Friday, January 15, 2016

Peaceful Parents, Happy Siblings: Chapter 8

This is my last (and so very late!) entry in the NPN roundtable about Peaceful Parents, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham. The final section is all about welcoming new babies and we're never, ever doing that again. So I'm going to call this book a GREAT read for parents and move on. If, however, you are planning to introduce new babies into your home then you should by all means read section 3. 

Chapter 8 is all about Tools to Prevent Rivalry and Nurture Bonding, and it's just as thorough as the other chapters. 

Dr. Markham says that we need to set expectations that our children value each other as human beings and she gives some tips on how to foster that environment and create positive interactions with your children and then suggests having them form a sibling team.

 (Wonder Twins! Activate! No? Ok.) 

On page 185, Dr. Markham says it is important to expect your children to value each other. 

"This is not forced positivity...But if we can hold the expectation that as a family we will always work things out with each other, that we deeply value our relationships with each other, that siblings have a unique bond that is to be treasured and protected, then we'll transmit that assumption to our children. How?
 1) Celebrate family, which includes siblings
 2) Explicitly teach values
 3) Explicitly teach emotional intelligence
 4) Honor individuality and celebrate differences
 5) Create a "sibling book" to help your children see their relationship properly
 6) Talk about how lucky your children are to have each other." - pp185-187 (I have  obviously truncated her list - she goes into greater detail in the chapter.) 
December 2014, establishing expectations for curious boys.

Her next list (pp194-196) focuses on how to create  more positive interactions with your children and the first thing she says: 

"1) Notice and promote the activities that get your children playing together." 
December 2015, expectations established, so the fun can just flow.

I stopped and made a note: LEGOs. (Well, ok, LEGOs and gingerbread houses and puzzles and running around the backyard like...Backyardigans. I am not unaware of how well my sons get along and how lucky we are that they have such an easy relationship.) But mostly, I thought of LEGO. LEGOs are an awesome way of having a project that they can work on together - everyone can express themselves and still contribute. There are no winners or losers, you can treat it as special time or it can be regular ol' play time (or math time). The possibilities are as endless as Pinterest is wide.

His job is to help Daddy. He takes it very seriously.

My suggestion, especially with little ones, is to start with a kit and clear expectations that the parents are driving the show. Then give each child a job and start building. Once you've established the routine of building and the expectation that it's a collaboration - even one in which people are working individually toward a common goal - the competition eases and the fun shines through.

He's a sorting fiend.
A few pages later, I stopped at this passage and again wrote "LEGOs!"

"Strategies to Create a Sibling Team:
 1) Begin creating a team feeling by including both [or all] children.
 2) Instead of pitting children against each other, find ongoing ways to unite them in the    same mission
 3) Promote the idea of a sibling team
 4) Put your kids in charge of a project together." - pp 196-198
Sometimes they get distracted - we have a Christmas movie on for ambiance.

They will have plenty of opportunities for friendly competition as they grow up, but unless they have a solid foundation of camaraderie, rarely will those competitions stay friendly. Even if LEGOs aren't your jam, any other project-type activity could work. If you're a gardening family, you could put the kids in charge of their own plot. If you're bakers, they could be in charge of the bread. If you're artists, they get their own canvasses - as long as the stakes are low and the fun is high...the possibilities are endless!

Play breaks are encouraged. 

(PS: this is not even remotely a sponsored post, we just do the new release of their Christmas village every year as one of our most favorite traditions, and I was reading this while we were looking forward to see where I'm going with this)

If you have a little one on that way, I feel confident that you will find a lot of helpful information in the last section of the book....but I am finished having little ones on the way, so I'm going to skip it. Happy reading!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings Chapter 6 and 7: Reason and Sharing

This is the latest installment in the Round Table that Natural Parents Network is doing for Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham. Head on over for other reflections and reviews!

