Guest Post: 6 Ways You Can Help Your Kids Learn To Practice Self-Care By Anya Willis

I rarely do guest posts but this one by Anya Willis from https://fitkids.info is important as the world situation is continuing to be so stressful. Children must have self-care coping skills. Enjoy this new blog post!

Image via Pexels

Self-care is an important part of your overall well-being. Learning to prioritize your mental health can start at an early age. Consider these six ways you can teach your children to practice self-care.

1. Give Them a Peaceful Space at Home

A stress-free home environment helps children feel safe and comfortable. You can create peace in the home in multiple ways. For example, disciplining with a gentle approach allows your children to learn respect without fear. How you plan your home aesthetic can also affect stress levels. For example, decluttering and having plenty of natural light help relieve anxiety. Bring in houseplants to purify the air and use oil diffusers to create a relaxing aroma. A zen home helps kids focus and relax.

2. Prioritize Quality Time

Prioritizing quality time lets your kids know how important they are to you. That translates into feeling important themselves. Quality time doesn’t have to include an elaborate plan. It can be as simple as making a nighttime routine or letting them help you with the chores around the house. Having a normal routine quality time takes the pressure off you to overcompensate. Research shows that kids who spend quality time with their parents have fewer behavioral issues and better mental and physical health overall.

3. Keep an Open Dialogue About Mental Health

Make discussing mental health a priority in your household. If you notice your kids feeling stressed or anxious, talk to them about getting help. You can access therapy virtually to provide a secure, private experience for your children, and it requires less commitment than going in person. Also, you have more professionals to choose from online, and it’s often more affordable. You can typically even schedule a free consultation with multiple therapists to ensure you are a good fit with the one you choose.

4. Teach Them To Enjoy Alone Time

Learning to spend time alone is an important part of building confidence. Allow your children some privacy in the home. Knock on their bedroom door before you come in and respect their response. If they feel in control of their alone time, they’ll learn to enjoy it more.

5. Nurture Their Interests

When your child expresses a new interest, encourage them to explore it further. For example, if they love painting or drawing, take them shopping for supplies and display their artwork around the house. Hobbies are a great way to practice self-care, and it’s a very personal experience. You may not always love the things they do. For example, collecting bugs may give you the creeps, but if your child loves it, let them know you’re happy for them.

6. Remind Them To Be Grateful

Show your kids how to be grateful by example. If you practice thankfulness in your daily life, your children will pick up on that as well. The best time to be grateful is when things don’t go to plan. It’s easy to shift to the negative when things don’t go your way, but if you show your children a positive attitude, you can affect how they approach life.

When you keep the lines of communication open with your children, you give them a way to express themselves and talk about how they feel. When you validate their feelings, they learn confidence at an early age. The more confidence they have, the more likely they are to prioritize self-care.

Child Advocates Without Children

This has been a major challenge for me in my career.  It is also a very sensitive subject for me because I have always wanted a child. May this post show people that people don’t have to be parents to advocate for children and have a career in child and family services.

The post below is from my friend, Elaina; we both had abusive backgrounds as children. That makes us even more passionate about advocating for children.

What is to follow is spot-on for me too. Having been subjected to obvious abuse from my dad and covert abuse from my mother who is now out of my life, I have always wanted to help stop this cycle. I want children of my own, but with my severe cerebral palsy, it just never got to the point of being able to afford help. Believe me, I don’t know what parenting is like, but I know it’s tough to re-parent myself—something I work on constantly.

I have spent a lot of time studying child development (I have a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education) and have worked with many children, including many young children. And, being severely physically disabled, I have gained a lot of insight on being totally dependent on others for my every need. I know how it feels to be treated harshly and gently.


I’ve asked my mommy friends if advice from my perspective is helpful, and they tell me that my lens really helps them, both on their good days and on their days in the trenches. They also have shared that they appreciate the things I’ve taken the time to learn and share – kind of like how when going to doctors, we look at their book knowledge and experience, not whether or not they’ve had the ailment. I care deeply about children and I feel strongly about advocating for them. However, I don’t think I am better than anyone else.

Please take to heart Elaina’s reasons for being so passionate about advocating for children despite not having children of her own.

Why I Share My Story Of Abuse

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month and anyone who knows me or has been following me or has my first edition of my book, Gentle Firmness, knows that child abuse is something I am extremely passionate about.

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Tattoo by Candace Lyon

I am a child abuse survivor.  I was physically, verbally, and emotionally abused by my dad and various other adults until I was 17 years old and finally told people that I was being abused.   All abusers make their victims feel shame and guilt.  One often thinks, “If only I did better,” or “It’s all my fault.”  I still struggle with this and have recently learned of additional abusive behavior that I’ve continued to endure as an adult that I was either unaware of and/or denied it was real.  Unfortunately, I continue to get confirmation that this abuse and manipulation is real and am putting a stop to it.

Mental illness runs in my family most likely due to the horrible cycle of abuse.  Genes may also play a part in the mental illness of my family.  My Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) score is a 7, which is pretty high, and I struggle with anxiety, PTSD, and depression every day. But every day I work towards healing and helping people.

