by Dr. Joe Barber
Text copyright © 2016 Joseph C. Barber, MD
All Rights Reserved
Parenting advice is difficult to listen to, understand and incorporate into our daily lives. We all want to be better parents. We know our words and actions intentionally and unintentionally influence our children for the rest of their lives. Each of us want our child to experience joy, love and happiness. We want them to experience friendship and find companionship when and where they need it. We want our children to be purposeful in action and thought and respectful of others. We want them to grow up in a positive environment filled with opportunity. We want our child to live in a safe environment, respect others, be able to choose right from wrong and know how and when to help another.
To attain these goals we must provide ourselves the encouragement, opportunity and resources to learn how to become better parents and the support to follow these principles consistently every day. Shame, guilt and anger are byproducts of constructive criticism. No one enjoys criticism even when it is constructive. Yet, to become better parents, each of us must learn how to change what we are doing wrong and strengthen what we are doing right.
Every day you are confronted by fatigue and time constraints. Few parents have the time or energy to find answers on their own. This is why I want to be your guide and help you find the best ways to interact and respond to your child during both the good times and the bad times. Real time parenting is fast, complex and difficult. Many parenting books focus on what you have been doing wrong and not on what you are doing right. I want to focus on the small things a busy parent can do right.
As a pediatrician and child neurologist, I know parents want to be better parents but they do not know how to make it happen. Parenting choices are camouflaged. The behavior of every child is unique, diverse, complex and ever changing and although there is not one roadmap to follow there are road signs which will get you to your destination.
As your guide I will help you determine what type of parent you are and what type of parent you want to become. I promise to help you find answers to common questions, concerns and problems you are confronted with every day. I have organized the information by topic to provide you understandable parenting advice when and where you have a few minutes of free time. My goal is to help tired and overextended parents change the way they parent one way at a time.
I will help you recognize when you need help and advice and learn how to ask for and accept help without feeling judged. We all need help. What separates us, however, is our willingness to ask for and accept that help. Parenting skills must be learned and only improve with repetition and practice. Perfection is not needed and neglecting our own needs leads to negative parenting responses and poor emotional and physical health for all of us.
Parents need to learn how to monitor feelings, set goals and choose strategies they believe in. Every parent must learn the importance of patience, self-care strategies and a belief that behavior can change and why frustration, anger, shame and guilt are road signs telling you it is time to seek professional help and support.
Your child hears and sees all of your words and actions. Be a positive model for your child. By providing clear, concise, consistent, confident and competent parenting responses you will become a better parent and improve your child’s life.
The decision is yours. Do you want your child to feel safe, secure and loved? Do you want your child to have the opportunity to see, hear and feel the world? Are you willing to talk with and tune into your child? Are you ready, willing and able to give your child the love and support to make both good and bad choices and learn from both? If you are, I want to be your guide in this greatest of all life journeys.
Table of Contents
Child Directed Parenting
Parent Directed Parenting
Choice of Discipline
Sibling Rivalry for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Sibling Rivalry for the School Aged Child
All parents must identify and understand their parenting persona. Your persona drives your parenting decisions and plays a major role in how successful you are as a parent. Recognizing and understanding your parenting persona allows you to choose parenting tactics to meet your own needs, the needs of your child and the needs of your family.
Are you a reactive person? Do you respond to your child with anger? Do you have difficulty coping with change? Are you prone to being irritable or fearful? Do you lack persistence and have a short attention span? Do you tend to withdraw when confronted with uncomfortable situations? Are intense situations often followed by feelings of guilt or remorse? Do you expect perfection from your child? Do you become frustrated when you do not have control of a situation? Do you easily become impatient? Are you judgmental of others? Do you worry about what others think or say about you? Do you criticize others? The answers to these questions describe your parenting persona.
Your persona regulates and alters the way you respond to your own feelings and to events in the outside world. Being able to manage and understand your persona allows you to accommodate your behavior and change the way you relate to your child. Your persona is influenced by your temperament, reactivity, regulation and life experiences and provides a description of how you will respond to parenting situations.
The best way to visualize your parenting persona is to identify your response patterns. The three basic personas are mental analyzers, feeling followers and reflex defenders.
The first parenting persona is the mental analyzer. Mental analyzers are imaginative thinkers who are inquisitive and have a thirst for knowledge. They are prone to appear detached and prefer to have plans for everything and avoid the spontaneous. They find comfort analyzing their child’s behavior, seek mental answers on how to alter a child’s behavior and are most secure when making plans. Analyzers are prone to being detached from their child. They tend to be conceptual, rational, practical and interested in how their child thinks. They enjoy the mental process of researching parenting responses and are skeptical, rational and avoid being caught up in emotions.
The second parenting persona is the feeling follower. Feeling followers are highly attached to people, moods and emotions. They are aware of the feelings of others and tend to be outward directed when compared to the mental analyzer who is more inward directed. Their decisions are dependent upon the way they feel about something. They prefer to be connected to others and rely on an emotional vocabulary to understand and respond to the behavior of their child. Feeling followers worry about how they are perceived while enjoying the recognition and external validation of others.
The third parenting persona is the reflex defender. Reflex defenders are aware of and depend on boundaries for decision making. Autonomy is very important for these parents who rely on intuition instinctive impressions and a sense of fairness for decision making. They are prone to being defensive and protective of their parenting decisions and rely on simplification of parenting responses to prevent decision making from becoming burdensome and overly complex. They prefer not to negotiate and are prone to critical and judgmental responses to others as a way to protect and defend their actions. Anger is often visible in their responses and they tend to be highly committed to their decisions and do not rely on recognition or how they are perceived by others for personal gratification.
By determining your parenting persona you will be better able to understand and alter the parenting decisions you make.
Stress is a normal part of parenting but chronic stress leads to an unhealthy parent and a diminished parent-child relationship. Responsibilities, limited time, financial constraints and negative emotions deepen your stress. This leads to chronic stress and weakens your immune system, saps your energy and harms your decision making. It leads to sleep disruption, an increased or decreased appetite, headaches, irritability, general health complaints and concentration problems. This is why every parent must learn how to recognize the most common causes of stress and adopt ways to eliminate these causes.
The most common causes of chronic parenting stress are physical fatigue, feelings of uncertainty, a lack of control and negative feelings such as anger and frustration. Skills and techniques to eliminate these causes are essential tools for every parent.
Parenting takes time and energy and parent workloads and responsibilities continue to grow. The first strategy chosen by most parents is to find more time to get things done by getting up earlier and going to bed later. Less sleep leads to physical illness and fatigue. Sleep is restorative and provides you the energy and concentration to make the daily decisions you must make. A consistent sleep schedule with eight hours or more of sleep every night is the goal for every parent. Studies have shown the dangerous health issues and impaired cognitive skills associated with sleep debt. If you are not getting adequate sleep, the first step in stress reduction is to get more restful sleep.
The next cause is uncertainty. Parenting decisions are filled with uncertainty. The right decisions are often hazy, complex or even invisible. Change provokes fear and anxiety in most parents. Most parenting decisions, however, are limited. They can be repeated over and over. Although there are minor variations the themes are often the same. Parents must choose a limited number of approaches for similar situations and apply these in a clear, concise, consistent, confident and competent fashion. A new response does not need to be chosen for every new event. When you choose a discipline strategy and a parenting style you eliminate most of the parenting uncertainty that causes stress.
The third cause of stress is lack of control. Parents feel they should be in control of their child’s actions. As a parent your scope of influence is limited. You can influence but you do not control your child. You are a guide, a protector and for the young child and infant a caretaker. Modeling a healthy physical, emotional and spiritual lifestyle and providing unconditional love and acceptance are your only responsibilities. You must never blame yourself for the decisions your children make. Giving up control you never had is essential for every parent.
