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11 Ways Our Children Lose When We Rush Them Through Life

“Why do you want your child to hurry up? Because you’re done and figure he’s had long enough to finish? … If you are constantly rushing from one place to the next (doctor’s appointment, haircut, playgroup, music lessons) have you taken on too much? Should you plan more downtime in your schedule so you have more time to be patient? More time for play and cuddles?” – PhdinParenting

Now that kids are back in school and activities, are you noticing that life is too busy?  Most of us find it wears on us, but we take it for granted that we’re always rushing from one thing to the next. That we have a never-ending to-do list that keeps us from catching our breath, never mind catching a sunset together.

But it costs us.  And it costs our kids even more.  Our society is so hooked on adrenalin that we don’t acknowledge the high price we, and our children, pay for our lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with rushing once in a while. But rushing our children through life:

1. Influences the developing brain. Your child’s brain is being built every day, and the shape it takes depends on his daily experience. Some neurologists hypothesize that reinforcing neural pathways in a daily context of stress creates a brain with a life-long tendency to anxiety.

2. Increases the levels of stress hormones in kids’ bodies, which contributes to crankiness, difficulty falling asleep and immune suppression.

3. Makes them feel pushed and controlled, which triggers power struggles. Studies show that this feeling–in adults who work at jobs where they’re at someone else’s beck and call–sends stress hormones sky-rocketing. 

4. Overstimulates them so they can’t process everything coming at them, which undermines learning.

5. Habituates them to busyness, so they become easily bored, craving electronic stimulation.

6. Keeps them from discovering and pursuing their own passions, which is necessarily a slow, organic process of experimentation and dabbling.

7. Creates a chronic feeling of incompleteness, which steals the joy of mastery.

8. Keeps children from attending to their emotions throughout the day, so in the evening they have a full emotional backpack of feelings pressing for escape. That triggers meltdowns and can eventually lead to addictions like media consumption and treats, which distract us from our emotional baggage.

9. Constantly interrupts their developmental work of exploring the world, so they lose their curiosity.

10. Forces them out of the groundedness of the present moment, into the breathlessness of scrambling to keep up, which undermines their authenticity and connection to deeper meaning.

11. Overrides their natural inclination to “do it myself,sabotaging the development of competence.

Not to mention, rushing costs us. It stresses us out, so we enjoy our children less. It makes us less patient, so it’s hard to feel good about our parenting. One mom wrote to me that she realized her son wasn’t dressing himself partly because she was always in such a hurry that she just dressed him, rather than helping him learn how to do it himself. Another mom wrote that after she got into a fight with her daughter, she realized she had been “too distracted, too busy, to just slow down and be kind.”  We deserve more spacious lives, too.

This week, notice how often you rush yourself and your child.  Notice the price you both pay. 

  • What can you change to slow life down?
  • How can you build more time into transitions so you aren’t always rushing?
  • What small daily rituals can your family use so that everyone has a chance to connect to deeper meaning, rather than just hustling through each day? Think deep breaths together, gratitude practices, moments of quiet cuddling.

And maybe even stopping to watch the sunset.

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5 Ways You Can Teach Emotional Intelligence & Social Skills Every Day

“When they were fighting over ownership of something I would say ‘Jacob, say… ‘Excuse me Sarah, when you’re finished may I have a turn please?’’ and then wait for him to repeat my words. And then I would turn to Sarah and say ‘Sarah, say… ‘Sure, Jacob.’ I did this many, many, many times and then one day to my delight I was cooking dinner and overheard them use these exact words unprompted to resolve an issue… It was a proud moment : )” – Deanne

How do children learn social and emotional intelligence skills? Practice, practice, practice. Parents have to explain, model, and repeat themselves, over and over. It can seem endless. But there are ways to help children learn faster, by taking advantage of the problems that come up in every family on a daily basis. Next time there’s a problem, think of it as a teachable moment.

1. Talk about feelings. Research shows that when parents reflect with their children about what everyone in the family feels and needs, children become more sensitive and emotionally generous to others, as well as more likely to understand another’s point of view. This is true even when children are very young; when mothers talk to their toddlers about what the baby might be feeling, the toddler develops more empathy for the baby and is less jealous. Questions work better than lectures: “I wonder why she’s crying? What do you think she needs?”

