Snatching, Squabbling & Slamming Doors – Siblings!

On my blog, I share my experiences as a parent who is trying to honour and nurture her children’s spirits in the ordinary moments of life.  I write because it makes me a better parent.  I find that I make discoveries as I type, uncovering loving wisdom as I mull things over and try to make enough sense of them to put into words.  I share what works for me in my posts, not because I regard myself as an expert but incase other parents might find it helpful in some way.

Today, though, I don’t think I have any tips to offer.  I’m writing about an area of parenting in which I feel stuck.  I will try not to let it turn into a pointless rant, I’m hoping, at least, that other parents who have the same struggles will feel less alone when they read it.  And, if you have any suggestions to help, please share them in the comments!

 

THE PROBLEM – CAN  YOU RELATE?

I want to say from the start that my boys are lovely.  They are kind, friendly, helpful and charming much of the time.  They adore each other.  3-year-old Thomas will put his arms around his big brother and say, “You’re my best friend Dake (Jake)” and Jake will return the affection.  My heart swells to see them play together, happy in their own world for two.

But, next minute…there’s shouting – no, roaring – and Jake has evicted Thomas from his bedroom.  Thomas is banging on the door, crying that he wants to be let back in.

Or…Thomas has decided he wants the toy car that Jake’s got (even though his fists are already full with 3 others) and the snatching and squealing begins.

Or…Jake begins to slowly wind Thomas up, taking advantage of his 3 years senior.  He argues, manipulates and competes with Thomas, who just can’t keep up and ends up hitting Jake in frustration.  And, of course, Jake comes running to report to me, very indignantly, that Thomas hit him.

Or…(and this one takes the cake)…we’re in the car and Thomas starts wailing “I don’t want Jake to look at me!”

 

Jake knows how to use his power over Thomas and Thomas can be just plain difficult sometimes.

Most of this squabbling occurs either when we’re in the car and I’m unable to resolve things because I’m driving or when I’m just out of ear shot so don’t know exactly how it got started.  And trying to get a straight story from the two of them is pointless.  Sometimes, I don’t even try.

Often, usually when I’ve just sat down for a 5-minute coffee, I hear them both declare “I’m telling on you!” followed by two sets of feet racing to get to me first in order to lodge a complaint against the other.  I already know the situation is going to be impossible to resolve.

The bickering, fussing, shouting and tears challenges my sanity some days.  I’m tired of having to stop in the middle of what I’m doing to try and sort things out. I don’t have energy to expend on what are usually quite petty arguments.  For all my efforts, I rarely feel that I’ve sorted things out properly and it all starts up again 5 minutes later anyway.  It’s like trying to referee a sports game without knowing the rules.  Some days, I end up bickering, fussing, shouting and nearly in tears.

 

WHAT DO I DO?!

As a spiritual parent, I’m trying to teach my boys to show kindness and respect for everyone, regardless of who they are or how they behave.  Siblings are the perfect people to practise on and that is part of their purpose in our lives.  I still believe in my boys’ natural kindness because I see so much of that too but no amount of appealing to the love they have for each other seems to be making a long-term difference with the squabbling.

I’m also mindful of the fact that it is their relationship to have and it’s not my role to micro-manage it.  While I don’t allow them to hurt each other, I don’t often discipline them over the way they treat each other because I don’t see it as a discipline issue, I see it as a relationship issue.

Many days, by the afternoon (or sometimes by breakfast time), I’m fed up, too exasperated to try being wise and reasonable.  Sometimes I do what I always said I wouldn’t – ask Jake to back down since he’s the older one, just so we can all have some peace.   Other times, I confiscate the toy they’re fighting over or send them to play in different areas of the house or distract them with something else.  These things give us all reprieve.  But it’s only temporary.

 

CALL IN THE EXPERTS – SOME PERSPECTIVE ON THE SITUATION

As I’ve been pondering all the squabbling and my own feeling of helplessness in order to write this blog post, I’ve remembered a theory I learned when training as a teacher.  Psychologist Jean Piaget defined four stages of cognitive development and, according to his theory, both my boys would fit into the Preoperational Stage (approx. 2-7 years).  Among other things, at this stage, children tend to be ego-centric and struggle to see things from another person’s point of view.  This is reassuring – kind of.  It’s not that my boys are especially self-centred – they’re typical of their ages – but what am I to do in the meantime?

One of the most important things we do as parents is to accept our children as they are.  So here is another opportunity for me to practise full acceptance.  I need to accept the cognitive stage my boys are at.  I can keep reminding & encouraging them to be kind & respectful and explicitly appreciating it when they are but I may have to accept that it won’t be immediately effective.  Right now, I’m sowing the seed for when their brains are able to think beyond themselves.  If I can’t change the situation, for my own sanity, the best I can do is accept it.  I find praying helps me to find acceptance when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

 

IN SUMMARY – THEY’LL SURVIVE EACH OTHER & I’LL SURVIVE THEM

Thanks for listening to my grumblings.  Two weeks of school holidays are coming to an end I’m feeling a bit worn out by the bickering.  Jake and Thomas are the cause of each other’s highest highs and lowest lows in a day and it’s been a rollercoaster ride for me too.   If I can see their squabbling as one of those necessary stages all children pass through – like newborn nightime feeding and the toddler “whys?” – it might help.  Getting up multiple times a night and answering a barrage of inane questions made me borderline-wretched too…but I’ve lived to tell the tale.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – Do you have any tips on how to reduce sibling arguments?  Comment below.

 

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Children are Naturally Kind…Really

“When you are kind to others, it not only changes you, it changes the world.” – Harold Kushner

One morning, not long after dropping my son, Jake, off at school, I got a text message from my friend.  Jake and her son, Sam, are friends also and go to school together.  That morning, Sam had been feeling upset and was reluctant to be left at school.  When Jake saw how his friend was feeling, he took care of him and tried to cheer him up.  “Jake is such a lovely kid and you should’ve seen it”, the text said.

