emotional development

Providing Discipline

Uh-oh here we go...

The ugly part of parenting is here. One of the worst moments of parenting arises during the time you have to set limits and boundaries. These moments don't warrant good responses from our children. It's important to know that children need a balance of both love and limits. And those 2 words, although used separately, often time overlap. Setting limits is also a way for children to know we love them. Setting limits keeps are children safe and reassures "us" that children understand self-control. It's okay to want to place boundaries because we know what's best, or just as a response to a simple annoying temper tantrum. Setting boundaries allows for the parent/child relationship to be one of trust and security. Of course that sounds easy. But the task of setting limits or giving a consequence is much more difficult. It's both the frustration of a high pitched cry, or simply saying “no” and following through. It's all complicated, it can be challenging, and it often leads to feeling unsuccessful.

The best way to accomplish any task when it comes to raising children is the concept of "consistency". Consistency and structure is vital during the difficult moments. Kids enjoy habits, they feel better when they know exactly what to expect next. For children, it's the fear of trying something once that initially is terrifying and then realizing after the 10th time it's actually okay and is unavoidable. What we tell children when we keep things the same, is that they can feel stability. This assures children that their environment doesn't change. This does not mean that routines won't vary from time to time, because they will. But when parents say "no" to touching the hot stove, the answer will always be no. And for children that is an essential part of their development.

Structure allows children to follow routines and ease into transitions. If you ever noticed in any classroom you visit there is always a chart of some sort that is a visual reminder for children to know what their day will consist of. This is done purposely to help children stay on task, more importantly so they are aware of expectations. For very young children we see time rituals for sleep, eating, playing, etc. It's all about keeping time and expectations being met. This transpires into adult hood, as we also have to keep schedules (ESPECIALLY PARENTS). This all ties into the concept of discipline because the more we can prepare kids, and help them with consistency, stability, and structure we can decrease meltdowns that result in a consequence.

Time Out vs. Spankings

I know that some of us were raised where "spankings" were the only form of discipline. And I am not here to tell you that it was wrong. I will simple state as an early childhood mental health professional the pros and cons, and why I promote the use of time out. Spankings offer an instant reaction for parents. Some parents see this as a bonus because it takes care of the problem immediately. Children start to fear the use of pain and begin to comply out of fear. So I definitely understand why some caregivers go to that route. But does it truly offer any sort of teaching moment. What I mean by this is that spanking teaches a child that we react by hitting when frustrated. Another concern with spankings is the emotional reaction it creates for the adult. Are we hitting our child because our fuse is so thin we become reactive? Are we spanking when our patience runs thin, and we tell our minds nothing else will fix it? Think of how you feel when you spank. Make sure it comes from a place of safety. Meaning make sure it is always appropriate, if that makes sense. 

Now "time out" is not very immediate. It takes tons of time and patience to teach a child to stay in a spot and think about their choices. But what "time out" does offer is a time for your child to learn how to calm down their own bodies by giving a time for the heart rate to decrease. When we place children in time out, it allows the child to learn how to take care of themselves. Kids begin to understand that when they get upset, mad, or simply can't get their way, they are allowed to have a reaction but it doesn't warrant the attention from the caregiver. Another benefit of using time out is that children begin to learn what gets their parents attention. Children are attention seekers regardless if it's from showing negative or positive behavior. What we give attention to is often what we see the child exhibit.  For example, have you ever had to say no a million times, only to get the same response? It's because in those moments our children are getting the best of us. Try ignoring your child during those moments, and see if it results in a different behavior. So if we can begin to show a child that negative behavior warrants no attention, and positive behavior warrants praise. Guess what we will see more of, THE POSITIVE!!

Just a little more.....

1. Always start with ignoring. Literally ignore your child when they are whining, crying, or have been told no but refuse to accept it. Walk out the room, talk to a friend on the phone, begin a hobby, but just don't entertain it. This is so hard to do, because we want to say a million things. I've learned as a parent to pick my battles.

2. A cool way to extend "time out" as a way to increase childhood development is to offer "calm down" activities in the time out space you use. I place bubbles, books, a squishy toy, etc. This is a tool to use to decrease the heart rate. Allow deep breathes, or something sensory based to allow your child's body to calm down so they are more rational. The recovery is faster!

3. Try to use the same time out spot in the home. Make sure it is not the same place they sleep, so they don't associate time out with sleeping. Make sure the spot lacks distractions, and that it is safe. 

4. Time the time out. I place 1 minute for every year of age. 2 years old=2 minutes. Of course they may not even stay for that long. But be repetitive by physically helping them stay or putting them back in the spot.

5. Don't over talk. The punishment is placing them in time out. No child can listen or rationalize when they are upset. Don't begin a speech about what they should have done. Simply state the reason and place them in the spot. Trust me they will get the point.

6. Adjust for older children. Time out for older children can simply mean taking a break to go think about their actions and repair. Kennedy, 8, after a few moments will apologize because she knows she was wrong (empathy). If I threaten a consequence, such as no company, or no television, then it is exactly that. What mommy says goes. Now there is always room for compromising. I try not to argue, but if she can logically state her case, I'm always down to listen. As parents the follow through is key (consistency, structure, limits).

