Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Parenting in a Materialistic World

With the holidays quickly approaching, you may be spending a lot of your time thinking about and buying presents. If you are like many parents, you wonder if all this focus on material gifts might tend to make kids have a more materialistic mindset as adults. New research can shed some light on these questions.

A recent study examined 700 adults and asked them about how their parents used material goods in their parenting practices. In sum, three parenting practices were found to be associated with greater materialism:

- rewarding children with gifts

- giving gifts as a way of showing affection

- punishing children by taking away possessions

In the study materialism was defined as believing that success in life is defined by the number of material goods they owned. Interestingly, the authors also found a link between parental rejection and materialism. Individuals who said they felt their parents did not have time for them or were disappointed in them were more likely to rate higher on measures of materialism. This link is particularly interesting as it hints at the notion (although the research did not address this) that parents who were rejecting may have used material items as a substitute for spending time and establishing a warm relationship with their children.

This study, while informative, raises more questions than it answers. While most of us want to raise children who are not overly materialistic, I would imagine that many of us use material goods as rewards from time to time. The overall message I take away from this study is that material goods should not be the main "currency" in your relationship with your child. If much of your interaction is based on what the child needs to do to receive his/her next material reward, that could be problematic. Establishing a relationship with your child based on warmth, caring, and empathy seems to be the more effective way of approaching parenting.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

5 Ways to Keep the Holidays Stress Free

By Dyan Eybergen

For most children, Christmas time is filled with excitement and anticipation. They delight in the tradition of Santa Claus, decorations, the making of gingerbread houses and writing out their Christmas wish lists. For parents, this time of year can prove to be stressful with all the obligations to attend parties, the hustle and bustle of shopping malls and financial strain, cooking and cleaning and meeting the never ending demands of family and friends. 

Here are 5 ways you can slow down this holiday season so you can relax and enjoy the wonder of it through your children's eyes. 
  1. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. Set realistic expectations with yourself and your family. Your children will learn the importance of balance.
  2. Set a budget. Knowing how much you can spend on gifts and food ahead of time can help you stay on track; use cash whenever possible so you aren't dealing with paying off credit cards in the months that follow – which will only contribute to more stress.
  3. Simplify: Know when buying a pie instead of the stress of baking it yourself is a better idea. Decorate where your family spends most of its time and forget about decking the halls of every room. Use gift bags instead of wrapping every present. Partake in outdoor  activities – sunshine, fresh air and physical activity are natural mood enhancers, not to mention how much fun you and the kids can have.
  4. Remember the spirit of the holiday. Enjoy the little things, like taking the time to relive the joy through the excitement of your children. 
  5. Acknowledge your feelings and reach out for support. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings and allow your children to do the same. 
Now relax, enjoy, and Merry Christmas. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Harmony and Kids

     Do you remember being a fourteen or sixteen-year-old, with hormones and emotions running high, and with little if any developed restraint on impulses that seemed to seize you out of the blue? Welcome to my world: teaching sophomores and juniors in high school.

     The early years of my career as an English teacher in high school were marked by many ups and downs due to getting emotionally caught up in whatever it was the kids were bringing into the classroom. It is quite a challenge to stay calm and centered when confronted with an emotional outburst. Still, looking back on my growth as a teacher I can say that the happy, harmonious moments I shared with the groups entrusted to my care now stand out. And these days my hours at school in the company of up to 32 teenagers at a time are marked by respect and harmony.

     It is here that I would like to link to the previous two articles in this blog: Little Boys, Big Emotions by Amy Webb and Compliance in Your Children by Michael R. Whitehead, both excellent articles. Amy focuses on the importance of acknowledging the emotions in little boys (and in all kids, I might add) and modeling how to cope with emtions, while Michael explains how to effectively communicate instructions to your kids. Both these items were crucial to me when it comes to creating a harmonious and loving environment.

Modeling coping strategies

How does one model how to cope with difficult emotions? Obviously: by coping with our own emotions effectively and then guiding your kids through theirs. Setting a quality such as Peace as your own inner compass will go a long way in riding emotional waves, both your kids' and your own. If you would like to learn more about the positive effects of setting the ideal of Peace for your family's relationships, read an earlier post on this blog: Finding Peace in Hectic Daily Life with Kids. 

