My Secret to Managing Sibling Conflict

I hear shrieks, followed by two sets of footsteps racing up the stairs to get to me first.  My boys burst into the room, words falling out of their mouths before they even reach me.  I had been happily minding my own business, making my bed as I listened to a podcast, but now I felt myself quickly fill with dread.  I knew they were coming to ask me to resolve a dispute that I didn’t even see and that I already knew would be impossible to get to the bottom of…

 

School holidays have just finished here in New Zealand.  As we were saying goodbye to our friends at the end of last term, I noticed an almost universal parental response to the impending break – they were looking forward to having more time with their kids but they were dreading the sibling conflict, which seems to escalate to new heights when our children have so much time together.

Last year, I wrote an essay called Snatching Squabbling & Slamming Doors – Siblings!  In it, I exposed the parental desperation around sibling conflict.  A lot of people related to the examples I gave –

…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!”

In my essay, I admitted that I didn’t know what to do and concluded that I just had to ride it out and trust that, as they got older, they’d better be able to manage themselves.

 

MY SECRET TO MANAGING SIBLING CONFLICT

Well, I’m pleased to report that, now that my boys are a year older (4 and 7 years old), things are improving – considerably.  I put it down partly to their maturity and partly to my consistent message that we treat one another with respect & kindness.

But I have also discovered a secret that helps me to lead my boys more easily to a resolution.  It prevents the situation from spiraling downward into an impossible confusion of interjections and tears, as it once seemed to do inevitably.  Want know what my secret is?  It’s this –

Don’t take sides.

Have you noticed how sibling conflict quickly turns into a jostle for Mum or Dad’s attention and affirmation?  Our children come racing to us, wanting to be the first to have their story of mistreatment heard.  They want to be told that they are the one who is “right”.  Well, if one of them is “right”, then the other is “wrong”.  If we play the role our children want us to, someone is always judged.

But, as a soulful parent, I stand by my boys through all things without judgement (well, ideally, anyway).    My job in any situation is to be there for both of them, supporting them each in the way that they need to be supported.  Doing this takes enormous intention and patience on my part because often my brain insists that there is one boy who “is clearly in the wrong”.  It wants to pick up a wig and gavel, make an authoritative ruling and get onto the next thing (usually the next item on my to-do list).

But, if I don’t intervene by declaring who is victim and who is perpetrator, if I don’t order a “fair” solution to the situation, what do I do?

I upskill them.  I take my boys through a process which gives them the skills to express themselves, manage their emotions, problem-solve and work with others.

This process is less a step-by-step how-to and more of a conversation that is adjusted for the individuals and the situation at hand.  You could say I have found some rules for these conversations that help me to shape the discussion so that it is constructive (instead of becoming a cauldron of complaints, blaming and frustration).  Here are the rules I have set for myself when managing sibling conflict –

 

Managing Sibling Conflict: Rules of Engagement (for Parents)

* Take no sides (already explained).

* Give each child a chance to explain their feelings and have them acknowledged by me.  Usually, I do this with each of them separately because their sibling can’t help but interject if they disagree.  Feeling heard helps them to calm down too.

* Get each child to focus on their own behaviour and what they can do in the situation, not what their sibling did or should do.  For example, we discuss the impact of their behaviour on the other and prepare what they want to say to their sibling.

* Help the siblings to come together to problem-solve.  Having coached them each already, I get them together and become the mediator for their conversation.  I don’t usually put any ideas forth myself, I say as little as possible.   I just help them to take turns to tell each other what they have to say and to listen to each other.  The goal is for them to learn how to communicate well and to come to a resolution together.

After months of this kind of coaching and mediating, we’re beginning to see the reward.  These holidays, I have heard both of my boys try to use the skills I’ve been teaching them on their own, without stepping into my courtroom.  Having practiced the skills so many times, they’re getting the hang of how to express themselves, listen to each other and problem-solve together.  I am freed of my judge’s wig and gavel.

 

IN SUMMARY – SIBLING CONFLICT COURT ADJOURNED

Of course, this is not the secret to eliminating sibling conflict altogether – arguments are normal!  But, when I don’t take sides, my boys learn the many skills of managing conflict themselves.  I intend to eventually be made redundant.

Personally, it is an enormous relief to realise that I do not have to get to the bottom of every argument, to determine who’s right or wrong and what the “fair” resolution is.  Instead of wading through all the details, trying to excavate the “truth”, all I have to do is to help them find a way forward.

This makes each situation more positive for my boys too because, regardless of their role in it, they can both rely on my affirmation and support.  They don’t have to compete for my allegiance as they once did because I no longer take up the role of judge.  I give them the power in the situation instead of wielding it myself.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Check out this great book, Siblings without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (not an affiliate link)

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I Thought “Mother’s Intuition” Wasn’t Real…

Amongst all the advice given to me when I was pregnant, the best was this – listen to your intuition, you know what’s best for your baby.   I was quite looking forward to experiencing this thing called “Mother’s Intuition”.  To be able to instinctively know what to do would be very handy, especially when it came to caring for a tiny human being who couldn’t speak.  I imagined being blissfully in-tune with my baby, able to know and meet its every need.  We would be happy and content together.

