It is Christmas time again. Santa and the elf is making it’s yearly return. There is magic and excitement in the air. I am all here for this. It is supposed to be magical, the season of joy. Yet some parent as if it is the season of compliance. Good behaviour = gifts/love. Some treat Christmas and gifts as a points reward system, where as long as their children comply to what they want them to do, the kids can earn their gifts from Santa. They use this as a parenting tool and do not realise the long lasting impact this have on children and adults.
Let’s look at it from a different perspective.
As an adult, ask ourselves the following questions:
Why do we always feel overwhelmed when we receive an expensive or very special gift from someone?
When we receive a gift and it is not our birthday or a special occasion, why do we ask the giver “What have I done to deserve this?”
Why do we have such a deep emotional response to the type of gift we receive from others?
When someone gifts you something you do not like, why do we experience it as a statement about our own value and worth?
Why can an abuser smooth over the harm they have done with gifts?
The long and short is, we were raised that gifts is something that is conditional. Gifts cannot just be freely given, it has to be earned. You had to do something right to deserve to receive a gift. The time where that narrative on how life works is written, is during the fragile period of development age 0 to 8/9.
The “magic believing” age is 0 to about 8/9 years of age. The most critical brain developmental age is 0 to age 8/9 years. During this stage, kids learn how the world works. What love is and how to treat others. Yet here we are during this time creating conditions on things that should be unconditional. So by using this strategy, kids are being set up to believe that gifts are solely conditional and that manipulation for compliance can be achieved with the promise of gifts.
Gifts falls within the realm of love languages and should never be used as a means to get compliance from any person. If it is used as a means of getting compliance, it is no longer a gift, but a reward system that can be altered or taken away at any time.
It took Covid and immigration to make me realise that I owe many people an apology. I sincerely apologise for being a nonconsensual hugger.
In my journey as a parent and as a parenting coach, I was preaching to the choir about consent. How important it was to ask permission before we touch and never forcing our kids to override their no. Yet there I was, not modelling it. In actual fact, I was modeling the opposite with how I engaged with other adults. Yes, my kids got to choose how they greet, but people who got to meet me… lets just say, I flung my arms open and said “I am gonna hug you, I am a hugger”. I cornered the poor person regardless if they were huggers or not. They could not escape. I became that smelly aunt you tried to avoid. How can a hug be wrong? I am not touching your rear, your private parts with my hands. I am embracing you heart to heart…? It is all innocent?
So where did this start? Growing up, we did not have the choice on how we greeted people. We had no autonomy over our bodies. That uncle with the slobber, the aunt with the onion smell. We had to kiss them hallo. The wrestling and tickling never stopped when you asked for it to stop. Your body never really belonged to you. There was a social contract that you were raised with and that is just how things were. You are a child and adults know best and deserve respect just due to their age.
Physical contact became a social contract of respect and acceptance. If you did not want to touch someone you were rejecting their very being. You were being disrespectful and ungrateful. You were mean and unloveable if you did not hug, kiss or even shake hands hallo.
Due to this, I have one wickedly strong and secure handshake, a bear hug that will make you claustrophobic and a hallo kiss that pretends we have been close since birth.
In honesty, my personal favourite way to say hallo is a hug. I love the intimacy and care that heart to heart connection. The closeness and trust. I am a hugger, but as a hugger I need to learn, grow and change. To me hugging may be the most open and warm welcoming thing in the world but to someone else it may be total disrespect and an invasion of their bodily autonomy.
Now as a hugger, I have always scoffed at people who did not want to be hugged, especially adults. The power play is different than to a child? Is it really? How can you not want a hug? So my attitude was I will not take no as an answer. I will try to touch you, make that physical connection. Good grief i sound like a predator and I was. I wanted my hug and you could not escape. I “respected” the no, by taking my pointer finger and pressing it against the person’s arm and using word play calling it a hug.
Covid came around, and one of the biggest things I missed was hugging. I missed hugging my friends and those I cared for, who do not live with me.
Then we moved and we made new friends, and not knowing the culture, I had to learn to navigate new social norms. Then the penny dropped. Our new friends don’t hug. Being confronted with not getting or being offered a hug, made me feel a bit more isolated. I asked a hug once and it was given, but the body language stated that this is the first and last hug. For the first time I realized that I can respect not wanting hugs. I can learn and grow. I was accepted regardless of physical contact like a handshake or a hug. I was good enough. Just my presence alone was accepted, i did not have to invade space to feel welcome and loved. I just had to be.
