Thursday, December 7, 2017

What a Wonderful World

I often think about what our young children need. And I sometimes consider the world that they are growing up in, and I can get sad or even depressed sometimes.

What young children truly need is a feeling that their world is safe and good. “I am safe. I am protected. I feel the warmth of love from those around me.”

That is what is needed so they can be relaxed in their environment of home, of kindergarten, of family. When they feel that safe, warm, relaxed feeling many things become possible. Growth requires warmth (just think, you put the leftovers in the cold refrigerator so nothing grows on them), and relaxing into true creative play requires feeling safe. Play is an essential activity for a growing brain.

Yet we adults know that our world is a messy and sometimes scary place where sometimes good does not prevail. We know that sometimes people are not safe, and some places are not so safe. We worry about the situation for peoples in various parts of the world. We notice that our earth is not being protected and respected. We may think governments are sliding back from past progress in various areas, that things are getting worse.

Being compassionate and empathetic can lead us down, and down, into melancholia.

Our children are listening, and watching, and sensing what we are feeling. "Little pitchers have big ears." So how do we not share our despair and sadness about the state of the world with them. What can we do to uplift ourselves and radiate some joy.

It is about our inner practices. We each have to find ways to connect with the good, to overcome the sadness and to find gratitude for what we have and what is around us.

I was playing music (a great antidote for despair) and suddenly really became aware of the words of a song I was working on. I realized this song is a powerful mantra for gratitude, for joy and for connecting with the future arc of the children’s lives. So this holiday season, I offer it for you as well. 

This song was first made famous by Louis Armstrong. Armstrong was a unique performer - he had an unusual voice which he used to improvise songs and he excelled at scat singing. His improvisational trumpet playing was a new element in the music of his time. He stands out as a very individualistic musician. One-of-a-kind!
The song was first recorded in 1967 by Louis Armstrong and became a huge hit, It has since been performed by many musicians and has maintained its popularity 50 years later. What a Wonderful World was written by Bob Thiele (as George Douglas) and George David Weiss. 

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They're really saying I love you.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world,
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Monday, November 20, 2017

It's a holiday season again

This is a rewrite of a post from a couple of years ago that I think is just right for now, the end of November, 2017. Halloween has passed, and I am guessing many people are gearing up for a coming holiday season. Many family traditions involve celebrations and holidays in the winter months. Thanksgiving comes at the end of November. This year Diwali was in October. Many families celebrate St. Nicholas on December 6. In 2017, Hanukkah starts the evening of December 12, the same day many families celebrate the Virgin of Guadelupe. Yule is celebrated on the Solstice, December 21. Many families celebrate Christmas December 25, and the four weeks of Advent that lead up to it. Kwanzaa starts December 26.

One thing these Festivals have in common is that they celebrate light in a time of year in the Northern Hemisphere when the days are shorter and shorter. These celebrations have gatherings of families and friends, sharing food together and in some traditions gifts are exchanged.

What does your young child really need this holiday season?
Let’s start out with what your child does not need.
She doesn’t need the new Smartwatch.
Your toddler can thrive without iPad Multimedia Learning Tablet 
He and she both will be healthier without a Game Boy or Disney Princess Doll.
He can do without a Drone Camera (even if you really want it).

It is not toys and gifts that your child needs. Your child most need you to truly connect with her. There are some things that Only You can offer to your child. It isn’t stuff that is the real need - it is the fabric of a connected life. Connected to family and family traditions, to nature and the seasons, and connected to herself. The example of connecting the adults offer is the style of connecting imitated by the child. It is up to you to show the path to connecting in the holiday season.
It is you that your child most needs. You, the parent available, present and connecting. You are your child’s guide in this life on earth, and you are her example of how to live. To me, holidays are an opportunity to develop and nurture traditions of connecting with each other. And I’d like to share some specific suggestions.
What are the foods that are important to you as part of your family holiday? Do you have the same foods every year on that holiday? That is something that makes memories and helps your child have direct experiences of the cycle of the year.

When I think of foods, I try to think how the child can engage in the preparation of those foods. Can he help cut up the vegetables? Can she pour in the ingredients for the sauces? Can you knead the dough together? Be a creative cook and create ways for your young child to help prepare the food. Food preparation is a social gesture of service. Encourage your child in this way. One tip though - plan for the extra time that these young helpers will add to your prep time.

Another aspect of food is that you can make food together for other people as gifts. Grandma would love some pumpkin bread you made for her. Uncle Joe would be grateful for a batch of chocolate chip cookies. And don’t forget the mail delivery person and your health care professionals. A gift of food is a gift of love!

There are many other types of simple gifts you can make together with your children, the internet is littered with ideas for them. You can help your child to create gifts for siblings and other relatives. It is a wonderful sea change when you can shift your family culture from gift-getting to gift-giving! And you have created this opportunity for spending time together engaged on behalf of another person. Incredible!

What about singing together? My fondest elementary school memory is the weeks leading up to Winter Break each year. The school would open a half hour early for those who wanted, and the halls were full of teachers and children singing together songs from various religions and traditions. You can create this on a smaller scale and sing at home, maybe after dinner each evening, or in the car. “Of course,” you say. “That’s a great idea but I can’t sing.” The secret is, your child is NOT a critic. She will be a joyous participant in song with you and you will even discover it is FUN.

How about arranging for some friends and families to get together and walk around a neighborhood knocking on doors and offering songs? Caroling is great fun and you can even meet your neighbors. The possibilities are infinite.

Maybe you can have a special family outing to a special performance. Perhaps there is an annual artistic or musical performance in your area that you can make part of your family annual tradition, and each year make sure to return as a family in your fancy outing clothes. In my area, El Teatro Campesino presents theatrical productions and every other year they offer a version of the story of ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’ they call “La Virgen del Tepeyac.” For my younger daughters, and now my granddaughter, it is our family tradition to head down to San Juan Bautista and enjoy the pageant (it’s really an amazing show) of the meeting of the indigenous Central American culture with the Spanish colonialists. 

If giving gifts is important to you, I suggest a limit on the amount. Wisely choose the one gift that is just right for the child, and one that she will enjoy and treasure. Gifts made by you are extra special.

A gift that is something for the child to do, or make, is a great way to go. How about a tool box or sewing kit and some supplies to go along with it. And then be sure to make something yourself with your supplies and tools, and your child will learn by imitating you (because imitation is how the young child learns).

What about one special book as a gift? You can create your own tradition and each year, for a birthday or a holiday gift, choose one book that you think will mean something for your child. And then after he receives the book, read it to him again and again.

Oh...don’t forget to limit your own use of electronic devices so they are not an obstacle to connecting with your child. Have some electronic free time, and make the time to use your smart phone when your child is asleep, or otherwise engaged and you are elsewhere. Be smarter than your smart phone.

The best present for your child is your presence. True connecting with your young child takes some active will on your part to overcome the habits our consumer culture has created. It’s worth the effort.

This year again as a holiday offering, all my books are available at 15% off through December 31. Click here for details. 

Happy Holidays to you all, whatever holidays you enjoy!

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.