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Lessons for Everyday Parenting
Welcome to the Connective Parenting newsletter! I'll be sending this to you bimonthly, with the first mailing devoted to my thoughts and teachings on Everyday Lessons for Parenting, and the second mailing dedicated to Questions and Answers and your stories. Both mailings will carry our latest news, and will have links to lots of parenting resources. As always, I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions. Please send your questions and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Connective Parenting Newsletter
"When you dream a new reality for yourself on the inside, events outside of you will begin to align with the change you've made internally."
We need to switch our focus from those we want to change so we will feel better to the only change we have control over.
Lesson: The Good Mother
What does being a good mother-or father, for that matter-mean to you? Are you the parent you admire? Or the parent you never expected to be? In either case, have you asked yourself why? Who's judging you?
When we get caught in "the good mother" syndrome, we focus on our successes and failures and always come up short. We compare ourselves to the job we perceive other mothers are doing-from our own, to our friends, to perfect strangers. Do you depend on your children to tell you how well you're doing? Do you expect their gratitude? We get used to affection when our children are young. We can't get them off us half the time. But as kids get older and more independent, they want to find their own way. They do best when we can allow them to make some of their own decisions and learn from their own success and failures rather than continuing to tell them what to do and make all their decisions for them. But it would be so much easier if they'd just do it our way! Can we watch them fall and be there to help them up?
A good mother doesn't need her children to love, or even like her-all the time. She doesn't require that to feel competent. She may be going through painful times with a child, but she can find solace in her pain. If she knows the difference between her problems and her child's problems and neither tries to fix or rescue her child, nor asks her child to fix or rescue her, she won't blame her pain on her child, and she can better support and empathize with her child's pain.
A good mother knows she's not perfect and can relax in that knowledge. She knows she doesn't have all the answers and she's okay with that. She doubts her actions, she makes mistakes, she gets exhausted, and she fears for the future.
We are all doing the best we can with what we've got-our children, too. Can you allow yourself to be the "good enough" mother as Bruno Bettelheim encouraged. Are you willing to admit your mistakes-is it even okay to make them? Can your children make mistakes freely or are you there to judge and yell at their mistakes sending the message that they are a disappointment to you? Can you recognize your own faults and allow them to shine through instead of thinking you have to be right. Remember, nobody likes the "perfect mother".
Questions or comments? Let me know what your thoughts are.
Questions and Answers
I want your questions. Here's how it works: You email me a question to email@example.com, and I answer pretty quickly. I put it in a newsletter at a later date. Please try to keep them brief without leaving out critical details.
Q. My three year old constantly pushes, punches, sits on, lies on and torments my 18 month old. I am at my witsend with it. I have tried time out (which consists of time in his bedroom — no toys are there!), asking him to stop it,to asking why he has done it (to which I get no response), to letting him know that it's not nice and that his brother doesn't like it,that we be kind and gentle to the people that we love, but as yet none of this has worked.Do you have any other suggestions? I think its a form of attention seeking — but I just don't know how much more I can give him…
A. Let me begin by addressing, from the child's point of view, why the methods you have tried don't work. Time out is a punishment focused on behavior alone. Punishment never works as it doesn't get to the root, the emotional cause, of his behavior. Children never behave better when we make them miserable. They get angrier and want to retaliate. It may get a desired result for the moment, but it teaches nothing you want your child to learn. Asking him to stop is asking him to get control over his impulses—which he can't at three. Your expectation is for a much older child. Telling him that it isn't nice and his brother doesn't like it points out to him first that he is bad and his brother is good. Do you see how this comes across to him? Not your intention at all, but the message he ends up with is much different from what you intend. Telling him that we are kind to those we love is making it only okay for him to love his brother and doesn't allow room for other normal feelings. So when he has other feelings, he doesn't know what to do with them-they bottle up and come out in misbehavior. Instead acknowledge the angry feelings your 3 yr. old is having toward his brother. Don't ask him why he's angry/jealous/resentful—he doesn't know-but give him a way to let it out. "You must be feeling really upset that your brother did… It's not okay to hit him, but your feelings came out and you did. Can you say what your hand wanted to say?" Or "Sometimes it's really hard having to share me/daddy/your room/your toys with your brother. You can always tell me how mad it makes you. Because sometimes we get mad at the people we love." From his point of view, the baby is getting ALL your attention and love and he has no way of getting his frustration out about it. When he is told to be nice all the time, he learns that he is bad because he can't be nice all the time. He is 3, still a baby himself with very little if any impulse control. When you acknowledge and validate his anger, you are not condoning his behavior or putting words in his mouth, you are honoring his feelings. Then he feels accepted and normal and then — and only then — will he feel better about himself and willing to try a different way of expressing himself.