To not share my story and pain would be like not sharing something that, unfortunately, is a part of me.  It would be like denying that I have severe cerebral palsy.  While I don’t allow either of these things to define me, I have wounds and scars from my trauma and I believe in using my pain to help others—others who were abused, others who are trying to break the cycle with their own children, and others who need to know that we’re not alone in this. And if I can prevent one child from abuse and heartbreak from the people who are supposed to love them, then it’s all worth it.

Another reason I share my story is to show that there is hope even when it doesn’t always feel like it.  Some days are harder than others for us survivors, but we are survivors.  There is no shame in getting help professionally.  There’s no shame in creating healthy relationships to support you.  Abusers and their defenders will make you feel like a horrible person for opening up about your abuse but don’t let them win.  This is typical abuser behavior.  Unless the abuser gets help, nothing will ever change.

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I hope also try to help people understand that even “normative spankings” are abuse in that corporal punishment can make children at a higher risk of being physically abused.  When a parent spanks/hits a child and the child doesn’t obey, the parent may decide to spank/hit even harder.  This is a risk for physical abuse even if one doesn’t consider corporal punishment as abuse.  No child ever deserves to be hit.

And countless other studies show that corporal punishment is harmful to children and it often includes emotional and verbal abuse because the child is told how “bad” he/she is and how he/she “deserves the spanking.”

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My dad hit me because of my spasms, which are involuntary muscle movements due to my severe cerebral palsy.  He also hit me for other things.  He was verbally and emotionally abusive as well. He passed away in 2003.  

After extensively researching narcissism as well as conferring with a colleague that knows more about this mental illness than meI do, I now believe that both of my parents very likely had/have this disorder.  In addition to refusing to admit they were/are wrong, they exhibited/exhibit other key characteristics of narcissism such as a lack of empathy, “an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships” (Mayo Clinic, 2019).

I have been over-analyzing my own behaviors because I am absolutely terrified of getting this mental illness.  It’s important to realize that it’s human nature to occasionally be selfish and self-absorbed.  It is also human nature to want recognition for accomplishments or to not to want to always admit when we are wrong.  Sometimes, like children, we want our own way and lash out when we don’t get our way.  This is not narcissistic as long as we recognize these tendencies and can admit that we do some of them occasionally.  I know I do these things sometimes but I always admit it.  I will always apologize if I am in the wrong.

To have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), one must exhibit at least 5 or more of these characteristics to an abnormal level and not be able to admit that he/she is doing any of this.  People with NPD will deny that they have it and will make their victims believe that it’s the victims’ fault, not theirs.  And as with any kind of illness, there is a spectrum wherein each individual lies.  Some people have narcissistic tendencies and some have NPD.  Unfortunately, because people with narcissistic tendencies or NPD will absolutely not seek help for this mental illness, it’s very difficult to diagnose.  These people usually seek treatment for depression or anxiety but not narcissism (Bressert, 2019).  In addition to this, NPD and other personality disorders can have the same kind of characteristics.

It has also been suggested that the stigma of mental illness can be associated with narcissism (Arikan, 2005, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/aadd/5cd265bcaeeaff77d9ce4fe16abf4ad39dc8.pdf).

I forgive my parents and other abusers and their defenders, but I cannot remain silent.  This is now a part of my story and I will tell it in a respectful manner.  Because people with NPD or narcissistic tendencies are masters at manipulation, one must put up strong boundaries and stand firm.  Otherwise, through manipulation that isn’t always obvious, these people will break the boundaries.  Walking away from them is the best way to protect oneself and hopefully get them to get help.  But nothing is guaranteed with this mental illness.

One can and must forgive his/her abusers because the forgiveness is more about setting oneself free from harboring anger and resentment towards them.  However, this does not mean letting the abusers off the hook.  I can’t do this myself.  Forgiveness also does not mean that you have to reconcile with them.  It just means you are able to work through the pain and heal.

I also don’t believe that all abusers are narcissistic or have a mental illness.  The cycle is so hard to break especially when the community is actually encouraging the abuse and the silence of the children and adults.   I’m aware of many abusers and/or pro-spankers that have realized that they were wrong and have apologized for it.  They change the way they parent or interact with their grown children.  Change is possible!

I am learning how to not be in toxic relationships with people who continue to hurt me.  This is far from easy but having healthy relationships is crucial for healing and recovery.  Getting psychotherapy is a must.  And I heal from getting tattoos so I recently got the tattoo below.  It was very emotional for me but reminds me that I am a SURVIVOR!  I need this on the days that feel impossible to get through.

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Narcissistic survivor tattoo by Todd Bass

Gentle parenting is prevention for child abuse. If parents understand typical child development, then I believe that they are less likely to spank/hit or otherwise abuse their children.  Therefore, I will never stop sharing my story.  It is a part of my healing process.  I don’t do it out of spite.  I do it because I understand the pain and struggle after trauma and abuse.

May we value children and stop child abuse someday for good!