The Power of Focused Silence

In the article about effective instruction mentioned above, author Michael R. Whitehead explains the positive effects of fewer instructions and inserting a pause of ten to fifteen seconds after issuing an instruction. In other words: putting the power of silence to use. And not just any silence. This silence needs to be imbued with your presence by keeping your calm, loving focus on both the child and the instruction. Silence, used this way, can be your most powerful ally when it comes to communicating the boundaries of behavior to kids.

     Next time a boundary of behavior is being challenged by one of the kids in your care, try and see if a ten-second pause - a period of silence infused with your loving presence - will turn the tables in favor of a harmonious outcome. Good luck!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

These Two Things Can Increase Compliance in Your Children!

A search on for “parenting” will return around 125,000 results. It’s pretty clear that parents everywhere want to know the “secret” to parenting. Many of those parents want to know how to increase obedience in their children. Thankfully, parenting researchers have identified a number of important things parents can do to increase the rate of obedience in children. Truthfully there’s not a “secret” ingredient to increase obedience from children, but some of the findings in research can significantly increase the rate of obedience. The two important techniques I want to highlight in this post come from older research studies, but are still taught in most evidence based parenting programs today. First, reduce the amount of commands you give your children. Second, remain silent for between five and ten seconds between commands.

Surprisingly, studies show when parents give too many commands or requests children become more disobedient. Yet, when parents want obedience, they tend to increase the amount of commands they give their children. For example, Forehand and Scarboro (1975) found merely doubling the amount of commands from six to twelve significantly increased the amount of non-compliance (disobedience) from children. Others have found a consistent connection between the number of parental requests and the probability of using harsh parenting techniques (Oldershaw, Walters, & Hall, 1989). Oldershaw and colleagues (1989) found a significant connection between the rate of child compliance (obedience) and the amount of commands given by parents. Parents who issued an average of 120 commands per hour achieved a 43% rate of non-compliance (disobedience); meaning children disobeyed almost half of parental requests. However, parents who issued an average of 75 commands per hour achieved a 35% rate of non-compliance (disobedience); meaning children disobeyed only 1/3 of parental requests. Mothers who used positive parenting techniques also made fewer requests per hour (75/hour) than those who used harsh parenting techniques (120/hour). These studies show that fewer parental requests actually increase child compliance.

Another early study found a significant association between compliance and waiting only 5 seconds after issuing a command. Roberts, McMahon, Forehand, & Humphreys (1978) divided 27 mothers into three training groups: command only, command and time-out, and placebo. The mothers in the command only group were taught that immediately after giving a command to their children, they should count slowly to 5 before giving a reminder or consequence. Mothers in the command and time-out training were taught the same as mothers in the command only, with the addition of how to implement time-out in instances of non-compliance. The placebo group was taught empathic listening skills. Amazingly, compliance to parental requests for the command only group went from 35% to 64%; when time-out was added, compliance increased to 83%. I find it interesting that just waiting five seconds after giving a command nearly doubled child obedience. Others have documented similar results, indicating that waiting between 5 to 15 seconds after asking a child to do something doubles the rate of obedience in children (Patterson & Forgatch, 2005).

One of the biggest complaints I hear from parents in my therapy office is, “my child doesn’t listen to me.” When parents aren’t listened too, or aren’t obeyed, they often feel disrespected. This feeling of disrespect can lead to harsh discipline tactics, and increased contention and resentment in the home. The research shows in order to reduce disobedience, parents should reduce the amount of commands children are given and wait longer before expecting compliance. Taken together, and used appropriately parents can increase the experience of harmony in the home.

  • What do you think? 
  • Will these techniques work in your home? 
  • Have you found success with other techniques?

Forehand, R., & Scarboro, M. E. (1975). An Analysis of Children’s Oppositional Behavior. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 3(1). Retrieved from 

Oldershaw, L., Walters, G. C., & Hall, D. K. (1989). A Behavioral Approach to the Classification of Different Types of Physically Abusive Mothers. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly (1982-), 35(3), 255–279. 