Then I had Jake – and the picture was very different.  I was tired, overwhelmed and confused from the beginning.  Jake seemed to cry constantly as a newborn.  I found the sound of his cry distressing – he was depending on me to meet his needs but I didn’t know what, of all the possible things, he  needed.  When I breastfed, it didn’t look at all like the peaceful scenes of bonding on the pamphlets the hospital gave me – I was awkward & stressed, unsure if my technique was right or Jake was getting enough milk.   Every tiny baby care task seemed enormous because I’d never had to change a nappy, get a burp out or strap a baby safely into its carseat before.  And how could I help him get to sleep?!  Nothing seemed to come naturally to me.

Where was this mother’s intuition when I needed it?

I concluded that mother’s intuition must be a myth.   Or maybe I just wasn’t a “natural” mother.

So I approached caring for my baby in the same way I did everything else – with lots of mental work.  I followed my midwife’s advice to write down the details of Jake’s feeds, sleeps and nappies to try and find a pattern (there wasn’t one).  I read copious books on baby care, trying to follow them to the letter.  I’m good at following a plan…but my baby wasn’t.  I watched a dvd on “tired signs” to learn how to tell which stage of tiredness/alertness Jake was in so I could put him to bed at exactly the right moment that he would drift straight off to sleep.  But the signals were so subtle I couldn’t even spot some of them on the close-up dvd footage, let alone in my own baby.

Looking back, I can see now that it wasn’t a case of mother’s intuition not being real.   It was just that Id’ never learned to value my intuition, let alone how to use it.  Like most people, I was taught to approach tasks with determination and plenty of brain work – planning, organising, analysing…  That’s how I had done everything in my life.  My thinking skills had earned me a degree and helped me to plan for and assess my students in my work as a teacher.  They were valuable but…

our souls speak in feelings.  The few times I had experienced intuition before motherhood was when a deep, still knowing had unexpectedly come over me about big, difficult decisions I had to make, such as to leave teaching.  Our souls also speak with physical feelings, such as goosebumps and gut feelings.

As I’ve become more familiar with the ways of the soul and, when I’m living in that intuitive, feeling space, I get spontaneous, seemingly-from-no-where ideas quite regularly.  They help me in many ways, giving me little nudges in the right direction, including in my parenting.  My intuition will tell me the question my son needs me to ask him or tell me to give him a hug for no apparent reason.  There is no doubt that my intuition is a valuable parenting tool.

So, I know now that intuition is real – and powerful.  I do, though, question whether it’s “Mother’s intuition”.  I believe this intuition is available to Dads, children and everyone else also.  A mother may use it to help her in her parenting role but it’s there to help anyone in any situation.

So, how to use their intuition is one of the life skills we need to encourage and teach our children.  In some ways, it’s smarter than our brains.  Up close to our circumstances, our brains see the confusion of pixels that make up our lives.  Our intuition sees the bigger picture, it has clarity.  I want my boys to have a connection to their intuition that they can use just as effectively as their cognitive skills.  Here are some simple ideas for nurturing intuition in our children (and ourselves).

 

3 WAYS TO NURTURE INTUITION IN CHILDREN

  1. Value their intuition and ask them to use it. By default, we tend to ask our children what they think about something. But we can also ask them to feel a response. eg. “what feels right to you?”, “how does that feel?”
  2. Get them involved in mindful and non-productive activities. Sensory activities, like playdough and painting are good examples. These activities give our children a chance to stop thinking so much and be present so they can sense their intuition.
  3. Encourage them to notice their body’s signals. If we share our own experiences of intuition eg. “That gave me shivers”, they will start noticing and sharing their own.

 

IN SUMMARY – BETTER THAN INSTRUCTION MANUALS

While we complain that babies don’t come with instructional manuals, The Universe has given us something even better – our intuition.   It will answer any question we have – but we must be willing to ask and ready to listen.  My essay 3 Questions Every Parent Needs to Ask Themselves shows how I am learning to communicate with my intuition to know how best to respond to my children in any given moment.

It takes discipline not to allow my thoughts to carry me away from my intuition.  Typically, I get stuck in my head and can become too overwhelmed by my thoughts to hear my intuition.  But, the more I still my mind and feel my way through life, the more relaxed and trusting I become, knowing I can depend on myself to be the mother my boys need.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Raising Well-Rounded Kids

I love walking long the beach admiring the shape of the driftwood.  I love the irregularity of each piece.  I love that no two pieces are the same.

I wish we would appreciate our children the way we do driftwood on the shore.

You see, there seems to be a gold standard for human beings that we call well-rounded.  At sports and school prize-givings, there’s usually even an award for “best all-rounder” or something of similar effect.  Well-rounded is a vague kind of a term, suggesting that the person to whom we can attribute this quality is fully developed in every desirable trait and ability.  They are complete in some way that those of us with pieces/qualities missing are not.  From childhood, we are given the mistaken impression that being well-rounded is favourable and actually possible.

