Attached Family: Parenting without shame

shame-cover-v2Attachment Parenting International (API) is pleased to announce the release of the latest issue of Attached Family: “Parenting Without Shame.”

In this issue of Attached Family, API examines shame versus guilt and how shame contributes to emotional trauma. API looks at the intersection of parenting and shame, keeping in mind that shame is a normal emotional response to certain social situations, but like anger or disappointment, when unresolved, shame can lead to lifelong difficulties.

Inside this issue, you’ll find mind-bending, inspiring, and empowering features to stretch your parenting wings:

  • “What is Shame?” by API Executive Editor Rita Brhel — defines shame, how it differs from guilt, when it crosses the line to become toxic shame, and what parents need to know
  • “Core Beliefs Color Your Parenting,” also by Rita Brhel — explains how shame-based core beliefs affect our everyday decisions, including our parenting behaviors
  • “What Makes Emotional Trauma? Fear, Disconnect and Shame,” an interview with Daniela Sieff, PhD — explores the ingredients to developing a shame-based view of oneself and what is all involved in healing, which certainly underlines the importance of prevention through parenting
  • “Parenting as a Protest Against Hate” by Lauren Gottschalk-Scher, motherhood fashion designer — looks at how parenting can be activism
  • “What is Normal, Healthy Infant Sleep?” by API KnowledgeBase Coordinator Art Yuen — discusses what biologically normal sleep in infants, and adults, looks like and the effects that artificial light and work productivity expectations have
  • “6 Tips to Lessen Separation Anxiety,” also by Art Yuen — looks at goodbye routines and other ideas for children and their parents when separation is necessary, such as for working parents
  • “Self-Validation Before Self-Control” by Denise Durkin, MA, child mental health consultant — explains how development of a positive self-worth must be in place first before trying to teach a child self-control
  • “Engagement vs Redirection to Create Emotional Safety,” also by Denise Durkin — describes the differences between these two discipline techniques and why engagement may be the better choice
  • “11 Ways to Parent Outside the Box” by Brooke Campbell, MA, creative therapist — gives ideas on how to incorporate more attunement in parenting
  • “How to Heal Attachment with Your Teen” by Shoshana Hayman, Neufeld Institute Faculty — outlines how the teenage years can reveal attachment weaknesses and how to restore a close attachment when necessary.

Shame can be a difficult topic for parents. This issue of Attached Family helps you be able to explore this topic safely. API hopes you take away the idea that parents don’t need to fear shame as a normal emotion, but rather that when shame enters our children’s lives, that Attachment Parenting is exactly how to address it in a healthy way.

The AP challenge: Parent with kindness, respect & dignity

api-challenge

Modeling empathy to promote peace

logo that hopefully doesnt change colorI believe empathy is one of the most important aspects in promoting peace.  Children who are taught to be empathetic and who witness empathy will, in turn, show more empathy to others.

I attempt to teach empathy to my children through positive discipline, responding sensitively to their needs and emotions, and being present for them. I do my best to create a safe space for their emotions and to be a model of peaceful interactions with others.

Nowadays in my family, modeling empathy often occurs when helping my 4-year-old son wait while his sister has the toy he wants. I empathize with his emotions of frustration while also explaining that she would be sad if he took the toy from her.

When my 2-year-old daughter pouts, “I wasn’t ready to go to bed,” I choose to show her compassion. I acknowledge that she’s sad and say something like, “I know it’s hard to stop playing and go to bed, especially when your brothers are still awake, but now it’s time for us to cuddle together, and I’ll sing to you.”

With my 6-year-old son, we talk about how his strong emotions like anger are OK but that we need to work together to find appropriate outlets for those feelings.

Mommy Daddy Child BeachBeing sensitive to my children’s emotions works in helping them have more peaceful interactions with others. When my oldest son was 2, I remember hearing him putting his stuffed animals to sleep, speaking very gently to them and being present with them as I was with him. Now, at age 6, I see him express concerns for others when they get injured. Even my youngest child, only 2, will ask if I’m OK when I get hurt.

For my children today, opportunities for empathy happen most often in interactions with classmates, neighbors, and each other. But someday when they’re grown, I believe it will translate into their relationships with coworkers, spouses, their own children, and others they encounter in their lives. This is how practicing Attachment Parenting and being sensitive, responsive, and empathetic to our children can help create peace outside of the family and in the greater community.

