Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Does your child want to stay home from school?

Facebook provides many insights into people's parenting, their attitudes about children, and their relationships with their children.  I previously wrote on this topic in my post "What your words say about you."  Recently a mother posted that her child did not want to go to school.  She admitted that the child did not like school and would do anything to stay home, including faking being sick.  She was obviously frustrated and angry.  Other mothers responded that they knew exactly how she felt.  Some moms had rules like "If you are not vomiting, bleeding or have a fever you have to go to school."  And one mom suggested that the frustrated mother make staying home worse than going to school.  The moms lamented that they did not know when their children were telling the truth and that made them mad.

I understand how these mothers feel.  When my girls were still attending school it was not uncommon for me to decide if they were well enough to go to school.  There were times when I sent my girls to school even though they did not want to go.  For at least one of my children this was damaging, and I am deeply sorry for the times I made her get on the school bus despite her tears.  As parents we are inclined to give in to the power and control of the school system.  We are made to think that it is our duty and responsibility to make our children go to school.  We end up believing that it is in our children's best interest to get on that bus.  We stop listening to our inner wisdom and we stop listening to our children.

The child mentioned above told the truth: She did not like school.  She did not want to go to school.  When her mother could not or would not hear that truth, the child did what she needed to do to get her needs met: she faked being sick.  Then her mother got angry.  There is a good chance that the mom's anger was stemming from her conflict between being a good mother and meeting her child's needs, and being the good mother the school system told her to be and sending her child to school.  Perhaps she also needed to get to work and was feeling stress from that as well.

There are many reasons children do not like school.  Not all of them are life threatening, but each of them needs to be taken seriously.  As a parent it is your job to advocate for your children and make sure that their needs are being met.  The school system is focused on test scores and managing behavior, not on making sure your children are having their needs met.  Having spent six years volunteering in public school classrooms I can assure you that meeting the diverse needs of 25 children in one classroom is not possible.  Living in a world where many children go to before and after school childcare, as well as spending over six hours a day in the classroom, very few children are getting even their most basic needs met.  If your child is not one of the daycare kids, they are still in a classroom with children who spend up to twelve hours of their day in the care of someone other than their parents.  The behaviors caused by the unmet needs of these children consume the time and energy of their teachers.

Home should be a refuge, to suggest that a parent make staying home worse than going to school is tragic.  Home should be the safe place, the soft spot in a hard world, the place where a child knows they are safe, loved, cherished, listened to and respected.  If you choose to make staying home worse than going to school there is a good chance you will not be seeing much of your children once they are old enough to choose where they spend their time.  Not all children in our world have the luxury of a home that is a refuge.  For some children school is their only safe place and for these children my heart aches.


If you have a child who does not want to go to school please find out why.  Listen to your child.  With teen suicides making the news on a disturbingly frequent basis it seems all the more urgent for each of us to connect with our children.  If your child does not want to go to school there may be very serious reasons.  Some parents do not find out what they were until they are reading their child's suicide note.

Please listen to your children.  If your children are unhappy in the school system bring them home.  There are many different ways to learn and there is a way that is a good fit for you and your children.  If you need help finding options or resources please ask, I would be happy to help.

Remember that nothing is more important than your relationship with your child.  That includes school.


For more reasons your child might not want to go to school read Peter Gray's article at Psychology Today, "Why Children Protest Going to School: More evolutionary mismatch." 

Monday, October 25, 2010

What can your teen tell you?

Your teens must know that they can tell you anything - ANYTHING - and you will respond with love and compassion.  If you parent by controlling your teen's behavior through punishment, they will fear telling you the truth because they know the consequences.  If you parent by controlling your teen's behavior through shaming, they will not tell you the truth because they risk humiliation.  If you parent by controlling your teen's behavior through criticism, they will not tell you the truth because they risk judgment.   If you parent in any way that fails to create a climate of trust, unconditional love and connection in your family then you are literally putting your teen's lives at risk.

If your teen is being bullied at school they need to feel safe telling you about their suffering.  Would your daughter feel comfortable telling you that other girls are calling her a slut and spreading nasty rumors?  Would your son be able to tell you that a couple boys ganged up on him in the locker room and gave him a wedgie?  If your teen broached the subject and said she was being bullied would you discount or disregard what she said, or would you listen in a way that would support her in telling you more of the details?

