Saturday, February 4, 2017

"You don’t have to answer me, but I’m happy to listen if you’d like to share." Teaching your kids the art of self-reflection

We’ve been talking about staying connected with our kids as they grow in my parenting support classes for parents of teens and tweens. Parents want to support their growing kids to become interdependent adults who are aware of themselves and their needs and are aware of others around them. 

You know, we want to raise the kid who notices when your hands are full and it might be helpful for him to hold the door open for you or to grab a bag to help? Or the ones who can take responsibility for their own choices.

Self-reflection gets the ball rolling. When they can connect with how it feels for them, they can connect with how it might feel for someone else. When they notice what something is like for them, they're more likely to ask what needs to happen next or what they can change.

But how do we get started?

The tips below are especially important as kids enter middle childhood, pre-adolescence and teen years, but you can practice when they’re little, too. Especially number one!!

Photo Credit: Flickr, Seattle Municipal Archives

1.     Start with you. This ability to self-reflect, to know what one needs, starts with us and then with our relationship with our kids. Start with yourself.

I asked my parents in the last round of support classes to self-reflect and share what they noticed about themselves. These were actual examples parents shared in our classes last month:

“I stayed up too late playing on Facebook and now I’m tired today.”
“I ate potato chips and chocolate for lunch and now I am having difficulty focusing.” (That one was mine…lol. Similar ones were shared by the parents in the class.)
“I went to a Kickboxing class and feel so energized today!”
"I had some alone time to actually read a book today! Ahhhh... I needed that."

Photo credit: Pixabay

2.     Share what you observe about yourself with your kids. As we, as parents, begin to pay attention to what makes us feel good and not so good, we can share that with our kids out loud. As you begin to share those things out loud, your kids will naturally start considering them, especially if there isn’t any pressure from you.

Just share what you notice about yourself with your kids in casual conversation. Share when it worked for you (“I feel so great after I went for a run this morning!”) and when it didn’t (“I didn’t get outside yesterday at all and I’m noticing I have less energy today.”).

Photo Credit: Pexels
3.     Begin asking your kids what things feel like for them. Don’t expect them to answer, but be open to a conversation if they’d like to share. The key here is to help them to learn for themselves when something is working for them and when it’s not working, rather than having you or another outside force make that decision for them. Try questions like these:

“I wonder what it feels like for you when you stay up too late at night? How do you feel the next day? You don’t have to answer me, but I’m happy to listen if you’d like to share.”

“I noticed you had a hard time getting to sleep last night. Did anything you did or didn’t do earlier in the day make it harder to get to sleep? I know sometimes when I have a hard day, I didn’t get enough exercise, or I’m thinking about something that happened earlier that I have a hard time falling asleep. You don’t have to answer me, but I’m happy to listen if you’d like to share.”

Kids need to learn to pay attention to themselves so they can learn what they need, but they need us to start asking those questions without the expectation of an answer. This isn’t telling them that they stayed up too late and now you’re grounding them. This is encouraging them to become responsible for themselves by connecting with themselves. That’s a totally different thing.

We want them to be responsible, empathetic and observant. We want our kids to get to know themselves. For some kids (and adults), knowing what things are like for them and what they need is brand new. Take some time and play with it for yourself in your own life. Introduce the idea to your kids and encourage them to notice things about themselves and see what happens.

I’d love to hear what you notice when you start paying more attention to this for yourself and for them. What happens? How does it feel? Do you notice your kids taking more responsibility? Please share!

More parenting support classes are starting soon! We're running a class for Consciously Parenting Couples (to help parents stay connected as partners), Consciously Parenting Children with Special Needs, and another class for parents with kiddos between the ages of 5-9. Classes start the week of Monday, Feb. 6! As of this writing, only 3 spots remain in each class. Click each class name above for more information and to join!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Dance of Independence with Our Kids; Tween and Teen Support Classes Information

We all want our kids to grow up to be as independent as possible, right? As the mother of two boys, who are now somehow almost 18 and just turned 13, I know it is on my mind quite a lot. Did you know that the independence our kids show as older kids and teens starts when they're babies? Even in the womb? And the foundation of independence is actually dependence and interdependence? Let me explain.

As I'm sure you probably already know, young children need a strong connection and lots of time and energy on the part of their parents. It is appropriate developmentally for young children to be fully dependent, even if our culture suggests otherwise. 

To take it a step further, the relationship between parent and child is really inter-dependent because it is a relationship with rich communication between both parents and child, beginning even before birth. Spending the time to be present in all ways (not perfectly or every minute, but being "present enough") and care for them is truly an investment in their social, emotional, and future mental health. All children need to have a strong bond with at least one adult. We know this connection makes all the difference. Children need to be seen, heard, and felt, as Ray Castellino states about babies. It's really what we all need.