The key to world peace and harmony

logo that hopefully doesnt change colorWhat is the key to promoting peace and harmony in our world?

In view of all the recent unrest and violence in our country and around the world, it’s a timely and imperative question.

It’s a question I often reflect on. As the mother of two young children, I’ve come to the realization that my role as a parent is not merely to raise my kids to be healthy, happy and successful adults — it’s much bigger than that: it is to raise kids who one day will become adult members of our society. My children and your children will one day become husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, neighbors, teachers, leaders, and lawmakers. With that realization, I feel an immense sense of responsibility.

I believe parenting practices — what parents model as an acceptable and appropriate behavior — has great consequences and implications that cascade beyond the home.

Let’s think about what it means for our children and how it shapes them when:

…a caregiver hits or spanks a child in response to a conflict or unwanted behavior. What messages is the child receiving in regards to managing anger, conflict resolution, and inflicting pain — both physical and emotional — on another being?

…we sleep-train a child — letting them cry themselves to sleep, ignoring their natural need to be soothed and comforted. How may it impact a sibling who is observing Mommy or Daddy not attending to the distressed young child? He may be learning it is acceptable to dismiss one’s need for soothing and compassion.

…the parent-child relationship is based on mutual respect, trust, and collaboration rather than control, manipulation, and fear. How does teaching collaboration and navigating together to reach resolutions prepare a child for future relationships? What does a child learn about handling disagreements when the parent is in the role of the unquestionable authority figure, as in “because I said so!” or “because I’m the boss!”?

…a child joins his mom as a volunteer at a soup kitchen to help others who are less fortunate, or he witnesses his dad stopping at the side of the road to help a stranded stranger.

It means that when we show empathy, we teach empathy; and when we show compassion, we teach compassion.

The child who has been nurtured with empathy and compassion is the child and adult who will extend his hand to another person, not swing his hand. He will be the one who lifts others, not belittles. He will grow to be the adult in society who promotes peace and harmony, not discord, because these are the values and tools imparted in him by his first and most significant role models: his parents.

Echoing in my mind is an incident that took place a few months ago: I clumsily hit the blow dryer against my left eyebrow bone. The sharp pain was agonizing. I clutched my bruise and knelt down to the floor uttering a few groans. My 8-year-old son was nearby. He came over, knelt down, and gently moved my hands and kissed my bruise. “Is it better now, Mommy?” he asked. While trying to hold back my groans, I replied: “A little. Thanks, my love.” He gave me a hug, then inspected the bruise, and said: “Maybe you can do some Reiki on it later.” I was in awe. My eyes were moist — no longer from the pain, but from experiencing the sensitivity and compassion he displayed: He sensed my pain and responded to it with tender sincerity.

In that moment, I was awash with joy and pride, and I thought, this is the kind of adult I aspire to release to this world: one that possesses empathy and compassion for others.

In that ordinary yet profound moment, I appreciated that all of the patience, compassion, responding with sensitivity, and positive discipline I have practiced raising my children. It all paid off in an extraordinary way.

The path to promoting peace and harmony may be simpler and more fundamental than we perceive it to be. It can be more effectively accomplished with the action of planting the seeds, rather than trimming the trees.

heart-and-keyParents, we are the key: Peace and harmony start with us! 

We are the peacemakers and peacebreakers of the world. If we want a more peaceful world for our children and the next generations, we ought to exemplify one for them. If as parents, we model sensitivity, empathy and harmony, our children will carry themselves through life, and react in the same manner when they encounter conflicts and adversities — for these are the tools we have been giving them.

Let’s plant those seeds and watch them grow and spread — one family, one community, one country at a time.

Bedtime together, beautiful and attached

IMAG00863My daughter and I stopped bedsharing a few months ago, just before her 2nd birthday. She was excited to move out of the daybed we shared in her room and into her own toddler bed.

Even though we’ve shifted away from bedsharing, bedtime still remains for us a wonderful time of connection. Sometimes I hold her and sing to her, which usually puts her to sleep before the first song is over. Most of the time, we lie together in her bed. She’ll play with my hair and cuddle up against me.

Lately, as her vocabulary and her brain continue to grow and develop, she’s been talking a lot as we lie together. She often talks about times when she was sad and frequently repeats a story about a time when I was out at the store and she was home with my husband: “I wanted you and you weren’t there, and I was crying.”

I believe this comes up often at bedtime, because it’s a time when she feels a need for comfort and knows she is safe. She can share a sad memory while knowing that I’m there for her at that moment.

