My Kids Grow and So Do I


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Art of Grocery Shopping With Kids

If you're like most parents you prefer to do your weekly shopping alone, as in: without kids. It's easier and faster and sidesteps potential irritations, such as: Don't touch - Stay close - Don't yell.
     But then again, sometimes we don't have the luxury of going solo and we find ourselves navigating the isles with one or more kids in tow.

     Here's how you can make that experience a positive one, so much so that in the future you may decide to bring your kids along just for the fun of it. When you bring positive energy to the experience and share that with your kids, all participants will benefit.

The Art Explained

     Just as there is a recipe for cooking spaghetti and meatballs, there is a method to this miracle of shopping with kids. First and foremost: remember the three key features that make up an inspiring environment: relationship, autonomy, skill, and put them to use. Effective teachers use this triad daily in education and is it just as helpful in family settings. These three features influence and affect each other positively when consciously engaged, as you shall see.

Change your frame of reference from 'shopping' to 'family quality time'. Throughout your expidition your focus is first and foremost on your kids' well-being. Talk with your children, listen to what they have to say and respond adequately and appropriately all through the time you are together. You are 'allies' in this trip; you are on the same side: their side.

     Approach and view everything from a child's perspective as much as you can. That way you are on the same wave-length and in a much better position to anticipate a possible mishap and deal with it adequately.

     Make sure you have plenty of time and are not in a hurry. Calculate about double or triple the time you would need when shopping alone.

Ask your child or children to help you and allot age appropriate little jobs to them. There are tasks they can fulfill, such as pushing the cart (or a kid's cart), selecting products and putting them in the cart, putting items on the check-out counter, etc. Involve them in the various processes of shopping, allowing them as much autonomy and responsibility as possible. Allow choices whenever possible and walk/talk those choices through together (this ties in with relationship).

Kids love to become 'good' at something, even if it is pushing a cart straight along the floortiles in the cereals isle. Notice and compliment your kids on every little contribution, reinforcing their positive involvement in the shopping expidition (this ties in with relationship and autonomy).

     In addition to mastering shopping skills kids will want to 'do' much more. If you direct their creativity, rather than wait for them to explore in ways that are not supermarket-friendly, you can make the shopping experience a fun time for all. Consider the following two activities to get your creativity flowing:

  • Feel the wonder of a long empty isle with a shiny floor and create a game to go with it, such as counting steps to go from left to right, skipping squares, letting the cart roll as gently and smoothly as possible, etc.
  • Feel the wonder of a stack of plastic bags ready to be used for produce. Take one and inflate it to create a balloon, tying it securely at the top with one or two tight knots. Invent games to go with this, such as keeping it afloat with only two index fingers, heading it as high as you can, etc.

Positive Energy Field

Next time you're scheduling a trip to the store, consider lifting the experience from a chore to 'together-time' with your kids. This is a chance for you to get to know them better and for them to get to know you better: a person who is able to transmogrify an ordinary trip to the store into a rich experience in which you seize the opportunity to invest in your relationship.

     To be even more specific: this approach allows you to augment the quality of the energy field that exists in and around you and in which your kids participate, for the benefit of all - not least of all: you yourself. Eventually, your role-modelling will have inspired your children in turn. They will have learned how to enhance the quality of their own energy field and enlist it in order to create more mutually satisfying and inspiring relationships.

(This is an example, by the way, of reframing or recontextualizing a situation, something that last week's post discussed as well.)

     If you'd like to share about how you view the process of enhancing your own energy for the benefit of both your kids and yourself while going about your daily business, let us know and use the comment box. If you have any questions, that's the place to ask them. Thanks!

Image (adapted for this article) courtesy of

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Annoying Behavior

What Options Do You Have?

Don't you just hate it when kids in your presence exhibit behavior that you just can't stomach? When it concerns your own kids or kids in your care - in other words, when they move within the circle of your own influence - then you may have options to address the annoying behavior. But what do you do when the behavior takes place outside of your circle of influence or when the behavior is just annoying to you personally? In other words, what options are left when there is clearly nothing else for you to do than to swallow and accept it?

