Friday, August 18, 2017

It's Simple, and It Works!

When young children don’t do what we want, we call it misbehaving. We often get upset, and then we attempt to change their behavior with various kinds of punishment from scolding to time-outs and beyond. What if we could reframe these situations in our own thinking and thereby maintain our calm, AND enact an effective method to change the child’s behavior? It is possible, and I’ll tell you how.

First of all it is important to realize that a young child is a creature of habit, even more than we are. If a child has the habit of whining, or a habit of taking toys that another child is already using, we must understand that the habit started as a strategy to get what the child wants or needs. A strategy that works is used again, and again, and again, and becomes a habit. 

Adults tend to think, “Oh, that behavior is bad, or wrong, or not appropriate, or....” But actually, the strategy is effective and successful. Actually, the strategy is good. The unfortunate part is the other person in the interaction did not like what happened.

So we adults have to start thinking, “How can I offer a different strategy for the child?”
And one way to change behavior with young children is to offer them something you would be happy if they imitated. Instead of scolding, how about if you say what you hope the child (eventually) begins to imitate?

Young children learn by imitation, and we have to learn how to work with that principle.
When a child runs into the house and leaves the door open, you can gently close the door while saying, “I like the door to be closed.”


When a child takes a toy from another, you can hold out your hand, palm up, and say, “It is his turn now.” And hand the toy back to the one who previously had it. And add, “You can have a turn next.”

You might have to do this 10 times, or 100 times, or ???? Eventually one of the children will start to say what you have been saying. As the child comes over to take the toy again, the one with the toy may say, “It’s my turn. You can have it next.”
Or the child comes over to the one with the toy and says. “Can I have a turn next?” 

It really is this simple. And it works.

It is based on you, the adult, and your calmness and understanding. This is a strategy. I can offer a new strategy. And I can use imitation as the method of teaching that new strategy.

(Here is the group of teachers and parents I worked with in Xi'an, China, earlier this month.)


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

It's Up To You

I often say ‘It is not about the child, it’s about the parent, or teacher.’
The reason is neurology.

When we are young, we develop strategies for getting our needs met. These strategies offer us some amount of feelings of safety, satisfaction or connection, and we fall back on these strategies because they work (to some degree). Strategies that we use over and over again become our habits, our reaction patterns. When stress rises up for us, when people don’t do what we want, we react. These reactions have become conditioned, patterned responses in our behavior and our neurology. From my previous posts, you can understand when I say that these habits, these reaction patterns, live in an interaction between our Reptilian Brain and our Limbic System.

Now what if it is a young child that isn’t doing what we want? First of all our reaction pattern kicks in, usually to ‘attack’ the child in some way. When we use shame as a weapon, when we blame the child or the like, we are attacking. That is what it feels like. When we punish the child in any and various ways, it is attacking.

Additionally we are using our power over the child to get what we want. We have more physical size and strength, as well as more connection to our own ‘self.’ We become a ‘bully’ toward our child. And in doing so, we are damaging the connection between us and our child.

The child reacts to this danger from the depths of his brain stem, the Reptile Brain, to alleviate the threat. Guess what? Learning is a function of the Limbic System. We want the child to ‘learn’ not to do something, but we create an impossible to learn-from situation. All he can do is protect himself, usually by retreating or freezing. The part of the brain that does learning is not active.

Our child loves us, and love is based on trust; trust in safety and connection. When we use attack reactions to get what we want, the child experiences a lack of safety and a lack of connection. When you do your reaction habit, you are not home. Your habit is in charge. Your prefrontal cortex is not in play - just your Reptile and Limbic systems.

So the child feels the love, and also feels the potential for danger, for non-safety. The love has become conditional on behavior. So the child withdraws a little each time in the face of the danger you present.

Of course we want our children to learn. Unfortunately what they are learning is our reaction techniques. They imitate us. 

What sort of example do you want to be? 
Do you want to create an environment of unconditional love for your child?

It is up to you. 
You have a prefrontal cortex. Use it, and make yourself worthy of imitation. 

Overcome your reaction patterns and be present to creating solutions in the moment.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

From My Imagination

This is a story for everyone. And especially for my children, my grandchildren and all the young children of our world.

Once there was a small pussy cat. She had white and grey stripes, and her ears were pink. Every day she walked down the path, looking at the flowers, playing with the butterflies and going about her business. 












