Building a strong parent-child bond through Playful Parenting

father-1633655_1280One of the most important and challenging undertakings of parenting is to build strong, close bonds between children and their parents. A strong parent-child connection enables children to become confident, independent, develop healthy relationships, and become a peaceful adult.

In his book Playful Parenting, Dr. Lawrence Cohen points out that through play, children explore the world, work through challenging situations and get connected with the people they are close with.

I have found that approaching common parenting struggles with Playful Parenting techniques to be very effective, and it helps to make things easier and more fun for everyone in our family.

Through play, we get to join our children’s world — promoting mutual respect, exploration, and cooperation while enjoying each other’s company.

Using Play to Manage Parenting Struggles

Parents of young children experience many situations where the child resists when they’re asked to do something: They don’t want to pick up their toys or get dressed to go out; they don’t want their hair washed or their nails cut. The list goes on. Making a game out of these tasks can help. It instantly makes the activity more fun and enjoyable for the child and makes it something they’re much less likely to resist.

When my toddler son was into recycling and trash trucks, we made a game of cleaning up his blocks by saying, “Let’s put all the trash in the trash truck.” The blocks were the trash, and the container was the trash truck. When he was 3 and very much into firefighters, we made a game of getting dressed to leave the house by saying, “There’s a fire! It’s time to get in the fire truck. Let’s get on our fire coats and boots!” He’d then be quick to get on his shoes and coat to get in the car.

Many times, parents think they don’t have time for such games. You’re in a hurry to get out the door, so why add in a game and waste more time? But I find that when we play our way through it like this, it actually takes less time for my children to get ready.

Some critics say that parents shouldn’t have to do this and that a child shouldn’t need a game to make them listen. While it’s true that they don’t need it, and there are many other ways to help children cooperate, it does make it more enjoyable. Just like, as an adult, I find it’s more enjoyable to clean while listening to music, or to fold laundry while watching TV. It’s the same concept.

Playing Your Way Through Fears

Play can help release tension and can make what seems scary into something silly. In this way, it can be used to help children work through their fears.

When my son was 4, he was scared during thunderstorms. The sudden sound of thunder was too startling for him, and it kept him tense at bedtime. One night during a storm, I said to him, “What do you think that thunder sounds like? I think it sounds like a train rumbling down the track.” He loved Thomas the Train, so I suggested, “Maybe it’s Thomas!” He started to laugh, and I kept going: “That was really loud. It must’ve been Gordon, because he’s so big!” This turned it into a fun game and made the experience less scary.

Play can also help with minor stresses. A child may come home upset after a hard day at school but then may get to work out some of those emotions by playing school where he is the teacher and in charge.

Dr. Cohen talks more about the idea of using play to handle childhood anxiety in his book The Opposite of Worry.

Connecting with Children Through Play

One part of Playful Parenting is about strengthening connection between parent and child. Children who feel connected and attached to their parents feel closer to them and thus want to cooperate with them. One simple and effective way to connect with our children is to sit and play with them.

Playing can be hard for adults: We’re out of practice, or have low patience, we may have forgotten how to play, or simply feel like we don’t have the time for it. Some people may feel awkward or embarrassed about being silly and goofy if they participate in children’s imaginative play, like a dad who may not want to sit and play with dolls with his young daughter.

However, when we make the effort to be involved in our children’s interests and carve out even as little as 10 minutes a day for one-on-one child-led playtime, our children notice it and respond positively. Deepening our connection with our children makes them more likely to respect us and to want to do what we ask of them. It helps them feel secure and loved, and makes us all happier.

13 Attachment Parenting hacks

pixabay-mom-and-kid-and-mapAttachment Parenting is more than a tick-boxed scorecard of babywearing and breastfeeding. It is so very much more.

Attachment Parenting, for many of us, is a way of life. In its simplest of forms, it’s about choosing connection and respect over convenience and quick-wins.  

The following advice has been lifted — with permission! — from one of my favorite virtual parent support groups. The points summarize 13 Attachment Parenting hacks from real — albeit virtual — moms that might just revolutionize the way you think about parenting:

  1.  “Pause before reacting to anything. The very few genuine emergencies that require instant reactions will get them before you can even think.” (Linda)
  2. “When a kid is upset, don’t try to make them feel better. Just try to make it clear that you get why they are upset.” (Nina)
  3. “Sing and play! Everything is still fairly new and exciting to a child. Let them join in what you’re doing, and join in what they’re doing.” (Jenna)
  4. “A baby is its own instruction manual.” (Lisa)
  5. “Not all kids can cope with choices.” (Linda)
  6. “Laughing together with a child is a powerful way of connecting and a healing tool for both of you.” (Rosetta)
  7. “When in doubt, err on the side of love.” (Marina)
  8. Asking a question and giving a child the power to answer and be heard, is an amazing thing.” (Lily)
  9. “Put a crabby baby into water…let the splashing commence!” (Michelle)
  10. “Make your home a ‘yes’ environment.” (Claire)
  11. Piggy back rides!” (Katie)
  12. “If you can give your children a chance to have control over something, do it.” (Tia)
  13. “Never regard your relationship with your kids as a rivalry (them vs. me). It’s ALWAYS a partnership.” (Bonnie)
 Thank you to each of the moms who offered their wisdom.