The final cause of chronic stress for parents is about being overwhelmed by negative emotions. It is normal for parents to have feelings of anger, frustration, sadness and loneliness. These feelings will damage your relationship with your child. You must recognize and understand these negative emotions if you are to respond to them. Find ways to allow time to pass. Ask for support, advice and sometimes someone to quietly listen to you. Step away from your child and take a break. Take a short nap, talk to a friend, go outside for a walk or eat a healthy snack. Reward yourself every day with a self-indulgent activity and watch your stress lesson. Seek out family members, friends, counselors and spiritual advisors to provide you the emotional support you need to work through these negative feelings before they lead to an unhealthy parent-child relationship.
Responding to misbehavior is one of the greatest challenges every parent faces. Your child does or doesn’t do something and you must know how to respond. Parents who understand basic parenting styles are better prepared to choose the right response for their child. There are four parenting styles every parent must recognize and understand.
The first style is authoritarian parenting. In this approach the parent’s feelings, thoughts, words and actions dominate the parent-child encounter. The feelings of the child are not listened to, dismissed or disavowed. The authoritarian parent says: “I am right and you are wrong. Do what I say because I said so.” This attitude does not support reciprocity or shared communication. In this parent centered approach the feelings, thoughts, words and actions of the child are neglected, unobserved or lost and forgotten. This approach hinders sincere and honest parent-child communication and neglects problem solving. It diminishes a child’s self-esteem and self-worth and often leads to hidden anger or hostile and aggressive behavior by the child.
The second style is authoritative parenting. Parents who utilize this approach demonstrate unconditional love for their child while at the same time setting clear and consistent boundaries. These parents rely on empathy and emotional awareness to see what their child sees and understand their child’s emotions and behavior. By seeing the situation through the eyes of their child they are able to recognize and understand the reason behind their child’s behavior. This allows parental responses to be guided by the child’s emotions. Authoritative parenting supports the development of strong, healthy and trusting relationships and teaches children how emotions work and how to manage their own emotions.
The third parenting style is permissive parenting. Permissive parents view the parent to child relationship primarily as a friendship. They avoid rule making out of fear that their relationship with the child will be damaged and their child will be less attached to them. With permissive parenting parental authority is not supported and this approach teaches children not to respect or honor their parents. These parents accept their child’s emotions no matter how the child behaves. Boundaries are not identified and often children become confused while their behavior continues to deteriorate. Permissive parenting often leads to extended temper tantrums, acting out behaviors and an inability to handle emotions, recognize social cues and develop reciprocal shared relationships.
The final parenting style is that of the uninvolved parent. Uninvolved parents lack attachment to their child. They act as if they did not know or care about their child’s emotions or actions and often avoid direct touching contact with their child. Uninvolved parents verbally and visually neglect their child or like authoritarian parents use dismissive or disavowing response techniques to distance themselves from their child. This parenting style leads to disengagement, separation, low self-esteem and underachievement. These children have difficulty connecting and listening to others. In rare situations children raised under this style become highly resilient overachievers with over developed coping skills and immature relationship skills. These children tend to hide their own emotions and have difficulty resolving emotional conflicts while at the same time neglecting the emotions of others.
By being aware and understanding these parenting styles you are able to teach your child respect, cooperation and the ability to recognize, understand and respond to personal emotions and the emotions of others. Listening and emotional coaching are the greatest parenting gifts you can give your child.
Your ability to anticipate and respond to the behavior of your child determines the type of parent leader you are. Leadership is an essential part of parenting. As a parent leader you must choose parenting responses and an emotional vocabulary that allow you to listen, connect and respond to your child with unconditional love.
Uncertainty of how to respond and interact with a child is a common dilemma for parents. It is a barrier you must and can overcome by following specific child directed responses. These techniques can reshape the way you respond to your child and improve the way your child responds to you.
Toddlers and preschoolers are at the perfect age for child directed parenting. By respecting their choices and providing freedom and encouragement positive behaviors are supported and negative behaviors are eliminated. The foundation of this strategy is to follow your child’s lead and avoid questions, criticism and both direct and indirect commands. Questions often have hidden commands and criticism suggest disapproval and not listening to your child. Focus on correction without criticism by avoiding authoritarian command words like: “no”, stop”, “quit”, “that’s wrong” and “don’t”. This eliminates unhealthy interactions which damage your child’s self-esteem, self-worth and self-image.
Unless there is a safety or security concern, ignore negative behaviors and use praise, reflection, reporting and imitation to positively influence your child’s behavior. These techniques decrease the risk of negative interaction between you and your child. It is also important to choose words, a tone of speech and gestures that show your love and enthusiasm for being your child’s parent. Your words and actions must say to your child: “I love being your parent and being with you.”
Praise is the most essential parenting response. It increases positive behavior and like enthusiasm generates a positive attachment between you and your child. Make sure praise is genuine and not reflexive. When giving praise, identify or label what you are praising. An example is: “Thank-you for putting your hat and coat on.”
Reflection, reporting and imitation are three other parenting techniques. Somewhat similar to praise each involves a mirroring of your child. Reflection relies on repeating or paraphrasing your child’s words. This invites your child into a conversation with you. It shows your child you are listening and tells your child you understand what he or she is saying. This type of two-way communication enhances speech and social reciprocity skills and helps you connect with your child. Reporting describes what your child’s is doing and improves your child’s attention span. Imitation is the last technique. In this technique you repeat and perform whatever behavior your child is doing. Each of these techniques shows your child you are interested in and approve of their words, actions or behavior and want them to continue.
If you make these leadership techniques part of your parenting responses you will change the way you relate to your child and the way your child relates to you. By allowing your child to lead you signal to your child your approval and stimulate positive cooperative and parallel play which support your child’s ability to give, share and take turns. Child directed parenting techniques are simple to master and easy to perform. By avoiding questions, criticism and commands and utilizing the above techniques you support the development of a positive attachment between you and your child and encourage positive behaviors in your child.
Parent-directed parenting strategies focus on the parent leading the child and are commonly used in the preschooler or early school-aged child. This type of parenting is different from child-directed approaches where the parents follow rather than leads an interaction. In child-directed intervention the focus is on social attention and nonverbal communication. Self-esteem and a positive parent-child attachment are the goals. In parent-directed intervention verbal communication is primary and the focus is on compliance through contingency management, limit setting and problem solving. Reasoning skills are emphasized and clear, concise and consistent verbal direction is delivered by the parent.
Parent-directed approaches involve telling your child what to do rather than what to stop doing. Children are told and not asked what to do. Directions are broken down into small, specific segmented activities. Parents must avoid multistep directions and the specific behavior that is sought must be concrete and developmentally appropriate. Polite and respectful directions are delivered in a non-threatening normal tone of voice and all directions are explained either before a direction is given or after a direction is obeyed.
When a direction is given and your child does not comply then a time out warning is given. The child is again given the initial command and told he or she will have to go to the time out chair if the command is not obeyed. If the child complies praise is given and the reason for the praise is labeled.
If your child disobeys for the second time then the child must go to the time out chair for several minutes. The child can be released from the chair after this period by giving a command that describes the quiet sitting and asks the child if he or she is now ready to follow the original command. The command needs to be repeated in the same way it was given the prior two times. If the child answers yes or nods that the command will be obeyed then their answer is acknowledged and the child is released from the time out chair and allowed to resume activities.
