Many of us have been told that we should be enjoying this time while we are raising young children. You may remember this when you had a newborn and some older relative sighed blissfully at the memory of her own newborn.
You may have been told, again by some older person who is no longer raising young children, “the days crawl but the years fly.” Again with a sigh.
Parent, if this sentiment makes you feel guilty, you are not alone.
And those Pinterest-perfect lunches for toddlers (who scarcely remember to eat, except for that one meal a week where – without warning – they are bottomless pits)? Another opportunity for guilt.
And the Facebook posts and the commercials on TV and the photos on Instagram… so many opportunities.
But the truth is, allowing yourself to feel anxious, burned out or anger sometimes will actually help you enjoy your children more. Let yourself off the hook, please. It's okay to not enjoy it all or even most of the time.
Do you know that book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting? It's not supposed to be fun all the time. It's drudgery a lot of the time. Rewarding drudgery, to be sure, but sometimes the reward doesn't come until much later.
The more we try to force ourselves into feeling a certain emotion, the more we resist. We think, “I shouldi feel grateful, happy, excited” and our inner teenager barks back a single, “NO.”
Or it works for a moment and then we fall, exhausted, again. By one more source of pressure.
Or it just creates guilt.
Resisting an emotion takes a great deal of energy. Allowing an emotion and even welcoming it takes a lot less energy and, to my surprise, actually allows that negative emotion to pass much more quickly.
So let’s say you discover that – true story – your toddler has poured an entire bottle of laundry detergent on the floor of the laundry room.
You want to blame yourself, and remember that she’s only a toddler, and laugh it off.
But the truth is, you are pissed. At yourself as well as at her. Realizing the amount of extra work that was just created for you. And you were already exhausted from a long day of adulting.
But trying to push down your annoyance will only make it stronger.
Instead, try putting your hands on your chest for a moment. Close your eyes. Breathe for a moment. Tell yourself, in your most loving voice, “Of course you are frustrated. Anyone thinking about this would be frustrated.”
Try to find the feeling of frustrated in your body. Maybe it’s a flat white bumpy cold rock in your stomach. Or a burning hot ember of lava in your chest.
If this sounds a little woo-woo, that’s okay. Try it anyway. It’s weirdly effective.
Just lean into it. Stay focused on the physical sensation, not the story of what went wrong.
The idea of “being the Watcher” comes from the Buddhist tradition. I am not a follower of Buddhism, but this surprisingly simple practice has changes my life, even in just the past few weeks (before, I used to be the Watcher but with an agenda of “this emotion better hurry up and finish).
The crazy thing – for me – is that when I do this, without an agenda, the emotion does lessen in intensity. Sometimes it passes altogether. It doesn’t mean I enjoy cleaning up the laundry detergent, but it does make it less infuriating.
It also makes you more emotionally available to connect with your guilty three-year-old. You might even be able to invite you to join you in cleaning the pantry, without inwardly seething.
Want some help finding your parenting "A game"? Or improving your child’s sleep? Schedule a free consult today.
This thoughtful New Yorker article sparked a lively debate on my friend’s Facebook wall. Most people seemed fairly hostile towards the approach.
The article says, “In its broadest outlines, gentle parenting centers on acknowledging a child’s feelings and the motivations behind challenging behavior, as opposed to correcting the behavior itself.”
The New Yorker article goes on to say, “a gentle parent holds firm boundaries, gives a child choices instead of orders, and eschews rewards, punishments, and threats—no sticker charts, no time-outs, no “I will turn this car around right now.”"
What’s interesting about this is firm boundaries and choices (versus orders) sound contradictory to me, right? You either have boundaries OR choices, not both.
VeryWellFamily.com defines gentle parenting as, “Gentle parenting focuses on fostering the qualities you want in your child by being compassionate and enforcing consistent boundaries. Unlike some more lenient parenting methods, gentle parenting also encourages discipline, but in an age-appropriate way. Discipline methods focus on teaching valuable life lessons rather than focusing on punishments.”
