Your essence is the most authentic, honest, real version of you. Over years of development it often gets built over with other’s stories of who you are (or who they want/need you to be)–good or bad–but not essential truths of who you are on the most elemental level. Eroding those stories we were told were your identity is a difficult but essential part of raising one’s own conscious awareness.
You don’t want to look ‘there’. Maybe you tell yourself it doesn’t matter. It’s in the past. Let’s just forget it. Or maybe you were told to ‘accept it and move on’ or ‘life is painful’ or ‘life is unfair’. Sure you heard those words as a child, but who was telling you? Why were you asked to put your essential questions aside and let others articulate truth for you?
Your parents greatest flaw was their own unconsciousness. Their own unawareness of their raw vulnerabilities and how that affected them. Hurt them. How they felt betrayed. Scared. Alone. They chose to candy coat those events–make them seem like sad but OK parts of who they are. But they are not. There are stories in them. Unarticulated truths of existence that could lead them to their own divinity. And get you closer to yours. Proof of a life that means so much more than what it seems like on the surface. How could one not be affected by the horrific truths that have been woven into the story lines they were a part of? How could that generational trauma not affect you?
With that bundle of perfection that you coddle with the warmest love, your are scraped into acknowledging your rawest essence–beyond your culture and your parents unconsciousness– and forced to look in the mirror and see–really see–who is looking back. When we acknowledge our true being and remove the false layers of who we were told we were or who we “should” become, then we honor our unique way of being, and as a parent traversing the spiritual journey of raising humans.
So you’re an adult now, a ‘grown up’. It doesn’t always feel that way. When you find yourself lashing out at a child you know there is more–has to be more–from where those automatic stories you tell yourself are coming from. How do you figure out where?
In the solitude of the breath.
What artifacts do you need to unearth from your past to analyze, understand, and refile in your emotional database with a story that actually makes sense? That gets to the heart of the matter?
On the breath.
What nuggets of truths can you uncover when you scuff off the layers of pretend and posing? Will you be able to confront the pain of your family’s skeletons?
The truth is when you get closer the buried treasure might seem like bomb. It may scare you and make you wonder who you are and why are you here? How did you get layered into this mess. It will make you question the stories–you may now call them lies–that you once owned as truth. But be brave.
It may take time–maybe even a lifetime–of digging, sifting, and triangulating the data points to where they line up and make sense. You may have to reach out to other willing family members (aunts and uncles) to unearth the real story of what happened to your parents. You may not find anything for a long while.
Until you do.
Let go on the exhale.
The truth is the only way and making meaning of that is all you can do.
And you may realize all you have is emptiness. Nothingness. This is not bad. This is the starting point to rebuild a new civilization based in consciousness. Reality. Essence. Pure joy. With the emptiness there is wholeness. The ability to be. Anything. Your choice.
“It’s just ice cream! We’ll get you another! Stop crying!”
“Your hair is a disaster, stop screaming and let me brush it. Now!”
“Are you seriously crying over Legos? You have so many! Stop throwing them, or else!”
“No, for the 10th time, you are not getting that toy with behavior like that.”
All parents are faced, at some point, with children who are seemingly not able to control their emotions and are acting in socially and culturally inappropriate ways. One expects young toddlers to do this, but as kids grow older, say 3-6 years old, we hope that they are able to start recognizing their feelings more objectively (instead of just feeling those feelings) and respond more maturely. This can be very frustrating when a parent doesn’t know how to help their child deal with their big emotions–usually negative. When children do not understand their feelings they are unable to problem-solve the issue at hand and help themselves out of emotions that might not be serving them.
Self-regulation is the processes that allows people to appropriately respond to their environment. It goes hand-in-hand with mindfulness which is the ability to recognize a present-moment thought or feeling without judgment because both are about insight and awareness of oneself. It is important for people to have the ability to notice what emotions one is feeling and how intensely one is having those emotions so that they can respond appropriately instead of a quick and thoughtless reaction. Self-regulation is important for people all ages and learning it begins at birth. To teach self-regulation, parents must model appropriate self-regulation, give their child hints and cues on how to appropriate self-regulate, and give their children practice by gradually withdrawing their support. Babies regulate by “co-regulating” or attuning to their caregiver and the process evolves as the child becomes more independent, develops more self-awareness, and develops a vocabulary. It is a slow process that develops over many, many years.
