Are You An Emotionally Safe Parent?

Are You an Emotionally Safe Parent-A friend of ours said, “I am so competent at work and with friends. I’m on my game almost all the time. But when my kids act up, it’s like I lose the ‘real me!’ I become someone I don’t know or like.” Virtually every parent we’ve talked with in any depth admits, “I don’t like the ‘me’ that comes out when I discipline my kids.”

The tough truth to swallow is that whatever comes out of us IS the “real me.” Kids provoke us. And when we’re provoked, we tend to reveal what’s really inside us – especially when the provocateurs are our very own little children. What’s revealed is often not a pretty picture as stressed parents feel desperate, and use intimidation, manipulation and anger to regain a sense of control in the situation. Although this may work temporarily, it does so at the expense of the parent-child relationship.

When anger, anxiety and a need to control drive our discipline, we unintentionally communicate to our children that we are not emotionally safe. They will self-protect by closing their hearts to us.

The Heart’s Overflow

In Matthew 12:34, Jesus said, “…out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” In other words, whatever “baggage” we have affects not only us, but it overflows to our children. When what’s in our heart is anger, anxiety, or a need to control, we can’t help but spill out messages to our children they perceive to mean:

  • “You are a pain.”
  • “You are a problem.”
  • “You make me angry” (which puts the child in control of the parent’s emotions).
  • “You are unloved when you act up.”

When children perceive these messages in our discipline, they most likely will resist our efforts. Even if kids comply to avoid rejection or punishment, these kind of messages won’t build values that motivate kids to do the right thing for good reasons. Nearly all parents occasionally react this way. But if it becomes the norm, kids will embrace those messages as their identity.

It is therefore very important for parents to learn to be emotionally safe by calming their hearts before discipline. Only then can they speak truth from a heart of God’s grace and peace rather than communicate false or hurtful messages from a heart of anger or control.

The Overflow of Grace

When we are emotionally safe for our children, their identity will be strengthened by messages like these, that they receive and internalize:

  • “I am for you, not against you.”
  • “You are safe with me. God gives me peace and wisdom.”
  • “I love you no matter how you misbehave!”
  • “You are capable of getting through this and resolving it.”
  • “You are responsible and, even if your consequence is hard for you, I am here for you.”

These are messages of grace. They are the messages of love God demonstrates to us in our “misbehavior” (See Romans 5:8). When we can discipline in ways that communicate these messages, our children will open their hearts to our influence. But more important than that, they become more open to the very message of the Gospel.

Learning to receive God’s grace for ourselves, and then dispensing that grace to our kids, is the essence of becoming a safe parent. When we do this, we can focus more on caring for our children’s souls than on managing their misbehavior.

Practical steps to become a safer parent:

1) Remind yourself of grace-filled truth. Which of these stands out to you? You might even say your truth out loud:

  • God loves my child and me in our messy state.
  • The only person I can control is me.
  • I don’t need to solve this immediately (…in most instances).

2) Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself,  “What message do I want my child to get from this interaction?” Let the answer guide your response.

3) If you’re still stumped, say, “I don’t yet know what the wisest response to this situation is, so I’m going to consider this and let you know later.”

These simple steps will slow down the whole discipline effort so you can respond in an emotionally safe way. When you do, kids are much more likely to thoughtfully consider their own behavior instead of defend themselves, and maybe even learn some valuable life-lessons in the process as you model thoughtful self-control and respect!

Whatever small changes you make toward safety, celebrate! Even a small change is a big deal to your child.

To learn more about these concepts, request the ebook When Your Child Misbehaves: Four Strategies For Lasting Change

Practical Help for Families Struggling with Separation Anxiety

Practical Help for Families Struggling with Separation Anxiety

“Nooooo, Mommy, Noooooo! Don’t GO!” screams the little fighting octopus fastened to your legs. It can be heart wrenching and embarrassing to pry your child away from you, and inconvenient when you’ve got a time constraint. (Why is my child the only one who gets hysterical every time we try to leave childcare to go to the church service?)

I have coached numerous parents of kids with separation anxiety, and there seems to be patterns of common underlying issues that feed this challenge:

  • A child’s sensory sensitivities can make busy or less familiar environments over-stimulating, or just generally increase a child’s anxiety.
  • Family stress – A chaotic family schedule or outside source of stress creates insecurity and hinders quality, joy-filled attention from a parent.
  • Parents’ anxiety or guilt about their child’s distress during separation inadvertently sends a message expressed through non-verbals that, “You should be upset. I’m doing a terrible thing by leaving you!”

The following story of a coaching family’s success gives lots of practical strategies for other families struggling with this challenge.

