Tuesday, 13 February 2018

5 Ways to Playfulness: Full Innovation Parenting

attachment-style parenting, virtues, values, humour, humor, playfulness, childlike, Linda Clement, Raising Parents, The Family Virtues Project
Because February is the month of love the posts this month are all about values. This one is about playfulness and humour…

Picture this: two women on an international flight, tired and bored, in a packed economy section for 14 hours. One of them says ‘let’s play rock-paper-scissors’ and the other one goes along with it (after the third time it was suggested.) 

Five minutes later, they’re giggling uncontrollably because they both keep doing ‘rock’ while both keep saying ‘someone has to do something else’ and then both do it again, anyhow. 

Suddenly, the cramped and noisy plane is background to minutes of joy and laughter. Nothing changed in the environment, only the willingness to play made these minutes less uncomfortable, boring and exhausting.

attachment-style parenting, humour, humor, playfulness, childlike, virtues, values, Linda Clement, Raising Parents
Now, of course, the twit who thought up playing rock-paper-scissors half way across the Pacific ocean at middle-of-the-night o’clock was me, and I have a long history of being completely ridiculous, but this is the kind of antic anyone can employ to improve any moment of tedium or annoyance in any situation.

There is nothing in the world like a drab February day, whether it is in the middle of a Canadian (read: seemingly never-ending) winter, or just the 15th rain day in a row, to toss all the possible dull and irritating aspects of cabin fever into a family. 

Let’s have one or more of them have a cold, or worse (and maybe even more likely) the stomach bug that’s making the rounds this year. It’s February, so unless it’s one of those years (divided by a 4) that Olympics are happening –supposing you actually like or watch the Olympics ever—the tv is mid-season reruns, and by now everyone knows all the words to every single Dora, Daniel the Tiger, or Elmo’s World episode… 

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The bills from Christmas are still in a worrying pile, so there won’t be any escapes to the tropics, and even an escape to the local indoor play place (where everyone can catch that cold and/or stomach bug, yea!) is not in the budget today.

The younger is now determined to get as far up the nose of the other kids as possible, as quickly as possible –whether by repetitively patting them on the head ‘gently’ but incessantly, humming or the same three notes constantly for 9 hours, or saying their favourite word 1100 times until their mouth is numb and everyone in the building wants to choke them out.

And the cat barfs.
attachment-style parenting, humour, humor, playfulness, childlike, improv, virtues, values, Linda Clement, Raising Parents, The Family Virtues Project
Now, who hasn’t been here? In some fashion or other, in the midst of one of those months, where the drudgery is rapidly overtaking the exhaustion, and everything tastes like dry bran.

There is a solution, and it is a wacky one.

Number 1
Do anything differently.

If your house is usually formal, go casual; if it’s usually casual, really dress up. If the usual routine is for a light breakfast and a big dinner, reverse it. If you always sit at the table to eat, sit under it. If you usually wear your clothes frontwards…

There is power in the ridiculous, and in the simple joy of letting go, letting off some steam, and having a laugh.

attachment-style parenting, humour, humor, playfulness, childlike, virtues, values, Linda Clement, Raising Parents, The Family Virtues Project
What makes one family collapse into a heap of giggles will, of course, be very different from what unhinges another, but that’s no reason at all not to try anything.

Be loud, if you’re usually quiet. Play polka music if you usually prefer the opera. Make sleeve puppets with your sweater, and create two whole characters who are worried about being invaded by the ‘arm’-ies they find within…

If you’re often concerned about your adult-like image, use a child-like voice and make the kinds of silly mistakes in language or pronunciation toddlers make while trying to figure out this weird language. Dance like a 3yo. Jump around in the yard like a child pretending to be a kangaroo.

Generally goofing around… singing badly, reciting every word you can think of that starts with J, laying on the floor and kicking in the air like a young baby, acting like a monster… is the idea, here.

Laughter lowers stress levels immediately, it boosts immunity, improves attention, increases energy, and brings people together in a specific, important way: cooperation is necessary.

Number 2
Say yes.

The first rule of improve is ‘yes.’

attachment-style parenting, humour, humor, playfulness, childlike, virtues, values, Linda Clement, improv, kids' art, Raising Parents, love, children
Whatever your team just did, say ‘yes, and…’ to it. The killer of improvisational humour (and creativity and innovation) is when the answer is ‘no, not that.’ Even subtle ways of saying ‘no’ like ‘why did you colour the tree purple?’ or ‘you look like a twerp when you do that’ are humour killers.