An important first step is to get your child to start recognizing the physical sensations of their emotions. Without awareness of how the emotion presents in your child’s body it seems more overwhelming and helpless than it actually is. To start this in your home, parents should attune themselves to their own physical sensations of big emotions and start noticing their child’s. Take cautions not to judge physical reactions, but just notice them. Find a safe and quiet time to debrief with you child after a big emotional outburst when they (and especially you) are calm and in an accepting state of mind. Talking to a child in the midst of a tantrum will not be productive because their brain is unable to receive and process complex information in that heightened state. In the middle of a tantrum parents should first keep their child safe from himself or harming others and then respond lovingly and empathetically to their physical sensations (ex. “I see that you are sad because your ice cream fell. I would be sad about that too. Can I give you a hug?” or “I know you are frustrated that your brother keeps taking your Legos. It is annoying when people just take things without asking. Can I sit with you while you calm down and then we can figure out a solution”.)
Next, help your child label their emotions (aka. “name it to tame it”). Start this by reading stories to your children about kids who have similar big emotions. You can also hang up an age appropriate feelings chart in some common area of the home. An age appropriate feelings chart for little kids, who are more concrete thinkers, is one with pictures of actual human faces and only exhibiting 10-12 different emotions, or else it will be too overwhelming to use. Many adults will appreciate having an adult version too so that they can get back to identifying the nuanced feelings throughout the day, becoming more attuned with their own emotional landscape, and role-modeling naming the feelings.
After recognizing and naming the emotions, it is important to help your child calm down. When your child is experiencing a big emotion, a part of their brain called the amygdala takes over and tells them to fight, flight, or freeze. This has an important function in helping people respond quickly to danger but children need to learn to control this impulse and take a moment to choose a better response. Helping your child to learn how to relax can be done in a variety of ways, some examples include: taking them away from the chaotic space to somewhere quiet and private, talking to them in a softer voice, getting at or below their eye level, slowing your breathing, listening to music, and many mindfulness practices geared towards children.
Finally, by helping the child to focus on something good–the sunshine, a cookie, a parent coming home soon, not with the intention of distracting the child but rather to remind them of something positive is a great way to diffuse attention away from the big emotion and onto something happy.
Coaching your child through these tough times will be difficult but children need their parents to be the calm, unconditional leader to help them mature through their developmentally normal emotional outbursts.
Resources to learn more:
Printable Feelings Chart for Little (2-5) and Bigger Kids (6-11):
To further this lesson with your children: have them look through magazines and cut out pictures of faces and then label them with the correct emotion.
Feelings Chart for Adults who want to improve their Emotional Intelligence (EQ):
(c) 2017, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance, nurturefamilyeducation.com
Question: Today my 4 year old was given his dinner and refused to eat it. He ate this meal (chicken, broccoli, and bread) last week. We don’t know what to do when this happens so we usually end up sending him to his room, but this doesn’t feel right. We also don’t want to get in the habit of making him another meal. What should we do?
Answer: All parents have dealt with picky eating at some point and it is always frustrating and confusing. It is hard to know exactly why this is happening so it is easy to react from habit. This is a very common problem. Parents need to consider their goals for meal time and if their behavior is congruent to meeting those goals. There are a number of feelings and behaviors that both parents and kids come to the table with. Here are 5 to consider:
(Before these considerations parents should always make sure their is nothing medical going on with the child like being nauseous or sick.)
1. Does your child like the food and/or is the child bored of the food or is your child even hungry? This is often overlooked in the busyness of life but it is important to consider. Children are allowed to have preferences, likes and dislikes, just like grown ups. They just don’t always know how to express those and parents don’t always, quite frankly, care because they are not willing to make another meal. Have you ever been exposed to a food that you normally like that you were just not in the mood for? Kids have days like that too, so if this is an infrequent occurrence, do not make it into a big deal. Many well-intentioned parents also serve milk with meals which kills their children’s’ appetites. While the protein is good for them, it fills them up before they have time to eat their actual meal. Also, obviously but worth noting, keep their snacking in check. It is so difficult to not feed them a full meal (calories-wise) when they are begging for food but you want them showing up to mealtime hungry, so make sure any snacking is light enough to leave them ready for mealtime.