If your child gets out of the time out chair without your approval then the child is told he or she will go to the time out room. If the three minute timer is restarted and he or she gets out of the time out chair again without your permission the child is taken to a time out room for one minute and then returned to the time out chair to resume the three minute timer. If the child complies or does not comply then the same routines previously described are followed. For each of the successful steps an obeying behavior is always acknowledged and labeled praise is given.
Many parents find it helpful to perform several 5-10 minute sessions each week of parent directed commands for the preschool and early school age child. These sessions reinforce spontaneous parent-directed interventions and speed up your child’s willingness to comply with directions and strengthens the development of problem solving and reasoning skills.
Have you ever wondered about your discipline choices? You are not alone. This common parental concern is dark, deep, hidden and scary for most parents. It does not have to be. By following certain guideposts and budgeting the time to review your choices you can become the parent you want to be.
Remember you never need to be alone. Find a partner. Ask a spouse, relative, counselor or friend for the support and guidance you need. Read books about parenting styles and discipline techniques. Ask questions, listen, learn and connect with others. Watch the discipline choices others make and ask: “What kind of parent do I want to be? Am I a positive role model for my child? Have I banned violence from our home? Am I ready and aware of the choices my child will make? Are my parenting expectations reasonable? Do I respond to my child’s behavior with rational and targeted responses? Do I think before I speak and set clear, concise, consistent, confident and competent boundaries?” Answering these questions will help you decide what discipline changes you need to make.
The hallmarks of good discipline are communication and connection. These two cornerstones support the management choices each parent must make to ensure healthy physical, emotional and cognitive development for a child.
Management techniques include distraction, redirection and behavior substitution. These strategies in conjunction with active ignoring are essential for children and teens of all ages and especially important for toddlers and preschoolers. Young children often become confused when parents use verbal explanations and insight directed interactions for redirection. Young children learn best from schedules, routines and rituals. They rely on stability and concrete redirection. By focusing on praise, general encouragement and positive reinforcement negative behaviors fade and are replaced by supported positive behaviors. Parents who anticipate behaviors and provide gentle guidance become the parents who are listened to and learned from.
Avoid discipline choices that rely on guilt or punishment strategies that communicate failure to your child. Never scold, nag or embarrass your child in private or public and remember these choices lead to humiliation, diminished self-worth and anger. Discipline choices outside your home are especially difficult. Always discuss behavior expectations with your child before leaving home and determine reasonable natural or logical consequences that may be needed. Be aware of the impact of fatigue, hunger and stress on your child. At all times rely on genuine praise and immediate rewards to support and encourage positive behaviors in your child and during times of stress pursue a time out for both you and your child before choosing a penalty. Although safety and security of your child are always the highest concerns the discipline choices you make will always be long remembered.
Choosing physical punishment as your discipline strategy hurts both you and your child. It does not stop hurting even when the pain, anger and confusion subside. Parents choose physical punishment as a discipline style due to personal, cultural and generational influences. Often an aggressive verbal or physical response is chosen by a parent due to underlying fear, a lack of knowledge about alternative behavioral responses or because of immediate safety and security concerns.
Every child must learn how to manage emotions, develop relationships and recognize, understand and respond to frustration and disappointment. Unfortunately, corporal punishment teaches the opposite and does not provide a secure stepping stone for the development of confidence, positive self-worth and effective self-regulation.
The fundamental harm of physical punishment is the cycle and culture of violence and bullying that it supports. Although numerous age specific alternative discipline strategies such as emotion coaching, positive modeling, reasoned discussions, time out, ignoring strategies and loss of privileges have been shown to be more effective than corporal punishment, spanking, paddling and hitting persist and are practiced and condoned by up to 75% of American adults. About 200,000 children continue to be paddled each year in US schools. Although corporal punishment has been banned by the United Nations since 1989 it remains unratified by the United States and is still legal in schools in many parts of the US.
Corporal punishment has both short and long term negative emotional consequences. It is a primitive learned behavior that is both biological and passed on across generations. It neglects the emotional and social skills that are fundamental for the social and emotional development of a child. Physical punishment relies on the physical responses of surprise, fear, anger, shame and distress to teach a child. It neglects the power of a secure and positive parental attachment to provide a safe, secure and accepting environment to foster healthy exploration while establishing reasonable and acceptable boundaries.
Physical punishment is not necessary for children to learn about limits and routines. Although spanking and other forms of corporal punishment foster short term regulation these techniques rely on primitive brain pathways based on fear, hostility and discomfort to learn new skills. Physical punishment has been shown to increase aggressive behavior in children and is less effective in teaching positive behaviors. Corporal punishment increases the risk of hostile, disrespectful and spiteful behavior and fosters the belief that stronger and bigger always wins.
Discipline strategies that are age and developmentally appropriate focus on the part of a child’s brain that supports patience rather than fear and the ability to control emotions. Positive discipline strategies are essential and must be practiced consistently over many years. Although this part of the brain takes years to develop there are alternative strategies that have been proven effective. Infants from birth through age 18 months respond best to distraction and trigger identification. Toddlers respond to modeling, praise and simple requests. Preschoolers respond best to clear and consistent simple rules and the offering of choices to achieve a sought after behavior. The older preschool child responds well to time outs to provide a calming down period to allow heightened emotions to settle.
Discipline roadblocks are common. Parents must avoid expectations that are too high or too low. Temper tantrums must be expected and the cause of the temper tantrum must be sought and responded to. Temper tantrums are a sign of overwhelming emotion and indicate your child is asserting independence, disagreeing with rules and is unable to communicate underlying needs. Relying on physical punishment in this situation amplifies your child’s discomfort and further delays your child learning how to regulate emotion and develop reciprocal respectful relationships.
What should a busy parent do? See behaviors through the eyes of your child. Avoid blame and pursue immediate, specific, age appropriate and consistent consequences. Do not forget temper tantrums are a normal part of your child’s development. They start small and escalate. Always intervene early. For a negative behavior in an older child look for environmental, parental or temperament causes. Respond to the cause rather than the behavior and choose a strategy where you are able to stay calm and set limits that are not be too permissive or too strict.
Rely on praise, modeling, providing alternatives, distraction and time out to teach your child. Never lose control of your emotions and step back if you become emotionally upset. Never hit or embarrass your child out of love or anger and avoid both positive and negative punishments.
If you plan for misbehaviors and choose your battles carefully you will become the best role model for your child.
Rules are the visible foundation upon which parenting is built. They represent your parenting style and encourage communication between you and your child.
The purpose of rules is to allow you and your child to identify acceptable behaviors and teach the limits of behaviors. The focus of rules is educational and based on consequences rather than punishment. They teach your child how to behave in different environments and serve as a reminder that you are the most important model for your child. The final purpose of rules is to encourage children to teach other children by their own words and actions.
The benefits of rules include parent-child communication, self-discipline and the support of the ability to choose. Clear, concise and consistent rules allow safety and security issues to be addressed while at the same time showing your child that you care. By following rules children learn the importance of safety, security and acceptance.
Parents are best able to establish successful rules when children are involved and engaged in the rule setting process. By involving your child in choosing rules and consequences you support and encourage two way communications. Cooperation improves and supports compliance as well as provides opportunities for genuine praise to be given to your child. In addition, remember to build incentives and rewards into the rules you establish.
Always make sure rules are clear, concise and written down. They must be posted in a visible location that is easily seen by you and your child. Set a positive tone for rules. Include “To Do” statements rather than “Not to Do” statements and decide at the time the rule is established what the logical and natural consequences will be if a rule is not followed. Natural consequences are consequences that are the direct result of your child’s behavior. If your child is eating an ice cream cone and is told to sit down at the picnic table but continues to play and the cone falls on the ground the natural consequence is the child is unable to continue to enjoy the ice cream. Logical consequences are consequences that are directly linked to your child’s behavior. An example would be a child misbehaving during a visit to a toy store and the logical consequence is immediately leaving the toy store and returning home.