Loud Play and Loud Mopeds

This exact thing happened to me recently, and repeatedly I might add. The first instance was children playing and yelling, creating a ruckus in the yard next door, after they had come home from day care. This happened right at the moment that I was retreating to my back porch after a long day at work. The other instance was young teens enjoying the new tarmac on the road by going up and down the street on their mopeds and motorbikes, causing vrooming sounds to rise at odd hours in the neighborhood where I happened to be staying temporarily.

     Both occasions called forth feelings of annoyance. At the same time it was clear to me that there was not much that I could do, or wanted to do, about them: I support kids playing outdoors, especially in their own backyard, and I understand that kids need to be able to express joy and frustration as part of that play. As to the revving of engines, I know young teens love showing off and need to feel that the world is theirs to discover - it's part of growing up. In both cases then, as a neighbor and as a visitor, there was not much I could do to change the situation.


Now comes the interesting part: given that these sources of personal annoyance were directly under my nose and given the fact that I had decided not to interfere one way or the other, what options did I have left to work with? This is where reframing comes in.

     Reframing means putting something into a different context in order to give it a new meaning. The new meaning that results from the reframing causes a different response and a different emotion associated with it. How do you go about reframing? Reframing happens when you insert gratitude into the equation.

     In the case of the rambunctious neighbor children I told myself the following:
I am grateful for new life on this earth and in this town 
I am grateful to life for renewing life
I love living where I live
I am grateful to my neighbors for living next to me
I am grateful to my neighbor children for being sparks of the divine
I love it when kids are lively and full of energy
I am grateful for knowing that all is one
I am grateful for knowing that liveliness and energy are part of me
I love observing and experiencing new life and liveliness around me
I am grateful for the opportunity to experience liveliness in new ways (ha!  isn't that a good one!)
I love opening up to new ways to experience creation happening around me
I embrace life as it expresses all around me

Things Change Through Gratitude

     Next thing I knew, three things seemed to happen all at once:

  • the kids next door dimmed their voices considerably on occasion if not much of the time
  • the kids chose times to play outside when I was not there
  • the kids' loud play no longer annoyed or even bothered me

     This may look like three separate things; my guess though is that they are really all one and the same thing: namely, they manifest the fact that, through the expression of gratitude, I was able to accept and embrace a facet of life that I had been excluding before.

     And what about the revving mopeds in the neighborhood? This situation was no doubt a revisiting of the first situation, egging me on to accept and embrace aspects of life I was refusing to allow in. Once accepted and embraced, using the tool of genuine gratitude, the need for appearances to jar my status quo was no longer there and the annoyances melted away.

     Have you noticed how gratitude can shift your perception of the world? I'd love to hear from you. Please share by leaving a comment.

Gratitude and reframing (recontextualization) are mentioned in Neale D. Walsch's book 
The Only Thing That Matters as some of the tools that help you deal with negative thinking. 
Highly recommended!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Paying Compliments

How to Effectively Praise Your Kids and Steer Their Behavior

"Let me help you with those shoes" 
"Hold my hand tight" 
"We have to wait for the traffic to pass" 
"Do you want your blankie?"

     In much of our interaction with kids we’re on automatic. In our responses, instructions and questions we usually come from an every-day-type of consciousness, as illustrated by the examples above.

     Don’t get me wrong: most of the time it’s absolutely fine to be on automatic; life would become quite tiresome and unnatural if each and every comment had to be mulled over extensively before being expressed. There is an aspect of parenting, however, where deliberately planning and timing what you say greatly enhances your child rearing practice. That aspect is paying compliments. Ideally, a compliment is a positive reinforcer: a compliment motivates the recipient to increase the frequency of the behavior that called forth the compliment.

     When you, the parent, know how to pay compliments effectively, both your kids and you stand to gain tremendously.

     Literature on bringing out the best behavior in people and specifically in kids (see references below) shows quite a bit of agreement on what works and what doesn’t. Here I’ll share some of the strategies that have proven most effective in my life while raising three boys.

Six Features of Effective Compliments

Compliments reinforce desired behavior when they are immediate, specific, frequent, singular, relevant and genuine.

1. Immediate
Compliments are most effective when given immediately following the desired behavior.

2. Specific
Describe the desired behavior, or the accomplishment, and what it means. See examples below. 

3. Frequent
Make your appreciation count by expressing it often. 

     When kids are not told they are appreciated they are likely to assume the opposite. Do not overdo it, though, and try to stick to a 1:4 ratio, meaning: for every corrective comment you make, say something positive, such as a compliment.