A mother’s reflections on her decision to honor her child’s spirit

girl dandelion wishI dropped off my 10-year-old daughter at the art museum for another fun, creative day of summer camp. I hovered by the Admissions Desk, watching the kids get settled in.  As part of their morning warm-up, the kids hang out in the museum’s atrium, and while they wait for their peers to arrive, they engage in free-play and stretching exercises.  Afterwards, they head upstairs to start their day creating beautiful works of art — expressing their artistic, distinctive, creative selves.

My daughter stood out from the rest of the crowd with her signature ears headband she has been sporting since she was 7 years old and bright, mismatching clothes: shorts, knee-high socks and a big, bright green beach bag she had decided was the perfect accessory even though they don’t go to the pool — who am I to argue?

She was sitting on the third step of a four-step staircase. With much enthusiasm and confidence, she pulled out a thick book from her bag and started to read. I felt a sense of profound delight in watching her: She seemed so peaceful and content. Unlike many girls her age, she doesn’t look to her right or her left for directions — she looks within herself and marches to the beat of her own drum…oh, how I love that about her! Countless adults spend their entire lives struggling to reach that place of inner tranquility. I marvel that she is already there.

I looked around and noticed that all the other kids were nearby on the platform at the top of the staircase. They were interacting with one another, playing or chatting. Not my girl — she was reading intently, oblivious to everything around her.

I thought to myself how it is apparent that she didn’t blend in with the crowd, and I felt a little tug in my stomach. Like most other parents, I wish for my kids to fit in and be socially adept. I was thinking that, during our drive back home, I should gently suggest that she socialize during the morning warm-up instead of reading a book.

I then looked to my right where my social butterfly — my 7-year-old son — was standing, and I chuckled. Here was my other child who thrives on being around his peers and playing with them…all day long! As for reading books? You may have guessed it: He is not a fan!

I had recognized that my daughter’s social barometer is different than her brother’s and perhaps most of her peers — to reach her inner balance, she needs a different ratio between “me-time” and “friends-time.” In that moment, I understood that I ought to just let her be, knowing she is a healthy, well-rounded, well-adjusted child.

I needed this reminder, because I wholeheartedly believe that as parents, we ought to honor and respect who our kids are and support the needs of their individual spirits — allowing them to be their authentic selves.

Our children are not blocks designed to fit perfectly into a designated box. They are each unique, with their own shape and characteristics. The most creative, successful people are the ones who exist and think outside of the box — heck, they may not even be aware there is a box! Conforming for the sake of “blending in” or “fitting in” is diminishing their ability to blossom and dimming the light of their soul. 

I am pleased that my daughter chooses not to blend in at times. It fills my heart with bliss to watch her shine as her beautiful soul blossoms.

Four Principles To Use In Raising Children and Creating Peace In Your Family

Love. Patience. Presence. Respect.

Our role as Parent is constant…ever-changing and ever-growing. We each have different parenting styles and we each face challenges differently as well.
As an attachment parent, four of my fundamental principles are Love, Patience, Presence and Respect. There are many others but these four will sum up an important message I’d like to share today.

When we operate from Love, I believe our intentions are for Harmony, for Peace, for Happiness. If we Love kindly and gently, we hope that these things will naturally be results of our Love. I have discovered that Love, combined with Patience, Presence and Respect, will not only guide me in the direction in which to handle situations, but will also carry me through the challenging times when I truly don’t have the answers.

Please imagine yourself, as a child or as an adult, experiencing frustration, sadness, anger, or any other emotion or feeling that makes you uncomfortable. When you imagine yourself feeling that discomfort, what do you believe could take that away or at least make it easier in that moment? I ask you to imagine yourself because many times in life, it is important to put the shoes on your own feet to gain the necessary perspective in dealing with others. I find this to be true and probably most importantly, in the way we treat and listen to our children.

