What if I Can’t Think of any “Natural Consequences”?

WHAT ARE “NATURAL CONSEQUENCES?”

When it comes to discipline, natural consequences are held up as the ideal in many parenting circles.  Natural consequences occur without the parent creating them – Life is allowed to step in and becomes the teacher eg. If you’re late to bed, you’ll feel tired tomorrow or If you don’t share the toys with your friend, they might not want to play with you anymore.  I still think of natural consequences as the preferred choice to offer a child when needed but, sometimes, pointing out the natural consequence doesn’t really help.

 

WHEN NATURAL CONSQUENCES AREN’T SUITABLE

I give my boys a choice of consequences when setting non-negotiable boundaries (usually using the process outlined in my free Respectful Discipline Printable).  Non-negotiable boundaries are ones that I fully believe need to be insisted on, there is no room for compromise. Whether a particular boundary should be negotiable or not is a whole other blog post but, for me, non-negotiable boundaries are usually related to health, safety and respect. But there are 2 scenarios I sometimes find myself in when natural consequences aren’t suitable –

1) I have a non-negotiable boundary and the natural consequence is not enough to motivate my child into doing what I need to insist on. 

For example, bedtime is non-negotiable, especially if my child has to go to school or kindy the next day.  A natural consequence of them not going to bed is that they’ll feel tired the following day.  But, in my experience, telling a preschooler that they’ll feel tired tomorrow if they don’t go to bed now is not going to work – tomorrow is too far away for them to care and they can’t quite imagine all the implications of feeling exhausted.

Take this scenario which my husband and I have been suffering through recently – Thomas (aged 3) is messing about as he’s getting ready for bed, drawing the bedtime routine out with various antics.  He has kindy tomorrow and it’s already past his bedtime.  He’s ignoring all of my positive prompts to stop being silly and just clean his teeth (for goodness’ sake!).  He doesn’t listen when I tell him he’ll be too tired to enjoy his day tomorrow if he doesn’t get to bed.  My words have no effect, it’s as if I’m not even there.

2) I have a non-negotiable boundary and I can’t think of a natural consequence.

What’s the natural consequence for poor language? – the words have already been said.

What’s the natural consequence for throwing food on the floor? – the food is just going to sit there.

I’ve had times when I’ve been kind of stumped, unable to think of a natural consequence.

 

WHEN WE NEED AN ALTERNATIVE TO NATURAL CONSEQUENCES

When a natural consequence isn’t appropriate for one of these reasons, I turn to the next best thing – logical consequences.  In contrast to natural consequences, logical consequences are imposed by someone (us).  The important factor is that they are directly related to the behaviour.

If poor language is used, a logical consequence is for the child to leave the room so that others don’t have to hear them speak that way.  “Please leave the room until you’ve finished using those words, we don’t want to hear it”.  (If they won’t leave, I leave the room, saying I’m not listening to disrespectful language).

If food is thrown on the floor, a logical consequence is for the child to help tidy it up.  “If you choose to keep throwing the food, you’ll have more of it to clean up”.

And, if Thomas is procrastinating as he gets ready for bed, it’s already past bedtime and my encouragement to hurry along isn’t working, I tell him, “Thomas, if you’re being silly & you take too long to get ready for bed, we will run out of time for a story.  Are you going to choose to mess around or to clean your teeth now and have a story?”

 

WHEN LOGICAL CONSQUENCES DON’T WORK EITHER!

I view consequences on a sliding scale.  Natural consequences are the first and ideal choice.  Logical consequences are the next-best fair and reasonable choice.  Most times, they work well…but occasionally they don’t.   What do we do then?!

Not everyone may agree with me here but, if it really is a non-negotiable boundary, I’m prepared to get creative to teach my child what he needs to learn.  I will use illogical consequences in as fair a way as possible after trying natural or logical consequences first.  Take this current scenario that I’m working through with one of my sons –

He has been using unkind name-calling and  toilet talk recently.  I have non-negotiable boundaries around treating others with respect but a month of natural & logical consequences did little to improve his language.  So, he now gets fined $1 of his pocket money each time he speaks disrespectfully (I give him one warning/reminder first).  Before implementing this system, I talked to my son (again) about his behaviour and why it’s unacceptable.  I invited him to solve the problem and asked him, “what do you think we should do about this?”  He didn’t have any suggestions so I offered this idea of fining him.  It kind-of appealed to him because it felt a bit like playing police.  I explained to him that , he would need to improve his language over the next couple of days or I would start charging him $1 of his pocket money each time he used toilet talk or name-calling.  His language didn’t improve so, effectively, he chose this system of consequences himself.  When I do have to fine him, he accepts that he has to pay because the process is transparent and he got himself into this situation.  I have been as fair and respectful as I can in setting this boundary around resepctful language.  Fining him will not be a long-term strategy but the message is getting through.

 

IN SUMMARY – IT’S OK TO SET BOUNDARIES

I saw a YouTube video recently that opened with two parents saying they give their children no boundaries because they want their children to be free spirits.  I’m still not sure if the video was tongue-in-cheek or real because I turned it off after the first 3 sentences but my first response to it was that children are given parents for a reason.  Part of our role is to teach them skills and attitudes they can take into life, which is ultimately to empower them.  And, while I’m trying to give my boys more space as I parent & I do think we sometimes impose boundaries on our children that we don’t actually need to, there are absolutely some things we must insist on.    I don’t think, we need to be scared of setting boundaries if we know that they are fair and necessary.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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How to Respond to an Angry Child – A Step-by-Step Guide

This post about responding to an angry child  follows on from my previous post Anger in Children – What’s Really Going On?  You might find it helpful to read it first.

 

To be honest, angry people scare me.  I feel myself shutting down when one of my children starts shouting and stamping at me.   I don’t know what to do when another person is angry because I’ve never been allowed to get angry myself.  As a child, my anger was judged as “disrespectful”.  As a teacher, I had to “be professional”, always calm and reasonable.  In romantic relationships, my anger has often been ignored.

I know I’m not the only one whose anger has been silenced.  It is socially unacceptable to express anger, for women in particular.  But, when unacknowleged and unexplored, anger can become harmful to us, turning into depression, addiction and any number of illnesses & destructive behaviours.  Although our behaviour may be “unreasonable” when we get angry, we get angry for a reason that is asking to be addressed.  When I realised this, I was able to stop judging my boys for their anger and begin to learn how to help them through it.