4. Singular
A compliment is most effective when it stands alone, when it gets the full limelight. 

     Don’t mix positive and negative comments. As soon as you add "but + (critical note)", you have negated thecompliment's positive effects. Corrective statements have their place for sure. When offered at an appropriate moment and within the context of an open, honest conversation, they help clarify goals and motivate your child to perform at their best level. Expressed this way they actually increase the impact of your compliments.

5. Relevant
Only pay a compliment when it has been truly earned. Praise offered routinely will desensitize your children, or even worse, make them dependent on your constant approval. 

6. Genuine
Mean what you say. Faked appreciation is not going to cut it.


Consider the following examples:

"Thank you for bringing your plate and cup to the kitchen. That helps make my task easier." 
"Thank you for playing quietly while I was on the phone. I could give my full attention to grandma and I know she appreciates our courtesy." 
"You played the part of shepherd very convincingly. Aren’t you proud of yourself?"
"I noticed you waited for Gina. That was considerate of you." 
     These comments convey your appreciation much more convincingly than would a mere routine "Thank you" or a general "You were great!". They go a long way in fostering behavior that is appropriate and desirable. 

Read More
If you’d like to learn more about bringing out the best in your child, just google the phrase or one of the following phrases: ‘praising your child’, ‘encouraging good behavior’, visit the sites below or check out the book Bringing Out the Best in People, by Aubrey Daniels. 2000. McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-007-135145-0.

Image courtesy of

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Is Disciplining Spiritual? Part 2

An Every Day Example

Today I would like to follow up on last week's post on discipline. What follows is a prime example of discipline applied spiritually and it perfectly illustrates the steps involved.

     As I may have mentioned before, I teach English as a second language at a high school in the Netherlands. I want to tell you about an exchange I witnessed the other day, an exchange between my fellow-teamleader and a 16-year-old student. I'll call them Curtis and Sandy.

Discipline at School

     Sandy had mailed Curtis, her teamleader, to let him know how she felt about the framework the school had set up for practical research projects, saying that both the time path and the deadline were absolutely outrageous and that she had no intention of staying within the framework. Both content and tone of the mail were way off-base, and so Curtis called her in to talk about it. As I was working on an another matter in the room Curtis and I share, I was in a perfect position to observe what happened next.

     Curtis opened the conversation by conveying his surprise at the tone of her e-mail and he asked her what was wrong. Sandy, sounding emotional, went on a rampage of indignation at the set guidelines for the project, once again stating her firm decision not to adhere to any of it. Curtis, still a bit surprised by her vehemence, proceeded to explain the grounds for the time path and the deadline, asking her to commit to it, just as all other students were expected to. She would not budge, with her tone of voice supporting her stance. She insisted on being allowed to follow her own more relaxed time path and deadline.

     At that point Curtis told her clearly: "If this is how you want to do it, we've come to the end of our conversation. I'm ready and willing to help if you decide you could use my help. There is nothing I can do for you now." And he showed her the door.

     The next morning, Curtis came into the room with a smile on his face. He had received a message from Sandy in which she had apologized for her behavior and had said she would adhere to the framework set for the project. He then made arrangements for coaching sessions. Needless to say I complimented Curtis on the splendid way he had handled this situation.

The Steps Involved

How is this a good example of spiritual discipline? Let's put the features of spiritual discipline next to the practical steps Curtis took in this example:

As soon as a particular behavior is out of bounds, a time-out is appointed.

Curtis ended the conversation.
Focus on the behavior, not the person.                      
Curtis indicated his willingness to help Sandy if she showed willingness to conform to the guidelines.

After some time for reflection, contact is once again established.
Curtis' open door helped Sandy to make up her mind and conform to the guidelines after all.

Respect and harmony are restored.
Sandy communicated in a polite way; Curtis made follow-up appointments for her.

     Instances like this fire up my inner drive for working with young people. The new generation are worth each and every effort we make on their behalf, each and every drop of sweat we shed.

Images courtesy of

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Is Disciplining Spiritual? Part 1

When your kids are still babies, their needs and the care you give them often leads to a sense of symbiosis you have never experienced before. The lives of parent and child are closely intertwined, and it is hard to imagine that one day, that very same child will want to disobey you or rebel against your guidelines. Chances are, they will, and that's a good thing, too.

