My Kids Grow and So Do I


Monday, June 24, 2013

Confident Kids

What parent doesn’t want their kids to be confident? We all do, there’s no doubt about that. So how come that some kids grow up feeling and being confident while others don’t? Is it all nature, to the exclusion of nurture? I don’t believe it is.

Genetics – nature – undoubtedly plays a major role in a person’s ability to build confidence. Does that mean that parents have to stand by helplessly and just observe? Absolutely not. The environment in which a child grows up – nurture – has a say as well. Since parents are the major force in a developing child’s environment, there is quite a bit they can do to instill confidence in their kids.

Let’s first explore the term confidence. According to The Free Dictionary confidence denotes “a feeling of emotional security resulting from faith in oneself. Confidence is a firm belief in one's powers, abilities, or capacities” It quotes Eleanor Roosevelt as saying: "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face".

In essence then, confidence is a mental strength, that builds through experience. As much as genetics may account for the proclivity towards developing confidence, it is experience that calls it forth and strengthens it. When we meet people for the first time we can often gauge a person’s confidence; we sort of sense it exuding from their personality or become aware of their total lack of it. On the physical level confidence may manifest in a straight back, a bold stance, a controversial statement, etc. These outer appearances show “a firm belief in one’s powers, abilities, or capacities”. 

Taking confidence one step up we come to the spiritual level. There it turns into faith. What exactly is faith? According to The Free Dictionary faith denotes a “strong or unshakable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence”.  How interesting. Whereas confidence in the mental realm builds on experience, in other words on the evidence of past occurrences, faith in the spiritual realm is not dependent on evidence at all. It rests on an inner knowing.

Parents are the primary role models for their kids when it comes to confidence and faith. We’ll talk about faith and parenting in this space at some future time. Let’s focus now on how to foster confidence in your kids.

Kids get confidence from experience. At times they need to be in situations that are a bit scary in order to build inner strength. Parents may be so busy nurturing their children, that they lose sight of this requirement. When a parent senses that their child is scared, the knee-jerk response is to take over and to protect the child from possible harm. As parents we need to think twice in such situations. We need to assess the risk of potential harm involved and then decide: step in and take over in order to neutralize the scary situation, or allow the child to face their fear, while exuding confidence towards the child so they can borrow some of ours. This can play out in any type of daily-life situation, such as climbing a jungle gym, asking a teacher for some extra help, or driving on the freeway for the very first time. (You might enjoy watching this 3 mins. instructional video in which Dr Randall Hyde talks about fostering confidence in kids.)

When, in a given situation, we decide that the child needs to face their fears, it is paramount that we lend them our confidence. Letting them face their fear on their own is cruel and will backfire. They need us to give them confidence in order for them to build it themselves. If we cannot muster enough confidence, even though we know the child is perfectly capable of coping with the situation, it’s better to remove ourselves from their presence than for our anxiety to affect them. They will sense our ambiguity and become insecure.

I remember when our second son Jesse was small he used to love to climb the playground structures to the very top. He clearly needed to explore the climbing frames to the fullest and there was soft bark all around. I rationally knew he was capable of handling the climb, yet I felt very anxious seeing him so high up. It was then that I decided to inwardly say a quick prayer, affirming my faith that he was in God’s hands no matter what, and outwardly turning away from the scene and forcing my attention elsewhere. The only time he ever fell was from the lowest branch of a tree in our back yard, 3’ off the ground, after a climb that had taken him above roof top level. (I didn’t see this, but I know it is true for he later told me what the street looked like from up high …)

In order for a child to develop confidence it is crucial for them to practice facing little fears on the basis of the confidence the parent instills in them. If we are over-protective we may risk creating a need in the child at a later time to seek out exciting confrontations in order to gain confidence on their own, confrontations we might not have chosen for them at all.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The time-out technique for effective discipline

Kids want to behave, they really do. They absolutely want to please their parents and caregivers. So how come they don’t always act nicely? It’s because we, their parents and caregivers, have not done a good job at communicating to them the boundaries of behavior that is acceptable. Once they know those boundaries, they will want to stay within them most of the time. Of course, there will be instances when they will challenge the boundaries for various reasons. They forget, or they might, for instance, want to know if a new type of behavior is within or without the acceptable area. At other times they might want to make sure that they have explored the full range of possible acceptable behaviors; after all, it would be a waste to let some type of behavior go unused when it’s perfectly acceptable. And lastly, they may just want to make sure you’re paying attention. Whatever the reason for challenging the boundaries of behavior, children need their parents and caregivers to be alert and explicit.

The reality TV show Supernanny has done a great job in explaining how effective a time-out on the ‘naughty step’ or ‘naughty chair’ can be when it comes to communicating to your children where the boundaries of behavior lie. Especially for young kids the time-out technique works beautifully; I can heartily recommend it. 