I really appreciated the text because I needed to be reminded of how kind Jake actually is.  Lately, I feel that I’ve spent a lot of time refereeing arguments between my boys and I had forgotten how caring he can be.  But, when I read my friend’s message, I could just imagine Jake’s manner – the gentle one he uses to comfort his little brother, Thomas, when he’s hurt or when he’s helping Thomas to put his shoes on.

 

NATURAL KINDNESS

Coming from Love, kindness is intrinsic in us all.  We are born spiritually aligned, with a sense of oneness that wants to be expressed through kindness.  In support of this, we are biologically wired to be kind – think of the natural high both the giver & the receiver feel when an act of kindness has been performed.

Although born ready for kindness, we quickly have experiences which can cause us to behave in less-than-kind ways. Contending with other children who want the toy we have or parental pressure to do well at school, for example, can create a threat to us.  At these times, fear kicks in and survival of one sort or another becomes more important than kindness.

As parents, though, we can help our children to exercise their kindness muscle, to build its strength so that it is stronger than fear.  And we’ve got a head start with this job because, really, we all want to be kind.

 

5 WAYS TO NURTURE OUR CHILDREN’S KINDNESS

Be an example of kindness.  I know, I write that we should be an example a lot!  But our example is our most powerful tool as parents.  Firstly, we need to show kindness towards our children.  As obvious as this may seem, it can be hard to do at times, especially when we’re feeling under-the-weather or pressured in some way.  For me, the way I talk to my boys isn’t always kind.  I can slip into a slightly ranty, instruction-giving machine at times and that is something I’m working on.  Our children also need to see us being kind to others – even little kindnesses like stopping to let a car into the flow of traffic or holding the door open for the Mum with the buggy provide a great example to our children.

Acknowledge and appreciate our children’s kindness.  By noticing and thanking our children for their kindness, they see that it makes a difference.  I thank my boys for kindness they show to each other or other people, as well as to me.  I try not to praise kindness as this encourages them to be caring for the wrong reasons – it becomes  approval-seeking instead.  (My post Overusing Good Job elaborates on this.)

Look for natural opportunities for our children to be kind.  These arise all the time.  At a birthday party, we may suggest our child invite the shy one to play with them.  When they come home from a party with a goody bag of sweets, we may suggest they share some of the sweets with their brother or sister.  I try to present these as opportunities to be kind, rather than as expectations so they can feel the joy of kindness, not a sense of obligation.  By practising kindness, we make kindness a habit.

Be kind together as a family.  We have some family Christmas traditions that help our boys to think about what they can give, not only what they might get.  Leaving candy canes for people to find around the local shopping mall is a particularly fun one.  But, kindness is great any time of year.  When Thomas is a little older, I’d like our family to get involved in helping a particular cause on a regular basis and am on the look-out for one that we all feel passionate about.

Talk about kindness.  In our home, we use the word “kindness” daily.  It is one of our family’s highest values.  When talking with my boys about their behaviour, I tend not to say it is “good” or “bad” but to discuss with them whether it was respectful and kind.  We talk about kindness people have shown towards us and acts of kindness we witness that don’t involve us.  We talk about how good it feels to be kind.

 

IN SUMMARY – KINDNESS IS WIN/WIN

Kindness comes easily to children and adults alike.  I know it doesn’t always seem this way but, with a little faith and nurturing, our children will surprise us with their small acts and large gestures of caring.  The form kindness takes is of less importance than the fact they cared enough to offer it.

Last weekend, Jake made me an “I love you” card, decorated with 18 hearts and declaring that, not only am I the best Mum ever, but my chocolate chip cookies are the best ever.  It made my day to get it and I could tell by the way he presented it to me that it made Jake’s day to give it.  Kindness is win-win.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

 

PS – In what ways are your children kind?  Comment below.

 

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Over-Protection – “Protecting” our Children from Opportunities

I sent my son upstairs to get dressed for school.  It was time to put his favourite shorts and t-shirt into the washing machine and I was wondering what he would find to wear instead.  After a while, he turned up in the kitchen all dressed…in his Ninja Turtle onesie (yes, pyjamas).

“Have you seen what Jake’s wearing to school today?” my husband and I asked each other later on.

“Do you think we should let him wear it?”

We were concerned that Jake may get teased by some of the other children and we wanted to protect him from the potential humiliation and hurt.  However, it’s important to us that our boys make authentic decisions, not decisions based on what other people might think.  So we decided not to question Jake about his decision and, with some trepidation, I dropped him off at school in his outfit of choice.

 

With all the best intentions, it’s easy for us to over-protect our children and we do so in many different ways.  We just want them to be happy and, mistakenly, we believe that smoothing the bumps on their road through childhood will make it a happier journey for them.  Protecting them from negative possibilities may, in the short run, be easier but it doesn’t prepare them for adulthood, in which there is no-one smoothing out the road for us.  Adults have to navigate all the potholes, hills and bad drivers themselves.

Ultimately, our children’s long-term happiness is compromised by our over-protection.

 

WE DON’T WANT TO PROTECT OUR CHILDREN FROM THE GOOD STUFF

Taking risks, making mistakes, getting up again – this is the stuff of life.   It adds flavour to our experience and it’s “character-building”.  If we protect our children from these ups-and-downs, we deny them valuable opportunities –

To learn lessons  We learn our lessons best by making mistakes for ourselves, rather than being warned about them by someone else.  How often do we watch our children ignore our advice only to end up thinking, if not saying, “You should have listened, I told you so?” – hundreds!

To strengthen their resilience  Through stumbling, we learn how to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep going.  If children don’t get the chance to trip over the stuff of childhood, they’ll struggle to recover from the inevitable challenges of adulthood.  Resilience is a learned skill and, like any other, developed through practice.

To develop their judgement  The only way to develop good judgement is by using it.  Children need the space to practise making decisions for themselves without us coaching them and interrupting their process.   Any decision that doesn’t turn out well teaches them something that will help them to make a better choice next time.