If your teen goes to a friends house, the parents aren't home and the party gets uncomfortably rowdy, will your teen feel that she can call you to get a ride home?  Does she know that you will not lecture her about her choices, ground her or yell at her all the way home?

If your teen is depressed can he tell you?  Will you pass it off as typical teenage angst or will you take the time to get him the help he needs?

If your teen has questions about her sexuality, if your teen thinks he might be gay, if your teen feels different in some unexplainable way, can your teen come to you and talk it through without risking rejection, derision, harassment, or being made to feel unworthy of your love?

Can your teen tell you who he is, what her passions are, what he believes, what she wants to do with her life?
Or, do you constantly hold up your expectations of who your teen should be, reminding your teen that if she does not live up to your expectations she will be a disappointment and you will withdraw your approval and support?

Are you putting your teen's life at risk?

Teens are dying.  They are dying because they feel isolated, bullied, depressed, hated, and unloved.  They are dying because they do not feel safe in their communities, their schools and their homes.  They are dying because they did not have the support and acceptance that they desperately needed.  They are dying because the adults in their lives failed.  Teachers, parents, spiritual leaders, politicians, grandparents, bus drivers, friends' parents, every adult in their life had an opportunity to be the person in their life who made a difference.  Perhaps their parents were unwavering in their love and support but that was not enough because the other adults looked the other way.  We must all take responsibility for supporting the teens in our community. 

I cannot promise you that if you parent unconditionally, with respect and love, by putting your relationship first, that your teen will be just fine, that you can sit back and relax knowing that your teen will never commit suicide.  However, I can tell you that nothing is more important than your relationship with your teen.  I can tell you that if you make that relationship a priority in your life there is a much greater chance that you and your teen will come through these years alive.

Wrap your teens in unconditional love, and create a climate of respect and trust in your house so that they know you will be there for them no matter what.  (If you are not sure what that means read "How we live at our house.")   If something is causing conflict in your relationship ask yourself if it is more important than your teen's life.  The answer to that should be easy: Nothing is more important than your teen's life.




For more on Trust and Teens read Here. 


"Hopefully some day you will have a teenager"


For more on my relationships with teens read "I don't tattle." 


For more on being trust worthy in our relationships read Here.


And my previous post on this subject "Tolerance vs Acceptance."



Other resources:

To Write Love on Her Arms 

The Trevor Project

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A failure according to whom?

When my girls were little I felt like an epic failure at bed time.  They nursed to sleep when they were young.  The books and the pediatrician, who didn't have any children of her own, said you should not nurse babies to sleep so they could learn how to fall asleep on their own.  When the girls were older bedtime involved many stories and then many songs, and ultimately me staying in the room until they were all asleep.  We often played musical beds in the night and you never knew where everyone would be sleeping come morning.  If a conversation with other parents turned to the topic of bedtime I would tell them that I had always been a failure at bedtime.

To know if you are a failure you must know what you are trying to accomplish.  If my primary goal was to have children who listened to one story and then drifted off to sleep, alone in their room, then yes, I was a failure.  If my primary goal was to have children who felt safe and loved and connected to their parents then I was a huge success.  In the latter case I was a failure when I let experts and society, and other people's advice and expectations, distract me from being the parent I wanted to be.  I was a failure when I walked out of the room because, "I should be able to have time to myself at night after the kids are in bed."  I was a failure when my children were crying and I failed to offer comfort because "they need to learn how to go to sleep on their own."  I was a failure when I did not listen to my heart and when I failed to meet the real needs of my children.  I look back and am saddened that I felt like a failure when I was meeting their needs.   Instead of enjoying our night times together, too often I struggled with guilt and frustration because of my "bad parenting".