Why is it so effective? The answer is three-fold: the technique is effective because it works on three levels of our being: the physical, the mental and the  spiritual level. On the physical level the time-out on the naughty chair or step literally restricts the out-of-bounds behavior the child was displaying, be it shouting, hitting or bullying. It effectively stops their unacceptable behavior instantly.

          On the mental level the time-out on the naughty chair allows the child time to reflect on what has just occurred. They will think back on what they did and make the connection with the parent’s response. Kids truly want to please us, their parents and caregivers. We shouldn’t hesitate in letting them know how they can please us, and support their exploration of the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Kids need practice in recognizing that area and our firm guidance will help them tremendously by shortening the time needed to adjust, and by limiting unnecessary irritation on both sides. During the time-out the child will make the connection between the unacceptable behavior and the time spent in time-out, just as the Supernanny youtube clip shows.

What happens on the spiritual level when a child is disciplined through the time-out method cannot be overestimated. The key words here are: respect and harmony. The out-of-bounds behavior is deemed unacceptable primarily because it has violated respect one way or the other. A gentle, respectful and immediate interruption by the adult, followed by the child’s self-reflection, paves the way for respectful exchanges among all involved. In the new situation harmony is restored and love between parent and child can again flow freely.

When my children were little the time-out technique was used consistently. Ours was a slightly different take on the trusted principle. In our family room we had a set-up with two easy chairs and a table in-between. On that table I had placed a plastic box full of picture books from the local library. Once a week we would visit the library and the kids were encouraged to choose several books each, to take home. During the week, we’d snuggle up in the chairs and I’d read stories to the kids, and encourage them to read or look at pictures on their own as well. This little corner associated with fun time together was our time-out corner as well. During a time-out my kids were allowed to take out a book and quietly read or look through it. I reckoned they knew instantly why the time-out was appointed and the reading seemed to calm them down. More often than not, they’d forget they were actually doing a time-out and after ten or fifteen minutes they’d ask me if they could get out of the time-out, and of course they could.

Even though this practice doesn’t follow the experts’ advice to the letter, it did meet our needs in a wonderful way. Being put in a time-out instantly made clear that boundaries had been crossed, and so there was no need for either one of us to become emotional about it. The child in question just took the measure as a piece of information to process and incorporate. The fresh supply of library books would often take the edge off the punishment, hastening the restoration of harmony between us.

Taking the time-away-from-things one step further, people in general can benefit tremendously from taking a time-out occasionally, not just kids. Many times in life we may be in situations that we can't fully oversee, where we focus too much on the details or on our own precious little role in it and we can't see the forest for the trees. Being able to step back and observe may prove to be an invaluable help in getting a broader perspective. Letting go of our hold on a specific issue may create space that allows new opportunities to become visible. The time-out technique, originally introduced as a disciplinary tool, may very well prove to be a life-long skill to reflect and gain perspective.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Can you read me a story, please?

Today a fellow blogger sent me the link to an article published on the web regarding the effects of reading to children. Apparently, recent research findings show that parental reading to children increases reading and other cognitive skills at least up to the age of 10-11.

     This news cannot come as a shock to any parent, grandparent, teacher or care-giver who has experienced the intimacy and warmth that accompany a story read together. As a one-time avid reader to children myself, it would not surprise me at all if one day research will show the extent to which reading to children not only benefits the children being read to, but the ones doing the reading as well.

     In order to understand why reading out loud to kids benefits all involved, let’s analyze this experience a bit from the following three perspectives: the physical, the mental and the spiritual perspective.

     The most important aspect of reading to a child from the physical point of view is the sharing of space: the reader and the child, snug and cozy in the corner of the couch, the reader holding the book, the child... its breath! Often the child will be nestled in the crook of the arm of the reader. Even if no word is spoken, the sharing of space in this direct, intimate way is bound to have a positive effect on both.

     On the mental level the main aspect is also sharing: the emotions the author calls forth in the story are experienced by both the reader and the child. Laughter and sadness, wonder and excitement – in their sharing they take on a deeper glow.

     When considering the spiritual aspects of reading a story to a child, the creative and communicative aspects become apparent. For a story to come to life, the reader needs to re-create the plot line and enliven the highlights in their own, authentic way. The child re-creates the story in its own mind, following the cues from the reader. Before long, the reader will adjust and fine-tune their reading style in response to the child’s feed-back, and they will re-create the story together. Due to this two-way, interactive re-building of the story, reading to a child is a highly creative, cooperative and harmonious experience. 

     Last but not least, reading to a child transcends the day-to-day reality of life with kids. It lifts both the reader and the listener to a new level of cooperation, where the small selves are left behind. I know from experience that reading to a child not only benefits the child’s cognitive skills, but due to the higher cooperative level it achieves, it calms and centers the child. Being centered and calm - conditions for the development of a stable personality.