2. Ask questions about feelings, needs, wants, and choices. Any time your child makes a poor choice, you can ask questions to help him learn from his experience. Be sure to keep the exchange low-key; no one can learn when they feel on the defensive. These kinds of questions are useful from toddlerhood (when your child grabs a toy from a friend) right through the teen years (when your kid gets drunk with his buddies). You don’t have to use all these questions. You’re just helping your child reflect on what drove him to make his choice, and how that choice worked out for him.

  • “How did you feel?”
  • “What did you want?”
  • “What did you do?”
  • “How did that work out?”
  • “Did you get what you wanted?”
  • “Did the other person get what he wanted?”
  • “How do you think he felt?”
  • “Would you do the same thing next time, or do you think you might try something different?”
  • “What do you think you might try?”
  • “What might happen then?”

Listen, nod, repeat to be sure you understand. Stay warm and non-judgmental. Keep your sense of humor, so when your child says “Next time I’ll smash him!” you can simply answer “Hmmm….what might happen then?” Try not to jump in to evaluate or lecture. Reflection is how children develop integrity and judgment. Good judgment often develops from bad experience.

3. Model “I” statements, which means expressing what you need, rather than judging or attacking someone else.  So, for instance, when your child says “Well, you’re stupid, too!” to her friend, you might teach her to say “I don’t like it when you call me names.”

One formula for “I” statements is to describe what you feel, what you need, and how you see the situation. You might follow that up with a request that the other person take a specific action. “I feel______ because I want (or need) _________and I observe that _________.” So, for instance,

“I feel worried because I want to get there on time and I see that you aren’t ready to leave yet….Please put on your shoes.”

4. Model pro-social behavior. The way the adults in the home relate to each other sets a powerful example for the children. Use that to your advantage by role-playing how you’d like your children to treat each other. For instance, you might say to your partner “There’s only one banana left, shall we split it?”  Or model how to set limits respectfully, by saying to your partner “Excuse me, I was using that. You can have it as soon as I’m done” with a smile and a hug.

5. Don’t expect to be perfect, and don’t expect your child to be. Once we let go of being right and aim for being love instead, we get a lot more perfect. Talk at dinner about a mistake you made today. Open up room for your child to admit mistakes and repair. Model apologizing and self-forgiveness. You’ll see everyone in your family becoming more emotionally generous.

Of course, you’ll still have to repeat yourself incessantly. But you’ll raise a human who can advocate for his or her own needs while respecting the needs of others. That’s the kind of person we need more of in the world.  And it’s worth a little repetition.

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Handling Defiance: You're Not the Boss of Me!

“Dr. Laura…How should I respond when he yells  ‘You’re not the boss of me!’?” — Ariel

Defiance.  It’s guaranteed to push a parent’s buttons.  After all,
we’re supposed to be in charge, right?  Defiance rubs our nose in the
fact that we can’t really control another person, whether he’s three or thirteen, unless we use force.

Unfortunately, since force creates resistance, either openly or in a passive-aggressive form, it’s ultimately a losing strategy.  (You might win the battle, but you’ll lose the war.)

When we overreact to defiance we escalate the battle. Often, the result is kids who have problems with authority–either they’re always in fights, or they can’t stand up for themselves.

So what can a parent do about defiance?

Cure it at the source! Kids are defiant because they
feel disconnected from us. Maybe the relationship needs some repair work, or maybe they’re just very upset at the moment, and since they’re in “fight or flight” we look like the enemy. Punishment will make the disconnection worse, and it won’t help them with the upset. So you can’t solve defiance with discipline.  You solve defiance with connection.

Your approach will depend on how old your child is.

Toddlers are still figuring out that they can be themselves
without saying No to everything.  Although we as parents sometimes forget
this, even small humans are separate people who have the right to their opinions and need to protect the integrity of their own “selves.”  That’s why they’re
so fiercely committed to “NO!” and “Do it myself!”  Their defiance is best handled by:

  1. Let her know you hear: “You say NO bath, I hear you….” (Sometimes, that’s enough to get a toddler cooperating happily.)
  2. Give her a hug. (Often, toddlers just need to reconnect.)
  3. Decide how flexible you are: “Ok, we can just wash your hands and face today” or “And you are so very dirty, we do need a bath, so let’s find a way to make it work for you.”
  4. Kindly insist on your limit if you feel it’s essential: “You’re crying because you don’t want a bath….I am right here….You can cry as much as you need to…..When you’re done crying, let’s find your doll so she can take a bath with you, I know you like to wash her hair.”