These two different practices with the same name seem to have contradictory ideas.
Guidepost.Montessori defines gentle parenting as, “Gentle parenting is a parenting approach that encourages a partnership between you and your child to make choices based on an internal willingness instead of external pressures. This parenting style asks you to become aware of the behaviour you model for your child, encourages compassion, welcomes emotions and accepts the child as a whole, capable being.”
It’s not clear that this third approach eschews boundaries, either.
It looks like a lot of the controversy is based on the differences in how gentle parenting is defined versus how it is practiced. Perhaps a lot of parents who like the idea of gentle parenting have trouble maintaining boundaries? It’s hard to say.
For myself, I don’t like the term “gentle” because it sounds loaded. It sounds like maybe parents aren’t supposed to have strong emotions, never mind strong words for their child.
I don’t know about you but for me, I am definitely not gentle (in my words and feelings) all of the time.
Also, I find that people tend to equate “gentle” with permissive. Being afraid of upholding boundaries. I believe strong boundaries are essential not only for parents but for children. Boundaries make children feel safe!
I prefer the term “respectful” parenting. It sounds like it allows some big feelings on either side. It suggests that you don’t have to be calm all the time. You just have to manage those strong emotions in a thoughtful way.
I am not a leader – by any stretch of the imagination – in the respectful parenting movement, if indeed there is one.
But this is how I define respectful parenting to my clients:
This is simply not true of respectful parenting. You acknowledge the emotion and correct the behavior. “I know you’re mad we have to leave. Do you want to put on your shoes or do you want me to help you?”
"Across the parenting boards and group texts, one can detect a certain restlessness. A fatigue is setting in: about the deference to a child's every mood, the strict maintenance of emotional affect, the notion that trying to keep to a schedule that could "authoritarian." Sometimes, the people are saying, a tantrum isn't worthy of being placed on a pedastal. Sometimes, they plead, their voices rising past a gentle threshold, you just need to put your freaking shoes on."
I couldn't agree more... with most of this.
A tantrum should not be placed upon a pedastal. It should be tolerated, then the parent should offer a hug and move on.
A schedule is authoritarian and there is no problem with this. Children's brains are not developed enough to drive the daily schedule. We adults need to do our adulting, parenting jobs. To make decisions that our children may not like.
And when it's time to go, yes, you need to put on your freaking shoes. But I think this can be accomplished just as clearly without the negativity of "freaking". The reason for the "freaking" is that the parent is asking too many times. THIS, not gentle/respectful parenting, is the culprit. Ask only once, then "help" to get the job done, before you are annoyed.
The only part of the above quote I disagree with is this: this is not a definition of respectful parenting and I bet it's not a rule of gentle parenting too. It's the opposite.
Respectful parenting isn't easy. It's hard to always keep your cool. But by respecting your own boundaries and acting swiftly, before they are crossed, parenting actually gets a lot easier.
Want some help with sleep or parenting (there's a lot of overlap!). Schedule a free consultation and see how life can get easier for your family.
If you'd like to join my free Facebook group -- it's open to all -- please come on over to FB: Sleep Deprived Parents. You'll get free advice, commiseration and feedback, whether you have ever been a client here or not.
Problems or goals can seem insurmountable... but a little support along the way can change everything.
I've been privileged to receive life coaching in various forms over the last two years and now want to share my experience with you as I finish my certification as a life coach myself.
My clients will receive three months of complimentary life coaching. There's no catch. You just have to agree to a three-month committment of weekly one-hour sessions -- of course, if you don't feel it's serving you, you are free to stop sooner -- and to bring a challenge or goal to your first session.
Not sure what life coaching is? Life coaching is a bit like therapy, only instead of being mostly past-focused, it's future focused. It helps you move forward in your life to achieve the life you have always dreamed of having. I have used life coaching to address issues such as anxiety, grief, relationships, parenting, work-life balance and more.
