Sunday, October 26, 2014

Healthy Human Development

What ARE the obstacles to healthy human development?  Maybe if we know what they are, we can avoid them and engage in activities that WILL be healthy and empowering.

Babies are born knowing exactly what they need.  When they are hungry, thirsty, cold, wet, lonely or afraid, they cry.  They try to get our attention so we will meet their need.  As parents, wither we meet these needs quickly and sensitively, or we don't.  The first step in normal, healthy human development is to develop secure attachment relationships and learn to trust other human beings.  The foundation for this is built in infancy.

Your child needs to be able to trust that you will always be there when they need you, and that you are going to respond to their cries.  They must learn that their needs are important, and this is the basis of good self esteem later in life.  They must learn that when they have a need, you are not going to deny them what they need.  But in our society, from the very beginning of a child's life, we do the best we can to mold them to OUR schedule, our lifestyle, our desires.  For our own convenience, we impose what WE want on our children. 

We believe that, as parents, it's our job to mold our child into something.  A good citizen, a good Christian, an obedience child.  But that's not our job. 

Our job is to support our child as they discover who they want to become.  It's not our job to dictate to our children who they are going to become or what they are going to believe. 

We need to start our children out in life affirming their worth and dignity, affirming they right to control their own lives, and affirming our complete and total acceptance of them. 

As children grow, they will start to become less dependent on us and will want to assert their independence.  They will want to make decisions about their own lives.  We need to let them.  Yes, they are going to make mistakes.  It's better for us to allow them to experiment and makers mistakes while we are still there to provide a safety net than to make them wait to practice their independence until they are on their own and they have no safety net.  That's your job as a parent:  you provide the safety net. 

It's wrong for us as parents to try and prevent our kids from making mistakes.  Failures are how we lean.  Do you remember being a child or a teen and feeling like your parents didn't trust you to take care of yourself?  We need to instill in our children the confidence to believe in their own abilities, but not pressure them to always make the right choices. 

You might remember from my page on staying mentally healthy this statement:  It's ok to be wrong.  Why do we think that always making the "right" choices is so important?  Mistakes are OK, and just a part of learning and growing.  Don't make your child feel they are a second class citizen for making mistakes.  It's better for them to make those mistakes while you are there to help them pick up the pieces, than for them to make them later on when they are on their own and perhaps have no help to put their lives back together.

What we DON'T want is for kids to grow up into adults that don't value their own thoughts, feelings and beliefs as valid.  We don't want adults who turn to substitutes like alcohol, drugs, sex, money or any other substitute for self esteem and drawing strength of shared relationship.  We don't want adults who think it's wrong to follow their own inner voice.  We want adults who know how to value themselves and others because they themselves have been grown up in a circle where they have been valued. 

You can't value someone when you are trying to control them.  You can provide opportunities to influence and model for others, but you can't and shouldn't try to control others.  Normal human development involves trying out alternatives, picking what works for you, and feeling respectful of what you have chosen for yourself as well as respectful of what others have chosen for themselves.  This healthy self esteem beings in how human beings are treated by their parents, teachers, and other mentors. 

If we are not careful in the way we speak to and treat our children, we will have children that grow up believing our institutional myths.  When people believe in and internalize their society's institutional myths, they will waste a lot of time living in a way that invalidates their own thoughts and feelings.  They will live a life of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.  We can avoid this by starting now to change how we treat our children, our spouses, our co-workers, and everyone else in our lives.  We can start to develop healthy partnership relationships

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Why Not Use Substitutes?

There has been a lot of research lately which is looking at the biological effect that a mother has on her child.  As a result of skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby, the amount of certain hormones in the infant's body increases, which causes protein synthesis to increase.  What this means is that, as a result of the touch of a mother, a baby will gain weight 50% faster; infants who receive high levels of touch each day also have more of a sense of where their bodies end and other people or objects begin; they are better able to orient their bodies because they are able to understand space and their place in it; they also seem to be less startled by sudden noises, and are more in control emotionally.  So there are both physical and emotional benefits to a high level of physical touch.  Babies need to be held a lot, and for those times when you need to use your hands, a sling is the best thing.  Babies do not receive all these benefits when they spend a lot of time in swings, infant carriers, or lying in bed.  They were designed to be held.