7. After you impose a consequence start from a clean state. No holding grudges or punishing all day because of one moment. Let your child know that behavior is redeemable, and the consequence doesn't last forever. 

Let's Practice

My go to guide is as follows....this chart allows you to understand the cycle of time out. I promise you if you resort to this every time, your child will begin to decrease the amount of defiance. This provides your child with an environment of safety and consistency. Ultimately you as an adult decide what type of discipline strategies to use in the comforts of your home. I have seen my share fair of child abuse cases to know that time out is just an overall safe strategy. And that is not stating that those who choose spanking are abusers. The point is that we are teaching children that hitting is never okay, and there are more effective ways to get what you need.

 

Remember that most children, rather you are using spankings or time out loves you just the same. Your child wants to please you, but it is natural for our children to be in need of discipline. This is how children learn right from wrong, how to follow rules, and respect authority. We aren't born with the understanding of how and why we see the world the way it is. Children's brains develop in connection with the experiences parents expose them to. So always remember when you are considering how to use discipline, remember the messages you are sending and how you want those to be remembered.  

 

"Feelings" Matter

Happy, Sad, Mad, Scared....

Yes, we all have had a mix of emotions experienced in our lifetime, but did you know that very young children do too?

Karter practicing her deep breathes at 18m.

Karter practicing her deep breathes at 18m.

As early as 18 months children start to display empathy. This is not to be confused with sympathy. Empathy is the ability to feel another person’s pain and having an urge to want to soothe it. Empathy fuels connection and sympathy drives connection. This is a way for children to begin to understand how other people feel, even when they don't feel that way. This concept is introduced in early infancy. For example, when a baby cries and mommy or daddy comes to soothe them, this begins the process of learning how feelings and emotions connect with others. This continues to develop, as a child learns that certain cries or screams deem different reactions from caregivers. i.e. I need to be changed, held, fed, sleep, etc. 

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

Understanding one's feeling early on can impact the connections children make as adults. Studies show that children who are empathetic tend to do better in school, in social situations, and in their adult careers. These skills provide a more compassionate relationship between individuals big and small. Most importantly we want to raise children who want to help one another, so that they can have a better understanding of the world around them.

HOW CAN WE DO THIS?

I like to use feeling identification to continue to teach my children the importance of empathy but also how to process feelings for themselves.

 

It’s the power of understanding that it’s okay to experience an emotion as long as you know how to process it.
— Mommy Wells

 

For a young child who experiences several emotions daily, having adults who validate those emotions as "real" can be substantial and gives them the ability to transfer that same notion to peers. For example: Karter is into the "it's mine" phase, no matter if it's hers or not. She will take Kennedy's toys and claim them, as well as other children her age. I will begin to explain to her "that makes Kennedy sad when you take her toys." She has begun to understand sad and hates for her sister to feel that way. Therefore giving back her toy because she feels empathy for her sister.

Understanding feelings helps children problem solve. As adults we can introduce this concept by labeling and validating our child's feelings very early. When your child is feeling sad, tell them, wow you look sad. If they are angry, tell them that. This makes them feel important. For a child they feel as if my parent really understands me. The worst thing a parent can do is to tell a child that they are not allowed to feel a certain way because they are a child or to tell them to suck it up. This can be very dis-empowering. As parents we don't need to place band aids to cover up the feeling, we focus more on the healing process to encourage growth.

To take it to the next step, begin to offer coping strategies. As adults we can't be productive if we stay in a certain emotion...mad, sad, angry, jealous. I like to teach my children that it's okay to experience feelings but what do we do about them. For example, if Kennedy is angry about doing homework, I will acknowledge that by stating "wow you seem upset you have to do homework" (i.e. validate). Then I'll go on to say "what can we do to make it better for you" (coping strategy). Same with my toddler Karter, "you are so SAD you have to share your toy" (validate). "Can you give mommy a hug to help you feel better or take turns" (coping strategy). This habit will allow your child to begin to understand their own emotions, but also how to get relief.

Here are some strategies I use to help teach my children the concept of feelings and emotions. 

 

As adults we have to give our children the tools for better outcomes in the future. Leading to healthy adult lifestyles.
— Mommy Wells

1. Books!!! This is awesome for toddlers as well as adolescents. Reading is the tool to help spark conversation. At beginner level they can begin to learn what feelings are and the faces to match. For older children this can be more about how to process feelings. Here are a few books I love.

2. Feeling Flashcards! This is just a extension of a book. It is more specific in nature. I use flashcards as a way to have conversations about the "feeling" and the moments my children have felt that way. Sometimes kids will describe a feeling and it's totally different from what they are displaying. Kennedy gets frustrated and angry confused. Although they may look the same they warrant different responses. This is a great way to make sure your child's feeling matches what they feel so that they have a better understanding on what to do with it.

3. Feeling Charts! When a child is experiencing a emotion, this could be a great quick reference to help children process quickly. I hung this up in my baby girl's room. When she gets upset, I'll point and say the feeling, and then try to redirect her behavior, or offer her a coping strategy such as blow some bubbles, count to 10, get a hug, rest, etc.