So often, parents decide it is their way or no way. It is this way simply because “I say so.” You are the parent, they are the children, and for many, it is thought to be the hierarchy that sets the tone for discipline and commands. I don’t believe in those methods. I believe our children deserve to be heard. I believe they deserve respect. I believe they deserve an answer and an explanation. I believe they deserve our Love. Our Patience. Our Presence. I believe we all deserve this.

No matter what is going on, crying in the middle of the night from your newborn, a screaming tantrum from your two year old, your angry four year old making a demand out of frustration…these need to be met with tenderness, calmness and composure of mind. I’m not saying this is easy. I’m not saying you won’t be challenged and tested beyond belief, because you will. I’m only sharing what works for me. I’m sharing this because the alternatives are not only damaging to your children, but they are damaging to you as well.

When we don’t take the time to truly be present and listen…when we don’t dig deeper than we think is possible for patience in a trying moment…when your love turns to anger and you lash out or lose control with your children, damage will be done. I can assure you of that. The negative feelings and situations will be prolonged, everyone will feel worse than they did initially, and someone, if not everyone, will walk away feeling misunderstood, unheard and alone.

It is my goal to nurture, love, and create harmony in my household. I believe we all want the same. When that isn’t happening, we must have the awareness of these principles at our disposal so we can easily tap into and operate from them at all times.

Love.

There was an unconditional Love that was born in me that I never knew prior to giving birth. That in itself, is the source that guides me in everything I do.

Patience.

The source of Love will give you the Patience you need most of the time but there will be moments when you think you can’t possibly keep it together for one more second. You must remember in these moments that you are capable of endurance. You are capable of self control. You can do it. Just breathe deeply. Close your eyes if you can…just for a few seconds. Stay calm.
The short term and long term effects of losing your patience and lashing out bitterly will hurt your children and you. During conflict or stressful situations, our children simply want to be heard, understood and accepted. They are trying to communicate something. If we are able to remain calm in these moments, not only will it ease their stress sooner, but it will not let the situation turn into something worse because of the anger and negativity added on top of it. You will then be able to communicate and allow for both of you to learn from the conflict. Your patience will comfort them and your empathy will encourage them to resolve the struggles within themselves in just knowing you hear them.

Presence.

Physical closeness, level headedness and a choice to be present with your children will make a difference. Not only in the quality time spent together, but this will also allow the lines of communication to be clear and open.
Whether it’s reading a book together on the couch, or when your child doesn’t want to leave the park when it’s time to go, your presence is always important. They can accept when they are doing their thing and you are doing yours…most of the time. When you are with them though, choose to be with them. It’s so easy these days with our phones and technology to get distracted. We may physically be next to them but mentally, conjuring up our next facebook status update. When you are present, they feel it. They appreciate it. They cherish it. When they don’t want to leave the park, your presence in that moment will help them understand that it’s ok. Talking on the phone while yelling at them to leave won’t have the same outcome.

Respect.

We all want to be respected, valued, recognized, adored, appreciated…
Children deserve this as well as we do as parents. When we experience this respect from others, we are empowered to be our best. We are comforted in expressing our voices. We are strengthened with Love and we are emotionally available. We discover that in times when we don’t feel respected, the walls begin to rise and the willingness to communicate and connect shuts down. This usually then shifts the relationship to “Because I said so” again where the parent believes they are the only one who deserves respect and the child’s feelings are dismissed. This will only leave your child feeling unheard, misunderstood and left without an explanation. Please respect them as human beings and by that respect, it becomes possible for you to earn theirs.

We are all doing our best and I believe these tools will help us do it better. 
Let’s all make more of an effort in dealing with our children and one another lovingly, patiently, respectfully… and let’s all make an effort and the choice to be present as often as possible. It will make a difference.

 

 

 

 

 

Crying as Sport?

Everyone loves babies. We’re programmed to. It’s biological: A 2008 research study at Baylor showed that the happiness centers in our brains light up when we see a baby smiling at us.

Conversely, a 2012 study at Aarhus University showed that a baby’s cry elicits a unique, lightning-fast response in his parents to soothe the baby. We want that crying to stop. We’re wired that way.

So, it’s puzzling why there seems to be a surge of entertainment centered on crying children, particularly infants. The quiver of the lip, the shaking of the chin, the miniature pout, the glistening tears. Apparently, it’s quite adorable. And as the child grows and those crying sessions become tantrums, these big reactions can seem downright hilarious to a lot of people. “You’re having a fit about what?!”

Making sport of crying babies – from Parenting.com’s “They’re mad, they’re sad, they’re so darn cute!” crying baby pictures to YouTube’s swarms of “cute baby crying” videos to talk show host Jimmy Kimmel’s challenge to parents to feign eating all their child’s Halloween candy to Japan’s crying babies festival (what!?) – seems to be taking this fixation with baby cuteness one step too far.