Sharing the magnifying glass to inspect their new friend, Caterpilly.
Chapter 6, entitled Why Can't They Just Share? Why Kids Fight Over Possessions, is pretty short and concise. The gist is this: the views most parents have on sharing are flat-out wrong. They aren't actually fair and they don't work in real life.  My own example: Kid A is playing with a light-up laptop, making things flash and making his own music and giggling and dancing. Kid Rock wants to play with the laptop because it looks SO DANG FUN! Mama June says "oh, Kid A, Kid Rock wants to play with that. Why don't you let him play for a while?" She reaches in and slides to laptop over to Kid Rock. Or, in some cases, Kid Rock reaches over and grabs the laptop for himself and Mama June affirms this behavior with the same line as above.  Now let's make the kids 15 years older. Kid A is working on a real laptop mixing his newest album and Kid Rock wants to make his own album. If Kid A were forced to stop working so Kid Rock could work, everyone would think Kid Rock was a giant asshole. In the real world, Kid Rock would have to wait until Kid A was finished or get his own damn laptop. 

Play is the Serious Work of Childhood. 

If we want to raise respectful humans, we need to start respecting them from their first breath. 

Alternatives to interruption and disrespect?

"Hey, Kid A, when you get to a good stopping point, let Kid Rock have a go, ok? Thanks!" 
"Hey Kid Rock, Kid A is playing with that right now, but when he's finished you can definitely have a turn. Promise." And if there are a lot of kids, you can add: "Let's start a list, so everyone gets a turn." If the kids get the concept of time, you could even set a timer so there's an even rotation. 

Working together to build a new rocket toy. 
Dr. Markham recommends that everyone get a copy of It's Ok Not To Share and give it a good read.  If you want a read-along for that, Amanda Morgan at Not Just Cute participated in one last year. She has some amazing insight. (And for the record, hers is one of my favorite blogs. I highly recommend it as a resource. Her First Friday Q&As are my favorite. Even if the topic isn't immediately relevant, there is always good information in her answers and resources.) Janet Lansbury is also a good resource for the topic of sharing. I especially like this one, as it has a very helpful video and explanation following it. 

Chapter 6 leads nicely into Chapter 7: Easing the Competition.  

This chapter addresses some things I just don't identify with (yet?): children feeling like you prefer the other(s) over them, you actually having those feelings, lots of competition and bickering, resentment, grudges, hurt feelings. Perhaps my children are still too young for these things - in fact, I'm almost certain they are and that one day in the not-too-distant future I'll have to help arbitrate resolutions. 

They each get their own cart at the store -
something I emphasize is a privilege that can be lost
if they are too crazy with it -  and they have learned to work together
to make sure neither cart is too full or too empty.  
The gist of the chapter is this: if you have conversations with your children wherein you explain your reasoning for your decisions, your children will understand. Maybe not immediately, and they most certainly won't always be happy, but they will understand. Making explanations and conversations a habit will help you to raise reasonable human beings who can function well in society. 

Kids can come to "fair" decisions all on their own sometimes once they've had the groundwork laid. For example, my boys like to race around the apartment like caged animals and sometimes Walter, who is just not as fast as Baz gets upset that he can't keep up. The first time this happened, I sat them both down in the living room and said something to the effect of "Honeys, Walter is having a hard time keeping up and that's making him sad. His legs just aren't as long as yours (Baz) are and so it's harder for him. He has a shorter stride so he covers less distance." Baz responded with something like "Well, I like winning." And then we had a conversation about how your can't win all the time and really, in this situation it's not even about winning because that takes some of the fun out of it....and remember how when they kept freaking out because they would race to the front door and would sometimes not be first so I made them walk slowly with me instead of running and that was less fun...and if we couldn't find a solution for this, then I would put the kibosh on running in the apartment.  

Baz, who enjoys the physics-heavy show Blaze and the Monster Machines, had a solution: If Walter gets a head start, then he can have a boost and build up momentum faster and they'll get to the other end of the apartment at the same time. His actual explanation was flawed, from a physics aspect, but the intent was awesome. 

So if you give them the building blocks for reasoning, a world of conflict can be avoided. At least, until hormones and romance enter the picture. Then all rules go out the window.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings, Chapter 5: Teaching Conflict Resolution

This is the latest installment in the Round Table that Natural Parents Network is doing for Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham. Head on over for other reflections and reviews!

This is our Get Along Cart... ;-) 
So she opens this talking about those horrible Get-Along shirts and calls them what they are: at best another punishment, at worst they're encouraging sneakiness (we'll hide the behavior rather than change it) and bullying (the larger kids pushes around the smaller kid.)