Challenging boundaries of behavior

     Children need to challenge the boundaries set by their parents and caregivers for various reasons. It's part of growing up and discovering who they are. In addition, they might 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.

Honoring your shared spirituality

Parents and caregivers would do well to clearly communicate to their children the boundaries of behavior that is acceptable in an age-appropriate way, and role-model it so the children can simply copy. Once kids know the boundaries, they will want to stay within them most of the time. However, as stated above, they will want to explore the area outside of those boundaries. How can you, the parent, be strict, clear and explicit and at the same time be gentle and kind? In other words, how can you discipline a child while at the same time express and honor your shared spirituality?

     The time-out technique outlined below is a great parenting tool for those times when children venture outside of the framework of harmonious and respectful behavior. It is the crossing of the boundaries of harmony and respect that most often lead to the need to step in. The beauty of the technique lies is the respect it allows you to model and the harmony it allows you to keep access to. Because of that, you will be able to apply the technique lovingly, in keeping with the spiritual nature of both you and your child.

The Time-Out Technique

Partly thanks to the reality TV show The Supernanny the technique of a time-out on the ‘naughty step’ or ‘naughty chair’ has gained widespread acceptance when it comes to communicating to your children where the boundaries of behavior lie. Especially for young kids the time-out technique works beautifully. In fact, it was one of the mainstays in the rearing of my three boys.

Discipline Works on Three Levels

The technique is effective because it works on all three levels of our being: the physical, the mental and the  spiritual level.

     On the physical level the time-out literally restricts the out-of-bounds behavior the child was displaying, be it yelling, hitting,  bullying, etc. It effectively stops their unacceptable behavior instantly.
     On the mental level the time-out period allows the child time to reflect on what has just occurred. They will think back on what they did and will make the connection with the parent’s corrective response.

     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. Usually, 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 renewed respectful exchanges among all involved. In the new situation harmony is restored and love between parent and child can again flow freely.

     The beauty of the technique is that it allows you to make clear that boundaries have been crossed in an objective way. There is no need for anyone to become emotional about it. The child will take the measure as a piece of information to process and incorporate.

     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 where 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 five or ten minutes they’d ask me if they could get out of the time-out, and of course they could.

     The fresh supply of library books would often take the edge off the punishment, hastening the restoration of harmony between us.

Paying Compliments

     When harmony has been restored and exchanges once again express mutual respect and love be sure to focus on desired behavior. Spell out for your child, in a way that is appropriate to your child's age, what exactly that behavior consists of and offer praise when your child acts accordingly. When your child remembers to take their dirty clothes to the hamper, for instance, you might want to say: "You remembered to put your clothes in the hamper, just the way I like it! Thank you. That makes my job of doing the laundry much easier." Even though to adult ears this may sound a bit over the top, kids love to be praised for a specific thing they have done and for making you, their mom or dad, happy.

Taking It One Step Further: You

     Will you join me when I take this one step further, still? Not just kids can benefit from taking a time-out and offering praise where praise is due, adults can, too. Many times in life with kids we find ourselves in situations that we can't fully oversee. We might be focusing too much on the details, not being able to see the forest for the trees. At those moments stepping back and observing may prove invaluable when it comes to getting a broader perspective. Letting go of our hold on a specific outcome to an issue will create room 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.

     And when you've managed to conquer an issue that had been bothering you for some time, don't be modest about it. Tell yourself you did well and enjoy your success!

     If this post sparks an idea or a question, please feel free to leave a comment. Thanks!   

Image of boy courtesy of
Book box image courtesy of
Supernanny image courtesy of

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mind Your Teens: follow-up

In this space a week ago I reported on the case of a defiant student in high school, a boy I called David. This is a follow-up post.

     In an earlier conversation I had had with David, he had indicated that he felt like punching the teacher he felt most resentful towards in the face (my words for his more descriptive language). So, when he came in last Thursday for an appointment with that teacher, having already been expelled from school by the principal, I had made sure one of the maintenance staff was available nearby just in case.

     The teacher had indicated wanting to talk to David one-on-one, rather than having a group conversation with me and the head of the department taking part as well. David walked in, looking self-assured. He and the teacher sat down at the conference table in my office. A colleague and I continued our work at our desks at the other end of the room, bracing for the worst. What happened next was most extraordinary.