It consolidated the knowledge, respecting other people’s boundaries and autonomy is more important than my need for a hug. Now i hug my husband more, he luckily likes my hugs, but my new friends? They teach me intimacy in conversation, reaching out and deep care, you don’t need to be physical to show you care.
I do not want a badge of honour or even praise for realising my abusive behaviour or even for changing my behaviour. It is about realising that we all have that one thing where we throw consent out the door. Where we place our own needs above someone else’s and invade, harm and make others feel powerless. We all need to learn, grow and change.
Me forcing people to hug me may seem like such a small thing, but it is not. It is violating someone else’s boundaries and that needs to stop. It is about consent. Consent is not just about adults asking kids consent for interaction, but about everything in life. Asking and accepting the no. Respecting bodily autonomy. This is not just men or the older generation who needs to learn this. It is all of us. What is the thing you do that violates someone else’s boundaries?
The world we live in, lives by double standards. The standards and expectations of children is much higher than that of adults. This weird world where those with the least mature brain has to behave the most mature and those with the most mature brain does not have to clear the bar at all. Here is a list of 13 things that is expected of children and not of adults
Here is a list of 13 standards enforced on kids, but not on adults:
Going to bed and falling asleep without a struggling to sleep
So often as an adult we also struggle to sleep, even when we are tired. We struggle to switch off our brains and then roll around. We often get up, move around a bit and try a bit later to get rest. Yes sleep is important for everyone, yet we have this immeasurably high standard for kids to meet. They are never allowed to struggle to sleep and get rest. They have to sleep according to our expectations and when they fail to meet that, we get angry, agitated and upset. Yes they need rest, yes they will be grumpy if they do not get enough rest, they know they need the rest as well. The same way we know we need the rest even more so urgently when we struggle to sleep ourselves.
React immediately when they are given instructions
This is the bane of our existence. We want them to be obedient to the degree that we expect of them to react immediately when we request them to do things or go somewhere. Yet when they ask us to do something, we ask them to wait and allow us to finish doing what we are doing. Or we even say no, yet they are not allowed to say no.
Not show their discontent when they feel they have been wronged
I could probably write books and books on this. When a child cries, talks back, argues, says no, rolls their eyes, talks in a snide voice or even screams, they are viewed as naughty. Yet all of these behaviours are a way of expressing negative emotions, disagreement and the way they do it, is due to immature emotional control and also the need to be heard and noticed as a human being.
Do things they do not want to with a joyous attitude and not show discontent
They are not allowed to sigh or show irritation while doing a task or chore. They always have to do it with a smile on their face.
Shop without touching anything
We all shop by touching. We often take things from the shelf to look at and then either buy it or put it back. Kids are often told, you do not shop with your hands while we are holding the shopping in our hands. They are curious, they also want to look and see. Many times kids will show you things, and we assume they want to buy it, just because you are in a shop, when in actual fact they just wanted to show you something they found interesting. When we keep equating showing with having to buy we create our own monster for ourselves, because then they will stop showing interesting things and only show things they want to buy.
Have to hug, kiss or touch people they do not know or do not want to engage with
We as adults do not hug and kiss every person we greet. (now during covid we do not touch anyone) yet for some reason children have little to no choice in how they want to greet people. Do you remember that one sloppy kisser at the family reunion? That person who hugged you that gave you the willies everytime as a child, yet you were forced? Do you hug your boss or colleague or kiss them hello every time you see them? What about the new client who just walked in the door?
Allow other people make use of their favourite possession without complaining
We all have favourite possessions. Possessions that we take care of and will not allow others to use, like our cars, we may allow a select few to make use of it, but man it has to be someone we trust deeply. Yet here we are at playdates and gatherings and force our children to allow other children to play with their favourite toy and if they say no, they are in trouble. Imagine a world where you are forced to share your house with whomever wants to make use of it, or even your car, or anything you own.
