Editor’s pick: Mindfulness in school and home

A huge part of Attachment Parenting (AP) is learning, and teaching our children, how to be mindful — that ability to calm our minds, connect with our emotions in the moment, work through any conflicting feelings, and respond to others in truth and compassion.

This week, I have two features for my Editor’s Pick. The first is a YouTube video, “Just Breathe,” created by Julie Bayer Salzman and Josh Salzman of Wavecrest Films and inspired by their 5-year-old son talking to a friend about mindfulness exercises he was learning in Kindergarten:

While Attachment Parenting International‘s Eight Principles of Parenting provide families with the parenting behaviors that are shown scientifically to create a secure parent-child attachment, API’s ethos takes Attachment Parenting a step further — to promote a way of living that is based in peace and empathy.

This is where mindfulness fits in.

Clinical psychologist and mindfulness instructor Inga Bohnekamp defines mindfulness in this API post as “presence of heart” and mindful parenting as “parenting from the depths of our hearts,” rather than letting us be guided by a set of pre-fixed, often unreflected, standards or rules about what is right and wrong.

API’s Eight Principles of Parenting aren’t intended to be a set of 8 rules that AP parents must abide to, but rather guides of which parenting behaviors are associated with secure attachment. They are provided for parents who often need that information. Many parents who seek out API’s education and support did not grow up in an environment where they were exposed to consistent nurturing behaviors. API’s Eight Principles of Parenting help parents to get back in touch with their hearts so that they can be intentional about parenting choices, rather than react out of subconscious reasoning that is rooted in early childhood experiences often beyond our conscious memories.

Our childhood experiences may have predisposed us to certain coping skills that do not allow us to easily access the emotions behind our actions, especially in times of stress and strong emotions like anger and fear. Mindfulness is a behavior that can help us teach ourselves how to access those emotions and then be able to act from a place of intention.

This week’s second Editor’s pick is the article, “More Focused, Better Behaved Kids, Through Mindfulness,” by journalist Tori James on My Mother Lode — through which we learn the outcomes of teaching mindfulness to students at a California, USA, elementary school.

It is exciting to see this aspect of Attachment Parenting being incorporated into the school setting, and to hear the overwhelmingly positive feedback from teachers and students.

Free images com - Alissa HortonAccording to the article, mindfulness not only helps prevent bullying but also improves children’s ability to regulate emotions and calm down, pay attention, feel compassion toward others, change behavior patterns and build emotional resilience to life’s ups and downs.

This is powerful stuff. Mindfulness has the capability to change the trajectory of individual lives, and — when being taught on a community level, such as through school — has the potential for changing whole generations in a community.

In the article, mindfulness instructor Sally Arnold referred to a recent Harvard study that found that people spent about 52% of their lives outside of the present moment, with the balance either worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. By not giving enough thoughtful attention to the present moment, we are setting up ourselves to make decisions based on the emotions from our primitive part of our brain — the amygdala — which is set up to impulsively react in “fight or flight” mode.

Positive discipline educator Kelly Bartlett explains what happens in the brain when we “lose it” in this API article.

Mindfulness retrains our brains to reflect on the moment, creating the space and power to think before we respond. Mindfulness exercises, such as the one that Inga introduces in her API post, allows a person to be able to access their whole brain during stressful moments, including the logic and executive functioning of the prefrontal cortex.

The difference is profound. Consider this scenario:

You walk into your kitchen with a laundry basket full of clean clothes to find your toddler drawing on the wall. How would you react?

Someone reacting out of the amygdala may become very angry very quickly and react in a way that they later regret and that leaves the child in tears.

Someone who is practiced in mindfulness, and therefore able to access the whole brain during stressful moments, is more likely to be able to respond sensitively to the child and effectively discipline through problem-solving without risking their attachment relationship.

free images com - jenny rolloMindfulness does take practice, but each time you practice it, it actively changes the neural pathways in the brain so that it’s easier to respond mindfully in stressful moments rather than continue to struggle with the primitive “fight or flight” reactions.

While it may seem awkward at first, a practice of mindfulness is able to transform the very way you think until you get to the point where you don’t have to even think about being mindful — it just comes naturally!

