Special Time Can Take The Edge Off Sibling Rivalry!

Special-Time-timer    Do you find that your  angel children often act like devils when they start fighting over toys, your lap, the silliest things?  In Siblings Without Rivalry, the authors discuss the roots of the constant tension often present between siblings:  their need for individual connection and their desire to be known for their uniqueness.

When you sit and plan your week, one tool to start adding to your parenting toolkit is Special Time.  It’s designed to create and foster an intimate connection with each individual child.  All you need is 15-30 minutes, at least 3 times per week.  When you carve this time out, you simply tell your child “We’re going to have some Special Time” and you explain that during Special Time, your child gets to do whatever he/she wants to do and that you will simply give all your attention and do whatever he/she wants you to do.  This gives the child back the power he/she needs to feel confident and often loses throughout his/her day as a child living in an adult world.  You put away any distractions – no phone, no computer, no cooking, no side conversation with the sibling or partner.  You give ALL your loving, focused, undistracted, warm attention to your one child for this period of Special Time.  Set a timer for the time you have (15-30 minutes).  This helps the child know that Special Time is different from regular time and helps set clear expectations.

During Special Time, you let go of control or influence over this time and let your child lead the way.  You watch with your full, focused love and warmth as your child starts a game, runs and wants you to chase, pulls out the dolls or trucks, sings, dances, jumps, and you see how he/she wants you to participate.  You let go of control.  You can have limits around how this time is spent.  I do not allow screens or sugar during this time.  And just enjoy taking in the beauty and awesomeness that is your unique child.  And he/she feels this love and warmth and awe and takes it in fully.  This practice fills the emotional and neurological needs of your child so fully that when you’ve been doing it regularly, you will notice changes in his/her cooperation and sense of ease throughout your days together.  And if each child is receiving this Special Time regularly, you will see a decrease in sibling rivalry because their individual needs for connection and recognition will be met so fully!  YES!

If you have certain times of day that are most challenging, try inserting some space for Special Time before those times (the morning routine, a meal, bath, bed, when sibling comes home from school, etc.).  When the off track behaviors occur, that is your child’s brain signaling a need for connection, which is well met and nourished using Special Time.

You can start using Special Time with children of any age.  When they are babies or too young for verbal interaction, you can take a stance of observation instead of forced interaction or teaching.  Let the child’s curiosity and interest lead the way.  When a child is older and “Special Time” is not a fun or cool enough name, let the kid name it.  My daughter started calling it Birthday Time or Science Time and I’ve heard of teenagers calling it Hangout Time or perhaps it becomes centered around Baseball or Basketball or Nature.  Let it evolve and let your child have control over it.

Enjoy this sacred time with your children and the amazing results and benefits that it brings!

If you would like to learn more about this and other useful, practical, neuroscientifically-based parenting practices, check out my 6 week Parenting by Connection classes at UME Play Space in Menlo Park.  The next one starts May 1, 2014.  These classes will begin again in August and run throughout the school year.  For more information and to enroll, click here:  http://rayoflightcoaching.com/parenting-by-connection-six-week-class/

Connect Before You Correct!

barin-img     Brain science has a lot to teach parents about why their kids exhibit “off track   behavior” and what the most effective responses to these behaviors are.

The limbic brain is what I call in my Parenting by Connection classes the “downstairs,” or foundation, of a child’s developing brain.  This limbic system thrives on secure, attached connection with a caregiver.  Throughout a child’s development, this part of the brain knows to scan its environment for close connection so that its primarily emotional needs can be met.  Once the limbic system’s needs are met, the prefontal cortex, or the “upstairs,” more complex part of the brain that is the center of logic and decision-making, can develop optimally as well.  The prefontal cortex, a.k.a. executive center of the brain, is not fully developed in humans on average until the age of 25!  No wonder teens act as they do :-).