 

DEFICIT-BASED PARENTING

Believing our children should be well-rounded leads us to a deficit-based approach to parenting.  The aim of this approach is to fill in the perceived gaps of our child.  They’re a little behind in maths, so they get sent to private tutoring in the evenings, even though they’ve just spent 6 hours at school.  They’re not very socially confident so they are bombarded with playdates and social activities as if over-exposure will make them feel differently.  Yes, we need to support our children where they struggle but we don’t need to change them.

With a deficit-based approach, it’s almost as if we’re trying to protect our children from the pain of being themselves.  We justify our choices to our children and to ourselves by declaring that what we’re doing is “for their own good”.  I remember being sent to netball and tennis lessons despite my lack of co-ordination and complete disinterest in sports because it was apparently going to make me fit in better socially (New Zealand is a very sports-based culture).

Our children can sense when we’re treating them like a project, tinkering away to improve them.  And the message it gives them is this: You’re not good enough as you are.

 

STRENGTHS-BASED PARENTING

Imagine if, instead, we took a strengths-based approach to parenting.  We would use those hours after school and in the weekends to encourage our children to do the things they love and are good at.  We would use that time to fill our children up, not to fill in their gaps.  When doing what they love, children experience joy, they see all that they’re capable of and they catch a glimpse of their own potential.  In this way, their self-confidence grows.

It is my understanding that the spiritual role of parenting is to help our children to be themselves (you can read more about that here).  We do not get to shape and mould them into who we think they should be.  Instead, I see it as my job to honour and empower my boys to be authentic so that they can be the people they are intended to be.  We’re all purpose-built, perfectly-shaped for the lives ahead of us, including our children.

Imagine each of us is a piece of wood.  No piece is the same.  There are rough bits and smooth bits on all of us.  If we equate being well-rounded with being the spherical shape of a ball, the wood (the person) must be sculpted from their irregular form into a perfect sphere.  Chunks need to be taken off, gaps need to be filled and everything sanded down to make it regular and smooth.   At the end, their original shape is nowhere to be seen.  The person becomes unrecognisable and no longer themselves, difficult to pick out because they are so similar to everyone else.  This is what trying to make our children well-rounded does to them.

We are all most happy when we feel able to be ourselves.  If we raise our children to be themselves, they won’t need to well-rounded I’m not saying we shouldn’t equip them with the essential skills they need in life, just that we need to stop expecting them to be all things and to be all things well.

Besides, I haven’t met anyone who is truly well-rounded.  Are you?  I sure as heck am not!   Yet so many people are miserable trying to become so by carrying on the gap-filling habits that their parents (and society in general)  started in early life.

 

CONCLUSION

If we raise our children to be themselves, they’re going to be well-equipped for their particular futures.  They’re going to go into occupations that use their natural strengths.  If they struggle with maths, it’s unlikely they’re going to choose to be a statistician or engineer and it’s not going to matter that they only just scraped through their high school maths assessments.  Let’s just appreciate our kids as they are and stop burdening them and ourselves with the mythical notion of well-roundedness.  Instead let’s support our beautiful, oddly-shaped children in being authentic, passionate and confident.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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3 Questions Every Parent Needs To Ask Themselves

THE BOY I COULDN’T FIGURE OUT

I distinctly remember the moment when I used my intuition intentionally for the first time with a child.  I was a primary school teacher and I had a boy in my class – we’ll call him Ryan – who was a complex child.  He was exceptionally bright, very friendly and had a good sense of humour yet every day he poked, niggled at and generally annoyed his classmates.  It was virtually impossible to get a straight answer out of him about why he was treating his classmates this way.  Whenever I asked him about what was going on, his clever mind would try to formulate the responses to my questions that would land him in the least amount of trouble.  I just couldn’t figure him out.

One morning, Ryan had just upset another classmate and we were going round in circles (again), trying to determine what had happened when I felt my mind almost stop.  Normally when I was teaching, my mind was in 28 places, trying to keep an eye on what each student was upto.  But, in this moment, the other children in the room faded away and my attention zoomed in on Ryan.  It became peaceful inside me and I let my resistance to his behaviour go.  I asked myself, “What does he need in this moment to be able to tell me why he’s upsetting the other children?”  And it came to me in an instant – give him the start of a sentence to finish.  Suddenly I understood that he had so much happening in his mind that he needed help to zero in on the information I was asking him about.  If I started a sentence for him, it would take his thoughts to the place where the answer was and all he had to do was finish the sentence.  To give an example, a sentence starter might be something like I poked Ben because… or I wanted Ben to… Each time, I could adjust the sentence I gave him to the situation.

