Category Archives: The Experience

Tantrums are Teaching Tools

11216521_10153303978851972_3647234326667884486_oI’ll crouch down as you stomp your feet on the hot pavement of the parking lot, your little face contorted with upset. You are trying to tell me something but your words are not coming and you are furious at the words that you cannot find.

I will count back from ten so that I do not use my words too soon.

“Keenie.” I will start after I wait a second or two longer.

That will be all that I say.

I will wait and watch your eyes.

“Keenie.” I will say, again. Your stomping stops. You stand there with your body rigid.

“Keenie, you are trying to tell me something.” I will say.

I see this path in my head as I wait to respond. As I wait to start acting.

She is miserable.

People stream around us. Cars pass us by. We are safely crouched here, time simply doesn’t matter. Watching eyes do not matter. I simply do not care.

I am parenting as though no one is watching.

Because I have decided that I do not care if anyone is.

I breathe. Her eyes are on me.

“Keenie, are you trying to tell me that you want something?” I ask.

She shakes her head no.

“Keenie, are you trying to tell me that you want to do something?” I ask.

Her frustration lifts a bit. She nods. Her face unsure.

“Do you know what you want to do?” I ask her.

She doesn’t.

The simple truth of it is that this is the time where she would have napped if she hadn’t stopped napping months ago. Instead she becomes cranky at this time on some of the days that we pass through.

She is not trying to get anything out of me. She is not trying to manipulate me. She is struggling with self regulation.

I am not struggling with self regulation. I’ve made the grown up choice to be calm.

“Would you like me to try to help you figure out what you want to do?” I ask her.

She nods.

“You can say ‘mommy, mommy, I am upset because I want to DO SOMETHING!” I suggest.

She repeats the words that I have given her.

I laugh and smile and start offering suggestions.

I’ve had people tell me that I should just ignore the tantrum. That I should punish the tantrum. That I should do all kinds of different things. That by staying calm and “rewarding” her through trying to figure out what it is that she wants, I am encouraging these outbursts.

This outburst of hers lasted all of two minutes, when it could have dragged on for much longer.

I am rewarding something. I’m rewarding her for trying to communicate even though she doesn’t understand what it is that she is upset about.

I am teaching her to say “Mommy, I’m upset.”

I know far too many adults that have to retreat into solitude with their upset  instead of saying to their husband or their relative or friend “Hey. I’m upset.”

I’d like to teach her other ways.

The time for that is now. Not when she’s grown bigger and is upset about things that I can relate to more easily.

The time is now, while her views of the world are still forming.

The Cautious Child: Big Changes in a Familiar Place

AlexanderAtKarateAlexander was three. We had been taking his older brother to karate lessons for a year. Alexander adored hanging out in the waiting area watching his brother through the big glass windows, copying the things that he was doing. He made friends with all of the adults and kids and knew them by name. Then the old location closed down and a new location opened up. All of the same people were there. The same kickboxing bags. The same mats on the floors. But re-arranged in a new building with new rooms and new walls.

I had told him “Karate moved to a new place.” That “We will be taking Isaac to karate here now.” We said goodbye to the old location, peeking through the windows at the empty rooms. We said hello to the new location each time we passed by. Alexander was excited. Until we walked into the new building. Alexander started to scream and try to climb up my leg. Keenie was tiny, still. In a wrap on my chest. I pulled Alexander up onto my hip and we walked outside together. “Come on. let’s take a walk.” I told him. I slid him down my side until he was standing next to me. He did not resist. I took his hand in mine and we walked over by some trees. His sobbing slowed and stopped.

“Alexander, you got really upset when we went inside.” I said. “We are going to go back inside now, super-fast, just to see where everything is and then we’ll come back out and go for another walk, okay?”

I carried him to the building again. We paused outside the door and I asked him if he was ready. We took a quick tour and I pointed out the kickboxing bags. “The punching bags are over there, now.” I told him. We found the office space. ‘And look, it’s the desk where Joshu works.’ The  locker rooms. The bathroom. The water fountain. “Would you like to get a drink?” He clings to me in response. Not yet.