Erik had such strong separation anxiety that participating in bible studies and church nurseries was “an absolute and epic fail,” according to his mom, Sarah. By the time he was three, Sarah and her husband Ryan sought out parent coaching for the intense, prolonged crying and clinging. Erik had all three issues going on:

  • Sensory sensitivity: He was born at just 28 weeks, resulting in sensory sensitivities and increased anxiety.
  • Family stress: His parents utilized several different kinds of childcare to manage demanding, full-time jobs and unpredictable schedules.
  • Parent’s anxiety/guilt: His mom felt very badly about Erik’s premature birth and it’s impact on him. This guilt and anxiety caused her to be filled with ambivalence and angst during separation times.  

Sarah and Ryan learned to tune into the cues that Erik would give when he was becoming overwhelmed, which helped them find creative and empowering ways to support him. They developed a thoughtful plan to help him in each of these three areas:

    • Adjust the sensory environment
      • Since a loud, high-energy response from a caregiver was overstimulating, his care providers learned to be calm, but engaging and fun. They affirmed whatever he did to eventually calm himself.
      • In order to build success, Sarah and Ryan started with transitions to settings that were controlled and predictable, initially avoiding church nurseries or high energy friends’ or cousins’ homes.
    • Decrease stress: Make life more predictable and connective
      • Slight adjustments in their schedule reduced the frequency and different environments in which Erik had to separate.
      • Bedtime talks helped him process and adjust to the next day.
      • A weekly calendar in his room with pictures of key people he would see throughout the week helped him anticipate events.
        • They laminated faces of caregivers and stuck velcro on the back to easily move their pictures to various days, which was especially helpful if a parent was traveling. They also laminated favorite activities he would like to do with these caregivers to help him look forward to those times.
      • Predictable morning routines included some special 1:1 time. If a caregiver was coming to the house, they began to take Erik for “loops” in the car just before having to leave, lasting anywhere from one to ten minutes. This was his special time with a parent to talk, pray, listen to a favorite song, or just be with them, and were a key to helping him separate.
    • Let go of guilt and anxiety at separations
      • When Sarah had a plan in place to help Erik, she had confidence in his growing success, which decreased her anxiety and guilt. She began to be calm and light-hearted and sincerely communicate, “You feel sad now, but you’ll be ok. Soon you’ll be having fun!”

The result of this effort was that Erik successfully completed two years of preschool and entered kindergarten last fall. Sarah shared some deep insights: “Ultimately, I have recognized this ‘inconvenience’ with our precious son to be a sign that he is a deep connector and establishes trust and authenticity with key people in his life. Once he feels known and understood, he can more easily succeed in different environments away from us. Any child that struggles to be released from mom or dad has underlying needs that simply need to be attuned to properly; and when that is done – the child will thrive in a way that builds great confidence and joy! He or she will be prepared to utilize their deep, God-given sensitivity to be highly compassionate to those around them.”

Instead of being anxious or critical of your child’s sensitivity and needs, how could you:

  1. meet their sensory needs for calm environments?
  2. make life more predictable and connective?
  3. let go of your anxiety when it’s time to separate?
  4. channel their God-given sensitivity toward compassion for others?

To learn more:

Changing Your Parenting When Change is Hard

Three research based tips when you feel stuck

Changing Your Parenting When Change is Hard (1)Happy New Year! Whether you’ve just found us or we’re old friends, we are excited to journey with you through 2017.

We still remember our early days of feeling stuck in our parenting challenges, unhealthy dynamics, and hurtful habits. So we’re passionate to help all parents who feel that same way! As you think about the year ahead, and plans or resolutions you’re making for a better future, we want to help you with three principles adapted from a research based book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.

1. Launch from your successes!
Trying to “fix” your failures can cause discouragement that makes change difficult. Focusing on what goes well in your home is a great way to start positive change because you are building on a skill you already know. Looking back on the past year, ask yourself these questions:

Top 10 Most Viewed Posts in 2016!

Top 10 of 2016

We are so honored to serve you and equip you in your parenting journey. Thank you for trusting us! We always welcome your feedback and stories from how you are integrating our resources into your family. We pray there is a little something for all of you to challenge and encourage you every time you read our content.

Without further ado, here are the Top 10 Most Viewed Posts of 2016!*

10. Don’t Punish Your Child’s Nervous System – Understand It!

9. Can Family Meetings Really Work?

8. 12 Misbehaviors and the God-Given Gifts Behind Them

7. An Open Letter to the Cincinnati Zoo Mom

6. How I Got My Kids to Obey Immediately…and Why I Stopped

5. When Kids Want it NOW!

4. The New Problem of Entitlement

3. Restitution Consequences

2. Your Kids: Responsible or Spoiled?

1. How a Pipecleaner Can Stop Your Child’s Meltdowns!

*In descending order, based on number of page views on our website.

Christmas… “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”?

7 Simple Ideas to Protect the Joy of the Season

Christmas…Like the song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” While we cherish meaningful time with those dearest to us, these highly charged celebrations often stress parents, over-stimulate children, and incline both to volatile behavior. Seven simple ideas will protect the Joy of the Season, and minimize the likelihood of holiday meltdowns and conflicts. These ideas are anchored in the principle that we all behave better when we feel better! After reading through, choose one or two options that fit your family and focus on them this year.