To have a sense of agency  Our children’s lives are their own and it’s not for us to interfere any more than is necessary.  In conjunction with The Universe, they each decided to live a life on Earth and we need to allow them the space to follow their instincts and have the experiences intended.   I want my boys to feel empowered and to understand that their lives are ultimately their own to shape and, to do that, I need to get out of the way!

To deepen their trust in the world  Over-protecting our children doesn’t communicate our faith in them or in The Universe.  As a parent who understands that we are spiritual beings, part of a greater whole, I know that we each have all the wisdom that we need within us and that The Universe is helping us along.  By controlling their lives, we give the messages to our children that they can’t handle it and The Universe won’t support them.  This sets them up for living in fear, rather than faith, which is a stressful way to live.

To have fun  The fun stuff can be risky!   When we teach our children to be over-cautious, they can become risk-averse and miss out on lots of fun.  We’ve probably all stood on the sidelines of a super-fun activity that our children have refused to participate in.  We feel sorry to see them miss out on a good time.  This happens sometimes for all children but, if it happens regularly, it’s worth considering whether we have been over-protective or if it’s just that our child is more tentative by nature (and, if they are, that’s ok).

 

IN SUMMARY – THE AMBULANCE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE CLIFF

Protection is a part of our parenting role but it is a smaller part than I first thought.  I have slowly loosened my grip and am increasingly willing to let my boys take calculated risks.  I would not let my 3-year-old cross the road by himself but I give him free reign at playgrounds.  It’s not easy, my heart is in my throat as he navigates trickier equipment and higher heights each time but, if it’s not life-threatening, I let him do it.  I’m sure, that I’m becoming more resilient as he is.  And I can see that he’s actually really good at judging his own capability.

Our job is not to smooth the road for our children but to enable them to choose their own path and weather the bumps.  We’re not so much the police who cordon-off dangerous areas to keep our children safe as much as we are the paramedics who arrive to help them recover from an accident.  When I find myself wanting to tell my boys to “be careful”, I stop myself to decide if it’s really necessary.  I often end up saying “that looks like fun” instead.

As for Jake – he wore his Ninja Turtle onesie to school three days in a row until it was time for it to go in the washing machine too.  If anyone had been unkind to him, he obviously didn’t care because he didn’t tell me.  I was so proud of him for being himself and so pleased I hadn’t tried to talk him out of doing what he wanted to.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

 

PS – In what ways are you going to try to step back a bit to allow your children more space?  Comment below.

 

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How To Get Your Children To Listen…Without Shouting at Them

“How Can I Make My Children Listen To Me?”
Short answer – I don’t know exactly.
But I do have some strategies from my days as a teacher and my own parenting to share with you which may increase the chances!

When some of my readers told me that they struggle with getting their children to listen to them, I knew it was something that almost every parent can relate to. Because I certainly can! When our children don’t listen to us, situations can quickly escalate. A simple reminder that it’s time for them to do their homework can rapidly become a shouting, stomping affair (and not just by the children!). So, I decided to do some thinking and see if I had anything useful to offer…

 

WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING WHEN OUR CHILDREN DON’T LISTEN?

I took a moment to think about what’s happening when our children “don’t listen” and I realised that there are two main scenarios –

1. Our children really aren’t listening, they’re zoning us out (how dare they?!)
2. Our children have listened but they’re not doing what we have asked them to do.

In our house, it’s usually the later (although I understand that, as they reach adolescence, children become more certain that what their parents are saying doesn’t actually apply to them and they nonchalantly ignore it much of the time). I don’t take it very well when my boys don’t do as I have asked. I feel frustrated and disrespected. But when I questioned myself, Are my boys really disrespecting me when they don’t listen? I had to conclude that, no, they’re actually not disrespecting me – it’s just that they don’t agree with me.

They don’t agree that they should turn the tv off to leave for school – they just want to see how the program ends.

They don’t agree that they should wear tidier clothes for our special family lunch – they like this t-shirt.

They don’t agree that they should come and set the table now – there’s playing to be done and setting the table is such a draaag.

When I remember that my boys usually aren’t meaning to disrespect me by not listening, it diffuses my emotion because I know it’s not personal and then I handle the situation more calmly. I can aknowledge that my children have their own concerns and opinions that deserve respect. Who’s to say their interests are less important than my own? As inconvenient as it sometimes is, they need to have a say in their own lives. As spiritual parents, we understand that our children are not ours to control and we are bound to at least take their point of view into consideration. After truly considering it, we can then fairly decide whether to insist on what we’ve asked for, compromise or allow them their way.

What I’m getting at here is that our relationship with our children is a relationship between equals. True respect doesn’t see age. Sure, there are times when I am certain that I know best – I’m the one who can read the clock and I know that, if the tv isn’t turned off now, we won’t get to school in time. But I don’t want to be heavy-handed in my authority or use my age over my children. Perhaps it really doesn’t matter what they wear to the family lunch – my family will just be glad to see them, chocolate-stained Star Wars t-shirts and all. We do not lose our power when we decide to allow our children their way – we are more powerful for sharing it.

 

5 STEPS TO HELP YOUR CHILDREN LISTEN TO YOU

How we approach things really depends on the scenario and the age of our children. But here are 5 general steps for increasing the chance of having them listen to us when it really is for the best, beginning with the way we tell them what we want –

1. Get their attention
Often, I can’t be bothered trudging upstairs to my boys’ bedrooms so I holler instructions to them from the kitchen as I chop the onions. Then I wait for the response – none.
The key is to get our children’s eye-contact before telling them what we want them to do so we know they are engaged. Looking into our eyes, they can’t pretend to themselves or to us that they haven’t heard. This may require us to make the effort to go up the stairs and maybe to temporarily remove distractions (such as toys or screens) to get our children’s attention. For young children, physically getting down to eye-level is helpful too.