Cooperation is key to getting everyone laughing: whatever the last thing tossed into the air was, greet it with ‘sure, let’s go with that, now add this’… the 7yo says ‘farty poopy pants’ and instead of doing a rerun of the lecture about potty language, say ‘yes, and’ by responding ‘party floppy rants’ … and see what happens next…

This was a game that lasted nearly 10 minutes with my potty-obsessed niece, as she tried to get me to repeat whatever poop-related phrase she kept repeating, and I made up other words that rhymed without every saying anything that she wanted me to, which turned potentially irritating behaviour into the whole family giggling.

Number 3
Stand out.

‘You know how people look at you when you say things like that?’ says my terminally-embarrassed-by-her-mother’s-behaviour daughter…

‘That look is exactly why I say things like that…’

I read a few weeks ago someone who said something like: I felt like a freak, an outsider, someone who never had any hope of ever fitting in, until I found Monty Python when I was 12, and thought this is my tribe.

attachment-style parenting, humour, humor, playfulness, childlike, improv, stand out, be different, Linda Clement, Raising Parents, love, connection, The Family Virtues Project
I know that feeling (I was about that age when I found them), and I sometimes suspect it may be universal: that we all feel awkward, like outsiders looking in, like we’ll never understand all the things everyone else seems to just know (like what to say at funerals, or how to stand while someone is scolding you that isn’t too casual or mocking their intensity, or whatever it is you’re supposed to look like when you just want them to stop because you got it the first five words in…

That desire and need to fit in is normal and natural, but some days we just need to recognize that it isn’t us looking like everyone else that will lead to our success but standing out might. Shining our unique light is why we’re here, and we need to help our children feel safe shining theirs –by not fitting in and doing what is normal (around here.)

At least sometimes.

attachment-style parenting, humour, humor, playfulness, childlike, virtues, values, Linda Clement, Raising Parents, The Family Virtues ProjectDancing in the puddles in the pouring rain, even if that neighbours may you think you look crazy.

Dancing in the starlight instead of bedtime, to make an innovative bedtime routine.

Dancing in the dawn light because of being awakened by the sound of the cat retching, because dancing is better than explaining to the kids why the cat’s ‘run away.’

Laughing always comes in a close second after swearing up a storm over how inconvenient all these creatures living in our homes really are, so much of the time…for its therapeutic value. 

There is a great ad, for some church or other, where the kids are caught covered in mud from goofing around with some water, as the parents come home –dad storms off and mom says ‘you’ve really done it now…’ and everyone waits in dread for the storm to come, but dad comes into view with the hose, and joins in.

We always have the option of doing something unexpected, sometimes we just need to be reminded that we’re allowed to stand out and be different.

Number 4
Look for the unrelated.

Part of Monty Python’s quirky humour that immediately resonated with me, and made me spend several decades trying to figure out, was the dis-associated randomness. A pair of men doing what looked like a serious and formal folk dance, but with fish that they slapped each other with. How do you think that up? The Very Silly political party’s candidate’s name, a string of weird words and noises that included Wham Bam Tim Tam Fa-tang Fa-tang Ole Biscuit Barrel.

I mean, how? How do you come up with something so ridiculous?

attachment-style parenting, humour, humor, playfulness, childlike, Linda Clement, Raising Parents, virtues, values, the Family Virtues Project
Sometimes innovation is looking at something and adding one totally unrelated thing: Thomas Kincaid paintings with lights installed in them. Van Gogh’s view of the sky with what looks like bathtub bubbles swirling instead of stars. WestJet Airlines’ irreverent safety announcements that genuinely attract people’s attention. Restaurants without lights, served by waiters without sight. Training people who are blind to do massage. Putting internet access into a fridge.

Innovation is very often just two ideas beside each other that don’t initially look like the fit.

Number 5
Be willing to fail.

That internet fridge? An idea whose time may never come, and far from a roaring success… but the creativity is there. What other bizarre and far more successful ideas might arise from such ludicrous examples of dischord and never tried?

One of the killers of creativity, innovation, and playfulness is believing that all bets must be safe bets, that you must know where this road leads, and that you must avoid failure or mistakes at all costs.

Play requires the Beginner’s Mind: I don’t already know for sure how this will turn out… what if I…?

