Category Archives: modeling

How To Stop Yelling

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Do you want to keep your cool when life isn’t going your way? Do you wish you didn’t bark at the kids when they’ve done something you dislike?

Visualization can help.

Visualization helps us improve our performance. Long-touted as an essential tool by athletes and professional musicians, we now know that positive thinking is not the reason that people feel they perform better with these techniques. Visualization is effective because thinking about practicing a skill changes the brain as if you had actually practiced the skill.

This is fantastic news if you struggle with any skill in your life–not just physical ones. Using visualizations can help you overcome social anxiety, make healthy choices, and best of all, keep calm during stressful times.

Instead of picturing yourself kicking the perfect touchdown into the goal (sports isn’t my thing), you can picture yourself responding with composure to life’s hiccups.

“Negative” Visualization

I tend on the negative side of things. I tend to worry more about very bad things happening than hoping very good things will. I tend to want to diminish my worst behavior and ignore whether my best behavior gets better. This is a default, not a recommendation–but there is something to be said for paying close attention to your liabilities.

While I visualize smiling each day while I do my exercise, I spend more time visualizing reacting better in my worst situations. Better still, I try to focus on being the kind of person who responds rather than reacts.

Try to think of a single, concrete situation that you respond poorly to. Do you yell whenever a glass of milk is spilled? Do you shut down whenever your child says unkind words to you? Do you hide if the house gets too loud? Just start with one thing.

And then picture yourself responding to that situation in the ideal way.

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Imagining Imagining

For some of us, that is impossible. Calmly reacting in a threatening situation isn’t “who we are”. We can’t even come up with a fantasy world where that would happen.

So–and I know this sounds silly, but trust me–imagine that you can imagine yourself responding perfectly. This worked for me.

I could not imagine being the kind of person who could give an uninflected “Yes” or “No” to questions that start with, “Did you remember to…?”

But I could imagine a theoretical world where I could imagine that possibility.

And now, at least some of the time, I am that kind of person. I’ve spent a minute or two for months picturing Amelia effortlessly saying, “No, I didn’t remember. I’ll do that tomorrow,” or “Yes, I did!” without any resentment in her voice.

Try to use visualization to improve your behavioral floor–the worst of your reactions. Practicing in the moment is often too hard because the reason you react so poorly is that you are hurt, scared, angry, or sad. Being removed from the situation allows us a safe place to exercise our self-control.

 

How Busy Moms Can Make Time

Self-care sounds great to everyone. Of course you want to meditate. Of course you want to exercise. Of course you want to feel better.

Of course you can’t find the time.

More often than not, people don’t make changes until they really need to. I am lucky because I need to do these things. I have watched my depression and anxiety take away my ability to leave the house. I have watched them destroy the love someone had for me. I have watched them fault-find me to the point where the only thing I could see in myself was brokenness.

My biggest fear is that I will pass those tendencies onto my children, have my family suffer through my struggle with them, and slowly poison my relationship.

Because I have seen myself at my worst and she is so small and in such incredible pain, I know that I have to be vigilant.

This may not be the case for you.

So for you, it is hard to find time.

“Necessity is the mother of invention”

My need does not manifest additional hours in the day or a child who needs my attention less. The demand forces me to find a way to find the time. With one child it may be easier (or harder, depending on who you talk to or what age they are!), but it is possible for everyone to make time for themselves.

Here are a few ways to find the time and energy you need to practice self care. I did not invent these ways or even perfect them. I just use them and I think they could help you.

At the end, I’ll go through some common objections.

Routines

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This is by far the most important. We thrive on habits. Doing the same things over and over again at the same time doesn’t just save time and energy. Repetition and predictability lend a hand to emotional regulation. Too much stuff, too many choices, and moving too fast sap you of time, vigor, and will power.

When we have routines and habits, we no longer have to decide whether or not we are going to do something. The decision is already made for us. This brings you into automaticity, offloading a huge cognitive burden. You don’t have to think about turning off the lights and locking your door when you leave the house. You want more things in your life to happen with the same ease.

I am going to go through my schedule with you and then try to prompt you to think about your own.

Daily schedule: Each morning, I feed Zander when he wakes up and spend about 40 minutes doing The Miracle Morning. He’s only 6 months old. Partially personality and partially training, Zander has come to expect a lot of alone time when he wakes up. I set him up with one open ended toy and get to work.

