Modeling empathy to promote peace

logo that hopefully doesnt change colorI believe empathy is one of the most important aspects in promoting peace.  Children who are taught to be empathetic and who witness empathy will, in turn, show more empathy to others.

I attempt to teach empathy to my children through positive discipline, responding sensitively to their needs and emotions, and being present for them. I do my best to create a safe space for their emotions and to be a model of peaceful interactions with others.

Nowadays in my family, modeling empathy often occurs when helping my 4-year-old son wait while his sister has the toy he wants. I empathize with his emotions of frustration while also explaining that she would be sad if he took the toy from her.

When my 2-year-old daughter pouts, “I wasn’t ready to go to bed,” I choose to show her compassion. I acknowledge that she’s sad and say something like, “I know it’s hard to stop playing and go to bed, especially when your brothers are still awake, but now it’s time for us to cuddle together, and I’ll sing to you.”

With my 6-year-old son, we talk about how his strong emotions like anger are OK but that we need to work together to find appropriate outlets for those feelings.

Mommy Daddy Child BeachBeing sensitive to my children’s emotions works in helping them have more peaceful interactions with others. When my oldest son was 2, I remember hearing him putting his stuffed animals to sleep, speaking very gently to them and being present with them as I was with him. Now, at age 6, I see him express concerns for others when they get injured. Even my youngest child, only 2, will ask if I’m OK when I get hurt.

For my children today, opportunities for empathy happen most often in interactions with classmates, neighbors, and each other. But someday when they’re grown, I believe it will translate into their relationships with coworkers, spouses, their own children, and others they encounter in their lives. This is how practicing Attachment Parenting and being sensitive, responsive, and empathetic to our children can help create peace outside of the family and in the greater community.

Bedtime together, beautiful and attached

IMAG00863My daughter and I stopped bedsharing a few months ago, just before her 2nd birthday. She was excited to move out of the daybed we shared in her room and into her own toddler bed.

Even though we’ve shifted away from bedsharing, bedtime still remains for us a wonderful time of connection. Sometimes I hold her and sing to her, which usually puts her to sleep before the first song is over. Most of the time, we lie together in her bed. She’ll play with my hair and cuddle up against me.

Lately, as her vocabulary and her brain continue to grow and develop, she’s been talking a lot as we lie together. She often talks about times when she was sad and frequently repeats a story about a time when I was out at the store and she was home with my husband: “I wanted you and you weren’t there, and I was crying.”

I believe this comes up often at bedtime, because it’s a time when she feels a need for comfort and knows she is safe. She can share a sad memory while knowing that I’m there for her at that moment.

I’ll listen to her story and acknowledge that it was a really upsetting time. Then I’ll remind her that in this moment she has me and I explain that now, when sadness is over, our emotions change and feeling sad is temporary. I reinforce that I am there to comfort her when she needs me.

Even though she’s no longer a newborn with an intense physiological need for me to hold her, bedtime can still be a scary time or a sad time if a child is alone. I love being able to be with her at this time and to let this be something positive and happy. While I don’t sleep with her in her bed, she still refers to it as “Mommy and me’s bed.”

When she wakes in the morning, she finds me sleeping in the daybed in her bedroom. She’ll walk over, and I’ll lift her up into bed. We’ll snuggle together until we’re ready to wake up. It’s the best part of my day and the best way to wake up. I love that I’m one of the first things she sees in the morning and that, even half-asleep, she knows that she just has to walk a few steps to find me and to feel that comfort and love. It’s beautiful to see how our sleep situation has evolved but is still a way for us to stay connected and attached.

4 positive discipline ideas for toddler hitting

DSC06544Hitting is a normal toddler behavior that often begins between ages 1 ½ and 2 years old. There could be many different reasons, including the child being angry but unable to express it or you being unable to understand what he’s trying to express, a life change such as a new sibling, or simply the child wanting to explore what her hand can do and what happens when she hits.

So, what can parents do about it?

Shortly after my son’s 2nd birthday and right around the time my next baby was born, my son began hitting. He would hit his brother when he was angry, and sometimes he would hit my husband and me playfully, which was still something we wanted to discourage.