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References:

Arikan, K.  (2005).  A Stigmatizing Attitude Towards Psychiatric Illness is Associated with Narcissistic Personality Traits. Psychiatry Relat Sci Vol 42 No. 4 pp. 248–250

Black, R. (2019).  Personality Disorders: A Guide to the Ten Different Types.  Retrieved https://www.psycom.net/personality-disorders-10-different-types/

Bressert, S.  (2019). Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder/

Goodtherapy.  (2018).  Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE).  Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/ace-questionnaire

Psychology Today.  (2019).  Narcissism.  Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/narcissism

Mayo Clinic.  (2019).  Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20366662

 

4 Key Tips for Gentle Parenting When You Have a Disability By Ashley Taylor

Another post from Ashley Taylor about gentle parenting with a disability.

Being a parent is never easy, but when you have a disability, several aspects of the job can become a whole lot more complicated. For the approximately 4.1 million parents with disabilities throughout the country, the usual questions of parenting are compounded by worries about how they will keep up with their child, keep them safe, and educate them. Whatever your disability, the following tips can help you deal with these questions as they arise.

Focus on Home Safety

As a parent, one of your most important jobs is keeping your child safe and healthy within your home. Parents with disabilities have to be particularly careful, as they are not usually able to keep up with a small child’s energy or react quickly enough if something dangerous is about to happen. Therefore, the key to parenting is prevention.

There are a few key safety modifications that can make the everyday tasks of parenting easier and safer. These can include adaptable products such as chairlifts, modified sinks, and adjustable furniture such as changing tables and toilets. When you have a small child, a child safety gate can be invaluable, as it keeps them out of dangerous areas and can help you keep track of exactly where they are at any given time.

Learn to DIY

Any piece of furniture or kit you can think of for raising a child has a wheelchair or disability-friendly version out there. However, these can often be very expensive. For example, cribs for disabled parents that open from the front can cost about $2,000, but if you can DIY (or know someone who can), you can easily make one yourself.

Another area where DIY helps is food. Opening baby food jars can be difficult for people with cerebral palsy, arthritis, or similar disabilities. Making your own can be both healthier and easier as long as you have a good food processor. These recipes can give you some inspiration.

Teach Them Compassion

Your children will experience a rare benefit from growing up with a disabled parent: They will automatically develop empathy and compassion for those who are differently abled. However, you should still actively teach them about these matters as well.

This article by Parent Map outlines the ways in which parents can speak to non-disabled children about disability. While it is written from the perspective of a non-disabled parent, much of the advice still applies, such as being open to answering questions and teaching them that not all disabilities will look exactly like yours. 

Also, you can use your disability to teach them about compassion in other areas of life. Growing up with someone who is considered “different” will help them see the many ways in which “difference” is used to mock, bully, and demean people. You can use this to start a conversation about bullying and how they can prevent it, both in themselves and the people around them.

Know Your Rights

Parents with disabilities will sometimes run into problems with social services or the law because people wrongly believe that they are unable to take care of their children. This isn’t necessarily likely to happen, but it is still a good idea for you to be informed of your rights as a disabled parent. This toolkit by the National Council on Disability is an invaluable tool for this.

Parenting with a disability doesn’t necessarily mean everything is suddenly harder, but it does mean you have to think about certain matters more carefully than other parents. You will have to plan your everyday life in more detail and remain aware of how your experience is shaping your child’s world view. However, a disability will never stop you from having a beautiful, supportive, and loving relationship with your child — if anything, it can sometimes bring you closer.

 

The Story Of Samoset

Actually I emailed this to close family and friends over a month ago.  He is now 6 months old and things are continuing to progress slowly but surely.

On July 11th we adopted the sweetest, craziest kitten ever. Ever since our sweet boy, YP, went Home, on top of other 2 major back to back losses, we’ve been in a dark place and trying to get out of it.  I know very few people understand the depth and love we have for our kitties, but, for us, they are our kids.

After an almost adoption went terribly wrong last October, we had agreed that Patches, our 12-year-old female calico, would be our only kitty until the horrible day she crosses the rainbow bridge into Heaven.  I grieved that loss of hope but accepted it until late this spring. Even Chip started talking about getting another kitty but was in absolutely no rush!  And I mean no rush. 

I respect my husband so I did my best to let it go. I stopped looking at shelters and told people not to send us kitties who needed homes…Until sometime in May when I started occasionally looking at shelters but Chip wouldn’t really look at anything, yet, he kept talking about getting a new kitty and what age Patches would be more likely to accept. We were quite concerned about Patches adjusting to a new kitty despite getting along great with YP except for after the vet she’d get mildly aggressive with him for a day or so until the vet smell subsided.

Well, as YP’s first anniversary of going Home approached (July 5, 2018), the desire for a new life started to grow to the point of desperation and I was confused, angry, and really hurting.  Losing YP just absolutely devastated us like losing Sara, my first kitty did! But YP was special in the way he loved us. He was/is one of our soulmates.  I thought I would eventually lose the desperate desire for a new kitty after we got through his first anniversary but it didn’t subside.  It only got worse and Chip started talking about getting one in the fall.  That confused me and even angered me.  Grief is so hard and weird.  So I started researching the different local animal shelters just for the heck of it.