Near the end of my TMM, baby boy starts complaining a bit. That’s okay because now it is his turn to have a story. We read one of his three books.

After story time, we do morning pick up and throw the diapers in the wash.

Zander starts complaining because it is time for some rest. We have the routine of taking a one mile walk to get him the first nap of the day. If I try to stay in the house, he cries a lot. “This isn’t how the day goes, Mom!” he seems to say. On cold or lazy days, routines may feel like they work against you.

We get back from our walk and baby stays asleep. I usually work for about an hour. Zander wakes up, eats. I have my breakfast. We hang the diapers to dry.

It is about 9 or 10am and I haven’t thought at all yet. I haven’t made one decision. But I have already done yoga, meditated, walked, read, journaled, cleaned, done laundry, spent time-in with the baby, and had breakfast.

After that, we often have something outside to do depending on the day of the week.

Whenever that is finished, around 2 or so, there is prep work for dinner. Then there’s some flexible downtime. Between 4 and 5 o’clock, it is time to start cooking.

We basically do this every day.

What things can you do at the same time, in the same way, every day? Is there always picking up that needs to be done? Are there car rides? Is there a time when everyone gets grumpy and needs to slow down?

Weekly schedule: For my family, we have Free Forest School on Monday and Friday mornings. Monday afternoon is grocery shopping. Thursday mornings, we take a 3-to-4 mile walk with a friend. We do a workout with a friend every Tuesday morning. Saturday is laundry day. Sunday is our day with Dad.

Currently, the other days of the week are “empty.” We might add in one more activity day but we will always have an at-home day scheduled.

What things can you do at the same time, in the same way, on a particular day of the week? Do you have a story time at your local library? Do you have a chapter of Free Forest School in your area? Any friends who might like to meet you every Thursday at the same park at 9am?

Monthly/Quarterly schedule: These larger rhythms can be an anticipated and understood as part of your regular rhythm.

You might have Family Board Meetings, a day when dad watches the kids and you get a massage, or date night. Schedule it regularly.

How many meals does your family really eat? Stop guessing which ones you are going to make and just plan to do Taco Tuesdays or Chicken-and-rice every third Thursday of the month. You don’t have to do all of the meal prep (although maybe you do, and maybe you can do it as a family every Friday). Just simplify your grocery shopping and cooking habits. Maybe plan Spontaneous Saturday where you make something new.

Once these things are scheduled and routine, you no longer have to figure out whether or not you’re going to do them. It is already decided. This keeps your kids calm, too. We prefer familiarity—it makes us comfortable. This preference is called the mere-exposure effect in psychology. When things are routine and familiar, our stress lowers. Predictability makes it less likely for you or your kid to fly off the handle.

Review Your Time

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By our nature, humans think things take them way less time than they actually do. We say we will be ready in ten minutes but we’re nowhere to be seen for twenty. If you cannot see it in yourself, you surely have a sister, husband, or child who does this.

Try to take note of how you’re actually using your time. Download Moment or QualityTime on your phone and see how much time you spend staring at your phone. Though you feel like you aren’t on your phone often, a few minutes every hour adds up quickly. Delete apps that suck up time.

Use a timer for a day or two. How long do you actually take to get stuff done?

Make a list of how you want to use your time. Make a list of how you use your time. Compare the two and adjust.

Arguing with your kids is another article, but figure out whether you care about the argument of are still defending your time on principle.

I had to delete Facebook, Facebook messenger, and Pinterest off of my phone. I also had to cut way down on streaming 30 Rock from my phone.

I don’t think all “mindless” time is bad. I still do love watching my shows and I give myself time to do it. I just try to do it less.

Plan Your Days

This could maybe go under routine, but deserves a second category because not all plans are routines and routines don’t take up our whole day.

Figure out what you’re going to do each day. A lot of people feel like the best way to do this is to make a goals list the night before. That way, when you wake up in the morning, you already know what you have to do. I’ve heard of people planning their day down to the half hour.

I am pretty relaxed in comparison. I jot down all of the non-routine things I want to do for the day on a little notepad. I don’t write “make dinner” because of course I am going to make dinner. Things like sweep floors, work on Mark’s project, respond to best friend’s messages are listed. I don’t schedule times for them but maybe you should. Think about your own preferences, how well you go-with-the-flow.

This also helps offload the cognitive burden of remembering things. The less things swirling around in your head, the more present you can be. Maybe you can remember everything you have to do today. But why would you when you don’t have to?