Babies also respond differently when held by their mothers than they do when held by anyone else.  Babies have been found to prefer the sound of female voices over male voices, and they prefer the voice of their own mother over other female voices.  No one else can care for a baby in a way that is as beneficial as the way his mother will care for him.  Just her very presence is therapeutic.

Mothers benefit from spending large quantities of time with their infants.  When infants are carried a lot, either in arms or in a sling, when they are fed at mother's breast, sleep with mother, and play with mother, mother comes to know the child intimately; there is a relationship of closeness there that cannot be duplicated any other way.  Mother comes to know what is right for her child because she has spent time with the child; alternative caregivers can care for the child's immediate survival needs, but that is all.  They do not have the intimate knowledge of the child which is necessary for his optimum physical and emotional development.

Also, mother's milk has no other substitute.  No formula can ever come close.  As the child grows and his nutritional needs change, mother's milk also changes in composition to meet his needs.  I will not go into a lengthy discussion of breastfeeding and it's merits; that information isfound on other pages.  But one crucial element in keeping your milk supply up is frequent stimulation of the breast by letting the child drink whenever he is hungry or thirsty.  The more bottles are substituted for mother's breast, the more the milk supply will decrease.  Also, the more pacifiers are used and the child is diverted from his need to eat frequently, the more this effects the milk supply adversely.  As parents, we want our children to draw strength and comfort from their relationship with us, not from an inanimate object like a pacifier, stuffed toy, or blanket.  There is also some evidence that children who have been seriously attached to a transitional object are more likely to develop an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia later in life.  The use of a transitional object is considered an emotional crutch to help the child deal with situations in their lives which are too emotionally taxing for them to handle.    Because they are forced to "mother" themselves at times when they need emotional support, they do not develop high levels of self-esteem and therefore develop an image of themselves that is faulty, which leads to eating disorders.

I am sure you would want your children to rely on their relationship with you as their strength to help them cope with problems rather than turn to alcohol, drugs, sexual relationships, food, money, and other substitutes to help them cope with life, as many people do today.  They learn to manipulate their environment themselves in order to cope, when what they should do is rely on their relationships for strength.  Their relationship with themselves, with those who love them, and with spiritual higher power.

If I am upset, what should I do -- go get drunk so I don't feel upset anymore, or seek out someone with whom I have a shared relationship to help me?

In the same way, if our child is upset, what should we do?  Give them a blanket or a stuffed toy to cling to, or allow them to be comforted through our shared relationship?

If my child is fussy and crying, should I give him a pacifier to keep him quiet, or should I try find out what his need is and meet it?  Even the word, PACIFIER, has a negative connotation.  To pacify someone is not to meet their true needs, but simply to subdue them, to control their reactions.  When pacifiers are used, the true underlying problem is never addressed.  Children learn to avoid solutions to their problems by relying on the pacifier; they learn to ignore their emotional needs and meet them in illegitimate ways.

In short, there is no substitute for mother, at least not when children are small.  As they get older, gain more experience, and feel more emotionally secure, they will be able to spend time away from mother - with father, or other adults and children.  For now, accept their dependence on you as a God-given survival mechanism.

Why breastfeed instead of using bottles?  If the preceeding discussion wasn't enough to convince you, how about this verse?  "I learned to trust in you even at my mother's breast."  (Psalm 22:9).  Breastfeeding mothers hold their babies differently from bottle-feeding mothers; they receive more skin-to-skin contact; they spend more time looking into mother's face; they receive more intellectual stimulation, and their IQ is higher because the chemicals in breast milk stimulate brain growth (this has been verified by research).  Why give your baby a substitute that has been proven to produce inferior development?

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Why Not Let Them "Cry It Out"?

Before your baby was born, he or she was in constant physical contact with you.  There was no reason for he or she to be afraid.  After a baby is born, however, he or she is frequently separated from mother, at least in this culture (United States) and at this time in history (The year 2003).

An infant or young child requires the presence of mother to mediate his or her experiences.  This means that the child relies on the presence of mother to help him or her cope with changes in his/her environment.

A parent who responds consistently and sensitively to their child's cries and tries to meet their child's physical needs creates an emotional attachment.  This emotional attachment is vital to the child's normal physical, emotional, and spiritual development.  A child whose needs are met consistently and sensitively gets the message that he is loved, that he is an important person worthy of being cared for.