2. Insist on a verbal response
When our children reply, they’re acknowledging that they have heard us. Sometimes, “ok” is sufficient. Sometimes, they need to tell us more, depending what it is that we have said to them.  Again, they can’t deny hearing or understanding our message if they have responded appropriately.  And it’s just good manners to respond when someone speaks to us.

3. Give them a chance to share their point of view
If they disagree with us, our children need to be able to say so. It is an important life-skill to be able to express a point of view that differs from someone else’s. Also, when we take the time to listen to what they have to say, it shows them that we care about their perspective and feelings. Disagreement doesn’t have to become an argument. If they do start arguing back, I tell my boys, “you can tell me what you have to say but do it respectfully”. When we hear our children’s point of view, we might find that we’re actually happy to accommodate them or are willing to compromise. All these things strengthen our relationship with them and, when we still insist on them doing what we have said, they are more likely to do it, having felt acknowledged.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. – Steven Covey

Note of caution: With some nimble-tongued characters, it can be a slippery slope of persuasion and excuses not to do whatever has been asked of them. Be on the look-out and don’t get sucked in. If, after hearing their persepctive, I still want my son to do as I asked and the attempts to change my mind continue beyond reason, I just say “I have listened to you but I am not changing my mind”.

4. Explain our reasons for what we have asked them to do
When we decide that we are not going to change our mind, it helps for our children to understand our reasoning. “I don’t have to justify myself to my own kids!” I hear more than one of you saying. 😊  Giving them our reasons also shows them that we’re not being arbitrary or simply pleasing ourselves. Our children may even agree with us in the end. My son doesn’t like being late to school so, if I point out that he may be late if he doesn’t turn the tv off now, he’s usually happy to co-operate.

5. Use the sliding scale of insistence
When I have heard my son’s point of view and still want him to do as I asked, I begin lightly, with the assumption that he will now do as asked. For example, I might simply say, “So, come and set the table now please”. If he doesn’t, I gradually up the stakes – “If you don’t come and set the table now, I will have to take that Lego away until it’s done because it’s distracting you from doing your job”. etc. I try to use natural consequences as much as possible and not to manipulate. You might find my post Discipline 101 helpful here.

This 5-step process might sound like a bit of a palaver when you just want your kids to stop jumping on the couch. In some situations, you will zip through these steps in just a minute or two. But it’s helpful to have the structure in place, practised for when there are larger issues to be resolved.

 

IN SUMMARY – GIVING EVERYONE A VOICE WITHOUT GETTING LOUDER

Often, when we complain that our children are not listening to us, we’re really complaining that they’re not doing what we’ve told them to do. This erks us on so many levels! We tend to increase our volume to get our message across – and they do the same! But using a process like the one I’ve suggested respects and empowers both ourselves and our children. The final decision does rest with us, the parent, but we have to (and want to) take our children’s point-of-view seriously. Creating an atmosphere of co-operation instead of control in our homes reduces the amount of struggle and increases everyone’s willingness to help.

My son has actually told me a few times that I’m “always right” which I like to jokingly remind him of from time to time. But, when I take everyone’s perspective into consideration, I am doing the right thing.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – Do you have any of your own tips for getting your children to listen?  Share in the comments.

 

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Mummy, will you play with me?

“Mummy, will you play with me?”

I wonder how many times a day my sons ask me this.  Actually, Thomas (3 years-old) just commands, “Play with me!”  And why shouldn’t he?  That’s what mums (and dads) are meant to do.  But we’re also meant to provide nutritious meals & clean clothes to wear, get everyone where they need to go and earn a living…(I won’t continue in case I overwhelm you!)

Before I became a parent, I imagined playing carefree with my children for long stretches of time each day.  I didn’t realise that I would feel anxious as I built Duplo towers with my son because I needed to get dinner in the oven.  Or struggling to engage fully in re-enactments of emergency/superhero scenarios because I had a couple of phone calls to make before heading out for school pick-up.  Before I became a parent, I also didn’t realise that I would refuse my children’s requests to play with them several times on any given day because I had other things to do.

So, I have a love-hate relationship with this question, Mummy, will you play with me?  It fills me with both tenderness and guilt.  When he asks, my son is inviting me into his world and wants to spend time with me – which I love.  But sometimes I feel almost angry at him for asking me to play when I can’t say “yes” – can’t you see I’m busy making school lunches?  Don’t you know how much I have to do?! – which I hate.  It is a constant jostle for my attention that I haven’t yet got right.  And perhaps I won’t.

 

REMEMBERING THE VALUE OF PLAY

When we play with our children, we affirm them.  We show them that they are important to us and that the things they care about matter.  Having fun together is also a natural way for people (of any age) to connect.  When we don’t take time to play, our interactions with our children can be reduced to organising and instructing them – “go and put your shoes on”, “where is your reading book?”.  We find out lots about our children when we play with them too.  We discover new vocabulary they have picked up, get insights into their world view and become privy to their dreams.  When I commit to our play, my son and I are both present, in a state of spiritual alignment which feels nourishing for us both.

There have been times when I’ve noticed my boys’ behaviour has gradually become more difficult for no obvious reason.  Then, thinking about it further, I’ve realised that I’ve been preoccupied and, among other things, haven’t played much with them recently.  When I go back to prioritising play time together, their behaviour often becomes easier.  They needed us to connect.