Q. Any good tips for getting a teenage son to clean his room…it's getting more and more disgusting. I can't stand it!
A. The best you can do is acknowledge that wanting a clean room is your problem and you are asking for his help. He doesn't care if his room is a mess, so when he feels blamed, he will only resist more. In order for him to trust you, you should probably drop the subject for awhile. Then come to him and say, "I know you are fine with your room the way it is, and the mess is definitely my problem. Let me explain why it is a problem for me. I'm concerned about dirt and crumbs attracting insects and maybe even mice. I can be okay with clothes and stuff around but it's the dirt that worries me most. Can we make an agreement that once a month you will help get it cleaned up?" The important piece in gaining his cooperation is to acknowledge that it is your problem. He will be more open to listening to what your problem is and to cooperating when he doesn't feel blamed for it.
Q. I have a 4 year-old son who is bright, energetic, funny and outgoing but, also, quite sensitive. A year ago we started potty training, but he never showed an ounce of interest. Finally, he agreed to give up the pull-ups and wear underwear. From that time forward, he has urinated in the toilet without an accident. However, aside from a 1-½ week period about a month ago, he refuses to defecate in the toilet. He is not holding his bowel movements, so his pediatrician was not concerned about any health implications, he simply has the bowel movement in his underwear. I have tried every suggestion out there-from books, internet, pediatrician and friends-and nothing works. I desperately want to help him, as there is clearly some unspoken fear, and I am concerned that his little 4 year-old self-esteem may start suffering because of this problem.
A. This is not an uncommon issue. I think the reason that no advice has helped is because your son is going to decide on his own when he will use the toilet for bowel movements. I wouldn't worry about his self-esteem. For some reason you may never know, he does not like the idea of his bowel movements disappearing down the hole. He may (classically) think that it is part of him being flushed away or he may just choose to keep them to himself for awhile longer. Unless there are other concerning issues around his toileting, my advice is to let it go and let him decide on his own. I don't think you need worry about unspoken fears. Since he is 4, he is old enough to help out with his decision. Let him know that you honor his body and want him to do the same. You understand that he is not ready to poop in the toilet and that is fine. However, you do not like the work involved with the cleanup and want his help. You will leave a pile of clean underpants in the bathroom and expect him to change when he needs to. He can put his bowel movements into the toilet or a bucket provided (his choice) and put his soiled underpants into the sink (perhaps leave some water in the sink). Then he can wipe himself and put on clean underpants. You can ask if there is any part of this process he would like your help with. If you hand the responsibility over to him, there is no shame or blame involved and he is free to decide for himself-something that should be allowed with one's own body. If he chooses not to change his pants, you can make rules about what he can sit on and what not if he has poop in his pants. That way there is a balance of needs honored. If he is let alone with this, my guess is he will choose sooner rather than later to use the toilet. If it goes on for another year, seek some counseling. Otherwise allow him to hold onto his body parts as long as he needs and trust him to work it out. The important thing is that you let go. Then he might.
Let me know how these suggestions work with more questions or stories.