Conversely, when a child has a need and you do not tend to it quickly, that child comes to distrust you at a very basic level.  An infant has no concept of could wait ten minutes while they cry, and to them it's the same as ten hours.  They just know that they are cold, hungry, uncomfortable, frightened, and that you DID NOT COME.  In my opinion, an infant should be immediately picked up when they cry.  When a child is a little older, say 12 to 18 months old, they might be able to wait a minute or so, and then the crying will escalate.  When a child is a little older than this, say 2 to 2 and 1/2 years old, they can probably wait 5 minutes.  But they need to know from experience that YOU WILL BE THERE.

When a baby or toddler is tended to quickly, they learn that they don't have to cry much to get a response.  When a baby or toddler is NOT tended to quickly, they learn that they must cry harder, and harder, and louder, and louder, to get your attention.  This sets up an unhealthy pattern.  After all, if you spoke to me and I didn't answer you, the first time you might think it was a mistake or that I didn't hear you.  If it happens over and over, you will come to the conclusion that I am not interested in answering you.  It would be very rude of me to do that.

Why is it that what is accepted as rude when done to an adult is acceptable when done to a child?  In the words of Dr. Williams Sears, responding sensitively and quickly to your child's cries teaches them "to cry better."  Their cries are less irritating and softer.  But if you let the child's cry escalate, it will become irritating and will actually create a situation in which you resent your baby.  But it's not the baby's fault, it's yours!  He's only trying to tell you what he needs; he is exercising his autonomy, but you are not acknowledging it.

When your child cries, trust that your child knows what he needs, and try to meet that need as quickly and sensitively as possible.

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The Bible Does NOT Teach Spanking

Read the first five books of the Bible, which we call the Books of Law, the Pentateuch, or the Torah.  This is the Law which God gave to Moses and which he intended the children of Israel to live by.  What is mentioned in these five books about childrearing and discipline?

Deuteronomy 1:39 says "And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad--they will enter the land.  I will give it to them and they will take possession of it."

From this we learn that young children do not know good from bad.  Their actions are not intentionally defiant or disobedient.  The reason these children could enter the land is that they were considered guiltless.  They were not held accountable for the evil acts of their parents, nor for their own acts at such a young age.  We must conclude from this passage that the now-popular doctrine of "original sin" was developed during modern times and was not a part of the understanding of God's people at the time of the writing of the Book of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."

This passage injoins the parent to give verbal instruction to their children, and to use every opportunity to impress God's commands upon them.  He also encouraged us to give our children visible reminders of God's expectations and promises.

According to Jewish scholars, the Torah rejects both of the following extreme parenting ideas:  the idea that children must be taught rules and punished when they fail to keep them, and the idea that all discipline is terrible for a child's self-esteem.  The idea is that harsh words should be used in the beginning, to delineate for the child where the line is drawn, so to speak, so they know the boundaries they are expected to respect.  Then, if the child does not respect those boundaries, gentle words should be used to win the child over (1).  The Rabbi states that "The Talmud prohibits spanking an older child, b'no gadol, based on v'lifnei iver lo sitein michshol.  The child may rebel and sin, and the parent is responsible for that sin."  Rav Wolbe claims that today, striking a three-year old causes a michshol, a stumbling block, and is prohibited.  "Even if a child is not bar mitzvah, if, because of his nature, there is a reasonable chance that he will rebel with words or deeds, and ultimately curse or strike his parent, it is prohibited to hit him. Rather, one must persuade him with words."

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says "If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town.  They shall say to the elders, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious.  He will not obey us.  He is a profligate and a drunkard.'  Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death.  You must purge the evil from among you.  All Israel will hear of it and be afraid."

This passage is instruction given to parents whose GROWN child has become a profligate and a drunkard.  A profligate was someone who spent all his money on riotous living, like the Prodigal Son of Luke 15:11-32.  The purpose of the stoning was not to change the behavior of this adult child, but to purge evil from the house of Israel.  The parents said that their discipline had not changed his behavior, so now he had to be punished.  That is the difference between discipline and punishment.  A child is disciplined while there is still hope of him changing.  Punishment is a final judgement of God against a person when there is no longer any hope of changing his heart.  Punishment is not a form of discipline, and this stoning is not an example of discipline.  In discipline, we show grace to the child.  In punishment, God shows justice.