Society does not encourage us to meet our children's needs.  Parenting books, magazines and television shows primarily focus on how to parent through controlling our children's behaviors and changing them so that it makes our life easier.  They tell us that if our child does X then we should do Y, and then our child must do Z.  If our child yells, "I hate you!" at us then we should put them in time out.  The child must also apologize for being disrespectful and promise never to yell "I hate you!" at us again.  These sources of parenting information focus on behaviors, not on children.  (Read The Case Against Time-out HERE)


Mainstream parenting information aims to support parents, not children.  It tells us how to get our children to conform to societal expectations, not how to celebrate and enjoy each unique child.  It does not tell us that if our child yells, "I hate you!" at us that we should take our child's feelings seriously and validate those feelings.  We are not told that our best response will happen when we stop, take a deep breath, and consider what it is our child needs in that moment.   Most parenting information will fail to mention that what your child does not need is isolation, separation, with drawl of love, or a punishment of any kind.  And that your child does need patience, compassion, understanding, respect and your unconditional love.  We are not reminded to to look at the situation from our child's perspective and that we also may need to examine our role in the situation because often we unintentionally or unknowingly cause situations to escalate, as I discussed Here.


When you get advice on how to parent consider the goal of that advice.  Evaluate whether what you are hearing will ultimately strengthen your relationship with your child.  Is the goal to reach a greater understanding of your child and his needs, or is it to stop your child from expressing his needs?  Are you being encouraged to gain a greater understanding of what needs are causing her behaviors, or are you being told how to stop behaviors while ignoring any related unmet needs?

When you are find yourself challenged by some aspect of parenting, frustrated by your child's behavior, at your wit's end regarding any particular stage your child is going through, start asking questions.  Start with "What does my child need and how can I meet this need?"  You may need to ask, "What do I need and I can I get my needs met?"  Keep asking questions until you find an answer that truly resonates with you, your child and your family.  My post "Learning from the questions we ask" shows how one question can be the starting place for a stream of questions that can challenge and inform your perspective on a particular parenting topic.

When you feel that you have failed as a parent ask yourself where that feeling is coming from.  If you realize that you are letting society tell you that you are a failure take a moment to make a mental list of all the ways that you are an amazing parent who is meeting your children's unique needs.  If you are truly struggling to be the parent you want to be reach out for help, search for like minded friends as discussed in my post on Peer Pressure and be gentle with yourself as you continue on towards becoming the parent you want to be.  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

For Mothers with Babies and Young Children: It will get easier

A comment on facebook, made by a mother with young children about my Stop Yelling post, caught my attention.  The feelings of frustration and desperation, combined with the feeling that there was no answer to the situation, were painfully familiar.  I was reminded of how desperate, trapped and depleted I felt for years when my girls were young.  If you are a mother living in survival mode right now please know, you are not alone.  It does get less intense, you will get more sleep, and you will get to go to the bathroom alone.  If you are a parent or grandparent or guardian of any kind who is feeling over whelmed by the needs of the children in your life and you cannot see a light at the end of the tunnel please hold on.  Tell yourself you only have to get through this one moment at this time, and then you can face the next moment.  You are not alone.   

When I was living in survival mode, see Personal Lack for the story of what my life was like then, I couldn't see a way out.  I did not feel that there were any resources, that I had any options, that I could do anything to change the situation.  When you are parenting three children ages 4, 16 months and 1 month, just nursing and changing diapers consumes the day.  I did not have a single friend who was inclined to come over for a visit, much less help.  My husband was gone all day and several nights a week for work and classes.  Our only car went with him.  These are years of my life that I barely remember.  Dishes regularly grew moldy on the counter.  The laundry lived in a pile on the couch.  I think I mopped our tiny kitchen floor twice in two years.  Because I lived in survival mode for so many years, and was not one of those mythical Super Moms who manages to have a clean house, and children, too, I did not think I had much to share about the early years of motherhood.  I was wrong, I need to share because you need to know that my family survived those years and yours will, too.

I also need to share because those of you who no longer have small children need to be reminded that mothers do not stop needing support when their baby reaches 6 weeks of age.  We need to reach out because often an exhausted mother is not going to ask for help.  We need to bring over a meal or take the older kids to the park, we need to stop by for a visit and wash the sink full of dishes while we chat.   We need to stop thinking we are too busy with our own lives and figure out what kind of helping we do best.  Do you like to cook, or clean, or cuddle a baby so mom can take a shower?  Do you have the resources to send over takeout?  Do you have a teen or tween who would be happy to be a mother's helper for a few hours each week?

