Give your child what school cannot — rest for the brain — and free them to grow into their own

75428_8708Becoming mature is not inevitable. Not all children enter the adult world able to hold on to themselves while, at the same time, mix with others.

For some adults, the ability to respect the boundaries and values of others, and still keep their own, is not an easy to do. For these adults, having their own opinions and ideas — while being able to listen and consider those of others — is also not something that characterizes their interactions.

Our schools are investing resources and energy into trying to teach children how to behave maturely and get along with others. Movies are being produced to teach about respecting feelings. Programs are being designed to combat bullying. None of these things can produce long lasting results and they can even affect your child’s ability to learn and do well in school. If your child isn’t doing well in school then you can think about getting them a math tutor or taken them to an after school learning program.

No matter how hard we try to work at it, mature character traits that are needed to get along in the world cannot be taught: They grow within, when the conditions are right.

Shoshana-150x150I am reminded of what is missing — and what is possible — when I think of  Mark and Dan.

The boys are brothers. Mark is 12, and Dan is 10. They are two years apart in school, and neither one of them was happy when I met their family. Mark had the saddest expression I had ever seen on a child’s face. Dan’s face was hardened, and there was no light reflected in his eyes. I listened to their stories and encouraged their parents to listen to their stories.

It was then that their parents realized that Mark and Dan were lacking the fundamental conditions for growth and maturation, and they set about to provide those conditions. Nature worked its miracles, and within several months, the extraordinary process of emergence was in full bloom. Both boys were filled with vitality, venturing forth energy and a desire to learn. With the start of summer vacation, Mark and Dan had each planned his own schedule of activities that included areas of study they each wanted to explore.

There are many ways to reach this state of creativity, exploring and discovery. We are fortunate if we can be in this state of being at least part of the time in our lives. When we know what conditions our children need in order to be in this state, we can make sure they are being provided.

What Mark and Dan’s parents provided for their sons was…rest. All growth takes place in a state of rest, including psychological growth. They made sure their sons had rest from worrying about results all the time: good grades, academic achievement, keeping up with the standards. They made sure they had rest from activities that distracted them from their own thoughts and creativity, like computer games, iPads and play dates. They made sure they had rest in their relationships, that they could feel a big enough invitation in their attachment to their parents so the relationship would be secure and become deep.

Mark and Dan’s parents found that providing rest was so much better than seeking behavior-modification techniques or psychological assessment. Their parents’ eyes shifted from seeing what was wrong with their sons to what conditions for growth their sons were missing. Their efforts at providing rest were much more fulfilling, natural and intuitive than the standard advice that is usually given. And the fruits were so much sweeter: the blossoming curiosity, emergent creativity and natural love of learning that characterize all children when they are young.

Can our schools provide this quality of rest for our children?

I would like to think that this potential exists within our system. There are good intentions to make school feel like home and to give individual attention to students.

But until the focus moves away from getting the end result immediately through programs that emphasize academic achievement and social and emotional learning, children will not have the psychological rest they need that frees their curiosity, their natural love of learning and the growth of their capacity to integrate well with others.

Our focus needs to move to providing the right context and conditions that make it possible for growth to unfold and for human potential to develop. This is the source of our hope for the next generation of adults.


1208353_15473770“Why mama?”

Two huge brown eyes looked up at me, searching for answers. I stopped stirring and put down the spoon.

“Because it is hot, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Acceptance. There was no drama, no bargaining or rewards. Only contentment, pure and simple.

For me, “Why?” is one of the most treasured words that Little Bean utters. I adore it because it represents her questioning, perceptive nature. But more than this, it makes me stop stirring and put down the spoon. It makes me look–strike that, it makes me FALL–headfirst into those deep, pool-like eyes and truly connect in the moment. In our moment.

“Why?” is perhaps one of the most symbolic words of childhood, one of the most representative questions of innocence. What if we choose to view our child’s questioning outlook as the gift that it is? What if we accept it as an invitation to see the world through new eyes? Because, wow, what a view we get!

We get to watch as our baby, the one we cradled and dressed in tiny booties, pieces together her own picture of the world. The answers may seem obvious to us, but each “Why?” that we answer becomes another crucial piece of her puzzle. We also get to update, recreate and polish our own picture of the world. Because no matter how much I teach Little Bean, no matter how much I show her and share with her about life, she will always, without question, teach and show me more.

There are times when I am busily racing through our daily tasks or appointments and I hear a little voice asking, “Why, Mama?” Sometimes these moments stop me in my tracks. There are times when I hear an easy-yet-empty answer run through my head, yet I cannot utter the words because I realise that they are nothing more than a prettified version of, “Because I said so.”

It is in these moments that I stop, humbled by the lesson that my toddler has inadvertently just delivered to me: why not? Why not take a moment to look Little Bean in the eye and answer her question carefully and with consideration?

Why not wear a summer hat with a winter coat? Why not take four stuffed toys along for the ride? Why not sing nursery rhymes at full volume whilst walking down the street?

Because when it comes to our children, their wants, their needs and their questions, why not just put down the spoon and stop stirring?



Empathy: The Foundation of Emotion Coaching

This post was written by Stephanie Petters, coordinator of the API Reads program.

