It’s been awhile since we’ve posted an activity for parents so that’s what’s on tap for today.
Without thinking too much about it, jot down three of your best childhood memories.
Now look at what you’ve written and tease out what elements made them memorable. Was it being asked to take on a more grown up task or responsibility? Was it time alone with a friend or an adult? Were you surrounded by family? By yourself? Outside?
As parents we hope that family life provides lasting and loving memories for our children. And thinking back to our own childhoods can be a great source of inspiration not necessarily for the activities (e.g. the hike, the vacation, the amusement park) but rather for the essence of what made certain moments special (i.e. connection with others, being in nature, experiencing something challenging and new). -n&t
As parents we all witness countless scuffles among young playmates and siblings. When a child is injured, most of us would agree on the importance of caring for the injured party first and sorting out “who started it” later. In addition, there are two situations where tending to the victim first (and ignoring the perpetrator) can be a dramatic game-changer: when a child (particularly one’s own) is being aggressive to get attention, and when kids are fighting over a toy. When a child becomes the aggressor to gain adult attention, tending to the victim first really alters the dynamic by taking the power out of the behavior that was meant to get a reaction. When a child sees the adult tending to the victim and not focusing on them, she will be encouraged to move onto other (hopefully more positive) methods of getting noticed. And then there is the very common situation of two children fighting over a toy. One tactic we’ve used with success is to animate the toy (i.e., the toy becomes the “victim”) and give it your attention in a very dramatic way. By doing so you can offer children a new perspective, and teach a lesson about respect and behavior that may just find a deeper understanding than if you had corrected or reprimanded them directly.
One day at preschool I witnessed two girls fighting over a doll—an all-out tug of war. One was pulling her hair and the other pulling her legs. Rather than addressing the children and admonishing them to stop and share, a teacher gasped loudly (so now many children turned their heads) and ran over saying, “Oh, poor Dolly! Oh, my! You come with me, are you okay? You must need a little rest!” She took the doll and walked to the other side of the room, cradling her and saying soothing things. Boy, did that diffuse the tiff! —n
We all have those days when we are overwhelmed, feel vulnerable and agitated, and get stuck in a negative place. From the negative place everything is harder, there’s a tendency to see things that are amiss, to connect the dots between all that goes wrong. ”We woke up late, and then there was no milk and then…and then… and then…” Being negative begets more negativity, and no one among us needs more of that. One way to break that cycle?
The simple act of acknowledging something for which you are grateful can shift the focus and change the energy. Try applying a framework of humility and being thankful for what we have and notice what goes right. As parents, modeling gratitude for our kids helps them to see opportunities for being appreciative in situations big and small. Boost it with specifics! “Thank you to the person who put on the new roll of toilet paper.” “It was so helpful that you put the laundry away.” “What a great dinner Dad made. I loved the broccoli done that way!” Whether acknowledged to oneself or spoken aloud, it’s quite amazing how easy it is to turn toward the positive, and how contagious it can be. –t
Recently, I got the chance to hear Deborah Roffman, a very wise and funny sexuality educator speak about the role parents play in educating children about sex. I headed to the talk feeling pretty dang good about myself and the fact that I’d had “The Talk” with all of my kids by the time they were in 1st grade.
Right out of the box, Deborah put me in my place. “And to those of you who think you can just have The Talk,” she said, “you don’t just have The Talk and feel recused of providing further information! Instead it’s a lifelong conversation we must begin when our kids are little.”
Sitting in a room with other parents and listening to Deborah was engaging and inspiring. Her talk helped me reflect on ways in which my own upbringing, generation, and family culture took on the topics of sexuality, and what hurdles I had to get over to improve and enhance this communication. I began to understand ways in which I could be doing better by my kids, who I want to grow up with a strong sense of themselves and a clear understanding of sexuality in the context of relationships, media, and, of course, procreation.
