For those of you who may be new to this blog, and therefore have essentially no idea from where I am coming, and what I advocate for parents and children and the relationships between them, I have decided to give you the layout of the proverbial ground floor. The following is a list of ten of the most important discoveries my partner, Natalie, and I have made in our own parenting world. Following each is a link to more info and/or posts from me on the subject in question.
So, in no particular order and just to give you the basic sense of each:
1. Attachment Parenting – For those of you who haven’t heard of this before, which hopefully is a relatively small group in this day and age, Attachment Parenting (or Connection Parenting as it is becoming more commonly called) is essentially the process by which parents establish, maintain, and nurture the bonds they share with their children. The methodology includes things like parents wearing their baby in a sling or pack (instead of putting them in car seat carriers, strollers and cribs as much), moms nursing their babies (instead of bottle- or formula-feeding), providing lots of skin to skin contact between parents and baby, interacting verbally and physically even with very young infants, co-sleeping with baby, etc. There are loads of great books and websites out there to provide more information and specifics, but the general idea is to create an atmosphere wherein children feel safe, secure, loved, and connected to their care-giver(s) at all times. You may find more on this topic here.
2. Elimination Communication – This is fancy jargon for a diaper-less approach to infant and toddler “toilet training”, and it is a big one for making life easier on the parents. Because you likely won’t be familiar with this to begin with, it is going to seem like, “How the heck does that even work!?” And you will want to give up repeatedly in the first month or three — again just because it is foreign and there isn’t much if any social support for it (which can make anything seem more difficult). But after you’ve had a kid or two, you’ll understand the profundity of the statement: “E.C. means that you will use less than 1/10th of the diapers.” I only wish we’d known about it with the first two of my daughters. The Diaper Free Baby is a great book on it, available through the support website you’ll find via the above link. Here is an interview I did with our village EC consultant.
3. ASL – Maybe you’ve heard of the recent phenomenon of teaching babies sign language. There are so many good reasons to do this that it’s worth doing even if you don’t care about being able to understand your baby’s communications a full year before they can talk to you. Stronger bonding; better, faster motor skills development; fuller, broader brain development; and less frustration for both parents and their toddlers are just a few of the other worthy benefits. I also advocate the use of actual sign language (that’s ASL if you’re American) instead of “Baby Signs”. aslpro.com is a great resource for this as you can watch video of real people doing the sign(s). I’ve written a couple of things about using sign, which you can find here.
4. Modeling – No, not selling your children’s images to L.L.Bean – what we’re talking about here is the opposite of the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Children are biologically equipped to mimic whatever they see their primary care-giver(s) doing. As parents, we may make use of this ability/drive to teach children how to be, and how to do things we want them to do. For example, how to appropriately handle intense feelings of anger. But even if we don’t choose to employ this method to teach them, it still pays to be aware that our kids are watching and learning from everything they see us doing – and learning more than they will from anything we say. Joseph Chilton Pearce wrote eloquently of the potential and current use of this bio-tendency in The Magical Child. Other posts on modeling can be found here, and/or by clicking on the “modeling” tag in the sidebar to the right.
5. Alfie Kohn – While we’re talking about parenting strategies, I simply must put in a plug for ALL of the work of Alfie Kohn. Unconditional Parenting and Punished by Rewards are two of his most important works. These books will challenge almost every-single-thing you think you know about “what kids need”. With Kohn’s words in our hearts and minds we have been empowered to parent in ways we would never have dared before (because the strength of social pressure and parenting mythology is so great). Kohn offers clear, concise interpretations of the most current and poignant developmental psychology research, and plainly debunks a number of child-raising conventions. I borrow heavily from and talk more about some of Kohn’s ideas throughout this blog, but here is a good place to start if you’re interested in more from/inspired by him.
6. Empathy – We haven’t found a parenting tool or resource more important or successful than this little powerhouse. It can be so easily underestimated, but if employed with sincerity, it can unlock 98% of the conflicts and emotional situations you will experience while parenting your child(ren). One of the best things about empathy, is the more your children experience you using it, the more emotionally intelligent they become, and the more likely they are to respond to the other people in their lives with empathy. This may seem trifling at first, until one considers how many behaviors we wish to control or perpetuate in our children that center on being more empathetic. Furthermore, all of their relationships from early childhood on will be pivotally impacted by their ability to understand the feelings of others (to say nothing of the power of understanding their own feelings).
As, Natalie writes in her blog, “Using empathy while parenting means that as soon as feelings come up for your children you recognize them with words and spirit and then communicate this back. If done honestly, without even a trace of condescension, the effect is instantaneous. Once we realized the potential for using empathy we completely switched over, forgoing punishment, threats, time-outs, praise, bribes, rewards, stickers, and any imposed consequences.”
Don’t worry, if this still seems mysterious — if you navigate over to the sidebar, you can click on the “Empathy Parenting” or “Using Empathy” tag to find loads more posts about it. I have found this one practice so important and effective that I have taught whole parenting workshops on the topic of empathy alone. We also have a group on Facebook called Teaching Children Empathy, feel free to join us over there!
7. Homeopathy – I know, you’re wondering, “What the heck does that pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo have to do with parenting my kids?” Well, let me tell you, there was a time when ALL medicine was homeopathic. Our culture’s relationship with pharmacology is very recent, and, frankly, has not proven any more effective than homeopathy has always been (and without the side effects). But here’s the thing, homeopathy in the hands of a skilled practitioner can not only handle nearly all childhood illnesses (from warts, to flues, to chickenpox, to what-seems-like-whooping-cough), but can also aid in balancing emotional and behavioral disturbances commonly associated with physical illness (and even many NOT associated with any illness).