Somehow, finishing the sentence was easier for Ryan than answering a question.  It didn’t allow him to go off on tangents or hide what was really going on with words. From then on, if I couldn’t get a straight answer from him, I carefully spoke or wrote the start of a sentence or two for him and he finished them off.  Being able to get the information I needed about his behaviour helped me to understand where he was coming from and how I could help him.  The rest of the school year was a lot easier.  That one moment of asking my intuition for what I needed transformed the dynamic between Ryan, me and the rest of our class.

I now use getting present and inviting my intuition in (like I learned to do in my classroom that day) in my parenting.  It especially helps me to respond appropriately to difficult situations with my boys.  Although I sometimes share with you strategies for approaching specific situations in a respectful way (eg. to discipline or to respond to an angry child), I prefer to use my intuition than to lean on a process or strategy by default.  Over the years, my best responses to situations have come to me in the moment when I’ve had no plan for how to approach them but my heart and mind have been open to really seeing what’s going on.  The trick is to ask ourselves the right questions.

 

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

The questions we ask ourselves have a lot of power, they reflect our intentions.  Imagine, for instance, you have asked your child to help with the housework and they are flat-out refusing – rather loudly and aggressively.  If we ask ourselves “how can I get them to do what I want them to?” (just quieten down and pick up the vacuum cleaner, for goodness’ sake!) we are not approaching things with a spirit of respect and co-operation so we’re probably not going to hear much from our intuition.  It doesn’t want to be complicit in controlling our children.

As I’ve used my intuition more and more, I’ve found that there are 3 questions I tend to ask most when in a difficult situation with one of my boys. These questions help me to understand what’s really happening and what is needed from me in the moment –

 

“What is my child needing right now?”

Our intuition is likely to reply to this question with something like – acknowledgement of their point of view;  help to manage a big emotion; to learn where a boundary is; to tune into their values…  In the case of the child refusing to vacuum, they may need acknowledgement that they don’t like vacuuming and help to manage their anger about having to do it, for example. When I ask this question, I can see that that the child is not being naughty but has developmentally appropriate needs.

 

“What can I do to meet that need?”

Our intuition is super-creative, shiny with brilliance we probably wouldn’t tap into using our rational minds on their own.  It’s able to synthesise the various aspects of a situation to offer simple and effective solutions – like giving Ryan a sentence to finish.  It wants to help us empower our children.

 

“What belief about myself, my child or the situation has triggered me so much?”

Yes, we have to turn the questions on ourselves too, especially if we notice that we’re having a strong internal response to the situation at hand.  Infact, this question should probably be asked first as a way of clearing the air before responding to our child.   It might be that we believe children should always do as they’re asked and should never speak back – because that’s exactly what our parents used to say to us.  If we have that belief, we’re not able to see our child’s need, only our own sense of being disrespected or out of control.  But, once we are aware of our trigger, it no longer has control over us because we can choose not to let that limiting belief parent the child but our Love to parent them instead.

 

CONCLUSION

See how differently we respond to our children when we get present and ask our intuition the real questions, rather than simply trying to figure out how to get our child to do what we want them to?  Suddenly the situation is transformed from one of confrontation and competition, our child and ourselves each trying to get our own way, to one of compassion, co-operation and truth.  In this way, we can recruit both our brains and our souls for our higher purpose as parents – to love our children as they are and to lift them up.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Confident Kids – Risk, Fear & Failure

I was not a confident child.  I hung back in social situations (if I hadn’t been able to avoid them altogether) and I always worried about failing tests at school, even though I had a history of achieving well.  When I became a primary school teacher, I taught children who reminded me of myself as a child.  Sadly, low confidence was quite “common” amongst the 7 year-olds I taught.  For some of my students, it was a struggle even to begin a piece of work for fear of making a mistake. As a teacher, I just wanted them to care less and give and things a go but, at the same time, I understood the anxiety that they felt.

When we worry about our kids not being confident, we worry both about the anxiety they feel and that they will miss out on valuable experiences – experiences we know they really would enjoy and experiences they could learn from, if only they could forget their self-consciousness for a moment.  We feel how much they’d love to play that birthday party game but they’re too unsure of themselves to join in.  We know they need to develop their literacy skills but they won’t give new words in their reading a go, appealing to us to tell them instead.

So, I’ve been thinking lately, what is confidence? Of course, the first thing I did was Google the definition and this is one I came across –

a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.

This seems like a useful summary of confidence but it doesn’t give much clue as to how one gets to that place of appreciating their own abilities and qualities in the first place so they can feel self-assured.   In fact, I realised, childhood is inherently an experience of trying things without knowing one’s own abilities or qualities!  We sit here in the relative comfort of adulthood, largely operating within the  comfort zones we’ve established for ourselves, based  our abilities & qualities.  Meanwhile our children are being stretched into the unknown daily.  Childhood is risky business!  Why do some kids thrive and others recoil from these challenges?