We all bring complicated emotions and baggage to the topic of sex, and for me, having a way to introduce the topic of sex and “where babies come from” was very helpful. Uncomfortable shooting from the hip on this topic, I found a fantastic conversation starter and anchor in “It’s Not the Stork,” by Robie Harris. For me, it was a perfect beginning of The Talk with my kids…which I now know is only the beginning of talking with my kids. –n
Our kids are back at school after a vacation week that began with the Boston Marathon bombing and ended with a day spent in lockdown. We live in Watertown about 4 blocks away from where the 2nd suspect was apprehended, close enough to see and hear a lot of the police action that day, but far enough that I didn’t truly fear for our physical safety. Nonetheless, the incessant helicopter noise, the flashing lights of the blockades, and the police in full military body armor checking the houses up and down our street created mounting tension throughout the day.
There’s a lot of wisdom about how we as parents make our kids feel safe during such times: focusing on the helpers, maintaining routines, staying close, cuddling more. I feel like most people I know are doing a pretty good job in those respects. But what happens when children ask “why?” Why would someone do that?
The truth is that we don’t really know. “They were bad guys” doesn’t cut it for me. I don’t feel like that truly helps kids understand the complexity of human behavior and choices, nor does it make them feel safer. Can a bad guy be captain of the wrestling team? Can a bad guy go to prom with his friends? Can a good guy do bad things?
On the first morning back at our Watertown school, psychologist Larry Cohen was on-site talking with parents. In addition to giving people a forum for sharing stories and connecting in community with one another, he punctuated the discussion with great advice about helping kids work through confusing and traumatic experiences. One idea he talked about that I love is how a parent can respond when a child asks “why?” and we don’t have a good answer. What can we do when we don’t know?
We can empathize.
When kids ask “why?” they’re trying to make sense of something that is unsettling and confusing, something that makes them feel frightened or unsure. If it’s impossible to offer a real reason why, we are ALWAYS able to validate their feelings, to say “it’s really confusing to think someone would want to hurt people.” Validating a child’s feelings will help them to be less confused or frightened. It gives them the message that they are not alone, that their feelings are understood, and that their confusion is not unreasonable.
This approach has never failed to work in a positive way for me. While some might wonder if a child will feel less secure when an adult admits not knowing something, I’ve found the truth in an honest and genuine response – one that allows a different kind of connection – to be a very powerful thing. –t
As we mentioned in previous posts, historically an important focus of parenting is to get kids to separate, stand on their own feet, move away from us as parents as they grow. In the psychology world this is referred to as separation/individuation.
While no one would argue about the need for children to grow apart from their parents, recent findings in neuroscience show that separation/individuation – when encouraged too early or in too much of an absolute way – can undermine the formation of important neural connections critical to the lives of happy, healthy people.
This lays the groundwork for a talk we found fascinating at a conference we recently attended, the work of Dr. Amy Banks. At the heart of Dr. Banks’s work is the idea that the human brain is wired for connection: people to people connection. She illustrates findings in neuroscience that demonstrate this “wired to connect” theory and in turn how these concepts could be transformational in the way that we interact with and educate our children.
One concept she spoke about is the dopamine reward system. Here we’ll give our layman’s version: the dopamine reward pathway in the brain is formed in early childhood relationships and reshaped throughout life. Things that are life sustaining, such as food and nurturance, cause an increase of dopamine which in turn produces a feeling of well-being and energy. Things in life that are fun, like play, also stimulate the dopamine reward system in children. Connecting with our kids throughout their childhood and teaching them how to create and sustain healthy relationships will help them build and maintain good relationships and therefore sustain good levels of dopamine throughout their lives. Thus, the argument for staying connected versus pushing for early separation.
As humans, we crave the feelings of well-being we get when dopamine is present. On the flip side, when we don’t get enough dopamine through connection and relationships, we seek other ways to get get it, which can include negative tendencies such as food addiction, drug abuse, sex addiction, or materialism. Pretty thought provoking…we thought so.
When I was growing up in Pittsburgh in the early 70s I watched a lot of Mr. Rogers. He was a local celebrity and lived just a few blocks away. One weekend when I was in kindergarten, my dad and I were walking through a parking lot behind some stores in a busy shopping area. I remember my dad, who was holding my hand, squeezed it and said, “Nina, do you see who that is?” As I looked up, we were 3 feet from Mr. Rogers. I froze. And with no pause, in his exact TV voice, he said, “It’s funny sometimes, isn’t it, when we see people that we usually see on TV someplace where we don’t expect to see them?”
