A hug is always worth it – even if you don’t feel like it

My children are mostly pretty ‘well behaved’. Much of this comes from within themselves and some of it comes from the environment we have created with them. As a family we’ve made a conscious effort to provide a space that is mostly free from emotional stress, overwhelming sensory input and unnecessary negativity – also an environment that is rich with fun, play, beauty, purpose, song, interesting projects and really good food. We’ve put a lot of effort into understanding each other’s needs and being present to them.

But despite our best efforts we can’t be ‘good’ all the time, can we?

I don’t feel good all the time, so I can hardly expect my kids to. I’ve got the advantage of being able to reflect upon my feelings with my thoughts, writing, discussions and creative outlets. I can tell when I’m unwell and most of the time I know what to do to work through it. Children haven’t yet developed those skills for self-expression and problem solving, so much of their ‘unwellness’ comes out in their behaviour.

Most of the time this is easy to work with, because most of the behaviour we find ‘unacceptable’ is about developmental exploration, learning boundaries or a simple need unmet. There are many strategies useful for working through these situations. But sometimes it is more than that. Sometimes behaviour I consider to be ‘unreasonable’ builds up every day, and if I can’t put my finger immediately upon what’s up in their little bodies, particularly when I am out of sorts myself, then it is pretty hard to deal with.

Then I feel like I am constantly nagging and whining at them to stop it. I abhor this behaviour from my children, and hate it when I find myself doing it too.  By mid afternoon I am starting to see the little black clouds brewing above my children’s heads and I know when I am in for a big storm. I often start brewing a little black cloud of my own. I tell my kids they have a choice in how they behave, but often forget to remind myself that I have a choice too. When I make the unconscious (ok – sometimes it is conscious!) choice to react to my own built-up emotions, this leads to me feeling very ‘activated’ and stuck in a cycle of reactions, which actually ends up hastening the inevitable big-one meltdown from one child or another – or from myself. At the time I call this ‘behaviour management’, but really it is I who am being managed by the behaviour.

There are many choices I could make in this situation. I could ignore it, laugh with it, transform it. Much of the time, when I remember, and when I am not too overwhelmed by my own little black cloud, I choose to hug it. To be present to it.

I understand that children’s behaviour is telling me about what is going on for them internally. Sometimes my kids get so worked up that their eyes throw me glances that say “please save me from myself!” But I don’t always remember to look for this, or I am too concerned about saving myself from the bother of having to solve yet another problem, or I’m just too tired of it all to remember that they are still only little. Sometimes, when you spend all day, every day, with little children, and you are tired, you can forget how old they are, and you can forget about what their appropriate expectations of behaviour actually are!

When I DO remember then I hug them. Hugs ALWAYS work for me. Hugs have the potential to blow away the little black storm cloud, making a respectful and loving connection with what is human in us, and pulling us both out of the animalistic reactive zone and back into something that activates our relationship and our intelligence. When I can remember to do this I take my kids away somewhere quiet and hug them and watch their bodies relax, feel their breathing deepen and hear their voices drop to soft tones. Even in the middle of a tantrum, even when we are both raging mad.

Especially when we are both raging mad.

Which is when it is hardest to remember to hug rather than react. Being present takes practice.

In this situation I make sure I hug them with their back toward me, so that I am not hurt by flailing hands and feet.  Even if they do not seem like they wish to be hugged at the time. Even if they are calling out “Help! Police!” (yes this has happened!) Taking the time to hug and breathe and to be strong for them when they are not feeling strong emotionally always works for me. Tantrums soften into sobs and before you know it you are gently rocking together in a soft squeezy hug, the storm over.

The next few moments are sooo important: they are a gift from Father Time to spend together singing, reading, chatting, reflecting, storytelling, drawing, playing side by side … whatever it takes to help process the experience, re-establish relationship and purpose to their activities. Tantrums are tiring for everyone.

This is what I do when I remember to.

Sometimes I remember but I just don’t want to do it. Sometimes I just want to finish what I am doing and don’t want the bother of having to pick it up again later. But in these situations I have remembered afterwards that it is ALWAYS worth it to take the time for a hug.