Again, borrowing from Natalie, “It sounds too good to be true but it turns out that disagreeable behaviors, like biting, pinching, contrariness, food cravings, or screaming, can be attributed to imbalances in health instead of personality types, childhood ‘stages’, or attitude problems. And, in addition, the imbalance can immediately be addressed with homeopathy… When Echo is nursing more often that usual, overly obsessed with reading, hitting, and talking in her sleep, there is a remedy that matches this set of seemingly random symptoms and if she takes it the symptoms depart. So instead of looking for ways to parent her out of a state like this, or waiting for her to ‘grow out of it’, we can talk to our doctor [or look up the symptoms ourselves, these days] and drop a few pellets on her tongue instead. It feels like magic.”
I haven’t (yet) written more about the practice of using homeopathy with kids, but I do mention it a bit more in a couple posts that you can find here.
8. Essential Oils / Flower Essences: I lumped these together because they are in the same general category of “distillations” and we have used them to some of the same effects. The main flower essence we use is a combination called Rescue Remedy, you can find the original Bach Flower Essences version and/or at least a few other brands’ copies at most natural grocers. It’s great for seriously upset kids, afraid to go to bed kids, kids with bug bites, kids with driving-too-long-in-the-car-with-my-siblings syndrome. We also use essential oils for calming, aiding sleep, relieving exhaustion, easing shyness, and fighting illness, among other things. We use Young Living Oils.
9. Law of Attraction – It may not seem like a parenting tool to you, but we have used it with astounding success. There’s lot’s of reasons why it might help our children to begin to use the Law of Attraction in their own lives from an early age, if you’re into that sort of thing. But let me tell you, instead, why — even if you don’t believe in it’s efficacy in manifesting what you want to see in the world — using the language of the Law of Attraction will help you in dealing with your children.
First, as I intimated earlier, “kids don’t listen to what we tell them”. I put that in quotes because that is the common parenting mythology, based on the actual fact that sometimes they don’t listen to us. Often, though they may hear everything we say, kids (much like the universe) don’t seem to process negations.
So the parent says, “Don’t go toward that edge, Timmy.” And Timmy hears, “… go toward the edge, Timmy,” and thinks What a great idea — I think I’ll go over there… Then Timmy’s parent escalates, “Timmy it’s dangerous, you’re gonna get hurt, you better watch out, Timmy, don’t go over there, Timmy…No!” And Timmy winds up feeling sad and in trouble, confused, disconnected from the parent, not secure, and thwarted in his drive to explore “over there”.
We have found that if we ask for what we want from our children, and give them information about what we would like to see, they more often than not comply with our requests. This is, I am sure, aided by our avoidance of the word “No”, and our general acceptance of (and provision for) their drive to explore.
If Echo is teetering near the edge of something “dangerous”, we first assess the actual danger and provide for her safety ourselves with our thoughts and bodies if need be. That’s our job as parents, not hers. Then if we still felt she was at risk, we might tell her we were uncomfortable with her playing near the edge, and request that she come away from the edge to continue her play. She would inevitably ask why, and we would respond by telling her that we want her to move away from the edge because we want her to “stay safe.” We use that phrase a whooole lot.
And you know, one notable testament to this method is that we never had to worry about 3 year old Echo running out into the street. We found times to let her safely explore roads; we modeled for her with our bodies how to be safe around roads, and modeled how we kept her safe around roads; we told her numerous times that we wanted her to stay safe around roads, and gave her positive or neutral information about roads and road usage; and rather than making it taboo or shouting a barrage of scary “No”‘s at her every time she went near a road, we requested calmly that she keep herself safe and move away from the edge of the road or hold our hands to cross (which she didn’t really like to do…). I think of other three year olds whose parents are always shouting “No” at them, trying to scare them out of going near roads with threats and vague warnings, and modeling with their bodies at turns either antagonism, apathy, or extreme panic, and it is to me no wonder that those kids want to go running out in the road. They haven’t even gotten to try it yet!
10. Non-ownership: It took some getting used to, but we have generally avoided the use of the word “mine” in our family. We don’t allow the girls to claim controlling interest or ownership of hardly anything — with the obvious exception of their bodies, and the, perhaps, less obvious exception of some “private” items (like journals, mementos, the beds they use, etc.) All of the toys are for everyone. Even the stuff they get for their birthdays is celebrated by all three as something they will all get to enjoy. We don’t have to make them share their things because the things themselves are for everyone.
Admittedly, this one is perhaps the most conspicuous choice you could make of the above, and the most cumbersome. Rearranging our language patterns to constantly say, “the ______ you use” instead of “your ______” has taken real commitment. But we agree it has done wonders for sibling relations, and it has taken loads of pressure off the girls and ourselves to regulate sharing and “whose is whose” and feelings of envy. I’ll further admit, that Echo, whom one might be tempted to label “a dissenter”, has recently told us that it is easier for her to say “mine” instead of “the one I use” and that she would like us to be all right with that and understand that she means “the one I use” even though she is saying, “mine.” We agreed, but her insistence was short-lived.
Here’s more on our approach to possessions.
These are the basics of our parenting strategies. We use them almost everyday. Feel free to ask me if you want more info on any of them, and come on back for the continuing parenting adventure!