Sleep

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Do you know what gives you more time in the day? Sleeping more. Using time to gain time seems counter-intuitive but in this particular case, it is true. Being under-rested takes up a huge amount of your time (and obviously, energy).

Losing just two hours of sleep nightly hinders your thinking and memory. It also makes you more likely to get into a car accident (and I’m guessing, many other kinds, like dropping-the-jar-and-having-to-clean-up-the-mess-accidents). You take longer to heal from illness and injury. Your will power is depleted. You gain weight. You give in when you should have held your ground.

Being sleep deprived makes you unable to tell that you’re sleep deprived. You’re kidding yourself if you think you’re doing well on 5 hours of sleep—something unhealthy has become your normal.

What does getting enough sleep look like?

For me and my 6-month-old who co-sleeps and breastfeeds on demand, getting enough sleep means getting in bed at least 10 hours before I expect to wake up. If we are sick, teething, or going through a developmental milestone, 12 hours.

Objections

Q: I am a free spirit. I don’t want to schedule everything!

Do you know the part about being a free spirit that sucks? Being emotionally volatile. If your spirit is caged by having a plan at 3 p.m. on Saturdays, how free is it?

Q: I’ve tried building routines but they just keep falling apart.

On average, it takes 66 days to develop a new habit. That means it stops being so hard after about 2 months. How long have you tried?

If you have given it your all, consider who you are trying to build schedules and routines with. Maybe those people you deeply care for are better spur-of-the-moment friends.

Q: My kids will be bored always doing the same things.

My answer to this is twofold. First: What is wrong with boredom? Boredom can trigger very imaginative play.

My second answer is that they won’t be. Even if you scheduled most of your time, if that schedule includes a good deal of unstructured, free time—at home day, Free Forest School day, day at the park– your child is going to get a huge amount of variety. Just as your kid enjoys hearing the same story, so they will enjoy going to the same places. Life has a huge amount of variety on offer without us having to go out of the way to create it.

Please like and share this post.

What objections popped up in your mind while reading this? Please leave a comment. I would love to help you jump over that hurdle.

SAVERS and CHARMS

Each morning for several months now, I perform my SAVERS.

This is an acronym created by Hal Elrod that spells out things you need to do in your routine each morning to be at your best—to have your Best Day Ever. I have spoken about Hal Elrod on this blog before. I really enjoy his energy, and find his podcasts interesting. He has guests on to discuss family and business life.

I am a strong believer that a lot of work that applies to business and leadership also applies to the family.

SAVERS Stands For:

S- Silence: Sitting in prayer or meditation

A – Affirmations: Stating your goals and knowing you can accomplish them

V- Visualization: Visualizing the path to success

E- Exercise: This one is pretty self-explanatory

R – Reading: Take a glance at some kind of self-help or self-development book or article

S- Scribing: A word used for writing, because SAVERW didn’t look as good. This usually means journaling.

I think the way that visualizations and affirmations are done in this routine are far better than any I have heard of before. Visualization should not just be the end goal, but the process of getting there. Affirmations should not be passive–”Money flow to me”–and they should not lie–”I am rich.” Instead, they should be goals, with details on how to reach them, and the confidence that you can.

My TMM

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For instance, one of my morning affirmations is:

“I am worthy and capable of creating the life that I want. I have all the tools that I need to be an excellent mother. I will respond sensitively to my son’s cues. I will raise him to have balance, resistance, insight, and compassion. I will do this by helping him to identify his emotions in his body, helping him see them in others. I will be an emotional coach. I will create a secure attachment. I will be the calm in his storm.”

I have others for being an excellent partner, making friends, being a blogger, being fit, creating a warm home environment, etc.

On an ideal day, I do 20 minutes of yoga each day, followed by visualizations and affirmations. Then I do 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation. I do a bit of gratitude journaling, and then write my daily goals and evaluate the previous day’s successes and shortcomings. a few minutes of gratitude journaling. I usually read a parenting, self-development, or entrepreneurship book.

Some days are less perfect. I wake up tired and feeling lousy. I put my son on my chest and do 5 minutes of loving-kindness meditation so I can forgive myself. I get up and stretch. I close my eyes while I picture my future, and say my most important affirmation—the one about being a mother. I read one page of a book, write down 3 things I’m grateful for, and get started with my day.

Some days are completely wonky and it takes me all day to finish my mourning routine.

