How can I encourage independence in my clingy kiddo?

How can I encourage independence? episode #16

Question – “My daughter constantly follows me around the house always wanting my attention. I give her A LOT of attention! I’m a stay-home Mom and we are together all the time. She even follows me into the bathroom. I’ve tried “filling up her tank” just to see if she ever gets enough but I found the answer is NO. When my husband gets home and I try to leave for the gym, she clings and whimpers, begging me not to go. In fact, she does this any time I try to leave her with anyone. Sometimes the guilt and hassle isn’t worth it, and I cave in and stay home. Sometimes I feel imprisoned by a cute and loving jail warden. How can I teach my daughter to be more independent?” – Allison

Parent Educator answer –

I love how this question is worded. This shows such keen awareness that the situation is a pattern of her DAUGHTER’S. When kids behave this way, it can really lock moms in without them even realizing it, so I’m glad Allison is aware and wanting to change. I don’t hear mom beating herself up thinking she should do more, be better, etc. I love that she experimented with “filling up her daughter’s tank” and can feel confident that not having enough mom time is not the issue. My favorite part is her final question, “How can I TEACH my daughter to be more independent?”

Teaching is a process. It takes time, patience, and clear explanations and repetition. You teach your children how to treat you. This doesn’t mean they are going to do it perfectly right away, just that you are committed to doing your part as teacher.

When we see clingy behavior in children, it’s a sign of anxiety. It’s great that your child feels comforted by you, it’s also important that your child feel comfortable away from you. Anxiety can be caused by many things: modern society, a genetic predisposition, even a stressful birth; so we’re not going to waste our time arguing that your child shouldn’t feel anxious.

3 things NOT to do are…

  1. Don’t sneak out without telling them. 
  2. Don’t have long goodbyes or wait for your child to give you permission to leave.
  3. Don’t avoid anxiety provoking activities.

4 ways to increase your child’s comfort and stability, which will increase their independence and (eventually) decrease their clinginess.

  1. Predictable Routine – All kids benefit from structured routine but, anxious kids especially can  benefit. They might even ask every morning, “What are the plans for the day?” Have a chart with pictures so they can predict “cuddle and read with mom time” “play independently time” “screen time”. You can also have routines for each day, Monday is library. Tuesday is gym. Wednesday is playgroup.
  2. Encourage deep relationships with other adults and children. Invite your child’s friend over after school every Friday. Go to the park with Dad Sunday morning or play games with Grandma Sunday night.
  3. Transitional objects – If your child doesn’t have a transitional object, give them one. Tell them it will make them feel safe. A beautiful stone to slip into his pocket or a soft feather. Whenever he feels anxious, they hold onto the object. When he is clinging to you at the door, remind him of this special object and its’ special powers.
  4. Reduce narrow focused attention – When we are nervous, our eyes lock into an object like a lion stalking it’s prey. School and screen time encourage narrow focus attention. A lion spends 95% of its day in diffused attention, this is important for humans, too. Diffused attention is a recuperative state that helps our brains calm down and feel at peace. Staring into space and daydreaming shift the brain into diffused attention. Try hard not to interrupt your child when in this state. You can encourage this diffused mental attention with music, art, and nature based movements. Experiment with turning off electricity, watering the garden, and classical music and see what calms your child the most.

Life Coaching answer – When your child is clinging and pleading for you to stay home, it is SO HARD to leave!  They pull out all the stops, filling us up with love, making us feel wanted and needed. Instead of reciprocating with love and devotion, we break their hearts, causing them suffering, tears, and misery!

Many moms fall into this trap because they think, “I am the only one that can help them feel better.” This belief keeps kids locked in anxiety, believing they are only safe when mom is around. Mom feels so needed and valuable that she forgoes her dreams and passions, trapping her in a limited existence.

The best thing Allison can do is to manage her own anxiety and set up a regular, predictable routine around leaving her daughter. The thoughts that will keep her stuck are “She needs me” “I can make her feel better” and “It’s not right to let her suffer”

We have this idea that our kids shouldn’t suffer- that they should always be happy and if they aren’t we are doing something wrong.

This is our primitive brain talking. Our higher brain knows that sometimes we need to make parenting decisions that our children aren’t going to like- that we can forgo that temporary ‘false joy’ for long term well being.

Of course we want to avoid negative emotions unnecessarily, but being willing to choose discomfort for long term well being is a really important life skill.

We endure discomfort for a high intensity exercise class for the long term gain of fitness.

We endure boring subjects in school so that we can pursue a major that interests us.

We tolerate uncomfortable dental appointments for the long term benefit of healthy teeth and gums.

The buddhists say life is suffering. So, trying to keep your child from suffering is trying to protect them from life. Believing you can protect your kids from emotional discomfort is believing you are more powerful than God.

Kryptonite – “I’m tired”

This is a sneaky one. Thinking the thought or saying the sentence “I’m tired” seems like you are just stating the facts. But try it out for a minute, how do you feel when you think the thought “I’m tired”? TIRED!! When you feel tired, you act lethargic, and don’t seek out energy inducing activities! It’s not like you rest, take a nap and the feel energized. It seems so legit that we don’t even argue it.

Energy is something we create more of, through exercise, rest, sleep, food, etc. Many Supermoms use the thought “I’m tired” as a way to avoid doing hard things and taking action towards their goals.

Supermom Power Boost schedule a vent session

Sometimes all you need is a good vent session. It’s tempting to turn to our husbands at the end of the day to complain about everything that went awry. Most men are wired to fix problems so when unload our challenging day onto them, they try to tell us what to do. This is not what we want to hear! We just want them to say, “Oh honey, I don’t know how you do it all day, that sounds really rough.” Instead they say, “Did you try putting her in time out?” “Just tell your boss no.” or “You shouldn’t let her get to you like that.” This makes us aggravated and frustrated because all we need is a little compassion.

To get a power boost, try scheduling a “vent session” with a girlfriend. Most women naturally commiserate. We vent, we get our frustrations off our chest. They tell us about their challenges, we feel better. Venting with other moms gives you just the fuel you need to make it through another day. We don’t want to be told what to do to fix our problems, we just want to feel seen, heard, and supported. You can try telling your husband, “I just want you to listen and not fix.” but girlfriends are the best power boost I know of.

Quote of the day – 

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Disrespectful Child

What’s the right way to handle a disrespectful child?

My son is 8, is a great kid all around, but he’s mean to me. He can be sweet and loving one minute, but a rude and disrespectful child the next. He talks back, ignores me when I’m talking, and “accidentally” bumps me with his backpack when we’re walking into school. The teachers have no complaints, he behaves perfectly at school, it’s only at home with me that his disrespectful behavior comes out. What am I doing that makes him treat me so poorly?    -Ava

Thank you for this question, Ava.

I’ll never forget when the speaker’s bureau I worked for asked me, “Could you teach a class on raising gracious children?”

I thought they were joking. They knew my daughter. They had been around her since she was a baby. Every time I brought her in, they would say “Hi, how are you?” “look at your cute shoes?” “How old are you?” She NEVER answered.

She would stare and glare but never smile and never respond, so I thought they were being sarcastic: making a joke about ME teaching a class on gracious children based on my very ungracious daughter!

The “people-pleaser” in me was embarrassed by her behavior, but my co-workers weren’t as bothered by her as I was.

They were serious.

I figured this would be a good challenge for me, so I took it on.

Here’s what I learned in my research and preparation for teaching this class on raising gracious children:  Children learn by imitation. If you are kind and polite, chances are they will be too. EVENTUALLY. When they are little, their personality, emotions, and other motivations come before social niceties.

So the real question I set out to answer is: “How do I act graciously, no matter how my child is behaving?”

I’ll dive into this in the life coaching answer, but first, we’ll start with the parent education answer.

Parent Education answer

We want to take a look at what might be motivating Ava’s son to be polite at school and be a  rude and disrespectful child at home.

Based on your scenario, I’m going to guess it’s one of two things:

1. He feels yucky on the inside and wants you to know it.

It’s possible he doesn’t know how to express his negative emotion in a constructive way, and/or he doesn’t feel like it’s ok to have negative emotions like anger or sadness.

If this is the case, helping him develop some emotional vocabulary is very helpful. You can do this by talking about your own emotions, “I feel so mad I want to hit something” (you could even find something to hit like a couch cushion or kick an empty cardboard box).

If you were feeling low, you could say, “I feel sad so I’m going outside to be by myself.” or “I’m disappointed that my friend canceled plans so I’m going to draw a picture of what I’m feeling.”

Showing him that everyone has negative emotions sometimes, and modeling how to cope in healthy and appropriate ways would boost his emotional intelligence.

You can also help him pay attention to his emotions when you notice he’s starting to misbehave by saying things like “You feel disappointed” or “You feel frustrated.”

Print out a page of different emotion faces and put it on your fridge to help him identify and understand the nuances of his different emotions.

When we are having strong emotions, they can feel really overwhelming. By naming them, we contain them; it makes them feel manageable.

I learned this when I was 14 and tried out for cheerleading. I worked hard and did my best but didn’t make the squad.

When I walked in the house after the tryouts, my dad said, “I thought you said you wouldn’t be disappointed if you didn’t make the squad?” I burst into tears, yelled, “I said I WOULD be disappointed!” I ran into the bathroom and slammed the door.

I remember looking in the mirror as the tears flowed down my face and said to myself, “I’m disappointed. Is that what this is? I’ve been disappointed before. I can handle this.”

Then I felt fine. I was totally over it. Even the following year when I tried out again and didn’t make it, I allowed myself to be disappointed without any drama.

Humans aren’t meant to be happy all the time. We want to make sure our kids have access to the wide range of human emotions, and we can do this by modeling it for them in a healthy way.

2. He wants you to discipline him.

Discipline comes from the root word discipulus- the Latin word for student. Kids like rules and structure when it comes to their behavior, even if they don’t show it.

When kids know what to expect, it calms them down. Sometimes they may choose to ignore our expectations, but it’s our job to lay it out there and tell them the behavior we want to see.

I struggled with parenting a rebellious child who was always fighting for power. I would try and offer her choices: “Do you want to wear the red or the blue?” She would NEVER choose one of my options. She’d always go for whatever I didn’t want her to wear, just to defy me.

I would offer mac ‘n cheese or peanut butter sandwich and she would declare that she will only eat red foods. As soon as my fridge was full of red food, she would switch to green. It drove me crazy because I wanted life to be easy and for us to get along. She just wanted to assert her power.

After much debate, I decided to put my strong-willed daughter in Catholic school. I was nervous. It was a great kindergarten program with the most fabulous teacher, but it was old-school strict.

These kids were taught to BEHAVE. I thought, “It’s either going to be great, or really terrible.” My plan was to switch her to a Montessori school for first grade, assuming Kindergarten was going to be a nightmare.

Her teacher was so savvy. My daughter tested her for the first four months. How much can I get away with? Do you really mean what you say? What if I do it this way? You draw the line here, what about here?

As soon as my daughter realized that she couldn’t outsmart her teacher, she relaxed. It’s like all that energy and attention she was putting into trying to control everyone and everything, could shift into learning and being a kid.

Some kids are strong willed and will fight for power, but it’s too much responsibility for them to be in charge. No five year old, or eight year old, should be in charge.

When kids know there is a strong authority figure present, they get to be a kid. They get to relax and play, knowing someone else will steer them back on track if they wander.

Could it be, Ava, that your son is asking for more discipline?

Life Coaching Answer: 

Based on your question, Ava, I’m going to guess that you bounce back and forth between anger “he shouldn’t be treating me this way” to helplessness “Why can’t he be nice to me?” This does not feel good.

It’s kind of like you’ve got this powerless, abandoned kitten on one shoulder whispering “please be nice to me” and a ferocious tiger on the other saying “you better be nice to me.” Bouncing back and forth between these two keeps you out of your power.

I want you to listen to the energy embedded in the last sentence of your question: “What am I doing that makes him act so poorly?”

Can you feel the emotion in that sentence? Self-blame? Guilt, maybe? It’s coming from weak energy.

Your first sentence felt the opposite: “What’s the right way to handle a disrespectful child?” Can you hear this one is a bit more annoyed?

It implies there is a right way and wrong way, and because you label the behavior as disrespectful, I’m guessing you are in anger.

Most people think that angry, ferocious tiger energy is you being powerful, but studies show the most powerful energy is calm, assertive energy.

In order to TEACH your child how to treat you, you’ve first got to find your calm, confident energy. Which means stepping out of blame and accepting reality without argument.

You aren’t a bad mom because your child misbehaves or is rude to you. Can you imagine a child that NEVER talks back? That ALWAYS says the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, since the day they learned to talk?  That would be weird, right?

Like a little Stepford robot child. If that happened you’d still probably be writing into me, concerned that your child is behaving too well. Something must be wrong with them if they never misbehave, right?

Our thoughts create our emotional energy. Notice how you feel when you think, “He’s disrespectful.” It makes you angry and annoyed. You want to snap back, yell, give him the silent treatment, basically mirror how he is treating you.

Notice how you feel when you think, “What am I doing wrong?” “Why won’t he be nice to me?” “I should have this figured out by now”.  Those thoughts make you feel weak. You give in, letting him have the power to treat you poorly.

You want to find a thought that gives you the feeling of calm confidence. The word that helped me was “teach.” I can teach her to be kind by my actions. I will teach her how to treat me.

Every time my daughter did something I didn’t like, I would treat it as a lesson. “When you ignore me, I feel unimportant. What I’d like to hear you say, is ‘Ok, Mom.'”Most kids don’t like learning the same lesson every day (especially strong-willed ones). This “instruction” motivated her to adopt the behavior I was looking for because being told the same thing every day became annoying.

When she talked back, I would remind myself, “She is asking me for more guidance”.In order to curb your son’s behavior, Ava, find a thought that gives you the feeling of calm, confidence. “I know what to do here” is a good one. Think it often and see if it helps YOU change YOUR behavior, giving you the change in your son’s behavior that you are looking for.

Supermom Kryptonite – The Dictator and The Wild Child

I learned about this concept from my first life coach teacher, Martha Beck. I obsessively read every book she wrote and learned about “the dictator and the wild child” in her book, The Four Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace.

When people are dieting to lose weight, they very often create two opposing characters she calls The Dictator and The Wild Child. The dictator is the voice in our heads that only allows us to eat spinach and quinoa. We must do everything right, eat everything right, and never falter.

Most people can’t keep up with this perfectionistic discipline, nor do they want to. So they then create this wild child who rebels against the dictator and says, “Screw you! I can do what I want, eat what I want, anytime I want.”

Bouncing back and forth between these two extremes is exhausting and a huge energy drain. You decide you want to eat healthily, but then you rebel against yourself to the point where it feels like you are eating behind your own back.

These two extremes can play out in parenting as well as weight loss.  We develop this idealized version of ourselves; the perfectly balanced mom who does everything right.

Naturally, we can’t keep up with these perfectionistic expectations. We yell, we say things we regret, we snap at our kids, never understanding it’s because our expectations for ourselves aren’t allowing for imperfection.

If this sounds familiar, the fix isn’t more will power and discipline nor is it to beat yourself up. We want to LISTEN to the wild child. What does it need more of? What would feel joyful and playful to the wild child?

This isn’t an “angel and devil on the shoulders” scenario. Maintaining perfection isn’t part of being human so that goal will always create rebellion. Find some middle ground by asking “What emotion do I want to feel, no matter how my kid behaves?”

Supermom Power Boost – Becoming the watcher

A friend of mine described it best. She was in a hospital bed, having a severe allergic reaction to a medication. Her body was in anaphylactic shock and her brain was in psychosis.

As she lay there, she became aware of her body shutting down and her brain was spinning in crazy directions. Very calmly, she had the thought, “There’s a third thing”. My body is freaking out. My brain is in crazy town. But there’s a third thing. This part of me that can OBSERVE the other two things without attachment is very calm.

You don’t have to be in a life-threatening situation to become the watcher of your brain, we do it on every life coaching call.

When you become the watcher of your mind, you detach from the wild child and the dictator. You aren’t either one of those. You are the person who can observe them, watch them talk, argue, and fight but with detachment. It’s like being a scientist, just observing with curiosity, not buying into any story.

Learning to become the watcher of your brain and body is key to a peaceful, engaged life.

This is what meditation is all about. From the watcher position, you get to choose how to react when your kid talks back, what goals you want to pursue, whether you want to eat that candy or not.

Everything you want in life begins with becoming the watcher. Meditation, journal writing, life coaching, mindfulness all help develop this skill.

Quote of the day “Stepping back from the Dictator and the Wild Child and becoming the Watcher is like thinking you’ve been stuck on a railroad track, able to move only backward and forward, and discovering that you had the capacity to fly all along.”  Martha Beck

Fighting kids – How to get my kids to stop hating each other

Episode #14

Today’s Question:

My middle school kids are constantly fighting. They are close in age (12 and 13) and used to be the best of friends, always playing happily together. Lately, however, it’s been awful. They bicker and are constantly picking on each other, trying to bring the other down. I really want my boys to be friends again! How can I get my kids to stop hating each other? Sheila

Parent Educator Answer:

If your children used to get along very well, that tells me you did a great job of staying out of their conflicts. Children who are at each other from a young age have figured out how to bring mom into the argument and triangulate the issue. When mom is involved, kids can use siblings to fight for power, control, attention, superiority, etc. (If this sounds like you, or you have other issues with fighting siblings, go to www.lifecoachingforparents.com/record-my-question and tell me about your situation).

There is a lot to talk about with sibling rivalry, and we’ll need more than one podcast to cover all the topics. 

For this one, I’m going to assume that Sheila is not getting involved, but is just bothered by having to listen to her two precious babies go at each other.

There are many reasons why pre-teens might start picking on their sibling when they didn’t before. I want to focus on the two most common and developmentally appropriate reasons for this sudden change.

  1. Adolescent angst. Puberty does a number on kids. The hormones cause stronger emotional responses and mood swings, making ‘walking on eggshells’ an everyday situation. Puberty also usually involves hanging out with people who constantly scrutinize and criticize each other’s appearances, performance, speech, and food choices. You name it, some adolescent is judging it. When kids are soaking up everyone else’s negative, insecure emotions like a sponge all day long, they ring it out when they get home. Who is the easiest person to target? Their sibling.

The question I would want to ask my kid is, “Does it work?” If they feel yucky when they get in the car, do they feel better after putting their sibling down and pointing out all their flaws? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, either way, teaching your child to reflect on their own words and actions is super powerful. 

Whether the answer to the question is yes or no, I would then ask, “Is there another way you can purge the yucky-ness of your day and feel better, that doesn’t involve picking on your sibling?”

Some kids purge verbally, by venting and getting it all off their chest. Some purge physically by hopping on their bike or shooting hoops. Spending time alone, taking a shower, writing in a journal, hanging out with friends, reading a book, are all ways pre-teens have found to feel better after being surrounded by negative people all day.

 2. The other reason why you might see an increase in sibling rivalry during puberty is your child (usually the older one) is wanting to create a bigger separation between himself and his sibling. This desire to be seen as older, wiser, different, and more mature grows really strong between 12-15. (This can be seen with twins as well). Adolescence is all about figuring out who you are and who you want to be? When kids are trying to figure out what their interests and skills are or which friend group they feel most comfortable with, they need to wiggle out of their child self like a snake shedding it’s skin. It can be hard for a pre-teen to know who they are if they maintain the tight relationship they’ve always had with their siblings, parents, or close friends. The pre-teen years are a time of rapid and massive growth and they need space to figure it all out.

It’s pretty common for kids to “cocoon” as they transform themselves from a kid into an adult. Cocooning can look like being in the bedroom or bathroom for long periods of time with the door closed, wanting more alone time, or cocooning with a best friend and excluding others. The sibling relationship connects to who they were as a child, some kids need to separate from it in order to become the adult they are meant to be. Fighting and constantly putting down a sibling is an effective way to separate.

It’s nice to know why things happen, but what the heck is Mama supposed to DO about it?

Parent Educator Tips for Sibling Rivalry 

  1. Stay out of it. As much as we would like to, we don’t get to decide what kind of relationship our kids are going to have with each other. Their relationship is their’s to figure out and we need to let go of any preconceived idea of what it’s supposed to look like. If your sister is your best friend, you might have expectations for your girls having the same close relationship and get really bothered when they “hate on each other”. 
  2. Protect their SAFETY. Wrestling and “horse-play” are great ways for kids to learn boundaries. When kids grow up “rough-housing” they learn about remorse, apologizing, inflicting pain, boundaries, and saying no like you mean it. Generally kids will stop on their own, right at the point where their sibling might get hurt. But, if they have triangulated a parent into it, or are using sibling rivalry to serve themselves in an unhealthy way, they may harm their sibling. Then, it is absolutely the parent’s job to protect the sibling.
  3. Treat your children as fairly as possible. If they sense favoritism, they may take it out on their sibling. Don’t compare: “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” Don’t label: “She’s the aggressive one, he’s the smart one,” and spend quality time with both.
  4. Let them see you resolving conflicts in a calm way with other adults.
  5. Establish house rules like “no hitting or hurting” or “no name calling”. Post them where everyone can see and have consistent consequences when those rules are not followed.

Life Coaching Answer –

Learn all you can about how to responsibly manage sibling rivalry but when it’s not working for you, life coaching comes in handy.

Kids fighting with each other is a circumstance. As much as she would like to, Sheila can’t make them change without the kids wanting to change. Wishing they would stop is like going outside everyday and yelling at the weather, telling it that it needs to be different. It might be true. You might be sick of the cold or rain, but feeling annoyed everyday because the weather isn’t they way you’d like it is fruitless and only causes suffering for YOU.

Sheila wants them to stop because she doesn’t like how she feels when they are fighting.

She’s probably thinking thoughts like…

“I want them to get along like they used to.” (arguing with reality)

or “They shouldn’t be so mean and hateful with each other” (too much negative emotion)

or “I don’t know what to do” (causes confusion).

These thoughts or similar ones cause negative emotions for MOM. It’s time to figure out what you have control over and focus on that.

How do YOU want to feel WHEN your kids are fighting?

You get to choose!

Do you want to feel confident? Think the thought “I know what to do here”.

Do you want to feel calm? Then think “I can trust them to work it out”.

Do you want to feel content? Think “This behavior is normal and temporary”.

When you are feeling a positive emotion, you will be more likely to implement the recommendations parent educators have to offer.

Before you are in the situation of your kids arguing, play it out in your imagination. Picture them fighting with each other, and imagine you are staying calm. Imagine evaluating the situation peacefully and objectively, “Do I need to keep him safe?” “Is he just purging the “yuck” he picked up during the day?” “Is he trying to separate himself from the family?” Observe the fighting with a scientific mind, then practice feeling calm/confident or whatever emotion you want to feel. Picture yourself taking action from that place. Imaging making comments appropriate to the situation like, “You guys sure like to fight” or “You must have had a pretty awful day today to be picking on your sister so much” or “Let me know when you are done fighting so I can make us a snack”.

You cannot control your children’s relationship but you can decide how you want to feel about it. When you stay calm, and model how to resolve conflicts peacefully, you are showing them another way.

Supermom Kryptonite – Mirror Neurons

We have mirror neurons in our brain that help us connect with the other people in the room. Mirror neurons are what make us smile when a baby smiles at us, or cry in a powerful “This Is Us” episode. When kids are “hating on each other” our default is to “hate on them” or “hate the situation.” We default to matching or mirroring the emotions of the people around us unless we do something deliberately different. We think,”You need to stop being so mean to your sister because it’s driving me crazy.” We think our argumentative teens are making us feel annoyed and frustrated, but our emotions are coming from our brain. Taking time to notice how we are feeling and deliberately overriding these mirror neurons is completely possible and a great thing to model to our adolescents. 

Try asking them, “How do you hang out with critical, insecure middle schoolers all day and not let it affect you?” They may not believe you if you tell them how mirror neurons work but this might plant a seed in your teen’s brain. When YOU learn to separate your emotions from your kid’s emotions, you will be modeling for them, how to separate from other people’s negative emotions. 

Supermom Powerboost – little ones

Even though you can override other people’s negative emotions by setting a clear intention for the feeling you WANT to feel, most of us don’t want to work that hard. If you are surrounded by cranky adolescents, go hang out with some little ones. Babies, pre-schoolers or any pre-pubescent kiddo is a joy to be around (especially when you aren’t responsible for their well being). When adolescent angst hit my home, I got myself a part-time job at an elementary school. It’s much easier to deal with argumentative teens when I spent the day with happy children who write me love notes and get so excited when “Mrs. Henderson” walks by. Do you have nieces or nephews to play with? Could you volunteer once a week or invite the neighbor kids over for a holiday craft? You don’t want to ride the emotional roller coaster of adolescence along with your kiddos. Find ways, like hanging out with small children, to keep you separate and balanced so you can be your best self for your teens and pre-teens.

Quote “Siblings: children of the same parents, each of whom is perfectly normal until they get together.” — Sam Levenson

Yell less by saying no more

Today’s Question:

My kids are constantly pressuring me for sweets. They ask for sugary cereal when they get up in the morning, cookies after school, and dessert before they go to bed at night.

My daughter tells me other kids tease her when she brings healthy food to school. She wants to bring processed junk food like everyone else.

Everywhere we go, people are offering junk to my kids. Lollipops at the bank, donuts after a soccer game, birthday celebrations at school, it’s everywhere!

My kids spot it, start begging for it and keep pressuring me until I give in or yell. It’s been happening more lately where I get so sick of their constant asking and begging that I scream, yell, and throw a frickin’ tantrum.

How can I find peace while living with sugar-crazed kids in a sugar-crazed culture? Lisa

Parent Educator Response:

You teach your kids how to treat you. Intermittent reinforcement is a conditioning schedule in which a reward (or punishment) is handed out in random intervals.

Gambling is an example of intermittent reinforcement. You never know when you are going to win, and that anticipation keeps you coming up back for more.

In Lisa’s case, she is unknowingly reinforcing her kids’ begging and pleading behavior, by intermittently giving in and saying yes. If she said yes, right away, every time, there would be no need for begging. If she said no every time they asked for sweets, they would get bored and stop asking.

Without realizing it, Lisa has created a scenario where her kids are randomly rewarded for their begging and pleading. Not only because intermittent reinforcement can be addictive, but because the reward is sugar, which releases dopamine, the reward chemical in the child’s brain.

This floods the brain with feel-good chemicals making the “sugar high” a fabulous reward and worth the occasional “no” response or mommy temper tantrum.

For Lisa to get her kids to stop begging for sugar, and for her to stop yelling, she needs to pick a rule (any rule) and stay consistent with reinforcing it. When she creates a boring situation for the kids where they don’t get rewarded for asking Mom for sweets, they will stop asking. She can yell less, by saying no more.

Life Coaching Answer: (or….why is this so hard to do)

It sounds like Lisa is battling something many moms struggle with: balancing “doing the right thing” with “making our kids happy.”

Sugar is a highly inflammatory food. Inflammation is the root of disease. Since we care about our children’s health, the “right thing to do” is to limit sugar intake.

Purchase, prepare, pack and serve healthy foods so our kids will be healthy. Whatever everyone else wants to do, is their business. If other kid’s parents have different values, so be it. If banks and dry cleaners want to offer candy to your kids, you can let your kid decide, or practice saying a polite “no thank you.” Consistency and conviction are key to making this become a non-issue.

Make sure not to be too restrictive, or too indulgent, or your efforts may backfire.

Those two things are hard to come by because although we care about our child’s health, we also really like making our kids happy.

We love it when their faces light up with joy and excitement! They look at us like every one of their dreams came true in the form of a frosted cookie.

When WE grant permission for a sugary sweet, then we are the givers of joy and happiness and they know it. Then, WE get a little hit of dopamine! The reward center in our brain goes off saying, “more of this please!”

We get hooked on being the source and provider of joy. This makes us want to hang on to all decision making power so that we can bathe in mutual happiness and dopamine with our sugar eating kids.

When you’ve got two competing beliefs like this, it’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of frustration. Leading to what I like to call, “the exploding doormat.” You get so tired of the begging and pleading not only from your kids, but also from the back and forth negotiations of these two competing voices, that you end up exploding and yelling out of frustration.

You just want your kids to STOP ASKING so you don’t have to listen to the negotiations going on inside your head. But because of the random reinforcement, your kids have been trained to keep asking, so it’s much easier to change mama’s behavior.

In order to quiet these voices, mama needs to make a decision ahead of time. Ever wonder why some moms don’t struggle with this problem at all? It’s because they have made a decision.

Here are some examples of decisions moms have communicated to their children to stop the sugar battle once and for all.

  1. You can have ONE treat per day. If you want that first thing in the morning, fine. If someone offers you candy later, you can accept it, but you have to save it for the next day. Or you can collect treats all day long then at night, choose one.
  2. I am not going to monitor your sugar intake anymore. If you eat so much that you feel sick and throw up, then maybe you will learn. This is your opportunity to learn which foods make your body feel the best. If, however, you are so full of junk that you stop eating the healthy food I am providing for you, then I will take the responsibility back.
  3. No treats during the week, we save that for weekends.
  4. You’ve got to earn your desserts. Score a goal, win a donut. Let your brother choose the TV show, earn some fruit snacks. Clean the bathroom, we’ll bake cookies. Eat your vegetables, get some ice cream. Do something you are scared to do like an oral report or trying out for the school play, win a trip to Starbucks.

The specifics of the rule you make aren’t as important as sticking to it with self pride, conviction and consistency. Think about 20 years from now, what are the results you will get from the two voices? The “I want my kids to be healthy” voice will result in healthier kids, with them respecting your authority and POSSIBLY having good boundaries with themselves and their eating.

The “I want to make my kids to be happy” voice will struggle when adolescence hits and they are grumpy and cranky. All the sugar in the world won’t turn that around, but you’ll bend yourself backward trying to get that feel-good dopamine hit from seeing them happy. Will you let them drink alcohol and smoke pot if it makes them happy? Will you buy them their dream car?  Trying to make kids happy all the time will exhaust you and make you, and them, miserable.

The best thing to do is to focus on making YOU happy, not your kids. If you are tired of yelling and being an “exploding doormat,” then focus on making decisions YOU feel good about.

When you have a very clear NO, there’s no need for yelling, no matter how much kids beg and plead. You get to be a mom you admire, today and 20 years down the road. Make decisions based on what will make you happy and proud of yourself in the long term.

Supermom Kryptonite: “False Joy”

“False Joy” is anything that brings you joy and happiness in the short term, but leaves you feeling yucky in the long term.

Eating sugar can give you a boost of energy and happiness, but in the long term can give you weight gain, increase the chance of disease, and make you sluggish and have low energy.

Be aware of the “false joy” hangover. You have fun shopping and splurging on things you don’t need, but the next day you hide your packages in your trunk feeling regretful and shameful. You stay up late binge-watching an entire season on Netflix, then wake up the next morning feeling exhausted.

When something brings you joy, how do you know if it’s real, long-lasting happiness, or a “false joy” that will leave you feeling hungover? You can tell by imagining how are you going to feel afterward.

Should you splurge on a vacation to Disney World? Of course it will be joyful, it’s the happiest place on Earth! But how will you feel AFTER you get back? Will you be glad you went and spent, or will you be so stressed and in debt that it will leave you feeling hungover? Only you know the answer.

Are you too tired to go to the gym? Would taking a nap bring you more joy than exercise? You’ll know by what you regret later. If you have a cold coming on, and you work out, you’ll feel worse after the gym and wish you hadn’t gone. If, however, you feel more energized after exercise, and are glad you went, then this is you following real, authentic, long-lasting joy.

 

Supermom Powerboost: Green Smoothies

Drinking your vegetables makes it way easier to get the recommended dietary amount. “Green smoothies” can improve your energy, your mental clarity, boost your immune system, improve digestion, hydrate your skin (making you look younger), and help you lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight.

Without the weird textures and smells, vegetable drinks are often more palatable for many kids. The look of them, however, turns people off. There are many varieties that taste quite sweet, so don’t assume they taste bad because they look bad. In order to get kids to drink “green smoothies,” mom needs to drink them without turning up her nose at them.

To get over the look of them, try bringing your ego on board. Chances are, your favorite Hollywood celebrity drinks them (you don’t get that thin by eating french fries) so imagine you are hanging out with your favorite celebrity, sitting on a patio in the sunshine, being admired by passersby and photographed by the paparazzi.

Think about how cool you look drinking your green juice, nibbling on raw carrots and hummus, just like the celebrities do. Imagine that people in your home town are impressed by you, “How does she drink something that looks so gross?”, “She’s must be so strong to not indulge in junk food”, “Her skin is glowing and she looks so young, it must be those green smoothies!”

Our ego is pretty powerful, why not use it to help us get the long term happiness we crave?

Today’s Quote:

“The most important thing is to ENJOY your life. To be happy –  it’s all that matters.” Audrey Hepburn

 

How can I help my daughter make friends?


Today’s question: “My daughter is 9 years old and doesn’t seem to have any friends. There are girls in the neighborhood we carpool with, and kids she goes to school, gymnastics, and temple with, but she doesn’t seek these kids out on the weekends or after school. At recess or on weekends, she prefers playing by herself. Her brother, on the other hand, is always with friends: riding bikes, skateboarding, and generally having an active social life. I’m worried that my daughter isn’t going to have close friendships. She’s very opinionated, strong willed, and doesn’t like to compromise, so I understand why other kids may not choose to play with her. She doesn’t seem as bothered by this as I am. She likes to read and be by herself, while I’m the one scheduling play dates. How can I make my daughter make friends?”  Lea

Parent Educator Answer: It sounds like you are doing everything you can to support your daughter’s friendships. It’s wonderful that you have arranged so many opportunities for her to socialize and become familiar with other kids.

Between the ages of 3-9, most girls develop friendships based on proximity and convenience. They don’t discriminate easily and are usually happy to play with whoever is happy to play with them. Birthday parties can be huge during these years because it’s hard for kids to choose which friends they like best.

Between the years of 10-12 (once puberty begins) girls tend to want a smaller, more intimate group of friendships they can build closer bonds with. Developmentally, they are practicing intimate relationships by creating a more manageable group of girls they feel comfortable with. It’s common in these years to have hurt feelings as girls get edged out and left out while best friends are created. It is normal, however, for some girls not to be interested in forming these intimate relationships. In every class, there’s always at least one girl who is happy to play with whoever shows up. She doesn’t mind hanging with a different kid everyday, or even none at all. These kids are valuable assets for to those who have recently been rejected by their friend group. 

From what I hear in Lea’s question, there are at least 5 perfectly healthy reasons why this kid might not like playing with other kids:

  1. She hasn’t entered the stage yet of wanting an intimate friendship or friend group.
  2. She may be the type of kid who is comfortable with acquaintences rather than close friends.
  3. She is exhausted from being around kids all day long and needs time alone to recuperate.
  4. It’s more important for her to be able to hear and execute her own ideas while playing, than to expend energy compromising and explaining her thoughts to others.
  5. She hasn’t found a friend yet that allows her to be fully herself.

Kids who have strong ideas and opinions often enjoy the company of younger children. Younger kids are so excited to have the attention of a big kid, that they are willing to compromise more than children of the same age are. Little kids love the creative ideas for play that big kids come up with, and don’t mind being told what to do. Older kids can make great babysitters or mother’s helpers because they get to play the role of leader, boss, or director that they were born to play.

 

Life Coaching Answer: When our kids don’t have meaningful friendships, this can be a big trigger for moms who place a high value on friendship. It is really easy to “futurize” and “catastrophize”, imagining that they’ll never have friends and be sad and socially rejected all through adolescence. Moms can worry that their kids will ALWAYS struggle to make friends and believe this is a huge problem that needs immediate attention and intervention. 

First, we have to look at the problem that is CURRENTLY presenting itself. We cannot fix a problem in the future that hasn’t happened yet (and may never happen) and trying to do so will make us crazy.

The circumstance here, is that Lea’s daughter is 9. She hasn’t entered puberty yet. She likes reading books (a solitary activity), she doesn’t seek out playdates, she is surrounded by family members and family acquaintances almost every moment of every day, and she prefers to play by herself at recess, after school, and on weekends.

We want to take a look at what mom actually has control over. Can she make her daughter make friends? No. She can arrange playdates, carpools & neighborhood gatherings so her daughter has exposure to other kids and becomes familiar with the people in her life. She can sign her up for summer camps and gymnastics classes, but how her daughter interacts with the kids while there is not within mom’s control.

One thing we mammas do have control over is how we interpret our kid’s social relationships. Without meaning to, Lea may be communicating the idea that “there is something wrong with her daughter” because she doesn’t have the quality and quantity of friendships that her brother has. Can you imagine that there is an introverted mom out there in the world who loves to read, be by herself, and sees nothing wrong with her 9 year old avoiding social interaction? We have no idea how this girls social relationships will change with puberty, middle school or high school. This is a time of rapid development! After a day of obeying teachers and following their curriculum, she may have a higher need of listening to her own voice, directing others, or dwelling in her imagination.

It has never been easier to find one’s tribe than it is today. If you don’t fit in with the tribe of people around you, meetup, tinder, or youtube will help you find your village and connect you with people who appreciate your authentic self. Rather than thinking, “this is a problem that needs fixing”, try thinking thoughts that make you feel at ease.

“She is surrounded by people who love her.”

“She will find her people someday.”

“She is so true to herself that when she finds someone who likes her, they will really genuinely like her.”

“If she’s ok playing by herself, I can be ok with it, too.”

“I’ve done everything I can think of, the rest is up to her.”

“If she wants better friendships, she’ll be motivated to compromise.”

When you feel at ease around your daughter’s social dynamics, you communicate the message that there is nothing wrong with her the way she is. This gives her acceptance and belonging; the whole point of friendships in the first place!

 

Supermom kryptonite: worrying

I used to think that “good moms” worried about their kids. It seemed the opposite of neglect. When my worrying turned into anxiety, I had to make a change. What I’ve learned is that worrying is terrible for kids and robs us of our ability to enjoy our lives. Worrying is imagining bad things happening. Focusing on everything that can go wrong drains our energy and keeps us from appreciating when everything is going right. Once I stopped worrying, I was floored at how much more productive I was throughout my day, how much more energy I had, and how relaxed I was able to feel.

 

Supermom power boost: yoga

All exercise is good for us but yoga seems to be especially beneficial for overworked mammas. My theory is that yoga turns our attention inwards. With kids around, your attention is constantly being pulled outside of yourself. Even when we aren’t with them, we think about them, talk to our friends and partners about them, and get annoyed with them for leaving their mess all over the floor. Yoga brings your attention into your body, focusing on the subtleties of movement, muscles, positioning, and breath. This forced self attention and flowing movement re-energies us in ways beyond a typical workout. In my opinion, yoga is a quick and reliable energy boost.

 

Quote of the Day – “Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. 
Keep in the sunlight.” ― Benjamin Franklin