When a child’s behavior goes off track (tantrum, whining, talking back, acting out, poor decision-making), it is a signal that the needs of the limbic brain are not being adequately met.  If a child is younger than 5 years old, the prefontal cortex development has not reached a point where during this off track behavior, the child can process logic or reasoning.  And the functioning of the prefontal cortex, or logic center, is dependent upon the optimal functioning of the limbic brain.  So a parent yelling or using words towards a child who is having a tantrum is not productive or effective to support the child in learning what he or she needs to learn in that moment.

As a rule, parents of young children should remember the saying “Connect Before You Correct” in responding to their child(ren)’s off track behavior.  If you want to be effective during those most challenging moments of a tantrum or slammed door, try a new approach.  Get down, get low, hold your child as they are crying, writhing or saying something rude to you.  I know it may make you feel like you are “rewarding bad behavior.”  Let that idea go for now.  It is not based in brain science!

Get down to the eye level of your child, look him or her in the eye, hold them close.  Let the emotional wave they are experiencing complete itself.  Once the tears or emotional storm has passed, and there is a calm after that storm, you can discuss how you felt and make a request for different behavior in future.  This is not the time for harsh criticism, punishment or isolation.  Your child’s brain is doing what all children’s brains do.

It is up to parents to understand what’s happening in their child’s brain and to respond appropriately.  No child intentially tantrums or cries just to make a parent angry.  There is a need that is not being met and their entire system is functioning to get that need met.  Slow down, get close, and take the time to be an anchor for your child as he or she develops and you will be happy with the results:  more cooperation, more trust, more closeness and more empathy in your relationship!

Building Emotional Understanding

I recently took a parenting class called Building Emotional Understanding and will be continuing with certification as an instructor of Parenting by Connection with a non profit organization in Palo Alto called Hand in Hand Parenting.

Being a new parent of an infant is exhausting yet quite straightforward in the sense that if you are sure feed, clothe, bathe, cuddle and put to rest your new infant, he or she will be content and eager to interact, smile, play and learn.

Toddlerhood is a different ball game in that a parent meeting their toddler’s basic needs for food, sleep, cuddling and bathing don’t always compute to calm, angelic behavior (the understatement of the century!).

So what starts to complicate behavior as kids grow? In Building Emotional Understanding, Patty Wipfler, Director of Hand in Hand Parenting, teaches that the limbic system of the brain actually requires consistent, strong, trustworthy emotional connection in order to grow into an optimally functioning, learning system. In other words, the emotional bond is as important as sleep, food and bathing in a growing person’s development and can actually be used in moments of off track behavior to help steer a child back to their calm and reasonable place.

This may seem obvious to many parents and caregivers as they often recognize the positive impact that their strong bond with a child has on that child’s security and behavior, even in toddlerhood.

What is often misunderstood is what a child needs when their behavior goes off track. In our culture, time outs and punishments have become common place responses to a toddler’s off track behavior.

In the Parenting by Connection approach that is taught at Hand in Hand Parenting, a toddler’s tantrum is an opportunity to get closer, create safety, and invite a full session of emotional release from a toddler to create a deeper bond with caregivers so that the brain’s limbic system’s need for closeness is met. A toddler can cycle through a tantrum with an adult coming closer, rather than punishing and rejecting, much more effectively and with trust in themselves and caretakers in tact.

Many busy modern parents believe they don’t have time to use Parenting by Connection techniques in their chaotic lives. The reality is that it doesn’t take more time to implement this approach; it requires more presence. So if parents work on their ability to be present with their toddlers (and older children’s) wide range of emotions, being their close connection and safety as they cycle through and release difficult emotions, they will find their attempts to “discipline” more successful and sustainable and children’s limbic systems’ are fed rather than starved, strengthening their foundations for learning and empathy as they grow.

For more information, see http://www.handinhandparenting.org and contact me at (415) 377-6791 or at kiran@rayoflightcoaching.com if you would like me to provide a demonstration of how to use these parenting and behavioral techniques with children. I give talks at doctor’s offices, Mom’s groups, preschools and provide one on one coaching as well.