How do you choose to parent?

This evening I had the pleasure of speaking to Abby Bordner of Relationship Based Parenting. Some of you may remember the Relationship Based Parenting series I started a few months ago (more of that coming soon).

After a few minutes of chatting about this, that and the other, she asked me: What are the most important things you would like to give your son? I’ve asked myself this question many times. We all want to give our children the best but our idea of the best varies. There are many values I want to instill in S and of course I have dreams and aspirations for him but to me the most important things at present are love and stability. It’s been proven that a child’s first three years are when they have the most brain development, when their neural pathways are formed. And children who are exposed to adverse conditions such as poverty, abuse or alcoholism often go on to have failed relationships, drop out of school, grow up with physical ailments or even depression. Abby spoke to me about emotional resiliency and how it is important to teach children to manage their emotions and deal with them so that they grow into successful adults who are able to deal with struggle confidently.

One of the questions she asked on her blog recently was: How would you do things differently? You hear so many parents these days talk about how they would do things differently to the way their parents did. I believe there are two kinds of people. The first are those who say “Well I turned out okay so my parents obviously did a good enough job and I am going to raise my child in the same way” (I often hear/read this when there is a debate with regards to spanking and physical discipline). The second type of parent is one who says “Yes my parents did a great job (or they didn’t) but I am going to do a better one”. We’re in the 21st century now where access to information is at our fingertips. My mom has often told me how lucky we are these days. Parents of the last generation raised their kids the best they knew how. Parents of today have so much help and guidance online and in the form of books, classes and online information.

As S approaches 2, I find myself adopting a teacher role. He’s starting to learn right from wrong, testing boundaries and his personality is coming through. It’s really important at this age to understand your child and handle them in a way that suits their needs best. S loves to run around, drive his ride along motorbike around the house and listen to music (and dance) and so as long as it’s not raining, we spend a lot of time outdoors in the parks and playgrounds nearby and he gets music time everyday.

Personally I think it’s important to keep re-assessing the kind of parent you want to be and then making changes to work towards being that parent. Just remember, however you choose to parent is right for you.

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Relationship Based Parenting 2

Stress and Brain Development, an interview with Abby Bordner and Judy Arnall. You can listen to it here.

Judy teaches parenting at the University of Calgary and she’s the author of “Discipline without distress”. You can read more about her at www.professionalparenting.ca This interview is about how stress affects brain development. The one thing I took from the interview is that nothing replaces one on one interaction and time spent with your child. And in order to nurture our children and encourage their brain development we need to reduce any on going stress they have in their lives (sometimes that involves on going stress we have in our lives which indirectly affect them).

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JA – Stress is a normal part of family life. Parents have stress and so do kids. It affects us biologically and emotionally. In some instances it’s a good thing and in some instances it’s not a good thing.

There are three kinds of stress that parenting children deal with. Positive tress, tolerable stress and toxic stress.

Positive stress, for a child, is a birthday party or a holiday coming up. Positive stress is usually a one time thing and at the end of it, it builds resilience and a feeling of accomplishment.

Tolerable stress are things like a parents divorce or a flood in your city. It’s buffered by your parents or people helping around you and is usually short-lived.

Toxic stress are things like a parents mental health issues or bullying – on going negative experiences for children. This hinders brain development.

AB – How does a child’s brain develop?

JA – When a baby is born they have 100 billion brain cells (neuron). Not many are connected. When they are born, positive experiences help connect their brain cells. Their genes are embedded in their code for development. A good concrete foundation is created by good pre natal care. The rest of the neurons are connected by experiences with adults post birth. There are gaps between neurons called synapses. With experiences the neurons send neurotransmitters over the gaps and forms pathways. The more positive experiences a baby has, the more pathways are formed. And that’s a good thing for children. Stress affects the brain in 2 ways: When children are under stress, they release adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol can affect the connection of those neurons. So we need to minimise the release of cortisol.

Examples of positive experiences are connecting with your parents, lots of eye contact, face to face interaction with your parents. Nowadays children are getting far too much interaction with screens rather than face to face interaction. Children need a nurturing response from parents. When they fall, when they hurt themselves, when they need their parents. Children need comfort. This is the basis of relationship based parenting.