Common tips for parents concerning rules include making sure you remain attentive and responsive to your child while at the same time being attuned and sensitive to your child’s needs and feelings. Praise is important. It increases your child’s compliance and must be genuine. Never be surprised when your child breaks a rule. Expect rule breaking since it is often a way children seek attention. Recognize when a rule is broken but avoid “nit picking.” By being consistent, firm, pleasant and leaving anger and discouragement behind you will model acceptable behavior for your child and increase your child’s compliance.
Lastly, remember to be a parent and not a friend when setting rules. Don’t be afraid of being a “bad guy.” Permissive parents are not successful in the long term and do not prepare a child for future decision-making and problem-solving. They do not teach children that authority must be honored and respected. By accepting your parental responsibility as an authoritative parent you teach your child the value of cooperation and respect and help prepare your child to find good solutions to present and future problems.
Temperament is the overall pattern of response your child shows when he is exposed to the world. It affects his mood, attention span, sleep patterns and motor patterns. Infants and children vary in their ability to be still and not restless or fidgety. Some are able to accept change, adjust and adapt to new situations while others are shy and have difficulty with transitions. Some are not bothered by noisy environments while others are sensitive to noise, perfumes, textures and tastes. How does your child react? Is her intensity of response soft and low key or is it loud with intense bouts of crying? Does she generally seem happy or is she easily angered and frustrated? Does she focus easily on you or is she fidgety and distracted by the environment?
Self-regulation is the ability to control an emotional response. A child does not have the ability to manage stress and emotional responses until the second half of his first year of life. He is unable to self-regulate. He relies on you as his parent to respond to his cues and help him to settle and regulate his responses. Most of these relate to sleep, hunger, comfort and personal interaction. By the end of the first year he is more able to self-soothe and self-settle. As your child moves into the toddler and then pre-school years he will need to learn more about recognizing and responding to his feelings with appropriate words, thoughts and eventual actions.
A child learns to be resilient when she learns to recognize and appropriately respond to emotional and physical stressors. Every child must deal with a constantly changing world. Stress is pervasive. Learning to cope with stress provides the resiliency to respond to people, situations and events. Stress can be welcome or acceptable depending on its intensity. Such stress is beneficial and prepares your child for future independent decision making. On the other hand, severe stress often called toxic stress is very risky and can lead to life-long negative effects.
Attachment is the cornerstone for your child to learn how she can relate to the world she lives in. She must feel safe and secure if she is to be open to the love that surrounds her. This is accomplished through your limitless love, attention and affection. It is powered by the energy of touch. No child is spoiled during the first 6 months of life. Infancy is a time to see and feel the love. As she moves into her toddler years you, as her parent, will be ready to provide the freedom and encouragement to discover new relationships and attachments while continuing to express the security your unconditional attachment provides as she fearlessly explores an unseen world.
A strong and healthy sense of self is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give to a child. Building strong self-esteem is the first step. Self-esteem is the name given to the way we perceive ourselves. Our perception is based on our own thoughts and feelings as well as how we perceive others think and feel about us. Our own perception of our ability to achieve also affects our self-esteem. When our perception matches our ideal self, we have a higher sense of self-esteem.
Developing self-esteem takes time and effort. An infant or child must experience secure attachment and a strong sense of security. At the same time the infant and young child must feel she is loved and accepted by others. This starts within your family and extends to friends and acquaintances. Involvement in and acceptance by groups such as school, church, a sport team and community organizations are also important. Without such involvement children feel lonely and isolated.
Children must have a sense of purpose. Identifying and pursuing goals based on interest and ability is also essential. This allows every child to engage with others and channel energy towards achievement and self-expression. This prevents children from becoming resentful and bored or being excessively influenced by the desires of another. These activities allow a child to develop not only competence but also a sense of pride that prepares a child to meet the challenges ahead. This ability to have the personal power and interest to solve problems and set appropriate personal expectations is essential for life long success.
Trust in oneself and in those you love is essential if opportunities for success are to be realized and achieved. One of the components of trust is an understanding of both making and keeping promises. Children must be given the opportunity to keep promises and tell the truth even when the truth is difficult. This builds honesty, responsibility and a respect for the feelings and rights of others. Trust leads to a sense of faith in others and the ability to “let go” and rely on those you trust.
As your child’s ability to pursue a goal matures a sense of commitment develops. A child needs to feel they are able to contribute and participate in meaningful activities. This type of involvement must be authentic and lead to real choices and real decisions. These decisions are age and ability dependent and must be reasonable from a developmental perspective.
Throughout this process children and teens require honest and meaningful encouragement, support and rewards for a job well done even when mistakes or failure occur. Every child will make mistakes. Perseverance and resiliency uncover within your child the ability not to feel defeated or embarrassed. Such feedback is essential if shame, guilt and anger are to be avoided. Positive directed feedback encourages life-long improvement, self-motivation and healthy self-esteem.
It is important every child learns how to handle negative emotions. Children must know how to feel strong emotions without hurting oneself or another. The ability to cope with and express these feelings is something every parent must support within their child.
Emotion coaching uses reciprocal parent to child communication to teach empathy. The parent becomes a role model and by taking the child’s emotions seriously the parent is able to better understand the child’s perspective.
Every parent must be aware, attentive and responsive to the child’s emotions. By connecting and listening to the child a parent is better able to model healthy behavior for the child and help the child describe and name the emotion being felt. The final step in this process is to help the child find and choose solutions that allow the child to move past the negative emotions and develop a strong sense of resilience and a healthy emotional attitude.
When a parent is presented with a negative emotion it is easy to dismiss or disavow the emotion. Parents often distract a child from the negative situation by substituting a positive one. This is not healthy. Children must learn to recognize, experience, understand and manage negative emotions. Other parents disavow negative feelings by telling a child it is not acceptable to feel that way or “takes on” the negative emotion of the child without providing solutions. These response do not advance a child’s emotional development.
Children must learn that becoming scared, sad, angry, nervous and afraid are all part of life. In fact, fear, frustration, anger inadequacy and rejection are all programmed into us. How a child learns to manage these feelings will determine the amount of stress a child encounters and the amount of positive emotions that arise from these encounters.
Many children are taught to consciously suppress and unconsciously repress negative feelings. This denial is unhealthy and often leads to the projection of negative emotions onto others. Other unhealthy tendencies include the use of temper tantrums, outbursts and body language to release enough negative tension to allow the child to “go on” and an “ignorance is bliss” approach that suggests momentary distraction allows a child not to think about and experience the negative emotion. These types of defense mechanisms are unhealthy since they do not foster autonomy. They support the development of shame and doubt which lead to dependence and withdrawal.
Parents who listen, talk and support a child through the turbulence of negative emotions allow a child to own and control responses and at the same time support the development of socially acceptable behavior. If such support is not present fear without reason predominates and anxiety develops. A child without this support is unlikely to develop the initiative to reach out to others due to hidden fear and negative emotions. This leads to guilt which further hinders emotional development.
What can you do to connect with your child? Be attentive and responsive to your child’s needs while being attuned and sensitive to your child’s temperament and developmental level. In this way you will help your child experience negative emotions, reframe situations, build positive emotional experiences and develop a strong sense of initiative and autonomy.
As parents we worry about praising a child too much or too little. Too much praise and a child might grow up spoiled and unwilling to tackle challenging tasks. Too little and a child grows up insecure, overly independent and absent healthy reciprocal relationships.