I would look at kitties and think, “sorry, not for us.”  THEN on June 28th I was looking at all the pictures of adoptable kittens and found this picture of Samoset and immediately started laughing at his nose and felt a HUGE connection.  I tried to show Chip, but he barely looked at it and I emailed it to him asking him to pray about if God and YP might be sending him to us.  Yes, I truly believe that there’s so much more going on in the spiritual world than we can even imagine, and I believe Sara and God sent us Patches because I didn’t want another girl kitty back then because I didn’t want to replace Sara in anyway but they didn’t give me a choice.

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The picture on the shelter’s website.

I tried to put him out of my head so hard but ended up asking the shelter if he was still available and he was. “Great! That was so stupid of me,” I thought with a few expletives.  I prayed he would get a good home. I meditated to try to let go. But I couldn’t!  I was in love with him.

Finally the Monday after YP’s first anniversary of going Home, I blurted out that I was in love!  Chip said he’d think about it and finally actually really looked at the picture and he said maybe Thursday we can go see him and talk to them about helping Patches adjust. I cried but then I was worried about him being adopted before then, so later, I explained that this is a very bittersweet, emotional thing and we should not try to combine it with other errands. I got him to agree to go that Wednesday.

That day you would have thought I was having some major surgery or something.  With my brain/emotional make up, I knew I could easily get my heart broken again and I was extremely anxious about Patches adjusting to him if he did choose us. I don’t believe in forcing cats to come home with you if there’s no connection. There was a very real possibility of him either not liking us (some kitties are afraid of me due to my wheelchair and involuntary movements because of my severe cerebral palsy.), already being adopted, or the staff not recommending this with Patches being an older cat (12).

So I had Chip talk about weird things to distract me from my anxiety.  But then signs from loved ones in Heaven started occurring. Again, there’s so much more to the spiritual world than we can ever understand on Earth. First, we had music on and Chip’s mom’s favorite song, “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong played which I thought was weird and I acknowledged Mom2 in tears.

Then heading to the van to leave, I looked up and there was a heart shaped cloud in the sky.  I asked Chip, “Is that a heart?”  He agreed. A sign from God.  Obviously, signs were happening but I didn’t know what they meant.  I didn’t know if they were good or trying to comfort me.  I now know it was both.  Then we go by a bright red corvette. Grandpa!

We arrived at the shelter and I was having a little PTSD because it was the same shelter we adopted Patches and YP from, and flashbacks of YP confidently locking eyes with us and walking across the counter into our hearts and arms flooded my mind, so I kept focusing on my breathing to keep calm and telling myself that I was gonna have to accept whatever was going to happen.  But my husband, who had to be dragged to the shelter, started acting goofy and excited. I was like what the heck is up with you.

Deep breath and in we go. They greeted us and said that we could go in the cat room and meet him but that they had been sick so the kitties were confined in their cages. I started to freak out a bit because I needed to get him out of the cage to make sure he wasn’t afraid of me and they said he could get out but not on the floor.  Yay!

The second I found him and we made eye contact, for a split second, it was like I was looking at YP again. Samoset gave me that look of pure love and immediately started to come to the door to get to me/us.  I cried.  Unconditional love is major for me due to being abused throughout my childhood and rejected and hurt by people throughout my life.

He got on my table, did a nose kiss to my nose, and bit on my glasses.  I cried again. He snuggled with Daddy too.  Of course, he jumped on the floor before we could catch him but Chip apologized.  He’s a fast little booger.  We have so many nicknames for him already.  So we told the staff about Patches and her mild aggression with YP after vet visits and that she is 12. They said it would take her longer to adjust to him but if we move slowly, she will eventually get there. One staff member told us about her experience with adopting one of the kitties and there was howling and fighting for over a month and she was afraid she was going to be one of the people who relinquished the animal after adoption, but she covered the crate and eventually it stopped and they are fine.

They still had our adoption applications from Patches and YP which is over 11 years old.  They were so sorry about YP going Home.  We filled out a new application for Samoset, known at the shelter as “Katio,” and they called Lakeside, our animal hospital where the vet is, for a reference and he was ours. Yes, I cried.

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They wanted us to take him home that day which we thought he would have to go to the vet first like YP and Patches but that’s not the policy anymore since he was already neutered. We just had to get him to the vet within 7 days so if he had any life altering diseases, the shelter would cover the vet care for that.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a carrier nor any kitten supplies so we said that we could get him the next day.  They were fine with that. We told him we would be back tomorrow but he looked sad watching us leave the kitty room.  Patches looked like that as did YP leaving them. Animals have feelings and know more than we think they do.  Just like children. We underestimate the innocent so much.

I had to shut my emotions off and just focus on him both that day and the next day because the room was full of kitties and even some in the lobby.  Please adopt from shelters and spray/neuter your animals to help stop the overpopulation problem.  Thankfully, there are more and more no kill shelters but healthy animals are killed just because there’s no room for them. I’m grateful all the shelters here are great about not killing animals and finding foster homes for them and making sure they are adopted.