"[Using the shirt] is like saying 'They'll put themselves to be if they get tired enough...I'm going to bed.' It's reneging on our responsibility as parents." - p95

Parenting is work. The goal is to front-load as much as possible so that you can step back sooner rather than later. Form good habits early means less stress and more fun later. Similarly to how you put all of your electives off until your senior year so you can spend that year not worrying about your GPA. It's important for parents to intervene, rather than waiting for things to blow up and resolve themselves, but it's equally important that the parent (or caregiver) act as an arbiter and not take sides or try to resolve the issue for the children.

"It's not parental intervention that's the problem. It's taking sides. The trick is regulating our own emotions so that we can stay calm, empathize with both children, and resist our impulse to decide who's right. That creates the foundation for children to learn how to work things out with each other without hurt or resentment." -p.99

On the next page, so lists 10 reasons children bicker and follows with tips for aiding resolution and situational examples.  The reasons are what you would expect - everything from temporary annoyances to deep-seeded resentments and imbalances.

The tips:

"*Stay calm, connect with both kids, and empathize.
* Describe the problem without judgment.
*Interpret by coaching each child to express their feelings without attacking the other.
*Restate the rules.
*Coach kids to problem solve." - p.101

 She covers teasing, aggression, intervention, and how to repair the relationship after a fight - rather than forcing an apology.

"Focus on helping children communicate rather than on the ritual of apology. IF you follow the practices of helping children express their wants and needs, listen to each other, and restate what they hear their sibling say, children will begin to heal their conflicts at a deeper level, so that apologies often become superfluous, just as with adults." - p. 143-144

When in doubt: instigate manual labor.
In this case - chalkboard paint on old cookie sheets
 which will be used as chore charts. 
I don't really have any examples, except to say that I DO make the kids apologize for the same reason that I make them say "thank you" - it's a cultural ritual we have that acknowledges the other person. In the case of "I'm sorry" - it acknowledges that what you did caused harm, whether intentional or not. In the case of "Thank you" - it acknowledges a kind act from another person. We have conversation around both, so that it's not just a thoughtless reaction and is instead full of meaning. Be actually grateful, and be actually sorry. I don't make them hug-it-out, either. I'm not a big hugger, so why should they be? The entire point of this whole exercise is teaching empathy and respect. The end.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings - Chapters 3 and 4

This is the next installment of the Natural Parents Network Round Table discussion. (Follow the links - there's good reading there!)

Apparently I vastly over-estimated how much writing time I'd have on vacation. I did manage to get a bit of reading and note-taking accomplished, but it means this is 2-2-two posts in one! (Wasn't that from a commercial?)

My sister and I at Southfork Ranch...sometime in the 80s.
So Chapter 3 - What Causes Sibling Rivalry and How Parents Can Make it Better starts with a focus on sibling spacing. I'm going to just chat about this because it's THE question from parents who know they wants more than one but have no idea what the "ideal" spacing is.

In my experience, this is 2.5 years. Or as close as possible. In my cousin's experience (I assume, I didn't actually ask her flat out, but based on her spacing with her sister and the spacing of their children...) it's about 5 -6 years.

But more than that - it's important to take care of yourself so that you can take care of them.

"Your job - and it's a big one - is to take care of yourself, so you can meet the needs of [your] children...that's what allows you to develop a positive relationship with each child. And that's the foundation that supports your children to develop a happy relationship with each other, regardless of their spacing." -p.59
Reassuring your children that each of them has equal space in your heart - and that your heart just grows and grows rather than splitting and splitting - does more good than almost anything else.
"Research shows that if you have a positive relationship with each of your children, they're much more likely to have a positive relationship with each other." - p.61
Regarding that: what my cousins, my sister, and I all have in common: strong, positive individual relationships with our parents. My mom and my sister hold twin spots as my best friends. My best friend's  brother is 13 years younger than her, and they have a strong relationship with each other and their parents.

So plan some dates, each parent with each child - one on one - where you do something you both enjoy and bond over shared experiences. (I read somewhere, not sure where, that it's easier to have "bonding" conversations with boys if they're physically occupied - like if you're working on a car together or pitching a tent or something. Getting their muscles going helps get their mouth going. So keep that in mind when making your plans.)