 

STEPPING THROUGH ANGER – THE PROCESS

I wanted to find a way to allow my boys their feelings and empathise with their perspective while also upholding one of our highest values – respect for others.   I have found that the best thing to do in angry moments is to get really present.  This helps me to tune in to what’s really going on with my boys when they can’t understand and express how they’re feeling for themselves.

It also helps me to remind myself that, once we reach anger, most of us, no matter how old we are, are not in a position to be reasoned with.  So we cannot appeal to our child’s reason in the midst of their anger and we have to help them to get through it before we help them to learn from it.  So, here’s how I have started going about this –

  1. Acknowledge how your child is feeling. Eg. “You’re disappointed that you can’t go to James’ house today, you really wanted to go”.   If we only see anger and we’re not sure at this stage what our child’s primary emotion is, (the real reason they’re angry), we can acknowledge their anger.
  2. Allow your child their feeling. Don’t try to talk them out of being angry, distract them from it or criticise them for it. Being with them through all emotions is the nature of unconditional love.   This can be hard to do, especially in the company of others because we often feel embarrassed that all eyes are on us to see how we’re going to deal with our “naughty child”.  In such moments, I focus on staying present with my child as if no one else were around.
  3. If your child becomes disrespectful, either verbally or physically, state the expectation. Eg.  “It’s not ok to hit your brother, it hurts”.  We need to be brief here, not letting the setting of this boundary distract us from what’s really going on for our child.
  4. Give your child what they need to get through their anger. Some need a hug, others need space. My Thomas responds well to the assurance of a cuddle and calms himself down quite quickly on my lap.  My Jake needs space and only gets more enraged if I engage with him about the situation, so I might say to him, “I’ll be in the kitchen and we can talk about it more when you’re ready”.
  5. Help your child to understand and cope with their primary feeling. Once they are calm, they are in a better position to talk about what was going on for them.  Their primary feeling is the one that looked like anger but was actually something else. Eg. I find that my boys’ anger is often actually towards themselves when they feel regretful about how they have behaved.  So, in such a situation, they may really be wanting to apologise or make good with the other person.  Here our children can begin to learn how their emotions are their spiritual barometers (More on this in my post Anger in Children).
  6. Identify a strategy our child can use to calm themself down when they feel themselves getting angry in future.  Here, we can emphasise that it’s important to express their anger but that they need to do so respectfully.  We can offer suggestions, but, our child chooses for themself a way to calm down so they’re able to share their feelings respectfully.  Eg. asking for a hug, going to their room and having it out on a pillow, doing something they enjoy eg. bike ride or Lego, taking 5 slow tummy breaths.  In future, we can remind them of it at step 4.

Throughout this process we are not trying to control our children or to punish them but to teach them how to manage their anger and its underlying emotion.  How we go about each step will depend on our child’s stage of development and particular needs.  We also need to take a long-term approach, not expecting that, having gone through these steps with them a couple of times, that they will be able to manage their emotions independently – that’s our intention for our 18-year-olds but probably not our 5-year-olds.   And helping anyone in a state of anger is rarely neat and tidy.  I hope this framework is helpful but, in a state of presence, we ultimately each need to follow what our intuition tells us to do in the moment.

 

IN SUMMARY – BECOMING UNSTUCK

No more hiding from angry children for me.  No more punishing, placating, pleading and all those other things I used to do because I didn’t know how to respond to their anger.  I’ve found that taking this time to write a few posts about anger has made me far more comfortable with it and has enlightened me as to what would really help my boys when they’re angry.  I will leave you with this quote –

“The more you try to push a child’s unhappy feelings away, the more he becomes stuck in them.  The more comfortably you can accept the bad feelings, the easier it is for kids to let go of them”.  A. Faber & E Mazlish, “How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk”, p42

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – Do you have a strategy for helping angry children to share with us?  Comment below.

 

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Anger in Children – What’s Really Going On?

Most of us have heard it said that, when someone feels angry, they’re not really angry, it’s a symptom of something else that they feel deeper down.  But often I forget this truth because, in the moment, it certainly feels like anger – all that boiling within and, usually, roaring without.  However, a few things happened recently which reminded me to look for what’s really going on beneath a person’s anger and have helped me to feel more confident about dealing with anger – mine and my children’s.

 

THE ANGRY FORK STORY

Begin with a recent Summer evening.  Having enjoyed a barbeque dinner outside, I was sitting at the patio table and my boys were playing on our lawn.  Jake picked a stray fork off the ground and I could see in his eyes that he thought it would be a fun idea to throw it.

“Please don’t throw the fork”, I said.

He threw it.

“Jake, I told you not to throw it”, I said calmly.

Jake immediately jumped into a defence of himself, accompanied by angry faces & gestures, volume quickly rising.  He ended it all with the exclamation, “You’re always so rude to me!”

“I don’t want him talking to me like that”, I thought but, perhaps thanks to the warm evening and a satisfied belly, I was able to keep calm and present.  Without knowing what I was going to say, I asked Jake to come and sit down next to me.  He reluctantly sat at the table beside me.

“The way you spoke to me wasn’t respectful.  What were you really trying to say?”

He was a little surprised by my question.  I think he sensed that I was right – his response to me was out of proportion to my simple statement that I’d asked him not to throw the fork – but he needed to figure out for himself why he was so upset.

“Tell me what you were trying to say, respectfully” I encouraged.

“I’m sorry for throwing the fork!”, he suddenly blurted, brow creased and avoiding eye contact with me.

“Is that what you were really trying to say when you were shouting at me?”

Jake nodded.

“Tell me if I’m wrong, but when you shouted why are you always rude to me? were you actually feeling bad that you threw the fork, even though I’d asked you not to?”  I didn’t want to put words in his mouth but I felt he perhaps didn’t know or couldn’t quite articulate what had happened for him and needed a little help.

“Yes”.

“You shouted at me, but really you were angry with yourself?  You felt kind of guilty?”

“Yes”.

He needed no reprimand for throwing the fork or shouting at me, the natural consequence – the discomfort of his guilt – was enough.

