My Attachment Parenting support group made all the difference

Editor’s note: Parent support makes a world of difference — when we strengthen families, we nurture and fulfill our children’s need for trust, respect, and affection, and ultimately provide a lifelong foundation for healthy, enduring relationships. Sharing our parenting experiences — the difficult, trying, joyous, and happy ones — with other like-minded parents can help us feel understood and supported. Attachment Parenting International (API) is dedicated to supporting families in realizing the most important job there is –raising compassionate kids who will shape the future of our world. Click here to find an API Support Group near you.  

It was our usual afternoon trip to the library before picking up my oldest son from school. We typically go once a week and bring a large, reusable bag to fill with books — only on that day, I took a smaller bag, which I thought was a really minor change. But when my almost 4-year-old son realized that I’d done something that, in his mind, was completely different from what we always do, he wanted me to go home to get usual bag.

I could tell he was sad and close to tears, but he was trying to manage his emotions and to stay calm as I empathized with him and explained that it wasn’t possible to rectify the situation. After a couple minutes, he started to get sadder and louder.

Still, I managed to stay calm. It felt like a real success for me — completely keeping my cool even in a public setting, responding to him with empathy, staying connected, and not punishing or lecturing him for his emotions. Since we were in a library, I wanted to get out of there quickly so we didn’t disturb people. Unfortunately, trying to make that happen was quite a challenge for me as a mom. My younger daughter was with us and was happily selecting books from the shelf. I had to make the choice of checking out her books while my toddler cried and fought, or just leaving without them, which might upset her as well.

There were several other people around who seemed were watching me, including a few moms who were talking nearby, a mother with a young child playing calmly, a librarian, and an older man. As I struggled to the door with a baby in one arm and a crying toddler in the other, I didn’t worry if they were judging me. I knew I was handling the situation the best I could, and I was proud of that, but I did get upset that no one was able to offer me any help.

I felt that I could barely manage to open the door and get the kids to the car on my own, but somehow, I did. In the car, despite feeling pleased with my patience and ability to remain calm, I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness. I realized just how alone I had been in that challenging situation, and I couldn’t help but cry.

Afterwards, I reached out to the other parents in my API Support Group about my experience. The amount of support and love I got from the other parents was amazing. Many praised my ability to stay calm in a stressful situation. Several pointed out that strangers are often unsure of how to help or unsure whether help is even wanted. Some shared that they had similar experiences and could relate. And one person also said that she wished she’d been there to help, to hold the door or to put her arm around me for support.

She told me, “You are not alone anymore,” which is something I wish all parents could hear when they’re struggling in moments like this.

Why I Hate Art

This AP Month Blog Event post was submitted by reader Elizabeth Wickoren, who blogs at Mothering from the Maelstrom.

Each year we try to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas and not just Christmas Day itself. Makes for a somewhat less frantic early December when you don’t feel like you have to cram a year’s worth of joy and Christmasy-ness into two days. We’ve been doing a lot of yummy Christmas baking the last few days, socking away a little bit of each batch in the freezer for our Twelfth Night party, but mostly just gobbling it down as fast as we make it. We’re also making time for lots of the things we really love, like board games, feeding the wildlife, thrift store shopping, movies, video games, theater and today, ART.

Art is one thing I feel like I really don’t do enough of with the kids. I am a big old scrooge when it comes to any art other than drawing, really. The thought of clay, paint and the like just makes me cringe. All that mess and chaos … ugh! Don’t get me wrong, I love to do art myself. I LOVE it, love love LOVE it. But I tend to be kind of lazy when it comes to breaking out the messy stuff for my brood. Or I thought it was laziness. Today I’m thinking it is more like a self-preservation instinct.

I was reading a Deep Space Sparkle article describing a lovely winter trees project involving shaving cream, and thinking, “I bet the kids would get a big kick out of shaving cream.” So, figuring it was the season for fun things, I got a couple of cans of shaving cream and cleared off the kitchen table.

Things started out innocently enough …

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They were swirling colors and dipping papers …

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Even the baby got to participate …

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Don’t worry, hers is whipped cream, not shaving cream.

If you want a fun blog post to inspire you to art projects of your own, stop reading now. Get some cans of shaving cream and have fun. If you want to hear our horror story, however, read on.

