Notes on Parenting

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

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Annoying Behavior

Don't you just hate it when kids in your presence exhibit behavior that you just can't stomach? When it concerns your own kids or kids in your care - in other words, when they move within the circle of your own influence - then you may have options to address the annoying behavior. 

     But what do you do when the behavior takes place outside of your circle of influence or when the behavior is just annoying to you personally? In other words, what options are left when there is clearly nothing else for you to do than to swallow and accept it?

Loud Play and Loud Mopeds

This exact thing happened to me recently, and repeatedly I might add. The first instance was children playing and yelling, creating a ruckus in the yard next door, after they had come home from day care. This happened right at the moment that I was retreating to my back porch after a long day at work. The other instance was young teens enjoying the new tarmac on the road by going up and down the street on their mopeds and motorbikes, causing vrooming sounds to rise at odd hours in the neighborhood where I happened to be staying temporarily.

     Both occasions called forth feelings of annoyance. At the same time it was clear to me that there was not much that I could do, or wanted to do, about them: I support kids playing outdoors, especially in their own backyard, and I understand that kids need to be able to express joy and frustration as part of that play. As to the revving of engines, I know young teens love showing off and need to feel that the world is theirs to discover - it's part of growing up. In both cases then, as a neighbor and as a visitor, there was not much I could do to change the situation.


Now comes the interesting part: given that these sources of personal annoyance were directly under my nose and given the fact that I had decided not to interfere one way or the other, what options did I have left to work with? This is where reframing comes in.

     Reframing means putting something into a different context in order to give it a new meaning. The new meaning that results from the reframing causes a different response and a different emotion associated with it. How do you go about reframing? Reframing happens when you insert gratitudeinto the equation.

     In the case of the rambunctious neighbor children I told myself the following:
I am grateful for new life on this earth and in this town 
I am grateful to life for renewing life
I love living where I live
I am grateful to my neighbors for living next to me
I am grateful to my neighbor children for being sparks of the divine
I love it when kids are lively and full of energy
I am grateful for knowing that all is one
I am grateful for knowing that liveliness and energy are part of me
I love observing and experiencing new life and liveliness around me
I am grateful for the opportunity to experience liveliness in new ways (ha!  isn't that a good one!)
I love opening up to new ways to experience creation happening around me
I embrace life as it expresses all around me

Things Change Through Gratitude

     Next thing I knew, three things seemed to happen all at once:

  • the kids next door dimmed their voices considerably on occasion if not much of the time
  • the kids chose times to play outside when I was not there
  • the kids' loud play no longer annoyed or even bothered me

This may look like three separate things; my guess though is that they are really all one and the same thing: namely, they manifest the fact that, through the expression of gratitude, I was able to accept and embrace a facet of life that I had been excluding before.

     And what about the revving mopeds in the neighborhood? This situation was no doubt a revisiting of the first situation, egging me on to accept and embrace aspects of life I was refusing to allow in. Once accepted and embraced, using the tool of genuine gratitude, the need for appearances to jar my status quo was no longer there and the annoyances melted away.

     Have you noticed how gratitude can shift your perception of the world? I'd love to hear from you. Please share by leaving a comment.

Gratitude and reframing (recontextualization) are mentioned in Neale D. Walsch's book 
The Only Thing That Matters as some of the tools that help you deal with negative thinking. 
Highly recommended!

Photos by Imagerymajestic at
Article previously published in slightly different form on author's blog

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Electronic Toys: The Impact on Infant Playtime

As a parent, you may still be experiencing toy overload at your house. Between holiday gifts from friends, family, grandparents, and others, your child may have received an abundance of toys. In this barrage of items, they undoubtedly received many electronic toys in the mix. You may wonder if these electronic toys offer any added benefits than the traditional toys or books that kids typically receive.

Luckily, some new research is examining this topic. This new study from Northern Arizona University looked at the following:

- 26 child-parent pairs
- children were ages 10-16 months old
- the authors compared three types of toys: (1) electronic (e.g., baby laptop); (2) traditional toy (e.g., blocks or sorting toy); (3) board books

The researchers fitted the families' homes with audio recording equipment to monitor how language changed as they interacted with each of the toys.