We tried a variety of different strategies to prevent it and teach him not to hit. Here are 4 positive discipline ideas to try if your toddler hits:

  1. We tried to find new, creative things to do with his hands throughout the day, such as teaching hand-clapping games, different hand gestures like thumbs-up, or sign language — just something to engage the hands in a more productive and fun manner. Sometimes, if I saw he was about to hit playfully, I would try to high-five him instead.
  2. We also did a lot of soft, nurturing touch with him, like rubbing his arms, and made that more of a part of our day.
  3. I found that it was really beneficial to give him more outlets to get out some of his physical energy: running outside, finding things that he could throw, and letting him hit a pillow.
  4. It was important to me to model empathy and try to show that hitting can hurt. If he did hit us, I would often make an exaggerated sad face and say how hurt I was. Once we were out of that immediate moment of his anger — or silliness, in some cases — I would remind him that hitting hurts, that we shouldn’t hit others, and that we have to use soft touch. If he was really angry, we’d talk about other concrete ways that he could express that anger instead. We made a point to model this with his stuffed animals. I have a video of my son when he was two where he hits his stuffed panda and says, “Slap panda.” After a second, he rubs the panda’s arm gently, hugs it, and says, “No, hug. Hug panda!”

What’s most important during a hitting situation is to stay calm and to remember that it is normal part of toddler development. It’s a phase that will pass, and the 4 ideas above may be some techniques to help it pass a little more quickly and smoothly.

3 tips for connection in the summertime

DSC02151Summertime can bring a variety of opportunities to connect with our children and enjoy new experiences together. It especially can be a time to reconnect with a child who has been at school all day throughout the year and is now home each day.

Here are 3 suggestions for deepening the family connection during the summertime:

1) Start a family tradition or ritual

Creating traditions and rituals each summer, just as during other seasons and holiday times, can help children experience predictability and be a source of family bonding. In our family, summer traditions include minor league baseball games, going to a carnival, visiting all the libraries in the county, and eating dinner outside.

We didn’t consciously set out to create these traditions: They just happened as we found things that our family enjoyed together and things that to us say, “summer.”

You may also want to bring some traditions from your own childhood into your families now.

IMAG007922) Get outside

Research has shown a correlation between time outside and reduced stress levels. Being outside in nature also helps keep kids calmer. Consider a trip to the best points for Apple picking in NJ, they will love it and learn a lot from a nutritive fruit

There are so many opportunities to get outside throughout the day. It can be staying near home and playing in the yard, or venturing out further for a hike or nature walk. Try to visit different playgrounds and climb the playground equipment along with your children.

Or, when you’re in a need of an opportunity for self-care and craving some balance, sit and enjoy a book in the fresh air while they play.

Some of the fun activities my children like to do outside our house include getting a bucket full of shaving cream and some paintbrushes and “painting” the deck using longest lasting deck stain, filling a squirt bottle with water, searching for bugs and pretending to be bugs, doing messy art projects outdoors, and setting up an outdoor movie night. If you are not having a redwood decking but wanna build one for your kids, so that they can do outdoor activities, then contact Outside Entertainment Area Specialists for the deck building.

3) Find fun activities, but don’t force them

A few years ago, I created a “summer wish list” of about 15 places to go or things to do during the summer. We didn’t end up doing all of them, but it was helpful to have some plans and suggestions. Some of those activities became our traditions, while others were one-time only outings.

While these can be great, it’s also important to remember that some may not work out as you planned. Sometimes, what seems like a great idea to us sounds boring to our children. I’ve been trying to take my oldest son strawberry-picking since he loves strawberries and since it was something I loved as a child, but he’s simply not interested. Rather than forcing it, I work on finding other activities he is interested in and focus on being present with him in whatever it is we end up doing. Sometimes that means just playing board games inside.

It’s important to remember that these activities are about strengthening our family connection. If the activity is stressful to you, not enjoyed by the kids, and not creating a good bonding experience, don’t feel bad about scrapping it for something else!

I hope you enjoy exploring, experiencing and connecting with your kids this summer!

Attachment through books

Editor’s note: May is Get Caught Reading Month. Reading is a shared interest among many Attachment Parenting (AP) families as we all like to be well-informed when making decisions that affect our parent-child relationships. Reading can also serve as an easy way to strengthen attachment bonds.

kelly shealer - books 2Reading has always been a central part of my life.

One of my first purchases after learning I was pregnant with my first child was a bunch of board books for my baby. When he was born and I was nursing him, I would often read aloud to him from whatever book I was reading at the time from RIC Publications . I knew that although he couldn’t understand the words, it was a wonderful way for him to hear my voice as much as possible.

Books help me connect more deeply with my children. Through reading books about superheroes, I’m able to be involved with topics that interest them. Having a child sitting in my lap for story time is also a great source of physical connection. Both my 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son love to sit in my lap so much that they often compete over who gets the coveted spot of the middle of Mommy’s lap.