What ever happened to adoring a baby’s tiny toes or fingernails or curls? Or, celebrating a baby’s first steps or raucous laughter at a mom blowing her nose? And why are we oohing and ahhing and laughing at a baby crying rather than grimacing and imagining how we can soothe her? Why don’t these videos and photos make us more uncomfortable than they do, ringing our psychological bells to come to her rescue?

I’ve never found my baby’s crying anything different than distressing. I can definitely identify with that lightning-fast response time. Where’s the milk? Need a diaper change? Kiss the boo-boo. No, you can’t play with the scissors but here’s a ball to look at. And of course, my lap and arms are always open to comfort.

But I admit it, there have been a couple times when my six-year-old daughter’s meltdowns bordered on funny or when my four-year-old makes a comment that almost makes me smile. Almost – because in the middle of a little person’s over-the-top outburst, when he’s feeling so misunderstood, so denied, so frustrated, angry, sad, out of control of his world, is when the parent needs to strive to empathize with his child and to stay attuned. Attunement is impossible if we’re not allowing ourselves to get down to her level to understand her emotionality because we’re too busy seeing the situation through adult eyes, which invariably looks silly or completely unreasonable from our level.

And that’s the point: children are not on an adult level, so what we find silly or alternately adorable, they find devastating. And what we adults get upset over – getting our bills paid, taking an afternoon nap, eating broccoli – our children don’t see what the big deal is. Does that mean what adults care about isn’t important? Of course not. But don’t try flipping that around and saying that just because we adults don’t think a toy car is anything to be flailing around on the supermarket floor for, doesn’t mean that it’s not important to a child. And while some of us might find the scene of a complete meltdown somewhat, or totally, hilarious, it certainly isn’t to that child.

Children can’t fathom that their anger and sadness – their emotional pain – is funny or adorable. And expressing this, even privately within our minds, is disrespectful to our children. It comes back to talking the talk and walking the walk. We want to be respected for our needs and wants, so we need to live in a way that is respectful and that teaches our children to be respectful.

Children Talking to Adults

My two and a half year old Jacob is very friendly. It could be because he’s my second child, and so he has benefited from my more relaxed parenting this time around as well as being doted on by his adoring older sister. It could be because he’s a Leo, the sign of nobility. It could be because I’ve never discouraged him from greeting friends and strangers alike. Or it could just be who he naturally is. But whatever the reason, Jacob takes it upon himself to personally greet every person he meets in his day-to-day life.

On the playground, for example, he often walks up to other children and introduces himself. It sounds something like, “Hi! I named Jacob!” His words are clear to me, but not everyone may understand what he’s saying or who he’s addressing. And so, often, other people ignore his efforts to strike up a conversation. I find it more than a little disheartening, quiet honestly, especially when the person ignoring him is another parent of a toddler. I can’t imagine that I would meet with the same reaction, if I walked up and introduced myself.

Luckily, Jacob is totally unfazed when people ignore him. He just introduces himself a few more times, until finally some notice is given. Or if that doesn’t happen, he moves on to the next person, and often meets with better results. It doesn’t occur to him, at his age, to wonder why someone isn’t paying attention to him. It doesn’t appear to lead him to doubt himself or question his place in the world.

Jacob and Hannah at the park
Jacob and his big sister Hannah explore the park

But as I watch my son go out and try to make friends with limited success, I reflect on what it’s showing me about the way we view children in our society. The truth is that children are not accorded the same kind of respect as adults. We don’t feel that it’s necessary to give them our attention in the same way. We don’t offer them the same kind of space to express themselves, and we don’t value what they have to say. Sometimes, even if we’re parents ourselves. Sometimes, even if they’re our own children.

One of Attachment Parenting International’s guiding principles is responding to our children with sensitivity. For older children, this includes showing an interest in what they’re doing. I have to confess that I don’t always do this as well as I could. I’m not always the best at getting down and engaging my children on their level. And sometimes I don’t hear them myself, when they’re talking to me and my attention is elsewhere.

I’m constantly striving to improve, though. I’m working hard to respond sensitively, and to provide my children with a safe and supportive environment to explore. And so I stand back and watch as they strike up conversations with children and adults at the park. I let them navigate social interactions on their own as long as they’re safe and happy. And I hope that other people will respond to them with the same sensitivity that I strive to display for all children. Because, really, every child deserves that.

Have you ever had the experience of watching other adults ignore your child? What was that like for you? And how do you respond when it happens?

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