The Art of Distraction

distraction [dih-strak-shuhn]

 The state of being distracted, mental distress or derangement, that which divides attention, or prevents concentration.

Is any one with me here?  I feel like mid-October hits and with it comes a barrage of distraction.  Being a family on an academic calendar this fall has been particularly “distracting”.  In the past month I have given and graded midterms, Bobby has completed his fall quarter and passed Greek (YAY!), we have had Octoberfest, Halloween, visits from family, a new contract with my old job, a launch of my parent consulting business AND, oh yeah, I have two small children to who I am the primary caregiver.  Did you see any problem with that list . . . I have been so distracted with my to-do’s that my children have been put somewhere on the back burner (and thus my blogging as well).

I feel bad about this.  It goes against my core beliefs as a C-3 Parent.  As I was thinking through this over the past few days, I stumbled upon a video from my dear friend and mentor Dr. Karyn Purvis.  I would invite you to listen to her words regarding being present with your child.

Insight 4: Be Fully Present from Tapestry on Vimeo.

Its funny that along with being a problem for parents because of our own mental distress and derangement,  distraction is actually a wonderful parenting tool as well.  It is another one of the tools (like time-out) that I think is misunderstood and used improperly.  We tend to use distraction for infants and toddlers: “No, don’t put the keys in your mouth, here is a toy”.  We use the T.V. as a great distractor when we need to get things done “You can watch one movie while I . . . .”.  We try to distract our children from seeing the candy and toys in the check out lane.  But these are all such passive and reactionary uses of a great parenting and teaching tool.  The truth is, using distraction can be a wonderful way for us to engage and connect with our children.

My Cady is trouble…and I mean that in the kindest of ways.  She gets into things, she wants to be a part of the action, when I say no she does it faster, harder or louder.  She is a spitfire.  As such, distraction is a primary way I can connect wither her and encourage positive behaviors.   This morning Cady wanted to turn off the T.V.  Really she just wanted to push some buttons.  A passive approach to distraction would have been to give her a toy and lead her away from the T.V.  An active approach would be to get down next to her, say “wow, those buttons are neat”, and walk with her in the other room to find another toy with buttons.  At this point we sit down and talk about pushing buttons and that they turn things on and off, make noises, and even play music.  Next time she wants to push a button she knows where to go.

I know this takes more time, it doesn’t really just get my child out of my way and keep them from getting in trouble BUT it meets there need to connect, it allows for exploration and learning, and it promotes positive behavior through coaching.  Cady will keep pushing buttons (literally and figuratively) but I hope that I can gently guide her to understand which buttons are appropriate to push and which ones can only be pushed with permission.  I don’t want to squelch her interest with distraction, I want to guide her.

I have to acknowledge that I am a blackberry carrying mom, my MacBook is open and read to go most hours of the day, and I, sadly, allow the T.V. to be on way to often in my home.  I don’t want to be a distracted and reactive mom.  I want to be connected and proactive with my children.

Join me this week in unplugging at least ONE HOUR every day this week.  Email me or post back how it went.


Posted in adoption, Compassion, Consistency, Distraction, Empowered to Connect, Karyn Purvis, parenting | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Embracing Tantrums

tantrum noun  [ˈtæntrəm] (often plural)

 A childish fit of rage; outburst of bad temper

Fall has hit St. Louis, and along with the beautiful changing colors of leaves, the cool breeze and, at least today, the overcast skies and rain, have come a new level of tantrums.  This of course has made me think.  Tantrums are an interesting and, like many of the things I write about, widely misunderstood and mis-parented aspect of toddlerhood.  Parents hate tantrums, we become flustered, embarrassed and want to magically get them to disappear.  Sometimes we fight fire with fire, allowing our child’s “fit of rage” to flame one of our own.  Other times we nonchalantly try to ignore the tantrum all the while questioning whether we are doing the right thing as our child maliciously tears his room to pieces and yells violently.

Tantrums cause us to questions ourselves as parents, they make us wonder if our child will ever be ok, we desperately seek answers.  We cross our figures and hope that our child will outgrow this phase at 3, or 4, or maybe 6.  All the while, have we ever considered the purpose of tantrums?  Have we embraced that they may be a sign that our child is learning and growing?  Could it be possible that the ugly gut reaction to the way we are handling tantrums might be a sign that we do need to re-think the way we parent? I am hoping that you might consider starting to embrace tantrums rather than run from them.

