho Ho Ho Virus” until Jan. 2  — you can change your response to it and manage your emotions.
7. Remember that children are going crazy with anticipation this time of year, so have some compassion and patience with them. Stick to your normal routines of sleeping and eating as much as possible.
Happy Holidays!

Take action–wherever you are.

December 2, 2010
setting limits and boundaries is part of good parenting education. Children feel safer with boundaries. Say it once, then take action. Taking action is the BEST way to train children to make better decisions. Taking action before getting angry is very positive and effective discipline. Parenting is made easy when you're kind and firm, discipliniarian who takes predictable and fair action

This photo is from Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont.

When “Beth” and her husband took their gang of five children to cut down a Christmas tree, Micah, 7, who has ADHD, was having difficulty staying seated in wagon that pulled everyone out to the fields.

“I gave him a warning, and it was too dangerous for him to be standing in the wagon. So I said, ‘Micah, you have to get out of the wagon and walk.'”

Micah did, and it was an excellent example of a parent setting a kind and firm limit, before getting mad, and following through with a related, respectful and reasonable action (thanks to Jane Nelsen, Ph.D. for the Three Rs of natural and logical consequences).

Beth did NOT threaten, “Santa Claus will not be nice to naughty boys,” or “No computer games for you for a week unless you sit down.” She did not continue to beg, “Micah, I said to sit down, now.”

“Micah, I SAID TO SIT DOWN, or else!”

“Micah, look at everyone else, they are sitting down. You must sit down.”

Beth took action calmly and firmly without anger. Micah, his family and everyone else on the wagon was happier for it. All children — with or without ADD — like boundaries. They’re like guard rails on a bridge. They provide safety, even if we never hit them.

Beth came up with a creative solution and implemented it in the moment, which is what children are all about — the present moment.