Praise encourages your child to explore the world. It is the natural progression after providing secure attachment for your infant. It engenders a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose in your child’s life. Acts of praise make your child feel worthwhile and loved. It is a powerful reward. Your child wants to please you.
Acts of praise show your child she is a good person. It allows her to build her self-confidence and self-worth. Acts of praise give parents the opportunity to show a child it is the actions we choose rather than the outcomes we achieve which are important. Praise allows a parent to focus on efforts not outcomes. At the same time a parent is able to focus on strengths. By focusing on strengths and not weaknesses your child’s confidence and self-worth increase. Over time, your child will learn how accomplishments are appreciated but actions are treasured.
When praise is given in a fashion that supports feedback rather than criticism your child will learn how statements made from a position of power are prone to be overly personal and lead to feelings of inadequacy, anger and frustration in the child. Effective praise is directed to events and not the person. In this way praise teaches your child the importance of direction rather than criticism.
Praise also teaches us the importance of authenticity and realistic expectations. Children know when we are being real and when we are not. Praise is one of the ways we learn the importance of being true to ourselves and to others. Another reason it is so important concerns realistic expectations for our child. It is very easy for a busy parent to project onto a child expected behaviors that are not developmentally appropriate. By giving appropriate praise each of us is reminded never to forget the importance of our child’s physical and emotional developmental levels.
Praise should be sincere and age appropriate. It should never be vague and should not be overused for everyday tasks, chores or actions that are expected to be completed. School age children are able to “see through” praise. If a child already enjoys a task then praise is not needed. The focus should be on the intrinsic reward from the performance of the activity. In this way the intrinsic value is the motivator. Excess praise can easily be confused with bribes and if always expected the lack of praise can serve as negative stimuli to decrease the frequency of the desired positive behavior. Make sure you are praising what you think you are praising and do not set the bar too high for praise. Each of these can result in conflict.
Opposite of praise is criticism. Criticism is not effective in the long term in changing behavior. Criticism always hurts. The ability to tolerate criticism is a positive skill but the use of criticism to enact and encourage change in a child’s behavior is riddled with negative short and long term effects. When someone criticizes another they are saying: “I know something you don’t.”
General feedback is similar to praise but is more neutral and informative. As with praise it should be timely and specific. Feedback that does not focus on a particular act or pattern is ineffective. It must be genuine and heartfelt and expressed with a tone of excitement. Be wary of having a hidden agenda to the feedback where direction is given for another purpose and never add a wish list at the end of positive feedback. “You did a great job on your spelling test today. I know you will do just as well on your math test tomorrow.” Lastly, when giving feedback never make it personal. Always target an event. Instead of saying: “You gave too much food to the dog last night” consider saying: “I worry we may be feeding our dog too much food. How could we be sure to measure out the right amount of food for every feeding?”
When giving feedback make sure to balance negative feedback and positive feedback or praise. A rule of thumb is to recognize through words of fondness or admiration positive behaviors five times more frequently than negative. Most parent praise patterns come from patterns they learned in their upbringing.
Praise is best when it increases a child’s own internal excitement and allows and encourages them to internalize reinforcement to repeat a future act or behavior.
You interact with your child in many ways and at many times. It is important you choose an interaction style that facilitates and improves your child’s ability to make and maintain relationships in a way that supports trust and mutual understanding. To be successful in laying this foundation parents must teach children how to value their emotions and you must show your child how you value your own emotions.
Attunement is the name given to the ability to respond to the communication and needs of another. It includes the ability to recognize and respond to cues and by being aware of the needs of others you provide a foundation of trust and security for your child. This response is intertwined with consistent, confident, competent and committed care.
Attunement must be done in a sensitive way with an understanding of one’s own emotions. Understanding how you think about feelings and emotions is very important and is usually the result of the way you were raised. Ask yourself how you feel when you are told you are not going to get a raise you expected. Your reaction to the frustration, anger and disappointment you feel from not getting the raise may include a sense of guilt that you did not work hard enough or that you are not smart enough to deserve a raise. These feelings are often irrational and not justified but they are part of your response pattern in ways more fundamental then the expected frustration, anger and disappointment.
Teaching children how to recognize and handle their emotional response to emotions is the best way to teach them how to handle their own emotions in rational and conscious ways rather than being led by unconscious feelings and experiences that often are based on unhealthy patterns. The first step in this process is to teach and show children there are no bad emotions, only badly handled ones. Children must realize there is a difference between an emotion and how a person responds to the emotion.
By modeling appropriate responses to emotions you are in the perfect position to show your child that feelings are normal and often cannot be controlled but they can be managed and acceptable responses can be learned.
Self-regulation is the term used to describe a person’s ability to control their own behavior. This ability effects social, emotional and cognitive development and includes strategies to self soothe, problem solve and manage personal emotions. It is the ability to control one’s own feelings, thoughts, word and actions.
Various factors influence self-regulation. The first factor is age. Infants are unable to self-regulate during the first six months of life. During this period infants rely on adults to identify, respond to and meet their needs. Specific needs include food, sleep, warmth, comfort and interaction.
Another factor important to self-regulation is the ability to form and maintain stable, loving and caring relationships built on trust and understanding. It is important that all children have relationships with adults who are attentive and responsive to their needs and are attuned and sensitive to their wants and desires.
The last factor to influence self-regulation is cognition. As children grow they use language to name their emotions and identify their wants and needs to others. These emotions can range from excitement to frustration for toddlers and for preschool and older children who have already developed various naming skills they need to learn how to use those skills at the right time and in the right way.
The long term goal of self-regulation is the ability to delay gratification and suppress the need for immediate attainment of what is desired. This skill allows a connection between feelings and behavior to develop and is fundamental to building future reciprocal interpersonal relationships based on trust and understanding.
The skills learned during this process include coping skills and the ability to pursue goals by using intrinsic motivation as the primary driving force rather than external “pushes” and encouragement. This is the catalyst for the encouragement of self-worth. Other benefits inclue improved academic performance, problem solving skills and peer interaction skills.
Children learn self-regulation by watching you and seeing how you respond to not only them but the world around both of you. Set your developmental expectations appropriately and let the fun begin.
In this age group the arrival of a new baby is often accompanied by jealousy and competition for affection and attention. Toddlers and preschoolers often respond with behavior and mood changes to replace what they perceive as lost attention. This is why it is very important for parents to prepare children for the arrival of a new infant who will require parental attention which previously was directed elsewhere.
Most of these issues can be prevented by taking the time to provide love, attention, affection and a sense of security for the displaced child. A secure attachment engenders trust and eliminates the fear of loss which drives many of the behavior problems that accompany sibling rivalry for the younger child.
It is also important schedules, routines and rituals be continued. Mealtime and bedtime routines should not be changed. Toddler and preschool aged children depend on these routines to anchor their daily schedule. In addition, bedtime and playtime rituals such as story time, bath time, meal time, going on walks and various playtime activities must be continued. Your child is looking to your behavior as a sign that he or she is still loved and important. By continuing prior behaviors you can prevent sibling rivalry from evolving into negative behavior.
The arrival of a new infant in the household is a perfect time to support the older child’s independence. By giving your toddler the freedom and encouragement to explore the world you will soften the anxiety and potential sense of loss that a new infant can symbolize. It is also a time when your toddler can learn how to respect others. Toddlers and preschoolers both need to learn they should not try to control the behavior of another. When a toddler does not respect a parent or a sibling future behavior issues are certain to follow. It is also important to encourage and help direct your preschooler to name these competitive and jealous feelings and by praising and rewarding his or her strengths you will encourage the development of good feelings which can replace bad feelings.
