Being Compassionate with Yourself

toddlerYesterday evening, my family got together with another family for dinner. While my own kids are now 9 and 6, the kids in the other family are 4 and 2.

Dining with a 2 year old, especially, was a walk down memory lane for me and my husband. While my kids are still working on some of the finer details of proper etiquette, they no longer drink from a sippy cup, require a bib or throw their food on the floor. And when my kids aren’t at the table, I don’t need to keep my eyes on them at every moment. They know not to climb up on the stove or run out of the front door into traffic.

As children grow, it’s very easy to forget what life was like a few short years ago. Kids always keep us hopping as they move on to new adventures and challenges. I feel like all of my parental brain space is taken up with what I’m dealing with right now. There just isn’t much mental energy left to recall in fine detail what it was like to parent a toddler.

When I spend time with someone else’s toddler, though, it all comes back to me.

As I look back over my children’s early years, one of the things I wish is that I had been gentler with myself. From this side of the fence, I can see that parenting a busy toddler is a lot of work. Parenting a busy toddler and a baby at the same time is even more work.

It’s no wonder that, when my children were small, my house wasn’t as clean as I wanted it to be all the time — that I was so tired in the evenings, that I sometimes struggled to stay in touch with my friends or run errands or find time to get my hair cut.

toddler

One of Attachment Parenting International‘s Eight Principles of Parenting is Respond with Sensitivity. The idea is that we build a bond of trust and lay the foundations for empathy by understanding our children’s needs and responding appropriately. In the process, we nurture a secure attachment with our children. They learn that they can count on us to be there when they need us, and this helps them to develop the confidence to venture off into the world independently when they’re ready.

Our children aren’t the only ones who can benefit from sensitivity. We can benefit from responding sensitively to our own needs. When we’re really busy with life and work and parenting young children, our own needs often take a backseat to everything else that is going on. In fact, we may even beat up ourselves, because we can’t do everything perfectly all the time. I think that’s too bad.

Now that my children are a little older, I can say with confidence that while life is hectic during those infant and toddler years, they don’t last forever and things do get easier. By being as gentle as possible with yourself while you’re in the thick of things, taking care of little ones who need a lot of your attention and energy, you’re demonstrating sensitivity and empathy to your children.

We want our kids to grow into caring and compassionate people. One of the ways we encourage that is by being caring and compassionate toward our children. Another way that we do that is by being caring and compassionate with ourselves. When you cut yourself slack, you teach your children how to recognize and take care of their own needs.

Achieving balance is hard, and it requires us to constantly re-assess and re-evaluate what’s happening in our lives. As children grow and change, the balance changes, too. At every stage, though, compassion is a great tool. Whether that means dragging yourself out of sleep in the middle of the night to respond sensitively to a teething baby or being gentle with yourself because the vacuuming didn’t get done (again), the compassion is the same.

And those lessons in sensitivity and compassion will last long after the toddler years are over.

Attachment Parenting and School Age Children

Last week the second of my two children, my son, turned 6. I can hardly believe it, to be honest. Six! He’s not a baby anymore, or a toddler, or a preschooler. He’s not even a kindergartner. He’s looking forward to starting first grade in a couple of weeks. His big sister will be starting fourth grade at the same time.

attachment parenting school ageI was just looking back over some of the other posts I’ve written here at APtly Said, which date back to 2009. Over the past five years, my parenting style has shifted as my children have grown. Their needs have changed, so the way I relate to them has also changed. However, one thing that hasn’t changed is my commitment to maintaining a secure attachment. The way I go about it may be a little bit different these days, but the reasons are much the same.

I want my kids to know that I am here for them, no matter what. Because we have created and nurtured a strong bond, they know that I am in their corner, and they always have a safe space to return to after their adventures in the world. Today I have happy, independent, resilient kids. Is it all due to our Attachment Parenting practices? I have no way of knowing for sure, but this parenting approach has worked well for our family. And when my kids bowl me over with their awesomeness, it’s like payback for the time I invested in them when they were younger.