Most days nothing troubled her, but sometimes she met an old, Grouchy Dog. He seemed like a cross between a jackal and a hyena. He didn’t like anyone, and especially anyone walking on his path, as he called it. When little Pussy walked by, he growled at her and sometimes would chase her and try and grab her and bite her. She was quick though, and always stayed out of his reach.

One day little Pussy was talking to Raccoon and she told him about Grouchy Dog.

“That dog is so grouchy. No one likes being growled at,” said Raccoon.
“And I don’t like being chased by that scary old Dog,” said Pussy.
 Rabbit said, “We have to do something. Today he is trying to grab little Pussy. Tomorrow it could be our children.”
“Yes,”said Squirrel. “It could be our children, or even us.”

The animals had a forest meeting. Many animals spoke in agreement. Some were scared. Some seemed too busy to be bothered. And some just wanted to ignore it all.
They met for a long time. Finally Fox said, “This is about all of us. It is our forest, our world. If we don’t do something, no one will. We are the ones. This is about the safety of all of us.”
“What then will we do?” said wise old Mr. Owl.
There was silence as they all thought. 

Finally, Rabbit spoke up. “What if we all wear pink pussy ears to show we care about Pussy and to show Grouchy Dog we won’t stand for this any more.”
There was silence again, but only for a moment. 
Then Mr. Owl said, “That just might work.”

Now it so happened that Raccoon was a knitter and a very good one at that. He soon had knitted pink pussy ear hats for them all. 

The next time Pussy walked down her regular path, Grouchy Dog growled at her. As soon as he started to run at her to grab her, Pussy held up her little paw and said, “Stop!”
“Why should I?” said Dog.
“Because I don’t like it.”

Raccoon stepped out from behind a tree with his pussy hat. Rabbit hopped up from behind Dog. Squirrel scampered down the tree with her pussy hat. Fox sauntered along with his pussy hat. 
Even Mama Dog and her three puppies came out , all with their pussy hats.

Grouchy Dog was surprised.

Raccoon said, “We don’t like what you are doing to our friend, Pussy.”
Fox said, “We won’t let you bother her.”
Rabbit said, “We want you to leave her alone.”
“We all want to feel safe,” said Squirrel.
And Mama Dog said, “We will always be here to protect Pussy. You can’t bother her anymore.”

Old Dog stood there and growled at them all. All the animals got closer together until they were standing shoulder to shoulder, wearing their pink pussy hats. Grouchy Dog realized they were all in it together to protect Pussy and each other, and he could not overcome them all. 
Then Rabbit said, “You can be our friend if only you will stop growling at us, and stop trying to bite us.”
Grouchy Dog thought for a minute and said, “No, I don’t think so.”

And Grouchy Dog turned around and went back to his home which was a sort of a hole in the ground. And he never bothered Pussy, or any of the other animals again. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Fear and Anger, or Hope and Love, You Choose

I think about the needs of young children a lot. I try to inspire adults towards deeper connecting with young children. I make suggestions, I advise, I encourage and I offer guidance when asked. It is both my passion and what I think will make a brighter future for us all.

This year I have seen the needs of young children take a back seat to the fear created by the angry adults we see all too often in the news. Our world is indeed in a mess but I am sure that fear and anger are not leading us to a path to renewal.

At this time of year many cultures celebrate events from the past, stories of special people from long ago. There are common themes we can glean from those powerful stories dear to various traditions including the stories of the birth and life of Jesus, the stories of the Maccabees, and stories of the return from exile of Ram. These stories  point us toward hope, resilience and love as the key to change, to our own soulful renewal.

The annual experience of the Winter Solstice gives the same picture. The days have been growing shorter and shorter leading up to the day of the Solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the longest night. And the very next day, the light begins to return. The days gradually lengthen and the nights grow shorter. The darkest night of the year is the gateway to the return of the light, the return of the Sun.

Let it shine, let it shine...What we all need is to connect with our own light. The same light that shines from the Sun and the stars lives inside each one of us. When we feel that light inside, we can live with hope and send out love into the world and to those around us.

This might seem like a lofty idea. Maybe it is, but it is something we can do. We can! The children are depending on us to show them that hope lives and love is a force of protection and transformation. Not fear and anger, but surround the children with our hope and love. Young children learn about the world, and learn how to be in the world by imitation. Give them your hope and love to imitate. Hope and love are stronger than fear and anger. Always remember that!

Every year we are reminded of this by the many celebrations in mid-winter. There are so many symbols of light overcoming the darkness, of resistance and resilience powered by hope and love. Let them into your heart. For the children. For yourself. For the world.

