Thursday, November 27, 2014

Finding your expert

Often I hear parents and teachers asking, “What should I do?” in regard to various situations involving young children. It would make life much easier if there were specific answers to those questions. It would make things easier if there was a recipe book for interacting with and raising young children. There is no PDR for any aspects of early childhood. There is no ‘one way’ to do it in a given situation.

I learned a secret a long time ago. The secret is that there are 7 billion different types of human being. Each one is unique and different. No rules apply to all. No recipes can be general.

That leaves us with a big challenge. The challenge is how to figure out what is the best option in any given situation in which we find ourselves and our young ones. 

The situation for adults in our time is much different than the past. Our grandparents had a different set-up, and a harder time getting all the information that is so easily available to us. Not so long ago, multi-generational families lived in close proximity to each other. New parents had handy and experienced grandparents nearby, maybe living in the same home. And parenting methods were handed down by example from one generation to the next. Family members were born, lived, and died without traveling very far from home. The situation for new parents today is different!

New parents often are aware of methods and habits (see last post) their own parents used that these new parents do not want to repeat. They want different advice, different parenting methods and philosophies.

And for new parents of today there is so much available advice. Countless books and print magazines are available to explain and instruct in all aspects of parenting and educating young children. And then there is the internet. Instantly accessible advice is available at all hours of day and night from wherever you are. There are websites, blogs, e-books, lectures and classes, webinars and more. Don’t forget FaceBook, Twitter and all the other social media. And the perspectives are many. So many perspectives are at odds with each other, polar opposites in fact. There are many people who obsessively look to website after blog after website to find the answer to their questions only to find conflicting advice.

I just read an article by an exhausted mom describing the variety of advice she received about sleep issues and babies - it’s funny but a sad commentary on our times. One snippet - “You should start a routine and keep track of everything. Don’t watch the clock. Put them on a schedule. Scheduling will make your life impossible because they will constantly be thrown off of it and you will become a prisoner in your home.” 

Every “expert” has a different solution and, of course, the one and only right advice. So much advice that it can all make you crazy.

We live in a time of trusting the experts. It is a cultural norm to find an expert for any problem. They are ‘professional’ and know more than we do. We entrust our health care to experts. We have experts come and fix, install and replace our appliances. Experts build for us, fix our cars and bicycles and tell us how to cook. Experts train our pets and clean our windows. We need consultants for this and advisors for that. Experts know how best to raise and educate our children, how to help them through conflicts, how to eat, how to potty train and how best to relate to sleep. We have been led to believe that humans are specialists who each have an area of expertise, limited though it might be. Any confidence we might develop is thwarted by a culture that convinces us we simply don’t know enough and don’t have enough experience.

I say ‘hogwash’ to that. I am a human being which means I can have a wealth of information, skill and capacity to do most anything. And the things not yet in my skill set I can learn. I can confidently work things out to the best of my abilities and capacities, and I can see where I need to ask for support.

With so many conflicting suggestions coming from our peers, family, so-called-experts, physicians and educators, your voice - your true inner knowing - can get lost in all the noise.  

Do you know where the "best parenting advice" comes from? 
YOU. You are the foremost expert on your family and your child. 

It helps to learn about child development. When do certain aspects of physiology, and especially neurology develop, and what does that mean in the life of a child? When does a particular child truly relate to the world around her as separate from her self? What is the level of consciousness development in my child at this time?

With those as a basis, we can add in an attempt to discover our own habits and stress reaction patterns. What unconscious strategies do I use and are they helpful or hindering to truly resolving situations. Can I learn to become more responsive and less reactive?

It isn't what happens around us that matters as much as how we respond to what happens. When we can be responsive to situations and hold our understanding of the true needs of our young child in the forefront, we will know what to do. We can become confident in knowing that we know how to figure things out for ourselves. The BEST parenting advice always comes from within.

I know that I act as if I know things. In the telling folks about my ideas and observations I risk speaking as if my ideas are ‘the one and only way’ to think. I can come across as sounding like an expert about everything. 

I do not want to offer any recipes. I do want to offer my ideas and experiences, and choices I have made to help people learn to think for themselves with confidence. I wish for all of you, the readers, to choose for yourself what to do. I hope that my words can stimulate you toward thinking for yourself and having reasons for your choices. The best choices always come from thinking it through for yourself, and truly responding to the situation at hand. 

There can only be one expert in that situation - YOU!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Turning off the Autopilot

We all have habits. One study showed that more than 40% of our daily actions are habits. 40% of the things we do are done habitually, without conscious awareness and thought. That is a lot of our time spent in autopilot mode. Now, there are some benefits to this. When we are acting from habit we free part of our consciousness for thinking, planing, reviewing and so on. Do you notice how much thinking you do in the shower? It is because nearly all of your shower activity is habit. You don’t have to think about it and therefore your mind is free to wander.

Many habits are created as a strategy to meet a goal. Once the strategy proves successful we repeat and repeat until we just do it without thinking. That is a habit. We are not born with our habits, we develop them in response to experiences. Usually habit forming is not intentional - there is no conscious choice made to form the habit.

Imitation is the central learning tool of young child. Through imitation the young child learns walking, speaking, and stress response patterns and so much more. All habits.

With very young children, many of their habits are created by imitating those around them. Habits are also created by babies attempting to get their needs met and discovering certain strategies that are successful with the adults in the baby’s environment. They try it. It works. They repeat and repeat and repeat. So by the time we are adults, we have many habits including ones for dealing with stress, challenges and not getting our needs met. Often these strategies are not helpful and are unproductive for social harmony and true problem solving. 

When you get stressed do you ‘check out’ and fall into your habit reaction pattern? You can be honest here. No one can hear you. We all do it. What is your particular, unique stress reaction? Do you yell and stomp around? Throw things? Tell someone else it is their fault? Freeze up? Withdraw? Fall silent and walk away? When we start to see those habits, those behavior patterns, then we have a chance to change them. Habits in themselves aren’t a problem. There are habits that need changing though, the unproductive, ineffective and unhealthy ones. 

First step - see your habit patterns, your reaction style. The next step is to use your free decision-making capacity to choose the habits you want to change. It takes the power of will to start the new habit started, but once the new habit is really running strong we can ‘fall asleep’ and let the new habit run itself. 

Now why am I thinking about habits so much? Because the habits of adults strongly affect the children around them! Now here is a weird thing about our brains. We have a certain kind of brain cell called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons ‘fire’ both when we act and when we observe an action performed by someone else. In older children and adults, mirror neurons help in understanding the actions of other people. For young children mirror neurons function in the learning of new skills by imitation. Our habits are being transmitted by our example to our children who are imitating them. So it is incumbent on us to try and deliver habits to our children that we want them to have. 

I want young ones to develop the habit of washing hands before eating, so I model that activity for the children. I want young children to develop habits of saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ so I use those phrases myself whenever appropriate. I don’t want my daughters to take up my habits of dealing with stress by withdrawing, so I try and model engagement and conversation when I am in a stressful situation.

When breaking and forming habits, we need to know that change is possible. 


The basic mechanism for learning and development is the will. What is the will but our capacity for doing, for taking hold of the world around us through activity. All education is education of the will, both in the adult and in the child. In the adult there is much more possibility for intention to be part of the equation. The primary way the will functions in the young child is through unconscious imitation - the learning modality for the young child is imitation. What we do, what we say, and who we are, as adults standing before them, is of utmost importance. The basis of all of this is the exercise of our will which in adults is our capacity for freedom, the capacity to respond rather than react. When we present the example of changing ourselves, that possibility is implanted deep in the child’s neurology and psyche as a possibility for their own future changing.