Patterson, D. G. R., & Forgatch, D. M. S. (2005). Parents And Adolescents Living Together: Part 1, The Basics (2nd edition.). Champaign, Ill: Research Press. 

Roberts, M. W., McMahon, R. J., Forehand, R., & Humphreys, L. (1978). The effect of parental instruction-giving on child compliance. Behavior Therapy, 9(5), 793–798. doi:10.1016/S0005-7894(78)80009-4

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Little Boys, Big Emotions

If you are a parent of a young boy you know that, despite the cultural stereotypes, boys feel strong emotions just as much as girls. Unfortunately, in our society we often (perhaps unwittingly) encourage boys to hide their emotions or “be a man.” I think more awareness to this issue has emerged in recent years, but it is still an important topic to consider.

New research is shedding light on the importance of helping young children, especially boys, learn how to cope with their powerful emotions. Researchers at the University of Illinois investigated how parents reacted to their toddlers’ negative emotions (e.g., anger and social fearfulness). Two possible parental reactions that were examined included:

-         minimizing the child’s emotions (e.g., saying, “stop acting like a baby”)
-         punishing the child for their emotional outburst (e.g., sent to room or having a toy taken away)

The results indicated a clear association between parents punishing their child for their emotions and a greater chance of the child being withdrawn or anxious at a later time point. Perhaps most importantly, this finding was stronger for little boys, especially those who experience more frequent negative emotions. Researchers point out that when parents punish children for negative feelings, they soon learn to hide their emotions and can become withdrawn or anxious.

As parents of young children, we deal with the negative emotions of our children every day. As an adult, this is mentally and emotional taxing. Sometimes it may seem easier to punish or scold your child for his or her outburst rather than helping them cope with the emotions. This research clearly shows, however, than remaining calm and talking with your child to help them understand their strong emotions will aid them more in the long term. Toddlers are sometimes overwhelmed by the strength of their emotions and they need our help. We have the opportunity (as challenges as it is) to model for them how to cope with difficult emotions.

ResearchBlogging.orgEngle, J., & McElwain, N. (2011). Parental Reactions to Toddlers' Negative Emotions and Child Negative Emotionality as Correlates of Problem Behavior at the Age of Three Social Development, 20 (2), 251-271 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2010.00583.x

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

5 ways to Strengthen your Relationship with your Teen

By: Dyan Eybergen

It is never more crucial to hold on to our children than when they reach the stage of adolescence. This isn’t easy to do as it is often a time when we are seen as the enemy – preventing our children from spreading their wings and learning how to fly on their own. It’s a constant battle of wills and to almost every teenager, mom and dad no longer know best!  Erik Erkison, a Developmental Psychologist, first pointed out the need for teenagers to separate from their parents in his Developmental Psychosocial Stages. Erikson coined the teenage years as a time to discover who we are as individuals separate from our family of origin and become members of a wider society. Unfortunately, with this need to venture forth without parental direction, comes a grave lack of life experience. Cognitively, teenagers are not equipped to handle the pressure of going at life without guidance and supervision from their parents. The brain of an adolescent isn’t mature enough yet to handle issues of executive functioning: a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. It’s the reason teenagers are impulsive and don’t always make the best choices.
Parents need to work hard to strengthen the bonds between them and their children during the teenage years so their influence over their children cannot be replaced by peers and pop culture. Dr. Gordon Neufeld, A psychologist with 40 years experience with children and youth, and co-author of the book, Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers has repeatedly stressed how important it is to maintain positive parent-child relationships.
The troubling part for parents is finding ways to keep the ties that bind strong in the wake of teenage resistance and parental rejection. Here are 5 ways to navigate through the roadblocks put up by our teens and maintain a positive relationship with them:

  1. Create rituals for saying hello and goodbye. Say the words “I love you” often. A hug, a squeeze to the shoulder, a high-five, a tussle to the hair are ways that we can physically touch our teens and keep them grounded to their sense of belonging.
  2. Learn other ways of saying ‘no’ to your child when it comes to the small stuff – this way if you change your mind and give in to saying ‘yes’ you will not counteract the importance of the word no. Save the word ‘NO’ for those big questions where an emphatic answer is necessary: “NO you may not stay out all night with your friends at the beach.” “NO, your boyfriend may not sleep over.”
  3. Give your child a safe place to cry. Help move your child through their sadness by accepting how he/she feels. Dr. Neufeld says tears can be a powerful part of a parent-child relationship because if a child feels safe at home and cries tears of futility, that often simply means the child has accepted that something he or she wants won’t work.
  4. Confirm your love for your child after a disagreement. Separate the behaviour or the issue you don’t like from the child. “I didn’t like the way you handled that situation but I do love you and nothing you do could change that.”
  5. Make time for your teen. Listen when he/she talks. Be present in your adolescent’s world by taking interest in what he/she is interested in. Have family dinners and game nights. Be available and love unconditionally.

Monday, November 10, 2014


Few images rend the heart as does the image of a suffering child. The apparent injustice is appalling, and you may wonder how a supreme being, or any being for that matter, could tolerate an innocent child to suffer. Feelings of frustration, anger and powerlessness overtake, and doubts arise about the sanity of life and of creation. You may want to forcefully eradicate illness and suffering from your life, especially from children’s lives. But this none of us can. We are faced with the seemingly impossible task to live with illness and suffering and not lose courage.

A Spiritual Perspective

We are not the first ones to feel frustration in the face of suffering. At one point Jesus’ students ask him why a man was born blind (John  9:1). They wondered if his blindness was related to his sins or to the sins of his parents. And Jesus answers: “He was born blind so that God’s power might be displayed in curing him.”  And he cures the man. That is certainly an unexpected answer. He does not share in their frustration. He does not engage in a medical discussion, nor does he lay out a philosophy on the influence of diet, attitudes, karma, etc. on health. He does not look back to causes, but looks ahead, to what might happen next. And next, the man is cured.

     Jesus met with a lot of sick and suffering  people. His first reaction always was to relieve pain, to heal the sick and to restore the physical body to its perfect condition. When healing the sick, Jesus bypassed both the physical world with its ways and cures (pills, surgery, etc.), and the mental world with its ways and cures (karma, beliefs,  etc.) Instantly, he perceived the spiritual reality of the person in his presence and thus made them both subject to the laws and principles of the spiritual world. He looked beyond the appearance of a sick body to the person's true identity: a child of God, perfect as God had created him. Jesus’ spiritual perception overruled the physical perception the person had of themselves, namely “I am sick.”

Your Unique Role

So, where does this leave us? Having children means that rearing them and being with them is part of your life plan. Now that they are here, they form, at least in part, the reason why you are here. What does that mean in practical terms? If your child is sick or suffering, try to discover your unique role in your child’s life. What does your involvement mean to the child and to yourself? Illness and suffering demand that you become clear about your priorities in life, and explore the ways in which you can best express your love and commitment to your child.

A Spiritual Quality You Can Offer

Try to see if it is helpful if you view illness as an invitation to look at your family situation from a broader perspective. Ask yourself: what does this situation call for in spiritual terms? What spiritual qualit is needed most in the daily living of it? Would that be patience, dedication, service, love, tolerance, hope or joy? See if you can identify one specific spiritual quality that you personally resonate with. Take that quality and translate it into a mental attitude. For instance ‘hope’ could be interpreted on a mental level as ‘encouragement’, while ‘patience’ could be interpreted as ‘prioritize’.

Attitude and Action

Next, take the mental attitude and extend it in terms of an action you could actually do. 'Encouragement’ could be extended to ‘catch a negative thought and say a positive affirmation to myself.’ ‘Prioritize’ could be extended to ‘review calendar and make choices in order to be less rushed.’ These two actions, or any other you come up with, would help you put into practice a spiritual quality you hold dear in a difficult situation. They allow you to see how the work of your hands express the intent of your heart. This process will forge who you are with what you do. And make no mistake about it: this can be life changing. Wouldn’t you want that for you and your child? Wouldn’t you want to express your love in this most difficult of situations in a way that changes lives?

Fully Present Parenting

Although the purpose and function of illness may stay unclear and suffering remains an enigma, by connecting your inner and outer world in this manner, you will come closer to the truth of your being. It will help you become fully present and mindful in difficult circumstances. And that, my dear friend, is the greatest gift you can give your child.