What happened in their early years becomes especially important as children reach the pre-teen and teen years. This is the time when children still need to be connected, still need to have parents who are invested in them, but are ready for more independence in a series of forward and backward steps. They're still very much inter-dependent, just in new ways.

Photo credit: Laurel Perry,

But this is the part that can be really tricky for us as parents. How much is too much decision-making for these older, yet still young, kids? How much isn't enough? What about sleep and technology? What about their education? Helping around the house? Their relationships with their friends? How do we foster inter-dependence here? They're not the only one in the family, so it can't just be whatever they want to do and disregarding everyone else's needs.

The answer comes out of our relationship, of how well we know our kids and the strength of our bond, as we head into adolescence together. We are the ones who know our children and can encourage them as we see they are ready for another step without pushing too much (our agenda). When we can really see who they are and where they are, putting our own ideas aside, we can guide them to take the steps they're ready to take.

Here's a personal story from my own family, including a picture taken from that same day.

When my youngest was 8, we moved to a new condo complex. There were many buildings and lots of places to get lost, so for a little while, he wouldn't venture out on his own past the hallway in front of our apartment. I respected that we had just moved and also that he is my kid who tends to be directionally challenged anyway, so I watched and waited, encouraged and connected. We talked about how to get different places each time we went out together (scaffolding- giving him a structure upon which to learn) and I let him know that he would know when he was ready and knew where to go.

One evening, I was down at sunset inside the complex with some friends and he called me from the apartment phone to say that he was going to walk down by himself. About 5 minutes later, he was there, full of pride at what he had accomplished. We took this picture as he paused and took in the sunset after his walk down on his own. He was 9 by this time and he was ready for this step in his independence.

But pay attention to something here. Just like when toddlers are exploring a new environment, they need to go out into the world and then come back to check in with us again. They move away, then move closer together to connect. The same happens as our kids grow. We're still their touch-point, their secure base, ideally. My son explored on his own and connected back in with me when he reached his destination.

Photo Credit: Tra Hitt

Learning how to support your children toward independence is a dance of moving away and coming back together, much like when they first learned to walk. Sometimes it is difficult or scary to watch them move away with the potential for getting hurt (whether it is with friendships, the possibility of getting physically hurt or emotionally hurt, or making mistakes that might have long term consequences). We want to protect our kids AND we need to help them learn to trust themselves, and to protect themselves, at age appropriate and developmentally appropriate times.

Many parents have been asking for more support in parenting with attachment in mind with their older kids, so I am setting up some online virtual parenting support classes for parents with children between the ages of 9 and 19 (ish) who want some support in finding their way with their kids.

Class sizes are limited to 8 families AND I'm doing something a little different with registration for this class based on your feedback. You get to "pay-what-you-can," starting as low as $10/class! 

Tell Me More about the Tweens and Teens Classes!

P.S. If you're an Academy member, these courses are included in your membership. No need to sign up. You'll be receiving an email invitation in your monthly newsletter.

P.S.S. More classes are coming for parents of toddlers and preschoolers, and early elementary-aged, too. Watch your email for more information and dates soon

Friday, January 2, 2015

"Christmas Vacation" meets "It's a Wonderful Life" or How Christmas Didn't Crash and Burn

Happy New Year!

What's on your heart and mind as the new year begins?

Were your holidays peaceful and loving? Or a chaotic? Or full of family drama? I'd love to hear!

Did you ever see the movie Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase? There are several scenes where Chevy is very frustrated and upset. He kicks and beats up plastic reindeer from his front yard. He cuts down a tree from his front yard with a chain saw to replace the one burned down by his elderly relative.

Mine wasn't quite that bad, but I was worried for a while. Christmas Eve was so much like my own childhood Christmases, which were a bit like Christmas Vacation. Chaos. Emotional spewings. Blah. This year, things fell apart all over a present my youngest son got from his dad, a boat that he could play with in our pool. It was a hobby remote control speed boat, which apparently had some problems. First minute in the water and it lost a propeller. All the tiny little pieces fell to the bottom of the pool. The pieces were too small to see or to pick up with the net, so my 11 year old had to go into the cold pool and find the tiny pieces in the dark. He insisted. (I suggested a level head, daylight, and some sleep might help, but he didn't like that idea.)