We walk outside again. He relaxes. We walk around near the trees for a few minutes and look at rocks, at bugs, at leaves, at a little dried up stream bed full of rocks and mud.

When we go back inside he knows where everything is and he is calm. I carry him through the building pointing everything out. Now we are looking for familiar faces so that we can say hi. His body is relaxed in mine, now. He isn’t clinging to me. Soon he kicks to get down and holds my hand. Then soon after that he is playing like nothing has changed.

How Do I Deal With Judgement as a Parent?

A friend recently asked Alex how I deal with judgement.

Listening to him explain it from the outside was interesting. I guess that what it looks like is a bit different from what it feels.

He described a woman who decided that judgement didn’t necessarily matter and that wasn’t going to let it get in her way. I guess the whole “dance like no one is watching” thing.

In reality I decided that judgement didn’t change anything. I surrendered while choosing to stay true to myself.

Breastfeeding in public, for example.

Yes. I understand that if I nurse my infant in public some people will stare. Some people will be uncomfortable. Some people will want me to cover up. Some people will want me to go nurse in the bathroom. Some people will think I should just stay home. Some people will think that I should pump and use a bottle. Some people will smile. Some people will grin. Some people will give me a thumbs up. Some people won’t notice. Some will feel a sadness because it was something that they never got to experience. Most people won’t care. Somewhere in there a random pervert may pop up who finds breastfeeding erotic because he hasn’t been exposed to it the way he would have been if we lived in a society that treated breastfeeding like the normal every day part of life that it is.

I accept all of that. The choice that I make is made for many reasons. Not many people that pass through my life in those tiny moments that overlap… No. Wait. NONE of those people… Would sit down and say “Hey, I noticed that you’re nursing in public. I’m really curious about that because…” There’s no discussion. They have their feelings without any understanding. And the feelings of each person passing by covers a whole big spectrum of things.

I feel all of it, too. I feel creeped out when I see someone staring with a particular type of stare. I feel happy when someone smiles. I feel that sharp jab of shame and embarrassment when someone stares at me with a wilting glare. The one time I was told that I could not nurse in public I felt confused and singled out.

Or public tantrums. Some say you should spank your child out of those. Some say that you should ignore them. Some say you should just give in and give the child the candy or the toy and get out of the store as quickly as you can. Some say that you should always leave the second your child starts to cry. I feel deep down that a parents primary responsibility is to their child. So how I handle tantrums reflects that. I will try to bring my child off to the side to help them calm down. I will be there with empathy and with love. If my child needs to leave the store because it is overwhelming for my child, then we will leave. If my child is able to process things and continue shopping then I will try to do that.

I feel all of it. I feel the people that are staring with annoyed expressions on their face because the quiet calm of a grocery store is momentarily disrupted. I know that some people feel that I should pick my child up and storm out to teach a lesson. I know that some people are sympathetic but would make a different choice. And I know some people are in awe of my calm and patience.

I feel all of those things. And I push them as far away as I can because I want to focus on the children that are there with me.

It’s not that I don’t mind judgement. I’m riddled with anxiety over it, actually. It feels sad and bad and it makes me mad. (And all sorts of other things that don’t rhyme, too.) So how do I deal? I decided that judgement didn’t need to change how I did things. The choices that I make and the things that I do are well thought out and backed by many many good reasons.

I don’t dance like no one is watching. I dance with the knowledge that I cannot control the eyes that are viewing me. I can dance with shame and sadness. I can dance only hidden away. Or I can dance with the belief that I, as a human being, deserve the joy of dancing even if I can’t dance along the standards of someone else. Even if I can’t dance to all of the different tunes that someone might prefer, in the way that they would dance.

I have decided that I have the right to my own existence.

