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?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Real Quality Time - 5 Important Considerations

Recently I was re-experiencing the amazing results of doing real work with the young children are around. When I am truly engaged in necessary, meaningful work around my house or preschool or kindergarten, the children are served in ever so many ways. Of course it is important to be playful with the children, and to play with them sometimes. It is also important to get the things done that your household or facility require for continued smooth functioning and beautiful aesthetics.

What sort of work am I talking about? I mean the real stuff of cleaning, cooking, pruning, raking, laundry, bathroom cleaning, window cleaning, sweeping, mopping, cobweb removal... You know what I mean. Some call these sorts of things ‘domestic activity.’ When you hate to do these things, the benefits to the children are limited. Learn to love taking care of your home - for the children’s sake at least.

Young children are newly arrived to our world. What helps to ground them into earthly life, and gives them activities to imitate and thereby develop capacities and skills, is the work of taking care of our home environments. This is true quality time for the children. If we learn to focus our engaged attention on these needed tasks and at the same time develop open channels of communication and connection with the children, we have high quality time.

When a baby is born, first he has to develop control of muscles to be able to pilot the vessel he has been given. Then he has to learn hygiene of this inherited body. Next step is to learn to care for the home and the surroundings his body lives in. For me, incorporating activities of caring for the home environment into daily life is supportive of early childhood development in so many ways. When he is going on the grade 1 it is time to look out into the surrounding world and discover what is there.

I think of early years development as concentric circles. The inner circle is learning how to move. Next is learning to keep the body clean and fed. The next circle out is caring for the home. And just in time for first grade, we look out into and begin to learn about and understand the wider world.

Why real work is so important:

1. Getting done what needs to be done around the home decreases stress levels for the adults which in turn creates a more harmonious, peaceful and wonderful environment for the young children. Adult stress and anxiety don’t foster the child’s development.

2. Play is the essential ‘work’ of the young child. When the adult engages in ‘real’ work around the home or kindergarten, the play of the children is more grounded and harmonious. The more you can focus on the work that is needed (while keeping the eyes in the back of your head on the children) the more constructive the children’s play. If you continually are the ‘entertainer’ for your young child, you are creating a pattern that is hard to change later. The child will rely on you as a  playmate and won’t be as much of a self-starter able to entertain himself.

3. Young children learn by imitation. With the adult example of real work activities, the children can learn actual skills. And they can develop habits of taking care of their home environments. We are thereby helping the children into the community of human doers, workers and makers, and giving them a strong foundation for their individual futures.

4. The so-called domestic activities are love in action. These activities are in service to the community of the home or kindergarten and are social deeds. Without instructing or explaining, we are helping the children develop a sense of social responsibility by including home care as part of daily life together.

5. We are giving examples for the children to imitate and develop skillful hands able to do these tasks. The children become handy, and as they grow they are able to handle many types of situations.

What sorts of activities can you do to incorporate the children? If you are doing the laundry, the children can joyfully join in the folding. They may not be as quick or as neat as you, but they can participate just the same. Sweeping is an amazing activity for enhancing motor development. Washing and cutting the veggies for the soup is an obvious time for young helpers. Window washing is a great joy for young ones. Try filling a spray bottle with plain water and using microfiber cloths to clean the windows. It is the best way to clean glass. In fact, water and microfiber cloths is the best way to clean most everything. Be the example of using some elbow grease and the children will be lining up to help! 

Can we support the children in their development by becoming handy men and women, whether we are a teacher or parent? That is, the person who can fix what needs fixing, and clean up afterwards. We can all learn to do simple plumbing, wood repairs and so much more and thereby give the children so much to imitate. This way we support them into the community of human doing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Magical Confidence

My kindergarten group one year included a tall, older boy named “Noah.” Noah was six-years-old. One day Noah noticed one of the other children was playing with a toy that Noah liked. I watched Noah walk over, grab the toy, and tug it away from the other boy. Noah then went to the other side of the room leaving the other boy teary-eyed.

Standing between me and Noah was a student teacher who was spending 3 weeks in my kindergarten. She was facing Noah and I watched for a minute or so to see if she could help resolve the situation. I could see her tensing up wanting to do or say something but she did not.

Not wanting the situation to be prolonged, I went over to Noah with outstretched hand, palm up. I didn’t say anything. Noah looked at me, sighed and handed me the toy. Then I went over to the boy who had started with the toy and handed it to him. At the same time I spoke, loudly enough for Noah to hear across the room, “It is Sam’s turn now. Noah can have a turn next.”

That’s all I said and did, and I resumed the activity I had been doing with some other children. The situation was resolved. Harmony was restored. 

And I had offered the two boys something they could imitate in future interactions, though it might take a number of similar interventions by me until one or the other boy took up a new approach. Noah could perhaps go to another child and ask, “Could I have a turn next?” Or Sam could say, when another child is trying to take something he is using, “It’s my turn now. You can have a turn next.” But remember, it might take many, many similar interventions by me until the children take up the new habit in their speaking.

What does not work is saying,”I already told you to ask for a turn.” It is not useful to expect quick changes in children’s behaviors. It results in frustration on the adult’s part when you expect change after one or two on fifty interventions. Habit change is slow and comes at it’s own time.

One thing that helps me is understanding that the children have developed habits, unconscious strategies, that have been successful for them in their past so they will keep using those habits until another strategy takes it’s place. That takes time and repetition.

After the children had gone home that day, the student teacher asked me, “How did you do that?” She was amazed. She though I did something magical. I thought I took a simple and logical action. In our discussion we came to realize that when I approached Noah, hand open for him to give me the toy, I had confidence that he would give it to me. I didn’t force him to give it to me, but I knew he would. I knew the situation called for the other boy having the toy returned to him and so I was the vehicle for restoring kindergarten harmony. And on some level Noah knew it too. My student teacher went away considering the question of inner confidence in knowing what is needed.

Thanks to all of you for reading. I hope I can continue to offer helpful ideas and experiences that make your life with young children more satisfying for all concerned! 

And now for some 'housekeeping.'

If you want to receive this newsletter, after signing up there is still one step to complete. An automatic email is sent to your email address and you must confirm if you want to have this newsletter sent to your inbox.

One another subject, I want your help with solving a mystery. I noticed on the analytics page of my blog (that only I can access) that for a couple of weeks, hundreds of views of my blog are from folks in Russia. I don’t know who those folks are, ‘google analytics’ does not give that information. My blog is in English, I have not yet done workshops in Russia. I have no close family there, though some ancestors came from there bringing my surname.

If anyone can help with this mystery, please contact me. I am so curious.