Challenges · Communication · Safety and Empowerment

Why We Can’t Be Perfect, and Why We Shouldn’t Even Try

adventure-baby-beautiful-286625Yesterday a friend of mine was in a serious car accident with her family.

Although everyone was safe, she was frustrated and upset about physical conditions beyond her control that made it impossible for her to support her child through this trauma in the way she wanted to.

This made me think of all the things that stand in the way of my ideal self.

There are many struggles, both internal and external that prevent me from being the Mother I wish I could be all the time. At first I didn’t recognize this as perfectionism. Because I am not comparing myself to anyone else, not aspiring for someone else’s ideal.

I just want to be my best self.

All the time.

I don’t want to cope with health issues and life conditions that prevent me from giving my daughter every single thing she needs and deserves.

But of course this is the very definition of perfectionism. Because those causes and conditions that thwart me, as much as I don’t want to accept it, are a part of me. I can’t make them go away (though I’ve certainly tried). All I can do is integrate them, and be the best version of myself that I can be, knowing my best will look differently day to day.

There are times when I can’t fully meet my daughter’s needs, when I am flawed and limited, either physically or emotionally, due to conditions that are out of my power to change. Instead of pretending to be perfect, instead of trying to be someone without challenges, I can choose to be transparent. I can explain to my daughter that sometimes I am not able to do and be everything.

It’s a powerful thing to model acceptance of our limitations to our children, to give them the gift of knowing it’s okay not to be perfect. By example we can show them that challenges are a part of life, that we can’t control everything and we shouldn’t try.

All we can do is our best, moment to moment. And that’s enough. We are enough. And our children are too. No matter what.

 

Challenges · Communication · Safety and Empowerment

On the International Day of Pink, Let’s Teach Children that Real Friendship is Based on Respect and Kindness

Today is the International Day of Pink. It’s a day to work towards ending homophobia, transphobia and all forms of bullying and harassment in our schools and everywhere.

4.-Day-of-Pink_2018As I got my four year old daughter dressed in head to toe pink today we talked about what this day means. We discussed the importance of kindness, of asking others to join in, about helping those who may be left alone or excluded. We reflected on how people should be supported to love who they want to love, without being afraid. We talked about being brave and standing up to mean people.

And we also talked about remembering to choose friends who are kind, caring and who treat you well. We talked about what friendship is and what it isn’t and how friends ought to treat one another.

Years ago, when I was a classroom teacher I had a colleague with a son in daycare. She was complaining about her daycare’s request that he wear pink on the International Day of Pink. “This is so silly,” she said. “There’s no bullying in daycare.”

A nice thought, but untrue. The truth is, relational aggression starts young, emerging at the preschool stage.

When my daughter was in daycare, she developed a relationship with a girl who regularly manipulated her and took pleasure in her distress. One moment they were friends, the next my daughter was being frozen out.

On one occasion this girl convinced my daughter that her father didn’t love her. “He told me that!” she claimed. When my husband arrived to pick up my daughter, the girl continued her taunting in front of him, laughing as my daughter wept in confusion. “He said he doesn’t love you. I heard him.” Eventually, at home,  we were able to console our daughter and explain that some people choose to lie sometimes and choose to be mean. We don’t know why, but they do.

At that point I stepped in and spoke to her teachers. They supported me and created distance between the two girls. But my daughter continued to be pulled to this girl like a moth to a flame. At night she would cry in my arms and say “I have to show her how to be kind.”

No, I said. You don’t. That is not your job. If someone is mean or unkind to you over and over, you need to stop being friends with that person. They need to understand that friendship is a very special thing. You have to treat it with care.

Although the impulse to sympathize with bullies comes from a compassionate place, it sends the wrong message to those being victimized. When we teach children that they have to forgive continuously, that saying sorry is enough, that everyone is good deep down, that the bully is suffering too (all things that may or may not be true) then we imprint a pattern that can keep them from learning how to set boundaries and expect respect.

I want my daughter to grow up knowing her worth and knowing it not her job to save abusive people from themselves. The bully in her life this time was a young child, who with the right guidance from parents and educators will hopefully outgrow her mean girl behaviours.

But if I teach her now that she needs to tolerate that treatment, she will continue that pattern in future friendships and romantic relationships. She needs to learn now that it’s ok, critical in fact, to walk away from mean people. Anyone who fails to treat you with respect does not deserve to be in your life.

Can bullies change? Sure, maybe. I hope so. But it’s not the victimized child’s job to help them do it. Instead of downplaying harmful behaviours and making excuses for people who treat others badly, adults should step in to try to correct the behaviour, while making sure to validate those affected by affirming that no one is allowed to treat them this way.

With this approach, maybe we can wrest some of the power away from bullies, and work towards a safer, kinder world for our children and ourselves.