Two about punching pillows:
1. The first time I heard from you about letting your child express anger with punching a pillow, I instantly liked the idea, especially for my son who is very physical and when he got angry had a difficult time expressing what was wrong. I would end up yelling and putting him in another room because he would get so out of control. So we decided to start the "punching pillow". He was around 5 years old. We found when he was able to physically get out his anger, words started coming with it and he was able to punch and yell out his frustrations. He is now almost 7 and no longer needs the punching pillow. He'll say something like "I HATE YOU!" pause then almost immediately follow it with "OK, I don't hate you, but I am very angry with you because you did *whatever we did* and I don't like you very much right now, but no matter what I always love you". I honestly don't think we could have made it to that point without the help of the "punching pillow" technique.
2. I had been struggling with my daughter's tantrums which often escalated to hitting. I tried to help her articulate her feelings but it didn't have any impact. After speaking with Bonnie, I tried changing some of the language I would use to help her describe her feelings, and even go further to help her release her pent up frustration. Usually in the midst of a tantrum, I would say something like, "I know you are really frustrated right now, but…". Bonnie pointed out that using the "but" negated anything that came before that, erasing my daughter's her feelings of anger, and that I should also mind the "I know…" Also, she suggested that I encourage her to hit a pillow. Now at first I wasn't comfortable with this, as I thought this would encourage physical responses to her anger, and I was trying to have her use words rather than fists. But after we discussed it, I gave it a try. One afternoon, she was in a full blown tantrum, swatting me while I carried her out the door. In one arm I had her, in the other I had a pillow. We sat down and talked it out and I said, "if you want you may hit this pillow…" Well she gave it a good whack, then another, and then, to my amazement, she melted into me in a big hug, as if to say "thank you!" Afterwards, she was so calm and responsive. It made me realize that she needed a safe outlet for that physical urge. It was as if she felt I finally got it. Now she seems more able or willing to articulate her feelings. It is almost as if she doesn't need the pillow now.
Nov. 14 - Saturday, 9:00-1:00
The Family Center Fall Conference
Nov. 21 - Saturday, 10:00-2:00
Risky Behaviors — Keynote and 4 workshops
Reynolds Hall, 48 Concord St.
Cost: $30 includes lunch, childcare available
Contact: Amy Mcgee, firstname.lastname@example.org — 603 924-6306
Transforming Reward and Punishment into Connection and Problem Solving
Dec. 1 - Tuesday, 7:30-9:30 pm
St. Paul's Cathedral, 138 Tremont St.
Cost: $20 single/$30 couple including lunch
Contact: email@example.com or 617 482-4826 x 221
When Your Kids Push Your Buttons
Dec. 3 and 4
Andover Parent-to-Parent organization
Andover School of Montessori, 400 S. Main Street
Contact: Kim Grady — firstname.lastname@example.org
Dec. 9, 6:30-8:30 pm
Contact: Elizabeth Biddle — email@example.com
for info and cost.
Thursday December 3, 6:30-8:30 pm — public talk:
Understanding Your Child's Behavior and How You Can Help
Friday, December 4, 9:00-3:00 — professional workshop
Transforming Reward and Punishment into Connection and Problem Solving
New York City
West End Day School, 255 West 71 St.
Connective Parenting: Meeting your children's deepest needs while maintaining appropriate limits, structure, and guidance
Contact: (212) 873-5708 or firstname.lastname@example.org
TeleClass Recordings can be downloaded for $10 each. Login to PayPal.com, click on the send money tab, enter email@example.com and $10 for services. Please write in the message box which you would like:
#1 - Understanding Your Child's Behavior — principles 1,2
Phone Coaching available from (almost) anywhere in the world. Email me and set up a time that works. Get one on one concentrated time to discuss your personal situation, advice and practical solutions to help your family dynamic.
#2 - Acceptance and Expectations — principles 3,4
#3 - Connective Communication — principle 5
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Use Paypal for the When Your Kids Push Your Buttons CD set, The Buttons Workbook as well as phone coaching. Go to my website on the CDs page, book page and phone coaching page to access products and Paypal buttons.
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Email Bonnie with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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