Life coaching works for nearly everything because it isn't about my knowledge of your challenge or goal, it's about helping you understand how your thoughts create everything you have in your life.
If you are interested, please send me a quick email and tell me what you would like help with! I'll let you know within one week if you have been chosen.
I can't wait to support you in conquering a goal or challenge!
Can you sleep train a newborn?
Well, it depends.
The very large practice, Tribeca Pediatris, says you can do twelve hours of "cry it out" sleep training at 2 months old. They estimate it will take 3 days and you'll be done.
For those who aren't ready for this at two-months-old -- and there are many of us! -- here are some gentler strategies to improve sleep that don't involve any crying.
Need help implementing better-sleep-strategies? Schedule a complimentary sleep coaching session and discover how your family's sleep can be transformed by amazing sleep.
I know you have the best of intentions.
But stop. Please.
Because if your little one is crying in pain – whether physical or mental – they are distinctly, 100%, not okay.
I know you want to help but can you imagine if you were hurt and someone just kept on insisting you were okay? You would be furious, not comforted.
Let your child have her moment of pain. Let her be all in on that pain.
You want to assure your child that nothing is seriously wrong, but more than that, it’s hard for you (us) when our children cry.
Because we make it mean that we have failed them in some way.
We have this crazy idea that if only we were watching more closely, he wouldn’t have fallen off the play structure. We think that if we had been there, hands outstretched, she wouldn’t have tumbled off her bike. We think that adults can prevent children from being mean to each other.
We think that our children shouldn’t feel pain.
And part of that is because we love them so much and we only want good things for them.
But there's another reason, too, one that is actually a tiny bit selfish. It’s because it makes us really uncomfortable when our children feel pain. We feel responsible and we hate that. We hate the idea that we failed and we are the reason they are suffering.
But children are full-fledged human beings – albeit small ones – with exactly the same range of human emotions as we have. And they are entitled to the full human experience, even the 50% of life that is negative. And with pain comes learning and growth and opportunity. Pain is a normal, natural, healthy, necessary part of life.
We can’t prevent our children from feeling pain. But we can prevent them from developing coping skills, if we swoop in to solve it or worse, deny it.
My daughter bumped her head on the underside of the coffee table today. Because she had the brilliant idea to lie across the couch and lean way down to clean up the puddle of milk on the floor, underneath the coffee table. On her way back up, wham!
I heard the thud, the pause, the wail of distress that every parent quickly learns means “drop everything and run.”
I scooped her up and just held her. I didn’t say anything. I just rocked her and kissed her damp forehead and waited. Longer than I expected. Maybe there was some big feelings going on about her play date, in addition to the bumped head. Who knows.
What I did not do is say, “you’re okay. You’re fine. Why were you leaning down that way anyway?”
I hear this ALL the time from parents – not realizing I am paying attention – actually blaming their kids for their injuries, “I told you not to do that.”
And I know the parents believe that they have good intentions. They want to help, and they feel powerless, so they figure a quick lecture -- while their child sobs -- will make the child feel better.
But really, telling someone that their injury is their fault never makes the victim feel better. I promise.
The only thing is does is it relieves the parent’s guilt. Because they fear that if they were just sympathetic, it would somehow be admitting culpability for their child’s injury?
Let me tell you, instead. Loving parent, it is not your child that your child fell/got hurt/got their feelings hurt. Short of you deliberately knocking them physically or emotionally down, you are not capable of hurting your child. I promise. You didn't do anything wrong.
Children get hurt. It’s not your fault. It is a healthy, necessary, painful part of growing up.
You don’t need to tell your child anything in the moment of shocking pain. You can manage your brain – just keeping telling yourself “shhh” – and focus on your child’s needs.
You can just be silently sympathetic as you hug them. Or say, “ouch, that really hurt.” Or just “I love you.”
All of these will be comforting.