2. Is your child really asking for some control? If you have a concern that you child is being manipulative or needing to have some power at the dinner table, we would suggest you listen to that intuition and give them some control. This can be hard because traditionally parents have a strong desire to be in control and be respected at all times but this is counterintuitive to a happy mealtime. For this specific example, we would give the child choice of a dipping sauce for the chicken (give him 2-3 options), a choice of how he would like the chicken cut (cubes with a fork or long strips he can pick up with his fingers-if that is acceptable at your house), a choice over how he would like the broccoli cut and possibly sauced (cheesy might be irresistible for a 4 year old), and whether he would like to eat the bread or not since it is not nutritionally dense. Sometimes parents get go caught up in the dinner wars that they do not even realize that they are demanding their kids eat something (like bread) that isn’t feeding the child’s health but rather the parent’s ego and need for control.
3. Is your child resistant to a certain specific food? If the child is resistant to a particular food, say broccoli, we would suggest you consider doing something called “chaining”. In this process, the child is presented with new foods that may be similar in taste, temperature, or texture to foods the child already likes with the goal of them eating a food in the form which it is normally served at your home. So for example, if you want your child to eat raw broccoli, offer a broccoli muffin to start (assuming they like muffins), then have them eat a blended broccoli soup, then finely diced broccoli in eggs, and so on and so forth until you have them dipping their raw broccoli in dip. Choose delicious ways to chain and your kid will eventually be eating a new food. We also suggest allowing kids to start the chaining process by just having the food on their plate. Period. Just that is a step in the direction of them “warming up” to the idea of eating a new food.
4. Most kids will not wither away and die if they do not eat a meal. We would make sure to keep this in mind if you child says they are not hungry. Forcing kids to eat when they are not hungry sends a message that they shouldn’t listen to and respect their bodies, but rather the exterior demands of the person who is in control. Not what parents actually want for their children in the long run. Mealtime should be focused on promoting prosocial behavior and facilitating re-connection after a long day and if your child is resistant to eating tread lightly and do not make too big of a deal of it especially when it interrupts the familial connection you are establishing, which is more important that caloric intake at one meal (unless it becomes a pattern, in which case, you should look below the surface level of behavior and try to figure out what is really going on).
5. Should you make him a new meal? In general, no. You do not want to send the message that they can simply refuse to eat and get something “better”. But if you know the child is truly hungry and in need of calories in his body but still not willing or able to eat the food offered, it is not problematic to offer a simple alternative as long as it does not become a regular habit. Do not cook something that takes much effort, but reheating desired leftovers or fixing him a bowl of cereal is fine. Being too rigid at meal time is just going to exacerbate power struggles and that is the opposite of what family meal time is about.
6. Sending a child away from the dinner table for refusing to eat is not desirable because it does not get them to eat, does not teach them appropriate way of asking for different food or how to politely refuse food, and facilitates disconnection which are all the opposite goals of meal time. Time-outs, during mealtime, or other times are a waste of an opportunity to teach valuable skills like how to regulate their emotions or how to get their needs met. (Click here for link to Rethinking Discipline.)
We hope this helps facilitate a broader understanding of appropriate ways to deal with stressful mealtimes and wish you sweet love and good eats.
We highly recommend checking out this resource for more mealtime and eating ideas: http://itsnotaboutnutrition.com/
We recently had the opportunity to talk to Goldie Shawel, a grandmother who came into the conscious parenting movement a few years ago as a grandmother. We were intrigued to find out that conscious parenting is not just for parents of young children. As Goldie explained, it made perfect sense. A parents job is never really over and how you approach those moments of connection, even with your adult children, really makes a difference.
Nurture: Tell me a little bit about yourself…
Goldie Shawel: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio to parents who were Holocaust survivors. My parents had five children. I had a challenging childhood–my parents couldn’t process what they had been through and had no peace. Sadly, it robbed them of much of their lives. Financially we were fine, but emotionally they were never available to me the way I needed them.
Not understanding the effect of my parents experience on their parenting ability and style, I created a similar life for my 5 kids. I was always physically present with them but wasn’t able to connect with their essence they way they, and I, deserved.
Now all my kids are married and now I have 12 amazing grandchildren who call me Nana.
N: How did you hear of Conscious Parenting?