Difficulties and Energy

It is hard for me to overstate how much better my life feels since I began doing this. I love having made a habit of it, and I have more energy each day. I started while I was 38 weeks pregnant because my energy levels were quickly declining, and I was so pleased with the results that.

Since then, I started my blog, have lost all of my pregnancy weight and more (four-month postpartum), made friends with new people—which I had avoided doing for the year previous in my new location—and began freelance writing.

I have remained calm and energized through all of the struggles of new parenting. My son is on his four-month sleep regression, so I haven’t slept for more than two hours straight for over three weeks. But I feel fine.

Right after I finished doing the laundry, he pooped on the bed when I was changing him. I could breathe.

He wants mom and mom alone, all of the time right now. I can appreciate this short season of his life—even if it is sometimes a bit exhausting!

This is everything I wanted out of parenting, and I give partial credit to The Miracle Morning.

CHARMS

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TMM has many spin-offs to help different people in different areas of their lives, whether it is writers, entrepreneurs, or millionaires. Lindsay McCarthy created The Miracle Morning For Parents and Families

In it, she details a miracle morning routine more suited to children. Her daughter was three and her son was seven when they started the routines. Some people say that they have started with their two-year-olds.

Instead of the SAVERS, though, children perform CHARMS.

CHARMS stands for:

C – Creativity: Let your children engage each morning in some kind of creative activity. Whether that is drawing, painting, or playing instruments.

H – Health: This includes exercise, with an emphasis on diet. I think this HIIT workout for children is a great way to teach them exercise. Exercise and diet both contribute to our well being and ability to regulate emotions.

A – Affirmations: A child doesn’t have to be as specific in their goals. Help them think of ways that they like to be. “I am going to be helpful today by cleaning toys up with my sister,” or “I am going to be brave today by trying a new thing.”

R – Reading: Reading as a family is an amazing experience and one that is highly correlated with academic success. Try to carve out some time to read as a family. Older children may enjoy reading by themselves.

M – Meditation: This combines visualizations and silence. Some children might enjoy sitting and meditation. But many will not. Consider telling your children a calming story while they keep their eyes closed and picture it. Listen to the Peace Out podcast if you aren’t much of a storyteller yourself.

S – Service: Be of service to others. This could be doing chores (which Lindsay calls Family Contributions) or any other way your children or you can come up with that involves meeting the needs and desires of others.

You need to make this fun for your children, not a chore. Playfulness keeps children interested. It is also their primary way of learning, especially under seven-years-old. It can’t be something that mom and dad force on their kids.

The SAVERS and CHARMS will set you and your children up for The Best Day Ever so that you can have The Best Lives Ever.

Something I’ll Teach My Children

I’m a woo-free natural mama. I don’t believe in the pseudo-science surrounding a lot of the prescriptions. I try to do my research, but I don’t “f**king love science.” I am not interested in raising my children to create a better, more caring world. I don’t care about the environment.

I am handling motherhood in a certain way and my son is being raised in a certain way so that I can feel good, and so that he can be strong and get what he wants out of the world.

I happen to have been raised without using much over-the-counter medicine and didn’t go to the doctor often because of who my mother is (thanks!) She isn’t anti-Western medicine—and neither am I. There are just a lot of things that can be done before you take antibiotics.

I am not pro or anti vaccine. I am not for “informed choice”. I am happy to be a free rider on the herd immunity that our nation provides. Nobody likes a free-rider, but everyone wants to be one. Our son will be getting some vaccinations; but that isn’t my point.

Whatever my choice, I will not be make it because I have a fear or autism or the heavy metals or cancer. It is because I can.

My children will be unschooled. This isn’t because, as many seem to think, because unschooled children are bastions of liberal ideology.

I am unschooling because I want my children to enjoy learning. I want to be the person to give them those opportunities. I want to influence their ideas more than other people. I want to have more say in their peer group.

I am unschooling because I want my children to be competent and confident in making their own decisions, and never have their curiosity taken way from them. I want them to remain in a growth mindset. I want them to compete on their own terms.

I am not unschooling because I want my children to take better care of the animals and the environment.

I want emotionally healthy children who are amicable, cooperative, and giving. To this end, I am raising them in the gentle parenting style, as advised by people like Dr. Daniel Siegel, the inventor of the field of interpersonal neurobiology, and Dr. John Gottman, one of the lead researchers in family systems, because I want my children to be able to get ahead in life. It just so happens that these skills are the skills of winners. While takers usually end up somewhere in the middle of the race of life, the givers end up at the top and bottom. I want my children at the top.