When you are are living in survival mode, exhausted, depleted and possibly suffering from depression, all advice sounds trite, impossible or just plain insensitive.  No matter how ridiculous someone's advice may sound, ask yourself if there is some small way to apply it to your life.  Remember, it will get easier.  Little by little, in ways so small you may not notice them at first, things will get easier.  When you feel like all you do is meet other people's needs, clean up messes, wash dishes, make food, wash more dishes and wash laundry, stop for a moment.  Take a deep breath, exhale just as deeply, then take another deep breath.  Ask yourself what small thing you can do for yourself.


Here are some ideas:

*Eat chocolate.
*Ask for help: call a friend, post of facebook, text someone; be honest about how you are feeling and what you need.
*Take your vitamins.
*Buy food that only has to be heated, even if you think it is something you can't afford:  frozen french fries, pizza, ravioli, desserts.
*Keep fruit frozen in the freezer so it is easy to blend up a smoothie when you realize you have forgotten to feed yourself.
*Put on music that you love.


Look for ways that you can nurture yourself and your children at the same time:

*Get everyone out of the house for a walk, even if you only make it to the corner and back.
*Grab a pile of books and some snacks and spend time reading and cuddling in a pile.
*Let your children watch movies for as long as they want.
*When your children are doing crafts get creative with them.
*Tell yourself three things you love about each of your family members.
*Remember that food is food and ice cream for breakfast is just fine, as are popcorn and apples for dinner, or pancakes for lunch.
*Use a slow cooker/crock pot so that dinner can be prepared earlier in the day when you may have more energy.


When you have dishes in the sink, laundry on the couch, toys all over the floor, and at least one mess to clean up that you would rather not mention out loud, remember, you are not alone.  Take a deep breath, eat some chocolate, put on some music and go dance with your children, the mess can wait at least until the end of the song.         

Saturday, October 16, 2010

You can stop yelling at your children

Once upon a time, I was a mom who yelled at her children.

Why do we yell at our children? You might say "because my children are misbehaving" or "because I lack self-control" or maybe even "because I don't know what else to do."  Why did I yell at my children?  I yelled because I was exhausted and couldn't see a way out of my exhaustion.  I yelled because I was frustrated that life didn't look like my mental image.  I yelled because at our weakest moments we fall back on how we ourselves were parented.  I yelled because my expectations weren't being met.  I yelled because my needs were not being met.  In retrospect I know that the yelling was not because of my children.  My children did not make me yell.  It was all about me: my issues and baggage, my lack of resources, knowledge, support and sleep.

I went from yelling to not yelling, from conflict to peace, from feeling like a crappy parent to feeling like a competent parent, most of the time.  While writing this I realized that there are answers to how I stopped yelling in my previous blog posts.  Here are some ideas on how to stop yelling, with links for further reading.

Focus on relationships. 
Nothing is more important than your relationship with your children, not clean bedrooms, not homework, not bedtimes.

Practice unconditional parenting.  Your children do not need to do anything to earn your love, your help, or your approval.  Your children are perfect just the way they are.  Read "Tolerance vs. Acceptance" to understand how important it is to accept our children for who they are.

In "Conflict or Connection" I wrote about how we as parents can be the cause of conflict in our relationship with our children.

View yourself as a support person, a facilitator, for your child.  You are exploring life together.  In "Saying 'yes'" and "Supporting Our Children's Passions" I describe two very different ways we have supported and facilitated for our children.

My summary "How we live at our house" explains the principles we try to live by in our family that focus on our relationships.
 
"A Family of Connected Individuals" discusses the balance of creating space for each individual while living as a family.

In "...and my husband" I expand on the idea of relationships to include the people with whom we co-parent.  Nothing more important than our relationship with our family.


Let go of your expectations
Remembering that your expectations are just that, your expectations.  It is not up to your children to meet your expectations.

I blogged about expectations and acceptance of life when it turns out differently than we expected in my blog post "fighting what is."

I blogged about how other people's expectations can affect my relationship with my children Here.

Meet needs.
Validating the needs of each family member and collaborative problem solving to meet them are vital to a connected, non-yelling, family.  I wrote about meeting children's needs as the "easy button of parenting" Here.

Further ideas on identifying needs were written Here.