I promise your child is 100% incapable of processing your “helpful” feedback while they are crying. They are flooded with emotion. Their prefrontal cortex has left the building. That’s why their baby selves come back and they suddenly let us cradle them in our arms.
She can’t process a word you are saying. But she can feel your arms around her. She can feel your sympathy. You don’t need to fix it.
You do need to sit with your guilt and not put it on her. You’re a grownup. You can handle it.
If you really think you need to advise her not to do whatever it was she were doing – I bet the fall was all the teaching she needed – wait 4 hours. Until the big emotions are fully gone.
If the hurt is emotional, my advice doesn't change. Don't give advice. Just wait. Later on, ask, don't tell, what your child wants to do. Listen, ask if her wants advice, don't give it otherwise. Don't step in. Don't solve the problem for her. This is what growing up is for -- learning to negotiate conflict with your loving support. Solving the problem for her means she doesn't get the learning she needs. It's okay if that is really uncomfortable for you (and her)! Nothing has gone wrong. Growing up is hard!
You don’t need – please – to tell him how it’s his fault. he just needs your love. The thing only you can give him. No one else can do it like you can. It’s your most important job.
Do you struggle to be your best parenting self, whether about your child's sleep or some other boundary? You are not alone! Schedule a free consult and learn how you can be the parent you have always dreamed of being.
Daylight Savings Time Arrives March 13th in the USA and Canada. Here's How To Avoid Sleep Disruptions.
It’s hard to be organized with time changes – I rarely succeed – but that’s partly because I don’t have someone reminding me! So I’m here for you!
The big payoff for preparation? Preparing your children gradually will help prevent night wakings and early morning wakings. Which means avoiding overtired, cranky children (and adults)! Win win.
If you are extra organized, begin TODAY by moving bedtime 10 minutes earlier each night. You also need to wake your child up 10 minutes earlier each day, to move meals 10 minutes earlier, and to move naps 10 minutes earlier as well.
Do this each day and by the time DST rolls around, your little one won’t even register the time change.
If you are less organized – and I don’t blame you – you can start 4 days ahead of time and move every item on the list (bedtime, wake time, nap times and meal times) 15 minutes earlier each day.
And if you are even less organized, remember that you don’t have to make the full switch on Sunday. You can pretend that the time change didn’t happen yet and make a gradual transition even after the official time change. Just start the transition on Sunday.
Just know that the faster the transition, the more likely you are to have “growing pains” and sleep disruptions. If you do it all in one day, the entire family is likely to suffer. But you should recover within a few days.
Also, if you haven’t yet installed blackout shades, this weekend is an excellent time to do so. The days are just going to keep on getting longer and, for those of you at northern latitudes, bedtime (and early wakings) are just going to keep on getting more challenging as a result. So make those bedrooms as dark as you can.
The reason for this – it’s not just that darkness is easier for sleep – is that darkness triggers the brain to produce melatonin, the hormone that naturally helps us fall asleep and stay asleep. Blackout shades are truly magical for this reason – they are total gamechangers.
If you are worried about your child getting “addicted” to truly dark rooms and that travel will be difficult as a result, know that you can bring garbage bags and painter’s tape with you to make guest rooms more dark while you travel.
Also, fear of not having great sleep later should not be a reason to prevent great sleep now. If nothing else, your well-rested child will be better able to cope with the disruption of travel if they are sleeping well now, even if they don't have perfect darkness later on.
If the financial investment of blackout shades is intimidating, know that you can use temporary blackout shades. You don’t have to spend a lot for great sleep! This six-pack of temporary blackout shades is just $20. Or you can do what I did and experiment with just garbage bags and painter’s tape at first. (Warning: it’s highly effective and deeply depressing to go into a room that is consistently that dark!)
Daylight savings tends to bring a lot of sleep disruptions to families with young children. Spending a few days preparing for the transition will help everyone. Just don't forget, parents, that you also need to start transitioning your sleep and wake times now too. It's not easy to force yourself to go to sleep earlier, but it's worth the payoff.