As parents, we are required to show to our child the same grace in discipline that God has shown us.  Since we no longer live under the Old Law, punishment is something we cannot embrace.  That does not mean we do not discipline at all, but simply that we do not punish as part of that discipline.

Think about this father and mother in the example above.  They knew that stoning would end the life of their child.  No matter what a child has done, a mother always loves her child and wants the best for him.  Before taking their child to the elders of the city, they would have tried every possible loving method of discipline.  They would not have taken their child there if there had been any hope that he would change.  Knowing that children are often impetuous in their youth, but often grow out of this as they mature, they would have brought the child up until he was an adult, always hoping he would heed their discipline and change.  Only when he was an adult would such an extreme measure be taken.  This kind of treatment would never have been given a child.

These three passages constitute everything God said to the children of Israel specifically about parenting.  You will notice that while they are told to discipline, spanking or the use of the "rod" is not mentioned anywhere in the books of Law.  Parents were allowed to decide individually what kind of discipline was best for their special and unique child.  The were NOT taught that spanking was required.

Christians who maintain that spanking is manditory discipline for children are applying a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting which is in contradiction to Proverbs 22:6.  In this passage, the original text indicates that we are to parent children according to their God-given inborn design.  We are to respect their individual differences and train them accordingly.  Spanking is not necessary or desirable in most cases where discipline is required, and is certainly not manditory to good Christian parenting.  Again, the Rabbi states:

"The essence of education, however, is planting, enabling a child to develop in his own way, to utilize his own strengths and character traits, to grow on his own. This is "chanoch lana'ar al pi darko," educate a child according to his own way. As the Vilna Ga'on comments, forcing a child against his nature, even if successful at first, is a recipe for unmitigated disaster." (1)

I include these comments by the Jewish Rabbi's so that we can see just how Judaism interprets these scriptures, perhaps differently than Christians do.

Many Christians point to Hebrews 12:5-6 which says "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he scourges everyone he accepts as a son."  The writer of Hebrews was quoting Proverbs 3:11-12 which makes this same statement.  They point to the word "scourges" (also translated disciplines, chastises) and say that this is the same kind of scourging Paul received when he was beaten, perhaps the same kind of scourging Jesus received before he was crucified.

There are two ways you can take this passage, literally and metaphorically.  If you take the passage literally, you are saying that you believe that each child should be physically scourged and beaten in the same way Paul and Jesus were.  These beatings often resulted in a bleeding and bruised body for the recipient.  I don't believe that those who advocate spanking would say that children ought to receive this kind of scourging, which would be physically damaging to the child.  So we are forced to conclude that this passage is used metaphorically.

God doesn't actually beat us up with a whip; he does use the circumstances of our lives to discipline us.  This is what he expects us to do with our children as well.  There are many creative and effective ways of guiding children toward right behavior without using spanking or any other form of discipline that would hurt them.

A Definition of "Discipline"

My way of defining discipline is simply that it is a framework which provides motivation for right behavior.  Once the frame of a house is set upon the foundation, the builders are pretty much committed to a particular shape and style of house.  While our foundation is, of course, Jesus Christ, the framework which we use to shape the house is called Attachment Parenting.

When a child is parented according to attachment parenting principles, he has learned to trust his parents because of their consistently sensitive care of him.  He intuitively trusts what they say, and is easier to discipline.  The discipline is based upon their intimate relationship, and his dependence upon it.  When there is a "break" or disruption in the attachment relationship caused by the child's behavior, he is highly motivated to re-establish the security and intimacy of that relationship.  He does not like the feeling of having physical or psychological space put between him and the parent.  He will change his behavior in order to come back into a right relationship with the parent, which means he can once again enjoy the physical and emotional comfort and security that this relationship provides.

This is exactly what God does when we sin.  He does not leave us in the sense that he stops caring for us, but he does break fellowship with us until we have repented.  This is what we as parents should do.  We still continue to care for the needs of our child, but we withdraw fellowship from him.  This is so uncomfortable for him emotionally that he quickly seeks to change his behavior and repent.

Trust is based upon the meeting of physical needs.  A child who does not trust his parents to take care of him will not respect their guidance and discipline either.  By not using attachment parenting principles, parents are forced into a position where they must use more aggressive disciplinary techniques.