I wish I could have adopted all of the kitties in there so I just acknowledged them and focused on my new baby!

On the way out to the van after adopting him but not bringing him home, a yellow butterfly fluttered at Chip’s hand. He almost waved it off until he saw it was a butterfly, YP’s sign from Heaven. More tears and a whirling mind with emotions and thinking what we needed to go get at Petco. On the way to Petco, the funeral home had a sign about the shelter needing food.  Ok, we get it God.

It’s been wonderful having him here. We did the separation of kitties for quite a while then with a gate and now he’s out of the bathroom a lot of the time but he still goes in there to sleep at night and then when we cannot watch them.  They’re slowly adjusting but we just had a little incident because he wanted to go to the top perch and Patches was in the second level and didn’t like his tail flicking in her face so he is getting fed in the bathroom and time to let them chill.  They’ve had other incidents but he is out here almost all the time and they eat together. Gentle parenting works for kitties too.

Overall, he loves to snuggle, sleep in my arms, and play. He’s hilarious.  Patches is coming around but I will be happy when alpha kitty is established. Plus, the age difference is harder for her to adjust but we’re respecting them so we’ll get there. He’s getting better at sleeping out here but still sleeps soundly in the bathroom so when he is pushing it, we know he is getting overtired.

He plays and runs and attacks us. He’s learning not to bite hard and limits. He’s smart but still a baby. Yes, gentle parenting works for kitties as we don’t believe in spanking/hitting animals either or even punishment. We just remove them while saying “No” firmly and redirecting him. Sometimes I bop them due to my spasms and even Chip has accidentally stepped on them and then we immediately comfort them and apologize. They just know more than we give them credit for.

Thankfully, he is afraid of outside and is being good about getting away from the door. He loves to run into other rooms like Patches does and YP used to but not outside.  Yay. Kitties are safer and healthier indoors only.

I still get anxious about Patches as stress isn’t good for older kitties, and I still feel like leaving YP and Patches at the vet, even though they get excellent care at Lakeside, for over 2 weeks when my grandpa went Home could have gotten YP’s diseases going. I know, it’s probably unlikely, but it still haunts me so we won’t be leaving them for more than a week at a time. They’re our babies.

Before I end this, how did we pick the name Samoset?  All my kitties are somehow connected to each other and I picked Patches after the name of Sara’s favorite toy which I had named Patches as a child as Sara ripped the eye off one of my pound puppies and my mom sewed a patch over its eye so I named Patches Patches. YP was named after a ham radio friend who encouraged us to adopt 2 kitties when we were ready after Sara went Home.

With Samoset, we watch the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving show and used to be goofy and give each other roles. Most years YP played Samoset so we decided that our next boy kitty would be named Samoset.

Samoset was an Abenaki sagamore and the first American Indian to make contact with the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony. — Wikipedia

I strongly believe that animals should be a part of every child’s life even if it’s a fish. Having a life to help care for teaches children responsibility and teamwork because the animal is a family member.  It also helps teach children kindness and empathy as we help our children learn to respect the animal and treat it gently.  Lastly, pets provide another source of love and support for the children as they can talk to the pet and love on them.

Anyway, that’s the story of our new wild man, sweet baby boy like YP. He’s a lot like YP so we know God and YP sent him.  I’m so grateful for new life and experiencing happy firsts instead of sad firsts after 3 years of fresh grief. Please keep praying for them to co-exist more and more.

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Art Print for Children and Parents Carl Reichert A by elvistudio

Connection Leads To Independence

I recently read this article and it made so much sense.  So many times our children act up because they are feeling disconnected from us.  In this technological age, we are usually attached to a screen most of the day.  Sadly, this is disconnecting us from each other more often than not.

A few of my friends have grown children who have moved out.  They truly enjoy being with their children and always made time for them.  I also know of grown children who are not doing as well because they were harshly parented and they knew the parents didn’t always want to deal with them.

Starting at birth, children are extremely sensitive to our vibes.  They know if you don’t want to be with them.  I have observed many times that children who have parents who do their best to remain connected with their children and truly want to be with the children have more independent children.

Why?  Because when children get their fill of our love and attention, they are free to enjoy times when we aren’t able to be one-on-one with them.  They know that if they need us, we’ll be there.

The Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) Approach recommends starting this deep connection at birth.  Infants require so much care that we should be using this time to really connect with them instead of rushing through daily care activities.  This means being fully present with the infant during changing diapers and clothes, feedings, bathing, and nap time and bedtime routines.  When we are fully present, we are making deep connections with the child that fill their social-emotional needs.  Then they can do brief sessions of independent play more easily.

As infants become toddlers and preschoolers, many outbursts and meltdowns have their roots based upon feeling connected with us.  Spending at least 15 minutes twice a day one-on-one with the child can help fill his/her connection bucket.  And in situations where we can’t be fully present with them, doing simple things such as making eye contact, smiling at them, touching them, nodding to acknowledge them can make a huge difference in their behavior.