I think I struck something when I realised that the difference may lie in their relationship to failure.  Every new experience comes with it the potential to fail.  I’m using “fail” in a very broad sense here.  It includes trying a tricky maths problem at school and getting it wrong.  It includes being excluded by a peer group in the school playground.  The list goes on.  Those who are comfortable with the potential for failure within a situation have the confidence to try it.  Those who believe that failure is disastrous, cower from the experience.

 

A POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH FAILURE

Low confidence is likely to be a trait we can attribute partly to nature and partly to nurture.  I don’t think it’s realistic to think that we can turn a very anxious child into a confident one overnight.  But, I do think we can nurture a positive relationship with failure within our children that will make them more willing to give things a go by teaching them these things –

 

Fear of new things is normal – Presumably, fear of new situations and what could “go wrong” is a biological mechanism, designed to help us keep ourselves safe.  We all experience it.  If we’re honest with them about our own fear, our children will be more accepting of their’s.  For example, when I facilitated my first workshop this year, I told my son, Jake, that I was scared because I hadn’t facilitated a workshop before.  (Bless him, he offered to come with me for support – but it was after his bedtime.)  We can also help our kids to become more comfortable with their fear by responding sensitively to them when they are fearful.  Sometimes, we try to convince them there is nothing to be afraid of or we dismiss their feelings with comments like, “You’ll be fine”.  These responses gives the message that there’s something wrong with them for being fearful and that we’re really not willing to support them in their fear.  Acknowledgement and a hug of reassurance is much more useful – and so easy to do.

 

Some risks are worth taking – As I said earlier, one of our main concerns about our child’s low confidence is that they will miss out on an experience which is fun or from which they may learn something valuable.  Seeing us take risks because we believe in the benefit provides them with a great example.  I was nervous that I might not be able to explain myself clearly at my first workshop and that it might not being well-received but I went ahead anyway because helping parents and children was worth it to me.  If we can help our children to see the benefit of taking a risk, they may be more willing to take it.  I think we have to be careful here, though, not to project benefits onto situations that they don’t genuinely feel.  When stretching them out of their comfort zones, it is better to do so in situations that they are motivated by eg. going to a pool party even though they’re not confident in large groups because they love to swim, rather than taking them to an event they’re not interested in.

 

Failure is OK, good even – If we respond positively to our own failures as well as our children’s, taking the chance to fail will feel less risky to our children because they know our support and acceptance will be there whatever happens.  A term we often hear these days is to “fail forward”, meaning to look for the opportunity to learn and grow in our failures.  Failing forward shows our children that failure is not failure at all, it shows us the way ahead.  When they experience failure themselves, we can help them to reflect on what went well and what didn’t and to learn what to do differently next time.  This gives them some optimism, resilience and willingness to try again.

 

I think that confidence is a multi-faceted thing and that giving our children a positive relationship to failure is only one part of it, but a very powerful part.

 

CONCLUSION

Failure is inherent in growth and living fully, unavoidable.  Trying to avoiding failure is pointless, exhausting and anxiety producing – the opposite of meaningful, invigorating and confident.  If we can help our children to approach risk with a sense of fun or growth, they will feel a lot better about giving things a go.   As soulful parents, we want to empower our children to be themselves and to take the risks worth taking.   One way we can do this is not by removing the potential for failure but removing the pain of failure to give them a little more courage to step into the unknown.

 

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. – e e cummings

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Pocket Money, Chores & Values

When Jake was 4 years old, he enjoyed looking at bargain shops, especially perusing the toy aisles and all their strangely fascinating plastic junk.  Inevitably, each time we went into a bargain shop, he would want me to buy something for him.  I never did.  He had enough toys.  Also, I wanted to teach him that we can’t buy everything we want and happiness isn’t found in our material things. I figured it was time for Jake to have some pocket money both so that he would stop pestering me to buy him junky toys and to learn that “money doesn’t grow on trees”.

It seemed logical that he should have to earn his money by doing jobs because that’s how things generally roll in the “real world”.  So, I would give Jake a job to do each weekend to earn a little pocket money, such as helping to clean the car or wiping down the bathroom vanities.  There were also chores I expected him to do purely as a contribution to the family, such as emptying the cutlery rack of the dishwasher and taking his plate to the kitchen bench after eating.

When I first told Jake that he’d be getting pocket money, his eyes lit up.  And, at first, he enjoyed the responsibility of doing jobs that, until then, he’d only seen adults do.  You can probably predict what happened over time, though.  He started refusing to do jobs unless he was paid for them and, eventually, any jobs at all as he decided that not having to work was even more favourable than having money to spend.

It was time to reconsider our system.  I asked other families how they approached chores and pocket money with their kids.  It seemed few had settled on a system that they were really happy with and many had experienced the kinds of bumps I had.  Then I realised that the point was this – what did I want doing chores and having pocket money to teach Jake?

There are many different concepts we can teach our children through chores and pocket money but it gets confused when we try to teach all of them through one system.  When we narrow the outcomes down and get specific about know what our intentions are, it becomes a lot clearer how to go forward.  Here’s what I decided –

I wanted Jake to do chores to develop a sense of his capacity to make a contribution and to learn practical life skills.

