How honest can you be with your child when you need to give them feedback?
When you think they've royally messed up and need to make things right. Or you know they haven't done their best work. How honest can you be with them and still not start an argument? Or not say something mean or unkind?
What is your policy on honesty? If you're not sure, how can they be?
If you don't model for them how to offer honest feedback in clear but kind ways, how can they learn how to do that themselves?
How do you deliver difficult messages in clear, kind, loving ways?
After some technical difficulties on the last parent talk on Thursday evening (I think I've solved the problem!), the two remaining talks for 2019 are posted (click here for more information) and open for registration. The final two topics - hosting family meetings and improving sleep for school-aged kids - are hopefully going to help you settle into winter (which is coming!).
Beyond prepping these and sorting out technical difficulties (I think I logged in the "wrong" way!), I am getting lots of confirmation for the idea that parents need to be seen and heard for the hard work they do. While every day may not be a "challenge", there is always the possibility that it could be and we can go on emotional rollercoasters with our children, at any moment, often without notice. Frankly, even if we're prepared for the roller coaster, we may not always be able to manage it the way we'd like.
I think of a time I decided that perhaps I had been contributing to my daughter's emotional distress in a specific (predictable) situation, because I was usually hurried and harried. So, I decided to try something different and actually focused on MY "self-care" so my "stress" was no longer a contributing factor, before stepping into that scenario with her. As I stepped into the situation, I was in a GREAT mood - serene, happy, and definitely unfrazzled. I was a beacon of calm and serenity.
Let's call what happened next a "learning moment". You see, I didn't manage to stay calm. My disappointment at the effort I had put in not creating an immediate shift in HER emotional presentation was palpable, and so I contributed to increasing her frustration. What I neglected to remember was that, just because I was calm, didn't mean she would magically be calm too - my being emotionally regulated didn't mean she would be calm just by being in my presence. Essentially, I hadn't planned on needing to STAY calm...whether or not she was...and offer her the kind of empathy and validation she needed. Ofcourse, I apologized and we were able to laugh at how ridiculous my expectation was...afterwards.
There are so many layers to that experience, but, the key take away for me was, "parenting is hard work" and we don't get things right even when we're doing our best. But perfection doesn't matter as much as the honest effort we put in.
"Taming Tantrums Together" (TM) is a 5-week program scheduled to launch in January 2020. Designed for parents, this program is being offered as a "pilot" to allow me to learn how to best use web-based technologies to teach the ideas and ways of doing things I have helped parents learn in face-to-face contexts - individually and in small groups - in recent years.
The "piloting" approach fits with the self-management approach to learning I teach parents in my free parent talks and other workshops. Essentially, you set a goal, you choose a strategy, you give it a try (a pilot!), you see how it goes, and solve the remaining problem - the gap between where you are and your chosen goal - by making appropriate adjustments from there. I am using this approach to learn to offer these learning opportunities "online".
So, if you or a parent you know is struggling to manage the chaos and conflict caused by their child's emotional meltdowns - ideally children between the ages of 4 and 14 - this program may be just what they need. Please let them know!
Pre-screening is required for parents to register in this program to ensure that the intensive program is likely to meet the parents' needs. I really don't want to waste anyone's time!
If you have any questions, please get in touch!
It can be tough to get on the same page with our parenting partner - even if we all live under the same roof.
Each parent in a two-parent household comes from their own unique family of origin with their own unique "ways" of doing things. Throughout our upbringing we learn the implicit rules for how to "be" in a family. How to parent. How to father. How to mother. What expectations to place on our children.
And, remember, it's IMPLICIT...which means we may not even really be able to articulate what it is we know to be our truth. Like riding a bicycle :). That is, not until it bumps up against our parenting partner's "different way" of doing things. (Okay, okay, when we bump into it we actually call it the "wrong" way, but, let's be fair!)
In these moments, we may not even know what to ask about why or how our partner is making the choices they're making. And we may not even be able to say why or how WE are making our choices.
What we can do, is discuss our differences with curiosity, empathy, and respect and move towards creating your own way of being a family with some raised consciousness and due consideration.
My daughter introduced me to a YouTube channel, "Smarter Every Day", particularly a video called, "The Backwards Brain Bicycle". In this episode, the YouTuber demonstrates the journey he has been on to learn how to ride a bicycle that is engineered to require him to steer in the opposite direction to the direction he wants to move. It took him 8 months. It took his 5 year old son 2 weeks. It's worth a watch!
The video demonstrates 3 important things about how we learn:
- "knowing" what to do in order to do something does not mean you actually CAN do it - learning takes deliberate, repeated pratice;
- it's easy to slip into 'old habits' and patterns of behaviour that we are trying to move away from, even when we're really keenly interested in changing; and
- because children's brains have more neuroplasticity than the grown-up brain does, learning happens easier and more quickly;
So what does this mean for parents trying to learn to parent with empathy and (reasonable) expectations? It means that just because you know what to do, doesn't mean you will know "how" to do it or that it will be easy to do it - you will need deliberate practice and you will make mistakes and slip back into old habits - that's a normal part of learning. However, the real bonus of your efforts is in how easily your children can learn from you! As you model different ways of discussing and addressing problems that provoke emotional outbursts, your children will learn, likely more quickly than you!