Every now and then, when it’s been a very active day and it seems that I’m getting constant requests from each of my 3 children at the same time, pulling out some books about the american dream helps us relax and focus. It often feels like the first time I’ve sat down for the day, and it’s what they need to settle down as well.

To encourage a love of reading, we make frequent trips to the library and are always rotating our selection of books. We keep our books low on the bookcase where my kids can reach them, and we have a special table space for our piles of library books.

I also make sure that my children see me reading often. At bedtime, my 4- and 6-year-olds like me to be in their bedroom as they fall asleep. They don’t want me to sing or talk to them — they just want my presence in the room. So most nights, I’ll take a book with me to read to myself after we read their bedtime stories. It’s this way that I make time for something that’s important to me, that helps me relax and feel like I’m having a bit of time to myself, while also meeting my children’s needs.

kelly shealer - books 1My oldest son will now sometimes read to me or to his siblings. I love that everyone in the family is able to use books and reading as a way to deepen our connection with one another.

Looking for a New Book?

Attached at the Heart, 2nd editionWhile there are many wonderful books and other resources available to support AP parents, Attachment Parenting International (API) recommends that all families own a copy of Attached at the Heart by API Cofounders Lysa Parker & Barbara Nicholson.

There are also many books in the online API Store that may be great additions to your home library.

5 lessons learned about Attachment Parenting after a cesarean birth

Editor’s note: April is Cesarean Awareness Month, an observance of the International Cesarean Awareness Network designed to reduce unnecessary cesareans, advocate for VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) and help women heal from the sometimes-difficult emotions surrounding a cesarean birth. While Attachment Parenting International (API) promotes childbirth options with the least interventions, we also recognize that there are certain situations that necessitate interventions. What is most important is that parents research all of their options to be able to make an informed decision:

kelly shealer C sectSometimes, moms who know during pregnancy that they want to practice Attachment Parenting worry that it will be more difficult or impossible after a cesarean birth. But as with any birth experience, the first few days or weeks don’t define your relationship with your child. Attachment is an ongoing process.

Practicing Attachment Parenting after a cesarean may be a slightly different experience than after a vaginal delivery, but it is still absolutely possible.

From my personal experience, I have learned the following 5 lessons of Attachment Parenting following a cesarean birth:

  1. Breastfeeding — It’s a myth that you can’t breastfeed after a cesarean or that it’s always harder for the baby to start breastfeeding. My 2 cesarean babies were champion nursers in the recovery room. But, in some cases, it may take a little more time to get started. Sometimes it takes more time for the milk to come in, and it may be more difficult to find a comfortable nursing position. The football hold is one of the best positions for a mom who has just had a cesarean, as it keeps the pressure away from the incision area. In any situation, a challenging start to nursing doesn’t mean that one can’t successfully breastfeed long-term, and with help and support, most moms certainly can breastfeed after a cesarean.
  2. Babywearing — In the first few weeks after a cesarean, babywearing is difficult, if not impossible, because many carriers will put too much pressure on the mom’s abdomen. Even having the baby positioned higher up on mom’s body for too long can lead to some internal discomfort later in the day. So, it may be best to wait on babywearing, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen at all! Missing out on wearing my son soon after birth didn’t affect our future babywearing, which we did comfortably until he started crawling and no longer wanted to be contained. In fact, I wore him so frequently over those months that it was difficult for me emotionally to realize that this chapter of our relationship was ending.
  3. Cosleeping — It was also possible for us to cosleep after the cesarean. It was actually easier that way than having my son in a crib, because it wasn’t possible for me to bend down and lift him out. The only concern was to be sure that the baby’s feet weren’t going to kick or bump the incision area.
  4. Preparing for a family-centered cesarean — In some situations, moms know in advance that they’re having a cesarean. In this case, moms can try to make it a more positive experience by looking into a family-centered, or gentle, cesarean. This looks different for every family, but it may include having the cesarean performed slowly with the baby walked out gently, having one arm unrestrained in order to hold the baby as early as possible, playing music in the operating room, having the screen lowered at the time of delivery, and breastfeeding in the operating or recovery room. When I learned that my third baby was breech and that I’d be having a repeat cesarean instead of the VBAC I desired, I created a gentle cesarean birth plan, which helped me take control of my birth experience.
  5. Negative birth experience — In some cases, a cesarean is not what a mom wants. She may be unhappy with the way events progressed during her labor or with interventions she didn’t want.  She may feel that she didn’t have enough control over her body. Women are sometimes even told that they shouldn’t care that the birth didn’t go as planned, because all that really matters is that the baby is healthy. It is important to acknowledge that negative feelings about any birth experience can sometimes make it more difficult for a new mom to bond with her baby, and what a new mom in this situation often needs is support. Support comes in many forms. It may be from friends and family, from your local API leader and API Support Group, from a postpartum doula or a medical professional. But even moms who are unhappy with their births or suffer from postpartum depression after the birth can successfully bond and parent in an attached, connected way throughout the child’s life.