     The teacher opened the conversation asking David what he would like to talk about. David responded by referring to their last, very unhappy, exchange. They talked about this for about ten minutes and then parted, shaking hands, with the teacher wishing David the best for his future. What at first had seemed like a possibly highly volatile meeting had unexpectedly transformed into a moment of harmonious closure for both parties. How could this have turned out so well?

Creating a Field of Open Communication

It's the field David and his teacher were able to create together on that quiet after-school appointment. David had been composed and relaxed. The teacher had been willing to listen, being genuinely interested in David as a fellow human being. Both had come with empty pages, expecting the exchange to take shape on the basis of the dynamics of the moment, rather than on the basis of unfortunate dynamics of the past.

     I call this a true miracle of living in the moment where mistakes of the past are washed away and pathways to new opportunities open up for all involved.

     Afterwards, I made sure to compliment both gentlemen: as I walked David to his locker I praised him for his composure and mature attitude. Later that day I commended my colleague for his tact, his openness and approachability.

Paying compliments

As for accolades, in a future post we'll talk about compliments and why they are such a powerful tool when used effectively.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Mind Your Teens: Mindfulness in the Classroom

Classroom Conduct

As a high school English teacher in the Netherlands for more than ten years, I've had my share of teen disruptive behavior in class. Thankfully, my daily experience has enabled me to develop strategies for dealing with disorderly conduct that will, ideally, prevent it from occurring or, when it does pop up, swiftly take care of it. Key in my approach are genuine respect, tact, positive expectation and a sense of humor.

Called on

This school year I have been entrusted with a new task: that of team leader. I've become responsible for the daily operations of a group of five classes - 130 students. Now, when a fellow teacher in my team is dealing with a particular student's disruptive behavior that colleague may call on me, expecting my full support. The student, because of his/her conduct, has to report to me as well, expecting a fair hearing.

     Often, after talking to me about what happened, the student will understand where they got off track and a small disciplinary measure will be all that is needed. But sometimes I'm faced with a student, like this particular 16-year-old boy I'll call David, who has no idea, or so he claims, why his behavior was judged unacceptable. He'll come to my office feeling indignant about being sent out of the classroom. He'll flaunt his outrage at disciplinary measures among his classmates, causing other students to follow in his footsteps. Although he has agreed to support of all kinds offered by the school - such as study guidance and homework class - he completely ignores the advice given instead of implementing it.

Bridging the Gap

This boy David is clearly on a fast route to expulsion from school. Even so, I'm still having to discuss matters with him, guide him through the unhappy steps he is apparently bound on taking. How can I do this in a way that does justice to our shared identity as spiritual beings, temporarily traveling this earthly plane in bodies - bodies that seem separate from each other and that engage in such varied behavior that their owners often become even more acutely aware of their separation? My task is bridging the gap that has opened right in front of me between David and myself. How far can my usual measure of genuine respect, tact, positive expectation and sense of humor take me, take us?

     Not far enough, I'm afraid. I'm sure the answer lies beyond the realm of separate bodies and separate behaviors. It must lie one step up, in the realm of mind where we are connected and one (or so various sources claim). How do I get in touch with that realm at the very moment that David is sitting in front of me, fulminating about the injustice done to him, denouncing the teacher who sent him to me?

A Thin Line

I'll let him talk, let him vent. I'll practice active listening on him, mirroring back to him the things he is saying. After all, I am his teamleader, too. But in each of these conversations there comes a moment that I'm having to be the brick wall that he is crashing into.

     It's a thin line I'm having to walk: on the one hand be a fellow human being with a vision of unity despite appearances, and on the other hand, as a teamleader, be the embodiment of school rules and customs that need abiding by.

    The way to walk that thin line the best I can has been to practice mindfulness: letting the light of my presence shine on the both of us while we're having an exchange. It helps me stay calm and centered, adhering to the school guidelines, while at the same time reaching out to him as a person that I truly respect and expect the best from. It means I'm having to relinquish my personal agenda regarding the situation and the school community. I'm having to totally and irrevocably focus on his spirit and on the field of communication we are creating together, equal spirits, at one in the sight of God.