My experience with getting my own needs met is described in my blog post "Personal Lack."

You can stop yelling at your children.  Start by focusing on your relationships, letting go of your expectations and meeting the needs of each family member.

UPDATE: At least one reader felt that this post was trite and superficial. In response to their concerns I wrote another blog post about Triggers and how to remove the triggers that cause us to yell at our children.  You will find that blog post Here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Peer Pressure

How does peer pressure affect your life and family? 
Has your child said to you, "But everybody else is doing it!" 
Have you said to your child, "If your friends jumped off a bridge would you jump off a bridge?"

How does peer pressure affect your parenting?  Do you give in to the peer pressure of other parents?  

The kind of peer pressure we feel relates directly to the kind of peers we have.  Our social circle can dramatically affect our parenting.  While nursing a toddler on a bench at the park might be shocking in some circles, in others a mother feels twinges of guilt because she didn't nurse her child past 24 months.  Some parents feel pressured by their friends to take their kids out of school and homeschool, while other parents face constant criticism for making that very choice.

If we do something because everybody else is doing it, regardless of how it fits with our children, we are parenting by peer pressure.  It takes a huge amount of courage to parent consciously, not blindly embracing how our peers are parenting.  No matter how right or wise or intelligent our peers may be, we have to figure out what works for us, our children and our family.  And no matter how right we think we are, we need to remember that, as inconceivable as it may seem, not everyone can or should parent exactly like we do.  The challenge then is to figure out what is authentic to our family, what works for us, and how to identify when we are giving into peer pressure with negative consequences.  This is easier than you might think.  We must simply look to our relationship with our children.  When there is stress, anger, animosity, hurt or lack of connection then we need to find the cause.  When joy, peace and connection are missing from our family we need to consider how we are parenting and what changes need to be made to better meet our family's unique needs.

Our peers may insist that a consistent bedtime routine at the same time each night is necessary for our children to learn good sleep habits.  We may have a child who has regular melt downs at bedtime.  We need to learn about different approaches to sleeping, and pay attention to our child's verbal and non-verbal communication, to find a way to meet that child's sleep needs.  Our peers may have families who believe complete freedom regarding when and where to sleep is necessary for children to grow up listening to their bodies and knowing what they need.  We may have a child who thrives on routines and prefers to sleep at the same time each night and we may need to be home by a certain time to support that child in getting to bed "on time."  If we are happy and healthiest when we sleep on a schedule then our family's approach to sleeping may also be different from our peers who are content sleeping different hours each day.  If we have different sleep needs then our children creative solutions to meeting everyone's needs will be required.

We cannot justify our parenting by saying "everybody's doing it!"  If the other parents pushed their children off the bridge would you push your children off the bridge?  Just because all the other parents send their children to school doesn't mean we have to send our children.  On the other hand, if all of our peers keep their children home from school and we have a child who wants to go to school it doesn't mean we cannot send our child to school.  If all of our peers put their babies into cribs we can choose to have a family bed.  If all of our peers have a family bed but that is causing lack of sleep for some members in our family than it may be time to come up with creative solutions regarding who sleeps where and with whom each night.

There are times when we may need to find new peers.  If our peers consider parental needs as more important than the needs of children instead of considering everyone's needs as equally important, if they do not treat their children with respect, if we come away from time with them feeling beat down and discouraged instead of supported and encouraged, it is time to find new peers.  If our peers parent through control instead of connection, punishment and praise instead of partnership, and retribution instead of respect it is time to find new peers.  Finding new peers can be hard.  Leaving behind old social circles may be emotionally difficult.  When we find friends who have a positive impact on our relationship with our children the sense of community and support adds depth and richness to our lives.  We respect each other and support each other in finding ways to meet our family's needs.  Consider the parents you call your friends, do they have a positive impact on your parenting?  Is it time to find new parenting peers?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Family of Connected Individuals

Being a family means that you are all related, however, it does not mean that you are all alike. One of the challenges in a family is creating space where each member can be an individual. Families are not created in a vacuum. Each parent comes with a lifetime of influence from their family of origin, and the experience of being in that family affects every aspect of their life in some way. When we choose to have children we often start recreating our family of origin without consciously realizing what we are doing.