Let me note again: my children have tantrums.  They have some BIG tantrums.  Cadence has become a drama queen who throws herself violently on the floor.  Taking away a toy, not allowing her to play in the outlet, or putting her down before she so desires all trigger a forced cry to which even Maddie says “is not so that bad Cades.”  Madeleine has a blood curdling scream that neighbors three buildings down can hear. Due to some of her sensory issues, even the thought of putting on a pair of pants a seam in the wrong place can equal a half hour session of meltdown and than another 20 minutes of recovery. They both drive me nuts at times.  However, I have found that I can react to these tantrums in a calm and neutral way when I consider the foundations of tantrums in child development and neuropsychology.  Let me explain further.

According to Erik Erikson (a Developmental Theorist), children develop through a series of ongoing psycho-social crises.  What this means is that as a child grows, they are navigating through some set dilemmas.  As an infant Erikson proposes that children are learning to either trust people and the world around them OR they develop a global sense of mistrust.  I child who does not resolve this successfully resolve on trust will have trouble navigating the subsequent stages.  Next, Erikson proposed that a toddler deals with the issue of autonomy (being my own person, having a voice and opinion) versus shame/doubt (I don’t matter, no one listens to my thoughts, I’m never right).  Let’s think about this crisis in terms of tantrums.  A tantrum is a frustrated child trying to get their voice heard, to express their dissatisfaction in hopes that someone will listen (and fix) the problem.

Now, from a neuropsychology perspective, a tantrum a a sudden overtaking of the lower two brain systems (the limbic and survival systems) when a is reacting to a perceived threat.  What does this mean (a good Lutheran question)?  When you re-direct a child from danger he may interpret this as a threat to his survival and his brain will take over either in terms of rage (the emotional limbic system) or in terms of fight, flight or freeze (the survival system).  A child in either of these two states is not capable of reason.  This is why sermonizing or threatening does not work mid-meltdown (I question whether these are ever good tactics).  We have to calm the system before we can move on to a resolution.

Here comes the issue, if we always ignore the tantrum, we tell the child that her voice is not heard.  She could resolve in shame/doubt.  We may escalate the emergency response system in the brain.  HOWEVER, if we give in as an attempt to placate, we give the message that this child is in control and that screaming and yelling are the best way to get your way.  We are saying in effect, “be as out of control as you need to be and then mommy will fix it”.  We are not encouraging self regulation.  The solution:  Compassion and Calibration.   We listen and hear the child’s need.  We reflect the feeling and then, with a calm presence (or an attempted calm presence) we affirm and re-direct.  We do this sensitively and adjust based on the situation and our child.

My example for today:  Cady wanted Maddie’s big girl cup of chocolate milk.  She can’t have it.  I took it away.  She threw herself on the floor in a rage.  I have options:

 My  knee jerk response:  Say sarcastically “Cady, give me a break”.

 My marshmallow response:  Give her the milk.  

 My C-3 Parenting response, “Cady its frustrating to be the little sister sometimes.  Use your words and say Please and mommy can get you your own cup”.

 Resolution:  She continued to cry, I went through the routine two more times, and she finally looked up with tears and said “Peesee”.  I got her milk.  She didn’t want it and threw her cup at Maddie :).

Tantrums are not always about a spoiled child (although they can be).  They are about a new independent little person emerging from what once was a very dependent infant.  They are about a child learning that getting your way isn’t done by forcing but is accomplished through socially appropriate behavior.  They are about learning that sometimes the answer is no (and that just stinks).   They are about learning that mom and dad (and grandma and grandpa) are the boss…fair and kind bosses….but still the boss.  Finally, they are about an opportunity to teach and guide your child through their toddler Eriksonian crisis so that with Autonomy behind them, they can take on the next challenge:  Initiative vs. Guilt.

If we don’t fully embrace the tantrum stage and skillfully parent our child through them, we could end up with one of two problems:

1.  The spoiled child who throws a fit to get what they want and a parent who feels that his child runs the show.

2.  The angry child who continues to tantrum past the toddler years because of their deep seated frustration at not having a voice with a parent who is increasingly angry with the child.

Either one of these creates a preschooler that is difficult to manage and a parent who is tired and at wits end.  I don’t want this for any of you.

Your homework for the week:

Embrace your child’s tantrums as an opportunity to shine as a C-3 Parent.  Email me or post your experience here!  I’d love to hear about your adventures in parenting as well.

Posted in Calibration, Compassion, Emotion Regulation, mom, motherhood, parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I Quit Time-Out

time–out noun \ˈtīm-ˈau̇t\

a brief suspension of activity : a break; a quiet period used especially as a disciplinary measure for children

I have been deeply conflicted about time out for a while.  As a positive, non-violent, non-corporal punishment advocating professional I have taught many classes about time out.  I have given the guidelines:  one minute per year of age, child sized straight back chair, put it somewhere boring, set an egg timer, if they run out put them back and re-start the timer.  But to be honest….I don’t like time out.   I feel like what we have done to time out in America does a disservice to the actual goal of a time out.  We have created a punishment out of something that really should be a regulating tool.  We have made kids thing that calming down is chastising.  Does anyone else out there have a problem with this?