Think about how profound of an experience it would be for a child to grow up in a mindful home, without the fear of incurring the wrath of a highly reactive parent. Many of us remember feeling that fear ourselves, and understand how that fear (and probably anger) lives on today in our relationships. Teaching our kids to be good people starts with their education, that’s why I sent my kids to Seton College where they have catholic education, so they teach them great family values.

What a gift we can give our children to learn how to be mindful, especially in our moments of stress — and then to be able to model and teach that mindfulness to our children, so that their relationships can be rooted in peace and empathy rather than fear and mistrust.

 

*First photo: FreeImages.com/Alissa Horton

**Second photo: FreeImages.com/Jenny Rollo

You can do it: You are strong enough to stop spanking

Editor’s note: April 30 was Spankout Day, an international observance designed to encourage parents to stop spanking. Attachment Parenting International‘s Seventh Principle of Parenting: Practice Positive Discipline advocates against physical punishment and further supports parents to move away from the punishing mindset.

i-love-you-795734-mThere is another way.

You don’t have to spank your kids to discipline them. Or hit. Or smack. Or swat. Or slap. Or give a good whoopin’.

You don’t have to do timeouts. Or threats. Or counting 1-2-3.

You don’t even have to yell.

Yeah, you’ll still get angry with your children. But you don’t have to do the cultural norm to raise your children to be respectful, well-behaved and with good character and moral values.

There is another way.

For parents brand-new to the idea of positive discipline, it may seem really intense at first. You have to learn a whole new way of seeing your child, your child’s intentions, yourself and your childhood — not to mention a whole new way of looking at discipline and, for some parents, child rearing as a whole.

But, wow, is it ever worth it.

It’s like stepping out of the matrix, or stepping into an alternate reality — one of freedom from the status quo, of freedom from anger and fear and the surge of emotion that comes around right before you spank your child.

Eons ago, when I was a new parent and I tried spanking, it at first seemed like the way to go. My child just ran out into the street. I yelled at her to stop, but she didn’t. I felt fear, but also anger at her “defiance.” A quick spank seemed like just what was needed at the moment. After all, I justified that my child needed to learn to listen and obey out of safety. And that spanking did get my child’s attention. She was terrified.

My daughter wasn’t scared of running out into the street, though. She was actually scared of me — her mother.

That’s really stressful for kids and their development. Children are wired to require attachment to their parents for survival. Feeling consistently scared of a parent and being securely attached to that same parent is not possible. That’s how insecure attachment happens: Infants and young children alter the way they behave around their parents in order to maintain some sort of attachment, out of a need for survival, even if that type of attachment isn’t ideal.

Secure attachment is ideal. Secure attachment means that children trust that they can approach their parent with any of their emotions, even anger or sadness or “defiance,” without fear of rejection. In insecure attachment, a child has learned that a parent’s reaction to the child’s emotions, including “defiance,” is scary. The child may react by avoiding the parent in stressful situations, becoming withdrawn or overly anxious, or developing another learned pattern of indirect and emotionally distressing behavior to cope with that fear. Insecure attachment can make for a stressful parent-child relationship over time, with more acting-out, anxiety, withdrawal or other behaviors as the child grows older. But the effect of insecure attachment doesn’t stop there: This way of attaching is how the child will respond in stressful situations in every relationship throughout his life, including marriage, parenting, even on the job.

When parents spank, it “works” because the kids are scared of the parent. That’s not the same thing as respect. But there are many parents who spank and are OK with the idea of their kids being scared of them and reacting to situations out of fear. And there is no law (in the United States) against spanking.

But be careful. Once we start hitting our children, our empathy is removed a bit. We don’t see them the same. It’s way easier to spank the next time, and to spank harder and multiple times. It’s way easier to let that anger in ourselves grow, so that we’re quicker to get angry, quicker to react in anger. It’s way easier to allow that anger, fed by the quick release in spanking our children, to take over our lives.

Spanking is a release of our, the parent’s, anger. Anger needs an outlet. It doesn’t just disappear. It’s either got to find a way out, safely or not, or it will sit in you and fester. It’ll destroy a person. That’s where anger management problems come from, but also sometimes depression or other emotional issues. Mismanaged anger, whether released or stuffed inside, is like cancer of our emotions.

When I did spank, eons ago, I found that anger did take over my life. Outwardly, to others, I was just as happy and outgoing. But when I was with my kids, I found it way easier to spank, way easier to spank harder, way easier to give more than one spanking at a time, way easier to yell, way easier to punish, way more tempting to do other types of physical punishments. And way harder to just enjoy them and accept their uniqueness and to feel empathy toward them and compassion for their strong emotions, including anger or sadness, and to see them in a positive way and to just enjoy being a parent.