The results showed some interesting findings: when playing with electronic toys there were fewer adults words, fewer back-and-forth conversation between parent and child and fewer parent responses to the child. As compared to playing with books, children also vocalized less when playing with electronic toys.

When comparing playing with traditional toys versus books, it was also found that parents used fewer words with traditional toys than books.

Overall, most of the differences in word use were:

-  between electronic toys and books,

- followed by electronic toys and traditional toys

Okay, so why is this important? Is it really important how much a parent talks to their child during play with toys? Not surprisingly, the clear answer is "yes." The language interaction between children and parent (especially infants on the cusp of learning language) is crucial not only to language development, but social skills and interpersonal interaction.

Electronic toys, however, are pretty much ubiquitous. Young children are very attracted to them. So what is a parent to do? Electronic toys can be helpful if used sparingly. We all need a few minutes to do dishes or cook a meal and these toys can be good distractions for a few minutes. It's good, however, to keep in mind that you as a parent are the best "toy" for your infant. Talking to him/her over toys and books is the best way for her/him to learn language and interaction skills.

Most infants do not have the attention span to listen to a book for long but if you get in the habit of doing dialogic reading, or as one article put it, "dialogic living" then the ongoing flow of words just comes naturally. This simply means narrating to your child what you are doing as you go about your daily routine--you can describe how you work the washing machine or how you cook an egg. This "dialogic living" is great entertainment for your infant and makes things more fun for you too.
Sosa, A. (2015). Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication JAMA Pediatrics DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3753
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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Helicopter Parenting Heading for a Crash

By: Dyan Eybergen RN

As the proverbial pendulum swings, so does that of recommended parenting styles. We have been through the age of the disciplinarian model; turn 360 degrees and a child-centered approach focusing on attachment was the flavour of a decade; only to have the next generation of parents revert back to a more contemporary parent-lead philosophy. And every 10 years or so, the pendulum swings back and forth between the spectrum. However, out of the New Modern World of technology, ever-increasing single-parent families and an era for non-competitive sports where every kid gets a trophy just for showing up, there emerges a new parenting paradigm – one that has rendered many of today’s twenty-something’s narcissistic and incapable of living a “happy” life.
Atlantic Magazine , August 2011, published a piece by Lori Gottlieb entitled “How to Land your Kid in Therapy” that argued that too many parents are over-parenting – hovering over their children like helicopters – and in effect, setting children up to fail. Even NBC’s Saturday Night Live jumped on the bandwagon satirizing the over-indulging parent in a skit titled “You Can do Anything”, starring Daniel Radcliffe (course language advised).  The comedy troop showers untalented, overly confident guests with undeserved praise promising them all “best guest” awards.
What we want for our children is for them to be happy—of course—but at what cost? What we envisioned as building a healthy self-esteem has mutated into a generation who has over-exaggerated views of who they are and what they are capable of. We showered children with praise, rescued them from failure and told them they had the world on a string. With a grandiose sense of entitlement, many young adults today have come to expect preferential treatment. They have never learned to cope with uncomfortable feelings or painful emotions because well-meaning parents have protected them from ever feeling unhappy.  Children, who have never been allowed to make mistakes, learn from them and take risks, develop little to no coping skills to deal with life’s frustrations. The slightest amount of corrective feedback has the potential to spark reactions that manifest in anxiety or depression.
So in our pursuit to make our children happy, we have deprived them of the essential skills that have been found to procure happiness. Research shows that predictors of life fulfillment and success are based on strong character capabilities such as empathy, self-regulation and an internal drive to commit to a task. When we rescue our children from disappointment, we fail to teach them resiliency and perseverance.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Creative Punishments

I just read a funny article about what people's parents used to do to them as punishments when they were kids.  In our day and age, I think as a whole, we have become uncreative as parents when it comes to our misbehaving children.  Actually, we don't even tend to like the word "punishment" anymore.  We like "consequence".  To me it's basically the same thing:  This is happening to you because you were naughty. 

Time outs?  I don't get the sense that children really care that much.