 

THE PURPOSE OF ANGER

It was an eye-opening conversation for us both.  It made me wonder, how often do we end up “disciplining” our children for showing anger when really they just had an emotion they didn’t know what to do with?  We need to teach them to take a moment to recognise their feelings and respond intentionally to them.  To do this, we can guide them through a kind of self-exploration suitable to their age and give them an opportunity to understand what’s happening for them, like I did in the angry fork story.  And, importantly, we need to do this without punishing or criticising them for their age-appropriate struggles with their emotions.

Guiding our children through their anger is part of growing their broader emotional intelligence.  Our parenting can help them to develop emotional awareness and an ability to articulate what’s going on for them.  In this way, our children can become more at ease with the range of human emotions available to them, less controlled by them and able to choose good-feeling ones for themselves.

Our emotions are like a spiritual barometer.  The good-feeling ones tell us we are aligned with our truth.  The bad-feeling ones show us something we need to be aware of in order to become more aligned.  By taking a moment to be with Jake’s anger, he was able to realise that he, in fact, felt guilty and it showed him that not listening to me when I asked him not to throw the fork wasn’t aligned with his true loving self .

Your negative feelings are there for a reason. Like pain in the body, they are a call for awareness and healing. There’s nothing wrong with you.  You are not your emotions.  But your emotions do come bearing lessons, and you can’t learn those lessons until you feel them. – Mastin Kipp, Claim Your Power, p.51

 

ADULTS GET ANGRY TOO

But developing this kind of emotional intelligence is a long-term goal for our children.  I cannot expect my 6 year-old to deftly manage all of his many emotions.  Especially as our emotions sometimes hide beneath anger, they can be hard to get to.  Heck, we adults struggle ourselves.  Here’s my story –

The next night after the barbeque, I slept in the spare bedroom downstairs because my husband was feeling unwell and I didn’t want to get sick too.  When Jake came in to see me in the morning, he said he’d vomited during the night.  When I got up, I saw that my husband had left a bundle of Jake’s dirty bed sheets in the laundry sink.  I started fuming.  Why hadn’t he rinsed and soaked them – or asked for my help to clean them?!  I might not be able to get the stains out now!  I splashed & stomped & barked around for a while and my poor boys steered clear of me.  Then I asked myself, “why am I so angry?” My husband had done the best he could in the middle of the night, trying not to wake me so I could have a good sleep.  I paused and realised that I wasn’t really angry, I actually felt guilty that he’d dealt with a vomiting Jake and the dirty sheets on his own when he was feeling unwell himself.

It really is never anger, it’s always something else. Thinking back to Mastin’s quote, my guilt was pointing to my discomfort at the thought of causing someone else any kind of trouble, an aspect of my sometimes shaky sense of self-worth that I’m still working on.

 

IN SUMMARY – THE ANGER ICEBERG

Later that day on Pinterest, I came across this anger iceberg infographic by The Gottman Institute.  I think The Universe wanted to drive the point home to me, make sure I really got it.

 

For me, it feels easier to know that I’m dealing with guilt or some emotion other than anger.  Anger seems so explosive and unreasonable (even in a person who quietly seethesrather than shouting) and I’m never sure how to approach it in another person.  But these experiences of late have given me some ideas about how to go about it.  Keep an eye out for my upcoming post about how we can respond helpfully to our children when they are angry.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – What emotions have you noticed sometimes appear as anger in your child/ren?  Comment below.

 

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How to Make Discipline Easier and Do Less of It

The quality of our relationship with our children determines how we go about our many tasks of parenting – disciplining, instructing, making decisions… If you’ve been reading over the past few weeks, you’ll know that discipline is a hot topic for me right now and this post is about how nurturing our relationship with our children makes it easier for us to discipline them.  I don’t mean that it allows us to control them and punish them but to teach them, get more co-operation and reduce the need for discipline in the first place.

 

HOW QUALITY OF RELATIONSHIP IMPACTS OUR CHILDREN’S BEHAVIOUR & DISCIPLINE

Our ego wants a relationship with our children in which we are in charge, things go smoothly and they go our way.  An ego-led relationship becomes a power struggle, an all-too-familiar battle of wills.

On a spiritual level, though, both our children and ourselves know that we are equals and there is no question that our love and respect for one another is mutual and unconditional.  We want to see that expressed in our relationship.  We both long for connection.

Making that connection with our children has incredibly positive impacts on how they feel about themselves, how they feel about us and on how they behave –

  • Giving our children our attention affirms them.  It shows them that we like them and we think they’re worth spending time with.  This affirmation is something all humans crave.  Giving our attention to our children in positive ways means they don’t have to try to get it, perhaps through inappropriate behaviour.
  • Being approachable and responsive to their needs gives our children a sense of security & support.  It reduces the likelihood that their needs will be expressed as difficult behaviour.
  • Seeking our children’s points-of-view and involving them in decision-making (as appropriate) shares the power in the relationship and builds our children’s trust that we are fair.  They then know that, when we have to set boundaries, it’s not just on a whim, we have considered their perspective and they are, therefore, more likely to be co-operative.
  • Showing that our love and caring for them doesn’t change no matter how they behave is essential to a child’s sense of self-worth.  When it comes to their behaviour, they can’t feel bad about themselves and do the right thing.  So, in loving them unconditionally, we also support their positive behaviour.

Every interaction with our child either is an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with them or to chip away at it.  That includes when we discipline.  The focus of my respectful discipline resource is on using discipline to teach, connect, learn what’s really going on for our child and give them choice (whether to experience the natural consequences of their behaviour or to change it).  There is no judgement of them, threatening, manipulation or over-powering – all of which can appear to “work” in the short-term but ultimately undermine our relationship with our child.

 

WAYS TO BUILD OR REPAIR OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR CHILD

Struggling again & again with our children deteriorates our relationship with them and we find the tone of our days spiralling downwards into resentment and shouting.  As I wrote about recently in my post My 6-Year Old Put Me In Time Out, I found myself on that slippery slope.  I now have a bit of repair work to do both by disciplining my son differently and putting some intention into deepening our connection.

 

 “Children who disrespect us are showing that they don’t feel enough connection, warmth and respect from us” – Dr Laura Markham.

 

When our connection with our child is needing repair, we can look at the list above to see what’s been missing. For my son and I, I think the missing component has been my attention – both in terms of time and presence.  It’s not that I ignore him but, particularly on school days, organising our family’s life keeps me occupied and I don’t make enough time to just be with them.  So, I’m getting deliberate about being more generous with my attention.