For more Chapter Three goodness, follow this link and then follow those links!

Just a little sibling picture of my recent graduates.
Moving in to Chapter 4 (please note that I am skipping over SO MUCH good information and you should definitely read this all for yourself) I want to skip straight to the end and talk about Tattling.

Chapter 4 is entitled "Coaching Kids to Communicate and Problem-Solve" and, again, I am skipping over so much good information that you really should read.

Dr. Markham's opinion on tattling, once you get past their desire to make themselves look good by getting their sibling in trouble, is that it is a child coming to you for your help navigating a situation they don't know how to deal with on their own. As parents, this is what we want. So that instead of reacting (often poorly) they can reflect and act appropriately.

"So when your child comes to you 'tattling' about how her siblings acted toward her:
1. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that your child is trying to make things better the only way she knows how.
2. Restate the situation to be sure you understand...
3. If the "offense" was against the child who has come to you, empathize, then support her to look for solutions...
4. Ask her if she wants you to do something about the situation, or if she just needed to talk about it...
5. If your child comes to you about her siblings when she's not involved in the situation, empathize, say thank you if that's appropriate, and take action...." -pp91-92

Markham wraps the chapter with a focus on safety versus basic rule-breaking-- the given example is of a child reporting that her sibling is climbing out the window, and one in which the sibling is playing video games - and how to handle each.

"Empathize with your child's concern and assure him that you'll handle it...if it's happening in real time, take action...then talk to the rule breaker in private, just as your always would when a child breaks the rules." - p92

Obviously, this puts a rosy picture on things, because what happens in the aftermath when the rule-breaker discovers that his sibling is a turncoat? Luckily, Chapter 5 addresses conflict resolution.

See you then!
Wrapping up with another picture of my sister and I, at my First Communion.
(Also, note my very trendy-before-its-time flower crown.) 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: Chapter Two

This is the next installment of the Natural Parents Network Round Table discussion. (Follow the links - there's good reading there!) 

Chapter Two is entitled How Peaceful Discipline Supports the Sibling Relationship and I can't argue with it.

(Ok, she does propose a move from saying that we're "disciplining" our children to "coaching" them...but to me that's up there with calling a lovey a "transitional object"....but whatever. Potato Potahto. I recognize that most people conflate discipline and punishment in their head - just like some people think a "natural consequence" is a spanking. People be wrong.) 

Anyway - on to what I DO like about this chapter: the emphasis on empathy. This world lacks a lot of empathy. A LOT. Turn on the news and you'll see someone responding to some situation with a complete lack of understanding of what's happening to the party on the other side. Of course, it's hard to be sanctimonious and drive a 24 hours news cycle when you can honestly see both sides of the situation, or when you'll at least consider that the other side may have a valid point. 

So teaching your child that hitting hurts and hurting people is bad and therefore we shouldn't hit is a huge step towards a level headed adult. One who refrains from hitting because he loves his brother and doesn't want to hit his brother rather than one who refrains purely out of fear of being caught and punished. 

I really like this little bit: 

"The way you discipline your child becomes her model for working out interpersonal problems." - pp 18
She follows with a list of examples to back this up - everything from the aforementioned "Punishing focuses kids on avoiding more punishment, which is not the same thing as caring about others." "kids raised with punishment learn to use it against their sibling to increase their own standing and power" - little tattletales doing the Carlton Dance while their sibling gets a lecture and a punishment. Not cool, little dudes. Not cool. 


As for discipline vs punishment, in case you're one of the gazillion people who confuse the two:

"The word 'discipline' actually means 'to guide', from the same root as the word 'disciple.' Punishment is more about force than guiding: it's defined as causing another person emotional or physical pain to convince them to do things our way but in our culture...discipline as we it, and think about it, is a form of punishment." - p20

One more and then we'll talk about my favorite parenting phrase ever:

"The key to setting effective limits is empathy...Empathetic limits defuse resistance, because the child at least feels understood, even when she doesn't get to do what she wants."-p22

The example she uses is hitting...the darling example because and it happens all.the.time. So she's talking about these siblings and then when the parent/caregiver intervenes, out comes "I won't let you." As in: "Hitting will hurt your brother. You love your brother and I won't let you hurt him. I won't let you hit. I know you're upset, but hitting is not the way to work it out."