If, on the other hand, being at the top and being happy and fulfilled meant being ruthless and violent, then I would raise my children to be ruthless and violent.

While some might find this a dim view on why to raise my children in the way that I do, I find that ultimately, pragmatism towards one’s values carries you further than ephemeral ideas and reaching for the ideal. It is close to home that I want my son to be successful. It is much further away that I want Earth to be loved and respected so that it is a beautiful paradise for seven generations down the line.

The more abstract and idea, the less you get feedback from it in your environment. The less you get positive feedback, the harder it is to remain steadfast in your approach.

I will tell my children that we did all of these things because it is what felt good to us, and we thought it was the best way to make them strong and to want to continue a relationship with us in the future. I will make it clear that there is no shame in approaching things from a selfish angle, and the closer to home you make your goals, the more likely you are to achieve them. These are a few among the many great lessons I choose to model—and later, discuss—with my children.

How To Get Your Partner to Parent the Same

I can’t get my husband to stop barking at the children.”

“My partner won’t listen to me or read any of the books I have asked him to.”

“My boyfriend keeps telling my son that he’s a ‘big boy now’ and I think it is hurting his confidence. How can I stop him?”

Frequently on parenting groups, we see these sorts of complaints and questions. A mother has decided on principles of interaction with her children, and the father is unwilling to follow the same path. The mother is distraught. Very often, distraught enough to be considering leaving her partner.

So, the question is, how do you get your partner on board with your parenting style?

My gut reaction—everyone’s gut reaction—is to say model the appropriate behavior. We learn better as children with modeling, and we learn better as adults with modeling. But in saying this, we leave out an important element of why people follow modeled behavior so well. They see the exact steps to take, and they see that it works.

If I wanted to learn how to make a cake, and someone modeled for me how to make a pie, I might be grateful for their effort, but I would not then follow their instructions. It was not what I wanted, so using their guidance for my ends is useless.

This is why mother’s will often say they already model and it doesn’t seem to be working. Why, oh why does he not see what I’m doing? How is he not compelled to do the same?

One option is that you have different values about what you want for your children.

More likely, you have different values about how you want to feel about how you treat your children.

I believe both parents, in most relationships, have their children’s best interest at heart. But I believe mother’s often want their relationship to be like a friendship. They want their relationship to be sweet and caring and empathetic. They are often liable to ignore the results that they are getting out of their interactions with their children, and how they are effecting their behavior. They are dedicated to certain principles and feelings, sometimes at the cost of what is actually best for the child in the long run.

If your partner sees you being a “gentle parent” towards your child, but your child is often out-of-control—both his own and yours—he is extremely unlikely to be convinced that this gentle parenting approach is for him, or really even for his child. He will not want to parent that way, and he may even begin to try to act as a counterbalance to permissiveness and lack of leadership, being harsher than he would otherwise.

And, perhaps, you seeing his harshness in response to your gentleness makes you double down and be even softer.

If I want to bake a cake and you hand me a book on how to make a pie, I am not going to read that book. It isn’t useful to me.

Feeling that we have the answers, feeling morally upright and indignant, is very appealing. Especially when you know that you’re on the right track. A half truth can sometimes be worse than a whole lie because reality will confirm that you’re doing something right.

I wholly agree that anyone who is interested in gentle parenting is gleaning some very important truths about the best way to raise children; with secure attachment, with emotional coaching, with loving care and openness. But they’re often missing leadership, another big part of the equation.

Before you try to model harder that your method is right, have a discussion about what values it is you are trying to raise your children with. From there, you can discuss why it is that he feels that your approach is lacking in accomplishing those goals.

Chances are, you will find that you both have the same values around what you want for your children. This is for two reasons. One if affiliative mating; we tend to date and breed with those who are like us.

But even more than this, it is because we generally all want the same things for our children. We want them to be emotionally healthy, able to pursue the things they want in life, for them to value their relationship with us, to be resilient, healthy. While which things you value most may differ, it is likely that the fundamental desires you have are the same.

A discussion can lead to gaining mutual respect for each other’s positions. You may even find that you give up your efforts to convert him to your ways, because you can see that there is a balance between the two of you. Perhaps being a great leader and setting boundaries isn’t your strong suit, and you can learn something from your partner. He is likely bringing something of value to the table. Maybe be will better be able to see where you’re coming from, too. Don’t go into the discussion hoping to “win” it, though.