I’m sharing my intentions with you here in case it’s helpful because I think finding the time for the mental & physical work of parenting as well as enjoying our children is a challenge many parents are familiar with.  Here is what I will be doing –

  • Getting down on the floor and playing their games with them is the ultimate quality time for both of my sons.  In my post Mummy, Will You Play With Me? I shared ways to fit playtime into a busy day.
  • My son loves “talking time” when I tuck him into bed so I will allow more time to chat together at the end of the day.  Communication seems to be at it’s best at this time of day.
  • Stopping what I’m doing, making eye contact and giving my son my full attention when he’s telling me something that’s important to him.  (My eyes glaze over at the first mention of Star Wars so I am working on actually listening to the intricacies of the battles so I can then give a meaningful response.)
  • Giving attention to the good stuff.  We’ve all heard that where our attention goes, energy flows.  When things are difficult between my son and I, it’s easy to only see everything that feels “wrong” and I find myself kind of picking at him.  I want to make the effort to acknowledge all the great stuff about him (of which there is PLENTY).
  • Giving him affection.  “Just because” squeezes and putting my arm around him as we walk make him glow.

 

IN SUMMARY – RELATIONSHP AS THE FOUNDATION

While our relationship with our children is one between equals, it is upto us as the adults to set the tone of the relationship.  Ultimately, our children will follow our lead.  So it is our choice whether we intentionally create respect, communication & connection or fear, defensiveness & conflict.

Of course, a good relationship with our child is not purely in order to make disciplining easier!  It is primarily to enjoy the relationship itself and is the foundation of the life we share together with our children.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – In which ways do you and your children like to connect?  Comment below.

 

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My 6-Year-Old Put Me In Time Out

I had sent Jake to sit on “the step” – essentially our version of a time out.  I’d warned him that his disrespectful behaviour would land him on the step if it continued.  It had continued so he’d spent 5 minutes sitting by himself on the step by our laundry, to “think about his behaviour” and give us all a break.

When Jake got off the step, he asked me tearfully, “How come you don’t have to sit on the step?”

“Well, no one has ever given me a warning”, I replied.

“I’m giving you a warning now,” he said with a scowl (probably the same scowl I use to give him warnings).

“What for?” I asked, thinking through my various parenting misdemeanours of the afternoon – there were a lot of them.

“Shouting”, Jake grumped at me.

“Fair enough.”

 

WHAT’S WRONG?

It was then that I realised I’d lost my way when it came to disciplining my boys.  I guess I’d sensed for a month or two that I was on a downward spiral, my discipline methods slowly slipping further away from my values, but I hadn’t stopped to rethink things. Sending my boys to “the step” was not a strategy I wanted to be using but it had turned into a habit and become my default approach to correcting my boys’ behaviour.

And that’s where the first problem was.  The step didn’t actually correct their behaviour at all.  The evidence lay in the fact that they were sitting on it more and more often.

The second problem with the step was that it didn’t reflect my parenting values, especially the way I was using it.  That we are all spiritual equals requires me to treat everyone with respect, regardless of their age or behaviour.  There are times when we parents have to position ourselves as an authority to guide our children but there is no power struggle in a relationship between equals.  The step had become a weapon in our power play, me using it to threaten, manipulate and, ultimately, control Jake and Thomas.

How had it got to this?!

 

LOSING MY WAY

I think the main factor that saw me resorting to the step was that my boys were, inevitably, throwing new challenges my way.  I was unprepared to deal with the backchat, defiance and attitude that was increasingly featuring in Jake’s interactions with me and I hadn’t taken the time to figure out how best to respond.

Additionally, the personal truth is that I saw red each time Jake used his new attitude with me, my insecurities about being disrespected instantly triggered.  I hadn’t consciously realised that he’d struck a nerve and I had immediately started trying to control Jake rather than taking my time to see what was really going on (for both him and I). I was trying to control him because my I felt out of control.

Being both challenged and triggered, I had slipped away from my own parenting values and my relationship with Jake was suffering.  I felt ashamed and disappointed in myself.  What was I going to do about it?

 

GOING INTO TIME OUT

I put myself in a self-imposed time out of sorts to reflect on what was going on and to find a new way of doing things.

The first thing I had to do was forgive myself.  In my blog post Self Love – Not Just Warm Fuzzies, I wrote –

“Forgiving ourselves is perhaps the truest act of self-compassion.  It allows us to move forward without the burden of our past.” 

Taking the time to consider what was going on within me when met with Jake’s emerging ‘tude helped me to understand and empathise with myself.  I realised that, when I’m tired, triggered and uncertain what to do, it is natural that I’m going to struggle and this made it easier for me to forgive myself.

Then, I put all my to-dos aside for one morning to figure out how I wanted to go forward.  I was prompted to read back over some earlier blog posts I had written about discipline and found that they were actually pretty helpful! I also flicked through some of the parenting books I keep on my desk and thought about what my boys are needing from me at the moment.  I devised respectful strategies for dealing with my current parenting challenges.

 

IN SUMMARY – FLOUNDERING, FORGIVENESS & MOVING FORWARD

As parents, we constantly need to re-evaluate what we are doing, whether it be around discipline or another area of life.  As our children grow older, they will bring new challenges our way which will require us to adjust our way of doing things.  Don’t we all bemoan the fact that, just as we feel we’re getting the hang of this parenting thing, something new comes our way?  It certainly keeps us on our toes -parenthood is about our own evolution as much as it is about our children’s.

We can’t expect ourselves to adjust seamlessly to every change in our children’s development.  The changes can surprise us, we’re not necessarily anticipating them.  It’s understandable that we will flounder around for a bit each time until we find our way.  I’m hoping that, having gone through this, I will recognise more quickly what’s going on when there is another significant change in my boys.  Instead of being overwhelmed and punishing myself for my  imperfect parenting, I will take a time out to forgive myself and to strategise with Love.  Having compassion for ourselves and moving forward deliberately are the only ways to keep up – more or less – with our children.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – Where do you feel you have lost your way in your parenting?  What can you forgive yourself for?  Comment below.