I wanted Jake to have money to learn how to manage it.

I was willing to forgo trying to teach him that money is earned or to develop a work ethic through chores and pocket money in order to focus on contribution, life skills and money management.  There are plenty of other ways he can learn about earning money and having a good work ethic, such as through the example my husband & I set and through the discipline he needs for his school work and sports practices.

So, I realised that, to achieve the aims we’d settled, on, I had to separate the money from the chores.  Now, just as Jake does jobs to share in the family’s workload, he also shares in our family income.  While the money and chores are no longer linked to each other, they are both linked to his position as an equal member of our family.  This reflects one of my essential spiritual values – that everyone, regardless of age or any other factor, is equal and must be treated as such.

Now that he is 4, Thomas is old enough to also be involved in our system.  I have recently made Jake and Thomas each a visual “Helping Chart”. We’ve scrapped the terms “chores” and “jobs” to make it explicit that the tasks they do are to help our family.  On the chart are the ways they help in the mornings, the ways the help in the afternoons and the ways they help ocassionally, as needed.  Thomas does tasks likes feeding the cat and getting the mail from the letter box.  Jake vacuums and empties the bottom rack of the dishwasher.

One new addition to our routine is that Jake and Thomas each help me to make a meal once a week.  I let them choose what they’re going to make (I fear we may be eating more pasta than I can take!).  One side effect of giving them this responsibility has been that it gives me a little extra one-to-one time with each of them.  And, all going well, in a few years, my husband and I will be able to sit back with a glass of wine while our boys take care of dinner.

 

HOW MUCH MONEY SHOULD KIDS GET & WHAT DO THEY SPEND IT ON?

Then there’s the question of how children spend their money.  I’ve always been quite fond of the 3 jar system in which a child is given 3 jars, labelled “Save”, “Spend” and “Give”.  They put a third of their money in each and use it accordingly.  I guess I thought the jars were cute (particularly when you’re looking at Pinterest)  But, when it comes to saving and giving, I think life will teach them better about this than being forced to save or to give.

Having a jar for giving makes it an obligation, not a genuine act of kindness.  I prefer to invite my boys to share their money when opportunities naturally occur rather than to insist on it.  Our local hospital has been appealing to the public to donate new Winter pyjamas for children who arrive at the hospital without them.  So, last weekend, I took Jake and Thomas shopping to each choose a couple of pairs of pyjamas which we then delivered to the hospital.  The day before we went, I explained to them what we would be doing and why and I suggested that, if they wanted to, they could use some of their own money to help pay for the pyjamas.  I left it for them to think about.  The next day, before we left to go shopping, I asked them each what they had decided.  They were both adamant about their decisions.  Jake wanted to give some of his money.  Thomas didn’t.  I acknowledged Jake’s generosity but I didn’t praise him or judge Thomas for not contributing.

As for saving, already, Jake and Thomas have both found themselves in the position of having spent one week’s worth of money on something small and later wished they had saved it so they could buy something more satisfying.  Equally, last year Jake had his eye on a small Lego set.  We put a picture of it by his money box and he saved up until he was able to buy it for himself.  He learned about delayed gratification and prioritising how he spends his money.

Most of me believes that it is their money to spend as they choose.  However, I have put my foot down when they’ve wanted to buy really unhealthy food.  I couldn’t bear to watch them consume a whole chocolate bar after the efforts I go to give them a nutritious diet.  I’m unsure if I should be restricting their spending in any way so I’m still mulling that one over.

How much pocket money they get isn’t, I think, too important.  We’ve chosen to start small.  4 year-old Thomas gets $1 a week.  7 year-old Jake gets $2 a week.  They have no need for more money and they can learn just as much about handling money at the bargain shop as they can at a department store.  Making mistakes and learning lessons when the stakes are low is good practice for when the stakes are higher.

I can imagine that our system will have many reincarnations as the boys get older. Thomas will not be happy if he’s still only getting $1 a week when he’s 13!  And that wouldn’t be enough to teach him what I’ll be wanting him to learn at that stage. Certainly, by the time they’re in their teens, I anticipate that we’ll be giving them quite a significant amount of money with which to budget in order to learn money handling skills.  Perhaps they’ll have to use it to buy their own clothes and entertainment, really having to separate their needs from their wants.

 

CONCLUSION

I don’t think that there is one right way to manage chores and pocket money.  My lesson has been to let our values guide me and get clear about what are the most important things I want to teach my boys.   I have chosen to use it to pass on spiritual values such as their sense of belonging and contribution and to develop some early money handling and practical life skills.  As my boys get older, my intentions may well change and the system itself definitely will to make it age-appropriate.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – There are a number of books available about how to manage money and chores with kids.  There are many also that about values that relate to money, such as gratitude and non-materialism.  I am hoping to read some of them and have just started reading The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber which is great food for thought. (I am not an affiliate for Ron’s products)

 

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It’s OK to Let our Kids “Get Away With” Bad Behaviour

Before having children, if I saw a parent allowing their child to do something I didn’t think they should be doing (like being disruptive in a waiting room or talking back), I’d immediately judge the parent in my head. “They shouldn’t let their kid do that”, I’d think.  Or, the rather self-righteous, “I’d never let my kids do that”.