An hour later, he finally found all the pieces and put the boat back together. My older son drove the boat to have a turn and it broke before it made it across the pool once. This is when the screaming started. Everything went downhill from here. No one handled it well. This is the part that reminded me of plastic reindeer flying through the air.

The thing that was so hard for me about this is that I grew up with chaos like this from my two younger brothers. Christmas was like this a lot. And I've worked really hard to have our holidays be very different. I was surrounded by friends and my partner who were there to help support my boys and me. That made all the difference. And our holiday wasn't ruined. In fact, when everyone did calm down, we were all able to reconnect. And Christmas Day was really great. It was a bit more like the ending of, "It's a Wonderful Life." That was a first for me.

Parenting consciously doesn't mean that everything is perfect all the time or that we always handle everything perfectly the first time. It's about recognizing when things are going down an undesired path, reconnecting with yourself and others who can support you so you can reconnect with your kids.

In the past, this would have ruined not only my day, but also my week. Instead, it helped me to see how far I've really come.

Would you like to learn more?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"I'm here to bring hope," said my 10 year-old

I spent the weekend thinking deeply about my life’s purpose, immersed in Oprah’s Live the Life You Want weekend in Miami. I came home and was sharing some of my experiences with a friend on the phone when I noticed my son was listening intently. He’ll be 11 next month and has always been a deep and sensitive soul, especially with me.  

I was sharing that Oprah began with the words, “Why are you here? What are you here to do in this life?”

My son looked into my eyes and said, “I know why I’m here.”

I stopped my conversation. That’s the kind of thing that completely gets your full attention as a parent.  I paused and said, “You do? Tell me why you are here.”

“I’m here to bring hope.”

 My heart swelled. What a statement for anyone, let alone a 10 year-old. I waited and he continued.

“When Jacob died, you needed hope. And when I was born, I gave you hope. So I know I’m here to bring hope.”

He was right.  He was conceived 5 months after my baby, Jacob, had died from a fatal birth defect. I was ready to try again and I felt confident that things would be ok this time around, yet I was still grieving. My whole world was shaken to the core. I didn’t know how anyone could really recover from such a loss. I felt like there would always be a giant gaping hole in my heart that would never be better. I continued to do my own work before and during (and well after) the pregnancy with him, but he certainly grew in the sadness I was experiencing, along with the waves of fear that things might not be all right.

We’ve talked about his birth. We’ve talked about the baby brother he never knew who came before him.  We’ve talked about how much I wanted to have him and how loved he was and always will be. But I had forgotten the story I had told him about hope. But he hadn’t.

I believe it was Oprah this weekend who said, “Hope is the simple belief that things can change. Despair is that tomorrow will be another version of today.”

I needed things to change. I needed to believe my body could have a healthy baby. I needed to know in my heart that I wouldn’t always be shrouded in a cloud of grief. I needed to see the beauty in every day moments. Honestly, it would have been easy to just have thrown my hands up in the air, curled into a ball and never look up again- except that I had another child already, a little boy who was 3 1/2 who needed me. And so I got up and made breakfast instead of staying in bed on those cold Indiana winter days while it rained or snowed or was just dark and grey outside. And, true to my nature, I searched for answers so that tomorrow wouldn’t be the same as today.

These moments always contain choices. We can be defined by the sadness of the story or the hope. We can allow something that happens to us to be the reason we stop trying or the reason why we must propel ourselves forward. Every situation, no matter how dire it seems, contains the opportunity for defining ourselves and our path forward. And we have the opportunity with our children to help them define their own stories as a hero’s journey, no matter what happened by the stories we tell to them.

We can rewrite those stories so that we are the hero. We can rewrite those stories so that they define us in ways that help us to grow. And we can begin doing that today.

I’m here to bring you hope. Hope for you. Hope for your family. 

"Because it is always darkest before the dawn and the sun always rises." Oprah

Sunrise pictures courtesy from my Facebook friends. Thanks all!

Sunrise in Satellite Beach, FL, courtesy Kim Bannister
Sunrise over Albuquerque, NM, courtesy of Deborah Barkoff
Sunrise in Clearwater (entitled, When You Wake Up on Red!) courtesy of Susan Stroemel Graham
Sunrise in NY from a bus, courtesy Clare Uppenbrink
Sunrise Satellite Beach, FL, courtesy of Kim Bannister
Sunrise Punta Gorda, FL, courtesy of Cecilia Wilhelm
South Nevada in August, courtesy Teresa Lewis Lass

Want to connect more with me:
Phone, Skype or in-person sessions in Palm Harbor, FL (email me at rebecca @ consciouslyparenting (dot) com without spaces and putting a period for the dot to make it a real email address.

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