 

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Mixed Berry Jam & Making Decisions For Our Children

As parents, we have to make many decisions on our children’s behalf.  Some decisions come easily – it seems obvious what to do and we make them with confidence.  But there are also a lot of decisions we angst over.  As much as we try, we’re painfully aware that we can’t always anticipate what the ramifications of a decision might be for our children or how they might feel about it.  There are times when we think “I just don’t know what to do!” I find that I start spinning in circles of indecision, getting myself quite wound up & anxious.

Here are just a few of the decisions that I’ve struggled with since having children –

  • whether to accept pain relief in labour.
  • when to start trying for baby number 2.
  • whether my son should go up to Year 2 in school or have longer in Year 1 (having to make this decision is a quirk of the New Zealand school system).
  • whether to get my son minor surgery for appearance, not medical reasons.
  • and, every year, what to get my boys for Christmas (something they’ll love for more than 5 minutes that won’t just become more junk around the house).

 

WHEN WE DON’T KNOW WHICH DECISION TO MAKE

More recently, my husband and I have been talking about possibly moving house.  As you know, there are so many factors to take into consideration when deciding whether to move and where to move to, such as proximity of family and access to schools – it can be quite overwhelming.  For many weeks, I felt paralysed, unable to make a decision because I couldn’t figure out what would be best for my boys.

One evening in bed, I realised I hadn’t prayed over it, I’d been waiting for the answer to become clear without really asking for it.  So I briefly outlined my dilemma for God (He knew all the details anyway) and the answer came straight away – There’s no right or wrong, you just have to commit to whichever decision you make and make the most of it.

It hadn’t really occurred to me that there’s not always a right choice or a best choice.  But, when I heard The Universe’s reply, I was reminded of a time when I was going through a rough patch in my twenties and I had to decide what to do next. I would listen to Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway whenever I went anywhere in my car to give myself a boost of confidence (it was a cassette tape!).  Susan spoke of tasting all the “goodies” along the path we choose.  Along one path, there might be blueberries and, along the other, there might be strawberries – either way, we can pick and enjoy the berries that line our path.  Back then, I thought that sounded lovely but really there was a right decision in every case.  Fifteen years later, though, I understood what The Universe was telling me.

Still, when I first got my answer about moving house, I rolled my eyes at God and said, “very wise, but I still don’t know what to do!”  But I tried not to be frustrated and instead to trust & be open to all the possibilities before us, focussing on the joys (the berries) each option offered.

Then, shortly afterwards, some new information came to light and my husband & I realised that we need to sit tight for now and review the move in a year’s time.  There was our decision – for now.  And I feel good about it.

As my spiritual connection grows, it’s that feeling of peace that I look for when making a decision.  The pros and cons contribute to the process but, ultimately, I’m looking for what feels right.  And that requires me to put my fear aside so that I can sense Love’s wisdom.

 

THERE’S NOTHING TO BE AFRAID OF

I think it’s often fear that keeps us stuck when making decisions.  When it comes to my boys, I fear that they will miss out on something great or, conversely, suffer in some way if I make a poor decision.  When deciding what to do, I tend to catastrophise, looking for everything that could go wrong.

What if, instead, like Susan, we looked for everything that could go right?  Perhaps that would make our decisions easier to make and help us to trust that all paths have the potential to be great.  Making decisions from a place of joyful possibility seems more empowering than making decisions designed to avoid the worst.

And if we make a decision that, as the consequences reveal themselves, we discover isn’t right for our children, we can view that discovery as a particularly sweet, juicy berry along the path.  We haven’t made a “mistake” or taken the “wrong path”, because it led us to more knowledge. We can use that knowledge going forward and make another decision to take us somewhere else.  Most decisions aren’t as fixed & irreversible as fear would have us believe.  Sometimes we just have to get on, make a decision and feel it on for size, knowing we can course-correct if needed.

 

IN SUMMARY – EAT THE BERRIES

When we are feeling anxious over a decision we have to make for our children, perhaps it’s an indication that we need to let go of our fears. have a little faith and learn to feel our way.  I know now that I can trust that, when the answer isn’t clear, it’s probably a case of “can’t go wrong” and an opportunity to relax, let things unfold and eat some scones with mixed berry jam – yum!

We promised to love our children and do our best by them.  We never promised that their journey through childhood would be seamless, a paved-with-glitter direct route to a happy adulthood.  But we can all enjoy eating as many berries as possible on the way.

I have a treasured memory of a visit with friends in England many years ago.  We went blackberry picking along the meandering lanes of the English countryside.  I had no idea where we were but the company was great and the berries were good.  Now, I can imagine my family on that path, faces and fingers stained with various shades of red, purple and blue, grinning widely.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

 

PS – What decisions do/have you found difficult to make for your children?  Comment below.

 

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Is it Really the Grandparents’ Right to Spoil Our Children?

How many times have I heard grandparents declare that it’s their right to spoil their grandchildren?

They go on to say how great it is to treat and enjoy the kids without the weight of responsibility they had has parents…and to hand them back to us when it’s time.

But they say these things with a mischievous glint in their eye – because they know they’re not entirely right.

When the ways they spoil their grandchildren conflict with the parents’ values for their family, it’s not right.

When the children see that their grandparents don’t respect their parents’ decisions, it’s a poor example to them.

When spoiling their grandchildren sabotages the parents’ parenting efforts, it creates another mountain the parents must climb.

 

I have, at times, allowed my own children’s grandparents to spoil them in ways that bother me because I feel guilty.  All that help they give me as a parent and all that love they shower on my boys – I feel that I’m being ungrateful if I don’t let them enjoy their grandchildren in the ways that they want to.

But, recently, I’ve decided that letting them spoil my boys weakens my own efforts as a parent and I have had polite but firm words with both sets of grandparents about where our boundaries are.

I really value the role of grandparents in my children’s lives for so many reasons.  The delight grandparents take in their grandchildren is a gift to them both.  But I realised that letting my boys’ grandparents spoil them had the potential put a wedge in the relationship – I’d become reluctant for them to have time with Jake and Thomas if I expected I may be undermined or treated as a spoil-sport if I spoke up.