Innovation and creativity come more out of play than any other aspect of thinking or being. Play is our natural way of exploring the world, and it is our natural way of creating new and innovative ways and things, from technology to ideas to art. Possibly-Picasso said,
Every child is an artist, the problem is to remain an artist once he grows up.
Art is made of play, and all art comes with the 25-50-25 Rule. This is how I remember someone describing this rule:
               All real art requires risk. You have to try something new that you don’t know whether or not it will work until you do. You don’t know if you can accomplish it, or sometimes even if it can be accomplished at all. So, some of what you do will be mediocre: kind of what you were shooting for, but not really all you wanted it to be, and you’re not sure how to fix it (or if it can be fixed at all.) That’s probably 50% of most working artist’s material. And a smaller but significant proportion of the work will be complete crap: irredeemable, unquestionably lousy, with too many errors or problems to even consider bothering to try fixing. Call it the 25% craptastic quota.
               Most working artists (by which I mean people who are actively making art, not necessarily people who sell any to anyone, ever) prefer not to make the 25%, and a whole lot of them will live their whole ‘artistic’ lives safely in the Mediocre 50% realm: safe, okay, good enough, it will do.
               The thing is, there is that other 25% that every honest artist will always admit to wanting to create: the masterpiece, the amazing, innovative, wonderful, inspirational stuff that everyone dreams of signing, sitting back and marveling at (whether or not they ever show it to a single other human.)
               What too few people know is that 25% of amazing requires the 25% craptastic quota. In order to risk what it takes to make the marvelous, you have got to be willing to make the crap, because you have to be working on the edge of what you don’t know you can do well, what you don’t even know if it can be done well. It costs 25% crap to make the top 25% of your work… or you can just settle in the middle, and be a never-was instead of a has-been.
The failure in not even trying is where most people lose their shine, and fall into the doldrums of a too-drab life of predictable, ordinary, fitting in.

attachment-style parenting, humour, humor, playfulness, childlike, Linda Clement, Raising Parents, virtues, values, the Family Virtues Project

Innovation, creativity, and play can elevate a dull February day, even with sick kids, sick pets, sick weather or sick finances. Try one of these five ways of bringing light and energy to your dullest days.

P.S. I’d love to have a collection of stories of other people’s wacky creativity and those magical moments that transform a drab month… share yours in the comments or join the ThriveParenting: AP life andrespecting children facebook page to share there…

10 Ways to Be Curious & Build Compassion and Vocabulary in The Young

curiosity, virtues, attachment-style parenting, compassion, vocabulary building, being curious, Raising Parents, Linda Clement
Because February is the month of love, I will be writing this month’s posts about virtues. Today’s virtue, for no real reason, is curiosity…

How does curiosity related to both compassion and vocabulary in young people?

One way is that without curiosity about the world around us, we won’t learn new words, like what ‘fleek’ or ‘code 9’ mean, and we’ll be impaired in our interactions with others. That’s maybe bad, although it’s popular for the older generation to calcify and be unbending about what qualifies as a ‘real’ word, ‘real’ usage, ‘real’ pronunciation, or ‘real’ music… fashion, art, movies, whatever. Do we want to become those out-of-touch folks?

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I don’t. But that’s less to do with parenting, and vocabulary in young children. Middle school kids make up their own vocabulary (or find it online –urbandictionary, btw, is the source and solution for that, although it seems to be taken over by grumpy old fogies who judge the words instead of simply defining them, so perhaps soon urbandictionary will be supplanted by something fleek…) but in order to get to that point, one has to be able to converse comfortably with the people around about the world around…

… and that comes from having the vocabulary to even think about it.

Some of the everyday messages our culture sends to kids are impediments to this vocabulary development.

attachment-style parenting, kids, love, compassion, curiosity, curious, vocabulary building, virtues, values, The Family Virtues Project, Raising Parents, Linda Clement
When kids learn that ‘all noisy kids are bad kids’ they don’t learn to distinguish in themselves or others the nuances of feelings that provoke loudness –fury, enthusiasm, terror, grief, excitement, disappointment, dejection, rage, anxiety, pain, ambivalence, boredom, annoyance, irritation, aggravation, agitation… All they end up with in the ways to express themselves to be understood is shouting, feeling ‘bad’ and being ‘upset.’

Without the words, we can’t think
In a book I read (I really should take better notes) it was posited that without the vocabulary to think about the world around us and within us, we are trapped in an internal experience that we can’t describe or understand, because we simply can’t think about it at all. We think in words.

Without thinking, we can’t learn
From having the vocabulary that describes what we’re seeing and interacting with and discovering how we feel about it all, we can broaden our experience of life to include what others are seeing and interacting with, including how it seems to make them feel. That is: when we have the vocabulary to share, we can learn how differently we can see, understand, think about and respond to the world and our feelings about all of that.
This learning is the basis of compassion.

attachment-style parenting, curiosity, compassion, kids, love, virtues, values, curious, vocabulary building, Linda Clement, Raising Parents, The Family Virtues Project, kids, love
Without learning, there is no compassion
When we learn the words to describe our own experience, internal and external, we simultaneously learn the words others use to describe their experiences, internal and external. 