In some families everyone is expected to accept and embrace the family religion, eating and sleeping habits, hobbies and recreational activities. These families live a life defined by the parents, often a life defined by their parents before them. These families have a strong identity as a unit, "this is who we are," and the individual members are seen only as parts of the whole. In these families there is very little room for personal growth outside of the prescribed pattern. These parents know what is best for their children, what their children need to do to grow up and be successful, what their children should and shouldn't eat, what their children need to believe, and the person their child should grow up to be. These parents are often very involved in their children's lives as a dominant authority figure. These children learn that the purpose of the family is to meet the parents' needs and expectations.

In some families the emphasis is placed on the individual. The parents often identify strongly with their roles outside the family. They push their children towards autonomy from birth. As the children grow older the family members have separate lives while living together in one house. The parents encourage the children to develop hobbies and interest, but usually do not share in those activities. The parents have their own interests and hobbies, and having time for those/time for themselves is often a higher priority than spending time together as a family. The parenting in these families focuses on making life more convenient for the parents. The children sleep on a schedule, in their own rooms, through the night, so the parents can have scheduled time to themselves after the children go to bed. The children eat on schedule and eat what is offered to minimize the time parents have spend on food preparation and cleanup. The children learn early on not to expect their needs to be met if it will inconvenience their parents.

Read My child doesn't mind to see how being raised in either of these families can affect some children.

My goal as a mother, as a member of a family, and as a wife, is to find the balance of living together as a connected family while supporting each other as individuals. Part of strong relationships is the ability to accept the other person as they are, not because they are who we want them to be. This is particularly true in the parent child relationship. In our society certain activities, jobs, hobbies, life-styles are held up as more important, more valuable, more worthy, than others. As parents we must value our children's interests equally. If one child loves to read and the other loves to play games on the computer, if one child loves to play football and the other would rather go for long walks in the woods, if one writes stories while and the other draws cartoon characters, we may feel like one child is wasting time while the other is learning. In different families different activities may be valued more highly. In one family being a football player maybe a valued activity; in another, it may be seen as a distraction from academics. We must realize that just because something is important and meaningful to us does not mean it will be the same for our children. We also must learn to support our children in their interests, even the ones we initially find uninteresting. At the very least we can be interested in our child's interest, even if we aren't interested in the actual activity or subject. In our society certain personalities and behaviors are also held up as more desirable and worthy. Children who are quiet, calm and obedient may be seen as good children, while high energy, high volume children may be punished for being disruptive. Children who are easy going and adaptable are given approval, while children who are intense and focused, requiring time to transition between activities, are seen as challenging or difficult. Parents often fail to consider how the seemingly less desirable traits may be beneficial along a child's life journey.

We can try to mold our children into mini-me's. We can stuff them into appropriately labeled socially accepted boxes. Or, we can appreciate our children for who they are. It is easy to smile and nod and agree that we should appreciate our children. It is much more challenging, and healthier for everyone, when we realize we need to look at our families, children and relationships, and consider where we are letting our expectations, preferences and ingrained patterns get in the way of our appreciation for, and enjoyment of, our children. As a family we can appreciate the richness our differences bring to our life together.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Identifying needs that need meeting

I received a comment on facebook suggesting that I write more about identifying our children's needs, particularly how to distinguish surface needs from deeper needs that may be harder to identify. The commenter suggested that sometimes meeting the surface need will exacerbate the deeper need. Here are my thoughts after reflecting on her comments:


How do we know what our children's needs are? When a child is out of sorts or there is disequilibrium in our family how do we discover the root cause, not just the easy answer. How do we know if what our child wants is a new toy or if their focus on shopping is really a way to spend more time with mom or dad? Does she really need new clothes or is she trying to make herself feel better after someone was critical of her body or her sense of style. Is he lashing out at you because he's tired and you said the wrong thing, or is the anger stemming from his frustration at not mastering a new trick on his skateboard? And in the process of figuring out which needs to meet how do we remain respectful of the person our child is? Sometimes in an effort to identify our children's needs we dismiss their experience or who they are, "He's just hungry, he'll be fine when he's had something to eat, that's just how he is." "Oh it's no big deal, she just acts this way when she's tired." "She's missing her friend, but she'll get over it."