Accept physical harm as a means of love (spanking, hitting, smacking)
When an adult gets hit for disobedience from whoever holds the power in the relationship we call it abuse. When a child gets hit by a parent we call it love. The brain of a child interprets the smack from the adult the same way the brain of the adult interprets the smack from another adult. The brain releases the same fear hormones regardless of age, however in a child’s developing brain, it causes more harm than in an adult brain
Eat everything even when they do not like it
As an adult we get to choose to eat what we like and enjoy. Yes sometimes for the sake of our health we eat foods we dislike, yet we have the power to choose which of those we dislike the least and eat that instead of the ones we really really cannot stomach. Yet we strip our kids from that choice
Get up and get over it, especially when thing dramatically change around them
I have often seen and see it now more often than not. We as a society at large is going through a severely dramatic life changing pandemic. Yet we expect our children to be okay and not act out, not regress on certain behaviours, while they are also under immense stress the same way we as adults are. We expect of them to just buck up and carry on and ignore the stress and chaos of the dramatic world events unfolding around them. It impacts them, it impacts them deeply. Any change causes stress and stress hormones, and the smaller a child is, the less life experience they have to deal with it
Always get along with their sibling
I love my siblings. Do i get along with all of them, no i don’t and that is okay. Our kids do not always have to get along with their siblings. The more we try to force it, the more I can guarantee you, that once they are grown up and have a choice of spending time with them, the more they will choose not to spend time with them. Let them build their relationship organically and on their own terms
Never forget anything, instructions or stuff.
We joke that we have “spacial memory loss”. The moment we move to another space we forget what we were going to do there, yet when our kids do that, they are in trouble. We all have lost or forgotten personal belongings because we just forgot it somewhere, yet when a child does that, we immediately brand them as irresponsible, ungrateful and deserving of some sort of consequence over and above the loss they suffered.
Never to get thirsty after bedtime
This one really boggles the mind. This mindset starts from the view that if we withhold fluids from them an hour or so before bed time, they will magically sleep through. And if they wake during the night and want to drink something we view it as wrong and they are not allowed to drink anything, they are just misbehaving and trying to be difficult, they have a sleeping problem… They are thirsty. The same way you have woken up many a night in your life and needed water to drink.
If we have an honest look at this list, it is time that we take a deeper look into what we expect of our children. Start seeing them as whole human beings who, just like us, needs support, understanding and most of all, for US as the Parents to lower the bar we set for them to clear.
3 Things that I wish I knew before I was pregnant. There are so many articles written on what to expect when you’re expecting. However they tend to leave out some bits of information I would have wanted to know before we were pregnant.
The first. Bodily functions.
We are all aware that with increased lack of space we go to the toilet more often to empty our bladders. Where it once felt like it was able to hold litres and litres of urine, it now feels like you need to rush to the loo for every sip of fluid intake. This is not the worst of the bodily functions that they could discuss. Why did no one ever write and warn about the bio-weapon our farts will become. The absolute fear inducing farts that help create the space in the bed for the pregnancy pillow, since your partner will die from the smell of the farts you release. It smells like a bioreactor your body has become from creating a human being inside of you. There is a reason baby store personnel look like they could die and a bit green in the face. The amount of drive-by farts they have to endure on a daily basis is probably enough to make any person want to give up on life.
Now before you run to the hills and decide not to be pregnant out of fear for the smell. There is a very good reason your body does this. The high levels of progesterone that makes muscles relax. Intestines are muscles, so the intestinal tract relaxes too, this increases the time period food remains within your body. Thus increases the gassiness pregnant woman experience. The longer the gas stays, the more bacteria farts (Yes bacteria farts, and that is what gives bodily gasses a smell) gets built into the gas, and therefore your farts will smell horrible. Good news, though, not every person who is pregnant will smell like a bioreactor, but your farts may become smellier during pregnancy and don’t be alarmed about it. Talking about relaxing intestines.
The slower peristaltic movement also increases your chances to become constipated. Constipation adds to the smell… You see where I am going with this? There are ways to manage this and speaking to your obgyn about safe remedies to relieve the constipation is a real win on this topic.
The second. Pregnancy and happiness
Many pregnant people love being pregnant, they adore the feeling and they walk on sunshine throughout their pregnancy. I am happy for them. Yet there are some people, more than you expect, who hates being pregnant, They dislike the way their bodies feel, the way pregnancy impacts their life and just in general do not enjoy being pregnant. Do they love their baby any less? Not at all. It is the experience that affects them negatively, and we need to have room for that.