I will go out in public with frizzy hair if my hair is frizzy that day. I will nurse in public. I will crouch down with my child as they throw a tantrum, and I will be as compassionate as I darned well please. I know that of all the eyes that watch me there are so many opinions washing over me at any given moment.

I will be judged.

I’d rather be judged based on the choices that I have made out of love. I would rather be consistent with my children no matter who is watching or not watching.

It’s not that I don’t care about judgement. It’s that I allow myself to be judged. I let it wash over me. Later I may cry. But in those moments throughout my days I will be proud of myself for staying true to the things that I believe in and for living my life as though it is my own.

Yes. “As though” it is my own. This is MY life. Mine.

MINE.

These children are my children. My family.

And these are my choices.

I own my choices.

No one else has my permission to make them for me.

Pediatric Dentist Interview Questions

I was asked to share my list of pediatric dentist interview questions.

1. How do you help a reluctant child feel safe?
2. Are parents allowed in the room during dental checkups?
3. What types of pain relief, anesthesia and sedation does your office use?
4. Are parents allowed in the room during sedated procedures?
5. How do you generally approach treatment for cavities in young children?
6. Does your office use restraints such as a papoose board? Under what conditions would these restraints be used, and are parents informed of their use in advance?
7. If my child becomes scared and I am not in the room how will it be handled?
8. If my child objects to something or is afraid of something how will your staff handle this?
9. Does your office have a plan in place in case of an emergency related to sedation?
10. Does your office have a plan in place in case of an allergic reaction?
11. Do you have any suggestions for how I can prepare my child for their first visit?
12. At what age does your office start performing routine x-rays, and what is the schedule that you follow?
13. What filling options does your office use?
14. At what age does your office begin fluoride treatments?
15. What will my child’s first appointment be like? (Will you use a toothbrush and dental floss, or will you use equipment that makes noise?)

When Loving You Does Not Come Easy

ExhaustedLove
One day Alex texted me while I was trying to calm Keenie, who was teething. I couldn’t respond with a text back so I sent him a picture instead. I am exhausted. Frazzled. That day was not easy.

Sometimes I have to remind myself. I love you. I never forget the words, but sometimes the feeling seems strangely distant for something that I know to be so intense.

It does not always come unbidden the way the first rush of love did. It does not surge ahead loudly the way annoyance, frustration and anger can when I am stretched thin. It is something easy to see and feel and hear and know when life is calm and happy.

It doesn’t disappear in chaos, though. It doesn’t blink off when things are rough. It does not go silent. It does not get shut off in that in-between.

It just requires pause.

Like how I may freeze my body in the noise and try to slow my breathing to catch the quietest sounds. Like a heart-lifting song at a volume and frequency that I feel I can only hear between the beats of my heart and the sound of my breathing. Like a tiny twinkling of light in the dark that I lose sight of when I blink, and that I must find again.

That rush of love is always there.

I sometimes need to slow down. Bury my face in my child’s hair. Whisper “I love you so soo sooo much.” Slow my breathing, my movements, my thoughts.

It is right there, waiting for me. It never goes away.

I just forget to look sometimes.

I’m Not Afraid to Say No. (I Just Try Not To)

noThere’s a lot of talk about “No”. About why not to use it, about why to use it, about being “afraid” of it..

It’s really not that big of a deal.

It’s just that as a word it’s a closed door. Heavy, cumbersome solid wood hanging on a rusted hinge and squeaking uncomfortably against its frame for which it is ill-fit.

In the middle, printed clearly, are two letters. “NO”.

No! Not for baby. Cut it out. Don’t do that! Stop that! Don’t! Stop! Not a toy! You’ll break that! Don’t climb! No Jumping! Not for you! Put it down!

It’s a door that, when slammed shut, is often mistaken for teaching. For being firm. For setting limits.

Sure. It teaches. It teaches “no”.

Which is fine. Many people feel that “no” is a good word and that in the early years it’s impossible to over-use.

It is not the approach that I have chosen.