Tolerable stress can become toxic when the buffering children need is not provided. When parents are occupied with their own mental health or negative experiences in their life. They may not provide their children with the nurturing they need.

We’re not perfect, we can’t always be warm and fuzzy. As parents, we all have our off days but as long as 80% of the time we provide a nurturing response then that’s fine. Every parent should start the day by saying “Today I am going to do better.” It’s often really difficult to try hard all the time but as parents we try to do it. We’re not going to harm our kids with the occasional slip up.

AB – How can parents help children to manage stress?

JA – Stress is inevitable in life. The most powerful tool we can teach kids is a) what we do to handle their stress b) what we do to handle our stress. As parents we have to model healthy stress busters. E.g. A parent time out, asking for help, anything that helps you calm down without hurting anyone else. Eating, smoking, taking drugs, shopping, spending too much time on the internet are negative ways of dealing with stress (and can become addictive). And often our children start using these methods to cope with their stress too.

It’s important to provide emotional responses to your children. Listening to them, touching them, giving them a hug. Nurturing them. If you respond to your children (when they are stressed) by reaching out to them with empathy, caring, open ears and arms, you teach them to turn to other people in times of stress and not turn to substances or other addictive habits.

It’s important to nurture yourself in order to nurture your children.

On going stress (toxic stress) releases adrenaline and cortisol (the bodies automatic release when we feel threatened). Short term, it is good because it helps us react but long-term it is dangerous as it shuts down neurons. Children need connected neurons to help their brains grow. The brain is very elastic, it can adapt, change and repair itself. As long as children have even one adult who provides them with love and nurture, their neuro pathways can be repaired (this can even be done between the ages of 18-25). Post 25 it becomes harder but it’s definitely still possible to create new neuro pathways.

AB – Plugged in Parenting, connecting with the digital generation for health, safety and love (Judy’s DVD). Can you talk about this.

JA – The DVD talks about ways to parent children without screens as our back up. Most health authorities recommended that children have no screen time under the age of 2 and only 1hr a day from the age of 3 to 5. Yet in reality, that is not what is happening out there. Screen time is affecting the face to face interaction with parents. Screen time does not make children smarter. it does not build brain cells as it only affects children’s hearing and sight. What builds brain cells is children utilising all senses. It’s okay to use an iPad as a distraction as long as you know you have enough parent child connection regularly and that the ipad is not being used as a substitute for one on one parent time.

Parents need to develop a strong support system to help them deal with daily stress. This can be in the form of a parent group, close friends, family, online communities. Finding and seeking out people who support your parenting style and will be there for you helps parents when going through times of stress. The more we’re supported, the more we can support our children. It takes a village to  cherish a parent, to nurture a child. Any person who’s been a parent will understand it’s one of the hardest yet one of the most joyful experiences. And we can’t do it alone, we need a support system. We’re not perfect, we’re all doing the best we can but a support system gets us through difficult times. Even “parenting gurus” need help sometimes.

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Relationship Based Parenting 1

A couple of weeks ago I signed up to listen to a telesummit (21 interviews) on Relationship based parenting by Abby Bordner.

Abby Bordner understands that family life can be tiring but all parents want what is best for their kids. We don’t always have the time to read books or attend parenting workshops. She set up a series of interviews with professionals in the fields of child psychology, child development and famous authors of childcare books. You can sign up for these free interviews here. The idea is to give us advice that will help us deepen our understanding of children’s behaviour, improve our relationships and find balance in our lives. All of which will make us better parents.

In case you don’t get a chance to listen to them, over the next few weeks I’ll be giving you brief outlines of some of the interviews.

The first one is with Emily Plank. She’s an early childhood professional who started her career teaching Middle School.  She wanted to make a difference to kids and realised that the younger the kids, the more impact she’d have on them. She’s now doing research and writing and working with adults (educators and mothers). It turns out she says working with adults and working with children aren’t very different. If we become better people as adults, it’d easier to then model the behaviour we’d like our children to have. Being a parent forces you to look at and improve yourself.

From the ages of 0-3 children’s neuro-pathways are developed which impact their later life. Skills developed long before children enter formal schooling help shape their future.