So here are some of my guidelines for my boys’ grandparents.  You may feel differently but I hope that reading them will help you to define your own –

 

3 WAYS I DON’T WANT MY CHILDREN’S GRANDPARENTS TO SPOIL THEM

By feeding them unhealthy food.  It’s hard to teach our children good eating habits and develop their taste for healthy food in a world full of junk food.  I care about my boys’ health and well-being and want help taking care of them.  I don’t want them plied with chocolate biscuits at morning tea, chippies in the afternoon and ice-cream for desert all in the same day.  And especially not an hour before dinner time!  One treat per visit with the grandparents is enough.    (I wrote about the importance of good food in my post Is What I Feed My Kids a Spiritual Issue?)

By buying them things, especially toys. In a materialistic culture, I’m trying to help my boys understand what really matters. I also don’t want them to equate receiving gifts with Love or to expect a gift every time they see their grandparents.  Birthday and Christmas presents are welcome, but gifts for no reason aren’t necessary.  (And so many of our children’s toys are forgotten within a week, anyway, filling our houses with more clutter.)

By letting them have their way.  A few examples – Bedtime is bedtime, no matter whose house my boys are at.  Whoever’s cooking chooses what’s for dinner – they can take into consideration what Jake and Thomas like but, once cooked, there’s no making a second meal to their preference.  Screentime should be monitored just as it is at home.  Our children are equals with everyone, they don’t rule the roost.

 

3 WAYS I WANT MY CHILDREN’S GRANDPARENTS TO SPOIL THEM

The thing is, my parent and parents-in-law are welcome to spoil my boys in other ways.  I understand that grandparents shower their grandchildren with treats as an expression of love.  But I want Jake and Thomas to understand what true expressions of love are and there are plenty of ways their grandparents can “spoil” them without spoiling them – with the kinds of things we can’t have too much of.  Here are 3 –

By showing lots of interest & giving them lots of attention.  I am working on giving my boys my undivided attention more often – it’s hard to do when there’s a house to run etc.  Grandparents more easily put everything else on hold when their grandchildren arrive on their doorsteps and devote themselves almost entirely to the kids for the length of the visit.   That kind of attention is gold to children.  Coming along to school events, swimming lessons and other special occasions are also great ways of affirming grandchildren.

By telling them stories about when you were little.  This is a great way for children to get to know their grandparents.  They also love to hear how “old-fashioned” things used to be and they will remember the interesting details of the stories they hear.  Further, children use their imaginations, ask questions and learn to listen carefully when being told a story so story-telling is a great way for grandparents to contribute to their development.

By creating memories together.  Doing fun things together creates golden memories that will live in the children’s hearts.  My memories of going on roadtrips with my Poppa and of feeding the birds with my Nan are ones I cherish now.  Grandparents can take their grandies on outings (they don’t need to be elaborate or expensive), teach them new games or skills and have fun together at home.

 

IN SUMMARY – PLEASE PARENT WITH US, NOT AGAINST US

I don’t want the added stress of having to manage my children’s grandparents as well as my children. It’s important to me that my boys’ grandparents are involved in their lives for both their sakes but I need to trust that my parenting efforts will be supported, not sabotaged. Grandparents have the ability to genuinely help us parent if they’ll back us up – it takes a village, after all.   I’m fortunate that, on the whole, my children’s grandparents do understand and stick to our rules but I know there are other parents for whom this is a bigger issue.

You’ll likely have different ideas to me about what is and isn’t okay with you when it comes to grandparents spoiling your children.  My main point is that each parent needs to know what kinds of “spoiling” they are & aren’t okay with and each grandparent needs to respect that.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

 

PS – If you’re a grandparent, what’s your response to these suggestions?  Comment below.

 

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5 Things Children can Learn from the “Mean Kids”

My boys and I had driven to visit my parents, music turned up, singing along merrily – or so I thought.  When I parked the car and got out to undo my boys’ seatbelts, I saw that Jake had been crying.

“I miss you when I’m at school”, he sobbed.

I knew something was up.

I carefully probed around with a few questions and it came out that Jake has been having a few troubles with his friends recently.  His description of what’s been going on was sketchy and, not being at school to see for myself, it’s hard to know what exactly has been happening.

For any parent, the thought of our child being disrespected in some way and feeling alone during a long day at school is crushing.  We can probably all remember a time in our own childhood when we were the one in that position.  I certainly can – for a period of time when I was five, my poor parents had to prise me off their bodies when they took me to school each morning.  I’d cling on to them for dear life, not able to face the classmate who was bullying me.  While Jake is still going to school largely happily, I’m anxious that his situation may deteriorate to the point that he starts clinging to me.

On top of not knowing what’s really going on, all this emotion (his and mine) makes it incredibly hard to handle.  I’m a pretty reasonable and diplomatic person but my fear has its sleeves rolled up and is ready to get in there and fight for my son.

Fortunately, I wrote a blog post last week about parenting from Love instead of fear – must’ve been divine preparation for now because I can see that there is actually no fight to be had.  I have realised that the way I handle this situation with Jake and his friends will be an example to him and I have to ask myself, Do I want to model Love or Fear?

As painful as it is to see my son in tears, I also see the potential for him to learn so much through this experience, if I choose.

“In every situation you have two choices: Will you learn through fear or will you learn through love?” ― Gabrielle BernsteinThe Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith

 

CHOOSING LOVE: 5 LESSONS

  1. We are all worthy. This is an opportunity to remind Jake of his inherent worth. He is worthy of being treated with respect, as we all are.
  2. How to set boundaries. When sure of his worth, it will be easier for Jake to set boundaries. My husband and I have always encouraged him to respectfully tell children to stop when they’re doing something he doesn’t like. At the moment, his friends are testing his boundaries and it is my hope that Jake will learn to be insistent enough that others respect them.
  3. The nature of truly unconditional love. I will not speak unkindly about his friends, label them as bad or encourage Jake to be unkind to them in return. I want him to see that my respect for others does not change because of their behaviour – I think that this is what unconditional love does.
  4. How to go inward for his answers. In a situation such as this, it’s all too easy for worried parents to take over and try to manage the situation entirely ourselves – I am tempted to bombard Jake with my ideas about what he should do.  I will discuss possible solutions with him but I told him that he needs to do what feels right for him and that I will support him.  I asked if there was anything he wanted me to do and he asked me to talk with his teacher, which I have done.
  5. How to take responsibility for himself. If Jake chooses to keep spending time with children who don’t treat him well, he’s exposing himself to the risk of being hurt. I can see, though, that he is conflicted.  The children he has great fun with are the same ones who often end up being disrespectful and unkind.  I know it’s not easy.  Jake can also take responsibility by making sure he’s not participating in the same kind of behaviour that upsets him.