For the preschooler a new brother or sister provides the added opportunity to feel deserved and approved of. By focusing on the individuality and unique strengths of the older child you will be supporting and acknowledging the importance of a positive and supportive relationship between you both. It is important you are always fair and never compare children. Beware of words or actions that can be interpreted by the older child as showing the new arrival to the family is your favorite. Allow your love to show you have no favorites.
School aged children must learn how to name and accept conflicting feelings about a sibling. These children must learn that they will need to cross many small streams during their lives but they must always be aware even a small stream after a heavy rain can become perilous to cross. By being aware of this danger most severe sibling rivalry issues can be avoided.
Learning how to recognize, understand and respond to jealousy and competition allows the school aged child to learn how to build positive and supportive relationships. Learning how to name conflicting feelings is the first step to head off sibling rivalry. By responding to these feelings the older child is also preventing emotions from developing into unconscious drives that result in unhealthy and even risky behaviors. Unconscious drives can easily evolve into destructive behaviors such as tattling, physical or verbal aggressive behavior or the destruction of personal property.
The goal of every parent is to build lifelong positive and supportive relationships between all of their children. By being fair, not having favorites and not comparing children parents are setting a strong positive example of behaviors they support and endorse. This is done by focusing on individuality and not equality. By learning how to give and share in a non-judgmental and accepting fashion children will be ready and able to reach out not only to siblings but also to others they meet and desire to develop positive relationships with.
Parents must paint a realistic picture of both the fun and less than fun aspects of having a new infant in the family. Infants are fussy, cry often, require constant attention and even require “smelly” diaper changes. By starting early and preparing the school aged child for the work ahead you are more likely to find a partner in this endeavor rather than an adversary.
Parents who do not set a positive example run the risk of accelerating negative rivalry issues and supporting the evolution of negative behaviors. Parental responses must focus on being fair and never comparing children. There can be no favorites and unconditional love and support must be provided daily if your child is to have a strong sense of security. Weekly family meetings where the importance of love, unity, trust and positive self-worth are discussed can also be very helpful. It is essential all participants understand that everyone is entitled to an opinion and no one has the right to change or control the behavior of another. Parents must learn how to listen during these meetings, acknowledge the feelings of participants, sum up the situation and then support the development of a dialog between the participants. This is done by asking for solutions rather than providing solutions. Criticism must be avoided and positive behaviors supported.
The aim of a parent is to focus on prevention of rivalry rather than directing blame on a specific behavior or child. By learning how to arbitrate rather than judge parents are less likely to be drawn into a conflict where there is no right or wrong. This also prevents alienation and supports the ability of every child to resolve conflicts in a respectful fashion.
Parents who show daily the importance of taking the time to love and support the individuality of everyone they meet are setting the best example of how to handle rivalry and avoid the negative behaviors that result from jealousy and competition.
Aggressive behavior by a child is a major problem for families. When a pattern of aggressive behavior is seen intervention must be sought. The first step is an assessment of why a behavior is occurring. Are specific triggers, antecedents or associations evident? Are the behaviors specific to certain people or surroundings? Have there been any recent social, emotional or personal events that may have triggered the onset of the aggressive behavior? Often these issues are complex and difficult for you to assess on your own. In these situations seek out the help of a knowledgeable and experienced professional.
After a determination of possible cause has been made a decision about therapeutic intervention is the next step. Numerous types of interventions may be appropriate. It is important to choose an intervention that is evidence based and reasonable in terms of financial, emotional and personal cost to the family. It is best to avoid the use of medication as a first line treatment unless the severity of aggression warrants.
After initiating an intervention you must monitor the behavior as it relates to the chosen therapeutic intervention and you must perform an ongoing assessment of environmental effects of both the aggression and the therapeutic intervention. Treatments and your child’s response to the intervention do not just affect the child, but also the siblings, parents and the family. After considering each of these issues all negative and positive effects must be monitored in an ongoing fashion.
Throughout this entire process utilizing supportive services to foster communication and relationship building, while at the same time decreasing moderate and toxic stress must be pursued. Every parent and family who deals with aggressive behavior needs support. All levels of stress cannot be eliminated but the moderate, severe forms must be managed and the toxic forms that hinder and prevent interpersonal relationships must be eliminated. This may involve routine self-care strategies such as progressive relaxation techniques or guided positive imagery as well as non-traditional activities including taking long walks, quieting the mind with a good book, getting more sleep, enjoying the arts, eating healthier or spending more time with a beloved pet. Options are as varied as your interests and willingness to explore allow.
In terms of direct intervention for your child you must find a professional you trust to give you advice. Non-pharmacologic behavioral interventions for your child can be beneficial. Psychotherapy that is insight directed and based on cognitive and behavioral principles should be considered and pursued as appropriate. You may also find family directed services that alter the way you interpret and respond to your child’s behavior are not only reasonable but effective. Some children due to their age or temperament have patterns of self-regulation, reactivity and flexibility that lead to explosive patterns of behavior including aggression. These patterns make it hard for you to be attuned to their needs with the sensitivity, attention and responsivity needed. For these children changing the way you understand, relate and respond can bring dramatic positive results.
If pharmacologic intervention is determined to be necessary then the medication should be evidence based and chosen to target and treat the underlying condition. Be clear about what behaviors you have targeted and monitor these patterns before and after the medication is initiated. Some medications require time to build up in the blood stream and require doses based on your child’s weight. Other medications have effects which only last a few hours. Discuss the medication dosage and response profile with the physician who prescribes the medication and always ask about possible side-effects. Avoid the use of multiple drugs to limit the risk of potential drug interactions and to make drug responses easier to interpret. Lastly, choose a start low and go slow approach when beginning a new medication.
Fathers must provide a secure, safe and supportive environment for their child. This must begin early in the child’s life and must be linked to the building of emotional competence. Emotional competence allows a child to recognize, respond to and understand emotions and leads to increased self-esteem and self-worth. The life skills that result from this training and modeling foster the development of social confidence and competence. Fathers who teach these skills to their child improve their child’s ability to initiate and maintain friendships throughout their lives.
Mothers need help and support. Fathers who take an active role before and after the delivery of their new child strengthen the maternal-paternal relationship and experience the power of belonging. The roles of a father include economic, educational, social and physical responsibilities which provide a father the opportunity to see problems as challenges and situations which require solutions. Fathers must avoid personal complaints and excuses. They must be competent, caring, independent, democratic and socially competent in their decision making. As role models for their child, they must be attentive and responsive to the needs of their child. Since quality and quantity of interaction are both important fathers must look for ways to be spontaneous and thoughtfully natural about their own needs and the needs of the child, spouse and every family member
Mothers and fathers can both experience post-partum depression. The added responsibilities, obligations and stress that come with a newborn can lead to depression. Intervention must be sought for post-partum mood changes. Two-way communication between parents and the sharing of feelings are the first steps in the identification and management of post-partum depression.
Although generalizations oversimplify gender patterns of support there are two types of support infants and children require. This support comes from traditional gender relationships or from non-traditional gender relationships. Gentleness and security are typical maternal support patterns while independence and confidence building are typical paternal support patterns. Fathers often provide a “rough and tumble” approach to life experience. They teach children how to manage aggressive impulses and how to learn how to control emotions. In this way fathers teach their children how to make their way through the rigors of the outside and often unforgiving world. Fathers teach a child how appearance is the consequence of fitness and preparation while confidence is the consequence of capability.