Sowing Seeds

Is this approach sowing the seeds of harmony and peace? The proof of the pudding is in the eating - in other words: has this approach affected David in a positive way? I wish I could say that he has changed his attitude for the better, but mostly he hasn't. He remains resentful and outraged at the disciplinary measures taken against him. He still feels strongly revengeful towards the teachers and other adults who seem out to get him, with one exception: he is respectful towards me, as I am towards him. In the given circumstances that is perhaps all that can be hoped for.

     I pray and hope that at some future time David will think back on his time in high school. I hope that he will then remember the field of courteous, constructive communication that the two of us were able to create together. And I pray that this memory may then serve as a seed that will come to fruition in his life.

Image courtesy of photostock at

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Gift of Nothing

What to do when your child is facing a challenge that is clearly theirs to tackle? There you are - literally there with them and for them - and there's nothing you can offer, because rationally you know the battle is theirs to fight. It's hard to resist the temptation to pre-digest the issue for them, bolster their confidence with what can only come across as commonplaces, or smother them in accounts of your own experiences that can never be similar enough to make any sense.

     When you're faced with nothing tangible to offer your child, you may feel quite powerless. Yet, this seeming void carries within it the seed of something extremely powerful: the light of your presence. It takes courage to plunge into that unknown space and retrieve that seed of light. But when you do, the light thus accessed may turn out to be of far greater value than any specific support you might have settled for otherwise. Both of you will benefit from the greatest gift you can offer the other person: the light of your loving presence.

     Beth Raps, today's guest writer, explores her role as a mother as her 15-year-old daughter is taking her final exams. Beth is a blogger, coach, consultant and founder of  RAISING CLARITY, a consultancy dedicated to cultivating abundance in noble causes, people and organizations.

The Gift of Nothing - Mom the Coach Learns How to Help Her Daughter Study for Finals
by Beth Raps

              What a landmark: my daughter's first final exam week! She is 15. This is our first year of public school, and I am still enough of a homeschooling mom to make helping her study for finals a learning experience in itself. This post unwraps the layers of learning for me in what I tried to teach my daughter those few days of preparing for finals.

              At first I congratulated myself she had asked for my help, and felt sure I had a lot to offer as a professional coach. After all, "I teach this stuff." I saw her request as an invitation to model self­organization, self­motivation, self­initiation. I am strong in those areas; they are some of what I teach in my coaching and consulting practice.

              The ensuing days however taught me I had a lot to learn about giving myself while giving up control, and continuing to give when I thought I had nothing left­­, so that what I gave was the "gift of nothing."* More about that at the end of this post.

              I guessed our working together might also be a chance for me to learn flexibility, patience, and humility, as my daughter and I are each strong characters. I anticipated needing those qualities to go the distance with her so I did not just give up in frustration when she rejected my ideas, or projected stress onto me through angry words and insinuations that (when she's calm) she completely avoids.

              But I didn't realize how far out on a limb personally I would have to go with her to get her to maximize her immense potential as a student. I didn't realize how this would stretch the creativity I thought was already amply stretched by my clients. I didn't anticipate how vulnerable that would leave me.

              I had to get unusually creative with my daughter as she and I played out our dance of power, because usually, we are collaborative. And we are lucky: school is easy for her and she already works hard.

              But the overlay of her stress and extremely high standards (internalized from me but now solidly a part of her self­expectations) began to work against her ability and my smugness. I had to learn all over again about timing, ­­what of my tools to use, when ­­to try to come back to her with new ideas for how to stay mentally fresh while packing her mind full.

              Yet because of self­reproach, often she rejected tools I thought were "perfect."  Fortunately, love carried me through the exploration even more than humility, patience, and flexibility did. Love took me beyond my edge of creativity with other clients. And yes, it was to my advantage that that was also how I saw my daughter: as a client I was serving. This means I gave her the respect I give the adults I work with. It helped me cultivate some detachment about her process being her process. It put me in a supporting rather than a leading role as I had had during our homeschooling years. It re­sourced me in how much I respect her intelligence, her self­awareness, and her organic impetus to excel.

              At many points, as we designed her study plan, implemented it, and then had to re­evaluate and redesign it, I felt I had nothing to offer her. And this was yet another deeper layer of learning for me. Having nothing to offer her felt terrible.

              I began to see that not having all the answers didn't mean I was failing my child. It  put me in the same boat as my child: she doesn't have all the answers either for the material she is studying or for how to study it.