Another possibility is that you guys can talk about what kinds of things would make a more gentle approach more appealing to him. Once you understand that you’re valuing the same things—that you don’t want to raise an impulsive, inconsiderate, unproductive person, but instead think that these ideas will lead to a strong, confident, cooperative adult—you can begin to talk about how to get where you’re both going.

It might be that your child doesn’t take directions well, and until your partner starts to see results in this area, he is not that interested. Realize that this is fair. Children aren’t meant to be slaves who simply follow orders, but they are meant to cooperate, to be led, and at a certain point, start to gain emotional control. When they can’t have emotional control, you are that calm for them.

Once you start to build the skills necessary to lead your child, maybe your husband will ask more questions about how to be authoritative. Then you modeling will be instructive for him.

But until then, until you show him how to bake a cake when what he wants is a cake, your modeling will do no good.

How To Help Your Child Tell the Truth

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There is your beautiful daughter sitting next to the fridge, on the floor. Laying right next to her is an empty Snickers wrapper. She has chocolate all over her face and hands. She is smiling and licking her fingers. She looks up and sees you. She looks scared, guilty.

You ask her, “Did you eat that candy bar?”

And she looks you straight in the eyes and says, “No.”

How could she do that? You can tell from her look that she knows that what she did was wrong. And she is sitting there telling you a lie right to your face even though you know what she did!

More and more, this is happening. She lied about hitting her little brother. She lied about breaking the vase. What is going on with her?

I mean, doesn’t this four year old have a strong moral compass?

The answer is: Of course not.

She understands that she is saying something that isn’t true, but she doesn’t understand that it is wrong.

Because we so often note that children are the same as us—just developmentally different—we often imbue them with characteristics they don’t have. Like the ability to understand morality. Or abstract reasoning at all.

In reality, your child is not telling you a lie. Not with any of the connotation that this word comes with. She is making pretend because she doesn’t want to get in trouble and she wants you to be happy with her.

She looks guilty because our children understand our cues, and understand what has happened in the past. This sort of social-emotional reasoning is most of what they’re doing age 7, when they begin to develop more sophisticated views of the world.

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When lying, your child is doing an excellent job building the skills she will use later as the foundation for her moral reasoning. In particular, lying shows she is developing a theory of mind. She is beginning to understand that your mind isn’t a copy of her mind, and that both of you can think things that aren’t real. It is not a coincidence that lying appears in all children around that time that pretend play with monsters and tea parties begin. She is becoming extremely skilled at reading your tone of voice, body language, and facial expression to find out what you’re thinking and wanting from her. It’s a developmental leap!

What she is not doing is trying to “deceive” you in the traditional sense. She is trying to please you.

She is not yet at the point where she can exercise much self-control. So, instead of asking: how can I get my child to stop lying? Ask instead: how can I set my child up for success?

The first answer is not giving them a chance to “make pretend” that they didn’t eat the candy bar. Just say they did it and talk about what that means for now and what that means for the future. “You ate the candy bar. We are going to have to pick up our mess. In the future, you try not to eat that food when mom asks you not to; and mom will try not to make it so easy for you to reach!”

I always try to tell the child I take responsibility for setting them up. I say, “Hey, I made a mistake there.” I say it with a laugh and a smile. “Why’d I leave that out there! Of course you wanted that candy bar! Mommies can be so silly sometimes, huh?” This is not to guilt them, but to say demonstrate understanding and model character—you really do need to take responsibility for doing that. You don’t leave firearms and knives out because you don’t want them touching those things, so don’t leave out your candy and chocolate, either.

Nobody has to feel bad about what has happened. You have more information for the future, and your child just did what you would expect a child to do: eat a yummy thing and not want their parents to be mad at them.

You can also accept their make pretend at face value and move from there.

“Did you eat that candy bar?”

“No! A dinosaur did!”

“Okay. Can you help me clean up the dinosaurs mess?”

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This conversation can be used to illicit the truth out of them, or to talk about how you’re not mad at the dinosaur. You can use this make-pretend to talk about how it’s okay to make mistakes, and it may make your child interested in saying that it was them. If they help to wash up and cooperate, then they’re being pro-social, which is fantastic and a real consequence of what they did.

You can also just ask your child if it is “For real or for pretend?” Again, take it out of the moral realm. They aren’t bad or good for what they did; it is just what they did.