I know pro-spankers and other people who believe in harsh parenting will ask, “Doesn’t this make them more clingy?”  What these people fail to understand is that forcing children to be independent before they are ready is what makes them “clingy.”  Sure, you can spank/hit them to teach them not to “bug” you when you don’t want them to, but you’re actually breaking connection which usually backfires.  Even if they don’t bother you, they will do things that are wrong just to get attention from someone.

Then when they are adults, they may have trouble with their relationships.  If they’re never taught how to truly connect with others then it will hurt them throughout their lives.

I love parents who are able to be there for their children even when they are socializing with adults.  For example, at a party I witnessed a mother who was fully engaged with her adult friends but the minute she thought she heard a child say, “Mom,” she paused to see if the children were in need.  The children played with each other as well as came in with the adults without being rude.  They didn’t interrupt.  They were very respectful.

 I think part of the “problem” with “today’s children” is that they are not getting the connection they need.  Then they get punished for acting up.  We need to put down the screens and the demands of life and do our best to connect with our children.

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Guest Post: Did Having Children With Autism Ruin My Life? By Daniel Smith

Note: Daniel is a wonderful Christian gentle parent.  This post really touched me as I have severe cerebral palsy and I always really appreciate when parents let people know that having children with disabilities is tough, but also very rewarding!

Going to tackle a tough question that comes up from time to time.

Has having children with autism ruined my life?  Is this the worst thing that could ever happen?

The answer is an emphatic no!

Aizen’s needs in particular have posed some tremendous challenges to us to understand and learn — and honestly there would have been a time I may have answered yes to this question. Age five, before we were getting support and help, was a particularly rough time because he was biting and aggressive and we didn’t know what to do. He also wasn’t talking which made things extra challenging.

But did it ruin my life?  No — I have had to grow significantly and I had a lot to learn. I have gained skills, understanding, empathy, and knowledge I would never have gained otherwise. Aizen has shown me the world in a way I would never have observed it without him. He has changed the way I perceive behaviours in other people and taught me patience and empathy in stressful situations.

Has this ruined my life?  I’d say the opposite — what I have gained would be enhancements. I am also a bereaved parent and I stress that Aizen is alive, gaining skills, observing and experiencing the world — he’s not broken, damaged, a burden or a problem. The worst thing that can happen — and I know from experience — is your child passing away and having plan their funeral.

He’s a good polite kid who has worked extremely hard for every skill he has acquired — he’s someone who should be celebrated.

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Using Time-IN Instead Of Time-Out

Many parents use “Time-Out” to punish their children, especially parents that do not want to spank/hit but feel that they must punish or “discipline” their children somehow. While I would rather have parents that are bent on using punishment with their children use time-out over spanking, time-out is still very harmful to young children when it is used as punishment. As with spanking, time-out is most often used with very young children.

The youngest child that I have witnessed with whom a time-out was being used was eighteen months old. Like being slapped, eighteen-month-olds do not understand why they are being forced to sit alone for one minute. And like spanking, it very temporarily stopped the behavior, which means multiple time-outs for toddlers that lack impulse control. This is not good and sends the wrong message to children.

Time-outs require that children sit alone, sometimes facing the wall, quietly for the amount of minutes corresponding with their age. For example, if the child is one, they sit for one minute; for a two-year-old, it’s two minutes; for a three-year-old, it’s three minutes, and so on.

What’s even worse is if the child gets up, talks, or even cries during the time-out, then their time starts completely over until he or she “successfully” completes the time-out. This can mean a five-minute or more time-out for a toddler that cannot fulfill the requirements of a time-out.  And this inability to sit quietly for a time-out often leads to the child getting spanked/hit.

As with physical punishment, I’m afraid that whoever came up with the time-out and its associated rules did not understand child development, nor did they understand our loving God. Christ never banished anyone. So why should we banish our children when we can’t deal with their behaviors?

Young children cannot sit still and quietly with nothing to do for very long. And they are not sitting there pondering why what they did was wrong. Time-outs are totally developmentally inappropriate for young children and sets them up for failure.

In fact, research shows that time-out is just as harmful to children as spanking is because being forcefully isolated activates the same areas of the brain as spanking does. We were created for human connection.  This is especially true when we’re upset about something.

My husband and I have been going through some hard times lately, and I am still grieving for my grandpa and my mother-in-law.  Sometimes I feel very alone because of everything that we’re going through and I have found that feeling isolated only makes my depression, grief, and anxiety worse.  The comfort and support from my husband and family and friends are what helps me feel better.  Isolation is truly the worst feeling ever!

My parents sometimes put me in my room during a meltdown.  It only made me feel really angry and I would scream even louder and say, “I hate you.”  I never sat and thought about my behavior during those times.  I only thought about how angry I was and how unfair they were being.

Trust me, children do not think about their behavior during time-outs.  They’re totally focused on their own feelings and being upset.

Now, I totally understand and agree that there are times when children are just having a hard time and need to be removed from the situation in order to calm down and deal with their big feelings.  This is where time-in is very helpful.