It’s time for change and it starts with each one of us. Each small candle casts light into the darkness. The light of many candles can illumine a darkened world. 

Let it shine, let it shine.




Wednesday, November 16, 2016

It's Time to Matter!


One of the most important things for a young child to experience are the feelings of joy and safety. The natural state of exploration and discovery that occupies most of the waking time of the young child is usually accompanied by joy, awe and amazement. This is the state of affairs that supports the natural development of physical coordination, healthy sense development and cognitive development, and many other areas of early childhood growth. 

When the child does not feel safe, development can not happen to its full extent. Play is not possible in an atmosphere of fear, and as we know, play is learning for the young child. When adults in the child’s environment are anxious and fearful, the child absorbs this too and the child is hindered in various aspects of developing capacities. Anxiety and fear create a cold environment, and development requires soul warmth based on the basic human needs of safety, satisfaction and connection being met. Where there is fear, it is hard for love to find a footing.

I think it is reasonable question to consider today how we can create an environment where our young children feel safe. Whatever one’s political opinions, it is impossible to deny that our children are experiencing a new world of people expressing their hate of other peoples. (Of course this has been going on since time immemorial, but it is magnified today.) I have heard many, many recent stories of children coming home from kindergartens asking if they will be forced to go away, or to go back where they came from. This is not a situation that anyone could feel safe in, let alone a young child.

What can loving adults do to support the children who are feeling fear? How can we help the children to feel safe? These are big questions because, in fact, many adults do not feel safe with the recent political changes in the US.

First of all, it is important to consider what you are saying when your children are present. Perhaps hold back from initiating or engaging in certain conversations when your young ones are present. Little pitchers have big ears. The children hear it all, and they do not have a way to process the information they take in. Young children are best served by a total lack of experience of news media. Wait until they are older to ride in the car listening to the news, or watching TV or internet news while your young ones are around.

Don’t deny your own feelings. The little ones already can sense your fear or sadness. If they ask, be honest about what you are feeling, yet do not go deeply into the why. The children don’t need the details. What is your own method of dealing with your own challenging feelings? Do you have an outlet, or do the feelings fester?

Most importantly, let your children know that they are safe, and that you will keep them safe. “Mommy, a boy at kindergarten said all brown people are gonna have to go away." 
“That sounds scary honey. We don’t have to go anywhere. Our friends don't have to go away. I will keep you safe.”

I saw this quoted from Mr. Fred Rogers yesterday. I think this applies to adults too. 
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world. Who are the allies and helpers? Who is standing up for what you believe in to help make this world a safer place for all of us?

One is not limited to the ‘bad’ news that our various media sources deliver. There is so much positive action being taken all around the world that can inspire us in our own daily lives. Look to the helpers and caring people who are changing the world into a kinder one that protects and supports childhood as a source of renewed enthusiasm for engaging in life!

Our children need to feel safe, and they need to experience our presence in their lives. True connecting with your young child takes action on your part to overcome the habits our consumer culture has created. It takes effort not to be overwhelmed by our own fears that the political climate has exacerbated. That effort is so important for our children’s sake. Our attention and connection with our children goes a long way toward developing feelings of safety with the world. Again I remind you to limit your use of electronic devices so they are not an obstacle to connecting with your child. Have some electronic-free time, and try to use your smart phone when your child is asleep, or otherwise engaged and you are elsewhere. 

Here is a practice from Deepak Chopra that could be helpful for connecting with inner peace in these turbulent times. 

For me, another source of strength to be able to provide a sheath of safety for the children comes from Christopher Fry’s play, A Sleep of Prisoners:

...Good has no fear;
Good is itself, what ever comes.
It grows, and makes, and bravely
Persuades, beyond all tilt of wrong:
Stronger than anger, wiser than strategy,
Enough to subdue cities and men
If we believe it with a long courage of truth.



Monday, August 15, 2016

If Your Are in Reaction Mode, You Are Your Inner Reptile


Sorry I have not done a post in a while. I just returned from a 4-week trip to China teaching a group of 60 kindergarten teachers. I had a flash of insight during one lecture and I want to share it with you!

* * * * * * * * * 

I have seen it so many times...
A parent want their child to do something (or not do something), and the child is not going along with that plan. The parent loses his or her calm and gets upset, and speaks to the child with demands, threats, shame and blame, etc...The parent wants to ‘correct’ the child’s behavior.
The result is that the child is fearful and closes off and is not available for connection. And most importantly for the parent, the child cannot learn what it is the parent was wanting to communicate. Shouting and shaming cannot teach anything, except that shouting and shaming is the way to get what you want. (See some of my previous posts on imitation as the young child’s primary learning modality.)