I’ll listen to her story and acknowledge that it was a really upsetting time. Then I’ll remind her that in this moment she has me and I explain that now, when sadness is over, our emotions change and feeling sad is temporary. I reinforce that I am there to comfort her when she needs me.

Even though she’s no longer a newborn with an intense physiological need for me to hold her, bedtime can still be a scary time or a sad time if a child is alone. I love being able to be with her at this time and to let this be something positive and happy. While I don’t sleep with her in her bed, she still refers to it as “Mommy and me’s bed.”

When she wakes in the morning, she finds me sleeping in the daybed in her bedroom. She’ll walk over, and I’ll lift her up into bed. We’ll snuggle together until we’re ready to wake up. It’s the best part of my day and the best way to wake up. I love that I’m one of the first things she sees in the morning and that, even half-asleep, she knows that she just has to walk a few steps to find me and to feel that comfort and love. It’s beautiful to see how our sleep situation has evolved but is still a way for us to stay connected and attached.

4 positive discipline ideas for toddler hitting

DSC06544Hitting is a normal toddler behavior that often begins between ages 1 ½ and 2 years old. There could be many different reasons, including the child being angry but unable to express it or you being unable to understand what he’s trying to express, a life change such as a new sibling, or simply the child wanting to explore what her hand can do and what happens when she hits.

So, what can parents do about it?

Shortly after my son’s 2nd birthday and right around the time my next baby was born, my son began hitting. He would hit his brother when he was angry, and sometimes he would hit my husband and me playfully, which was still something we wanted to discourage.

We tried a variety of different strategies to prevent it and teach him not to hit. Here are 4 positive discipline ideas to try if your toddler hits:

  1. We tried to find new, creative things to do with his hands throughout the day, such as teaching hand-clapping games, different hand gestures like thumbs-up, or sign language — just something to engage the hands in a more productive and fun manner. Sometimes, if I saw he was about to hit playfully, I would try to high-five him instead.
  2. We also did a lot of soft, nurturing touch with him, like rubbing his arms, and made that more of a part of our day.
  3. I found that it was really beneficial to give him more outlets to get out some of his physical energy: running outside, finding things that he could throw, and letting him hit a pillow.
  4. It was important to me to model empathy and try to show that hitting can hurt. If he did hit us, I would often make an exaggerated sad face and say how hurt I was. Once we were out of that immediate moment of his anger — or silliness, in some cases — I would remind him that hitting hurts, that we shouldn’t hit others, and that we have to use soft touch. If he was really angry, we’d talk about other concrete ways that he could express that anger instead. We made a point to model this with his stuffed animals. I have a video of my son when he was two where he hits his stuffed panda and says, “Slap panda.” After a second, he rubs the panda’s arm gently, hugs it, and says, “No, hug. Hug panda!”

What’s most important during a hitting situation is to stay calm and to remember that it is normal part of toddler development. It’s a phase that will pass, and the 4 ideas above may be some techniques to help it pass a little more quickly and smoothly.

A lesson in button pushing

Editor’s note: Welcome to APtly Said’s celebration of mothers! This year’s theme for Mother’s Day is “Life Lessons” as Attachment Parenting International celebrates with an inspiring series from May 7-11. We hope you enjoyed your Mother’s Day and were able to reflect on what you’ve learned through your motherhood journey.

Shoshana-150x150When my first son transitioned into toddlerhood, I discovered that I had a lot more to learn about raising children than I realized! The most compelling question I asked myself was how to preserve our warm and loving relationship when I also had to say, “No, you can’t have that,” or “No, you can’t do that.”

I still remember the day he was able to pull out the books from the lower shelf of a bookcase in our living room, crumpling and ripping the pages with his sweet, pudgy little hands. How could I stop him without hurting or alarming him? I thought about how challenging it was going to be to guide him without provoking his defenses against me.

The more he grew and became independent, the more insight I needed to navigate the daily incidents that cropped up and compelled me to steer him in the right direction. “We have to put the toys away before taking out more,” “Bedtime is now,” and “Homework comes before television,” were only some of the daily situations that I had to take charge of.

When our children are not inclined to follow our instructions, they push our buttons and we lose our patience. For the first time, it occurred to me that parents might be pressing their children’s buttons when we don’t understand what makes them react to us the way they do.