Time ins?  I watched a friend physically restrain a child for a "time in" for x amount of time.  I really can't imagine putting myself through this on a daily basis.  Apparently this is the more loving approach.  The "I'm here for you and won't abandon you" approach.  I tend to believe children aren't so emotionally fragile that we can't send them to their room to have their meltdown and then come out when they're calmed down. 

And we've seen examples of public shaming.  I'm personally against that.  For example, the dad who shot his disrespectful daughter's laptop and put it on YouTube after she wrote a rant about her parents on social media.  Personally, I would have quietly taken the laptop and all other devices away from her and given them to charity or a family in desperate need, but first I would make her write a public apology.

Then there's the ineffective method of just telling your children over and over again to knock it off and/or be quiet.

When at all possible, I love it when the punishment fits the crime.  Many years ago when my grandfather and his brothers were engaging in spitting, their father made them go out and spit on a fence post until it was sopping wet.  When they felt like they were out of saliva, he told them to continue spitting.  After that, the last thing they wanted to do was spit.  This is genius and non-violent.  A lot of people from that generation have memories of going outside to pick their switch to be beaten with.

My sister recently came up with an idea that is a punishment or reward depending on the outcome.  Her 4-year-old son wouldn't stop coming out of his room at night, so she made a little bowl of candy for him and said whatever was left, he could have for breakfast, but she would eat a piece every time he came out.

I wish I had thought of such an idea years ago.  With three of my boys sharing a room, bedtime was a nightmare and the behavior continued as late as midnight - sometimes even later.  As I would try to get the house clean, I kept having to stop what I was doing, so I told them if they had so much energy, they could join me in cleaning and laundry folding until midnight.  After a followed through a couple times and they were begging to go to bed, they finally stopped the behavior. 

My teenager has been awful lately about getting up for church and some other things.  He gets up just fine for school, but on Sunday mornings, it's like the scene in What About Bob where Richard Dreyfus is yelling, "COCKADOODLEDOO, BOB!!!!"  I jump on the boy's bed, remove his blankets, shove him halfway off the bed, splash him with cold water, etc.  I finally put our one-year-old in the room with him, shut the door, and let her work her magic.  She has the most shrill, unbearable scream.  Within a minute he got out of the bed. 

My favorite ones I read today involved a dad who made his kids shared a plate, cup, and utensils for a week straight when they refused to do the dishes and the mom who used a laser pointer and a cat to wake up an overtired child.  What geniuses! 

What are some creative punishments you have given your children?  Or what did your parents do to you?

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Are We Born Knowing Compassion?

With the holidays approaching, many of us are centering our focus on acts of kindness and being compassionate towards others. Most of us try to raise our children to learn these qualities, but is there something innate about being compassionate towards others or is it all a learned behavior?

New research is pointing more and more to the idea that some level of compassion is innate in humans. The "catch" is, however, that keeping that attitude of compassion requires practice. A lack of practice of compassion is the reason many children move towards selfishness as they near the grade-school years.

You may have seen videos of those classic psychological studies often done with infants to study innate compassion. Infants are shown a scenario in which a puppet tries to lift a heavy bag. In one situation, another "kind" puppet helps the other character lift the heavy bag. In a different scenario, a "mean" puppet does not help the other character or may even try to discourage him from lifting the heavy bag. Later, infants are given a choice to view either the "kind" puppet or the "mean" puppet. Astonishingly, over 80% of infants choose the "kind" puppet. These types of studies have been done numerous times with infants as young as 3 months old. The results are always pretty much the same.

It seems that we humans gravitate towards compassion. Not only that, but those of us who have young children know that a child's immediate reaction upon hearing another child cry or fall down is to try to help them. We see this all the time. You rarely, if ever, see a toddler attempt to harm another child if they are crying or hurt; they almost always try to help.

But wait a few years when that same child is in elementary school, and you may see him/her tease another child or intentionally hit another. What happens from infancy to elementary school? Do our children become "marred" by exposure to society? Well, we do not know exactly, but research does indicate that children to seem to shift from an attitude of innate compassion to more selfishness around age 5.

