Interview with parenting expert, Judy Arnall and Heather Boyd, business expert
Interview with parenting expert, Judy Arnall and Heather Boyd, business expert
What is the scientific purpose of attachment parenting? In short, attachment parenting provides the child stress relief. Every child experiences stress and it impacts the body by triggering a stress response. Emotions such as fear, loneliness, sadness, frustration and unhappiness are present in children as young as babyhood. Children’s response to those emotions is usually crying in babies and “acting out”, crying or screaming in toddlers. Young children do not have the executive functioning to “self-sooth” or regulate their own stress response because of the immaturity of the brain’s pre-frontal cortex. They need external “scaffolding” help from an adult. When a caring adult responds to the situation promptly and with warmth, the stress is soothed and the calmness of the child resumes. Eventually, children grow to an age, usually in the teen years, where their self-regulation skills are developed enough so they can help themselves to “self-sooth,” and the scaffolding may be removed although comfort and parenting is nice to have all through childhood.
There are three kinds of stress; positive, tolerable and toxic. Positive stress is good and everyone needs some of this kind.Positive life challenges in the form or people, events or places, create positive stress. When the child faces the stress and overcomes it, often with caregiver support, (and as they get older, with peer support in addition to adult support); the child builds resilience to adversity and it creates a feeling of accomplishment for them. It encourages the child to meet even greater challenges as they grow because it builds their self-esteem and confidence. When a school child makes a class presentation, or a baby is left with a new loving, supportive caregiver, or a toddler faces new playmates at a new daycare, their accomplishment of managing the positive stress builds their resiliency.
Tolerable stress is caused by negative events in a child’s life. A parent’s divorce, an unwanted move, or the loss of a childhood friend are examples of tolerable stress because they are temporary, and supported by a caring, loving, warm attachment adult who can help steer the child through the stressful time. The adult responds to the child with active listening, lots of hugs, immediate problem-solving and being available for continual help. Even when the child “acts out” their stress by exhibiting bad behaviour, a caring, warm response from an adult will help the child regulate his emotions, return to a calmer state and eventually resolve the problem.
Toxic stress is also caused by negative events although these events tend to be on-going and the one pervasive factor that moves tolerable stress into toxic stress is the lack of a supportive caregiver or attachment parent. On-going, unaddressed bullying at school, or a baby being left to cry it out most nights, or a toddler that is spanked every day for touching items, are examples of toxic stress. In the first example, the bullying is on-going and pervasive. In the last two examples, the adult caregiver no longer is the supportive, caring person, and instead, becomes the source of the toxic stress as in the spanking and leaving to “cry it out” example. When the child has no other adult support resources, they are left to manage the adverse experience on their own.
Of the 8 principles of attachment parenting, the principles of responding with sensitivity (and not anger), practicing respectful sleep habits (not leaving children to cry-it-out alone) and using positive discipline (non-punitive guidance) are the most important attachment parenting principles to ensure toxic stress does not occur.
Children do not need toxic stress. Ever. The full onslaught of toxic stress stimulates the production of cortisol and adrenaline, which in turn is good in short doses to motivate the body into flight, freeze or fight mode, but bad for the body when it is produced in large ongoing doses. The constant production of these hormones can damage developing brain architecture in children and may produce lifelong consequences later in life in the form of eventual physical and emotional health problems and propensity to addictions.
No one lives a stress-free life, but adults who practice attachment parenting principles can buffer the negative effects of toxic stress in order to turn the stress into tolerable stress and grow healthy, happy children. Loving, caring support is never spoiling a child. It is crucial for a child’s healthy emotional, physical and social development.
In groups, I get asked all the time if consequences are punitive. It depends. Consequences are natural outcomes that occur if a parent intervenes or not. Yes, consequences happen to kids all the time when they are out and about in the world. The rest of the world will issue consequences to your child, but only you, as the parent, will take the time and effort to problem-solve with them. Children will get consequences from teachers, coaches, police, and other adults. That’s okay. Those people are not building a life-long relationship with your child. You are. When you take the time and effort to problem-solve, you are giving your child valuable life and relationship skills – negotiation. Your communication lines will remain open and you will enjoy a wonderful relationship with your child. Here are the differences between consequences issued by a parent in the name of punishment, and problem-solving which is a form of non-punitive discipline.
How to Change Your Parenting Style
by Judy Arnall, BA, CCFE
Do you come from a “dysfunctional family?” Is your ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score so high that you worry about doing the same to your kids? Can parenting habits change in one generation? Yes, you can change your child’s destiny! Many parents with ACE scores as high as 7 has raised children with 1 or less. You can too!
If you were raised by less than stellar parents, here are some changes you can make to become the parent you wished you had, for the next generation that you are raising. You do not have to repeat negative parenting habits with your own children. You can change your parenting style from over permissive or authoritarian, to a collaborative/democratic positive parenting style.
Parenting, for the most part, is a learned pattern. We can change parenting patterns and develop new ones. When we become aware of our shortfalls and make a conscious effort to change how we behave, we become really good at parenting after lots of practice. Don’t worry if you make mistakes. Rome was not built in a day. Even with new learned behaviours, in times of stress, we tend to fall back on our old habits. Apologize and vow to do better next time. With renewed commitment, we get better at changing old habits with time, practice, information and continuance. You can change family dynamics in one generation and give your child the healthy gift of less ACES in their childhood. It all starts with you!
There have been a lot of opinions published online lately regarding public shaming of children on the internet and social media, in order to teach kids a lesson and acquire good behaviour. Public shaming is emotionally damaging to children, erodes their self-esteem and shuts down communication. Good parenting involves mutual respect in a loving relationship. Mutual respect is treating another human being as no less and no more than one would like to be treated. If we don’t want to be publicly shamed, we shouldn’t do it to our children. Respect transcends age, race, religion, culture and social status in importance in starting and keeping relationships and that is also the case with child discipline. There is no room for punishment in a respectful parent-child relationship. So what to do instead?
Here are some “don’ts” and “dos” that I have learned over my 24 years of parenting that really work to gain cooperation and increase communication.
• Don’t call your child names or put down her ideas.
• Don’t talk about him disapprovingly in front of other people.
• Don’t make faces at your children, roll your eyes, and mimic them or use words dripping with sarcasm.
You are their leader and model for respectful behavior. As the adult, you must rise above immature responses.
• Don’t use your child’s possessions, break them or give them away without your child’s permission.
• Don’t go into your child’s room, computers, drawers, closets, and snoop. Don’t allow their siblings and others to snoop either.
• Don’t use sarcasm when addressing your child’s behaviour such as “I’m not your slave. Make your own lunch!”
• Don’t punish your child which includes everything from grounding, time-out, withdrawal of privileges, to hitting, fines, and confiscating treasures and electronics.
• Don’t yell, threaten, criticize, belittle shame or punish your children in public, or online, especially in front of their peers.
• Don’t tell them to “Suck it up,” or “Be a big boy,” if they display any kind of feelings that you don’t like.
• Don’t call in the forces and go in full frontal war mode when your child is disrespectful to you. Don’t engage in full power struggle and fight (punish) anyway you can until you win. You may win the argument but lose your connection, communication, sharing and collaboration in the relationship.
• Don’t turn away and let it go when your children are disrespectful. Call them on it by clearly explaining your expectations that everyone is treated with respect (and be sure you are modeling the same). Insist on restitution, apology, fixing the situation to make it better, or any steps you both think might help toward mending that relationship. Do request an expectation from your child that they will work toward change, when both of you are calmer. Set a time to talk.
• Don’t ignore other people’s children when they are disrespectful to you and others in public. It takes a village to raise a child. Confront the child, and later, their parent if there is no change, and insist on civility and politeness.
• Do stay calm as much as you are able to. You need a calm frame of mind to deal with your child. Tell your child, you are very angry, and are going to take a short break, if you need a few minutes to calm down.
• Do confront with your I-statement (“I feel unappreciated when I upgrade your computer and you don’t express thanks for my time and cost.”)
• Do listen carefully to the response, and be truly open to what your child is feeling. Listening and validating her feelings doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. (“You seem to feel upset about the amount of chores you have to do around the house?”)
• Do problem-solve the situation. (“Let’s go for a ‘walk and talk’ and see if we can find a solution that meets both our needs.”)
• Do say, “Please,” “Thank you,” or “I-appreciate…” to your child.
• Do apologize when you make a parenting blunder.
• Do look at backtalk as an opportunity to teach your child assertiveness with appropriate language skills.
• Do treat others, especially people in service roles, with politeness and kindness when your children are watching.
• Do treat your parenting partner with the same respect that you want. Don’t use name-calling, shaming, put-downs, and sarcasm in your words. Do treat their treasures and accomplishments as items that are as valuable and cherished as yours.
In other words, promote respect, be a model of kindness and politeness, and address learning situations respectfully with your children by problem-solving and that old standby, listening. Enjoy the communication that will flow when you practice respectful parenting!
The exam results are in!
Your child brings home a bad report card. Your first instinct may be to punish him in order to make him raise his marks. However, will that really solve the problem? We know from research in the workplace, that punishment never solves motivation or performance problems, so why would it work for children? What can do you do to encourage him instead? It’s good to keep in mind that a report card is only one “view” of your child. It’s a picture to report to parents what the child is like in school. However, he is a multifaceted learner with strengths and room for improvement in all areas of his life, just as anybody is. Think of your child’s performance like a three legged stool. All three legs are required for the stool to function and all perspectives can give an accurate assessment of the child as a learner.
One leg of the stool is from the teacher who is gives an academic skills report. This report should include information on how the child is doing learning subject matter in the four cores of math, language arts, science, social studies, and options. Schools like to report on character and other things that are not academic, but they only see the child participating in an institutional setting with many peers. The teacher does not see the child at home, or “outside of school” social situations.
The other leg is the parent who also gives a report card on two of the most important learning’s: life skills and people skills. The parent can present the report card to the child at any given time. Life skills include chores, money management, organization skills, problem-solving, initiative, responsibilities, health and wellbeing maintenance, and volunteer commitment. In other words – all the skills that parents witness at home. People skills include sharing, sibling conflict resolution, attitude, listening, assertiveness, and politeness, emotional intelligence at home and out in social situations. Most people with academic and technical brilliance lose their jobs not because of inefficiency in that area, but because of lack of people and life skills. These are the some of the most important skills to develop. These skills can be learned and practiced by all children. Not all children can get an “A” in math, but all children can learn to be polite and organized.
The final leg of the three legged stool is the child. He can self-evaluate and give himself a report card on all three components – Academic skills, life skills and people skills. This is the most important evaluation and parents and teachers can ask how they can support growth and success for the child in all these areas.
Finally, the parent, teacher and child should discuss where the strengths are and room-for-improvement and come to an agreement on how to go about setting improvement in place.
Education is a journey, and is not a race. The letter or number grade does not indicate learning or self- awareness. In fact, when children only chase a grade, they can be more prone to cheating and learn nothing. We learn the best when we fail or make mistakes which over insight and reflection, give us ideas for change. When children make mistakes, ask them “what did you learn from this?” The ability to self-evaluate, and find motivation to start again is the real learning and the upmost key to success. The Winklevoss twins learned more about life and resilience in their court battle with Facebook, than all those academic years at Harvard.
Parents, de-emphasize the numbers. As a society, we tend to treasure what we measure, but learning can’t be denigrated to a number. Most of what we do in life that really counts; love, help, volunteering, life learning, and kindness can’t be evaluated by a number, but can be observed, noticed and appreciated.
No one is perfect and we all have room for improvement. Your job as parents is to figure out with your child, how can you pick him up, dust him off and support him moving forward?
Judy Arnall is a non-punitive parenting and education expert. firstname.lastname@example.org
Part 1 Young Children
Effective discipline of young children requires knowledge about the development of children. Normal toddler behaviour is often viewed as “misbehaviour” by parents who do not understand the physical, cognitive, social and emotional capabilities and limitations of toddlers. Research shows that children under age five comply (“listen”) to parent requests about 40% of the time. This is normal child behaviour for that age, and does not require “teaching”, “discipline” or “punishment”. This normal behavior will change as the child matures.
Children will develop self-control naturally with age. Until then, parents can child-proof the local environment to make it safer and enjoyable, and can redirect the child. Children need adult help to calm down, as they have yet to learn self-soothing, which is a learned skill that comes with age and practice.
Toddlers have poor understanding of rules until they reach about age three. Even the word “no” is counterproductive, in that directing the child NOT to do something tends to inspire the child to actually do it!
Toddlers also have poor impulse control. This is a factor of executive function. Even though they understand the rule, they don’t have the self-control to hold back until about age five. They are going through a necessary developmental stage to explore their surroundings with all their senses, and want to taste, touch, and smell everything. Toddlers may seem to be ignoring or deliberately disobeying you, but in reality they are just doing their normal job of exploring, which stimulates development of their brains.
In summary, normal characteristics include:
Toddlers do not possess abstract thinking skills.
The best discipline tool for young children is understanding development and redirecting their behaviour. Child-proofing helps too because when a desired item is out of sight for a young child, it is also out of mind.
Temper tantrums occur when your child is overwhelmed and over-stimulated. The child feels frustrated and angry, and expresses those feelings through body language instead of words. Tantrums are part of normal behavior for a child between age 10 months to age 4 years, decreasing in frequency with age.
Prevent tantrums: Provide rest, sleep, food or stimulation as needed. Don’t go shopping with a tired, cranky, hungry child. Watch for and prevent triggers. Change the activity. If your child is getting tired, hungry, or cranky, offer a juice-box (to raise blood sugar) and a protein snack. Try cuddling on your lap with a good book – a great way to calm down, gain literacy skills and enjoy some connecting quiet time together. Try to meet needs as soon as possible. Sometimes, boredom can’t be alleviated. Get creative and invent ways for children to pass the time.
Handle the tantrum: It often helps to just ignore the tantrum, and carry on with your activity as if nothing is happening. If you have denied the child some item, this not the time to hand it over! Other methods are to just hold the child, and move to a safe, quiet place. Encourage feelings and expression of feelings. Say: “You’re angry. I’ll stay with you while you calm down. It’s okay to be angry. I know you are feeling frustrated.” Use a gentle but firm voice. Encourage deep breaths.
After the tantrum: Label your child’s emotions and provide words to develop a vocabulary of feelings. Ask: “Were you angry when you couldn’t have that cookie? How can we express our anger? Here is something to do.” The toddler usually understands the intent of the question and feels understood, and will later learn to use the words of feelings instead of the body language of a tantrum.
In any situation that involves discipline of a child, remember three steps:
Step 1. Calm yourself – Take deep breaths, drop everything, dress your child, take the stroller and go for a walk, or put on a video, to distract you or your child;
Step 2. Calm the child – Redirect to another activity, or sit and breathe deeply together, or hold the child;
Step 3. Solve the problem: childproof, redirect, substitute, distract, comfort, talk, prevent, and model.
You will make much better parenting decisions when you and your children are calm.
Next week: Stay tuned for Part 2 – Problem Solving
For more information on Judy Arnall’s suggestions for effective discipline, click Webinars at http://www.professionalparenting.ca to register.