The boys' preschool, their lovely, lovely preschool, emphasizes "safe hands" and that the school is a "safe place" and then has the child in question reflect on whether their behavior was making their friends feel's a good conversation opener and even my 2 (ohmygodalmostTHREE) year old gets the concept of feeling safe.

This is another book that embraces the more and more common notion that spanking is just wrong and damaging, but she is taking on new (to me, at least) information about Time Outs:

"We...have a good deal of evidence that time-outs don't work to prevent a recurrence of misbehavior, which raises the question of whether time-outs may even be causing the recurrences."  - pp25-27

(So I'm going to take a moment to note that the age of the siblings in question is Old Enough to Have Squirt Gun keep that in mind while you're reading. Which you should do. Because I'm not going over the entire chapter here.)

Her approach, like many others I've heard who are anti Time-Out is a Time In (her example here is a pre-verbal child who is having a bad day and is expressing that frustration by throwing her cup across the room):

"So you summon up all your compassion and remind yourself that she's a little person whose behavior is a cry for help...You hug her, then take her to a specially designated spot that feels safe and cozy, and snuggle up. You connect warmly, which may be all she needs to pull herself together...Her sunny mood will return, and she'll be ready to help you clean up the spilled cup." - p42

The natural consequence is there already: make a mess, clean it up. We all know that cleaning up messes is a deterrent to making them, and if she knows that Mommy/Daddy/etc will be there to help her learn how to navigate the emotions that come with a crappy day, she'll be less inclined to fling the cup next time. (It doesn't mean she won't. It means she's learning that it's not the best way. And just like you don't freak out when your child says "m and o p" while they're learning the ABCs, you shouldn't freak out when your child snaps and throws a cup again. Because really, the only reason YOU don't throw shit when you snap is because you're a grown adult who has complete control over her impulses at all times. Unless you're me, then sometimes you do throw shit. It's cathartic. Our hypothetical fence will have a target drawn on it and a bucket of bean bags at the ready. I'm all about channeling impulses.)

The rest of the chapter is about Helping Children with Big Emotions - something  about which we all could do with a refresher course. I highly suggest you read it.

PS - sorry for the lack of photos eldest has the viral plague and no one wants pictures of has been a trying week for all of us and my empathy patience has been seriously tested. House Arrest leads to much, much whining. You know what helps it? Underwear dance party (also it roughly 8billion degrees and we have no a/c - so...)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Introduction: Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings

So this whole post is about one page: the Part One opening page. This quote really struck me:

"All siblings will do some fighting, no matter what their parents do. Conflict is a part of every human relationship, and you can't stop your children from having needs and desires that clash. What you can do is give them healthy tools to work through these disagreements, tools they'll use the rest of their lives." 

We all know I'm a big fan of having a fully-stocked Parenting Toolbox.

Like the Penalty Flags

And the Stop Sign.  They got this one from preschool - when someone is doing something you don't like, you hold up your hand in the universal "STOP" gesture. This is especially helpful for kids who have a speech delay. And you don't have to know ASL to get it. (The "stop sign" Walter is holding up is ASL for "yours" - the ASL sign for stop is more like a karate chop to your own open palm.)

And everything I learned from No Drama Discipline

And everything else this book is going to teach me. 

One final quote for my not-very-in-depth-first-post:

"When parents have better relationships with their children, those children have better relationships with each other. When parents have negative or punitive relationships with each child, the children behave more aggressively and selfishly with each other."

So the place to start is with a better parent, have better children. (Does anyone else have Man in the Mirror in their heads...? No? You do now. You're welcome.) 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Another Read Along is Coming!

I keep agreeing to these read alongs with the Natural Parents Network in the hopes that a) I'll learn something useful that I can pass along to you and b) I'll blog more. Because I enjoy blogging.

One out of two isn't bad, right?

Anyway, next week (or later this week) we're going to start talking about Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings, by Dr. Laura Markham.

Pick up a copy and read along!

And just for funsies: a gratuitous picture of the boys!

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