Hugs work in the moment, but they don’t solve long-term problems. When you are back in the zone of peaceful acceptance then it is time to look at what is really going on. But that’s a whole other blog post!

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Three-Fold Plan for Understanding Children’s Behaviour (Part 1): Working with the Will

Article Written by and Copyright to Jennifer McCormack, 2007, 2010.

This is the first part of a series of three posts about a three-fold model for understanding and working with your child’s behaviour at home- I wrote it some time ago when my eldest child was still a toddler .. he is six years old now but in re-reading this article I find it still relevant. It is far too long to read all at once in a blog so I’ve broken it into three pieces: the Will, The Feeling, The Thinking. The first part of this series focuses on working with the child’s physical impulses and willingness to participate – Jennifer

In one of my moments of parental desperation, I brought out my Goddess oracle cards and asked “What is the best approach to work positively with my child’s behaviour?” I pondered this question as I shuffled the pack, and as each card came forth I couldn’t help but laugh at myself: there is nothing like the oracle cards to tell you stuff you already know, but just needed reminding about. The message couldn’t be clearer: be fair, be firm, be creative. This was great – it was affirming, but the problem was that I felt that I was doing this already. I wanted a magic answer! So I stuck the cards up in my kitchen where I could see them, and thought about them for a few days. The cards, as they are drawn from the pack, represent the past, the present and the future, and it reminded me of the three-fold nature that is worked with so closely in schools that work with the ideas of Anthroposophy*. I realised that of course I could adapt this to use this in my home. It isn’t going to work so well that I can sort out all my child’s issues. Children need to go through challenges: that’s part of growing up. It is also part of learning how to be a parent. I can, however, use this to understand my children better, to help make those challenges smoother, and to meet them with preparation and grace.

What is the three-fold?

The ‘three-fold’ sounds quite mystical at first, as it refers to the relationship between the physical, the soul and the spirit. We could also look at this as our body, emotions and mind; or, as you may have heard often in relation to Anthroposophy – the ‘willing’, ‘feeling’ and ‘thinking’. When contemplating the three-fold nature of things we can delve quite deeply into the meaning behind things, however it also has some very practical applications and ways of helping understand our relationships in the world. On reflection I realised that most of my days at home with my child naturally tend to fall into this pattern. We have dynamic, busy mornings getting things organised (thinking); reflective, creative times of play in the middle of the day (feeling) and active, practical afternoons (willing). This is part of our rhythmic daily life. Let’s now look at this three-foldness in terms of behaviour.

The Will – Pre-emptive strategies

The Will force is more than our physical actions: it is also the intention and purpose behind our physical actions. When we look at children’s will force, we are looking to see children who are able to follow through on instructions, show initiative, complete jobs that have been started, help others when required and who are also able to maintain some control over impulsive behaviour. Generally speaking, this isn’t too much to ask of the primary school child, but for young children … well that is a different story! Young children need adults to assist them by showing them what to do, by planning ahead to avoid certain situations, and by understanding each child’s ability’s and needs. Working with children’s will forces requires preparation and in terms of managing children’s behaviour, understanding of and respect for children’s will forces is evident in what we do BEFORE any kind behaviour occurs (appropriate or otherwise).

The Will is all about the physical. It is all the hard work we put into our parenting to help support our children. Our children know nothing about how much work this is until they become parents themselves! The thing about the Pre-Emptive stage of this three-fold plan is that it is on-going. We just can’t set up a nice room, make up some nice rules, and tell our children to be nice, and then expect it to all stay together day after day. This is stuff we have to work at maintaining all the time, even when other things are going on. It is about being consistent, and the best way to do that is to keep things simple. Don’t make up a heap for rules for your children to remember. The amount of rules you have can grow with your child’s age. Keep it simple.

More than rules, the Pre-Emptive strategies you put in place for your home must include research into your child’s development. A good understanding of appropriate expectations and skills for each age level contribute to healthy expectations for behaviour that don’t over stretch your children. Read parenting books, talk to other parents, attend parenting classes. Always strive to update your information because as your children grow older they move through a new phase, requiring a new understanding, and new approaches to behaviour! It doesn’t get easier as they grow older: just different!