This is telepathy: the minds joining in the space between them, to hear and be heard, to understand and feel understood, to feel and to feel felt –as Daniel J. Siegel describes in his many books (Parenting from the Inside Out, Mindsight, etc.)

We can’t do it if we don’t have the words.
attachment-style parenting, love, curiosity, kids, vocabulary building, compassion, virtues, values, Raising Parents, Linda Clement
The words are made from the world.

The world is here to explore, and human brains are instinctively attuned to explore, to understand the world around us, from before we are born as we become familiar with the voices closest to us, and the sounds they use to make meaning. From there, we race to understand the music, the words, the sensations, the sights and flavours, as quickly as we can.

What can go wrong if curiosity isn’t present
When we are with people, in the early stages, who are ‘busy’ doing ‘important’ things –on their phones, with the tv or computer, or silently in the house or facility—or we spend our days surrounded by people mostly our own age who are physically watched over by too few adults to interact with about most of what we’re experiencing, or in environments that are unsafe to explore (or banned from exploring) we learn what little we can divine mostly by ourselves, particularly what is happening within us. This desert of curiosity leaves us without the natural support we need to feel normal in wondering and asking, and without the vocabulary we need to even form the questions.

attachment-style parenting, compassion, responsiveness, curiosity, love, virtues, values, Linda Clement, Raising Parents, The Family Virtues Project
When we are with carers who ‘already know’ what’s going on for us, who we are and what we’re worth –who tell us we’re not hungry when our stomachs are churning because the clock doesn’t say ‘hungry time’ on it yet, or that we’re not sad or scared or lonely or hurt when we are, or who tell us we’re bad people for being alive, making noise, making messes, making poop, or needing more than they expect us to need, our learning is impaired because our experience is not what we are told it is. The words we learn don’t mean what we’re told they mean. This is confusing, alienating and leads to dissociation from our bodies, and self-loathing.

In each of these scenarios, children grow up without understanding themselves or their world accurately (or at all), always only coping and struggling and compensating for what they never got that they needed. They learn to judge, blame, evade blame, self-medicate, distract and ignore… themselves and others. This impairs their ability to feel curious about the world, themselves or others. It is that lack of curiosity that ultimately impedes compassion, for themselves and others.

Now that we can see clearly why compassion matters so much, and how curiosity is linked to it, so now we can help our children:

10 Ways to be Curious and Build Compassion
  1. Answer questions to the best of your ability, and, when you don’t know the answer demonstrate how to look answers up, how to wonder about their accuracy, and what else might be connected to the subject
  2. Look up answers you are certain of, because information changes over time and what you learned 15 years ago may not have been true at the time
  3. Share discoveries you make in your world, whether it’s a way of making your work run more smoothly, a new play strategy in your favourite game, or an ingredient you didn’t know how to use, or a way of driving that makes it safer, or an investment strategy that you’re investigating … curiosity breeds curiosity
  4. Wonder why others feel or act as they do, and talk about possibilities: what they might be feeling or thinking that leads them to feel that choice is sensible or effective to them
  5. Notice body posture, gestures, facial expressions and vocal tones around you –on the radio or in movies, or live as you watch the passing parade on the streets, watching from your window or what you see from the car, and describe them: shoulders slumped, big smile, crushed eyes, swagger stride, shaky voice, clipped speech, snappy replies, placid face, touching hair, leaning in, leaning away, et cetera
  6. Talk about the words for those postures, gestures, facial expressions and vocal tones: dejected, excited, nervous, distracted, depressed, timid, confident, et cetera
  7. Ask yourself out loud why you acted as you did: what was I thinking? What was I hoping would happen? How was I feeling? What could I have done differently that would have ended up with a different result?
  8. Observe out loud, in neutral terms (like a camera would record the details, without judgement or evaluation, and without attributing intent or character flaws) what the child was thinking, trying to accomplish, or feeling before they acted the way they did
  9. Speculate about how you would feel if, or how you did feel when, something happened to you –good or bad: how you would react if you won a lottery, got invited to a special event, lost something valuable, damaged the car, et cetera
  10. Lead kids to consider how they think they might feel if something amazing happened, or something tragic happened, or if they were where the news report is, or what it might be like to visit astonishing sights like the pyramids in Mexico, or the glaciers in Norway, or Easter Island
Imagination, curiosity and compassion are all tangled up together, so developing one will help the other to develop in parallel… and all of it works better with a nuanced vocabulary to accurately describe the difference subtleties between this shade of blue and that one… this kind of anger and that feeling of rage… this way of steering different from that…

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All that will help raise a child who can understand themselves in their bodies and in their world, so they can feel others, and help others feel felt.