Fathers must teach sympathy, compassion, empathy and respect. They empower a child with the discipline to recognize, understand, respond to and control emotions and frustrations. When fathers engage in vigorous play intellectual development is supported. Children learn how to use their bodies to solve problems and learn the importance of exploration and risk-taking. Fathers support the use of more challenging language and focus on the importance of social communication and teamwork. Vigorous play improves motor skills for both large and small muscles, improves hand-eye coordination skills and encourages both one on one and team directed activities. Such activities encourage and support independent thought and behavior for a child.
Grandparent wisdom and advice can benefit your child. By the year 2030 30% of the US population will be over age 65. Although many things have changed since grandparents raised children many things have not. Grandparents can be the best models, mentors and memory keepers for a family. They can also be intrusive, rash and judgmental. Every parent must recognize the perils of this generation gap while at the same time understanding the wisdom and experience grandparents provide.
Whether you are a parent or a grandparent your goal is to keep your child safe. It is important for parents and grandparents to avoid confrontations that can lead to resentment. Advice from grandparents often feels judgmental. Grandparents must be cautious not to intrude or interfere in the decisions their children make about raising their own child. Many times useful information is presented in ways that cause friction and wounds that are difficult to heal.
Parents must take the time to explain to their parents why they want things done differently. Choose your battles carefully and focus on what is important rather than engaging in a battle for control. By explaining why you want something done differently you will be better able to engage your parents in a dialog concerning the care of their grandchild. This dialog will allow you to address the concerns of the grandparent rather than just telling them what you want done. Always seek middle ground and compromise on minor issues. On important issues always focus on the health and safety of your child and stand firm about the boundaries you set and the decisions you make.
Parents and grandparents must both learn how to suppress their egos. Many Grandparents view parents as children rather than as adults worthy of respect and parents view parenting advice from grandparents as intrusive and interfering. A parental “it is now my turn” mentality leads to discord and inevitable differences in opinion and prevents the development of reciprocal respect.
Parents must be flexible and at the same time set clear boundaries concerning the care of their child. Grandparents must find the balance between sharing their experience and wisdom while not interfering and avoiding rash judgment and hostility. When parents and grandparents recognize each has a unique perspective to share the value of personal opinions increases.
Some things that need to be discussed include safety issues, discipline and technology. Smoke avoidance is very important. Infants and children of all ages should not be exposed to tobacco smoke. When placed in a crib a “back to sleep” position should always be used. Infants must not be overdressed since overheating increases the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The crib should be free of all toys and bumper pads are not needed. The mattress should be firm and there should be no loose cords that could lead to entanglement and strangulation. Baby powder and fragrances should be avoided and breastfeeding is best. Supplemental food should not be introduced until 6 months of age. A rear facing car seat is best until age 2 years and a bedtime bottle should be avoided. Infants under 6 months of age cannot be spoiled. If an infant under this age is crying, a cry it out (CIO) approach is not appropriate.
Eating patterns have also changed. Portions should be small and never encourage children to clean their plate if they are no longer hungry. A better response is to decrease future portions. For discipline positive redirection and allowing a child to choose from a set of healthy choices have replaced negative punishment. Lastly, technology has changed dramatically since your parents were parenting you. Technology is now imbedded within the lives of children. It is now best to focus on setting healthy boundaries concerning the use of technology rather than on avoidance and negative comments about the hazards and dangers of technology.
Blending is difficult. Roles and boundaries are easily blurred and even the best intentions can be misread. Challenging “normal” behaviors are often interpreted as being due to being part of a blended family when in fact many of these behaviors are often normal and expected patterns. Children test both parents and stepparents. The reasons for a behavior are often buried deep and due to a confluence of issues relating to attachment and fear of being abandoned.
Common behaviors include temper tantrums, aggressive behavior or avoidance behaviors. Separation and divorce cause anguish for children. These behaviors are often a reflection of a child’s own feelings and his or her own perception of self.
Your best approach is patience and not overreacting. Time is a great healer and showing your love and concern in clear, consistent and concise ways is best. Do not take it personally if a stepchild wishes to keep you at a distance. Stay non-judgmental and be sincere and honest in your interactions. Do not hide your feelings and always be clear that you do not plan to assume the role the child’s biological parent.
The sharing of mutual interests and activities will help build a relationship with your stepchild. Allow time to build the trust each of you will need. By understanding the importance of respect and mutual acceptance you will be laying the foundation for future successful interactions. At all times remember you are married to the parent of the child, and you are not married to the child.
Always be ready for episodic flare-ups of mistrust and doubt. The separation and divorce of parents is difficult for children. When a parent remarries fears of separation and abandonment often resurface. If such issues do not lessen with love and patience, formal counseling may be necessary. The earlier intervention is pursued, the less chance toxic stress will infect the entire family.
Your brain contains about 100 billion neurons. Each neuron is connected to other neurons like intertwined rose bushes planted next to one another. When the branches touch and overlap networks of neurons are formed. These connections are electrochemical synapses. Many hormones are released in the brain and support the growth and survival of these brain networks. Some of these hormones are released due to stressful or emotionally significant experiences while others are released due to new learning experiences or damaging brain events.
How you learn and remember is based on the strengthening and weakening of these neuronal circuits. This process allows the brain to respond and change and provides the basis for the word plasticity which is often used when discussing brain function. Brain neurons are able to adapt but there are limits to this adaptation beyond which cell death and brain damage do occur.
Your brain is able to self-organize and adapt to a changing environment. Stress, trauma, novelty and learning do affect brain structure and function. When stress hormones are released by your brain your ability to form new memories is affected. If a certain area of your brain is damaged by physical trauma or a lack of oxygen or blood flow your brain also has the ability for other undamaged populations of neurons to take over the job of the damaged neurons. This process involves the growth of new supportive networks that can perform the function of lost neurons and increase the performance and function of remaining working neurons.
Your brain is dynamic. The adult brain is not largely fixed and stable. Your ability to respond to brain stress through enhancement or rerouting of function is only now being understood. Old models that described the brain as being a hard wired circuit are not accurate. This capability allows you to continue an unending learning process throughout your life and provides hope for new treatments for those who are developmentally disabled, brain injured and for those who have psychological disorders.
Exercise is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle and leads to good physical health. There is no single best activity but keeping your exercise routine fresh, exciting and social improves your chance to continue exercising. Everyone should exercise from infancy through adulthood.
Exercise must always be done in a safe environment. Make sure you drink enough water and always warm up before you begin moderate to strenuous activities. Try not to do too much or go too far or too fast. Appropriate speed, flexibility and strength must be present before many activities should be pursued. The pace and duration of exercise, core strength, movement dynamics and muscle, bone, heart and lung strength are all important. Lastly, body maturity, nutrition and quality and quantity of sleep are also involved.
The benefits to exercise are both physical and psychological. Physical benefits include improved lean body mass, improved heart and lung function and strong bones and muscles. Psychological benefits include improved sleep and learning, enhanced self-esteem and a healthier general sense of well-being. Exercise decreases stress and aides in the restoration of balance to our daily lives.
Studies show children and teens involved in strenuous daily aerobic activities have improved scores in tests of creative thinking, planning, attention, simultaneous and successive processing. The planning benefits are indicative of executive function benefits. Neuroimaging studies using functional MRI have revealed an increase in neural activity in the prefrontal brain regions in pre-teens involved in intense aerobic activity. Other studies have shown a similar gain in working memory measures which is associated with success in reading and mathematics.