GS: I heard Dr. Shefali Tsabary on Oprah one day and thought “Ok, I messed up” and turned off the TV. A little while later I saw her again and something struck a chord and I was mesmerized. After that, I began seeking out Dr. Shefali and saw her work again on Facebook. She used to do a program called “Conscious Card Tuesdays” which was just posting a thought to her audience and taking questions from people. I engaged Dr. Shefali in discussion and went from there. As a grandparent, some of my parenting issues are the same as the newer parents, but I also have some unique issues like being an in-law to 5 adult children and grandparent to 12 unique individuals.
One of the most important teachings that I have learned about Conscious Parenting is that it’s not just about parenting. It’s about relationship building.
N: Is being a grandparent disqualifying for changing your parenting style? Is it too late?
GS: I have children from ages 27-37. I don’t think it is ever too late. Children, of any age, are a mirror.
When I wanted to share the conscious parenting teachings with my children, I didn’t want to be too pushy or overzealous–especially with my children’s spouses. Dr. Shefali suggested that I buy my kids her books so they could read and process her teachings and speak up if they were interested in learning more.
N: How has it affected your relationships with your children?
GS: I am closer with all of my children as a result of sharing these teachings with them.
N: Has it affected your relationships with your grandchildren and the way you approach being a grandparent?
GS: Yes. I used to be grandma that shells out money and brings gifts. Now I do not that do that. We pick out gift together but our relationship is more about being with each other than giving or receiving stuff.
N: How do you resolve the feelings of guilt or remorse for lost time for not being more conscious earlier?
GS: I had a lot of guilt and sadness for not being with my mother more on an emotional and connected level but with Dr. Shefali’s help I realized that there is no good in beating myself up. I had the same feeling about my time with my own kids. I head to learn to accept the way it had been and appreciate that, albeit later than I wish, I had found growth and am at peace with that. When you know better you do better.
N: What is something you wish more grandparents knew?
GS: Time spent with your children or grandchildren is the gift. Simply being and doing with the child is the gift. Allow yourself to be quiet with them and observe them. Resist the temptation to do, do, do.
N: How do you approach being a Conscious Parent with your children in law?
GS: I heave learned to tread carefully and take cues. At first I was extremely excited about this movement that had allowed me to find peace with my life and my children and I wanted to push Conscious Parenting on them. I now know that you just can’t. They have to be ready and open to it.
N: Do you have any thoughts on what is like to be a Jewish parent and a Conscious Parent?
GS: As a Jewish mom, it is easy to find myself overly enmeshed with my children. I used to find myself shaming and blaming my children and have learned now to just accept them for who they are. I have to stop myself from telling my adult children what to do. I can make suggestions but I have to realize that those are just that, suggestions. Also, part of the Jewish culture has encouraged parents to be a martyr and constantly give, give, give. I have learned to relinquish this part of my upbringing and am focusing on taking care of myself first. I can’t be emotionally available to my children and grandchildren if I haven’t taken time to rejuvenate and recharge my own batteries.
Are you a conscious grandparent? Tell us about your experience below.
At Nurture: Family Education and Guidance, we offer private coaching, facilitated small groups, and larger seminars to teach parents and other educators the art and science of living consciously. Contact us at (585) 420-8838 or at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
(c) 2016. Nurture: Family Education and Guidance
Behavior is always an expression of needs. Good behavior is simply needs being met and not-so-good behavior is a cry for help. But most young kids don’t have the emotional maturity to say “parents, I’m feeling really ‘x’ right now, I could use some love and to learn some strategies to use when this happens ”. Of course– that would be ridiculous—so instead they behave in another way that gets their needs met and unfortunately, adults often see those behaviors at a surface level and do not take the time to understand the underlying root cause of those behaviors.
Typical discipline at home usually looks like being: yelled at, grounded, sent to room, time out, taking away a privledge, spanked or roughed. Most families work from the belief that the parent is the authority and should have total respect from the kids.
Their are five criteria for effective discipline according to Dr. Jane Nelson of Positive Discipline:
All people, even kids, want to always feel a sense of love and safety. But unfortunately traditional discipline does not facilitate those feelings and in fact, it normally goes in direct conflict with those feelings. Fundamental to conscious discipline is a focus on the child as having the locus of control (as opposed to the caregiver). Clearly, age, temperament, and unique personality have to be factored into any approach you choose to take but the three biggest factors one must confront in order to rearrange poor behavior patterns, of any age child, are in the areas of connection, boundaries, and consequences.