Here are some of the steps I’m taking to help me fit some quality play time into each day –

 

5 WAYS FOR BUSY PARENTS TO PLAY MORE WITH THEIR CHILDREN

  1. Remember that every little bit counts A short time spent playing together is better than none.  When one of my sons asks me to play, I’m trying to say “yes” if I possibly can, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.
  2. Play something you & your child both enjoy Our children can sense when we don’t really want to be playing with them and are doing so out of a sense of should.  It’s likely they take it personally at times. The other morning, I was meant to be playing Star Wars with Jake but struggled to get enthused and I wasn’t really doing much.  He looked at me as if to say, “Well go on – play!” On the other hand, he and I bond over Lego, I even wrote a blog post called 6 Life Lessons Lego Taught Me.  I know I can be present and good company when we play Lego.
  3. Build playtime into the daily routine When something is built into our routine, we don’t question it or have to make time for it – it’s just what we do.  In our family, we have a few parts of the day dedicated to playing together so that, if the day does get away on us, we have had some play time to connect.  When it’s my turn to get up with our boys at 6am, we play for nearly an hour until it’s time to make breakfast.  After dinner every night, we have “5 minutes play time” for the whole family to play together, no matter how late it is.
  4. Plan an extended play time together occasionally For me, this works best in the weekends.  I mentally put aside a specific stretch of time for playing with my boys at least once each weekend and commit to an hour or more of playing and hanging out with my boys.
  5. Initiate play on your own terms If I have ten minutes to wait until the washing machine has finished it’s cycle, instead of doing another job or checking my phone, I might join my boys in whatever they’re playing while it suits me.  If they’re not engrossed in something, I suggest something I think we’ll all enjoy to do together.  So far, they’ve never declined my invitation to play.

 

IN SUMMARY – TIME WELL SPENT

Playing with our children is obviously not unique to spiritual parenting styles.  But it is a great way to practise some of our spiritual parenting values and beliefs, such as demonstrating our child’s worth to them, being present and building loving relationships.  I don’t think parents should be their children’s main playmates – playing with friends, siblings and on their own is really important – but it is a special part of our role and worth making time for.  I’ll be honest, there are times when playing feels like another thing I should do, but often I end up having fun.  And I never regret spending time with my boys, it always feels like time well spent.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

PS – What do you especially enjoy playing with your children?  Comment below.

 

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Self Love – Not Just Warm Fuzzies

For Annie

As I take a moment to stop and watch my boys play or sleep, drinking them in in the way that mothers do, I sometimes wonder Do they love themselves?  They appear happy in their lives, they’re certainly proactive about standing up for themselves, they do the things they enjoy…it looks like they love themselves but I don’t know if I can really tell.

The sad truth is that, although we arrive in this world aligned with Spirit, knowing that we are loving and lovable, at some point, that changes for most of us.  Immersed in a society that is quicker to criticise than to encourage, we start questioning our own lovability.  As a parent, I often doubt my ability to prevent that shift from happening…but I have to try.

I recently found myself in a pattern of criticising more than encouraging my boys, especially my eldest, Jake.  I’d been a bit unwell so my tolerance level was low and my ability to hold my tongue had disappeared almost entirely.  After a few days I realised, Oh my goodness, I’ve been picking on my own son!  I had fallen into a pattern of regularly judging, prompting and correcting him.  Poor Jake couldn’t do anything right – “you didn’t say ‘thank you’”, “stop using your fingers, there’s a knife right there!”, “if you kept your room tidy, you wouldn’t lose your Lego in the first place!”  Given the way I was speaking to him, He must’ve thought that I considered him hopeless and, maybe, not loveable in some way. That thought horrified me.  The way we treat our children shows them how to treat themselves and I did not want him picking on himself like I had been.  I have to show him what it really means to love.

 

WHAT IS SELF-LOVE?

Self-love is not building up our egos with a c.v. of external “successes” to make it feel worthy of love.  It is connecting with our true essence which is love. Self-love is about the way we regard ourselves and the way we treat ourselves, knowing we are inherently loving and loveable.  A simple way to explain it to a child is to be your own best friend – appreciate yourself, care for yourself, extend kindness to yourself just as you would a friend.

I’m going to be my own best friend, stick with me till the end. –  Jewel

 

HOW TO LOVE OURSELVES

We love ourselves in the same ways we love other people.  If a person doesn’t have much self-love, they may find it grows by treating themselves lovingly anyway.  I doubt I’m the only parent on the road back to self-love after years of being unkind to myself so the ideas I offer below are for parents and children alike!

Speak nicely to ourselves  We need a cheerleading squad inside our heads, not a judge.  For parents, the way we talk to our children becomes the way they talk to themselves – so no picking!  We can also coach our children to speak kindly to themselves when we hear them talking negatively about themselves.  This doesn’t mean being dishonest, just compassionate.  For example, instead of “I stink at reading” we can teach them to say “I am learning to read” or “I’m finding reading difficult right now” or focus them on their effort and determination instead of the reading.

Forgive ourselves when we make mistakes  Forgiving ourselves is perhaps the truest act of self-compassion.  It allows us to move forward without the burden of our past.  Sometimes I can see that Jake is heavy with the regret of something he has done and I suggest to him that he can forgive himself.  My post about forgiveness explains more.

Give ourselves what we need  Perhaps we feel in need of help, rest or a good laugh over our favourite comedy show.  When we honour our needs, we honour ourselves.  We can help our children to be aware of their needs and encourage them to be proactive in meeting them.

Do what feels right for ourselves  This is about honouring what we know is true for us – from following our dreams (even when they don’t seem “realistic”) to listening to our intuition (even when it doesn’t match popular opinion).  We can steer our children inwards to help them make authentic decisions for themselves.  My post about intuition may give you ideas about how to do this.

Spend time with ourselves  Just as we invest time in our friendships, we need to invest time in ourselves.  Hanging out on our own gives us the quiet to hear our own voice instead of others’ for a while.  For our children, this means allowing them plenty of unstructured, unscheduled time to potter as they wish.

Do things that bring us joy  Our busy lives are often not set up for joy.  We tend to prioritise what we think we should do over what lights us up.  But it is in joy that we recognise ourselves and recharge.  I think it’s important that we prioritise time for our children to do what brings them joy.  For example, we can enrol them in the extra-curricular activities they want to go to – not the ones we think, for some reason, they should do.  We can use joy as a criteria for planning their time and ours.

Surround ourselves with people who treat us well  When we truly value ourselves, we expect other people to value us too.  We don’t submit ourselves to others who are disrespectful or hostile.  We care for ourselves by choosing kind company, people who lift us up.  Children make many new friendships throughout childhood and will likely need our help to become discerning and make positive choices.