Perhaps what is more interesting, however, is that there seem to be strategies that help children avoid much of this shift to selfishness. There are programs that have been implemented in preschools to help children focus on kindness and see its benefits. When children are part of these programs, the shift toward selfishness seems to be thwarted, at least for awhile. There are not many long-term studies of these programs yet, but it does seem to encourage kindness for the beginning of elementary school.

Among children, helping them see the benefits of kindness and reinforce it is very intentional in these programs. For example, children get rewarded with a sticker on the "kindness chart" if they are helpful to classmates. As we grow, however, we begin to learn that kindness really brings its own positive reinforcement. We all know that acts of kindness make us feel good about ourselves. New research confirms that compassionate acts do, in fact, spark brain circuits that promote good feelings and pleasure.

Ultimately, children who feel better about themselves and others will go on to be more well-adjusted adults and citizens. Promoting compassion in the classroom not only makes for a better moral atmosphere but also helps children do well academically too. We know from studies of other programs that social-emotional learning is just as important as academic learning.

Photo credit

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cranky Child? Developmental Spurt Could be to Blame

Have you ever experienced a period of time with your child where he/she was particularly cranky, moody, prone to tantrums, etc.? As parents, we have probably all had these times. In fact, I have been dealing with this with my 2.5 year old son lately. He's typically kind of strong-willed anyway, but lately it seems that every little thing has sent him into a tantrum. I have been struggling with this and I figured it was just a phase, but then it just struck me this morning--growth spurt!

Although he is my second child (you'd think I'd learn by now), I had totally forgotten how periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium often send we parents on a developmental roller coaster with our children. There is actually quite a bit of writing about this very topic; most of which was done by psychologist Arnold Gesell. As early as the 1920s he began studying children's development over many years. What he and his colleagues found is that children's development tends to happen in cycles of equilibrium and disequilibrium that repeat themselves multiple times during childhood. This graphic explains it well. Notice, that in the first five years of life, the periods of disequilibrium happen roughly every 6 months. Wow, that is a lot change for little people in a short period of time. It can be difficult for them, and honestly difficult for parents too.

Although it can be difficult to deal with a cranky toddler, I think just knowing that these periods of distress are bound to come and go is helpful. It is also helpful to know that there is a reason for these changes in mood and behavior. As parents I think we often tend to blame ourselves, or our parenting strategies for our children's mood and behavior. While of course our parenting skills do have an influence on our children, it is also good to remember that development happens at its own course, in its own time, and in its own way, often without much control on our part. The folks from the Gesell Institute describe it this way,

"These rhythmic sequences make sense. They compose the process through which growth is achieved—not by addition, bit by bit, nor by a smooth homogenous enlargement, like an expanding balloon. Growth combines integration and differentiation…[it is] a patterning process involving varied alternatives in varying prominence. The process itself is inconceivably complex, but the underlying principle is readily understandable."

The beautiful thing about this pattern of development is that after the period of disequilibrium, a new skill or task is often clearly evident in our children. In young toddlers, in might be the ability to walk; in older toddlers, it might be a new understanding of pretend play. Only then, after the fact, do you understand what your child was struggling with in his/her development. 

I think we as adults can possibly appreciate this type of development in our lives. Have you ever been struggling to learn a new skill? Perhaps you are learning to play piano or learning a new dance, or even just struggling to understand a new idea introduced in a class. Your brain is frustrated, your think about this new skill all the time, you practice and you just cannot seem to master it. Then, you wake up one day and all of a sudden, you have mastered the task--you can play that new song on the piano or you can comprehend that new idea.

It's a helpful reminder that development, in all its forms, is a messy, beautiful process. Our job is to be a guiding, supportive companion with our child on this journey. 

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Parenting an Anxious Child

My daughter hates having a loose tooth. Her anxiety increases every time she has one. She will not let my wife or I pull her tooth out. She truly hates the feeling. This is because the first time a tooth fell out it was a really uncomfortable experience for her.

So now when she has a loose tooth she begins to withdraw from activities, and stops eating crunchy foods because she doesn’t want to risk the discomfort of her tooth falling out. We have found a solution as a family, while not the most frugal approach, we learned that she trusts the dentist, and when her tooth is loose we take her to the dentist and pay to get it pulled. That way she can resume participating in her life.