So be careful with your anger.

Anger is not a bad emotion. It’s natural. It’s OK that you as a parent gets mad. It’s OK that your kid gets mad. It’s OK that your spouse or boss or friend gets mad. What is not OK is what we might do with our anger.

I stepped out of the matrix. I found my way out. Anyone can do it, too.

You’ll need to learn to control your own anger. You got to live your life the way you want your kids to live theirs. You got to be very careful to avoid hypocrisy, especially in how you handle anger and conflict resolution. Kids live what you model. In everything.

You’ll need to learn how to be an expert at emotion-coaching. You got to learn how to identify and name your emotions. You got to explore the real reasons — think back to your own childhood or life biases — about why you feel angry or fearful or embarrassed or disappointed in any given situation. Check out Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman.

You’ll need to learn how to let your creativity out. Positive discipline is hugely about a secure parent-child relationship, but also hugely about problem-solving. Read all manner of positive discipline books to learn the, literally, hundreds of ways to discipline your child without spanking. My favorites are Attached at the Heart by API Cofounders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, Judy Arnall’s books Discipline Without Distress and her new Parenting with Patience, and Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

Here’s something that is critical, for anyone learning a new skill: Find a mentor — someone who has been using positive discipline for years, preferably someone who has older kids whose behavior is that you admire — and lean on that mentor day in and day out for questions, for modeling your parenting approach and for reassurance that your kids don’t need to be spanked to turn out to be great kids. A local API Leader is a great person to give support in this role.

I know from experience that stopping spanking can be hard. It can be challenging to change habits, and it can be difficult to trust in positive discipline when the only experience you have is spanking and punishments. But you can do it. You are strong enough.

Loving one another in anger

LeyaniRedditiI feel a lot of love in my house.

But there are conflicts, hurt feelings and misunderstandings. I know we are on a journey together to love each other the best we can — to forgive and accept, and to challenge ourselves to feel our feelings without hurting others with our actions or words.

This is a big challenge for me, having grown up with a parental mandate to be happy. If I wasn’t happy, my parents became annoyed or angry. So strong feelings went inside.

I want my children to express their feelings — all of them — and I want us to be a family that shows respect and kindness. So how to manage the moments when the feelings come out and they are hurtful?

“You gave me a broken lollipop!” screams one child at the other. “Well, I didn’t know!” the other yells back, tears welling up in both their eyes.

What do I do as a parent who wants to validate emotions, live in an environment where strong feelings are OK and model communication that is not hurtful?

My instincts from childhood direct me to snap at my children to shut down the yelling. I feel my anger rising in response to theirs. I just want them to be happy! I feel annoyed that they are not.

I have a moment of empathy for my parents. I am chilled, knowing how easy it is to repeat the cycles we grow up with even when we did not thrive in them and do not want to repeat them.

So I stop myself from saying anything in the moment. I pause and breathe.

My children are each sniffling in the back seat, one with her hands over her face and the other staring at a book. We are in the driveway, about to drive away from the house. I turn off the engine, and we just sit for a moment.

This is my chance to change the cycle. This is my chance to do it differently. If I really believe that how I deal with conflict helps them learn to deal with conflict, then this moment is important.

I take another breath and think about myself as a kid and what I would have liked my parents to say and do when I was angry, hurt and frustrated. And the answer? Hugs, empathy, help expressing my feelings, reassurance and a gentle, strong presence that told me it’s all going to be OK.

Redirection as a Discipline Tool…For Parents!

Victoria Parsons
Victoria Parsons

victoria 2

The beautiful little girl in these pictures is my niece Victoria. I will never forget the day Victoria’s mom called me and I could hear the panic and anger in her voice. As the story unfolded I could also tell that she called me as a means of protecting her daughter from the anger she was feeling more than anything else. She was mad. And although she asked for advice, that was secondary. She needed redirection. And I don’t blame her! Oh the mess!