Additional API Resources on Gentle Cesarean Births

API’s First Principle of Parenting: Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting

Personal stories on APtly Said, API’s blog:

— “A special door

— “I took back control of my cesarean

Professional insight on The Attached Family, API’s online magazine:

— “What Goes Into a Family-Centered Cesarean Birth Plan

— “What to Do When a Cesarean Becomes Necessary

Stay patient while teaching toddlers how to handle strong emotions

kelly shealerOver the past few months, my 3-year-old son has been going through a phase of hitting his brother and sister when he’s angry.

I’ve been working a lot with him, telling him that his angry feelings are okay but that hitting isn’t, and trying to find better ways for him to express that anger. But still, every time he was provoked by his brother or had a toy stolen by his sister, he was quick to hit them.

It has been frustrating for me.

Sometimes, it feels like we keep trying to get the same messages across to our children with no results. We wonder, Why aren’t they getting it? It feels like we’re failing or doing something wrong. But it’s just that it takes time and consistency with young children.

I remind myself of how many times I had to redirect my 1-year-old daughter from pulling books off the shelves. She didn’t get it after the first or second time. It took a lot of time, a lot of patience, and a lot of consistency on my part. It’s the same with a toddler who’s learning to manage emotions.

We may feel sometimes that our children aren’t even listening. But they are. And they’re learning from what we model to them, too. Every time we stay calm when we’re angry, they notice it. Every time we allow strong feelings while stressing limits, they notice it. And this will pay off.

Recently, my oldest son did something to upset my 3-year-old, and I saw my younger son run after him, ready to hit. Even before I could intervene, he stopped. Instead of hitting his brother, he hit the bed. I saw the brief pause — that moment where he gained control of himself and channeled his anger into something that wasn’t going to hurt his brother. That moment was huge.

But even when our children do finally get it, it won’t be 100% of the time. There will still be emotional fights over toys, and times during the day when they’re tired and more easily upset. Even adults have difficulty managing emotions at times, and we don’t always handle our own anger the right way. Our children won’t always, either — because they’re human and because they’re still learning.

We just need to remember to be patient with the process of teaching them.

Building a castle with my 5 year old

I’ve always let my children try to do a lot of things on their own, but lately I’ve been making more of an effort to allow my 5-year-old son more autonomy in what he’s doing. It’s sometimes hard to back off and let him make more decisions for himself, but I’m finding it’s worth it.

Recently he announced that he wanted to do an art project, so I suggested he look through our art supplies for some ideas of what he wanted to do. Before long, he came back with a random assortment of supplies – a pair of scissors, used cardboards and plain colored cartons. He was also carrying along these heat guns you commonly see with wires dangling as he walks. As I talked to him about his plan, he still didn’t know what he wanted. I told him to let me know if he needed help, but otherwise I backed off.

kelly shealer - son castleAfter a few minutes, he showed me a piece of black construction paper that he’d cut into the shape of a castle.

He wanted it to be standing up on its own, so I encouraged him as he brainstormed ways to solve his problem. As he made more parts of his castle — which soon became several pieces of black construction paper taped together so they stood — I forced myself to keep from taking over, offering suggestions before he asked for them or telling him, “That won’t work.” I let him figure out on his own whether his plans would work, knowing that the experience of trying and failing is a big part of the learning process.

Each time he had a problem, I asked him, “How do you think you can solve this?” When he wanted to add a drawbridge, he came up with the idea of taping on an additional piece of paper. After he drew and cut out a king that ended up being too big to fit through the door, and I asked him what he could do about it, he answered excitedly, “Make the door bigger!”

I was impressed with how long he worked on the project, how many things he added, and how much he wanted to do on his own without asking for help. The end product wasn’t perfect. It didn’t stand up for long, and he probably spent more time making it than playing with it. But I also know he loved the experience and learned from it.

I know that, with more help or direction from me, the castle could have been much sturdier and neater, but I also know that my son wouldn’t have had as much pride in his work. And I know there would have been more arguments and frustration if I took it upon myself to do something in a way he didn’t like.

I’ve noticed that my allowing him to work on his own through projects like this, as with more daily tasks, has affected his attitude. He’s excited when I let him decide on things for himself or take on a new responsibility, and I feel that this change is helping to strengthen our connection.

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