In that thin strip of empty space at the bottom of the door, curious shadows dance and a bright enticing light shines. There’s a world of wonders, and the promise of those things will send children to that doorknob time and time again until they are strong enough to be able to pull it open and sneak past.

And then they will. Old enough to get in trouble that they lack the knowledge to understand.

What comes on the other side of that door? When you step past that first reaction with your child and you explore that thing hand-in-hand, side by side?

Many things.

“Look. See?”

“Can I show you how?”

“Right there. Look. It is sharp. It is hot. Ouch!”

“This is what being careful looks like.”

“Hold on to it like this, see? Yes, just like that.”

“If you fall, fall away from the edge.”

“Mind the edges.”

“That is a narrow space to stand. It is high up. Is there anything to hold onto?”

“Look? See? That pulls away easily, then you will fall.”

“Maybe if…”

“That is fragile. See how carefully I pick it up? And then it goes down slow..”

“I don’t think Alexander likes it when you do that.”

“Does she look like she is having fun?”

“Oh dear, I dropped a glass and it broke. I have to clean it up carefully because all the pieces are sharp like splinters.”

“Oh no, this room is a mess! We cannot find anything. Let me show you where each little thing lives so we can put them all away.”

“How do you think we can…?”

“Can I help you?”

“I’m watching. You’re doing it safely. I’ll let you know if you need to be more careful.”

It’s not a tear-free approach. Sometimes things get broken. But I’m pretty sure that my life isn’t tear-free either, and sometimes things get broken.

And I learn from those times.

So do they.

My job isn’t to say no every five minutes. It’s to keep them safe from the unacceptable consequences while teaching them how to do all the things that they want to do. Safely.

Day Two: Share One Thing that Has Helped You Become a More Gentle Parent

My Share:
For me, one of the things that has made the most impact on my ability to be a more gentle parent is this: I made the choice to try and model a different way of dealing with mistakes. What would normally happen when I made a mistake is I would become very frustrated and snappish and singleminded about fixing my mistake. I would get annoyed at my pets, at my kids, anyone who was near me when the mistake was made. This has been my response since I was a child.

Now, when I make a mistake I try to focus on teaching my children about fixing mistakes. I will tell them that I have made a mistake. I have dropped something. I have made a mess. I have done something wrong on the project that I’m working on. I will tell them that I am frustrated. I will talk them through what I did, what I should have done, what the cleanup will be, and then I will follow through by taking care of the mistake that I have made.

By viewing it as a teaching experience for them and consciously and deliberately slowing down and involving them, I am modeling behaviors that will help them a lot as they get older.  As an added bonus, when I make mistakes I’m finding that I am forgiving myself a lot faster. I’m not feeling like snapping at everyone. And I’m slowing down to think about what will actually help the situation instead of getting upset with the situation and myself and sometimes making everything worse instead of better.

Your turn to share!
In celebration of the Nurshable Facebook page hitting 10K likes, we’re doing five days of sharing stories about gentle parenting, and a give-away at the end of each day.

I’ve shared my story above, you can share your story in the comments below and I’ll use random.org to pick a random comment and the commenter will receive one of each of the things that I sell in the Nurshable store. (One copy of Keenie + Zeebie, One copy of Mac & Cheese Please, and two Wait It Out bracelets.) You can visit the Nurshable store by clicking here.

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Day One: Share a Time When Gentle Parenting Helped You and Your Child Get Through a Difficult Situation

My share:
He was four and a half and having a rough week. He asked for a specific lunch and I agreed we could go to the grocery store together to get the lunch that we both wanted. When we got there it was cold and raining and I rushed in without listening to something that he was saying. He wanted to ride in the car cart and I had grabbed the regular cart that was closest to the door.

He melted down in frustration.

I wanted to turn around and just go home. Instead I walked with him over to the side of the store. I got down to his level. I listened to what he was trying to tell me. I waited for him to be done talking. I apologized for not listening, and I asked him if he could forgive me. He said he forgave me. I explained that it was super-cold and rainy outside and that the car carts were parked where all the rain was coming down so they were all wet.