Of course, once I became a parent myself, I realised that it is not actually possible to get our children to behave as we think they should all of the time.  Short of manhandling them, sometimes there is nothing we can do that will stop them from doing something they shouldn’t or make them do something they should.  And, unless safety is at stake, such as they’re about to run out onto the road, I won’t physically restrain children.

It has only just dawned on me fairly recently, though, that I can choose to let my kids “misbehave”.  Sometimes, I can decide not to even try to change their behaviour when they’re doing something I think they shouldn’t.

 

WHY DID I THINK I HAD TO CORRECT MY KIDS EVERY TIME?

Letting go of the need to respond in some way to every behaviour I deem inappropriate has been a slow process for me.

Part of it is because I’m conscientious.  I thought it was upto me to teach my boys everything and that I had to be consistent in doing so.  I forgot that, by nature, children are essentially good and I can trust that their good will come through without my constant management.

The other reason is that I thought everyone was watching me, judging me like I used to judge other parents.  And, actually, some people are.  But the difference now is that it has come to my consciousness that my relationship with my boys is more important to me than what others think of me.

The big realisation is that my kids are not a reflection of me.  The way I treat them is.

 

WHY WOULD I CHOOSE TO LET MY KIDS MISBEHAVE?

If I called them up on everything they did that I didn’t think they should, my boys would quickly feel that I was picking on them.  We parents use a lot of sound reasoning to justify insisting on something – “it’s for their own good” or “they can’t get away with that” or “they need to learn that…” – but I don’t want my boys to feel that they are under the microscope all the time.  

Although I use respectful strategies to manage my boys’ behaviour and to teach them, when I use the strategies, they know that they are being corrected in some way.  If they are to know that I love them unconditionally, they can’t be feeling that I’m correcting them more than I am accepting them. I need to allow them space to manage situations in their own way as often as I can.  And, as I’ve said, I believe that kids are essentially “good” – until we tell them otherwise.  My boys are great but some days I have wondered if I’ve undermined their sense of worth a little by trying to teach them too many things in one day.

So, particularly when there are other factors involved, such as the child is tired or emotions are high, we can choose to just let it go.  At these times, insisting on certain behaviour is fruitless – our children resist our boundaries and we resist their resistance!  It only serves to separate us from our children rather than teach them (as good discipline is intended to do).  Perhaps in each circumstance we can ask ourselves – in this moment, will correcting them actually help our child or push them away from us?   If we get present, the answer will come easily.

Parents feel better, too, when we don’t try to uphold every expectation we have.  It’s stressful feeling that we have to teach our children everything and we have to teach them now.  But, as you will see below, we don’t have to do that.  Now that I’ve decided that turning a blind eye is a perfectly acceptable parenting strategy to use sometimes, I can relax and enjoy my boys that much more.

 

HOW KIDS STILL LEARN WHEN THEY MISBEHAVE

The marvellous thing I’ve realised is that, even when we choose not to do anything in the moment, our children can still learn what they need to learn in the following 3 ways –

  1. Follow-up after the event – when they’ve settled down, we can discuss with them why what they did wasn’t respectful or a good idea etc. We don’t have to be judgemental about it, we can simply point it out to them and have a conversation about it. Or we can choose to say nothing.
  2. The unfolding of natural consequences. Often, life teaches our children without us having to do a thing. eg. an irritated member of the public asks our child to stop running in the shop (although I don’t condone strangers giving children a telling off, their polite request to “stop doing that please” is often much more effective than mine.)  Natural consequences can unfold in a myriad of ways.
  3. And if numbers 1 & 2 don’t happen, we can choose to do absolutely nothing other than being a good example to our kids – they don’t see me playing tag in the supermarket queue.

 

This more relaxed approach to our children’s behaviour is for negotiable boundaries – those ones that aren’t important enough to be insisted upon every time and around which there is room for compromise.  Non-negotiable boundaries I insist on consistently, using my 6-step method (available here).

 

CONCLUSION

Ignoring bad behaviour is not my main parenting method.  But I’m giving myself and my kids a break.   We don’t have be constantly tinkering with our children like old cars, trying to fix them and their behaviour.

On Wednesday, I went to the supermarket with both of my boys – something I usually try to avoid.  Thomas was boisterous, hollering from his place in the child’s seat of the trolley and throwing his gumboots around.  Jake, who insisted on pushing the trolley, had rather questionable steering skills and was egging Thomas on in his unruliness.  The noise and disruption was driving me nuts so presumably it was also irritating the other customers in the shop.  But I could see that Jake and Thomas were both tired and not in a frame of mind take on board my requests to settle down.  I got plenty of stares from the other shoppers and wanted to be respectful of them, but Jake and Thomas weren’t being naughty, just annoying.  And that’s the thing – so many of the times I would’ve corrected them in the past they were actually just enjoying themselves.  So I tolerated the disapproval of the other shoppers, my boys had a ball and we got through the shopping far more easily than if I’d tried to insist they settle down.