At this point things took a turn for the worst. Mitchell was really enjoying the shaving cream. Enjoying it so much that he started rubbing it all over his stomach. I sent him to go clean up a bit, and while I was getting him to clean up, the other two decided to follow suit and start spreading shaving cream all over their bodies. So I sent them to the bathroom.

While they were cleaning up, Mitchell decided to stir his shaving cream as fast as he could so all the colors mixed into a really putrid olive green. So much for lovely swirls. Then the little two came back from the bathroom, and Henry decided to make his a solid-greeny mush, too.

I started to get a bit irritated that they were ignoring the whole concept of making beautiful art and instead were just focusing on the smoosh factor. I tried not to let it get to me. Intellectually, I KNEW that boys will be boys and that they were having a great, fun, tactile experience even if they weren’t making art as I had planned. I praised Violet’s lovely swirls because they really were lovely, and the boys ended up asking me to help them have swirls, too, so we added more color to their green shaving cream. In the end, I was a bit frazzled, but everyone had fun and had some swirly art.

Now, we could end the story there, but as you may have noticed, this last section didn’t have pictures to go with it. My hands were full of shaving cream, and I was just too crabby to take any pictures of the green goo.

There also aren’t any pictures to go with this next section.

Once everyone had made several swirly art pictures and I was sufficiently out of patience, I started to get things cleaned up. While my back was turned, setting pictures out to dry … Violet started rubbing shaving cream on her tummy, and the boys started to dive into the shaving cream up to their elbows. Their laughter started getting that crazy sound to it. You know, when it starts to shift from joyful, delightful giggling to insane, overstimulated, maniacal laughter. Plops of shaving cream started landing on the floor, on the chairs, on clothes. Things were officially out of hand.

I will admit, this was not my finest moment. I yelled a bit. Tossed out some choice phrases that had no business being said to children. Maybe “yelled a bit” is being too kind. I screamed. I really lost it. All I could think was that I had spent all this effort trying to do something fun and special with them, and they were almost literally throwing it in my face. Mitchell, especially, got the brunt of it because he is the oldest and “should know better” and his innovative little brain started all the mischief. Everyone except the baby got sent to bathrooms.

The baby was wondering what the HECK all the fuss was about. But another round of whipped cream stopped her wondering, and she got back to business.

As the baby was getting round #2 of whipped cream, shenanigans started breaking out in the various sinks. Thankfully, at that moment, Daddy walked in the door before I could strangle anyone. He bustled the little kids off to the bathtub for a thorough cleaning. Mitch was sitting in Grandma’s bathroom where I had exiled him, and I was left with a table to wipe up and a moment to catch my breath.

After a few deep breaths, I went in to talk to Mitchell. I apologized for screaming and told him I shouldn’t have said the things I said. Then we talked together about where things went wrong. I asked him if he were at school, would he have taken the art supplies and started rubbing them all over his body? He laughed and said, “No!”  I explained that I was angry that they had misused the art supplies like that for me. And he said, “But the shaving cream just feels so good!”

I started telling him how there is a time and a place for whole-body art. And the time and place is outside in the summer, where they can be hosed off afterwards and not wreck any hardwood floor finishes or anything. Then I had a light bulb go off. “The other place for whole-body art,” I said, “is in the bathtub. Where all the mess can be rinsed down the drain. Hop in.”

So Mitch continued his art exploration, and I went to bathe the baby.

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Bathing the baby always cheers me up.  And Fergie (our dog) helped with the clean-up.

So, what is the moral of this story? The moral is, I need to approach art with no expectations except mess. Expecting any kind of aesthetically pleasing results is just setting myself up for disappointment and stress. I mean, the whole point of art, in my opinion, is to enjoy the process and not worry too much about the end result. I kind of lost that as I gazed at the Deep Space Sparkle pictures of magical, snowy trees and imagined that we, too, could make something so preciously cute. The kids didn’t lose sight of the purpose, though. Their entire aim was to enjoy the process, so kudos to them. And I apologize for raining on their parade.