I have 6 children. As the years went by and I became more seasoned in my parenting, I saw how easily their buttons could be pushed — how easily they could become alarmed, frustrated, and insecure.

It was easy to get the right behavior out of children by scaring them, threatening them, warning them, or taking away things from them that they cared about. “I’m counting to 3, then I’m leaving without you!” has always brought forth the right behavior in young children, but at a very high price. When you push your child’s alarm button too often or too many times, the very system that alerts him to beware of a risky situation begins to work in a distorted way and new problems start showing up.

This is an even more startling revelation when it comes to adolescents, because this same alarm system in the brain continues to harden the defenses even more when their buttons are continually pushed. They become tear-less and fearless, as they lose their caring and other vulnerable feelings altogether. This is on a continuum and can potentially lead to addictions and other problem behaviors like cutting.

Hands TrustWhen my children grew past the years of breastfeeding and needing to be attached to me through physical closeness, I learned that I was only at the beginning of the attachment story. The work of attachment was my responsibility, so they could rest in the relationship and be free to discover their own selves.

It was not a given that the relationship would be preserved simply because it got off to a good start. The relationship was still fresh and tender, and still needed to be cultivated, secured and deepened throughout all the years ahead of us. This was to be the shield from hurtful people and environments outside of our relationship. A deeper attachment was the answer to ensuring a healthy alarm system and preserving my children’s ability to experience all of their vulnerable feelings, so they could develop meaningful and deep relationships as well as develop their individuality and the traits that characterize maturity.

I needed to keep my relationship with my children clean from wounding. Their buttons might have been pushed by their friends or even by their teachers, but I needed to be aware of not being the one to provoke their defenses. I wanted to be that safe place — a home base or haven — where they could feel rest and comfort, no matter at what age. This challenged me to find ways to stand by my rules and limitations, preserve order, and transmit values in a way that protected our relationship.

This was my greatest learning experience, so that I could do the most important work than any parent does — help my children grow up to be mature, responsible, caring, and considerate adults.

Unconditional love

Editor’s note: Welcome to APtly Said’s celebration of mothers! This year’s theme for Mother’s Day is “Life Lessons” as Attachment Parenting International celebrates with an inspiring series from May 7-11. We hope you enjoyed your Mother’s Day and were able to reflect on what you’ve learned through your motherhood journey.

lisa fiertag 2My daughters are two of the most amazing teachers I have ever been around. Every day, I feel grateful to have them in my life and for the many ways they shower me with unconditional love.

My children have gifted me with the opportunity to open my heart, as I have learned that love can be felt and expressed without anything attached to it.

Before having children, I disliked change and I craved structure, schedules, and predictability. I never thought that motherhood would challenge all of these needs. Through the gift of unconditional love, I found myself willing to surrender to the present moment and to embrace change. I realized that the more I tried to control my children, the more we struggled, but when I was flexible, all the structure came down and each one of us could rest in the beauty of what we were doing.

Lisa Feiertag_Mothers DayAlong the way, I saw that there is a path that each of my daughters will take, and while I am a part of their journey, it is not mine to own nor is it static in any way, shape, or form. It is a fluid, ever-changing, and evolving road that is based on their individual needs, emotions, and wants. When I am in recognition of this, then there is a flow that allows each moment to unfold exactly as it is meant to, and I don’t have to hold the energy to make it happen, because no matter what I do it is going to happen.

I can relax. I can enjoy. I can breathe, and I can trust that what my children are experiencing is perfect and that they both know that I am available to guide, support, and witness all of it.

Both of my daughters have invited me into one of the most emotionally intimate relationships that exist between two people. What I have learned is that in order to be completely available to both of them, I have to be willing and open to look deeply inside myself — to welcome all of the good and not-so-great qualities that have made me who I am today. When I do this, then I am owning what has arisen for me on my path so that I am not projecting it onto theirs. I am examining all the hard emotions and sticky thoughts that I have held onto for one reason or another.

When I look into the eyes of my children I can see a reflection staring back at me that trusts that I will be available…that I will take care of them…that I will do the work that is needed to surrender into me, into the moment, into who they are so that I am present for each of them to blossom into the great teachers that they are and will continue to become.

Trusting that everything is happening exactly as it is going to and that I will know what to do in each moment is a lesson that I will take with me throughout the rest of my life. From the unconditional love my daughters offer me, I am at peace with who I am, and I offer this love back to both of them so that they may be held and supported in all that they do while they grow into the beautiful humans that they are.

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