Recommended Reading

To learn more about being fully present with your kids, you might want to read the following posts presented previously on

Mindful Parenting
What is the Goal of Child Rearing?
Finding Peace in Hectic Daily Life With Kids

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Friday, November 7, 2014

How To Induce Labor - Thoughts from a Mom of 4 (soon to be 5)

A friend gave me this shirt due to everything I have suffered
Looking for advice on how to induce labor?  That's something I've Googled many times during my previous four pregnancies.  I am now awaiting the birth of #5, but this time much wiser and rational.  I'm due in eight long days.  This has been the longest pregnancy I have endured due to our big move and then getting rear ended at 35 weeks.  Just when I thought my contractions couldn't hurt any worse, they did.  I have what is called "irritable uterus", but it doesn't lead to anything but pain, exhaustion, and irritability.  I feel sorry for everyone who has to be around me on a regular basis.  I can hardly stand myself!

The advice I'm going to give you is this:  Don't torture yourself.  There are things that will bring on contractions, but not productive ones if your body isn't ready to labor.  A woman's cervix won't even dilate if she's put on Pitocin and she's not ready.  You need sleep.  Years ago I asked my doctor about taking castor oil and she told me quite bluntly, "Trust me.  You do not want to start labor with explosive diarrhea."  She's right.  I don't.  My midwife this time around told me it also causes some women to vomit.  I'm sure I would be included in that group.  A friend of mine tried it a few days ago.  Nothing happened except illness.  She tried nipple stimulation with a breast pump, which definitely brought on contractions, but no baby.  Yesterday she had another C-section because her baby wouldn't move down after her water broke.  She was 10 pounds 1 ounce. 

If you're going to try things to induce labor, make it things you like.  Some people swear by spicy food.  Do you like spicy food?  Great!  Will you be up all night with heartburn if you eat it?

You need sleep!

You're about to be more sleep deprived than you have ever been unless you are one of those magical women whose babies sleep through the night the moment they bring them home.  I don't know how that's possible, but I occasionally meet these unusual people.  I love to hear all about it when I still have a 9-month-old who won't sleep more than two hours at a time.  If you're one of these women, you should probably lie and tell the other moms how exhausted you are.  Try to look a little more unattractive and less smiley. 

If you are in the mood, then sure, give sex a try.  You might be in a lot of pain at this point though.  I remember an episode of Mad About You where Jamie says, "I would be more in the mood to do this if I were falling out of a plane." 

Instead of knocking yourself out trying to make labor start, try to squeeze in activities instead that you won't be able to do with a newborn around or that will be less enjoyable with a newborn.  Have some girls' nights.  Go on dates with your husband.  Play board games with your kids.  I'm thinking I would like one more karaoke night and I continue to go to my choir rehearsals on Thursdays.

It is my personal belief that there has to be the right combination of factors for labor to start.  Most importantly, your body has to be ready.  Second, the baby needs to be in a good position.

I think there is some value in going for regular walks or sitting on a birthing ball because if your body is ready, that might help the baby to get in the right position.  This doesn't mean walk until you can't walk anymore.

A lot of women go into labor after they do some nesting.  I'm guessing it's because of the various movements that come with cleaning, getting down on all fours to scrub the floor, etc.  That happened once with me.  I had sudden urges to clean everything and even vacuum the car, adding a special touch like putting dryer sheets under the seats so it would smell good in there.  I contracted all evening while I did that, things calmed down, and then I was in sudden, intense labor at 5am.  I think my body needed a little sleep before it was finally time.

It is very difficult and anxiety causing experience waiting for a baby to arrive.  We want to be in control and think that we can make it happen.  The truth is, we can't.  It will happen when it's going to happen.  Until then, I laugh at suggestions that hard candy, foot rubs, etc. will "throw" me into labor.  Not even my many contractions have caused actual labor.  I once had someone tell me that Olive Garden's eggplant parmesan caused labor to start.  I gave it a try, but I was so full on their delicious salad and breadsticks, I could only eat one bite.

I now schedule this post for days from now, wondering if my baby will be here by then, feeling like a ticking time bomb without a countdown display.  Good luck, pregnant women everywhere!

What are some things you tried to induce labor?  What's the funniest advice you have heard?

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