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Time-in, unlike time-out, is not punishment. To use time-in with young children, set up a “comfy corner” in the most lived in room of your house but away from the action.  Put a couple pillows and a blanket in it.  Depending on how your children cope with their big feelings, you can have a few books in there, soft music, or some paper and crayons.  Just don’t fill it up too much as the idea is to limit stimulation and help the child calm down.

There is no quiet rule, no set time for them to remain in time-in, and they can choose to have us come with them or not.  If we don’t come with them to time-in, then we sit nearby and are available to help them if they need it.

Connection and healing are the main goals for time-ins.  Young children have so many big feelings about everything and they just don’t know how to express and deal with them.  Many times when children are acting up it means that they are feeling very disconnected from us.  They need us to bring them back into our connection and help them regain their control over their bodies and feelings.  They need to be heard and validated.

If we use time-in consistently without forcing the toddler to go to his or her “comfy corner,” the toddler may begin to ask to go there when he or she senses his or her big feelings welling up. Toddlers learn that their feelings matter to their parents and to God. This is such an important step for teaching young children self-management skills because their feelings are validated and respected, and they are given appropriate choices for dealing with their feelings.

Of course, it’s perfectly okay for parents to take a few minutes to calm down if their children are having a particularly rough day.  A parent “time-out/in” is very appropriate for these types of situations so that you don’t lose it with your child. This is not punishment for either the parent or the child. All parents need a break from their children.

Just be sure to tell your children that you are feeling really upset and need a moment to calm down.  Children will appreciate knowing that sometimes Mommy and Daddy need their own time-in.

Dealing with meltdowns and upset children is never easy.  But our goal throughout parenting our children should always be maintaining a strong connection and trust with them.  Believe me, you will be grateful when your children are teenagers and feel free to come to you about anything!

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Guest Post: Remaining Connected With Children As God Does With Us By Amanda Hughes

Note: Amanda is a very good friend of mine.  I was saddened that the Facebook group in which she originally posted this kicked her out for promoting gentle, Christ-like parenting. The Church is very broken indeed.

I posted this on a Christian homeschooling page and it got lots of likes in response to a few common parenting challenges. I got a few likes so I figure I would share just my own words here:

I think a lot of it has to do with perspective of children and God.

I have been asked before about what I do with talking back…And I wonder if my kids have ever done it. I just never thought about it or viewed what my children say as talking back. I think it is communication. So maybe they have, but I just don’t view discussion as talking back. I don’t expect first time obedience because at the age of 41.999999 I am not first time obedient to my Lord. So I “talk back” to Him. I go kicking and screaming sometimes to what God tells me to do. Yes, I talk back to him, I communicate and let Him know what my priorities are and what my hoped outcomes are. He never silences me. He is always so patient. He understands that I am just human and I often consider my wishes. But as I mature I talk to God about working His will in my life, but yes I still share my concerns. He is Abba. He loves me. He wants to hear my thoughts.

Yelling is hard because I think it is normal for children. They want to be heard. And it drives me crazy sometimes. So I start whispering to them. They think I am crazy. Maybe they yelled so much I went crazy. But *I* set the tone…*I* lead the home. So I cannot yell and then expect them not to. And I am not a yeller, I just need to be heard as my words are a priority as the mother. I am in charge. So then I start whispering and ask different kids about something that interests them. I give them attention so they know they are heard. And I think it is hard sometimes for our kids to be heard, particularly when we have many large familes like mine. So we need to hear them just when they speak, or whisper and acknowledge what they are saying. They don’t need to yell to be heard.

I have a son I had such a hard time with until I figured him out. I remember we went to Target and I just needed a birthday card. But he wanted to look at toys. He threw a fit!!! We had to get to the birthday party though. So finally I spoke with him face to face. I said I so much loved looking at toys with him, even when it is just to look. I enjoy seeing what he likes and it was always special time with him. I wanted to be clear with him that I heard him, I understood him, I agreed with him, I loved him – but this one time we could not make time for it. I hoped next time we would have more time to just look at the toy section together and we could see really cool things. Just like that, perfectly calm and compliant. He has a need to be heard and understood.

So I could do the “Because I said so..” route. Or I could connect, hear and acknowledge. And yes it took some time, but it went so much better without ruining relationship. Ruining relationship wasn’t the goal of my quick Target trip.

Disobeying is back to the idea that it is not realistic. Obedience cannot be achieved until a person has accepted Chirst and has been gifted the Fruits of the Spirit. If they do not have self control, they cannot obey. The Holy Spirit works within them, maturing them into a more Christlike being where the spirit of Self Control can overcome a child’s egotistical nature. If a child doesn’t feel like their needs are met, their wants are heard – they cannot consider what others are asking of them.

So I compare it to the mission field. We are in the mission field as homeschooling mothers. When missionaries are trained they are not directed to FORCE tribal people to maintain their moral code or else. They are told to go and meet the needs of the people, learn their culture and language. They work on clean water, medical needs, building a school, etc. They help them before they witness to them. And they need to accept Christ before they can be “expected” to maintain the Christian moral code. It isn’t that the missionaries put tribal people in time out or spank them if they do not meet their standards. No, they meet their needs.