Please share your own thoughts on the International Day of Pink in the comments below. 

 

 

Challenges · Communication

Making Space for Your Child’s Anger

As a child I could throw a tantrum like no other. Like most children (and many adults), I didn’t know how to process anger. And when I acted out, the adults in my life responded with more anger.

It makes total sense. Anger is aggressive, combative and scary. Orbiting rage prompts our nervous system to react with pexels-photo-236215fight, flight, or freeze.

When a child is angry, adults usually engage with a fight response. Maybe it’s because a child’s rage can feel like a challenge to our authority. We instinctively feel we have to make our anger bigger than theirs so that they remember who is boss.

This response is deeply flawed. It is based on the assumption that the child is raging at you, and that this is about their respect for you, when it’s actually more about the fact that developmentally they don’t know how to calm down. When you respond with more anger, this only fuels the fire, making the situation worse than it needs to be.

And as far as authority goes, nothing diminishes your credibility as the alpha dog more than flying off the handle. The true pack leader is calm and assertive, putting everyone at ease because it’s clear they have everything under control.

I have worked hard to create an environment in my home where both safety and anger are honoured. Here’s what works for me when my four year old daughter gets mad.

Normalize Anger

Anger is not bad. It’s just a feeling like any other. Sometimes people process anger in unhealthy ways, but anger is not a bad thing. It just needs ventilation and a chance to move through the body. In our home we read a lot of books about feelings, some of our favourites are In My Heart and Today I Feel Silly. We talk about all the feelings, including anger, as just a part of being human.

Set Limits

Not every angry impulse is a productive one. Limits create safety for children and those around them. My daughter knows I will not allow her to use her hands to hurt someone. She can’t throw breakable things or engage in hazardous behaviour. She can’t direct her anger at people since it might scare them. Her feelings are always okay, but some actions are not.

Provide Tools

I teach my daughter strategies she can use when anger erupts.  We encourage her to get some space, punch pillows, throw soft toys and yell. When she gets mad she makes a beeline for her room and we can hear her wailing on her pillows, throwing teddy bears and shrieking in frustration. But not for long. After a brief spell, she emerges calm and contrite, like yesterday when she smiled and said proudly: “I got the anger out of my body mama.”

Don’t Mirror the Behaviour

When your child escalates, focus on calm. Feel your feet on the ground, keep your expression neutral and your voice even. Breathe. This simple (but not easy!) resistance to being a mirror is sometimes enough to throw a wrench in the spokes of a tantrum.

Don’t Take it Personally

As I learned from Dr. Deborah MacNamara in her book Rest, Play, Grow:

When we make sense of a child, when we start to understand the developmental reasons for their actions, their aggression can feel less personal, their opposition less provocative, and our focus can turn to creating the conditions that foster growth.

My daughter’s anger isn’t about me. It’s simply a natural reaction to being thwarted. It’s my role to help her make sense of her emotions and express them safely and appropriately.

Instead of fearing and silencing a child’s anger, we can teach them to process it effectively so they don’t grow up to become adults who can’t.

Do you have some great ways to help young people process anger in a constructive way? Please share them in the comments below.

Communication

When You Say Yes, Make it Count

Recently I attended a parenting workshop led by Patti and Colleen Drobot, from Drobot Counselling and The Neufeld Institute. Although I gained many insights from the session, I was most impacted by one thing the presenters said.

Holding the No

The group was discussing the importance of “holding the no,” meaning our calm, assertive no must be a final answer. The presenter added the following reminder:

When you can find a yes, make sure you give it enthusiastically.

This really struck me. As parents (and educators) we repeatedly get the message that when we say no, we should stick to it. This enables children to rest in the knowledge that we can take care of them. It tells them they can trust us to follow through.

But in all these discussions of no, we never get to yes.

What About Yes?

What about the times when we can find a yes for our children? How do we offer it? When your child asks hopefully if you want to play, what is the tone of your response? Do you jump up to join him as if you can’t possibly wait? Or do you reluctantly agree, sighing heavily, taking her hand but looking wistfully toward a task you’d rather be doing?

When we are communicating with our children, what we say is far less important than the tone and body language we use. No one, especially not a child, wants to feel as though we have something we’d rather do more than be with them.

A reluctant yes is no kind of yes at all.

pexels-photo-532389

 

Sometimes we absolutely need to say no. But when you can find a yes, really find it.

Say YES!

Make it Count

We need to be like golden retrievers for our children, greeting them at the door with pure excitement, giving them our time and  love with unabashed enthusiasm and joy.

The next time your child asks you for something, especially if involves
your time and attention, and you can find a yes, make it your goal to double the enthusiasm they used when asking you. Better yet, ask them first!

Say yes with everything you’ve got. It’s the only kind of yes that counts.

I’d love to hear your stories of saying yes enthusiastically. Please share them in the comments below