It would be easy to be too heavy-handed, letting my fearful fight-or-flight instinct kick in.  Naturally, I want to protect Jake and a part of me wants to give the other children a talking-to and demand that the school keep them away from Jake.  But that would not be a good example to Jake and all the bluster & controlling would be avoiding the real issues as well as the chance for Jake to learn.

Focussing on how “bad” the “mean kids” are is a waste of time – I can’t change them and the school staff are not at liberty to talk to me about other students for privacy reasons.  What I can do is help Jake to choose his response to what is going on.

I want him to see that he can handle whatever comes his way.

 

IN SUMMARY – WORKING TOGETHER

I am hoping that, through working together with Jake and his teacher, the difficult dynamic within his group of friends can be amended.  Jake is popular and his school is a friendly place – when I walk into his classroom in the mornings, lots of kids say “hi” to him and want him to join in with their play. Whatever’s going on may turn out to be a small blip in his friendships, it won’t necessarily decline into ongoing bullying.  As a parent, my role is to be proactive while also showing my son both his own worth & capability and what it really means to Love.  All situations we find ourselves in really are opportunities to fear or to love.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

 

PS – How have you supported your children through friendships issues?  Comment below.

 

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Walking the Tightrope of Parenting

I often feel that parenting is like a walk across a tightrope.  For each aspect of parenting, there seems to be a continuum between two opposite ways of doing things.  Since last week’s post was about diet, take spoon-feeding and its opposite, baby-led weaning, for example.  There are pros and cons for both and my approach when introducing my boys to solids was to do a bit of each.

To keep my balance on this parenting tightrope, I need to find the mid-point between the two extremes of each matter, skilfully judging whether to lean a little more this way or that, taking each step with intention.  If I lean one way too much, I’ll fall off.  These are the matters I’ve been struggling to find my balance on of late –

 

Giving My Children Space to Learn for Themselves vs Being a Teacher/Guide

When my boys are facing something new or challenging, I try to allow them the space to discover what they need to know for themselves.  Through asking questions, trying things out and learning from their own mistakes, there is a lot children can work out on their own.  I think it’s easy for us to interfere with their self-teaching processes and to undermine them by taking over.  It pains me to watch parents coach their children on how to play on a playground.  But, on the other hand, there are many other situations when I have wisdom born of experience that could help my boys.  For example, friendships can be difficult for children to navigate on their own and there are times I find myself coaching my son through challenges with friends, brainstorming with him possible solutions to difficult situations.

How do I judge when to step in with a bit of guidance and when to leave my children to learn for themselves?

 

Teaching My Children to be Considerate of Others vs Becoming a People-Pleaser

I think it’s important for people to be able to see beyond themselves and to be aware of how their actions impact others, either positively or negatively.  In our home, we talk with our boys about how their behaviour affects others, calling it the “ripple effect”.  A typical scenario – one of them hits the other, the other cries and I get stressed trying to deal with two emotional boys.  I point out (afterwards) the flow-on effects of the hitting as an example.  Equally, when one of them shares a toy, making the other one smile broadly and they go on to enjoy an hour of playing happily together, I use that as an example too.  But there are times in life when, in order to be true to ourselves, to back ourselves, we need to do things we know others won’t like.  I worry I could over-emphasise consideration & kindness as I raise my boys,  to the point that they may believe, as I did for many years, that other people are more important than they are and that it’s mean & selfish to do what’s best for themselves if it might upset others.   I want my boys to know that they are equals with everyone and there are times when it’s appropriate – good, even – to act in self-interested ways.

How do I teach my children to judge whether to prioritise themselves or others in a situation?

 

Giving My Children Treats vs Creating a Sense of Entitlement

I like to treat my boys sometimes, just because it’s fun and I love them.  It might be a surprise outing after school, a new book for the school holidays or something yummy in their lunchboxes.  The catch, I find, is that, often, when I give a treat, they expect it again next time.  “Are we going anywhere after school today?”  “Can you buy me this book?”  “I don’t like these crackers, can I have a cupcake like yesterday?”  It’s a give-an-inch-they’ll-take-a-mile.  Unfortunately, I always think twice about giving my boys treats because I’ll likely have to face pestering tomorrow.

How do I give my children treats in a way that doesn’t become entitlement or “spoiling”?

 

HOW TO KEEP BALANCE

There is a time to stand back and let our children discover for themselves.  And a time to use what we know to teach and guide them.

There is a time for our children to be considerate of others.  And a time to prioritise their own interests.

There is a time to treat our children.  And a time not to.

 

I’m sure you have your own tightropes to walk as a parent.

 

You may have noticed that, as a tightrope walker eases themself along the rope, their weight is not perfectly centred for the entire walk – it’s not physically possible.  So they do a lot of correcting as they go.

But a tightrope walker doesn’t have the time to do the maths and figure out precisely how far to lean, as they begin to wobble.  They make these decisions in the moment, based on the feel.  With concentration and full presence, when things feel wobbly, they know instinctively how to correct their balance.  As parents, we can feel our way along the rope also.  To notice the wobbles and know how to stabalise, we need to concentrate and be fully present, both with ourselves and our children.

When I have been maintaining my personal spiritual practice and I’m present with my boys, I am tuned-in and I find that I know what to say or do much more easily.  It usually comes to me in the moment that I need it.  If I am teaching one of them something new, I sense what I need to say and I know when I’ve said enough & should leave the rest to them.  If I am talking with them about how their behaviour negatively impacted others, I find a way to validate their needs and wants as well.  If I’m deciding whether or not to give them a specific treat, I can feel whether this treat is a good idea or not.

I also want to add that every family’s centre is in a slightly different place, which is why being tuned in with ourselves and our children is so important.  Centre is not exactly half-way between two opposite ways of doing things, it’s actually the place that feels right.  To give an example, I would say that, for my family, there is more standing back and allowing my boys to learn for themselves than explicit teaching.

 

IN SUMMARY – THE CIRCUS IS COMING TO TOWN!