Underestimating the amount of mess that can be made with two cans of shaving cream was a grave error in judgment on my part. Frankly, I think all art should be done in the bathtub in the future. It’s really the perfect location. Actually, we have an unfinished room in the basement, with a drain in the floor. Shall we tile that sucker up for a whole-body art studio?  A very tempting idea, actually …

And today, as I reflected on what I could have done differently, another factor popped into my mind. I had forgotten that the day before had been Mitchell’s birthday. We had promised him that a special ADHD diet didn’t mean he could NEVER have the food he liked again. We said on his birthday he could eat anything he wanted. And boy he did. We had McDonalds, pizza, donuts, the works!

The thing about Mitchell’s food sensitivities is that they generally don’t affect him until the next day. It’s not an immediate thing. So planning a messy art project the day after he stuffed his face with preservatives, gluten, dyes, milk and high fructose corn syrup was just asking for trouble. So–note to self–don’t try to do ANYTHING the day after Mitch has blown his diet except manage his symptoms.

So, while it wasn’t one of my finest moments, I think yesterday was not without merit. Everyone got bathed, swirly art DID get made and mama learned (and relearned) a few lessons.

Our Children’s Behavior and How We Respond to the Challenges

I was recently asked by a few people to write on the subject of behavior and how I deal with my boys when things aren’t smooth and easy. Tonight feels like the night to share on this subject. Today was a crazy, challenging day and somehow, we all survived and communicated through it without anyone feeling any worse than we already had within ourselves. There wasn’t enough sleep last night which created a day filled with moodiness, sensitivity, and crying to name a few.

I was having a lupus flare up with major fatigue and to top it off, we got home from a long day only to be locked out! So, I had the boys telling me they were cold and tired, ten bags on my arm, a borrowed ladder from the neighbor, our dog in tow and had to handle this situation. I attempted to climb up to the second story balcony like spider man. As my boys cheered me on, and after calling a few people walking by to assist, we were finally successful and opened the door I thankfully left unlocked today! Just another day in the life. Should I share or should I only share my smiles and happiness? I am choosing to share.

One of the things I’ve always believed is that most of us grew up with the feeling of not being good enough. I learned this several years ago and not only did I remember the point in my life when I made that decision, but I began to see the pattern in everyone I knew. That point when you were a child and the world was yours. You were carefree with mismatched socks on, crooked glasses on your face, a missing front tooth and had no idea what perfect or imperfect was. You just walked around fulfilling your curiosity and trying to find your place in this world without knowing exactly what “fitting in” meant yet.

Then, one day, something happened. Someone made fun of you. Someone judged you. Someone pointed out your differences. Someone made you cry. At that point, you made a decision, most likely unconscious, that you weren’t good enough and the negative self image, comparison to others, and quest to fit in or stand out began.

The reason I am mentioning this is because that happened to me and I’ve spent most of my life actually standing on the outside. I wanted everyone to like me and then I realized I cared more about being ME and understood that not everyone would. Today, I want to share with you because I believe that as a parent, or as any human being trying to find your way, you must realize and understand this pattern so you can not only heal yourself, but also do your best to prevent the same feeling from affecting the younger generations of this world. This awareness and transformation begins with ourselves and our children first.

I had no idea what kind of parent I would be. I had no idea what patience was until I had my first child. No idea. I had no idea what unconditional love was although I thought I had known it well. I truly discovered Love, Patience and an Instinct within myself that I had never known. This instinct is what guides me each day. This Love is what allows me to be patient and kind and strong, no matter what.

I didn’t know that the term ‘gentle’ or ‘positive’ discipline existed, yet I knew that’s what I was practicing. Once you hear a term or you hear others doing what you are doing, it makes you feel like you have support, like you are not alone and like you are not as different as everyone says you are.

I am non-traditional in my ways. Yes. I have been judged and doubted and questioned along the way and I’m certain that will continue. That is fine. My sons may cry in front of you or they may throw a fit in a public place. You may stare and say, “Can’t that woman get her kid’s under control?” You may say, “I know her kid’s are crying because she is an attachment parent and she’s still breastfeeding.” Let me think of what else you might say just so you know that I’m already aware you are saying it. “Sandy really needs to do time outs and discipline those boys or they are just going to be crazy.”

Although I wish you would be kind and have empathy for me and all of the other parents or caretakers out there struggling in moments when they can’t control a situation or sad that their child is suffering, I can’t do anything about you or those like you. You either don’t have kids, think yours are perfect, think you are perfect, or have no idea what it is to love so much that you care more about comforting your suffering child, than being embarrassed because someone can’t handle the annoyance of your struggle.