3 Top Reasons to Forgive Kids Quickly

forgiving, love, February, attachment-style parenting, kids, love, forgiving, Fundamental Attribution Error, Raising Parents Inc., Linda Clement, virtues, The Book of Virtues
Because February is the month of love, I decided to write all the posts this month about virtues. Entirely randomly, I decided to start with forgiveness.

Years ago, I took a lovely parenting course using The Family Virtues Guide as a guideline for the discussions, and apart from shaping my parenting overall, it altered how I think about children and people in general. One specific way it changed my thinking was through understanding the Fundamental Attribution Error. 

This error is so common in thinking and that understanding made it impossible for me, from then on, to ever see anyone’s actions as only related to my reaction.

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That is: when someone does something and I get angry, annoyed, startled or even elated, the intent I attribute to their action is in my head, not theirs. There are certainly people who are angry enough at the world to get up in the morning wondering how they can piss off other people today, but in my view that’s extremely rare. 

Mostly, people are doing what they do, attempting to succeed in their own life, with other people as background characters or afterthoughts entirely.

That is: people act out of a desire to meet their own needs, not to interfere with mine. Or yours…

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Byron Katie tells the story of how wrong people often are when attributing malice to others’ motives. In an ordinary day of minor joys and minor annoyances, she used a public toilet just as another woman was leaving it. As she got into the stall she saw that the seat was wet all over. Grumbling about the lack of care and concern for others, and what kinds of slob the other woman clearly is, she wiped the seat before using it… then flushed the toilet and watched it spray all over the seat. She laughed as she realized that the seat wasn’t wet because the woman had stood over it spraying everywhere like a kid with a hose, and she was probably not even aware that the toilet was getting the seat wet as she left.

That is the Fundamental Attribution Error in action: Byron Katie initially thinking of the character flaws in the person ahead of her, and attributing malice to her actions … while in exactly the same situation herself, she laughed and understood there was no malice at all and no indication of anyone’s character involved.

forgiving, growing up, attachment-style parenting, virtues, values, The Family Virtue Project, Linda Clement, Raising Parents, love, children, kids, mistakes, the fundamental attribution error

When we look at the actions our children take and think “if she doesn’t stop that by the time she’s 31, she’ll be a criminal with a long history of convictions” we are using the Fundamental Attribution Error: reading character flaws (and a negative future narrative) where there really is no basis for worry.

3yos are narcissistic by nature: they lack the brain parts necessary to be able to comprehend other people even have their own perspective, much less that their experience of something could be any different from their own. So, when they bite someone, all they feel is the satisfaction of that resistance against their jaw muscles, and they have no idea at all that it feels different to the owner of the arm being bit. They really are the centre of the entire universe they can perceive.

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4yos have no idea at all how to predict the future, with most of them still completely embedded in the Magical Thinking phase where unicorns and Santa are real and it might be possible to levitate if they could just get the right muscle combination sorted out. So, when they throw the Tonka truck at their baby brother’s head, they actually do not know already that the truck will not fly on its own and swoop around the room like a bird. They really don’t have enough experience to know that gravity will work as predicted, every single time.

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Now, when the bite marks on her sister’s arm are visible in the portraits being sent to the extended family this year, or the baby gets a rushed trip to the urgent care unit for stitches or an x-ray, it is really difficult to remember that what we know is very different from how children understand the world, and it is really easy to attribute malice and intent those children remain incapable of experiencing.

Our adult understanding is not their childhood understanding.

What we know, especially what we know from experience (like that being bitten hurts every time, and that Tonka trucks can’t actually fly under their own power), they do not know. They lack experience. They lack the brain components necessary to do risk assessment or understand that others’ experience of the world is not their experience of the world.

So, the 3 reasons to forgive kids quickly are:

1.       Malice and intent to harm are outside their capabilities, and will be for a long time to come, so it makes no sense to hold them responsible for the results of their actions when they turn out to be hurtful or annoying –-it is simply never their goal to harm anyone or anything, and their results often shock and surprise them, too;

2.       How they think, and act, at this age is a product of their immature brain development and when they are more developed, they will think (and act) differently –-it really is not ‘so the twig is bent, so grows the tree’ –-because humans, unlike trees, develop new and different brain systems that function differently as they grow, what they can’t do when they’re young they become able to do when they’re older, and;

3.       Holding a negative view of our children’s current and future character lowers our expectations of them and increases our fear for them –-neither of which help them become more secure, confident, calm and curious people.