I’m sure he had many occasions to say just that to many different children. Even so, the simple thoughtfulness of his approach to me in that moment is something that has stayed with me into adulthood and illustrates fundamental ideas in nurturing the emotional intelligence of children: empathy and naming feelings.
First, Mr. Rogers spoke to me (not my dad), and in a slightly indirect manner so it wasn’t so confrontational or frightening. I didn’t feel put on the spot as his comment didn’t require a response. Second, he acknowledged my surprise, didn’t make me feel childish, embarrassed or small, and furthermore, with a simple “we” helped me to realize that it wasn’t only me – or children – who might feel awkward in such a situation. A memorable and instructive interaction to be sure… –n
Need a gift for someone who’s had a baby in the past year? Know a young family with a great mom? Or just want to have a pre-wrapped baby gift at the ready for when you get the good news? Perfect timing! The annual Food for Thoughtful Parenting Mother’s Day Special starts today.
For each copy of the book sold, we’ll make a donation to The Guidance Center, an organization that provides comprehensive developmental, mental health and support services to children and families in need. We’ll gift-wrap it for free and add a card to announce the donation. Great gifting and do gooding all in one!
Offer good from April 8th through May 6th. Orders must be placed on our site. Unless otherwise noted, all books will be gift-wrapped and sent to you with a gift card included for you to address. If you’d like us to send the book directly to someone with a personalized note, please include your text in “special instructions for the seller” during PayPal Checkout and provide their address in the shipping section.
And please pass this along via email or share on FB with anyone else who might want to know about this offer.
Nina & Tara
And yet so much about our culture pushes boys away from their parents, particularly their mamas, earlier and with greater force and expectation than their sisters. To “be a man” has often been synonymous with being stoic, independent, unemotional, and self-reliant.
No surprise that it is the involved mother who is often the villain of the story, as mothers who keep their boys close are often met with concern in our society, driven by outdated Freudian baggage of the Oedipal complex and ridiculous theories about causes of homosexuality. This cultural pressure for mothers to separate from their boys is what journalist Kate Stone Lombardi took on and what she presents in her new book, The Mama’s Boy Myth: Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger. Something that stood out for us was data she shared from Carlos Santos, a professor at Arizona State University, who followed 426 middle-school boys to determine to what extent they bought into traditional masculine roles. The data showed that boys that were close to their mothers:
1. had a more flexibly definition of masculinity
2. remained more open emotionally
3. had better academic performance and self-control
4. suffered less anxiety and depression
…more from the conference in the weeks ahead,–n&t
Tara and I attended an amazing conference this past weekend put on by the Jean Miller Baker Training Institute called: Raising Connected and Competent Boys: New Models of Strength and Resilience. In the coming weeks, we will share some highlights of what we learned from the fantastic presenters. Today, we share one of the overarching messages we took away about the importance of connection for psychological well-being. For children and adults alike, healthy relationships — supported by emotional intelligence — are what allow for connection. In order to help our children create and maintain good relationships, we need to help them develop emotional competence. One way to do this is by including emotional labels and words that help children to identify and name a wide array of feelings. We also can teach problem solving and reasoning by sharing our own daily experiences with them. This took us back to something from our book. We call it Share the Thinking:
As parents we all feel the pressure of setting a good example for our children by modeling good behavior. We try to be kind, helpful, considerate, and polite. What we offer here is the idea of taking this a step further when your own situation presents a good learning opportunity for your kids. For example, when you make a mistake, don’t know an answer, or hurt someone’s feelings, let your children in on the process of acknowledging the mistake, finding the answer, or apologizing. “Oh man, I messed up—I did the wrong thing!” can be the start of a rich conversation about disappointment, taking responsibility, or affecting an outcome. Tell them how you’re “taking a few quiet minutes” to settle down when things get heated or frustrating. Explain how making that phone call wasn’t a good choice, since it made you late. Or share a realization and how you plan to fix it: “I made a mistake and I think I hurt her feelings. I need to talk to her so I can apologize.” Really say all that stuff out loud. Break down the pieces and talk about the things that add to the situation. Share and name your feelings—when you’re frustrated or disappointed, jealous or sad, proud or relieved. You’ll help your child understand the situation, and help them develop their emotional vocabulary as they learn to label their own experiences. And the more articulate children can be about their feelings, the easier it will be to support them. -n