When a child misbehaves, the first question to ask is, "What need does my child need that I have ignored or overlooked?"  or "What aspect of our shared relationship has been violated?

Some researchers believe that over 50% of the adults currently incarcerated in prisons are there as a direct result of disturbed attachment relationships or complete attachment breaks during childhood.  Each person needs to be part of a healthy, shared attachment relationship to develop normally.  Spanking is one avenue for introducing attachment breaks into the internal working model, though it is not the only avenue.  When a child is spanked, even though the rest of his experiences with his parents are positive, an unknown element has been introduced into his world which causes him to question his parents.  Spanking causes the child to feel disrespected on a very basic level.  This effects different children in different ways, depending on their individual temperaments.  You never know how it is going to effect your particular child.

In my opinion, with so many other effective disciplinary methods, spanking is undesirable and rarely needed.  Also, since spanking was not specifically commanded in the Law of Moses, it was not something God expected them to do.  Since the New Testament is based upon disciplining with grace, spanking would not be in harmony with New Testament teaching.

One final verse which often gives parents trouble is the verse "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him" (Proverbs 13:24).   The word "rod" is used in various ways in scripture, and in the original Hebrew there were eight to ten different meanings for the word.  The pole that shepherds used to guide their sheep along the road was called a rod.  It was not used to hit the sheep, but to guide them as they walked and keep them on the road.  This would correspond to the framework we talked about earlier.  It is simply a guide.  The shepherd also had a large club called a rod which he used to drive away predators, but it never was used to hit the sheep.  God also spoke of the "rod of my mouth" which he used for discipline also.  In short, the rod was any article or method used to guide, teach, or discipline.  It did not have to be a physical method, either, or God could not have used his mouth as a rod.

The verse is correct in that, if you do not provide discipline for your child, he will learn to behave badly.  But the rod in this verse is not specifically referring to spanking, but to any disciplinary method which gets the job done.

Many parents prefer spanking because it's quick and easy, and gets the behavior stopped right away.  But children learn through modeling, and though spanking does show the child that you disapprove of this behavior, it does not teach what is right behavior.  We can find a similar analogy with the Old and New Testaments.  In the Old Law, there was a standard, and people were expected to live by the standard.  Just because people knew the Law and that they would be punished for disobeying it, that did not keep the people from disobeying.  In the New Testament, we are given the Holy Spirit to empower us to live righteously.  Yet, we expect our children to obey with only the threat of punishment to keep them from sinning.  If it did not work in the Old Law, it will not work now.  Indeed, we have been given a more excellent way.  We need to teach them from the standpoint of an inner knowledge of rightness rather than an externally imposed law.  We need to teach them to be Spirit-led believers, not Pharisaical lawkeepers.  Most importantly, we need to model grace to them in every encounter we have.
I highly recommend Family Effectiveness Training as a way to learn how to get our children's cooperation through respect, and without punishment or rewards.  We teach FET classes regularly at the Center for Unhindered Living.

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1.  Willig, Rabbi Mordechai.  V'Higadta L'Vincha.

Personal Bill of Rights

Every man, woman, and child has the following rights by virtue of the fact that they exist.

These are reasonable and ordinary expectations, which create appropriate boundaries.

I have the right to make my own choices.

I have the right to follow my own values and standards,
as long as I am not abusive towards others.

I have a right to dignity and respect.

I have a right to all of my feelings.

I have a right to express myself as long as
I am not abusive toward others.

I have a right to determine and honor my own priorities.

I have a right to recognize and accept my
own value system as appropriate.

I have a right to have my needs and wants respected by others.

I have the right to say no when I feel I am not ready, unsafe,
or that it violates my values (this goes for kids too...they have
the right to say "no" to their parents)

I have the right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect.

I have the right not to be responsible for others behavior,
actions, feelings or problems.

I have a right to be uniquely me, without feeling I'm not good enough.

I have the right to make decisions based on my
feelings and judgment for any reason.

I have the right to change my mind at any time.

I have the right to my personal space and time needs.

I have the right to be flexible and be comfortable with doing so.

I have the right to be in a safe, non-abusive environment.

I have the right to forgive others and forgive myself.

I have the right to give and receive unconditional love.