 

WHY IS SELF-LOVE SO IMPORTANT?

Self-love is not simply giving ourselves warm fuzzies to cheer ourselves up.  It’s surely a happier life for those who love themselves – and that’s important but it’s not the only benefit.  By loving ourselves, we build our strength to truly love another.  We practise unconditional love for ourselves in order to be able to extend that love to others.  My observation is that it is often those who appear toughest who are actually the weakest – unable to love themselves, they have little to give to others.   The ways they are tough on themselves become the ways they are tough on others.  Children who love themselves become rich sources of love for the other people in their lives.

As I near the end of this post, perhaps I have stumbled upon the answer to my question of how we can really tell whether our children love themselves.  Maybe the depth of love they extend to others is reflective of the love they have for themselves?

 

IN SUMMARY – OUR ROLE AS PARENTS

In those moments when loving ourselves is hard, it may help us to remember that the Universe created us from Love, exactly the way it wanted us to be.  Self-Love is not about building up our egos by counting up our successes and wonderfulnesses.  It is about knowing we are successful and wonderful regardless of what we do because we were made that way.  Our role as parents is to reflect our children’s lovability back to them so they have no doubt of it.  It is also to model self-love so that they may see what it really means to love themselves through the various circumstances of life. 

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – In what ways do you encourage your children to love themselves?

 

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How to Approach your Child’s Teacher with a Concern

Before having children, I was a primary school teacher.  For me, it was an enormous privilege to have such a significant role in the lives of the children in my class and I took the responsibility seriously.  I wanted my pupils to enjoy their year with me and to see them thrive.  It broke my heart if any one of them was struggling in some way – academically, socially, emotionally…  And if a parent had any concerns about their child, I wanted them to raise it with me so we could deal with it quickly, together.

Now I am a parent, my heart breaks over my own children’s struggles (broken hearts everywhere!)  At one point, my son was being bullied by another child at kindergarten.  Sometimes he would cry in the car on the way home from kindy and he lost some of his natural spark for a while.  But my husband and I raised it with the teachers and kept in regular contact with them over the situation and gradually things settled.  But, until they did, I was torn.  As a parent, I just wanted the other child kept away from my son.  As a teacher, I knew the other child was entitled to be there too and had social skills to learn that he couldn’t if the two boys were simply separated.

As a spiritually-led parent, my commitment to Love applies to everything.  I want my boys to see me treating everyone with respect, including their teachers, other children (even those they may be having trouble with) and themselves.  Bearing that in mind and with the benefit of having been in both positions (teacher and parent), here are some principles I use to help me approach a teacher with a concern –

 

Build a relationship with your child’s teacher.  When I was teaching, I worked hard to build open relationship with parents.  I nurtured those relationships in various ways but it was easier when parents made an effort too (I had about 28 sets of parents to connect with, they each only had one teacher).  Some parents just came into the classroom occasionally before school for a brief chat with me about nothing in particular and that helped.  We built a respectful, trusting relationship which made it easier for either of us to raise issues about their child.

Remember that most teachers are hard-working but none are super-human.  As a teacher, I worked hard to meet as many of my pupils’ needs as I could.  I had my finger on the pulse but I couldn’t see everything that was going on in the playground or read my pupil’s minds.  And there just weren’t enough hours in the day to attend to every need I saw so I was constantly prioritising (and feeling guilty).  So, before approaching our child’s teacher, let’s make sure we have perspective.  It’s easy to be judgmental about what a teacher “should” be doing but, as parents, we have to be realistic and fair too.

Avoid gossiping with other parents.  It’s one thing to run our concerns by another trusted parent to get a sense of whether we have things in perspective or not but it’s another to gossip and analyse the teacher together behind their back.  And to do this in front of our children can undermine their relationship with their teacher.

Make an appointment when bringing up a new issue.   Although teachers are usually around for parents to talk to before and after school, it is better to make an appointment to see the teacher for anything that is more than a little niggle.  An appointment will allow you more time and privacy to discuss what’s on your mind.  Giving the teacher an idea of what you want to discuss in advance allows them to prepare themselves for a thorough discussion.  For example, they may have assessment information or notes they’ve kept about social issues to review and bring to the meeting.  Giving the teacher time to prepare will result in better outcomes for your child.

Ask the teacher for help, rather than make a complaint.  When something’s not going well for our child, our emotions can be high but it’s important to go into the meeting with an attitude of “let’s work on this together” rather than “this isn’t good enough – what’s going on?!” etc   A teacher who feels attacked may, understandably, become defensive which won’t help to resolve the situation.  What we really want, is for the teacher to understand where we’re coming from then to collaborate on improving the situation.

Have patience and keep in touch with the teacher.  When I was teaching, I didn’t always have a solution to offer on the spot of the first meeting.  Sometimes I wanted to mull it over for a while and get back to the parents.  Sometimes, I had to try out different things to find what would work to solve the issue.  But I always wanted to resolve the situation.  The parents and I would regularly check in with each other to review how things were going.

Try twice before going higher.  If you feel that the issue you have raised with the teacher is either being ignored or the teacher can’t manage it on their own, you may need to consider getting a more senior staff member involved.  I think it’s fair to discuss the issue twice with the teacher before asking to bring in someone higher.  If we feel the need to involve more senior staff members, it should be with the teacher’s knowledge.  Best practice is for the teacher and the senior staff member to both attend that meeting.

 

IN SUMMARY: IT’S ALL IN THE RELATIONSHIP

Parents are the experts on their child.  Teachers are the experts on the dynamics of their class and the skills & knowledge of teaching.  When we have a concern for our child, we want to bring together all our expertise to solve the situation quickly.