When children act out, they are crying for attention. They are crying because something isn’t right. They are hungry, they are tired, they are frustrated, they are scared. They may simply need you to hold them. That is all that matters to me. Being there for them in those moments. Logic sometimes works. Sometimes it’s just removing them from the situation if they will let you. Sometimes it is just holding them and assuring them that you are there until it passes.

We must breathe deeply and remain calm. Even if that doesn’t seem possible. I don’t ever want to threaten or shame them into anything. I don’t believe in it. When I do the juggling act of distraction that I sometimes find necessary, I do it in order to get them out of the momentary stress they are experiencing. I don’t dismiss what they are going through. I acknowledge their feelings and their point of view once they are able to communicate with me and we move on with the next moment in our day.

I believe that communication is the most important thing. In any relationship. I communicate with my boys and always have. I respect them as people. They know this and this is how we work our issues out. This is how we support one another and learn who we are. Dominance, yelling, threatening, scaring, punishing…I’m sorry. I do not believe in. Think about yourself. When someone does that to you, do you react gently, kindly, respectfully, obediently. Or would you say you are more defensive, angry or hurt? Yes, you may react obediently but what is that. The negative effects of the situations are prolonged, the hurt feelings linger and something is taken away from you. Somewhere along the way, you will feel like you are bad, not good enough, or unloved.

Obedience to me may look good to others and others may comment on how well behaved your children are, but with obedience comes less of their spirt. In my opinion, communication and positive discipline allow for children to be themselves, allows for their spirits to be free and yet they will learn the respect and boundaries needed without crushing their souls and making them compliant robots for the sake of looking good to others.

To be clear, we are all different. I am only sharing what works for me and what I believe. I am not perfect. I can only hope that my example, my choices and my methods will make my boys strong, independent, free-spirited, confident, loving, compassionate, kind men. I hope that they always remember and know how loved they are. I believe it is the gift of feeling loved that gives us what we need in Being who we are supposed to BE in this Lifetime.

Patience and Love. Support and Encouragement. Warmth and Compassion.
I hear you. I understand you. I respect you. I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Respectful Discipline

As the mother of a very curious and interactive seven-month-old, I’m constantly having to redirect her correct some of her less-than-desirable behaviors. She’s so interested in her world and eager to interact with anyone and everyone who will give her the time of day. At our last pediatrician’s appointment, we were told that socially, she’s way ahead of their expectations. I’m not really surprised, considering she has highly social parents; she comes by it honestly. She loves talking to people and even gets her feelings hurt when someone enters the room without acknowledging her presence.

Arbor socializing with her new friend, Shelby.

We recently went out of town to visit friends and family and introduce her to a few people who still hadn’t had the chance to meet her. Her social nature really shined through while she met all of these new people. She gladly demonstrated her new “tricks” like giving hugs and singing. As she became more comfortable in her temporary environment, she would explore and find things that she could get into. Her favorite things, whether at home or a home away from home, are wires and cords. This means I’m always having to get up, redirect her, and find replacements. I’ve been told time and time again that she’ll stop it if I just swat her hand. While I can appreciate how that would work, I don’t want to start punitive discipline with my child and get in the habit of it all now. I’d much rather physically move her and tell her why she can’t do what it is she’s trying to do. It’s definitely more work than just a quick swat but I’m already seeing the benefits of it.

There’s the obvious benefit of not starting the bad habit of using physical force as a means of discipline. I’m getting myself in the habit of using my words to help teach her what is okay and what is not. This in turn is teaching her to understand words and respond appropriately. Arbor has been great about understanding the good “trigger words” that I’ve been using to help teach her. She doesn’t talk much yet but she really seems to have a great understanding of a lot of these words. Some of the ones I’ve been effectively using are

  • danger
  • unh-unh
  • gentle touch
  • owie

I’ve been finding that repetitive use of these trigger words usually work a lot better than when I get irritated and begin to raise my voice or simply move her from whatever it is that she’s into. It’s taken consistency, repetition and having my husband on board. It requires regular communication between the two of us about what it is I’m working on teaching her and with his support, we are gently disciplining our infant.