When we think of Attachment Parenting, we often think of practices like cosleeping, breastfeeding and babywearing. With a 9 year old and a 6 year old, I don’t do any of those things. So what does Attachment Parenting look like at this stage? Here’s how I incorporate Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting into my daily parenting:

  • Feed with Love and Respect — For my kids, this means offering a variety of healthy foods, and then respecting their choices. Of course we have the occasional treat, but because I know that they generally choose from food that I am comfortable with, I don’t sweat that too much. At this point, my kids are also preparing more of their own snacks, so they are taking even more charge over what they eat, choosing from the foods I offer. They especially love to use the toaster.
  • Respond with Sensitivity — Today I give my kids more space to work through their own emotions and solve some of their own problems. I let them know that I’m available if they need help or comfort, but I offer a hug rather than just scooping them up. Sometimes when my kids are upset, they don’t want me around and that’s okay. Almost always, they will come to me and share their anger or sadness — or their happiness, for that matter — when they’re ready. When that happens, I do my best to be available and offer them both support and guidance.
  • Use Nurturing Touch — While I don’t babywear anymore, and I respect my children’s wishes around physical contact, we do spend a lot of time cuddling and playing together. My son likes to play a game he calls “huggy mommy” in which I lavish him with hugs and kisses and he tries to get away, laughing all the while. My daughter periodically comes to me and says she just needs a hug. This physical connection seems to help ground my kids and let them know I’m there.
  • Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally — There are a number of steps I take to help my kids feel safe and secure at night. My son has a night light and special blanket, and both of my children have favorite stuffed animals. We have bedtime routines with stories and lullabies to help prepare them for sleep. My kids also know that if they need me at night, they can come to me for a snuggle. Sometimes I will tuck them back in their own beds; other times — if they’re really upset by a bad dream, for instance — I’ll bring them into bed with me for a while or for the rest of the night.
  • Provide Consistent and Loving Care — These days, time away from me is mostly spent at school. This works well for our family. I love our neighborhood school, and my kids enjoy it as well. I realize that school is much more than childcare, but for many working parents it serves that purpose, and it’s pretty fantastic. If the neighborhood school hadn’t been a good fit for my kids, I would have considered alternatives. Many of my friends chose alternative paths within the public school system, or opted for private school or homeschool. I think you’ve got to choose what works for your family, whether it’s daycare or school, so that both parents and kids feel secure in the choice. In my case, I chose the PreK-12 Independent School in Raleigh because I figured it was the right for me and my kids. 
  • Practice Positive Discipline — With school-age children, a lot of our discipline is really problem-solving. I do my best to listen to my children, validate their emotions and meet their needs. Then we work together to come up with positive solutions to problems. When there are issues at school, I make sure I understand exactly what happened from the teacher, and as adults, we craft a basic approach so that my kids are getting consistent messages and they understand what is expected of them. It’s hard to follow the rules if you don’t understand them or the reasoning behind them.
  • Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life — With school-age children, I have much more free time than I did when I had babies and toddlers. While my kids still require adult supervision, they can be trusted to take care of their own basic needs and I even give them a bit of freedom to play at the park across from our house. Also, the time spent in school is time I can use for other tasks outside of parenting. This freedom has allowed me to do things like go back to school myself.

How do you practice Attachment Parenting with your school age children?

Slowing Down

I have a confession to make: I am constantly in a rush. In fact, the more I think I about it, the more that I can see how much of my life is spent hurrying. I hurry through my morning shower, through my breakfast, through my work, through my homework, through my shopping, through my cooking and through my cleaning. Often, as I rush around, I have my 9-year-old and 5-year-old in tow, which means I’m hurrying them along.

hurrying rushing time slowing down alarm clockWhen my first child was born, my hurrying habit was temporarily broken. I went from spending most of my time at work to spending all of my time, day and night, with my newborn. Infants don’t understand concepts like schedules, so there was simply no point to hurrying. Any parent can tell you, though, that children grow quickly. My babies turned into toddlers and preschoolers and school-aged children. I went back to work, first in an office and then at home as a writer and editor. My kids started daycare and school and a extra-curricular activities. I went back to school myself. Gradually, almost without me noticing, my life sped up again. I returned to my old habit of hurrying through my days.