The quality of our relationship with the teacher will impact how well things go when we raise an issue.  If we go storming into the school or centre like dissatisfied customers, throwing our weight around, we are not being advocates for our children but for our own egos.  At the other end of the spectrum, I know that some parents avoid talking to teachers due to negative experiences they had as a child at school.   As I often say, we are all spiritual equals, regardless of the position we have within any social structure or institution, and, bearing that in mind, we parents are entitled to raise issues and bound to do so respectfully.  I hope, firstly, that you never have to use these guidelines but, if you do, that they provide a starting point to help you begin.

Much love to you and your little souls,

PS: What kinds of concerns have you raised with your child’s teacher?  Share in the comments below.

 

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Co-Operation Instead of Control

I came across Christina Fletcher of Spiritually Aware Parenting online, through our shared passion for seeing children thrive mind, body and spirit.  Her website is full of great resources for parents wanting to honour and nurture their children’s spirituality.  When Christina invited me to contribute a guest blog post, I was thrilled to be part of her great work.

Here’s the link to my guest post, Co-operation Instead of Control.  There are times when we just need our children to do what we want them to.  This post looks at how to get them to do those things in a way that is respectful and encourages them to think beyond themselves…and maybe even want to help.

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Is Screen Time Really Bad for My Kids?

Giving our children screen time is something we parents can feel uneasy about sometimes.  Seeing my boys staring at a screen in that zoned-out state makes me uncomfortable.  The media regularly reports on research that shows screen time can contribute to attention issues, obesity and violent behaviour, among other things.  I take all this on board but I am of the opinion that there is very little in life that is all bad or all good.  Most things have the potential to be both and it’s how we use them that is important.

The reality is that our children have been born into a screen-centric era.  Technology is used to communicate, entertain, do business and so many other things.  I think it is less important to raise our children screen-free than it is to raise them screen-savvy.  Use of technology is unavoidable and as parents, we need to teach them to use it thoughtfully.

My boys, aged 3 and 5, only watch children’s programs.  They don’t play games because they’ve never asked and I’ve never shown them.  Sometimes, I’ll search the internet with my eldest because there’s something he’s interested to find out, – such as, the answer to a question that arose at school, or how much pocket money he needs to save for the Lego set he has his eye on.  Since my boys are so young, I perhaps haven’t encountered yet some of the issues you may have if your children are older.  Even so, I hope today to offer food for thought to help you determine whether the attitudes and behaviour around screentime in your home are right for your family or need adjusting.

 

GOOD USE OF SCREEN TIME

So, here are some of the good reasons for children to have screen time, taking into account the needs of the whole family.

The child is at ‘breaking point’ in some way.  When I can see that one of my boys is exhausted and struggling to cope, I find a bit of screen time gives him a chance to rest physically and a break from coping with the day.

The parent is at ‘breaking point’ in some way.   When I’m feeling that my resources for coping with my boys have run out (perhaps because I’m underslept or they’ve been bickering all day), screentime can give me a break to make sure I don’t take my mood out on my children.  (This relates to a recent post, Why Am I Shouting At My Children?!)

For enjoyment.  Amongst all the motivations we have for our parenting decisions, we can at times forget that enjoyment is important too.  I love to cry over Long Lost Family and my boys love to join in with all the Paw Patrol songs and catchphrases.

For the parent to get stuff done.  This is a practical one, especially for those with younger children.  When I’m packing for our family to go away on holiday, for example, I find it almost impossible to get done with the boys around so they might get a bit more screentime than usual.

As a practical motivator.  In the mornings, my boys are allowed to watch tv once they are completely ready for school or kindy, including bags packed and shoes ready at the door.  It provides incentive to keep them moving so we can get out the door in time.  I think screen time should be used for mutual advantage when possible.

As a point of discussion.  Programs and movies especially provide good material for discussion and we can talk with our children about them just as we might when reading them a story.  The possibilities are endless.   For example, we can discuss characters’ motivations & emotions, ask our children what they would’ve done in the same situation or which character they would want to be friends with & why.  As they get older and are using the internet & social media there will be lots to discuss about how to determine if information is valid, what advertising is trying to do and how to use social media positively (but this is a whole other post!).

 

REASONS NOT TO USE SCREENTIME

Before I write this list, I put my hand up to doing every single one of them…more than once.

To avoid dealing with difficult behaviour.  Needing a break sometimes is one thing but avoiding dealing with real issues is another.  Sometimes getting to the bottom of our children’s difficult behaviour or sibling arguments can feel too hard and we know a bit of screen time would diffuse the situation for now.  But, for a long-term solution, we have to figure out what’s happening and provide the necessary guidance for our children.

To soothe an upset child.  Sometimes I find it hard to deal with my youngest’s emotions because he doesn’t have the language to explain all that’s going on for him.  It is tempting to turn the tv on to distract him and allow his emotions to settle.  But, by doing this, I teach him to avoid his emotions.  I don’t want to teach my boys to soothe or distract themselves with the screen (or other things like food).  Our emotions are important indicators of what’s going on for us and I want my boys to have the strength to face theirs.

Instead of play, physical activity and quiet time.  I’ve heard it said that play is the work of childhood.  It has so many benefits to all aspects of a child’s development – physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual.  No one can argue that screen time isn’t sedentary (that’s often part of the appeal!) so it needs to be balanced with activity.  I also think it is essential for children to have quiet time alone each day to connect with themselves for their spiritual well-being  (see my post Just Be: Presence and Stillness)  Screen time should be as well as these things, not instead of them.  If our children are bored, it is not the time to turn the tv on but to encourage one of these things.

 

TIPS FOR MANAGING SCREEN TIME

It’s all very well to be clear about when we’re happy for our children to have screen time and when we’re not but we parents are just one side of the equation.  Our children have their own intentions around screen time and they often don’t match ours.  This can result in some difficult behaviour.  This is what works in our house…for now.

Have clear guidelines for when and how long children can have screen time.  When the rules are clear, consistent and fair, there is less arguing over them, the children just accept them.  My boys are allowed screen time twice a day for 30 minutes at a time.  I expect this to change as they get older.