It’s really encouraging as a parent to see that even at this really young age, before she has become verbal, she’s responding well to verbal direction. I don’t have to resort to violent behavior. I don’t have to hit to teach. As a first time mom who has chosen to use AP principles and peaceful parenting techniques, I’ve been a bit skeptical of this whole non-violent parenting technique. Either I won’t be able to stick with it or I’ll have an unruly child who doesn’t listen to me. She’s only seven months old and is already proving me wrong. We’re learning together how to communicate with each other. She’s learned that I will respond to her when she shows me she wants or needs something and it has set the foundation for a trusting relationship between the two of us. Because I listen to her, she also listens to me. I am loving that we have a relationship built on mutual respect. If I didn’t believe it before, I definitely believe you can respect and be respected by an infant.  We are establishing the framework for a loving relationship. It won’t be without its struggles but it is definitely reaffirming of the principles I have been learning about developing a healthy attachment with my daughter.

Toddlers at War: Sibling Rivalry

“My eldest daughter stalks the younger one, trips her up, hits her, bites her, takes her toys, scratches and pushes her. Yesterday she put a pillow on her sister’s face and every time I jump to intervene, she tries to be nasty on a daily basis. Only my intervention or having them separately will prevent actual injuries,” my friend complained to me recently. Her daughters are two and one years old.

I, myself, have two boys under three, and scratching, biting, hitting and spitting are part of our daily routine at the moment. At times it gets so bad that I can’t even turn away my head; leaving the room was simply life-threatening for the baby.

Whose Fault Is It?

I wondered if we as parents could do something to stop the rivalry or even if it is our fault that our kids don’t feel loved enough. May be it is our behavior that sets the jealousy off and promotes rivalry among our children?

“No, absolutely not! Parents take too much on,” assured me Dr. Jane Nelsen, the founder of the Positive Discipline program, when I phoned her up. “You can’t control a child’s perceptions or what a child decides or what a child believes because two children can see the same event and make different decisions. So, that’s why we can’t take all the credit or blame.”

Parents can’t stop the rivalry from happening but they can do a lot to minimize its impact. “First of all when parents agree on how to parent, that creates an atmosphere of cooperation and energy. And when parents have opposite opinions, which they most of the time have, that increases the rivalry.”

Jane came up with a great example on how to handle rivalry in toddlers. At first I found it somewhat counterintuitive. “Let’s say a toddler takes a toy away from his younger sibling – what do most mothers do?”

“Well, they punish the older one, the aggressor,” I mumble, puzzled about what would be wrong with that approach.

“Exactly. So what you are doing when you swoop in and protect the younger and punish the older child? You are increasing sibling rivalry because you are doing bully-victim training. You are teaching the older one to be a bully by punishing him. So then he learns – oh I can punish someone who’s smaller than me and they are training the younger one to be a victim. That smart little guy or girl is going to learn so quickly: Oh the way to feel special around here, all I need to do is to annoy the older one so that mummy and daddy won’t see it and so they will always think it’s the others fault.”

Dr. Nelsen continued, “what helps a lot in improving behavior is when the older sees that they are both treated the same. It’s hard to do, I’m not saying it’s easy to do but it’s so important to do if we possibly can.”

The Importance of Siblings Rivalry

“I think that sibling rivalry is important,” Dr. Nelsen continues. “I don’t think we should try to eliminate all of it. But I think it is detrimental if parents are always jumping in and taking sides. Then it has long lasting negative effect on children’s’ relationship. If a parent intervenes to take the side of one and not the other, then that’s not a good socialization. But if they say, ‘I’ll take this toy until you guys can figure out a way to share or you can go to separate areas until you are ready to try it again,’ that’s great socialization.”

To finish our conversation, Jane gave me a great rule of thumb for the toddler years and beyond.

“Treat your kids the same. It is like you talk to both of them even if the youngest one can’t understand. They understand the energy. They understand the actions, even if they don’t understand the words”.

 

National Spank Out Day – Positive Discipline Resources

April 30th is National Spank Out Day, which was established to promote non-violent discipline of children.

Today, we aim to raise awareness about physical punishment for children, as well as educate parents about effective discipline practices that do not involve hitting and spanking.

Here, we’ve listed some of API’s resources on positive discipline, as well as information from other trusted sources. These can serve as a starting point on the path to implementing positive discipline in the home, or those familiar with positive discipline may find new tools to deepen the understanding between the parent and child.