Making a Plan:

How can you plan to avoid inappropriate behaviour and encourage your child to learn positive, caring and socially acceptable behaviour?

–          Organisation of the day and week: a consistent, flowing rhythm gives predictability for children, allowing them to feel secure in knowing what comes next.

–          Set boundaries: very clear and consistent age-appropriate expectations of conduct and consequences that follow on. They must be fair to the whole family.

–          Model appropriate conduct, language, movements, moods, problem solving, social skills, technical skills (self-help, cleaning, craft, etc). Show your children what you would like them to do by doing it yourself, daily.

–          Bring beauty into your home environment: think about home organisation, a clear place for everything and a clear use for everything. De-clutter. Clear out your child’s room so that it remains a tranquil, peaceful space. Involve your child (from a young age) in home duties such as cleaning, pack-up and organisation tasks. These are a given and should not require payment or reward!

–          Memorise strategies: have songs, stories and games up your sleeve for certain times, for example: stories to tell when travelling in the car, and songs to carry children through to bath and bedtime.

–          Put aside special time to spend with each other. Use verbal storytelling, games and reading to deepen your relationship. Tell them stories about your own childhood.

–          Maintain healthy diets, plenty of exercise and early bedtimes with your family. Sleep often makes the difference between a happy child (and parent!) and a nightmare. Buy food that is ‘health-full’, and don’t buy the stuff you don’t want them to eat. Practice healthy body images by example. Look after yourself, and love yourself, as well as your family!

–          Minimise television and media exposure. Make firm decisions about what children can watch, and when the family watches television. Stick to it. It is possible to live without it.

–          Understand your child – learn about what point they can get to before they ‘lose it’. Know what makes them over-stimulated or unwell. Know their likes and dislikes. Learn about their temperament and their constitution. Read about expectations of your child’s age level and how to work with them in an imaginative way. Don’t be afraid to go home early from events if your child is showing signs of not coping. Be firm about nap times, and plan your day around your family needs.

* Anthroposophy literally translates to “the wisdom of humankind” and is a philosophy pioneered by Dr Rudolf Steiner. Anthroposophy is a spiritual science: the study, understanding and application of the full human developmental spectrum in relation to the world and cosmos. It is very interesting!

Lessons from a 2-year-old

“Where my jumper? Where my jumper? I can’t find my juuuuuuuumper!”

“I can’t get my gumboots off, my gumboots off, my gumboots off! I can’t get my gumbooooooooooooots ooooooooffff! They stuck on my foot”

Mummy! I am singing “I can’t get my gumboots off!”

“I want my airplane back. Gimme my airplane back. I want my airplane back, my airplane back RIGHT Noooooooow!!”

Mummy I’m singing “I want my airplane back”!

“I want myyyy aiiiiirplaaane baaack nooow!”

Read the above again – but imagine it being sung in a little toddler voice!

This is what I hear from my 2.5-year-old daughter when confronted with a dilemma! She is completely serious about her problem but she has started singing her way through it.

When I think about how I solve my problems I feel a little ashamed in comparison! – I still knit my brow and hunch my shoulders. I stomp my way through the house and bang things down after I pick them up. I grumble to myself – and then I get cross at Kaelan – AND at myself!- when I see this behaviour magnified by five times by Kaelan when he is frustrated!!

And yet Rosella sings her slightly flat, pentatonic tunes while she keeps trying until she has worked out how to resolve the situation. Something I am going to try – and maybe my ‘problems’ won’t be so bad after I start giggling to myself about my songs!

Lessons from a 2-year-old.

May we always be open to them!

Inventing the good!

Parenting isn’t simple and straight forward anymore. How you raise your children may not be the ONLY factor in how they behave and develop! It isn’t simply a matter of thinking about strong boundaries and good morals, of teaching manners, going to bed on time and limiting junk food. It is much more complicated than that! And it may be that you might spend your child’s whole childhood figuring out what makes them tick, only to work out that it could be something that you can do nothing about.

What an exhausting thought. There are just too many things to consider now.