Looking back over my life recently, however, I’ve realized that I need to make a change. Our culture gives us the message that if we’re not busy, if we’re not rushing, if we don’t have too much on our plates, then there’s something wrong with us. I say that isn’t true. I want to enjoy the simple moments with my kids. I want to slow down and focus on my children as they are today, because I can never get this time back. Whether you have a baby, a toddler, or a teenager, your child will never be this age again. The big question is just how to take the time to enjoy them as they are right now. I’ve found a few things that help:

  1. Cut back on activities. Kids need free time to play, not tons of scheduled appointments to constantly be rushing off to.
  2. Learn to say No. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do, it’s a sign that you may need to cut back.
  3. Take a moment to breathe. If you’re in the habit of hurrying, as I am, you may find yourself rushing when you really don’t have to. Taking a moment to breathe can break that cycle.
  4. Ask your kids for help. Older kids can provide you feedback and offer suggestions. They can point out when you’re rushing needlessly, and come up with solutions so that your family can get out the door on time.
  5. Let go of unrealistic expectations. As I said, our culture looks at busy-ness as a sign of value, which can lead many people to place unrealistic expectations on themselves of being able to do it all. Letting go of those expectations can make life better and help you take things more slowly.

It’s not easy to break the hurrying habit and take life more slowly. Like anything, though, if you practice you’ll get better. That’s what I’m telling myself, as I take aim at my own hurrying habit again.

What about you – how do you slow down when life gets too busy and you find yourself spending a lot of your time rushing around with your kids?

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

When my children were babies, I was with them almost constantly. I breastfed and co-slept and wore them. When they started to talk they learned to say “dada” ages before they learned to say “mama”. I joked with my husband that there was simply no reason to learn my name. I was just there, a constant figure in their daily lives. I was grateful for generous maternity leaves that allowed me to be there in that way. Even in the moments that I felt touched out and sleep deprived, I knew that I wouldn’t trade that time for the world.

Today my children are seven and a half and four years old. I am no longer with them all the time. They go to school and go on playdates and even have sleepovers with their grandparents. Their need for me is no longer as strong as it was in infancy. They have long since weaned, and their weight exceeds the recommended maximum for most baby carriers. While I do still sometimes wake to find that one or both of them has crawled into bed with me in the night, neither of them co-sleep exclusively anymore.

Self-portrait

And yet, even as my children gain in independence, I know that I am still their anchor. I am still providing consistent and loving care to them – it just looks different. Today we re-connect as we hold hands on the walk home from school, telling jokes and singing songs. Now, when they really need a cuddle, they pretend to be a baby and lie across my lap, gangly feet spilling out the end. After a brief snuggle they run off to play again, their need for connection fulfilled. And these days when things go badly I’m less of a savior than a resource person, mentoring them as they figure things out for themselves.

I like to think that in those early days I laid a solid foundation. I let my children know that they can count on me. I’ll be there when they need me, but I’ll also let them explore the world on their own as they become more capable and confident. And I’m not the only person who has done this for them, either. Their father has also worked hard to establish positive relationships, and so have the other people in their lives. Because they trust that they can count on us, they’re able to take on new challenges and seek out new adventures, knowing that they are not alone.

At Whatcom Falls

I try to build on that foundation as my children grow by fostering our attachment. Those little re-connections that happen are one way I do that. Taking time to get down on their level and look in their eyes when they have something important to say is another. Taking their ideas and opinions seriously is still another. The tools of attachment parenting look different with preschoolers and school aged kids than with babies, but the underlying fundamentals are always the same. I’m always working to build a strong bond of mutual trust and affection. Seeing it pay off has been an amazing journey.