I have the right to enjoy being sexual and celebrate my sexuality.

I have the right to my own spiritual beliefs and to celebrate them.

I have the right to grieve when I don't get what I need.

I have the right to grieve when I get something
I didn't need or want.

I have the right to joyfully receive without feeling guilty.

I have a right to healthy relationships of my choice.

I have the right to be angry with someone I love.

I can take care of myself, no matter what.

I have the right to be, and can be, healthier than those around me.

I have the right to trust others who earn my trust.

I have the right to terminate conversations for any reason.

It is OK to be relaxed, playful and frivolous.

I have a right to expect honesty from others.

I have the right to change and grow.

I have the right to follow my own path.

I have the right to be happy.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Aware Parenting

Aware Parenting is an approach we were first made aware of by Dr. Aletha Solter, a Swiss-American developmental psychologist who studied with Jean Piaget.  She founded the Aware Parenting Institute as a way to promote her views and assist parents in developing a more healthy parenting style which takes into account the needs of the child and encourages healthy expressions of emotion.  It is also based upon attachment parenting principles, and so I was delighted, after reading her books and becoming familiar with the principles, to begin teaching Aware Parenting..  

Of course, it is always good to be wary of experts coming around with new "methods".  However, I can't really say that Dr. Solter "invented" this "method" or that it's new, because if you just pay attention to your child, your child will tell you what he or she needs, and that's what this approach is all about.  This kind of approach is as old as time itself.  It's just that we, in our "modern" mindset, think that we must come up with new ways for parents to manipulate the situation to get kids to do what we want.  There is no manipulation in this approach, by either parent or child.  There is simply listening, and loving, and respecting each other.  Of course, Dr. Solter does present this approach with new and very thorough research from the last five to ten years which clearly demonstrates the appropriateness of this approach.

Of course, you have to be willing to respect your child for this approach to work.  You have to be willing to let your child take at least partial responsibility for his or her own life.  You are just there to support, guide and assist them as needed.  If all you want is an obedient child who does what you want when you order him to, then this is not the approach for you.  The question is, do you want a child who thinks for himself, directs his own behavior from within without the need for punishment or rewards, respects himself and others, is compassionate to others, and does not repress his feelings so he needs therapy when he grows up?   Of course, that's the kind of child that I want. 

This approach simply helps us remember something we've forgotten:  we all have feelings, and we all have the right to feel the way we feel.  That doesn't mean we have the right to call someone names or punch them out because we are feeling bad, but we have the right and need to express our feelings about what has happened to us.

For instance, let's say I have planned a trip.  I am going away for a few days to someplace relaxing, fun and beautiful.  I really need the time away, to rejuvenate myself, to think about important decisions I need to make, to get some exercise, to spend time talking to someone who cares about my needs, to get some sunshine and fresh air, and to work through some emotional issues I've needed to think about for a long time.  Everything is planned.  I get on the plane and go to that place.  I get there and start enjoying myself, and all of a sudden I get a call saying that something's wrong at home and I have to come back.  I understand the need to return home, but I can't help but be disappointed that this experience which I need so desperately is coming to an end prematurely.  On the plane home, I hold it in.  When I get home, I go about dealing with the problems that have arisen.  That night I am home alone with my husband, partner or friend, and all of a sudden I start coming unglued.  I lose it.  I get in a fight with my partner over something insignificant, I slam the door, I throw something, I use angry words.  Then finally I melt into my partner's arms, crying and sobbing.  My partner thinks I am losing it.  What I am really doing is expressing the frustration, disappointment and sadness that has accumulated as a result of having to cut short my vacation.  My trip was more than a vacation or time to have some fun.  My vacation was going to meet a very important need for me, and now I am feeling frustrated because I don't know how I'm going to get these needs met and I am sad that all the opportunities to meet my needs are gone.  So I need to express these feelings, but I have to wait until I get in a safe place with someone who I know cares about me, and I know it's safe to express my feelings.  Then I let it all out.  After crying for a while and being held by my partner, I feel better.  I'm still sorry I had to miss out on my trip, but I feel better that I was able to express my feelings, and I am now more relaxed and able to deal with my current situation.