Preschoolers know the rules. When they’re defiant, they’re saying “Mom, Dad, I’m upset but I can’t really express it….So I’m going to be as bad as possible to get you to pay attention…I am going to DEFY you!”  Their defiance is best handled by:

  1. Remind yourself that his defiance is a bid for reconnection, not something that requires discipline. 
  2. Reconnect through play, if you can.  Try being mock-outraged to get your child giggling: “Excuse me…WHAT was that?  Did I hear you say NO?  You WON’T do what I said?  We’ll see about that, won’t we?  En Garde!” After your pillow fight or wrestling match, your preschooler will have
    giggled out his upset and reconnected with some oxytocin released by all
    that roughhousing; he’ll be ready to do what you ask. 
  3. If he’s too upset to play, listen. “You’re saying no, you won’t go to soccer practice? Something must be upsetting you about soccer practice….What do you think it will be like if you go?”
  4. If his upset persists, set a kind limit and welcome his tears.  He might just need to get all those feelings out with a good cry in your warm presence, after which he’ll feel reconnected and cooperative.  

Elementary Schoolers respond with defiance when they feel that we’re unfair. When kids argue all the time, they’re saying they don’t feel heard or connected.  Their defiance is best handled by:

  1. Stop, Drop (everything else) and Breathe.  Since your buttons are pushed, you need to get calm before you address the defiance.
  2. Remind your child that disrespect is out of bounds:  “You know we don’t speak to each other that way. You must be very upset.”
  3. Consider that when kids are defiant it’s a relationship problem. You’re losing your child somewhere, so he’s not willingly following you.  Are you being unfair? Are you not listening?  Are you losing his respect by not setting a good example and regulating your own emotions? 
  4. Reconnect by listening and reflecting: “You’re saying No because you don’t think it’s fair?  Hmm….Maybe I’m missing something here. Tell me more.”
  5. Empathize: “Oh, so you feel….You wish…” 
  6. Look for win/win solutions. “So you want…and I want…How about we…?”

Preteens and Tweens begin experimenting with defiance because they hear it from peers and to see where the limits are. Their defiance is best handled by:

  1. Stop, Drop (everything else) and Breathe.  Since your buttons are pushed, you need to get calm before you address the defiance.
  2. Reinforce your expectation about the standard of respect in your family:  “Ouch! You know we don’t speak to each other that way.”
  3. Give your child a chance to correct herself while you reopen communication: “I know you didn’t mean to be disrespectful.  I do want to hear what you have to say. Can we try a do-over?”
  4. Consider your approach. No one likes to be told what to do.  And yet research
    shows that the average parent gives hundreds of orders every day,
    most in a negative tone. If your preteen is bristling, consider how you can help her step into more responsibility, instead of feeling ordered around.

Teens are defiant when they feel disconnected or have lost respect for us.  Their defiance is best handled by:

  1. Translate your teen’s defiant wordsI’m all alone out here and pretty miserable…I wish you’d find a way to come out in the cold and get me, because I don’t know how to find my way back.”
  2. Stay compassionate. Say “Ouch!  That was pretty rude…You must be very upset to speak to me that way….I try to always speak respectfully to you….What’s going on, Sweetie?”
  3. Stay compassionate while he expresses his upset: “Wow…I see…I’m so sorry…I didn’t realize…Thanks for telling me.” Just keep breathing and stay calm.  He needs to tell you about all his built-up feelings that have been making him feel so disconnected from you.
  4. Find a way to re-connect. Listen.  Reflect.  Seek to understand. Tell him how much you love him and how much he means to you. Find a common ground. Problem-solve so you both get your needs met. Model the respect you expect.

Whatever your child’s age, respect his right to refuse sometimes.
Maybe he’s studying for a test or only has five minutes to
finish building his castle before bath time. If he routinely cooperates
and has a pleasant attitude about it, why isn’t it ok for him to ask for
special dispensation tonight?  You would offer that to your spouse or subordinate at work, right? The more he feels you’ll listen when he makes his request, the less he needs to resort to defiance to express his wishes.  Of course, that doesn’t mean you don’t put your foot down when you need to. But you never need to be mean about it; that just breeds more defiance.