I, being the emotion coaching parent that I strive to be, began to implement a “quiet place” in our home when Maddie was about 1 1/2.  We put a soft comforter on the floor in the corner at the bottom of her bed, placed pillows and beanbags there and board books for her to read.  When she would begin to become upset or I could sense a tantrum coming on I would suggest “Why don’t we go sit in the quiet place to calm down”.  I would go and sit with her, we would dim the lights and play soft music, she would sit on my lap, sometimes we would read a book.  It seemed to be working.  In fact, she began to put herself in her quiet place.  I was a proud momma.

Then we had our second child and Maddie turned two.

To be fair, I know that consistency was not as good.  I know that I was not as available.  However, the quiet place, still remained.  We would still use it.  When I asked her to go she went.  Many times I sensed that she was able to regulate enough to calm down.  Other times she stayed ten seconds and ran out, said I’m sorry, and re-engaged in a battle within minutes.  I felt that she was working the system a bit.  She would hit her sister, say “I, go to quiet place”, say I’m sorry and start in again….it is as if she weighed the consequences and decided the hit was worth it.  Had she really learned not to hit?

As my life became busier and often more short tempered life I began to try and use the egg timer.  She would scream until it would ding and come out more frustrated than before.  I started to call it “think it over” and talk to her about what she’d done and how she could do it better next time.  (Two year olds typically do not understand these parental sermons).   I would be lying if I said that these techniques were effective.  In fact, I yearn for the days of the original quiet place we had implemented in our home.  It was a beautiful time of calming and connection.

This past week I began attempting to put my firecracker Cady in “Time Out”….Yes, I even started calling it that.  It does not work.  She laughs at me.  She gets up and leaves.  She pulls hair again right away.  As I have become more punitive with timeout, it has become exponentially less effective.  As I have become less willing to do discipline work and hope that discipline works for me, I have become less effective.

Tomorrow is a new day and the “Quiet Place” is returning.  Maddie, Cady and I will become re-aquainted with an old friend (who Cady only knew while in utero).  I am taking a pledge to use the Quiet Place as a mutual self regulating tool that teaches my daughters to stop and think before they react.  I want them to know that they can go there on their own.  That there is a safe place for even the scariest and saddest of feelings and that through it all I am here to coach them through it.

We all need a quiet place not a time out.


Posted in Compassion, Consistency, Emotion Regulation, parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Being a Working Mom/Stay at Home Mom isn’t the Problem

I am in Week 6 of being a mostly stay at home mom (OK…so really I am working 4 hours a week out of the home and 10 hours a week in the home…but still more stay at home than I ever have previously) and here is my swan song:  Staying at Home isn’t any easier than working outside the home.

To be honest, I already knew that it was hard and, in fact, was pretty sure that my part time work as a parent educator was actually good for me as a parent.  Working outside the home gave me a break, gave me time to connect with adults, gave me a time to feel like I was contributing to society more than changing diapers and cleaning up gold fish.  I have learned in the past few weeks that perhaps working was actually taking me away from many of the day to day nuances of my children’s personalities and behaviors.  I was distracted by my to-do lists and often checking my email and phone for work updates.  I wasn’t always emotionally present for my children’s needs.

NEWS FLASH:  Staying at home doesn’t necessarily change that.

Now I am distracted by needing to clean up the mess that is continually being made, by the stacks and stacks of laundry and by the constant desire to check in on Facebook and Twitter (more on that issue in a later post).  I am still feeling like I am not doing enough and not necessarily getting the one on one, down and dirty interaction time that my children desire so desperately.  The truth is being a working mom wasn’t the reason I was feeling guilty and sometimes ineffective as a C-3 Parent. . . being distracted is the problem.

So to all of my friends, colleagues, and random blogging connections, let’s quit playing comparison.  Talking about why staying at home is better for our children and that working moms are the reason for issues in today’s world, the issue is distracted parents who lack connection to their children and their needs, who are so tired and consumed with themselves that they can’t meet their child with compassionate responses, and who have inconsistent lives that make parenting consistently impossible.  Let’s stop pointing fingers and debating whose life is harder….being a parent is HARD…..regardless of your work schedule.

Bottom line_Let’s become encouragers of each other.  Let’s offer words of support.  Let’s share our stories and strive to become C-3 parents (the best we can be).  Let’s offer each other some compassion and grace (isnt’ this what we want to model to our children anyway). And Finally, let’s focus on our children, rather than comparing ourselves to each other.