I will be writing more about the virtues of hope, optimism and future-mindedness soon, which will elaborate on why our expectations have so much power in our children’s lives, but for now I will just add:

attachment-style parenting, expectations, virtues, values, Linda Clement, Raising Parents, forgiving, children, love, The Family Virtues Project, values, fundamental attribution error

Our children live up (or down) to whatever expectations we genuinely have for them, and when we always think of their future in terms of what immature, naïve and inexperienced actions they have taken in the past, we unwittingly hold them down to the expectations we fear, adding unneeded anxiety and dread to our lives and theirs.

For this reason, the sooner we can spot our Fundamental Attribution Errors when they behave in ways that shock or dismay us, the sooner we can forgive them for the results of their completely innocent actions.

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Forgiving our children quickly is sometimes difficult, when we’ve learned all our lives about the importance of laying blame (and the vital importance of evading blame) … but blaming a child for the unfortunate (and to them, completely unforeseen) results of their completely innocent actions makes no sense and does no good.

Forgiving our children quickly is sometimes difficult, when we are being Momma Bear over the younger ones who are hurt… but young children who don’t know better (say, than to throw a heavy metal toy at another person) genuinely don’t know better, so holding them accountable for what they had no idea would happen is simply unreasonable. 

It is particularly unreasonable to label the child as a bully, a problem, violent, vicious or, as a woman wrote earlier this week on a parent’s list, Satan’s child … because small children cannot control themselves, predict what will happen, or understand how others will experience anything.

attachment-style parenting, forgiving, love, children, The Family Virtues Project, Linda Clement, Raising Parents, forgiving, virtues, values
Whenever I write or speak about this truth, that children cannot until they can, people nod in intellectual agreement, and then (because it is the nature of humans) remember all the ‘yes, but, when my 5yo…’ stories that they think prove kids really are capable of risk assessment, abstract reasoning and self-control.

Those stories truly are stories: narratives that match the narratives of the stories the adults told them when they were young, all fitting neatly together in that ‘if they were right (and they had to be right so they would be on my side and not neglect or kill me, so they can’t have been wrong) then I am also right that my child is wrong, not me and it is certainly not them wrong way back then…’ story.

That story was fiction then, it’s fiction now, and now the parents of today are no longer at risk of the dreadful terror from when they had to agree as young children that adults are right, kids are wrong, and it doesn’t matter what the truth was, it matters what the adults believe or demand the truth to be.

So here is another free piece about forgiveness:

Those adults were wrong. They won’t die if they find out and neither will we. We can even forgive them, because they also didn’t know any better, so they couldn’t do any better, and they were as afraid because those narratives are not ‘last generation’ new, they’re many generations old…

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Today’s parents aren’t being loyal to their own parents or even their grandparents, they’re being loyal to oral histories re-told (and perhaps mis-heard and mis-spoken) over dozens or maybe hundreds of generations, all the way back to when life was nasty, brutish and short, and the chances of your child living past 5 was about 1 in 5… so how any one under-5 felt or thought was probably not all that critical to the shaping of society over the 30 or 40 years before they’d die of old age, starvation or infection anyhow…

attachment-style parenting, forgiving, innocence, kids, love, virtues, values, Linda Clement, Raising Parents, The Family Virtues Project, fundamental attribution error, kindnessPerhaps it would help to remember that those ‘wise’ parents we are protecting and following from many generations ago were almost certainly illiterate and probably under 17 when they repeated what they’d heard all around them as they were growing up…

So, let’s also forgive them for not knowing better, and move on.

We have better information now, and however uncomfortable it is to use initially, it is better than that. We are better than that. Forgive your children their mis-steps, because they are children trying to learn to be adults just as fast as they can.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Are You Failing Your Insatiable Child? Look at Security and Safety

tantrums, unmet needs, insecure attachment, attachment parenting

“My daughter has an insatiable need for attention, I literally cannot look away for 2 minutes without her freaking out…”
tantrums, controlling, security, attachment-style parenting, changing demands, insatiable need for attention

“My youngest is SO controlling. Demanding siblings sit in specific places, insisting on turning on or off lights, having to go down or up stairs first or completely melting down if the sandwich is cut the wrong way…”

terror child, toddler tantrum, unmet needs, insecure, danger to pets, frightened of your own child
“My son’s behaviour is starting to scare me. I found him in his closet playing with a lighter the other day, and he’s picked up the kitten and thrown it more than once…”
Years ago, I was leading a discussion group about high-needs children, and how for them quite often ‘winning’ the argument isn’t a matter of being on top or besting others, but of quite literally being themselves. For them, they aren’t arguing to win, but to be allowed to be who they are, to feel as they feel. This is why the intensity is so high, and they will go to the mat for what seems like the tiniest of things.