Exercise helps us with goal setting, the use of strategies, self-monitoring, inhibition and self-control and the purposeful allocation of attention and memory. Through exercise we learn to suppress behaviors that lead to immediate rewards in order to obtain a more long term and desired reward. It is a learned behavior and must be linked to a nutritious diet, adequate sleep and time for recovery from exercise. It must be started at an early age and become part of your daily activities. It is more likely to occur when it is valued, inexpensive, seamlessly embedded into our daily life and readily available. Try to incorporate 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise in your daily routine and when a day is missed don’t overdo exercise the following day.
In recent years physical inactivity has become the standard for busy parents. To save time we use automobiles rather than walking or biking. We rely on time and labor-saving devices and use electronic devices to distract ourselves. We sit too much and do not incorporate physical activity into our schedules. Children under age two years should not watch TV and children from age two to six years should watch less than two hours a day. Older children should keep screen and electronic device time under two to four hours a day and should not rely on electronics as a sleep aide. Most teenagers in the US spend more time with electronic devices than they do sleeping.
For infants the focus should be on developmentally appropriate motor skills. These types of exercise should be lively, consistent and spontaneous. Exercise that is imbedded within tummy time, diaper changing and dressing is best. Peek-a-Boo, So-Big and Patty Cake are great choices. Be cautious about the amount of time your infant spends in swings, bouncy chairs and car seats.
For the toddler to pre-school aged child the joy of movement is the focus. Children during these ages need to gain a sense of physical control over their bodies. They become stronger and leaner. They learn about spatial relationships in terms of hand-eye and foot-eye coordination. They learn how to manipulate more than one object at a time and they develop a sense of stability and rhythm. Walking, hopping, galloping, skipping, marching, running and obstacle courses are all perfect activities for this age.
As a child enters the school age years between five and ten years there is a transition to activities that have flexible rules and basic instructions. Teamwork and the integration of motor and cognitive skills become increasingly important.
For teenagers and adults personal interests, reasonable risk taking behaviors, competition and socialization opportunities become the focus. Team activities and hobbies increase while continuing daily moderate to vigorous exercise must be the goal. No matter what activity or exercise is chosen the focus must always be on effort rather than outcome.
When a child is born all eyes focus on him. His beautiful eyes, the softness of his skin, the curls in his hair and the warmth of his embrace. When your infant snuggles into the crook of your neck the world disappears and all you see and hear is your child. Whether a product of our genes or emotional drives this focus drives a parent to protect a child who is unable to protect or nourish themselves. Without your love, affection and attention he could not survive. This is one of the reasons why he responds to your care and love. He not only wants you he needs you.
From the moment of birth your infant’s behavior shapes your life. Your drives and their behavior force you to attend and respond to them. This is good. As parent you want to feel attached and needed by your newborn. A problem arises, however, when you allow this desire to override the respect you have for yourself and the pursuit of your own needs.
Parents must learn to recognize, understand and respond to the needs of their child. Your care and encouragement support and allow your child to develop a sense of self, a sense of others and a sense of community.
Parents usually neglect their own and their spouse’s needs while caring for children. Excessive attachment undermines the lessons of self-care every child and young adult needs to learn. Parents want their child to grow up with the self-awareness and strength to find their own place in the world and to have the ability to maintain relationships built out of mutual cooperation and respect. As an infant your child learns how to interact with people and objects. As a toddler he begins to assert his own decision making with your help and guidance. Don’t allow excessive attachment to evaporate your own self-care.
Parents must continue to chase their passions. Everyday you must seek what inspires you. When a parent stops performing self-care there is the loss of self which often leads to remorse, regret and anger. Every parent must continue to seek the time and the opportunities to continue their own life journey. Look to the arts and to nature to help you see the magnificence of the world around you. Rent a video and make yourself your favorite dinner. Read or listen to a new book or start a new hobby. Call an old friend, go for a walk in the park, start a scrapbook or take up a new sport. Eat healthy, stay physically active, get your sleep and find someone to talk with about someone or something you love.
When you take time for yourself you are modeling the greatest gift you can give to your child.
Parents are daily confronted by the limits of time and energy. Time spent on work, events, childcare and parental duties are consuming and endless. For women, care of their spouse is often an additional time drain. Parents live in a state of constant sleep debt and neglect self-care. Studies find 50% of women have less than 90 minutes a day of free time yet these same studies report most women feel their job does not interfere with their personal life. So, the question is, what is the problem?
The primary issue is chores and responsibilities. Mothers have more tasks than fathers. Less than 25% of male spouses share household responsibilities with their wife. Most husbands focus on home-related issues including household repairs and improvements, gardening and yard work. That leaves everything else for the mother. Her list includes child care, assisting in homework, cooking, transporting children to activities, household errands, cleaning, grocery shopping, house organizing, laundry, childcare activities, managing day to day household finances, clothes buying and the list goes on and on.
Although most mothers feel their husband is capable of doing more chores and taking on more responsibilities most mothers do not delegate activities to their spouse. In fact, most women are more willing to share to do list chores with their children than their spouse. Mothers want their husband to ask to help rather than being asked and are protective of many household responsibilities such as home decorating, managing household finances and organizing the house.
This endless list of household duties is daunting and causes physiologic stress. Stress hormones are released and elevated stress hormones at the end of the day are linked to mood changes, depression and shorter life spans. So, what can you do? If you feel overwhelmed ask your spouse and others for help. Practice and learn how to share responsibilities and duties with those you love. Do not wait for your spouse to ask. Tell your spouse what needs to be done and always find time to stop and relax.
Seek relaxation in a contemplative activity. Get out in nature, experience and become engaged in the arts, exercise, take a nap, scrapbook, knit, sew, dance, join a choir, pursue your spiritual center, take a yoga class or read a book. These activities allow you to recharge, breathe and stop worrying about the house and your children. By being your own gatekeeper and taking time to have fun you will reclaim your life.
Who we are and what we do are determined by events, opportunities, temperament and personality. Parenting is complex, difficult and confusing. Daily choices and decisions are often endless. Yet, focusing on basic parenting techniques improves your chance of success.
Provide daily love, affection and attention to your child. Give your child freedom and encouragement. Teach your child how to respect self and others. Always model and express approval in your words and actions. Allow your child to make right and wrong decisions and support the power of acceptance, personal choice, exploration and discovery.
Encourage your child to develop the grit, confidence and capacity to seek change when it is needed and always relate to others with thoughtful non-judgmental behavior. Teach your child to give, share and be truthful. Foster the insight and independent judgement to help your child discriminate between what is right and what is wrong.
This responsibility and ability is yours. Become the type of parent you want to be. You are not your parent. Chains and patterns can be broken, reconfigured and invented. Your success depends upon preparation and reflection about the parenting choices you make.
It is my joy to be a part of your journey.
Parenting advice is difficult to listen to, understand and incorporate into our daily lives. We all want to be better parents. We know our words and actions intentionally and unintentionally influence our children for the rest of their lives. Each of us want our child to experience joy, love and happiness. We want them to experience friendship and find companionship when and where they need it. We want our children to be purposeful in action and thought and respectful of others. We want them to grow up in a positive environment filled with opportunity. We want our child to live in a safe environment, respect others, be able to choose right from wrong and know how and when to help another. As your guide I will help you determine what type of parent you are and what type of parent you want to become. I promise to help you find answers to common questions, concerns and problems you are confronted with every day. I have organized the information by topic to provide you understandable parenting advice when and where you have a few minutes of free time. My goal is to help tired and overextended parents change the way they parent one way at a time. The decision is yours. Do you want your child to feel safe, secure and loved? Do you want your child to have the opportunity to see, hear and feel the world? Are you willing to talk with and tune into your child? Are you ready, willing and able to give your child the love and support to make both good and bad choices and learn from both? If you are, I want to be your guide in this greatest of all life journeys.