              In a way, that was the first "gift of nothing." We are in this together, in more ways than I realized. And yet there is a limit to how far we can go in the same boat: I can't take her finals! At a certain point, I can only make sure she has both oars in the water, and say, "Good luck!"

              Allowing myself to be vulnerable made me much more creative, although at first it just felt weak! (I have those high expectations of myself too!) I became more willing to get in the boat with her­­, making even more space than usual for her to freak out, to cry, and realizing not only she but I needed to take breaks (timed when she did, just like they say about timing your naps for when your newborn naps). Toward the end of our time, I could sort of smell when things were going awry, and ask her to stop and take a break rather than take one later at its scheduled time. When she balked, I told her I needed one, and got up from the table. I wasn't proud of my limitations but I noticed I could maintain my inner peace if I observed them.

              I sense that somewhere in the future, this ability to "smell" when things are going awry will be useful to her and help her, as it did me,  override the schedule to respect the inner self. We ask so much of this inner self! It is not its limitations I mean to emphasize, but its rhythm, its own dance that we can follow if we truly want it to lead us.

              It feels like "the gift of nothing" was my greatest gift to both my daughter and me, ­­allowing me to not­know, not­do, not­act when it was needed.

*Inspired by the beautiful Patrick McDonnell picturebook, The Gift of Nothing.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

When Siblings Fight

Believe me when I tell you that when I was growing up as the youngest of four, I was involved in many a fight. Later, as a mother of three boys, born just over two years apart, I witnessed at least as many.

   How can sibling fights be dealt with effectively and fairly? To answer that question let’s look at sibling conflicts from three perspectives: the physical, the mental and the spiritual perspective.

The Physical Perspective

Viewed from the physical level a clash looks abrupt and chaotic. It seems as if the kids are picking a fight on purpose, or are just bullying or nagging each other. And worse, it sometimes feels as if they are out to get to you, the parents, because they know it upsets you. The outer appearance is definitely one of annoyance, of disturbance that parents would rather be rid of as soon as possible.

   But before you act and engage at this level, consider two more perspectives.

The Mental Perspective

When looking at siblings fighting from a mental perspective you’ll discover that the kids may be testing new abilities and insights, or that they are trying to find a way to reach a fair balance of give and take in their relationship. Since kids are constantly growing and their personalities are continuously developing, it is only natural for them to search for a new balance at each new stage.

   Not all fighting among siblings is necessarily destructive. You should not  let yourself get upset at each and every loud exchange that your kids may have, and make an end to their communication right then and there. Try to determine what exactly is going on. Is it honing of skills and balancing of positions? Or is one child bullying the other and deliberately trying to dominate the other and force her will on him, or vice versa? It takes an experienced eye to distinguish among these possibilities. Of course, in the last scenario you will need to step in and protect the child that is abused, as well as investigate the causes of the first child’s dominating behavior.


In her many books on child abuse Swiss psychologist Alice Miller (1)  points out that children re-enact to others what has been done to them. Thinking along this line certainly puts you, the kids’ parents on the spot. Watching your children quarrel and argue might give you some clues as to the quality of your own communication relative to your children.

The Spiritual Perspective

In addition to the physical and mental perspectives, there is the spiritual perspective when it comes to sibling conflict. On some deep level I believe siblings have chosen to be together. They each have a role to play in the other’s life. Whether they punch or play, deep down they know there is a connection between them. It just takes a lot of playing and punching to find the right expression for that connection.

Friendship and Loyalty

Lastly, children learn a valuable lesson from overcoming sibling fights, namely that hating and hitting do not have the last word in their relationship – friendship and loyalty do. Only when they have lived through disharmony and disagreement can they truly appreciate the value of genuine friendship and loyalty. Part of this equation is responsibility and accountability. In the end, the kids themselves are responsible for the quality of their relationship. To support them in embracing this responsibility you could ask for their suggestions for improving the quality of their communication.

   Arguments and fights are such physical, right-in-your-face type of manifestations of children’s inner experiences that it is hard to look beyond the appearance offered by clamor and commotion. Knowing that there are deep, inner layers trying to find expression in sibling conflicts might make your intervention more effective.

Please share your views on this most important, and too often neglected, child rearing topic.

1) Miller A. (1983), For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, Farrar Struass Giroux, New York.
Images courtesy of photostock at
This article previously appeared on Notes on Parenting, a site dedicated to providing insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.