While this is my daughters experience with anxiety, it is important to understand that everyone has experienced fear and anxiety at some sort of level. Fear is healthy, it is the body’s response to a threat. It is when the fear response happens when it shouldn’t, or when the response to the fear is not proportional, that it becomes anxiety.

When anxiety hits, the brain goes into its survival mode and responds with fight, flight or freeze instincts. This means that the ability to think, recall, and process information is limited. Some people even “black out” and can’t recall what happened during a highly anxious moment. It typically takes the brain and body 60-90 minutes to calm back down.

In the cases of children, they may not be aware of what is happening, all they know is that they are overwhelmed. The cerebral cortex, the brains captain, is no longer in command when the brain is emotionally flooded, so children need someone to act as their captain during those moments.

However, parenting a child that is anxious can be frustrating and difficult. As the child may be clingy, aggressive, and have sleep difficulties; this may result in school avoidance or withdrawal from activities.

As parents, the best way to help a child with anxiety is to create an environment that establishes and maintains safety. Typically this is done by having a stable and consistent routine, this way a child knows what to expect and what is expected during a day.

It is helpful as a parent to learn if your child benefits from mind to body or body to mind exercises to soothe. An example of mind to body is meditation, mindfulness or visualizations; whereas body to mind is yoga, hot baths or bilateral movements. Each child is different, and each situation may be different with which kind of soothing to do.

It is also important to note, as the Alcoholics Anonymous programs teaches, that being hungry, angry, tired or lonely, makes one vulnerable for relapse, and in this case, makes ones response to fear more likely.

But most of all, love your child, show empathy, and get into your child’s world to understand what increases their anxiety and what helps calm them.

By Josh Lockhart

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Friday, November 13, 2015

The Best Christmas Gifts For Children

Grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.,

Are you looking for the perfect gift for the children in your life?  Here are some thoughts to guide you in your search.

1.  Something that doesn't make noise.  I'm assuming you want the children to be allowed to play with the gift.  If it annoys the parents, they will hide it and maybe even exact some kind of revenge on you.  I'm currently looking for a cheap set of bagpipes for my brother's daughter because he gets loud toys for my kids on purpose.

2.  Something that doesn't make a mess.  Do you want everyone to hate you?  Then get them Play-Doh, slime, something with a million pieces, etc.  May I suggest a nice stuffed animal?  Think about the carpet in your love ones' home. 

3.  Books.  Believe it or not, lots of kids really like books and don't require expensive video games.  It's easier to choose them when they're younger.  If the child is older, there are lots of great sites for recommendations.  No, don't get them a book that makes noise!  (See #1)

4.  Experiences.  It's great for kids to receive gift cards for movie tickets, visits to science centers, zoos, etc.  They might not have the opportunity often to do such things.  Our family was thrilled when we were given tickets to The Seattle Aquarium.  We combined that with the cash we were given from my in-laws and made a whole day of it.

5.  Underwear.  It makes the kids more grateful for their other gifts.  Socks are also good.

6.  Something homemade.  What child doesn't love a blanket made by Grandma?  An ungrateful one, that's who.  But you should give it to them anyway along with some underwear.

7.  A coupon for a date.  My kids love a promise from Grandma to be taken out shopping, for lunch, etc.  They will remember the time with you more than they remember the things you gave them.

8.  Music.  A gift card for tunes for their MP3 player is great, especially since they have headphones.  (See #1 again) 

9.  Puzzles.  This is an especially good gift if you do them together.  I have stayed up as late as 3am with my son as we watched movies and did a puzzle together.  This was because I had a toddler that would destroy it in the morning if we didn't finish it that night.  Just make sure the number of pieces won't overwhelm them. 

10. Something that encourages them to develop their talents.  A new violin book?  Maybe a catcher's mitt, ballet attire, etc. 

I hope you find the perfect gifts that won't add to the pile of unused and abused toys.  What are you buying your family for Christmas?  What are the worst gifts your children have ever received? 

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