When a parent, sits back as their kids do something socially unacceptable, it isn’t necessarily because they don’t care, it could be because they do care.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Why I Don’t Tell My Children to “Be Brave”

Have you noticed this? –

When a child has fallen and scraped their knee, the adult on hand usually praises them “you’re so brave” – even if they do cry.

When a child is facing a fear, perhaps about to slide down a pole at the playground for the first time, we’ll often coax them to do it by telling them to “be brave”.

 

THE PROBELM

Of course, we’re meaning to be supportive and to encourage the child when we say these things, but let’s think about the messages our words are really giving them –

* what you feel is a problem.

* do not show the way you really feel – pretend if you have to.

 

The Short- Term Problem

When our children are encouraged to feign bravery rather than be honest about their feelings, it tells them that they cannot come to us with all of their emotions, certain ones have to be kept neatly tucked way, out of sight.

But, if they can’t come to us, the adults in their lives, when they are fearful or in pain, who are they going to go to?

After being told to “be brave” often enough, they may eventually conclude that it’s best to avoid putting themselves in any situation where they’ll potentially experience pain or fear –  because there will be no real support for them and the adults around them will likely disapprove of their feelings.  In trying to avoid pain and fear, they avoid the fullness of Life also.

 

The Long-Term Problem

If our kids learn that they must “be brave” as children, they will take that belief with them into adulthood.  Concerned with appearing brave, they risk becoming one of the emotionally disengaged adults we meet all too frequently.  They may even use negative behaviours to avoid their emotions in order not to let slip how they’re really feeling.

Most of us can probably think of a number of people we’ve met who are distant.  There’s a feeling that their walls are up and they’re hard to connect with or develop a meaningful relationship with. So we don’t usually bother.  If we do have a relationship with them, communication is difficult and frustration is high – for both parties.

When I was at university, I did an assignment on friendship.  I learned that personal disclosure is the number one way people make and deepen friendships, including disclosure of emotions – the good and the bad.

We want our children to be emotionally available to the people in their lives so that they can enjoy rich relationships.  Being honest about difficult feelings is a life skill that helps them to do this.  But they have no way of learning how to do this if they are told to “be brave” whenever they’re in pain or fear.

Of course, not every “be brave” is going to make a child risk-adverse and turn them into an emotionally distant adult who leans on destructive behaviours to help them avoid their feelings.  But I want to be intentional in my response to a child’s pain and fear, to make sure I am giving them the support they really need. We can teach our children that all feelings are normal, even uncomfortable ones, and that they are better expressed than avoided & denied.  The ability to both accept and express how they feel are skills that help them to be their authentic selves, which, from my spiritual point of view, is the purpose of parenting.

 

A BETTER WAY TO RESPOND

Thomas had his 4 year-old vaccinations this week.  I waited until the morning of the appointment to tell him about it.  I used a picture book he has in which a vet gives a kitten its vaccination to help me explain what was going to happen.  He was not pleased to get the news, saying he was scared and worried that it would hurt.  I sat him on my knee and listened to his feelings.  I told him I understood it was scary and it would sting for a short while and also that I would be right there with him.  Once we were in the nurse’s office, he inched his way under my chair, trying to hide from the inevitable.  I talked to him about how he was feeling, not labouring over it or trying to coax him to feel differently.  When it came time for the pricks, he squirmed and squealed a bit in anticipation and needed to be held firmly so the nurses could do their thing.  Afterwards, he had a bit of a cry and cuddled up on my lap for comfort.  Within a couple of minutes, though, it was if the pricks hadn’t happened.

My approach was to acknowledge how he was feeling and show my caring but, basically, to just be with Thomas, his fear and his pain.  He got through it and he learned that feelings are okay & they pass in their own time.

When we show that we accept their feelings, our children learn to do the same for themselves and for others.  At the moment, we’re talking grazed knees and vaccinations but we’re teaching our children to navigate the bigger fears & pains that they will face when they’re older – new jobs and broken relationships, perhaps.

 

CONCLUSION: WHAT IS BRAVERY, ANYWAY?

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers was my first self-help book.  In my mid-twenties, I would listen to it in my car (on cassette tape!), trying to muster some courage after years of fearful living.  The title sums up the best strategy for using in times of fear & pain – allowing ourselves to feel the feeling while moving forward.

Perhaps this is where bravery and courage are a little different.  Bravery is about hiding our feelings and white-knuckling the situation at hand, essentially so that everyone else is impressed by us or to avoid their disapproval.  Having courage, is to experience the feeling in full and show up for the situation on hand because we know it’s worth doing.

Bravery is putting on a face.  Courage is facing the fear & pain.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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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,

 

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