When one is considering consequences it is important to think about whether or not their are already natural consequences in place. Natural consequences (aka. “logical consequences”) are obvious outcomes or effects that occur without any human intervention or action (ex. kid hits sibling and sibling doesn’t want to play with him anymore). Unnatural consequences are imposed by people and are usually based on their culture, world-view, and beliefs. They are inherently coercive and power-centric (ex. kid hits sibling and gets sent to timeout bench). Natural consequences help maintain the parent-child relationship because there is no power differential, only empathy and support. Unnatural consequences are really a euphemism for discipline; they can be somewhat random and do not directly relate to the reason the child was being punished. Unnatural consequences reinforce the parent as being in power and the child as less-than. The goal of any consequence is to immediately stop the behavior and to teach different behavior. So instead of interjecting power, which is truly rather artificial and will degrade the quality of the parent-child relationship, try relying on the natural consequence more frequently and using any “bad behavior” as a teaching opportunity.
Think about the typical discipline issues in your home. Are the consequences your child faces typical natural or unnatural?
One critical factor in giving your child boundaries is deciding what exactly you are willing to let your kid get away with. You have to decide if you are drawing a line in the sand or a line in stone.
If one is drawing a line in sand or a negotiable boundary, the first need is to evaluate whether it is worth having the line at all. It is OK to tell a child that you do not have an immediate answer and need time to think about it. Engage them in a discussion about the pro’s and con’s. Let them practice seeing both the positive and the negative to the situation and let them help come up with alternatives. Even little kids will appreciate being included in the discussion. We all want our kids to be good at making decisions, so illuminate your thought process and help them develop theirs.
If you are drawing a line in stone, aka a firm boundary, you need to mean what you say and say what you mean. Examples of lines in stone for most families deal with safety in some way. Having a firm boundary does not mean refusing a discussion through what relationship expert Dr. John Gottman refers to as “stonewalling”. Stonewalling, or refusing to engage in discussion or explanation, chips away at relationships and breaks trust with the exact person with whom you want you to trust with even the toughest discussions: your child. Reject the kinds of parenting that says “because I said so” even when it is tempting to do so. Communicate with empathy, solidity, and openness despite challenging behavior from your child and see it as an opportunity to attune to their inner-world.
When extinguishing a bad behavior from a childs’ repertoire, say nagging or hitting for example, that behavior tends to get worse before it gets better. This can be confusing and throws a lot of parents because when they try to set a boundary and all of a sudden the behavior is worse they think they somehow messed up in extinguishing the behavior and go back on their boundary. This is detrimental to the boundary one is trying to set.
Remember that authoritative parents let their boundary be known and talked about and can hold the firmest of boundaries with love, that is why they are refered to as “tough love” parents. This does not mean you will waiver. It will depend on the situation and whether you are drawing a land in the sand or a line in stone.
Although this is the last point, this is really the most important. Connection is absolutely vital to teaching your child anything and enjoying the process of doing so. The first and most important relationships in a child’s life are those with his or her parents. In fact, in group counseling one of the primary goals of that experience is “corrective recapitulation of primary family”. The meaning of this is to show proper functioning of interpersonal relationships. Because the foundation of all relationships, parent-child and otherwise, is trust and connection it is important to give ample energy to making sure your attachment is strong. Traditional discipline has relied on parents being in power and making rules and demanding unconditional respect. The new approach, the conscious approach, declassifies the parents from ruler and promotes them to teacher and supporter who can be relied on for guidance even when the child is displaying their worst behavior.
Taking time to enjoy your kids—and letting them enjoy you—will put the relationship capital in the bank. And when you need to–or mess up like we all do–and take withdraw from your relationship “bank account”, it will be OK. You won’t be steeped in the kind of guilt you used to experience because you will be able to reflect on all the good, fun, relationship-building you have done and know that it will carry you through a rough patch.
As you are rethinking how consequences, boundaries, and connection are used in your home, be aware of how you were raised and how that informed you. Parenting is hereditary, learned, and one of our most basic cultural constructs. Yet, with awareness, education, and practice one can change the primal desire for power over their children.
What are the most common issues that require consequences in your house?
Does your approach to consequences typically show more connection or boundaries?
(c) 2016, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance