Healing Presence

when things have not been going well

Rippy Dusseldorp wrote:

[Part of a response about] ... a personal correspondence I had with Sandra and my reaction to it. I asked if she had a section on her website that had to do with chronic fatigue and feeling depressed as a parent. She wrote the following back:

I don't think there's anything specific, except to be responsible. If you can't make unschooling better than school, school's still there. If you're going to unschool, it needs to be better than school. If that involves getting mental, emotional or physical therapy for the parents, then do it! The house doesn't work if the roof is leaking and there's no heat. Parents don't work if they're in an emotional fog and can't pay sweet attention to their kids.

Building an Unschooling Nest maybe (SandraDodd.com/nest)

My interpretation of her email was that she was saying I should probably send my kids to school. At that point in my life, I felt so guilty for being depressed and tired, that I prioritized this information above all else from her email. I probably only read her email once or twice and felt embarrassed and unsure that I was providing a better environment than school. Many months later, I recommended this list to a girlfriend and somehow I ended up telling her that Sandra had written to me saying I should probably send my children to school. She wisely asked to see the email and then read each little part with me, helping me to really look at the words for the first time, without the heavy veil of shame and guilt that I carried that I was shortchanging my children because I was struggling emotionally.

[The Always Learning list] has helped me think more clearly and maturely. It has helped me change unhelpful patterns and most of all helped me step into the *JOY* of life, connection, partnership with my children and husband. I know how scary it is to feel examined, and I think some other readers interpret examination as meanness, like I once did. I think to do unschooling well, it is a fundamental element to have an examined life. To be mindful of our choices and understand our thought processes.

That is the middle of a longer piece of writing by Rippy Dusseldorp at: Learning to read on the list

"Being the mom I wish I'd had has been very healing. It's been the closest thing to having that mom I could achieve with the cards I was dealt."
—Jessica Hughes

The mom I wish I'd had

Photo by Jen Keefe

Shira Rocklin:

I don't usually write responses here, being relatively new, with young children. I'm not so experienced. But your daughter is 3, and mine is 4.5 years old. I can tell you that I have never spanked her, or used time-outs, or other punitive measures for controlling her behaviour. I have, occasionally, lost my temper, or gotten angry...and continue to work to change my responses in those situations.

What I want to say is this: when I first came to this list, I was having problems figuring out what to do when my daughter was being destructive, or hitting, or refusing to get dressed to go out, or otherwise doing something that wasn't letting us move forward with fun stuff. While I wasn't being punitive, I didn't have any idea on how to make these situations come to an end and move on to something else. One thing I learned from this list was to examine what happens before those situations, decipher whether my child is hungry, cold, overtired, bored, etc... and pre-empt the negative behaviour that comes from those states by fulfilling those needs ASAP. And sometimes I don't get to that fast enough, other times I do... life continues to improve.

Despite pre-empting those situations as best I can... sometimes they come up anyways for other reasons... and I continue to try to decipher what needs aren't being met, examining what expectation I might be conveying that my child can't handle, and archiving that information for the next time it's needed.

In the end, in the moments, when its too late, no turning back, destructive behavior, or we have to run to the ER for an emergency and I need to get her into a snowsuit? Or something like that. On those not so often occasions, if she is hurting someone, I pick either her up, or the victim up (her brother) and change the dynamic of the situation by introducing a new activity, food or something. If a toy or object is being destroyed, I again, change the dynamic by choosing something new to do and inviting the child to join me (not usually with language, but with expressiveness in other ways). I give us plenty of time to get dressed for outdoors, make it a fun game, let them help each other, or try funny ways of getting myself into their snowsuits... and if we have to get out in a rush, I work extra hard to make it extra fun, or get out a special treat I've been saving, or a new toy, and let them hold it/eat it while I get them dressed. But this doesn't work if you wait until their are livid, only works as a pre-emptive thing, for us.

Doing away with punishments is about being so close and attuned to your child more often than you'd like to commit to, and then some, so as to be able to make their lives fresh and exciting, and being able to anticipate needs and wants, and change up overall situations/moods (I think this is what strewing is, but I'm still working on understanding that concept). Its about recognizing developmental stages, and letting go of behavioural expectations in favor to recognizing your own child's current temperament. Its about postponing adult conversations for other times. Its about realizing, some of the time, that you are still learning all of how to do this, and so sometimes I do it wrong, even if I'm aware of it. But at least I'm aware of my choice to do something unproductive in our relationship, and know that I am working as much as I am able to improve that.

Take a few days off from play-dates, cleaning, etc... and just be with your children, all day long. That might help... I'm not sure.

. . . .

Oh, and Sandra's advice (I don't remember when or where she wrote this) to take things 'moment by moment' rather than hours or days or months at a time, is invaluable. [moment]

Shira Rocklin
the original is here

Priceless and profound

Photo by Nicole Kenyon

Someone in the discussion had written:

"...because he's so much more social - it *seemed* possible to 'explain' things to him, he just lacked the impulse control to 'do the right thing'. "

I/Sandra responded:

You put "do the right thing" in quotation marks to indicate (I think) that you don't feel that way about "the right thing" anymore.

I think "impulse control" might be the more problematic phrase.

Maybe he was making conscious choices, even though he was a child.
Maybe if there's an impulse and a person chooses to go with that, it should be seen as choice rather than "lack of control."

This isn't about the particular people in the example and their relationship at all. It's about the idea of "self control" as opposed to improved choice making.



Comfort and Strength

Photo by Sabrina Peng

Katherine Anderson responded to this:

I mean, it's one thing to say "change your expectations to match the needs of the child" but what about the needs of the WHOLE family?

You want your child to do for the WHOLE family what an adult is resisting to do for one child?


Connie/Otherstar wrote about the parent being more present and aware:
Being proactive means being WITH your child. Being proactive means that you try to find ways of preventing the undesired behaviors. Set your child up for success.

If you are sitting on the couch chatting with adults, then you are not with your child. You are placing more importance on your social time with the other adults than you are placing on your children. If I want to socialize with adults without being interrupted, I arrange to do things without my children. Otherwise, I simply plan to be interrupted. If you see or hear your child in distress, it is okay to say, "Excuse me, I need to go check on my child." All of the adults in my life know this about me. If I am around an adult that balks at the idea of me stopping mid-sentence to help my toddler or young children, then I am probably not going to make plans with them with my children again. It's that simple. My kids come first.

Finding the cause can sometimes be a challenge because a lot of adults look at things through their perspective. You have to get down on the floor with your child and see the world from their vantage point. Children, especially ones as young as 3 and 6, are very limited in what they can do. Houses are not designed for little people. The toilets are big. The sinks are high. Refrigerator doors are heavy. Some adults have houses set up to focus on the adult and there are lots of things that are off limits. Find ways to make sure that the house is child friendly. In my house, we have a toy box in every room. In every room, there are step stools so that they can reach light switches. There are kids tables that can be moved around to suit them. There are small chairs for them to sit in if they want. I try to put up anything that is truly off-limits. If a kid is taking stuff that isn't his, then there is a good chance that he feels like he doesn't have enough of something. Or, it could be that taking stuff gets him attention that he otherwise wouldn't get. It may also mean that there is too much stuff that is off limits. In my house, there are so many things that are available to the kids that they ignore my stuff. There is very little that is off limits in my house.

My sister and I had a conversation the other day about how when we were growing up the only way to get attention was to be a jerk. If you were good, you got ignored. I wonder how many parents inadvertently set up that dynamic. If the kids are good, then they get ignored and the parents sit and talk. If the kids get wild or crazy or break things, then they get attention. Negative attention is better than no attention at all. Find ways of giving the children positive attention. I have a great nephew that is 19 months old. When he comes over, I spend all of my time on the floor because he has been through a lot and does not know how to play without getting too rough. He takes things from my girls and he has a tendency to push them down. He is big for his age and doesn't know his own strength. The only way to help my girls is to be there in the middle of things. The last time my nephew came over, my girls and I came up with a plan for them in case playing with their cousin got to be too overwhelming.

A lot of parents miss the fact that sometimes kids get overwhelmed easily. I know my girls get easily overwhelmed so I try to plan short trips. If we are at somebody's house and my girls start acting out, I will leave because a lot of times the acting out means that they are ready to leave but don't quite know how to say, "Let's go mom. This place is boring/overwhelming/irritating/unsafe/etc." Whenever we go out, I make sure that we have lots of foods available so they don't get hungry. I watch for signs of being tired because I know that when my girls get tired, they seem to lose the ability to communicate. Letting them get overtired or over-hungry and then expecting them to communicate with you and negotiate with you isn't appropriate. For that matter, it isn't good for adults. There have been times that we have gone out and lost track of time and we have all ended up grumpy and hungry. My husband and I will stop and get food for us all. Until everybody is fed, we don't address anything. After we all eat, then we may talk. Usually, feeding everybody eliminates the problems though.

If you have a hard time figuring out some of the causes, you might consider doing some journaling so that you can look for any kind of common patterns. If you know that your child gets tired around 2 o'clock everyday, then plan your day so that your child can be home and can go to sleep at that time. I know that my 2 year old gets tired late in the afternoon so I try to make sure that she is somewhere that she can nap or at least have some quiet time cuddling with mommy. My girls like to run up and down the driveway. I know they get thirsty so I try to take something to drink outside with me so that they can have something to drink readily available.

Maybe too much time is being spent with the other family. My girls love their grandma and their cousins but only in small doses.


Healing through actions

photo by Janine Davies

Joyce Fetteroll, responding to comments from the original poster (whose name has been removed)

On Jan 22, 2011, at 9:06 PM, [someone now made anonymous] wrote:

So what about behavior that is not about whether it conforms to our expectations. What about when the child is being DESTRUCTIVE to other people's property, HURTING other children and or himself, and no one else in the house can be comfortable because of how loud he is being?

Three things come right to mind:

1) Be more present. There isn't a mindful way for parents to be apart from kids. Eventually kids will show *they* are confident they can make safe and respectful choices. But until then, you just need to be with them. You should *not* expect a play date will allow you to sit and talk. If the dishes are dirty, one of you can do them while the other remains with the kids.

At home, you find a way to fit in what you want to do around your child. If you want to do laundry, for instance, invite your child along. Give her bits of it she likes to do. Ask her if she'd like to keep you company. Find *some* way to include her. Or do it later when your husband or someone else (like a mother's helper) can be with her. If you do leave her and she does something she shouldn't it's because she can't, yet, be alone.

2) Solve problems before they become problems. (Part of being present!) Notice the direction things are heading and change things. Don't let them get hungry, tired, testy to the point where they're hitting or destroying things. Food. Naps. Go home. Put on a video. Draw one away to do something totally different.

Also recognize and accept that the older child is reacting to stress. There have been a lot of changes in his life.

3) Change the environment. The kids are clearly saying "This is a bigger problem than I can handle. I need some help." Don't, for instance, put them in the position of needing to be quiet when they're clearly showing they can't yet. Don't set them up to fail. If the baby is sleepy, how about wearing the baby? Babies are way more likely to be able to sleep through a lot of noise if they feel secure.

Will this eliminate everything? No. But until you eliminate what you can by being more present and so on, working on anything else is like bailing a sinking boat with a teaspoon.

Should we really just have to decide "I don't expect kids to be considerate at all" ?
The sentence assumes the kids have the ability to control themselves but are choosing not to in order to be mean and selfish.

Even if they can sometimes be quiet doesn't mean they have the ability to be quiet when *you* want them to.

This will help: Assume the kids are always doing the best they can. If they aren't behaving as they need to, they need help. *Not* teaching. Assume they're trying! Assume they understand if you've already asked them! It's not a lack of understanding. It's a lack of maturity. It's a lack of years.

Assume they are like a 6 mo. No matter how much you talk to a 6 mo, yell, give time outs, ground, spank, the 6 mo will not be able to walk. *But* if you wait, and make sure the environment is conducive to walking, the child *will* walk when he's physically able.

Right now you're pressuring your kids to be something they can't. Your expectations are beyond their ability. Until *they* don't need you to, be their partner and help them or do it for them. When they're able, they will. But pressuring them will not bring maturity to them any faster than it will to a six-month-old.

I believe in MUTUAL respect.
You can't force respect from someone. You can, at times, make kids go through the motions.

They will *eventually* show respect when they're mature enough. Until then, be respectful. Be respectful that they have limitations you don't quite understand. Be respectful that they're trying but can't yet succeed. Be respectful of their development and trust they will return the respect all on their own when they can.

Until then, it's your job to live by the principles of respect. Don't impose it on them.

If they feel respect as something warm and fuzzy and helpful to them, they will want to return it. If they feel it's something that they need to go through the motions of because you'll be angry otherwise, it will take much much longer. And they may never respect you if that happens. They may, though, become very good at putting on an act of respect.

So should someone else have to suffer or should she respect me enough and TRUST me enough to do as I ask her because I told her it was important? I feel that in a loving family, enough trust should be present that the children will indeed listen to what they're told to do so that they can respond immediately when there is danger and so they can be considerate of circumstances beyond their ability to grasp at this point.
This is one of the big pieces you're missing. Your can't impose your right view of the world on your child. The harder you try, the more likely she will resist.

What you can do is *live* your right view. *Be* the person you believe it is right to be. If you believe it's best to be kind, be kind to her. If you believe it is best to be respectful, be respectful of her. *Don't* do it because you expect her to act that way. Do it because you believe it's the right way to live.

If you use your values to help her get what she needs, if she experiences those values in a warm and fuzzy way, she *will* use them herself *when* she's able. (Though assume she won't always be able to do it perfectly. Assume she's always doing her best. If there are better choices, help her with them.)

At the same time, I listen to my child and I trust her.
Maybe you're only listening to her words? Maybe that's a piece you're missing. Her actions are also communication. If she's not doing something respectful, it's as clear as saying "I can't yet."
If she tells me to do something, I listen and ask her about it and I trust her to have reasons. It is a mutual respect.

No, she's way, way, way too young to be expected to respond in adult ways. She may sometimes be able to. Leave it open for her have some opportunities. But drop all expectations that she can do it. For now *you* need to be the one being respectful of her and being respectful *for* her. Be her partner on her journey. Don't make her be your partner.
As such, we reinforce that simple need for obedience with spanking and punishments. I don't like spanking but I don't see a way to get a child's attention that doesn't involve a consequence.
You do it by listening to the child's actions. If she can't listen, she's saying "I can't yet do that."
But I tried non-spanking and it began to transform my very sweet, considerate child into a brat.
Yes, if punishment is removed, kids often do go through a period of testing limits. It isn't the non-spanking that's causing it. It's the fact that she was spanked and then removed that caused it. If she'd never been spanked, if you'd worked on other ways to solve problems, she wouldn't be a brat.

Though she might have high needs! And the sooner you find ways to meet those needs in other ways, the easier life will be later. As she gets bigger with bigger needs and bigger troubles, the spanking will just make things worse. The sooner you can start working on getting better at other tools, the better.

Have you seen the No More Spanking list? If you read through the archives, you'll see lots of ideas. Lots of ways to shift your thinking:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NoMoreSpanking/ (archives gone; sorry)

She wouldn't ask for ANYTHING good. I let it go 3 months without touching the rule that she could eat all of whatever she wanted whenever she wanted and she never improved her habits ... But if anything, that utter lack of structure left my child confused.
She shouldn't need to ask. Make food available. Make monkey platters.


Going from food controls to no controls *can* cause an initial period of chaos. And 3 is about the age when food choices begin narrowing so that can cause even more confusion.

But right now I wouldn't do more than make a variety of food easily available. I'd work on the other areas people are giving you ideas for, especially having more reasonable expectations of what a 3 yo can do. Listen to her actions even closer than you listen to her words.