If your family is already struggling with sleep, fear not. Schedule a free consult today and get the well-rested family you deserve.
*Mexico changes to DST on Sunday, April 3rd
Getting my kids to listen is perhaps my least favorite part of parenting.
Of course, the problem isn’t me, it’s my kids, right? They're defective? And I'm actually eligible for a refund?
As soon as I imagine asking others for advice on how to manage uncooperative children – the nerve! – I realize that the problem is me. The problem is nagging.
I hate it that the problem is always me!
I know what I need to do. I need to stop asking multiple times. And I know I need to change how I ask.
So, for example, I want Amelie to get into her bathing suit (we were on vacation last week). I need to not yell instructions to her from a different room as I am busily packing the beach bag. Even though that feels a lot more convenient in the moment.
No. I need to stop what I am doing. Walk into the room where she is. Go over to her. Touch her if she’s distracted, and wait until I have her attention. I’ll know when I have it because I’ll have eye contact. (Pro-tip – turn off all electric screens before attempting this.)
Once I have Amelie’s attention, tell her, “Amelie I need to you to put on your bathing suit.”
If she says okay and gets to work, consider myself lucky.
If she says no, consider brokering a deal, “Okay, two more minutes and then you’ll put on your bathing suit?” If she accepts, set an audible timer and prepare to come back in two minutes to enforce the time limit.
If that fails, then I need to be the adult in the situation. I hate that.
So then I need to say, “Amelie, it looks like you need help getting your bathing suit on, so I am going to help you.”
Then I need to physically take charge of her body getting into her bathing suit, just like I would with an infant. It’s not her fault and it’s not a punishment. I shouldn’t be operating in anger. (A bit of frustration is okay!) Ideally, I can keep in my mind that her prefrontal cortex is not fully functional yet and so I am basically operating her underdeveloped frontal lobe for her right now.
The good news is that if I do this consistently – only asking ONCE, no nagging at all! – she will start to take me more seriously and is more likely to comply with my request in the first place.
Talking about this with a friend whose 9-year-old was frustratingly noncompliant, she argued with me, “but I don’t WANT to help her get ready. A nine-year-old should be able to get herself ready on her own!”
Yup. I hear you. Both these options suck. She should be able to get ready on her own.
But the fact is, she isn't.
Do you know that expression, "she isn't giving you a hard times, she's having a hard time?"
She’s showing you she isn’t, actually, able to right now, no matter how much she "should" be able to. No matter what her age. Kids show us what they are able to do. And their abilities change minute to minute, day by day. Arguing with reality – that she should be able to do something – is only going to make my friend more frustrated.
So we have a choice. We can nag or we can help get the job done. They both take energy.
The first choice might take less physical labor but it’s only teaching our children to ignore us until we get angry. Over time, this teaches them to ignore us and also chips away at our bonds.
The second choice takes more energy in the short term but it’s a lot less maddening – once we do our thought work and remind ourselves “she would do better if she could, so clearly she can’t” – and in the long run, is actually increasing our odds of cooperation the next time.
The choice seems obvious but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Take it from me. I’ll report back in a few weeks on how it’s going in my house!
If you'd like help getting back on your parenting game -- let's face it, we all need a reset from time to time -- schedule a free consult. We can talk everything from sleep to feeding to positive discipline.
It’s not surprising that childhood trauma – not just the dramatic kind you see on TV, even much smaller microtraumas – affects our parenting, but with many of the families that work with me, not in the ways you would expect.
In most cases, my clients actually struggle to set boundaries because of inappropriate boundaries they experienced as children. They are actually too kind, too flexible, too democratic in their thinking. They are afraid of being "mean" and raising insecurely attached children.
This might sound like a good thing but it’s actually really not great for children.