NOTE: If we are asking children to process emotions, be mindful about  providing tools to help them process. Sensory items are great to help kids calm down, it literally slows down their heart rate. Offer a "calm space" for them to sqeeze a stress ball, hit their pillow, take deep breathes. Sounds familiar right? As adults we need to call a friend, listen to music, go workout. Same premise, same purpose. 

4. Videos! You wouldn't believe how my toddler is already obsessed with YouTube. She loves watching some of the most weirdest videos of people opening eggs, or people being silly. I use this to my advantage. I have found some pretty amazing feeling songs. This is another reminder of how great sensory integration can be. Music is tied to memory.  Check out "Super Simple Songs", they not only have an amazing "feeling song" they offer a palette of toddler/preschool friendly music. Check Karter out!

5. Pretend Play! Self explanatory, it's the foundation of learning for children. Use puppets to act out problem solving scenarios. Great learning tool and children love them!

 

Last Thoughts!

Our early childhood experiences transpire into our adult lives. The more that goes into prepping our children the more impact we will have regarding their future.

Please check out my Pinterest account for all great ideas in regards to childhood emotions and feelings!

The Benefits of Play Dates

It’s amazing to stand back and watch her interact, seeing the pieces of me directly reflected in her ways.
— Mommy Wells

Who likes playdates? (Sarcastic mommy voice)

Okay not everyone...playdates can be stressful. The biggest challenge with playdates are setting them up. Who, what, when, where, and how are just some of the barriers to putting it all together. Rather just have your child play alone, sounds easier right? This is true, but there are several benefits for both younger and older children when being intentional about creating social interactions, and developing friendships. Social and emotional development is necessary for all children. Not only do we live in a society that requires us in some capacity to be extroverts, kids have something way more important that they have to conquer "School"! School by far is the biggest social exchange for children, and rather then wait for school to be a place to break the ice, what better way to prepare children then by having a playdate.

For younger children playdates would be a great introduction for preschool or kindergarten.  Social and emotional development within the early years of life allows for your child to build confidence, develop problem solving skills, increase critical thinking, and communicate emotions. These components lead towards a pathway to greater success and learning. When creating a playdate, as a mommy, I like to use this time to coach Karter on skills like sharing, showing empathy, taking turns, and sharing her personal space. Of course Karter would like to think that the world revolves around her, in some ways that is true, but in others it is not realistic. The more she is exposed to other children the less anxiety she will have about being around them. This makes for an easier transition into school, and is the foundation for leaning how to build friendships outside of family.

Karter looking unamused, but having fun beside my friend's daughter Tara. Parallel play at it's finest.

Karter looking unamused, but having fun beside my friend's daughter Tara. Parallel play at it's finest.

For older children playdates are an extension of the foundational tools that are mastered early on. Kennedy is at a stage of life that she request an increase amount of social interaction. Always asking for sleep overs, or wants to be on her Ipod Face-timing.  Early adolescence is the ground point of self identity. Kennedy is finding herself through the power of her friendships. This is where choosing the "right" types of friends is vital. During her time with a friend/s, I am very purposeful in making sure she is being respectful, not being "clicky", and respecting her values that I have reinforced. I want her to have the ability to have fun, share secrets, and talk about boys (shhhh). But I want to make sure she is being safe, honest to who she is, and being fair by not always dominating. It's amazing to stand back and watch her interact, seeing the pieces of me directly reflected in her ways. Playdates build leaders.

Kennedy and her school friends. And a plus 1 always.

Kennedy and her school friends. And a plus 1 always.

Play Date Tips:

1. Meet like wise mommies. I know it sucks to go outside your friend zone, but making relationships with parents of the children in the classroom is necessary. It's a easy point to start because your children are already friends. Adult life is about cultivating your associates. Most classrooms make rosters available for parents who don't mind being contacted. Just ask. For younger children start with personal mommy friends, or playgroups. 

2. Start small and in the community. I don't often invite people in my personal space (home). Setting up a meeting at a location for the kids to have fun is a great way to ease the stress of having someone you don't know in your home. This shifts great into tip #3.

3. I do not endorse sleepovers with strangers. I am a social worker and have been jaded by my profession. I have to have a personal relationship with you to secure my child's safety. This also speaks to knowing who your child is friends with. Birds of a feather flock together. Allow your children to be around kids who influence them in a positive way. Very similar to how we should look at friendships as adults.

4. Be observant. Coach your little one by describing the play interactions and explaining what you want them to do. Meltdowns will occur because they are not use to sharing their space. This is a great introduction into teaching empathy, and the concepts of sharing. With older children be mindful of their conversations, and try to have activities planned to make bonding intentional. 

5. Let kids be kids. Its so organic for children to have the ability to master friendships. Some children are more reserved or shy. I would offer more support if warranted. But all in all, allow them to have fun, share awkward silence, or just be in the same space. Sometimes the art of nothing is better than too much. 

If any of my local moms who are interested in a group playdate, contact me via email. I am eager to start a mommy support group of some sort!