One of Emily’s passions is the extent to which parenting and our interactions with young children is culturally embedded. The way we raise our children is often the way we were raised and conforming to our cultural norms. In the US, independence is important. From a young age Emily would encourage her children to sit at the table and eat by themselves. Use their hands and feed themselves. In Portugal however, it is highly offensive to use your hands to eat and so children are spoon fed until they are at least 2-3 and can use a spoon and fork by themselves.

So often we feel like how we are doing things is right but when we take a step back we realise our values are not unanimous. Different cultures have different values and norms. She started a project called “The Global Voices Project” where she puts various questions out there and people from all over the world give their take on things.

There are so many things we assume are universal when in fact they’re not. It’s not that one way is right or wrong but it just gives you some humility with regards to how you raise your children because you realise there are people who raise their kids completely different to the way you do and they are smart, successful and happy.

“There’s no expert out there who knows how to manage your child. You are the expert for your child”.

Back in the day kids were not praised constantly, praised was earned. As time went on and we moved into the new century, we wanted kids to grow up with a strong self-identity and so we lavished praise and rewards on them. Now what we’re learning is that all of our praise and rewards for children is actually having the opposite effect. When we praise kids for things that they should be doing anyway, there are some negative consequences. Kids look outside of themselves constantly for self validation. They constantly need someone else to reassure them rather than knowing themselves what feels or is good. Praise puts a lot of pressure on kids so if you’re constantly praising them, children have a lot of pressure to live up to the expectations of others.  We need to give children feedback for what they are doing rather than evaluation. E.g. if your child tidies their blocks away, rather than say you’re such a good girl for tidying your blocks away, you could say, thank you for tidying your blocks away, that was very helpful.  So then they internalise the idea that they can be helpful. The more we offer feedback to kids and describe what they are doing, the better. We should praise and comment on kids effort, not their product. E.g. I noticed you were helpful at dinner, that made me happy. Children who are constantly being told they are smart don’t feel the need to make an effort when they are doing things.

We praise kids for very nobel reasons but what we don’t realise is when we praise them, research shows us they become less likely to do it in the future. So rather than say good job, comment on what they are doing. Make your child feel proud by showing you have noticed what they are doing.

If a child comes to you showing you a picture and says “what do you think of my painting?” You could say “I saw you work very hard on that painting, tell me how you did it.” Put the ball back in their court and get them reflecting on their painting.

Kids need space, time and materials to play. Emily Plank teaches parents and educators that to play, you don’t need toys or things that light up and make noise. You need materials that are multipurpose that children can use and play with which then help them move from one developmental stage to another. We always think we need to give our children cognitive skills to do well in the world when in fact we need to allow them to have unstructured, open-ended free play. Children then learn skills of self-regulation, focus, engagement and independence. And these are the skills they need to help them later in their life. We’re constantly trying to get our children ready for the next stage when actually readiness comes from just being in the moment. So when children want to play and we provide them the space and materials, they will automatically get ready for what comes next.

Spending time with your child is allowing your child to be the leader and doing what they want rather than what you want. Many people talk about children’s behaviour as being attention seeking but when we are with our children we need to think about how much attention we’re really giving them. Are we sitting on our smart phones the whole time? We need to be able to give them 100% undivided attention. Not all the time but at least while they are playing. When we really pay attention we can see what they are fearful of, what they are struggling with and then work together with them to help them. Show them that what they are doing is valuable and important and more important than your phone or to do list.

When you have materials that are multipurpose and not just toys with one purpose, it encourages creativity.

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The last question Abby asked was “What are the qualities of healthy, successful kids?”

Emily responded saying she thinks the most important qualities have nothing to do with their cognitive intelligence but children who will be successful long term are children who are capable, confident and compassionate. As parents, we have to look at children and say what you are doing right now is what you should be doing right now. Trust that your child’s inner development is exactly as it needs to be. This makes children feel capable of doing anything. Confident children are children who know who they are and know that their opinions matter. They tend to seek out meaning in life. This goes hand in hand with praise and rewards. Kids who have a strong sense of who they are can approach life with enthusiasm. Compassion; she hopes to raise kids who find out that they can have their own needs met while making sure that other people’s needs around them are met as well.