He listened. And he understood. We went around the store getting the rest of the things that we had come for instead of immediately leaving the way I thought we might have to. He just needed me to slow down, listen, and explain.

Your turn to share!
In celebration of the Nurshable Facebook page hitting 10K likes, we’re doing five days of sharing stories about gentle parenting, and a give-away at the end of each day.

I’ve shared my story above, you can share your story in the comments below and I’ll use random.org to pick a random comment and the commenter will receive one of each of the things that I sell in the Nurshable store. (One copy of Keenie + Zeebie, One copy of Mac & Cheese Please, and two Wait It Out bracelets.) You can visit the Nurshable store by clicking here.

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JustAFewShortMoments

The Pace of My Life Had Changed

JustAFewShortMomentsWith my first child it was all so rushed together. It felt like infancy would never end. Wakeups and diaper changes and naps and pajamas covered in spitup. Both his pajamas and mine. I was waiting for sleep and wondering if he would still be nursing when he left for college. The days seem strangely long because I was suddenly living at a infant’s life-pace after so many years of living at the speed of an adult. I didn’t have the space to breathe, even though each hour felt like a day and each day felt like a week all on its own. Back to back growth spurts. Back to back diapers. Back to back milestones. Back to back wakeups. Trying to learn why my child was crying, what to do about it, and then as soon as I learned it, it changed. I wanted time to slow down to give me the space to respond, but I wanted time to speed back up, too. Speed back up to naptime. Speed back up to bedtime. Speed back up to sometime when I could breathe for a few minutes before it all started all over again.

The pace of my life had changed.

And then suddenly it changed again.

He was three. Within the span of a week or two he was all done with diapers, all done with nursing, all done with waking up at night, all done with sleeping in my bed.

It feels so endless when they are small. But then you realize, looking back, that it was just two years. Just three years. Just however long it was. It’s flabbergasting because you felt like you were moving through a decade but then you look back and it feels like a few short days. Just a few short days that you want back for a moment more.

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Is It Spoiling?

20140630_063009Is it spoiling?

Is it spoiling when a small child whines because his teeth hurt and he hasn’t developed the coping skills or perspective yet to know that it is a small and manageable pain? And you hug him close and show him that you will always be there for him if he is hurting?

Is it the same as running to a child that has bumped his head and trying to smother them with comfort before they’ve even figured out if it hurts or not, just because you’re afraid that they will ever feel pain and you can’t deal with the fear of what it is that they’re feeling?

Is it really the same as giving a child a toy that you don’t want to buy and don’t need to buy because you’ve said no and he’s pitched a fit that you don’t want to deal with?

Is that the same as telling that disappointed child that you understand how upset they are, but that buying everything all the time is not healthy or necessary and that you won’t be buying that toy today? But that you will be there for them while they are disappointed, just like you will be there for them if they don’t get the job that they applied for or they don’t get into the college that they really wanted to go to?

Little kids get upset by little things because they are little. Because their brains haven’t fully developed yet and because their lives haven’t given them the perspective to know the difference between what is little and what is big. They learn that as they grow. They learn that from your responses. You can honor the fact that something is BIG BIG BIG to your child while still showing through your calmness that it’s not the end of the world. And you can show them how to deal with those disappointments by showing them how you deal with disappointments and little ouches in your own life.

You show them tough love by dealing with YOUR life well. Not by diminishing the experiences of theirs. Be tough when you drop something heavy on your toe and breathe while the pain passes instead of cursing. Be calm when you are disappointed. Be as rock solid as you can be, and they will grow to emulate that as long as you show them how. That’s tough love. By being tough while understanding that toughness is something that they grow into, and by showing them along the way what they can do to become like you.

Otherwise “tough love” is just being mean to someone little because they aren’t as tough as you’ve grown to be.