Through the process of relationship building. Teaching that each person’s needs matter. And being the authority because you meet all the needs, keep them safe, teach them (discipleship), feed them, etc – they know you are the one in charge and what you say is to be followed.  They trust you!

My kids do not want to disappoint me. They know through my servant leadership, grace, mercy and forgiveness – that is not only how people are treated because that is all they have ever known. They know that I love them, and they do not want to let me down, because I have never let them down. It is all about relationship. And even though I do not focus on obedience, my kids are obedient. Obedience is a heart issue, not a physical – follow what I say or else – God works on their hearts and they are becoming more Christ like. I focus them on God not me. He is high and holy and I am not. The result is obedient kids.

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Setting And Enforcing Realistic Limis With Young Children

It is very important to set realistic limits with children, but most parents don’t understand what a realistic limit is for a young child.  I start with three main rules from which all limits should be derived.  The rules are the following:

  1.  Respect for others.
  2. Respect for ourselves.
  3. Respect for property.

These rules are the basis for all relationships to thrive.  The reason why we should only have three basic rules on which to base limits and boundaries is that giving children too many rules to follow, especially at a young age, will only frustrate and overwhelm them. These basic rules are easy to understand and will make sense to children, though young children will require much guidance and reminders to help them cooperate with these basic rules.

It is important that while boundaries and limits are a bit flexible, that they are also consistent and hold firm. Some parents may set boundaries and limits based on the three basic rules, but then they allow their children to break right through them.

We must remember when setting limits and boundaries with our children is to make sure the limits and boundaries are logical and reasonable. If the limit does not make any sense to the child, he or she is more likely to fight the limit. Most children will cooperate with the limit, though they may test us at times even if they understand the reason for the limit. An example of giving a reason for a limit would be, “Please walk in the house so you don’t trip and fall.”

How many of us heard our parents say, “Because I said so,” when we wanted to know why they were either making us do something or not allowing us to do something as children?  Did it make us want to cooperate?  For me, it didn’t make me want to cooperate.  It just made me angry.  I believe that mutual respect dictates that we provide a simple reason for our limits.

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Many times, we as parents, get into the habit of saying, “no,” “don’t,” and “stop,” so much that our children begin to tune us out. I mean, who wants to constantly be told what they can’t do?  This doesn’t help young children learn how to interact appropriately with others. I have found that saying, “Be gentle with your baby brother,” is often more effective than saying, “Don’t hit.” Another example is saying, “Walking feet,” instead of saying, “Don’t run.”

Even if we have no choice but to phrase something negatively, it is very important to follow it with something positive that they can do. For example, say, “You may not draw on the wall, but you may draw on this piece of paper.”

More examples of setting realistic limits are:

“You may have a cookie after supper.”

“Please pick up your toys so nobody trips over them.”

“I need you to finish up so we can get ready to go.”

“Please sit on your bottom so you don’t fall.”

“You may not hit Jack, but you may hit the pillow.”

“I need you to use your words.”

“I need you to poop in the toilet.” (Not in the closet.) 😊

Many parents say, “You need to…” but the child is probably thinking, “No, I don’t need to brush my teeth and go to bed,” so it’s better to say that we need them to do things.  Another thing is that it’s easy to give the limit in the form of a question.  For example, “Do you want to get ready for bed?”  Most young children will say, “No!”  Therefore, if it isn’t a choice, then it’s better to say, “It’s time for bed.”  Or, “I need you to get ready for bed.”

Also, giving children lead times will help make it easier for them to cooperate. Say, for example, “In five minutes it will be time to clean up and get ready for bed.” Be sure to get on the child’s level and say this. In fact, getting on children’s level whenever a limit or boundary is being set will help the child feel respected, making cooperation more likely.

If possible, when setting limits, give children choices such as “Would you like your Hello Kitty pajamas or your Mickey Mouse pajamas?”  Or, “Do you want to walk to the bathroom or would you like me to carry you?”  “Do you want to race to clean up with me?”  Anything that gives children some control over the situation is a good thing.

Now, what if you set a limit and the child won’t cooperate?  Simply say, “I see you’re having a hard time cooperating, so I will help you.”  Giving help or making a choice when the child isn’t able to make up his/her mind isn’t punishment.  Children need to learn that there are times when we must do things that we don’t want to do.  Just be sure to validate their feelings when they get upset about the limit.  Please see here for posts about validating feelings.

There’s never a reason to punish a child for not cooperating as he/she will experience the natural consequences of his/her behavior.  See here for tips on using natural consequences.

I will be writing a post about using time-IN instead of time-out soon.

It’s important for me to point out again as I close, children are NOT “little sinners” that need the “devil beat out of them” as so many Christians continue to believe. They’re beautiful human beings that God created that need our help to navigate this world. Jesus drove demons out verbally. He befriended and corrected sinners. Then, amazingly, our Almighty God chose to suffer and die on the cross for all of humanity’s sins. He was sinless. Grace, mercy, gentleness is for children too. Jesus even held children up as an example for *us.* So may we discipline children in the way that Jesus disciplines us through setting realistic limits.

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