How to Stop Sounding Like Your Own Parents Did When You Were Little

IMG_2848.JPG

This article was published in Moonshine Ink here http://moonshineink.com/mountain-life/parents-how-stop-sounding-your-own-parents-your-kids. Please read the edited version below that was lost in an email, so it didn't make the print. This has much better wording! 

A new term for students nowadays is “21st century learners”. Schools are preparing students for the 21st century, which is rapidly changing. And the skills students need are more open-ended than what we were taught as kids. Students today need to know how to collaborate, have empathy, and use higher-level thinking. I think they should be called 21st century leaders because they are blazing their own path in technology and evolution in the job market as they become older. There are many jobs that will be created that we don’t even anticipate. How many new jobs were created since you were in kindergarten? Children will need the skills necessary to be able to compete in the future job market.

As parents, we can help children harness these 21st century skills by using language that fosters and promotes independence and problem solving. We don’t have to sound like our parents when talking to our children about their behavior. Here are some ways to change the messages we unknowingly give to our children.

Instead of “Stop it!” “Don’t do that”, or “No!”

Say, “I won’t let you do that.” Then, help your children come up with alternatives to their undesirable actions. You can help them understand your limit by calmly expressing it to them, and allowing them to move on with another option. With older children who are more verbal, you can help them make a plan for what they can do instead. Making a plan is also something you can do ahead of time to prepare for when a repetitive behavior occurs. By doing this, you are giving them the ability to assess a situation and make better decisions – thus nurturing an important 21st century skill: leadership.

Giving children room to learn and participate helps them grow into a leadership role. If they are always stopped in their tracks for any behavior, you are teaching them that you will always be there to correct them, and that you are the only one in charge of making them stop. This can send messages to children that they are incapable, when really they are capable! Yes, it’s true you have to make children stop if they have lost control. However, most of the time when children are acting in a way you would not like, that’s the time when your guidance can help them practice self-regulation.

Instead of “Why are you acting like this?” or “Stop whining

Try to see things through their eyes. Aside from the most obvious needs like sleep, hunger, and the basics, what else do you already know is going on in their life? Is your child going through a transition? Is something new? Are they unfamiliar with a new environment or routine?

Also, as parents we can always keep in the back of our mind that body and brain development is happening at warp speed for children. That can make it necessary sometimes for them to release in a way that is uncomfortable for an adult.

This is our chance to help our children develop the important life skills of empathy and collaboration. We can help prepare our children for the 21st century by modeling open conversation, respect, and understanding. They will grow up learning how to manage their emotions and will become better communicators.

So what do you say as a parent? Look at their emotion first. “I see you are upset” or “You seem to be frustrated” are great ways to start a supportive conversation. Once the child’s emotions are calmer, more conversation can happen. When people of any age are in fight or flight mode, we cannot process things like language and reasoning in the logical part of our brain. There are also times that simply acknowledging an emotion is all a child needs. Again, they are capable. And at times they can take care of their own setbacks.

The goal is for children to eventually check in with themselves and solve problems on their own. The modern world calls for individuals who can think critically. We can develop this important skill by helping our children feel empowered and capable. We support them in that journey by not stopping what they are going through, but by allowing them to explore it.

My Baby is Going to Kindergarten

Dear Abbie,
My oldest son is starting kindergarten in the Spanish immersion program at Kings Beach Elementary this week. We've got a lot of jitters around here (me included) and extra clingy-ness. I'd love to hear about your experiences or any words of wisdom on helping transition to kindergarten especially in the immersion program.
Thank you,
Kindergarten Mom

IMG_1017.JPG

Dear Kindergarten Mom,
Congratulations on this momentous milestone! What work you've done to raise this future kindergartener. Here are some of my thoughts on the big transition. 

1. BREATHE. I would like for you to first think about yourself in this process. As a mother myself, I am finding that we often go through our child's transitions, too. Meaning we have our own "stuff" to process, get through, and learn from when something new is happening in our child's life. That's the beauty of being a parent. We don't just watch on the sidelines, we are in it! So please take some time to congratulate yourself on the tremendous role you've taken on, and the grief you are going to have. I have had many first days of kindergarten as the teacher, and I have seen many tears from the parents, too. Let your tears fall if you need to, because your child will sense it if you are upset anyway. 

2. LET GO OF THE NOTION THAT THERE IS A PERFECT GOODBYE. The perfect goodbye in my mind is when the child has their emotions acknowledged, and then the space to move through them without distraction. So if he is upset, acknowledge it. Say, "you're upset". And give space. Maybe you ask if he needs a hug. Or to clarify what kind of upset he is: sad, angry, frustrated, etc. Or ask him, "What do you want to do about being upset?" It is a gift to yourself (and your stress levels) if you can let go of wanting to fix your child's sad emotions. Yes, guide him and support him, but the real work around his resiliency is in the time he has to see his emotion, feel it in his body, then literally get "through" it. And resilience builds when he has that practice of getting to know his discomforts and finding a way to move on without distraction from the issue. 

3. TRANSITIONS TAKE TIME TO SETTLE IN. There is so much emphasis on the first day of school and how it goes, that sometimes parents are over comforted when the day is a success, or distraught if the day was too challenging. It's a marathon. And marathons are a lot of steady work with ups and downs. When parents asked Magda Gerber for her advice in times of transition, she would always ask them what is going to remain predictable. So keep the routines and schedules you can, and also remind your child about them by talking them out. "In the morning, you are going to wake up and we are going to...", and "after school you will... and when you get home, just like a normal day, we are going to..."