During the session, we started talking about William Glasser’s Five Basic Needs, which I think are very similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but more useable in parenting. Maslow thinks everything is foundation for everything above, starting with basic physical needs and ending up on top with the need to be oneself, using gifts and knowledge and talent toward personal goals (even if those personal goals are ’save the world.’) I think he’s right about that.

Glasser’s I find more useful, when talking about handling kids and understanding their sometimes terrifyingly weird behaviour. His go like this:
  1. Physical needs (food, sleep, water, sunlight, for older people: sex, physical safety and a sense of security
  2. Love and a sense of belonging (this is where attention fits)
  3. Power
  4. Freedom and
  5. Fun
During that session, several parents identified the ‘insatiable’ piece for their high-needs kids, whether it was attention, power or fun. I agreed that those were certainly what appeared to be their kids’ needs, based on the surface view of the behaviours… but even when the kids got what they seemed to need, unlike hunger or thirst slaked with food or water, the ‘win’ didn’t seem to have any traction.

parenting a simpler way, lazy parenting, Linda Clement, do nothing, caring for kids with respect, respectful parentingThis is when I had a surprising insight: when someone is eating relentlessly regardless of hunger, they are not meeting their needs for hunger … nor whatever else it is they need that they are trying to ‘feed’ in substitution.

In Lazy Parenting, I refer to compensation as this:

Getting what you don’t need, to make up for not getting what you do need.

The higher up the list the insatiable need seems to be, the lower down the list it needs to be addressed. That is: it is insatiable because it isn’t the real need.

The real need is a lower number.

I suggest that the number that is probably correct is 1.

first needs, security and safety, attachment parenting, helping kids feel safe, number one concern

When people give up feeling secure or safe enough, they essentially say to the universe,
Fine! I will concede that I will never get that thing I need, so instead I will take all of the attention / power / freedom / fun there is…” 
usually working up the list from one to the other, as they discover that attention doesn’t fix it, then power doesn’t fix it, then freedom doesn’t fix it, so they’ll just have fun. Cue lighting the car on fire, to see the pretty colours as it burns.

car fire, kids and matches, terrifying child having fun, creepy smile, insecure attachment, safety and security, frightened child, attachment parenting, unmet needs

It is extremely common for people in our society to have unmet needs for security. Even adults struggle for a sense of inner balance and security, considering the delivery of 24/7 bad news to every form of media and technology there is, from tv to your smartwatch, and very real dangers of being savaged by an online riot, attacked in the street without warning, or even just witnessing a distressingly close car accident.
Imagine what it’s like for little kids…

For me, the solution is simple –basic, really—but that is not to say it is easy to accomplish

Help the child feel safe.

…which is in some ways about what helps humans feel secure, instinctively … and in other ways about individual preferences and ‘love languages.’ Some kids will feel secure with the most physical assistance: a nightlight, a cozy nest with a low ceiling and a view of anything approaching.

hugs, safety, security, love, attachment parenting, respect a child's needs
Some kids feel safe being close to their people, those they really trust, whether that is the au pair they grew up with, their parents, grandparents or even familiar neighbours they’ve known for years.

Some kids feel safe in wide open spaces, without walls for the noises to bounce of and free of ‘the maddening crowd.’ Some feel safer in forests that potentially have more instinctive dangers than any playground holds, but their experience is otherwise. Some feel safe floating in water and others panic in anything deeper than their ankles or bigger than a small stream.
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Knowing the child, and what their own fears are can help in avoiding accidentally making them feel even more frightened and unsure –pushing a child afraid of heights onto a bunk bed made like a lookout / nest is likely to make things worse, whereas making a nest in the bottom of a closet with a low shelf just above head-level when the child is seated won’t bother a child with no issues with claustrophobia…