The discussion of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child  by John Gottman, PhD is continuing to unfold as we near the end of the book.  An excerpt from the book:

“When children feel emotionally connected to their parents and the parents use this bond to help kids regulate their feelings and solve problems, good things happen … our studies show that children who are Emotion-Coached do better in terms of academic achievement, health, and peer relationships. They have fewer behavior problems, and are better able to bounce back from distressing experiences. With emotional intelligence, they are well prepared to handle the risks and challenges that lie ahead.”

Raising and Emotionally Intelligent Child book coverAPI Reads is Attachment Parenting International’s online book club on Goodreads, but it’s more than a club for people who love to read books—it’s a place to share concerns and ideas to strengthen the connection to our children and families as well as share our own personal experiences.

For example, in Chapter 4 of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, the author explores the topic of avoiding criticizing, humiliating or mocking your child:

“Minute by minute, well-intentioned parents chip away at their kids’ self-confidence by constantly correcting their manners, deriding their mistakes, and unnecessarily intruding as kids try to perform the simplest tasks. They absent-mindedly describe their children with labels that stick like glue to the child’s self-concept. (Bobby is “hyperactive.” Karie is “the quiet one.” Bill is “lazy.” Angie is “our little Puddin’ Head.”) It’s also common to hear parents make jokes for other adults at a child’s expense, or to see parents mock their children’s sadness, using worlds like, ‘Don’t be such a baby.’ “

Here are reader responses to the above:

    • I loved this chapter and underlined so much of it!
    • As a former piano teacher, I have observed a lot of “constantly correcting their manners, deriding their mistakes, and unnecessarily intruding as kids try to perform the simplest tasks.” I make every attempt not to label a child–my own or a student.
    • A HUGE pet peeve of mine is lazy compliments! “Good!” Oh please! I am so glad the author address this on page 112. It’s about specific, not global, praise for an action.
    • I miss Mr. Rogers (page 113), and I do think the busy style of many children’s shows is just silly and talks down to the children.
    • I do find myself wanting to give sermons to correct any kind of vices that could be long-lasting, such as speaking disrespectfully or lying.
    • I appreciate giving my son as many opportunities as possible to make choices and decisions. I think this is such a great building step for self-regulation and the ability to take care of himself as he grows older. I give him lots of say over food, clothing and sometimes time. We do limit computers and video games to the weekends. I agree it can make such obedient and cooperative children whose sense of purpose gets stunted when they bump into pleasing others as an adult. I’m working through this now as an adult!
    • I’m a big hugger and back rubber. It’s amazing to see my son’s tension melt when he is touched with tenderness. (page 124)
    • “It is the parent who determines what behavior is permissible.” (page 126) This is where I struggle. I struggle to know what I should be expecting of my son and what I should allow as part of his growing and development.

What else have we been discussing? We’ve been discussing empowering your child with choices, the scaffolding technique for praise, not imposing solutions and more!

Everyone is welcome to join the discussion—or simply to follow the conversation—at API Reads on GoodReads. We’ll be discussing Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child for the remainder of December. Our next book for discussion starting on January 1 is The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland. Support API by using this link to purchase The Science of Parenting for January.


The Man in The Yellow Hat Exemplifies Positive Discipline

A few of my parent friends have pointed out that as much as their kids enjoy watching the PBS show “Curious George”, George always gets into trouble (makes a mess, does something wrong, doesn’t stay where he’s supposed to, etc…) and nothing ever happens to him for it.  He never gets punished or has a privilege taken away or a consequence imposed for his actions. This may bother some parents about “Curious George,” saying that the show is not setting a good example for kids about what what should happen in the face of misbehavior, but I happen to think it’s a great example for parents.

Curious George does exactly what he’s supposed to do for his age and development (and species)!  By nature and by name, he is curious.  He explores his world fully and completely. This is his job as a young, continually developing little person, er, monkey. This is why my kids love the show–they relate so well to George’s genuinely curious nature and all of the honest mistakes that ensue. But, as a parent, what I find most refreshing about “Curious George” is The Man in the Yellow Hat.

The Man in the Yellow Hat never punishes George for his mistakes. He is more concerned with solving the problem. The man helps George put things away, fix things that broke, apologize to people who were involved in any indiscretions, and generally restore order.

The Man in the Yellow Hat doesn’t force George to apologize. Of course, George can’t talk, so maybe that’s why! But George’s body language and expression, along with his cooperation in fixing the problem, is more meaningful than a forced “Sor-ry,” anyway. People can see his remorse and feel his desire to set things right again. George’s inability to speak provides an unwitting platform for making genuine apologies.

The Man in the Yellow Hat will give a heartfelt apology on George’s behalf.  And when he does, the apologizee says it’s not necessary. The mistake has been fixed, and they enjoyed George’s authenticity–his curious nature–and appreciated his spirit. The characters in this show are understanding of George’s developmental capabilities.

The Man in the Yellow Hat doesn’t put fear into George. George is never afraid of what The Man will do or say to him when he finds out  what happened while he was gone. George is able to present his problem to The Man and know that he will get help in return.

Now, if only The Man in the Yellow Hat would learn not to leave George unsupervised as often as he does…