4. BEING CLINGY IS NORMAL. There are so many "normal" behaviors that children express because it's how they are able to deal with the moments in their rapidly changing world. Don't forget how much brain activity and growth they are going through. And then the physical growth- could we just slow it down a bit? I wish! So all of those things are developing, and it creates a lot of work on the body. Then you have new environments and transitions like this one. So it makes sense he is clingy. Look at the reason and address his need. Behavior means there is a need. Ask, "do you want to be close to me because you're feeling upset?", and wait for a response. Talk about what he has going on in his heart, mind, and body by asking him to check in. And then asking how you can support him. And again, there's a lot going on for him that he needs to feel. That's healthy child development that leads to self-regulation. We don't want children to be numb to their feelings. And it will pass!

5. SPANISH IS WHOLE 'NOTHER LANGUAGE. It takes a long time to learn, and even more time to become bilingual. There is a period of culture shock, language shock, and discomfort when being immersed. I lived in Mexico in a study abroad program and man, did my head hurt at the end of some days. So find ways to acknowledge this strain on your child's whole system. Give him rest at the end of the day. Listen to his concerns without trying to solve them. And expect behavior to pop up like frustration, irritability, and anything else that might come along. Tell yourself it's because there is a lot going on in his brain, and even regular school burns a lot of calories. 

Each child is different in his/her language learning journey. I found that after a few months of engaging lessons, fun songs and activities, teaching a love of books, and the same routines, English-speaking students were able to understand the basics and feel comfortable throughout the day in an immersion setting. And again, I'll mention the "marathon" for bilingualism. It takes many years for a child to acquire a language socially and academically. 5-7 years is what the research from Thomas and Collier shows. The program will guide him to become proficient in Spanish. My concern is giving him the emotional support he will crave. You can do it!

6. GIVE YOUR CHILD'S TEACHER YOUR VOTE OF CONFIDENCE. This is a great way to start your year-long relationship. (I am using the words "her" and "she" because I think all of the teachers this year are female.) Each teacher has her own unique style and personality, and it's nice to let her know you trust her and also want to see her abilities shine. Remember when you first met him as a baby how long it took you to "figure him out"? Trust his teacher as a professional with experience and training that she can help your child thrive. If you start out with confidence, that's a perfect foundation for the year! And because the role is so demanding, teachers really like to hear "thank you for all we see you do and all we don't see you do", just a side note. 

I wish you luck!

Your Parenting Partner,
Abbie

Getting Your Family Ready for Daylight Savings

Dear Abbie,
Last time we turned back the clocks, we had a rough time in my household. My daughter was waking at 5:00am and it took me back to sleepless nights when I had a newborn. I would drag myself out to the living room to "play" with her (lay down on the couch in misery), and the house was a complete disaster for over a week. How can we do it better this time around? 
Thank you,
A Tahoe Mom

Dear Tahoe Mom,
Thank you for writing. Losing an hour or gaining an hour to adults is a small shift in our schedules. To a baby or toddler, this can be very disruptive. Think back to last fall when it was not so smooth. Now we are springing forward. Here are some tips for making the transition the best it can be:

1. START PREPARING NOW. Babies and toddlers are often resistant to change. Sometimes different behaviors pop up when we introduce a schedule change. Prepare yourself mentally for this and find some kind of mantra like, "We need time to transition" or "This disruption will pass soon". When a child is showing irregular behavior like tantrums, screaming, crying, etc., it is a signal for us adults to provide calm guidance. When we are calm, it does a couple of things for your child. It models being grounded even though she is in an emotional storm. She will be comforted to know that you are beside her, not freaking out yourself! Also, she will find a way to get through her behavior by first reacting emotionally and then moving through the problem, which allows her to practice self-regulation. 

2. CHANGE ONE OF YOUR HOUSE CLOCKS NOW. As parents, we know the advantages of planning ahead. Changing one clock to the upcoming time will help you shift your daughter's eating and sleeping schedule. You can't expect her digestive system to all of a sudden realize that lunch is at a different time. The goal is to slowly change over to the new time.

3. FOLLOW YOUR CHILD'S LEAD. Does your child need a dark room to sleep? Will it all of a sudden take twice as long to get out the door? Children crave consistency and routines, and these things will be a little off with different daylight and schedules. If your daughter is struggling, turn it into a bonding moment. These are the foundational years, when trust is built. Trust your daughter to let you know when she needs more support. And be ready to give it to her. 

4. TALK TO YOUR CHILD. Verbalize what changes you notice, and think about what your child might be noticing even though she cannot tell you. "It is still really light outside because of the time change. I still want you to take a nap so you can get your rest." Also, "I see that you are crying. Are you sad that you don't get to play?" Or, "Things have been a tough for you lately. Sometimes you aren't hungry during lunch time and you want to eat later. We can get through this together." Acknowledge what she is going through so she knows you're on her side. These talks with your child can also be affirmations for you. You can get through this, Tahoe Mom!

5. DON'T OVER DO IT. We can sometimes be guilty of putting a lot of activities or errands in our days. Try to schedule appointments and new events for another week. Buffer more time before nap and bedtime so you can transition with the communication and explanations your child might need. Give yourself plenty of time to adjust, and don't forget your own self-care is a must. 

Daylight savings in California begins at 2:00am on Sunday, March 12th. It ends at 2:00am on Sunday, November 5th. Enjoy the extra daylight and good luck with your transition! 

Your parenting partner,
Abbie