Finally, notice that defiance is an opportunity, not an emergency. Most of us get so triggered by our child’s defiance that we automatically come down like a sledge hammer. After all, we wouldn’t have been allowed to act that way when we were young. But defiance is like a red light on the dashboard of your car; a signal that something is wrong that you need to fix. What’s wrong isn’t the child, but the relationship, and you fix that by reconnecting, not by attacking.

So the next time your child is defiant, remind yourself that you don’t have to attend every power struggle to which you’re invited. Try setting a clear limit about the standard of respect in your house, while at the same time reconnecting. Be grateful that your child’s defiance gave you a warning about how much
distance had crept in between you. Use the opportunity to change the
course of your relationship. And maybe of his life.

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I'm not OK and You're not OK, but that's OK!

“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen

Imagine that guilt is like a red light blinking on your dashboard.  When you see it, you:

a) Redouble your efforts to attain perfection, even if it’s giving you a headache.
b) Flog yourself.
c) Pull out the wire so it stops blinking, and go have a drink.
d) Thank the guilt and tell it to take a break.
 Then use the opportunity to check in: Instead of berating yourself, how could you support yourself to be the parent you want your kids to have, while at the same time being kind to yourself?

Not surprisingly, research shows that (d) works best, particularly when you give yourself a pat on the back and accept that you’re doing the best you can at the moment. Ignoring the problem (c) doesn’t work. Beating yourself up (b) doesn’t work. And perfectionism (a) doesn’t work.

I know, you’re no angel. Neither is your child. Join the club of humanity!

Most of us think that trying to be Super-Parent makes us better people. But if you pay attention, you’ll see that your quest for perfection isn’t good for your family. If we’re always scanning for what’s not quite perfect, we’re always finding fault with ourselves. We’re giving our children the message that they aren’t quite good enough. We’re not giving ourselves unconditional love, so we can’t give it to our kids, either.

But once we accept that “I’m not ok, and you’re not ok, but that’s ok!” we’re more loving and compassionate, more forgiving of our own and others’ humanity. We stretch our hearts, so we become more peaceful parents, and happier people.

So just say no to the Perfect Parent Myth and lose the guilt.  Remind yourself that what kids really need is for you to model how to be a gracious, loving human in the face of our inevitable human imperfections. Your children won’t remember what you wore, or whether your house was picked up. But they will remember how you apologized for your mistakes and tried to understand when things got tough between you.

Go ahead. Get messy in the autumn leaves with your child. Serve peanut butter sandwiches and carrots out of the bag for dinner. Just say no to another school committee meeting and spend the evening making sweet moments with your family. Spend all day Sunday in pajamas with your kids, laughing while you make pillow forts and start pillow fights.

Give yourself permission to make mistakes and say the wrong thing to your child sometimes. (It’ll happen whether you give yourself permission or not!) Instead of beating yourself up, take one step in the direction you want to go. Walk away when you’re mad, instead of yelling. Step back from a power struggle and reconnect. Try to see things from their perspective.

You’ll find you’re letting go of trying to be perfect, and of needing to be right. Instead, you’re modeling for your child how to reconnect, heal, and deepen your relationship.

You’ll be surprised how much more perfect your child thinks you are.

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In Quotes: The Value of Play

October 24, 2014 by Alyssa Haywoode

“Barbara Biber, one of Bank Street’s early theorists, argued that play develops precisely the skills — and, just as important, the disposition — children need to be successful throughout their lives. The child ‘projects his own pattern of the world into the play,’ she wrote, ‘and in so doing brings the real world closer to himself. He is building the feeling that the world is his to understand, to interpret, to puzzle about, to make over. For the future we need citizens in whom these attitudes are deeply ingrained.’”

 “The Building Blocks of a Good Pre-K,” by Shael Polakow-Suransky, president of Bank Street College, and Nancy Nager, a Bank Street professor of education and child development , The New York Times, October 21, 2014

The quote comes from Biber’s “Play as a Growth Process,” which was originally published in the Vassar Alumnae Magazine, 37(2), December 1951

In this article, Biber also makes an eye-catching observation about adults:

“For a child to have fun is basic to his future happiness. His early childhood play may become the basic substance out of which he lays down one of his life patterns, namely, not only that one can have fun but that one can create fun. Most of us as adults enjoy only a watered-down manufactured kind of fun — going to the movies, shopping, listening to a concert, or seeing a baseball game and do not feel secure that some of the deepest resources for happiness lie within ourselves, free of a price of admission. This is one of these securities that compose a positive attitude toward life, in general.”

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