     Telling stories to children and reading to a child are time-proven ways to connect. As is always the case when people truly and authentically join in an experience, when parent and child read together they both stand to benefit. In fact, they might gain more than any scientist will ever be able to measure.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Spiritual Tools Series, part 3: Give me patience and give it to me now!

Last week in this space we talked about the principle of ‘giving out is taking in’. We first looked at the example of baking an apple pie: how the person baking and serving apple pie is the one most immersed in the essence of it. Then we looked at a parent’s presence during a daily routine such as bathing time. We saw how the attitude of allowing and accepting created a wonderful model for their child to emulate when their time comes to be patient with someone else. That example led to my promise to show you the spiritual gift patience has to offer all who dare embrace it.

Haven’t we all, parents and care givers, sighed “Lord, give me patience, and give it to me fast!” at one time or another? We all know intuitively how beneficial patience is and how much we need it; yet, it remains an elusive quality, extremely hard to incorporate and manifest. I have yet to meet a person who could claim patience as entirely their own. In order to get a grip on patience, it may be worth our while to explore it a little more.

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary we find the following as one of the explanations of the word patient’: steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity.. But there is no mention of any benefit in being patient. Let’s delve a little deeper. You may have heard the statement: “In your patience possess ye your souls,” taken from the New Testament (Luke 21:19). It is attributed to Jesus who is admonishing his friends to be steadfast in times of uncertainty and crisis. What exactly does that mean, ‘to possess your soul in patience’? How are ‘patience’ and ‘knowing one’s soul’ connected? And what is the role of the word ‘possess’ in this context?

Again, the Merriam-Webster dictionary comes in handy. The first line in the Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word possess’ is: to have and hold as property; own. The word ‘own’, as in ‘your own’ is interesting. Together with ‘to have and to hold’ this points in the direction of: getting to know intimately. From this perspective the quoted expression would mean: “In patience you will get to know your soul”. It would be a gift, wouldn’t it, to get to know your soul a little better. But then, how does patience help you to get to know your soul better? What exactly is it that patience does to you that makes you get into touch with your soul more?

Let’s go back to the example of children’s bath time, the daily routine at the end of a busy day, when parents are eager to get on with it in order to have some quiet time alone. Often, being patient in this type of situation means putting your personal agenda on hold for a bit, while you go through the motions the situation demands. You may have sort of zoomed-out a bit and your half absent-mindedness allows you to be with the kids, help and assist them where necessary, and in the pace that is required, while inwardly chewing over far more pressing items on your agenda, such as yesterday’s meeting or tomorrow’s presentation. While your calm assistance is to be preferred over a hurried and irritable attitude, it does not begin to mine the gold the field of patience has to offer.

The art of identifying and receiving the gift true patience holds, requires that you are fully present in the moment – the very moment which a minute before made you decide to half zoom out and go through the motions. You interrupt the stream of consciousness that has taken possession of your mind, and instead you tune in completely on what’s going on now. There is a reason why you are at this place at this moment. And that reason has to do with what you can offer this moment. Look deep inside and identify a spiritual quality that you resonate with, such as hope, peace, harmony, gentleness, joy, beauty, love, etc. Now find a way to manifest this quality in the situation at hand. An example might clarify what I mean.

Suppose you’ve identified ‘beauty’ as a spiritual quality that you resonate with especially. How can you manifest beauty in the ritual of children’s bath time? Focus on the beauty that is a child, and on the beauty of play. Surround yourself with beauty in the bathroom, such as pretty towels, fancy soap. Engage your child and together create a beautiful soap-sud-scape on the bathroom wall. Put on some lovely music. Lots of possibilities.

Another example would be the waiting room at a pediatrician’s office. Instead of  getting annoyed or zooming out, grab this opportunity to turn within and choose a spiritual quality you could focus on. Suppose this time you choose ‘hope’. In what way could you manifest hope in an ordinary doctor’s waiting room? Your child, no doubt, has been looking around the place and has found something that stirred an interest, be it a poster on the wall, or some toys in the corner. To express hope you could find a way to encourage your child to discover the world. Perhaps you could look at the poster together, fantasizing and imagining. Or you could read a book to your child or build a tower together.

In both instances, bath time and beauty – waiting  room and hope,  your attitude and action are connected to your inner spiritual compass that you have deliberately set. Your attitude and action have welled up from the level of the soul and are infusing the three dimensional world with spiritual light. When your hands express the music of your heart, you’ll start to understand what this getting to know your soul-business is all about. You’re no longer just a parent who’s willing to put their own agenda on hold for the sake of their child, you’ve become a truly patient parent, meaning: you’ve become an inspiration, both to yourself and your child, because the intent of your soul is shining through in what you do, for all to see and enjoy. And that is the gift patience holds for all of us, if only we know where to look!

(ps: My book A Parent’sToolbox for Spiritual Growth contains an easy to follow twelve-step system to help you identify the spiritual qualities that particularly appeal to you.)