Copy of Three Secret Ingredients

Anchor the season in perspective.
Christmas is about God’s greatest gift to humans – his son Jesus Christ. This gets all too easily lost in our cultural expression of the holiday. Of all the Christmas preparation, what might not really need to be done? What would it take to build a few extra minutes into each day for rest, prayer, or meditation to delight in the eternal Savior who came to earth to reveal God to us? What’s one simple thing you could do to help your kids enter into this with you? Write your ideas in the comments section to inspire and connect with others!

From Pandemonium to Purpose:

Finding Your Family’s Super-powers

Pandemonium to PurposeSometimes family life can seem like a crazy collision of everyone’s challenges and weaknesses. In our family Jim could get impatient and snippy, Lynne tended to nag, Daniel liked to dominate and demand fairness, Bethany was over-sensitive and cried easily, and Noah sometimes told fibs to avoid conflict. On a bad day it was mayhem! It was easy to get stuck in a negative pattern, making life pretty miserable. But fortunately as we gained insight into what makes for strong, caring families, we learned not to get stuck focusing on our weaknesses.

In this journey there were three important principles we learned.

1.) Each person’s challenge area has a corresponding strength.
Our strengths that corresponded to these weaknesses were:

  • Jim was passionate and expressive
  • Lynne had good attention to detail and follow-through
  • Daniel had a gift of leadership and justice
  • Bethany was compassionate
  • Noah was easy going  

When your child just HAS to have that thing for Christmas…

When Your Child Just Has to Have that Thing

Your little darling comes to you with face lit up, a picture and product details in hand, their logic detailed into a lawyer-like brief, and begs with passion for that one special thing for Christmas. “Ok, I know exactly what I want for Christmas. I’m so excited about it! Taylor is getting one, too.”

This can be a frustrating scenario if you believe the request is either beyond your budget, or not an item you feel will benefit your child. Have you ever found yourself giving in to gift requests when your gut tells you it’s not a good idea – because at the time you can’t think of a really good reason to say no? Or just to avoid the relentless badgering? Or because in the moment your child’s delight is more important to you than what is truly best in the long run?

I recently watched a tween with passion, intensity, and a clear “marketing plan,” try to sell his mom on why he should get a particular, very expensive item – the newest, name-brand “everyone has” shoes. His mom was calm but firm, and responded wisely.

What to do when kids swear or say OMG…

Swearing and OMG (1)

“S#*t,” “Oh My God.” …or “What the _____?” We’ve heard from numerous parents that this kind of language hurts their ears as well as their hearts. If this is a struggle in your family, here’s how you might respond through the Discipline that Connects framework.

“You are SAFE with me!”

To communicate emotional safety while addressing your kids’ word choices means coming alongside them as their understanding helper instead of their judge (can they ever tell the difference!). Are your kids worried they won’t fit in? Do they even know what the words mean?

In the same way, it’s helpful to understand what might be behind your angst when your kids say offensive words. Consider these questions:

3 Steps for Success in Holiday Chaos!

3 Steps for Success in Holiday Chaos

Holidays and other gatherings can be a lot of fun — but they can also be chaotic and overstimulating for kids! Rather than punish your children for misbehavior, be thoughtful ahead of time about how to prepare them for success.

Whether your child loudly proclaims Gramma’s sweet potatoes are YUCKY!, gets out of control when opening presents, or shuts down and withdraws when talking with adults, make a thoughtful plan and weave in plenty of encouragement.

[To ease holiday mealtime stress, read 7 Practical Tips for Picky Eaters.]

With the three simple steps below, you can set your child up for success and create a truly enjoyable holiday gathering!  

Helping Kids Thrive Despite Rejection from a Teacher or Students

Helping Kids Respond to Rejection from a Teacher or Students

It’s tempting when kids experience rejection, to want to protect them and be a buffer to keep their feelings from being hurt. Our blood boils, our God-given Mama or Papa Bear instincts kick in, and we may well go after the offending teacher or student. Sometimes this is a wise course of action, especially if a child is experiencing abuse or extreme rejection. But many times the best strategy is to be thoughtful about strengthening the child instead of protecting them. This prepares them for other inevitable situations in life when rejection threatens to redefine their sense of identity.

Cara’s kids had different classes with the same teacher. Mr. Benson may have been a well-intentioned guy, but the methods he used in his class were laden with shaming, critical messages.

In Jaden’s class, Mr. Benson decided to prepare the kids for the teasing they were sure to get next year in middle school. He projected each student’s picture from school photo day, one at a time, for the class to laugh at. Jaden’s anxious, deer-in-the-headlights mugshot brought a chorus of laughter and comments from his classmates. He ran off the bus sobbing that day, traumatized by the humiliation.