What tends to help people feel safe includes:
  • something solid at their back, so tigers can’t sneak up behind them (remember, this is primal, not sensible and modern –our fears don’t know anything at all about locks or about living in cities free of roaming tigers),
  • a long view that can see anything coming (tigers, again, I’m afraid…),
  • a lighted path toward a lighted space (not bright, necessarily, just not moving from a bright space into a dark one –another primal fear, that may explain some of kids not wanting to go to their dark rooms up the dark stairs to get ready for bed alone…),
  • soft, flickering lights (fire in that cave overlooking the valley…),
  • soft surfaces and cozy rugs or throws or pillows (furs in those caves …),
  • soft music, especially that with a relaxed heartbeat-rate cadence –about 65 beats per minute (reminds us of being in our moms, the last time many people felt really safe and whole, sadly),
  • the company of big eyed, softly smiling creatures that are (or seem) warm to touch and snuggly (stuffed animals, Muppets, baby animals in photos or real live puppies), 
  • an absence of clutter or pressure to do work or many different types of tasks, particularly the kind of static visual clutter that seems to be required for every flat surface in classrooms these days (just because teachers are bored by bare walls, I think),
  • natural views –water, particularly, but also forests, fields and streams, big skies, distant mountains, and also soft, cool colours: greens, blues, lavendar,
  • and, if it’s ever been an issue of lack or want, food in a variety of colours and shapes and sizes and aromas, even just in photos…

Some ideas I have known parents to provide for their kids:
  • A blanket fort under the dining room table, pushed into the corner so the walls are behind, with pillows and stuffies and a soft, battery powered led lights, fairy light strings, or battery-powered ‘candles’.
  • Spending time in a lower grade, or program for younger kids –kindergarten kids helping out in the preschool room, 9yos helping kinders read, 12yos helping at the dance studio with the young kids. There is a lot to be said for being among those who have lower expectations, low pressure to conform, and who think you’re cool simply because you’re 3 years older.
  • As mentioned, a ‘nest’ on the top bunk, using that low-ceiling feel, especially in a room where the bed can be positioned to look down a long hallway, or across the yard through a window.
  • The also-mentioned nest set up in the linen closet at the end of the hall, under a low shelf.
  • The Frank Lloyd Wright- style cozy (some call it a snug), with the low ceiling, a fireplace, bookshelves and soft sofas lining the ‘conversation’ area, with a table large enough for food to be laid on by the platter, with cushions and throws to snuggle into.
  • The kitchen-as-heart-of-home, arranged with the idea that most activities will take place there where the food is: a big table for meal prep, homework, reading or crafts and places to store whatever’s not being used out of sight (behind doors, inside baskets, around the corner in the hallway or whatever), particularly if that kitchen has a heat source, like an old range, wood stove or fireplace. Even a bank of candles can help with the settled, cozy, safe feeling. The aroma of foods (soups, baking, stew, breads) being made, and help-yourself platters for grazing can add to the feeling of warmth and comfort.
  • A lighted pathway from one area of the house to another, which can be helpful for that ‘shutting down the house’ when kids are little and are afraid of missing out on all the fun adult stuff parents may be planning for after bedtime (the kids think, they never imagine it’s laundry and paying bills) –turn the lights on brightly in the bedrooms, dimly in the hallways to get there and dim the lights and then turn them out in the main spaces of the house, so they are naturally drawn to where there is light, and don’t feel they’re going from daylight into gloom and shadows. This, alone, can be amazingly settling, when followed by turning off the hallway lights, and dimming the room lights in increments as the bedtime stuff gets done.

Not mentioned previously are a few psychological and physiological things that can also help people feel safe:

  • Hugs, particularly those that feel really enveloping –the whole arm around over the shoulder and the other from under the arm, really embracing a human to feel firmly but gently cradled in arms,
  • Caresses on cheeks, and holding the cheek and jaw or the back of the head gently but firmly, particularly for people who have never had their heads moved to control where they are looking or to demand they make unwanted eye contact,
  • Stroking the upper arms, up and down slowly,
  • One hand on the chest at heart level and one on the back at the same level, can be very settling,
  • Deep breathing, particularly breathing out slowly and evenly through the nose,
  • Cooing, low voices, and an absence of intensity and shouting,
  • Taking in the 5, in no specific order: finding 5 things to see, 4 things to hear, 3 things to touch, 2 things to taste and 1 thing to smell… to really connect with the immediate experience of the body (particularly helpful for fears of things that are not actually happening, worry and anxiety),
  • Gratitude is incompatible with fear, so directing attention toward things one loves, people who love them, and specific blessings in life (of any kind, from being glad there is air to being happy the stars are there to look at…)
What kinds of situations or settings help you feel safer and more secure? What do you think will help your kids feel safer and more secure? What have you found that works? Join in the discussion in the comment section below, or join the facebook group ThriveParenting AP ...