We offer these resources to let parents know that there are alternatives to spanking that work.

From Attachment Parenting International:

“What is Misbehavior?” API Speaks

“Toddler Ten Commandments” API Speaks

“Tips to Dealing With Acting Out Behavior” The Attached Family

“The Man in the Yellow Hat Exemplifies Positive Discipline” API Speaks

Attachment Parenting International’s Effective Discipline page

The Truth About Spanking: What Parents Must Know About Physical Discipline [Teleseminar]

From Other Sources:

10 Reasons Not to Hit Your Child Ask Dr. Sears

“How to Use Positive Parenting” Aha Parenting

“The Power of Touch” San Diego Family

“Connection is Key” Parenting from Scratch

Alternatives to Spanking” Positive Parents

“No More Timeouts, No More Tiger Moms” Tips on Life and Love

Nighttime Parenting Isn’t Always Pretty

My first had always been a good sleeper. We co-slept through about 18 months or so, and when we moved, Little Man jumped right into his big-boy bed and that’s where he wanted to sleep.

After I had my second child, we went through a phase where Little Man would wander into my bed in the middle of the night. Which was fine for a while. Hey, if he needed some extra security or mommy time or whatever it was, I was happy to oblige. After all, he was adapting to a pretty big change.

After a few months, he would wander into the bedroom in the middle of the night, where the other 3 of us were sleeping, and start asking for trains. Or cookies. Or to go to Zia’s (his aunt’s) house. And when we would say no, a full-throttle tantrum ensued. So, the 3 of us would have to wake fully, get Little Man settled, then try to settle ourselves and the baby to sleep.

He did this every night for about a month. It had gone on long enough that we were all becoming tired, cranky zombies.

I have no problem waking with him for nightmares, for monsters in the closet, or if he’s not feeling well. But to burst in at 2:00 a.m. every night, getting everyone all fired up? It affected everyone, every day. And I didn’t want to start feeling resentful.

Okay, I was already feeling a little resentful.

At a loss, I did something about it. One night, when he came into our room, he made his usual request for something he could be sure we would shoot down. As soon he showed the first signs of tantrum, I picked him up and put him in his bed. I told him he could come back in and talk to us or sleep with us if he could do it quietly, without waking the baby.

Of course, this made him wail. When he came back in, I took him back to his bed, and repeated what I had just said. By the third time, I had almost given up. I felt like I was doing a form of cry-it-out for almost-three-year-olds. But because I was inviting him into our bed and the alternative (sleepy, crabby family) wasn’t good for anyone, I decided to stick to my guns this time.

After one more round, he started to calm down. I asked him, “can you come into the big bed quietly?”

“Yes,” he whispered.

I tucked us all in.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Get trains,” he said.

“No, it’s dark down there and we won’t be able to see them.”

“Okay.” He rolled over and went to sleep.

That was the first and last time I had to do anything like that at night. Now, when he wanders in, he sneaks in quietly and nobody knows until morning. We can all wake refreshed and happy. He has his nighttime security, we have our rest.

Still, as with every parenting move I make, I can’t help but wonder if I did the right thing.

A Look at Your Discipline Style

I lead a meeting for the S. Austin Attachment Parenting chapter this morning on finding your discipline style. So often parents talk about what they don’t want to do: spank, shame, do what their parents did, etc. Figuring out what they do want to do is harder, especially when they didn’t have good models.

Before looking at any specific discipline strategies or techniques, it’s worth considering both where we’re coming from and where we’d like to go. Feel free to answer any of the questions in comments or just do it privately as a way of increasing your awareness about your own history and goals.

  • How were you disciplined as a child?
  • How did you react/feel when being disciplined?
  • What would you like to do the same or differently?
  • What are your goals for disciplining your child(ren)?
  • What discipline issues are coming up in your household these days?
  • What is causing discipline conflicts
    • child (temperament, developmental level, tired/hungry, etc) or
    • you (need to feel in control, unnecessary or unreasonable demand, disrespectful delivery, punitive approach, etc)?
  • What are your triggers? How do you express your feelings and cope with frustrations?
  • What are you doing well as a disciplinarian?
  • What do you wish you were doing differently?

What other questions would you add to this list?

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