We do want to encourage truth-telling in our children. We don’t do this by using shame and disappointment. Feel free to make it clear, calmly, that you prefer the truth. “I didn’t like that you played pretend when I asked you that. I won’t be mad at you when you make mistakes.”

You can also use a lie as an opportunity for connection and creativity. Again, just stating the situation can be a starting point for this.
“No! A dinosaur did it!”

“That’s so silly. I know you ate the chocolate, but that’s a good story. Can you tell me more? Can we draw a picture?”

When you take away the incentive to lie—anger, punishment, etc.–then your child will be less interested in doing it. It’s not that it will stop altogether; and if they’ve been punished often for it, it will take a while to earn their trust in this area. Mention that you like truth, but don’t give them a 5 minute spiel about it. It doesn’t help their understanding. A kiss and a “Next time, you can just tell me you did it, okay?” will suffice.

At toddler age, lying is very simple and is easy to detect. While we do want to emphasize the importance of truth telling, the best way to do this is not by talking about telling the truth, but by showing that we are allowed to make mistakes without being punished. That our love is not based on performance. This sets the stage for honesty later in life when their ability to lie gains subtlety and complexity. It will count when what they can choose to hide is much more important than a candy bar.

When our children are struggling and making mistakes are the times we most need to connect with them. Lying is another opportunity to do this.

Who Are You Trying to Raise?

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You are living by certain values regardless of whether or not you know it. You can live by your own or you can live unwittingly at the whims of other people’s. If you are feeling tossed and turned about by different people’s opinions on parenting, it means that you have not clearly laid out what it is that you value.

You have to get clear on your values. Real clear. You have to figure out what you want, exactly, for yourself and your child, and then you can decide who is worth listening to.

If you feel like you have conflicted values because you want a free-spirited child but you also want a child who will, please, just listen, then you are thinking in the wrong terms.

Start thinking about what you want out of a person. You want a pro-social, cooperative person, who is capable of expressing themselves. If you met someone like this, you would not be shocked by their seemingly contradictory traits. Because there is nothing contradictory about them.

In fact, being assertive and being pro-social are linked together, as long as they’re coupled with the ability to read social cues. This is for adults and children.

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Once you understand what it is that you want to encourage in your children—likely, those traits that you value in other people—and realize that there is nothing contradictory about them, it is much easier to come up with methods of discipline and rules for your family. It’s easier to be the parent you want to be because you’re standing on solid ground.

Relationships are what humans are, because it is what we do. More than anything else, more than even tool-makers, we are the relationship-makers.

Together, you and your child are building an image in his mind of what relationships should look like.

How do you want your child to view relationships?

In the future, do you want your child to be baffled by the fact that they don’t win every argument, that their pouting doesn’t get them what they want, that other people’s feelings have to come into the equation? Do you want your child to see relationships as one way streets?

In the future, do you want your child to think that hearing a “no” means that they aren’t loved?

Do you want them to be scared of other people’s emotions?

No.

You want them to consider others. You want them to understand that other people’s emotional experiences are valid—even if they don’t feel the same way, even if they don’t understand it.

That all starts now.

Showing your children your emotions, calmly, and discussing them with them, is showing them that others have feelings that they must consider.

It is showing them that emotions are nothing to be afraid of.

It is modeling emotional regulation for them.

It is allowing them to reflect on how they influence the world.

When you hide your emotions, you are showing your child that they don’t have an effect on the world. That others emotions don’t come into the equation when navigating a situation.

That doesn’t mean you should lose your cool. It only means that from the beginning, you can teach your children that it takes two. It takes two people’s desires and wants and opinions and effort to make a healthful relationship.

Or three people.

Or four.

However big your family is.

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We don’t want our children to be sociopaths. We want them to be loving, caring people who understand that compromise is often necessary and that conflict does not always mean getting our way—even though sometimes, it does!

We want them to understand that other people have different boundaries than they do, and that they must be respectful of them.

Once we get clear on our values—that we want our children to be emotionally healthy and cooperative and that sometimes means not being happy in the moment—it is easy to see how limit setting and emotional validation are not mutually exclusive, but mutually supportive.

Teaching our children these basic values—cooperation and reciprocation—is one of the best gifts we can give them because they’re universally appreciated and useful in every area of life. Teaching our children this important value—that we don’t cave on our boundaries because someone else has big emotions, is a tremendous benefit that will carry them through many difficult times. Be the adult you want them to be.