Have an awesome week!  Your homework: Spend at least 1 hour a day unplugged from distractions and plugged into your children.

Posted in Calibration, Consistency, Distraction, mom, motherhood, parenting, Stay at Home Mom, Uncategorized, Working Mom | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Involved grandparents can make life grand



Involved grandparents can make life grand |

Read a great article that I consulted on.  Yay for involved grandparents.

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Why Rules?

rule [r-oo-l]

A usual, customary, or generalized course of action or behavior 

As life has finally settled down and our family is adjusting to the new pace and routine of life, I can finally re-establish my life in the blogosphere!  I’ve missed you all and am glad to be back reflecting on my own parenting journey and (hopefully) encouraging you in yours.

I often talk about family rules, what they are, why they are important etc.  Yet, I have to admit, I really dislike the term RULE.  When you look up a dictionary definition the tone that is expressed is one of oppression, dominance and control.  Let me clarify that when I talk about rules I mean to imply none of the aforementioned concepts.  If I was to re-name rules I would prefer to call them behavior guidelines OR as my dear friend Dr. Purvis coined “Life Values” (see The Connected Child).  As such, I would love to share with you our own family journey on finally establishing and posting written rules.

Maddie is now a bit over 2 1/2 and Cady is about to be 16 months…we are really crossing a developmental bridge where re-direction and “no-no” have run their course and we are needing to provide more structured guidelines for behavior.   I have put hundreds of parents through the exercise of understanding rules, evaluating rules, and finally writing and posting rules in their homes and yet I, the eternal hypocrite, had not done it yet in my own (this was partially due to my children’s young ages).  I digress.

This past week I finally posted rules and consequences in my home. 

At The Parenting Center we taught four rules about rules that I think are very helpful:

1.  State them in the positive (or at least have a what to do for every what not to do)

2.  They must be enforceable (if your child does it, they must know that they broke the rule)

3.  They must be realistic (age appropriate…I cannot expect a two year old to sit still and quietly through a 30 minute meal)

4. They must be consistent (rules are rules all the time…not just when you feel like enforcing them)


Next, Rules are only helpful if you have consequences to enforce them.  I go back and forth on the best way to deal with consequences but, in general, feel that they must be consistent, they must be clear and they MUST be fair.  Writing down rules and consequences helps control the knee jerk reactions of frustration and anger when our children misbehave. Here is our “Three Strikes System”

I will write more about the details of  Think it Over another day but want to close emphasizing one thing.

I assume that most of us would claim to have rules but only about 10% actually have them written down, posted and create them/edit them on an ongoing basis as a family.  Having regulations is not enough, having a system of behavioral accountability is the goal.  It helps our children know how to treat other’s kindly, it gives them appropriate limits and it provides a predictable environment that safely and kindly guides your child toward maturity.

If you are up for the challenge try writing out your rules and consequences this week.  Post them or email them to me for feedback.

Posted in Consistency, parenting, routines | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Is Being MORE about my kids always being LESS about me?

Today as we arrived in St. Louis my Maddie was having a hard time and I, being a gem of a mom, was annoyed. After all, shouldn’t she be excited to see our new house after two days of driving? It’s not like we moved her away from everything and everyone she’s ever known or anything. Does she really have to scream and whine incessantly? Can’t she just be calm and excited? …. And then I had a gut check.

Parents, we all need “in my child’s shoes” gut checks at times. It may not be as obvious as my situation today BUT next time you child has a hard time in the grocery store check out, going to sleep, getting up, headed off to school, take a moment to think about the world from a child’s perspective.

We, as adults, have both more experiences and more cognitive capacity to work through the what if’s and what will happen next’s of this world. Our role as parents isn’t just to get our children through each step by pushing and prying, but to gently teach and guide as we go. How do we do that? Three steps (cue special agent OSO music).

1. Pause and empathatically reflect (what might my child be feeling/experiencing).

2. Listen carefully to your child’s words and actions (maddie was saying where is my bed and rubbing her eyes…something I didn’t notice until I stopped being about me)

3. Answer reflectively (Sweetie, I hear that you are tired and worried about finding a bed. Your Dora bed will be in this room tomorrow. Today we are going to a hotel to sleep. We will leave in ten minutes, do you want to sit in my lap until then?

I truly believe that many times being more about our children actually allows us to be more presently open to our own needs and experiences. We allow ourselves the experience of slowing down and reflecting rather than just mindlessly pushing through. Try it once in the next few days and let me know how it goes (for you and your child).

The end for tonight. More to come this week I am sure!

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

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