Children need clear, consistent boundaries to feel safe. To have secure attachment. When parents are too accommodating, it actually creates more anxiety in children. Children need to know that their grown-ups are in charge, not themselves. The world is a big and scary place. Kids need to know their parents’ aren’t worried… and when parents change rules to avoid tantrums, that sends the message to children that their parents are less than confident.
Of course, children will never tell you that. In the short term, they absolutely want another cookie/more screen time/a later bedtime. But in the long run, parental flexibility on boundaries harms children.
Having boundaries isn’t mean. You don’t have to express them with anger. It’s actually important that you are not angry when you reinforce boundaries. You want children to know that going to bed on time, or limiting screen time, or wearing a seatbelt isn’t a punishment. It’s a boundary set with love, with the child’s best interests in mind. AND it’s perfectly fine if the child doesn’t like it. It’s not up for discussion, but it’s fine for the child to express all the negative emotion she feels.
Negative emotion is never a problem. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s not dangerous or traumatic to say no.
A funny thing about parents who want to be “nice” is that they often end up yelling more often than parents who have no problem enforcing boundaries. That’s because these “nice” parents get pushed and pushed and pushed by their children until the parents feel resentful and end up snapping. It’s so much healthier if you can respond immediately when you feel your boundaries being crossed, before you snap. And children will, by definition, push boundaries, no matter how “kind” they are. That’s the job of children, to find limits in the world. And it’s the job of parents to keep the limits anyway.
I finally started seeing an EMDR therapist recently to help deal with childhood trauma of my own. I always thought my own childhood was "not that bad" and I should stop complaining but years of therapy hadn't really helped so I guess my minimizing wasn't helping.
And lo and behold, since I’ve been processing childhood trauma… I am yelling a lot less. I maintain boundaries more easily, more definitively, from the get go.
We all have so many good reasons to be angry… but they probably have very little to do with our children. They have to do with us needing to do our own emotional work.
EMDR has helped me realize that my yelling was due to my own unmet needs. Needs for space, for rest, for love, for compassion. And most of those needs had to be met by me. I have to heal myself (with the help of my EMDR therapist). And that starts with unconditional love for myself. And guess what? The more unconditional love and compassion I offer myself… the more I have for my children.
I still have limits with my kids but now I uphold them calmly. My daughter actually got angry at me the other day for NOT yelling at her – she was dysregulated and melting down and wanted me to yell to help her get regulated again.
Instead I left the situation – after trying patiently for 30 minutes – to be a responsive and sympathetic listener and not having her progress through the tantrum. It was leave or yell, and I really didn’t want to yell.
So I went into my office to read on the couch and ten minutes later, she came in and cuddled up next to me – she wouldn’t let me touch her before – and finally really talked to me. And it turned out that despite all her earlier complaints about my partner, her teacher, her sister, her schoolwork… the issue was really an uncomfortably loose tooth. And so I could just say, “oh, it’s hard being a kid, isn’t it?”
And she nodded appreciatively and melted into me and all was well.
And this would not have happened if I had allowed myself to yell back when she was yelling at me. It’s hard not to respond when someone is yelling at you!
But having compassion for myself and taking that time out to take care of myself allowed me to be there for her when she was ready. And indeed, my setting a limit – “I am not going to allow you to yell at me anymore – I am going to leave the room now” – actually helped her to get calm and re-regulated so that she could allow me to help comfort her. Staying and allowing her to yell at me, or worse, yelling back, would not have been healthy for me or for her.
Parents who work with me for sleep coaching tell me again and again that their children are so much happier, after a few hard days, of getting great sleep. Well-rested children are happy children. But they don’t know that ahead of time. They need their parents to make it happen. They might not thank you later but you will see how they are thriving when their bodies are getting the sleep they need.
If you are ready to help your children get the sleep they need to be their best, schedule a free consult and see how good life can be without sleep deprivation. We can work together to address your own childhood trauma so that the process is as peaceful as possible. Results guaranteed.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.