My brother, Victoria’s dad, and his family had only recently moved into their new home. They had picked new paint colours and a vibrant pink was chosen for Victoria’s room. The cans of paint were left in each room waiting for the time when mom would get around to painting the walls. As you can see Victoria couldn’t wait. My very clever niece used a kitchen butter knife to pry open the paint and went to work painting the room herself. A smaller knife with a sharp edge is the perfect in-between knife for children 6 to 10 years old. Their hands aren’t quite large enough for a full-sized knife, but they have the hand-eye coordination required to yield a real knife blade. A paring knife might seem like a good transitional knife, but its dainty size doesn’t allow enough clearance between handle and a cutting board for tiny hands. A brightly colored knife, and one with a sheath for covering the blade, is a beautiful way to create a sense of ownership for your tiny chef. You can also check out the best knife reviews before buying. There’s no got to wait until they will argue with us to urge the ball rolling. Giving kids responsibility for his or her actions, their belongings, and their home helps combat the prolific creep of entitlement so evident in much of today’s society. One of the foremost difficult hassles to affect is an insect infestation within the home. Among the various insects which will enter your house, pesticide for roaches and ants are the foremost despised. Just one roach can cause you to want to tear your hair out. And if ants find food in your kitchen or within the remainder of your house, you’ll quickly find yourself with many them marching in and out.

When her mom discovered the mess she called me. “What do I do?” she asked desperately. My reply was “take pictures.” She was a little taken aback at my reply. But it only took a short while to convince the photographer in her that this was worth shooting. So she did. And I’m ever so grateful she did. These are treasures.

Of course she did have a conversation afterwards with Victoria about what she was thinking and why she decided to paint her room. And her reasons were quite logical. First of all, her mom hadn’t yet. Plus, she wanted to play “Trading Spaces” a HGTV home decor show where neighbours decorated a room in each others homes. Her brother refused so she went ahead herself and got started. Perfectly logical in the mind of a 3 year old! The show was a favourite of mom’s and the kids enjoyed it as well. In fact, mom later sent them off to the Life Network where they gave such joy there that my niece was rewarded with a t-shirt from the network!

In the course of all this, many people would suggest that my niece should have been punished. In traditional discipline I cannot imagine what would have happened to a child who had gotten up to such mischief. In fact I suggest that many of us, as children, would have been severely punished for this sort of thing. I’m sure I would have. But what would that have truly accomplished that wasn’t accomplished by a different reaction? My niece understood by the severity of her mother’s emotions when she was discovered that she had done wrong. She didn’t need punishment. She felt bad enough. Even though she was eventually photographed and fussed over, at just under 4 years old, she understood that this was not something she should attempt again. She watched her parents pull out the carpet in her brand new bedroom and work to remove paint where necessary and repair the damage that was done. She understood and she felt remorse.

And the parents, particularly Victoria’s mom is probably much prouder of her reaction at the time than if she’d lost control and spanked Victoria instead of calling me first to talk her down. Who knows how that would have gone? In such an angry state, hardly anyone would have blamed her for using corporal punishment, but not using it took greater self-control and strength and that is something to be very proud of.

And what of Victoria? Without punishment has she gone into a life of destruction? Is she a vandal now, wreaking havoc wherever she goes? Of course not. She’s a wonderful, well-behaved, well-loved and loving child. She’s delightful and sweet these many years later. She has not repeated the behaviour at all. She felt remorse, learned a lesson and I’m confident she will not repeat this or similar actions. Even without punishment! Imagine that.

We speak of redirection for children when they are young, to remove them from the temptation to do wrong, steering them gently in the direction we’d have them go, instead of allowing them to hit a playmate or snatch a toy.

As parents we need sometimes to redirect ourselves. We need to grab a cup of tea, go for a walk, call a friend, or grab the camera to help us through those angry moments when we’ve lost our tempers and feel like lashing out at our children for their antics. Long term the memories will be happier, the final outcome will likely remain unchanged, but the most important thing is that our relationship and attachment with our children is undamaged by our behaviour in the heat of the moment.

Do you have any examples of ways you redirected yourselves when tempted to slip back into the punishment style of discipline? They don’t have to be quite as dramatic as my neice’s little escapade!

Carolyn R. Parsons is a writer. She is married to Kent Chaffey and they have four daughters, aged 3 to 18. She blogs at BreezeDaze. Her first book, a poetry collection called Wind Rhymes will be published at the end of September.

Content Protected Using Blog Protector By: PcDrome.

© 2008-2022 Attachment Parenting International All Rights Reserved -- Copyright notice by Blog Copyright