And when we are trying to meet our children's needs, what about the times when we are absolutely sure we know what they need better than they do? What should we do then? Our child wakes up in the morning and is irritable and out of sorts. We know that our child is suffering from low blood sugar, having lived through this pattern ourselves and having seen it before in our child. We suggest that she eat something, but she resists. We keep offering different foods, pushing her to eat, telling her that we know that she will feel better (and be a whole lot nicer to be around) if she would just eat something. Our child becomes increasingly irrational, we become increasingly frustrated, and our child refuses to eat.


What about when your child has been invited to play with a friend but she says she doesn't want to play. You are sure that if your child got up off the couch and went to the friend's house she would have fun. You are absolutely certain that your child needs to socialize more and that she doesn't need to play computer games as much as she does.


It is easy, as parents, to think that we have a greater understanding of what our children need and that part of meeting our children's needs is sometimes taking control of the situation and making them do something for their own good. What happens when we do that? In our great parental wisdom we know that our child needs to get out of the house more. We tell our child that she must go play at the friend's house. She goes, but she is not happy about it and that affects her ability to have fun. In fact, she does not have fun, she ends up having a terrible time full of conflict, and comes home saying, "See, I told you I wouldn't have fun." The next time she is invited to play with a friend, and you start to push her to go, she remembers the conflict the last time you made her go and she has even less desire to play.


Some of you are going to point to the times it has worked for you, you pushed your child to go play and she had fun and see, you were right. Why do you need to be right? Would the world have ended if your child sat on the couch for a few more days before she decided that she was ready to go play with a friend? What does your child learn when you are right and she is wrong? She learns that her own judgment cannot be trusted and that she needs someone else to tell her what to do. She learns to stop listening to her inner wisdom.


Keeping my mouth shut is a huge challenge for me as a parent. I know what they need, I have the answer, I can fix this, I want to tell them what they should do because I love them and want them to be happy. Yes, sometimes my girls come to me wanting my help and asking me what I think and we talk things through together, however there are times when they wish I would shut up already. Different children want different amounts of parental input. Some children really want to be left alone to figure it out on their own. As painful as it can be to watch them struggle when we have an easy answer, we need to respect their desire to do it themselves. On the other hand, some children want us to provide the answers all the time, to come up with the solution, to do it for them. For those children we need to be willing to do more than we think we should. They will learn, they will get to the point of doing it on their own. They are watching us model those behaviors and activities. They know if we are helping then with unconditional love and respect or if we are grumbling about having to do it for them when they need to learn to do it on their own. We can choose to connect with our children who want more support through love and nurture or disconnect by being scornful and irritable.


When we give our children the room to explore their needs in a safe and supportive relationship they learn to trust themselves, their judgment, their inner wisdom. They learn from first hand experience that eating too much candy on an empty stomach makes them feel icky, or perhaps they learn that they have an iron gut and they can eat anything they want with no ill effects. This does not mean that we set them up for negative experiences so that they learn the lesson. We do not give them a huge bag of candy and tell them to have at it and then say "see I told you so" when they feel sick. We are right there with them, still meeting their needs when they ask or if they are receptive. We provide them with information about the possible outcomes of a choice or help support them in doing research to learn more, if they want the information. If they want our input and involvement we help them process their experiences, or share our experiences in a conversational manner, "When I first get up in the morning I can feel out of sorts until after I eat something, do you feel that way too?" It means making peppermint tea for their tummy if they feel sick from eating something that caused a negative reaction in their body and bringing it to them with empathy, not a lecture or guilt trip.


How do we identify what our children need? We are actively involved in their lives and have a strong connection with them so that we are more likely to understand what they need or they are more likely to ask for what they need. We trust them to know what they need. We trust their methods of learning new things, remembering that making mistakes is a great way to learn and that many people learn best through experience. We keep trying. If we try to meet a need and end up being rejected by our child or feeling like we only made things worse we learn from that and try again. Sometimes that means backing off and giving our child room to experience things on his own. Sometimes we may know the answer, but that is our answer, and our children need the space to find their own. Meeting our children's needs is not about us as parents, our wisdom, or even about always getting it right. We do not have to figure this out on our own. We have partners in our children and together we can figure out what their needs are and how they can be met.