No fussing allowed when it’s time to turn the screen off.  We used to have loud whining, stamping and crying whenever it was time to turn the tv off and I dreaded having to announce that time was up.  So I explained to my son how unpleasant & disrespectful his behaviour was and asked him not to do it.  He kept doing it so I introduced a new rule – if you fuss when it’s time to turn the tv off, there’s no tv the next day.  He missed out once…no fussing since.

Monitor the content and how it impacts our children’s behaviour.  When my eldest discovered Star Wars, he started wanting to watch it.  I’ve never let him watch a real Star Wars movie but I figured the Lego Star Wars movies would be child-suitable.  Well, they weren’t suitable for him.  After watching them, every interaction with his poor little brother was a reinactment of what he had seen.  He made violent threats, rough and tumble got too rough and he wasn’t respecting his brother’s requests for him to stop.  We gave him the chance to improve his behaviour but he didn’t so he’s no longer allowed to watch Lego Star Wars.

Be the example of moderation.   Nothing speaks louder to our children than our example.  If they see us glued to our screens, unable to get out attention, they will consider that the norm.

 

IN SUMMARY: KEEPING SCREEN TIME IN PERSPECTIVE

I wrote this post because I don’t think we need to feel bad about screen time in our homes but we need to be intentional about it.  My intention is for my boys to be able to use technology as one of many tools for enjoyment and learning in their lives.  Because they are young right now, I mostly manage their screen time for them but, as they get older, I hope they will develop an attitude that helps them to manage it positively for themselves.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS: What are your tips for keeping screen time positive and manageable in your house? Share in the comments below.

 

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“WHY AM I SHOUTING AT MY CHILDREN?!”

It was early in the morning. I hadn’t been up for more than ten minutes but I had already shouted at my boys three times.  Having been a teacher, I’m usually pretty good at what I call “professional calm” – the ability to avoid getting wound up in the emotions of the moment and respond calmly to a situation.  Normally, I’m a minimal shouter but there was no sign of that woman on this particular morning.  “Why am I shouting at my children?” I wondered.

When I find myself shouting, it is a signal to go inwards, not to blame my children – even when they’ve trailed mud over the newly-cleaned floor.  My shouting is a prompt to ask myself what’s going on with me that I can’t muster up my professional calm in this moment?  Often just knowing why I’m really shouting, seeing that it’s not really about my boys at all, helps me to regain perspective and stop taking whatever it is out on them.

 

REASONS WE MIGHT SHOUT AT OUR CHILDREN

Here are some of the main reasons I shout.  What makes you shouty?

  1. I’m tired. This is the main reason I shout. When I’m tired, I become hypersensitive and my tolerance level plummets.  Something that would’ve been irritating on a normal day, like Thomas pouring my drink into his cup ‘til overflowing while I’m not looking, becomes infuriating when I’m tired.
  2. I’m overwhelmed. When I’m overwhelmed by all I need to do, any added demand, such as being asked for another snack, feels like harassment.
  3. I’m triggered. Sometimes, my boys hit a sensitive spot and my ego comes out roaring. Eg.“How dare he disrespect me!” Being disrespected hits a tender place for me.  I question my worth and I spiral downwards within – and loudly without.   (See my post How Our Children Raise Us for more on being triggered by our children.)
  4. My children are doing just the thing that winds me up. Thomas has a squeal perfectly-pitched to grate on my nerves. My reaction is almost a biological response rather than a mental/emotional one.  He usually squeals when being provoked by Jake.  Thomas’ squeal and Jake’s aggravation are a lethal combination that sends me bananas.
  5. I’m in a rush. You don’t need to be told that children have a completely different sense of timing to adults. (The joys of not being able to read a clock.)  I hate being late and lose patience when my boys are slowing us down.
  6. I’m preoccupied. Sometimes, there’s an issue with my boys that I haven’t taken the time to get to the bottom of because I’m in the middle of something. Perhaps I’ve called out to them to stop arguing over a toy but they actually need some help to come up with a fair way to share it.  Without my guidance, the arguing gets louder and more aggressive…and so do I.  Sometimes, I’ve just got to put my plans on pause, get present, and deal with the issue properly.

 

HIT THE RESET BUTTON

The magic is that, in any situation, we can choose again. We can hit the reset button and respond differently, without shouting.  When time is short, I simply take a breath.  With that breath, I imagine shedding my upset self  like a snake sheds its skin, leaving only the Loving part of myself remaining.  I return to the situation with her instead.  Just the intention to approach the situation with Love makes a difference. (We can teach our children to do this too.)  When I need more than a moment to make the switch to Love, I turn on the kettle and the tv, giving us all a 10-minute break to diffuse the situation.  My professional calm returns and I continue – without shouting.

Yesterday, the boys and I were in the car and it was a case #1 and of #4 in combination.  Having been working on this post, I was determined not to shout.  Being in the car, there was no kettle or tv in sight.  So, I stopped the car, told my boys I would drive again when Thomas had stopped squealing & Jake had stopped bothering him and got out.  I stood quietly on the pavement until I felt calmer and was sure the kafuffle between my boys was over.  It was a quiet drive home.

 

RECOVERING FROM OUR SHOUTING EPISODES

When I have shouted at my boys, I always apologise.  When they shout, I tell them that they can express whatever they have to say but must do so respectfully.  Same goes for me.  Whatever the reason I’m shouting, my spiritual beliefs insist that I always treat others with love, knowing everyone is worthy of kindness and respect at all times.  I only apologise when I’m ready, though, able to be sincere.  (See my post Should I Make My Children Apologise?)

It doesn’t feel good to have been the shouting mum, it’s not how I want to be.  So I also have to forgive myself. I don’t want to carry my guilt around with me, it will only sour the next moment.  Having a shouty moment – or a shouty day, even – doesn’t mean we’re bad people or bad parents.  It just means there’s something going on for us.  It shows us that we need a little TLC of some sort – we all do sometimes.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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