Actually, parenthood can feel like a full-blown circus at times, with a sense of anything-could-happen.  But that’s not all bad – there’s a lot of fun and spontaneity in life with children, the performers have well-developed skill and creativity.  As parents, our greatest skill and creativity comes from parenting not only with our bodies and minds, but with our spirits too.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

 

PS – What tightrope are you walking at the moment?  Comment below

 

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Is What I Feed My Kids a Spiritual Issue?

Over the past month, I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of sugar in my family’s diet.  I don’t think our sugar consumption has been massive compared with what most people regard as “normal” but, compared with World Health Organisation guidelines, it was.  I’m not overhauling the way we eat entirely, just trying to increase our vegies and find healthy swaps for some of the foods we eat.

With my family’s health at stake, I have been doing a lot of research on healthy eating (listening to “experts” speak on YouTube video while preparing dinner).  Apparently, almost none of the food supplied to us is good to eat, putting some kind of strain on our bodies that they aren’t designed for.  There is someone to warn us of the health risks of almost everything we eat, including the polyunsaturated oils we’ve been told to use instead of saturated fats, inorganic plant & animal products, alternative sweeteners and, even, wholegrains.  Most of the health concerns around these foods boil down to the fact that almost all of our food is interfered with in some way.  I have concluded that just about everything I buy at the supermarket poses a health risk and, without the budget or time to source healthy alternatives, I don’t know what to feed my family anymore.  And then there are the ethical and sustainability issues!

I have been feeling exasperated and, even, angry that I can’t trust our food sources.  The quality of my family’s food feels largely out of my control unless I move the family to a farm and we grow all our food (organically) ourselves.  This is not an option for me as I struggled so much with our small home veggie patch that I pulled it out and turned it into a play garden– I’m better at nurturing children than plants.

To complicate things even further, because our minds, bodies and spirits are so closely connected, the way we eat also feels like a spiritual issue to me.

 

WHAT MY CHILDREN EAT IS A SPIRITUAL ISSUE BECAUSE…

…it affects their spiritual connection. When our bodies are struggling to cope in some way with what we’ve eaten, our minds aren’t clear enough to be able to tune in to Spirit.  To illustrate my point – imagine trying to meditate when your blood-sugars have plummeted and you need something to eat, when you’re feeling jittery from too much coffee or when your stomach feels sore because it’s struggling to digest something your body doesn’t like.  At these times, we’re too preoccupied by our bodies’ needs to be able to tune into our spiritual needs.  Our children’s natural spiritual connection can be compromised when their diets lack nutrition or their bodies are stressed.

…it impacts our environment and animals.  We are closely connected with the environment and all other beings in a spiritual way.  I know that the impacts of getting food to my table are far-reaching and often compromise the environment and animals.  All these issues came up for me again recently when my son, Jake, and I were discussing how  the meat we eat comes from animals.  He was asking me a lot about the process of how an animal becomes his favourite macaroni-and-mince dish, concerned about the animal getting hurt.  His final question was, “Do you think that’s right (to kill animals to eat)?”  I replied that animals in the wild have to hunt and eat other animals in order to survive but that I’m really not sure if it’s ok for us to do the same.  We’re sitting on this question… and many others.

…good health helps them to live full lives.  I want to see my children have the energy and wellness to enjoy their lives, to contribute to others’ and to live their spiritual purpose.  If the way they are eating compromises their health, they can’t do these things.  Simple as that.

 

WHAT MY CHILDREN EAT IS NOT A SPIRITUAL ISSUE BECAUSE…

…there are only so many hours in a day.  I don’t have time to grow, raise, harvest and butcher our food as well as cook it from scratch to make sure it is all perfectly healthy, sustainable and ethical.  I don’t even have time to trapse from shop to shop to source ingredients which have a clear conscience.  My weekly trip to the supermarket is already quite the label-reading mission – if I don’t take my boys with me, it can take 20 minutes just to get down the first aisle.

…healthy food often costs more.   Most healthy foods are not mass-produced like the food I get at the supermarket is and are, therefore, more expensive.  Economically, I understand the reasons for that and I sincerely want independent farmers etc to thrive – but my wallet does not.

…something is better than nothing, surely.  Here, I refer to the general fussiness of children when it comes to their food.  Did you know that young children are biologically wired to be sceptical of new foods and have strong sensory responses to food that often put them off, as well as a natural sweet-tooth? Food fussiness is a whole other post but my approach is to serve up a mixture of healthy foods and foods they will actually eat.  I don’t want them to go to bed hungry, unable to sleep because they wouldn’t eat anything on their plate.  To put some pasta with dinner gives us all a better sleep, despite it being deficient in nutrition and environmentally unsound.

 

A SOLUTION – 3 STEPS

I fret about my boys’ food for so many reasons.  To add the spiritual implications to the mix adds to the load of concerns to wade through. Before I had children, I couldn’t have imagined that feeding them would be so difficult. But, I tout my blog as practical spiritual parenting so let’s be realistic about this.  This is what I’m going to do to make it a little easier –

  1. Decide which concerns are the most important. For some, it might be reducing sugar. For others, it might be eating ethically-sourced food.  For many, it might be keeping the family afloat financially and stretching the grocery dollar as far as it goes.  Trying to tick every box would make feeding our families an enormous stress and a full-time job.
  2. Accept what we decide not to do. With acceptance, we don’t need to feel guilty about the less-than-ideal food choices we make for our children, knowing we have focussed on our priorities.  Remembering that it isn’t possible to tick every box helps too.
  3. Eat mindfully. In our family we begin meals by saying grace.  Enjoying our food is another way of appreciating it and valuing all the labour and sacrifice involved in getting it to our plates.

 

IN SUMMARY – MY LAST SUGGESTION

Feeding our children can become a source of stress for many parents.  There’s fussiness, meal-time battles and emotional eating behaviours to deal with.  Having bigger issues like health, sustainability, ethics and spirituality to also take into consideration can feel like too much at times.  My final piece of advice, based on my own efforts to reduce my family’s sugar intake, is this – once you’ve decided on your priorities, make small, incremental changes to keep things manageable and to keep your children on-board.  For example, the first changes I made to reduce my family’s sugar intake was to switch afternoon tea to savoury foods – raw veggies, cheese, nuts and crackers instead of fruit and baking – and to reduce the amount of sugar in recipes.  All the best!

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – What are your priorities when it comes to feeding your kids?  Comment below.

 

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