Tantrums are hard. Whether they're the 2 year old variety - crashed to the floor, screaming with arms flailing - or the 12 year old approach - eye rolling, insults and door slamming - they're frustrating to have to deal with, typically resulting in parents losing their cool. The impulsive drive to "DO something" about the outburst usually results in a back and forth pattern and one upset leads to another. Together the struggle grows.
So what's a parent to do?
Much like putting on your oxygen mask on an airplane if the cabin loses pressure - put your oxygen mask on first before trying to help those who depend on you.
That means starting with self-care and then self-awareness of your half of the dance.
Apologies for the 4 day pause in blog posts. Apparently, that 3 day break was just an opportunity for the sinus cold to really take hold! A longer pause was in order, so I took it.
I did this when I was in grade school too. Thankfully, my parents were okay with my taking time off when I was sick.
Sometimes, though, I played hooky...with my parent's permission! Yes, I took the occasional "mental health day" with my parents' permission when I was a student, once I was old enough to be home alone. If there were too many "mental health days" in a row, however, they picked up on that fact and insisted we talk about why I was avoiding school.
Now, to be clear, they didn't hassle me for wanting to stay home, but they did insist we talk about it. And they listened. And if there was a problem to be solved, they helped me address it...and then promptly sent me to school! They balanced empathy with expectations, and helped me solve problems.
To be clear, they weren't perfect - but I didn't need them to be. What I needed was permission to take a self-care break when it was needed and their presence and understanding when I was giving them signals that I needed their help.
How does your child tell you they need your help? What signals do they send your way?
Managing your energy level is part of regulating your emotions.
When your body is running low on fuel - whether it's because you're hungry, thirst, sleep deprived, or sick - you will be more likely to struggle with regulating ("being in control of") your behavioural expression of uncomfortable emotions. Wow ! That sentence felt like a tap dance!
Let's look at that a different way. When you're physically depleted, for whatever reason, you may express your emotions using behaviours that you may not otherwise choose to engage in to express how you feel. That is, you may say or do things you will come to regret.
That means, eating well, staying hydrated, getting adequate restful sleep and resting when you are ill are all key self-care tasks. They help you not only to be healthy in body, but in mind and spirit too. Taking the time away to do this self care is as much an act of service to others as it is to yourself.
When your energy stores are replenished, you may very well be able to express uncomfortable feelings in socially appropriate, healthy ways. When they're depleted, you may not.
So begin with self-care. You are worth it!
P.S. I took a three day break from blogging (as you may notice from the date of today's post compared to the last post) because I was sick with a sinus cold. I decided that I likely was not going to be able to offer something of use to you in that state. So, to practice what I preach...I took a break for self-care.
Consider for a moment: What helps you to feel safe?
Safe enough to speak your mind whether or not others would agree.
Safe enough to take a risk that's bigger than you think you ought to - like trying out for the basketball team - even if you fail.
Safe enough to be vulnerable with another human being.
Safe enough to tell the truth even though it may disappoint someone.
Safe enough to do the right thing when it may be more expedient to do something else.
For most of us, feeling that safe means that you KNOW that, while the important people in your life may be disappointed, or sad, or angry, or frustrated, ultimately they would still BE there even in their disappointment, sadness, anger or frustration. That no matter what, they would still have your back.
And how would you know if those important people (who may have big feelings) would still BE there? How would you learn to trust that they would always have your back? That you would always have their love? Even when you fall.
Answer those questions and you'll know what your child needs from you to feel that safe and secure in their relationship with you. Safe enough to be bold, brave, vulnerable, honest and live their life with integrity.
The only way to grow is to try things that you are likely to fail at.
If you never try something that is bigger, larger, more likely to challenge you, you have no way to expand your skill set and develop a new skill.
When babies roll over, they experience the world in a completely different way. The sense of control, of muscle activity in their trunk, the experience of pushing against gravity, the feeling of the floor on their belly rather than on their backs, the look of the world as they rotate around... They may not succeed the first time, but they will continue to try.
When they pull themselves up to stand and, let alone letting go and taking a few tentative steps to walking, their world changes...even as they fall down. And fall down, they will. Many times. But they keep getting up. Until they fall down and get back up again - as often as they need to - the don't develop their skill. They don't learn. They don't grow.
At these points in their development, we cheer them on. We cheer their effort through the struggles. When they inevitably fall, we provide comfort and praise them for getting back up and trying again. We even take videos!
Because their efforts seem positively heroic! Because we admire their drive, their persistence, their ability to take the big risk. Because at the heart of it, we know that we can't learn how to do something except by doing it. We may develop ideas and opinions about it. We may be able to share our thoughts and feelings about what it might be like to do it. But we don't actually learn and develop the skill. The only path to growth and skill development is to actually try to do it, fail, and try again.
That means that if your children are not failing sometimes - with your full support, love and respect - they're not trying something that stretches them. They're playing it safe. But why would they do that?
Do they feel safe enough to take that risk to fail?
What could make it feel safe enough for them to risk failing?