Let’s look at this from another angle. 

The facts:
The parent wants a certain outcome.
The child is not going along with that plan.
The parent wants the child to learn something (to do, or not do).
Parent gets upset and possibly shouts, and uses words of threat, shame and blame.
Child gets upset.
Parent feels sad and unsatisfied with the interaction.
Repeat...and repeat...until parent does something different.

From a neurological standpoint, when you ‘lose it’ you and are re-acting, you are being run by your “reptile brain.” The reptile brain is the most ancient of the neurological ‘systems and is functional in fight, flight and freeze. It’s job is survival. It is especially activated when there are safety fears.

Learning occurs in the limbic system, which also is involved in emotional bonding between parent and child, and play behaviors.

When a parent is in reaction mode, the reptile brain is in command. When a child is approached by his or her reacting parent, it feels like an attack. The child feels unsafe and fearful and so the child also switches to reptile brain to get back to safety, perhaps by defending themself, or perhaps by becoming aggressive.

When reptile brain meets reptile brain there can be no connecting, and the child cannot learn what the parent is trying to ‘teach.’ Learning happens when the limbic system is active. Executive function and creative problem solving occurs in the prefrontal cortex, or neomammalian system of the brain. We need to short circuit our reaction patterns so we can utilize our prefrontal cortex and find a response or solution to our situation.

Think about it...when you want to correct your child’s behavior, you have to maintain your calm so your child does not have the need to fight or flee (anger or withdrawal).

I am not saying to not have feelings. No, have your feelings. Surely you get angry, and sad, and more, in situations with your child. Just don’t let those feelings run you. Equanimity is the name of the game. Recognize your feelings, and do not let those feelings stimulate your reaction patterns. Think of a response to the situation to create solutions. Then you are taking advantage of the millions of years of neurological evolution that provided you with your brain. And you are offering an environment to your child where his or her limbic system can be involved and learning can take place. 

Call on your highest human neurological aspects, and thereby lead your child toward being more truly human. What do you think?


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Surrender your agenda


Your agenda can be an obstacle to connection and a harmonious life. Learning to surrender your agenda leads to more presence and acceptance. Often adults have plans and expectations about the way they want things to be. There can be an attachment to particular outcomes. When what they want doesn’t happen, old reaction patterns arise and get in the way of connection. Your agenda, your expectations and your attachment to the way you think things should be is a major cause of stress and conflict!

As I have spoken about so many times on this page, our reaction patterns are old strategies we developed when we ourselves were young children to try to get our own needs met, and to attempt to deal with stress. 

Warning: We are now entering into the dangerous territory of ‘should.’

Many adults feel more safe when they have some sense of control over their environment. That includes being able to expect what is going to happen, and how others “ought” to act. 

When our young children don’t do as they should, our agenda is compromised. When young children do what they shouldn’t we lose the feeling of safety we get by the attempt to control our environment and the people around us.

Our agenda is what we expect to come to pass, except we did not reach any agreements with other involved parties. Therefore our unspoken expectation is not agreed to, or even known about by the other party, ie. your young child. 

There are a couple things to do to prevent situations when your agenda is thwarted. You can plan ahead. Use that highly evolved brain, particularly your prefrontal cortex, and take action based on thought and planning.

For instance; you have an appointment and need to be out the door with your young child at a certain time. 

Try making sure your child is fully dressed before he or she gets engaged in play. Don’t wait until the last minute to get ready to go because surely something unexpected will arise. “Now where is that other shoe?” “Where did I put the keys?” 
Instead of demanding your young child put toys away, put them away together and make a fun activity out of it. Leave plenty of time for getting ready.

Another action you can take to eliminate the stress of your agenda not being fulfilled is to embrace chaos. Chaos is the unplanned, the unexpected and the disorderly. How much chaos can you feel comfortable with? Can we live in the chaos of not knowing what is going to happen next? When we can learn to dance with chaos instead of resisting it and trying to control it away, form can organically arise and we feel more relaxed and are more connected to our children. 

Additionally, can we consider the needs and wants of our young child when our unfulfilled agenda alarms are ringing. If we include our child in the equation, it is possible that more compassion and patience can manifest.

Learning to let go of our your agenda means giving up the struggling and holding on to trivial issues, and discovering the gifts of allowing. When we can allow life to happen, we live with an open heart, an undefended heart, and then deep connection can thrive.

Besides, who says our agenda is so important?