How has your approach to attachment parenting changed as your children have grown, and how has it stayed the same?

Helping kids with back-to-school transitions

Going back to school after the summer can be a difficult transition for kids.

It can be especially hard for a child who’s entering a full-day kindergarten after being in a part-time preschool program the year before. The first few weeks of school may be especially trying, as it is a new routine and children are getting used to a new environment and new set of rules, but parents can help ease the transition into school.

The school day is a long day for young children and they will likely have many emotional needs when they get home. Kids may come home acting moody or cranky. Often, they’re also tired from the long day or could be hungry. The change in routine is also difficult for some children, and being away from home all day can be stressful.

Many children hold in their emotions all day while at school, so when they get home into an environment that feels like a safe space for them, those emotions tend to come out in full force.

As we work to respond to our children’s needs in a way that strengthens our relationship with them, it’s important to try to be patient and understanding of these emotions and to recognize why children are feeling this way. If these emotions lead to misbehavior, we can stay connected by acknowledging the feelings, connecting with our children, and then setting respectful limits.

Children all have different needs upon returning home from school, and as parents we may have to work to figure out what will best help our own children. Some kids need alone time, some may need plenty of outside time to run around and having fun by riding toddler scooter  from Thrill Appeal guide, and others may need a way to relax and decompress.

When my oldest son entered kindergarten 2 years ago, I initially thought that when he came home, he’d just want to play with his toys that he hadn’t had access to all day or that he’d want to be outside practicing on the skateboard we got him from www.myproscooter.com. But all he wanted to do was watch TV. The more I encouraged him to play or planned afterschool trips to the park, the more upset and frustrated he would be that afternoon. It was a struggle for me to understand that he didn’t want to play and that he needed a way to relax.

I had to remind myself that when I come home after a busy outing, I usually just want to relax with a book. Then, I was able to recognize that he’s very much the same way. We eventually figured out several ways to make that happen. I was OK with television being one of those ways, but I didn’t want it to be the only one or our everyday routine.

Practicing Attachment Parenting also makes me aware of my children’s needs for connection and one-on-one time with me. This can be difficult when children are away at school for the majority of their day. By the time they come home, I’m already feeling tired from playing with my younger child throughout the day and I am almost ready to make dinner. However, I’ve had to make a real point to find ways to connect with them and to set aside time where we can play together.

We also have a consistent bedtime routine where I read to my sons and spend time with them in their bedroom before they fall asleep. Some days are certainly easier than others to make this happen, but their behavior, attitudes, and relationship with each other definitely seems to be better when we can make a point to be as attached as possible.

Taking Attachment Parenting to School

My firstborn Hannah is now 5 years old, and we have decided to enroll her in our local public school for kindergarten. We made this decision for a number of reasons, but mostly what it comes down to is that this is what works best for our family. We all have to make our own choices when it comes to school and separating from our children (or not).

As I write this, school has already started, but Hannah is still at home. At our school new kindergartners attend the first day to take attendance and get assigned their classes. Then their parents meet one-on-one with the kindergarten teacher before class gets underway. Once those meetings are all complete there will be a gradual entry process before we get into the full swing of things. We are still very much in the preparation stages before starting kindergarten.

So far, I have been quite impressed by our interactions with the school. Hannah’s teacher is caring and compassionate. She looks at the students as whole people, and at this stage she is focused more on social and emotional skills, rather than academic milestones. The kindergarten classroom contains a variety of toys and materials, including spaces for imaginative and dramatic play.

Even though I am confident in our choice of school, I still have fears as we embark on this journey. I think this is normal. I wonder how will things turn out, and what will Hannah think of school. My own school experiences played a large role in my childhood, and I know they will in Hannah’s, too. As her mother, I hope that her experiences are as positive as possible.