Now, another scenario.  You have promised your three-year-old that you are going to take him to the park to play.  He is looking forward to it very much.  He is going to get to be out in the sunshine and fresh air, he is going to get to play in the sandbox, which he loves.  You are going to help him swing high on the swings while being there to support him, which is going to help him get over his fear of swings.  He's a little scared but looking forward to it.  He knows you love him and would never let anything hurt him intentionally.  He has been looking forward to this for a long time, and it's very important to him because the last two times you were supposed to take him to the park, something came up and you didn't get to go.  Now you are there, and he is having such a great time.  He is feeling happy and full of life.  The sunshine feels so good and the sandbox is so much fun.  You haven't got to go to the swings yet.  Then your cell phone rings and you learn about a problem at home.  You run to pick your child up, grab him and go to the car.  You tell him that something has happened at home and you have to go back quickly.  First, he is afraid because he doesn't know what happened or how serious it is.  Second, he is disappointed because his special trip has been cut short.  Third, he didn't get to work out his fears on the swings, so he still has his fear about that.  Fourth, maybe his special toy which he took to the park was left there in the hurry to get back.  Fifth, mother is distracted by her worry of the situation at home, and is not giving him the emotional attention he needs.  When you get back home, you deal with the situation.  Everything calms down and everyone seems ok.  Later that night, your son wants a snack before bed, which you usually allow.  He wants a cookie, so you go to get him one.  However, there is only one cookie left, and it is broken.  You tell him this is the only cookie left, and ask if he wants it.  All of a sudden he comes unglued.  He starts crying and having a tantrum because there is only one broken cookie left.  He cries and cries very loudly, stamps his feet, falls on the ground, uses angry words, maybe even calls you names.  This continues for some time.  You simply look on because you are confused about what has brought this about, and you don't know what to do.  Your child continues this until he melts in your arms, sobbing.  After a few minutes, his tears dry up, he eats the broken cookie, and happily goes to bed, kissing you goodnight.

Now, what is the fundamental difference in these two scenarios?  Only the names and places have changed,  The difference is, when you as an adult have your meltdown, it's acceptable, but when your child has his tantrum, you tend to not be so accepting of this.  Some parents might reprimand or punish this child for having a tantrum.  We might tell him he's being bad or there's nothing to cry about.  We might go to the store and buy another box of cookies to try and assuage his disappointment.  We might think in our minds that what he is crying about is not very important, while our situation with missing our vacation was more important because it involved important issues for you.  Well, let me tell you, all the issues we have mentioned above are VERY important issues for a child.  Disappointment and sadness are no less uncomfortable for children than they are for adults, no matter what caused those feelings. 

The point is, we all have a right to our feelings, and to be able to express them.  Crying and expressing our emotions is the way we heal from stress and trauma.  When we are not able to do this, we repress our feelings and this can manifest itself later as emotional and behavioral problems.   Just because you as an adult are able to pick up and go on and continue to function doesn't mean a child can.  He needs to work through his feelings RIGHT NOW, and not suppress them to a later time.  We as adults need to be mindful that we should not allow our busy schedule or meeting our own needs to interfere with the child when he needs to meet his.  Children will heal immediately from stress and trauma when they happen if we allow them to cry and rage about it RIGHT THEN, when it's happening.

In Aware Parenting, we honor our child's needs and try to meet them, and when a child experiences stress or trauma of any kind, we honor their need to cry or rage to work out their feelings.  We also honor their need to do this over and over until they have done enough crying to deal with their feelings.  They may also use laughter or work out their feelings through symbolic play.  Even if the child has a tantrum in order to heal themselves, we do not reprimand them for having such feelings and behavior.   Tantrums are not misbehavior, they are healing to the child, and should not be discouraged.

We adults often do not understand that the little things are very stressful for children.  We will talk more about this later, as well as how hyperactivity can be a sign that children are harboring unexpressed stress and trauma.

Another aspect of childhood behavior is the "broken-cookie" phenomenon, where a seemingly insignificant and unrelated event triggers the child's need to release pent-up emotions.  In both examples above, crying was triggered by this type of event. 

Later on I will post more lessons about Aware Parenting.  For now, I recommend that you read Dr. Aletha Solter's three books, available below from

Click on the book you are interested in to see more information.

The Aware Parenting Institute, age 0-2.5,The Aware Baby

The Aware Parenting Institute, ages 2.5 to 7 or 8
Helping Young Children Flourish

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