Food – even if you feed your child good nutritious food, and very little unhealthy snacks or sweets, your child could still have an allergy or a sensitivity to food. These days children are developing reactions to wheat, gluten, dairy, nuts, soy, nightshades, salicylates, and other chemicals that are found naturally in fruit and vegetables! And even though we may make the choice to  eat healthy foods, our foods have still be grown in soils that are so depleted in nutrients that very little is transferred to benefit the food, and to top it all off it is protected by pesticides, herbicides, growth treatments, preservatives and then stored for months on end before it even hits the shelves in our supermarkets, looking as if they were picked this morning. …. and don’t get me started on food additives!

All these things DO have an effect on children’s behaviour, their growth, their ability to think clearly and rationally, their emotional development and ability to socialise. Even if it is a flow-on effect from reactions to one of the things listed above, or from having a depleted immune system because of toxic over load.

And then there are environmental considerations – step outside in the morning and suck in the fumes of your own and your neighbours cars as we all head off to work and school. I don’t even want to know what kind of nasties are in the air I breathe. I hear people talk all the time about how different and relaxing it feels in the country, or at the beach, or in the mountains …. that will be the lack of air pollution!

Then there are the chemicals in our drinking water, the chemicals on our clothes (ever wondered why some new clothes have a distinctive smell?) , the chemicals in our rivers and creeks that run off from businesses and homes (the very same water that gets used to water crops for food that we eat), chemicals in the plastic we use every day, chemicals we clean our homes with … and what about electromagnetic radiation? THAT is everywhere!

I heard recently that the stamps you use for your creative stamping and scrap booking should not be cleaned with baby wipes because it deteriorates the rubber. If it deteriorates the rubber what is it doing to the delicate skin of our babies’ bottoms? (I have always preferred to use wet washers instead of wipes).

We live in a polluted world, and yet we live in a society that freaks about germs and won’t let children hurt themselves! We are happy to breathe toxic fumes but we hothouse our kids and sterilize our homes with bleaches and god forbid we pick up a cracker that has fallen on the floor and give it back to our baby. I don’t get it. I’m ok about germs, because I can make a choice about that, and some exposure to germs is actually a good thing in supporting our health! But I can’t make a choice about my greater environment and that is so frustrating. There is very little we can do about it except make conscious and well researched decisions for our own family so that our children can grow up to reach the potential they are entitled to.

Within my abilities, my budget and my energy levels I try to make choices for myself and my family that will give the greatest support for our immune systems, and our development. Sure there are still lots of things I do that contribute to pollution – I use energy and drive a car, I have plastics in my kitchen. Some chemicals in my garage. But even these I try to reduce where I can – it saves money too! I am not perfect, but I do try. I clean my home with vinegar. I love my new soap nuts! I buy organic when I can afford it. I see health practitioners who know our bodies and can give us the advice and support that is right for us. I don’t knowingly support companies that are involved in unethical practices and pollution. Where I can I support my local community. I hold myself responsible for my decisions and my contribution to the health of the world.

I’m sure it never used to be this complicated! It gets overwhelming when you think about all the things that affect us – but I read this morning about a scientific researcher who discovered that many of the receipts we are given after our purchases are coated in BPA – a highly toxic chemical. His research organization “is dedicated to not preaching about the bad but about diligently trying to invent the good,” he says. I like that attitude.

I am trying to invent the good in my own family. My children are lovely children. They are kind and creative, respectful (within the boundaries of their development!) and they are friendly and polite. They generally have good control over their own actions, and are considerate of others and these days they rarely get sick. Ok yes – they kids and still have their tantrums, still are learning about social niceties and caring, they are experimenting with rudeness and they do annoy each other from time to time … but overall they are pretty darn good. A lot of this has had to do with our parenting (which has been influenced by our own wonderful parents as well as our own research and intuition) but I am pretty sure a lot of what makes our family so happy and healthy is the awareness we carry about what makes us healthy human beings, and striving to do our best to support that. I know I sound a bit magnanimous … but yes! … I am giving myself a pat on the back!

There is too much to worry about, so I’m concerning myself with what makes us healthy and happy instead.