Outside the school
Hannah outside of the school on the first day of kindergarten

To help make the transition into public school gentle for Hannah, I’m looking for ways to remain connected. I believe that a secure attachment can make a big difference to children, even as they grow older and naturally move towards greater independence. And so I’m developing an attachment parenting style for my school-aged child. Here’s what it looks like so far:

  • I involve Hannah in choosing school snacks, school clothes, school supplies and so on. I want her to have a say in the decisions I make surrounding school.
  • My husband and I both attended the welcoming conversation with her teacher, and agreed on some goals for Hannah’s entry into school. We want to all be on the same page.
  • I am volunteering as a Girl Guide leader with Hannah’s unit, and I plan to volunteer in her classroom as I am able. I want to be involved with Hannah’s education and extra-curricular activities, while still maintaining a personal balance of my own.
  • I am helping Hannah work through her emotions surrounding the new school. She is very excited but also a little bit nervous, and I am doing my best to listen to her, validate her feelings and empower her to handle this transition.
  • We have visited the pre school playground and had some playdates with the children who will be in Hannah’s class, so that she has some familiarity with the school and children before starting.

I am confident that with a little bit of nurturing, we can maintain a strong attachment throughout Hannah’s school years. This is a big change for us, but also an exciting one. Parenting is never short of adventures, and now we’re starting on a new one together.

Do you have school-age children? How have you helped them to handle the transition into school? What worked, and what didn’t? I could use more tips, if you have them!

You can catch up with Amber’s adventures on her blog at Strocel.com.

Hanging Up The Sling

When my second child was born, my first was just two years old. Life with a baby and a toddler was a lot busier than life with a singleton, and I didn’t have the luxury of spending hours sitting in the glider rocker nursing or lying on the floor watching my baby wave her arms in the air. Because of that fact, one of the most important pieces of baby gear was my ring sling.

Appearance-wise, it looked so simple. A long piece of olive green fabric attached to two silver rings. The non-ring end had a pocket with a zipper. (People said to stay away from black because it gets hot, and also linty. I thought the green color might be less girly in case my husband ever wanted to use it. He didn’t. I should have gotten the purple one I wanted.) And people were amazed that I paid fifty dollars for it. But I got so much use out of it that fifty dollars was a steal.

With my ring sling, I was able to breastfeed my infant hands-free while making a sandwich for my toddler. With my ring sling, I was able to carry my toddler across my back while pushing the baby in the stroller to get across a busy, dangerous street. With my ring sling, I was able to keep my baby, born during cold and flu season, tucked up against me and away from germy, poking fingers.

The kids are bigger now though. My son is almost 6 and long past the stage of being carried. My daughter is 3 1/2. I’ve used the sling twice in the past year. Once was when I took both kids and a friend of my son to see Disney On Ice by myself. I used the sling to carry my daughter on my hip so I had both hands free to help the boys navigate the parking garage and crowded arena. It worked great.

The second time was this past week. My daughter had been napping and I had to wake her up to go pick up her brother from preschool, but she was still groggy and sleepy. Rather than waste gas to drive the five blocks to school, I used the sling to position her so she could lay her head on my shoulder, draped the long end of the sling over her face to shield her eyes from the sun, put my keys and phone into the pocket and walked.

Some of the other moms were surprised. They thought she might be too heavy, or that my back must be aching. And that really wasn’t it. She is small for her age, but my back felt fine. And while carrying her for five blocks in my arms would have been difficult, the sling was doing most of the work.

On the way home though, I started to feel uncomfortable. Again, not because of her weight, but because it was 80+ degrees and despite my shorts and tank, carrying her was making me hot. Seriously hot. As in glug water and lie on the couch to recover hot.

It may be time to hang up my sling. At almost 6 and almost 4, we’re approaching not having kids small enough to carry. I’m done having babies. I’m done babywearing. I’m done breastfeeding and co-sleeping.

At this point, I’m curious how parents with older children continue to practice attachment parenting. I never thought much beyond the baby and toddler years, but I’m looking at it now. And contemplating how to incorporate the principles into my parenting style as I raise older kids.

Those of you with elementary age children, tweens and teens–how do you continue to use AP practices into those later years?

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