Hormones are all over the place and many pregnant people dislike the feeling of being out of control. Some have severe “morning sickness” which, btw is not just in the morning, it is all day sickness. Some have all of a sudden have severe reactions to smells they used to love and adore. SOme may have complications during the pregnancy that drains joy out of the experience. Some may have uncomplicated pregnancies, but just do not enjoy being pregnant. When we add societal expectations to the mix and they have anxiety ridden and guilt inducing interactions with the world. From which random stranger will just touch the belly to did I just fart and kill the pot plant at the entrance.
The constant tracking of growth and development, may be joyous for some, but for some it creates fear. Fear that something may go wrong. The barrage of products to look at, to consume and manipulative marketing done towards pregnant people are nauseating. Creating the idea that if you do not do this, or do not do that during pregnancy, you will end up as a failure as a parent.
Being pregnant is not all smiley faces and rainbows for some people and people need to start talking about this. We need to start acknowledging that not enjoying pregnancy does not make you a bad parent, it makes you human on so many levels and that it is totally okay not to love every second of every day of your pregnancy.
The third: Parenting ideologies:
When you co-parent many conversations start with… This is how I was raised. Many pregnant co-parents only start seeing the differences in how they were raised once the baby is born and they are trying to find their feet with the new addition. Before and during pregnancy with the raging hormones and all, is the time to have these discussions. You and your partner have to sit down and actually talk about what your parenting ideology will be once the little human is in your care.
Yes there will be various things you will decide and then once the baby is born, you may have to change tact, however the foundation needs to be there. From the practical to the more nuanced. Like who will change diapers when, who will bath baby, and how will the food and cleaning chores play out. Heads up the person not pregnant will most probably have to step up and take responsibility for various things they have not been responsible for. You need to talk about and research things like breastfeeding (yes it may be natural, but natural does not always mean easy or without its challenges)
You will have to discuss discipline and read up on it and discuss continuously. It is important that both parents, or all involved in raising this baby are on the same page when it comes to the foundational strategies you as a partnership will implement. Many times over the fights parents have about their kids, stems from never having this discussion and assuming you are on the same page. This discussion starts with how and where the birth happens, all the way through to adulthood. Keep talking and reading.
Once a baby is born, the person who was pregnant will take a lot of the child rearing responsibility on their shoulders. You will have to learn to delegate, and not interfere when the co-parent does things with the baby differently than what you would have done. They will change the diaper differently, bath the baby differently and absolutely engage differently, and they have to. You are different people and both are learning. So ideally remember the grace for each other. This is coming from the one who was pregnant, did the research and still put on the first diaper the wrong way around
Parenting can be hard. It can be overwhelming. Add the internet and it all becomes almost a “keeping up with the Jones’” and a failure to thrive as a parent. There is the odd balance between asking the internet and various online parenting groups “How do I parent x or y?” and Oh look at my perfect family. In the meantime our children end up paying a price.
Don’t get me wrong. The internet moms have played a role in our journey as parents. We offer much less sugar at parties. Our kids eat considerably healthier than what they would have if it wasn’t for the internet parents. We even cloth diapered our youngest due to the information we have found from the internet parenting groups. You are reading this because of the internet parents you know. However there is a dark side to the internet parenting groups that is often overlooked.
It is the price our children pay from following well meaning advice that does not get scrutinised or checked. We have started to live in the opinion era and not the factual era. Where we can support certain decisions based on scientific data and in the very same breath continue with outdated practices for raising our kids.
There is this fine balance of giving advice and keeping your nose out of other parent’s business. Harmful practices are advised because, well “I turned out okay’” or “My kids turned out okay.”
In reality the reason the voices that did not turn out okay, cannot speak up, because well, they are either dead or not able to speak up. We hold on to old parenting generational practices that cause deep damage and we allow the cycle to continue and inadvertently pour more brokenness into an already messed up world.
How many adults are caught in a web of eating disorders, depression, anxiety, being abused, drug and alcohol abuse? How many are struggling just to keep going and remain accountable for their actions and their kids? We need to be honest with ourselves as adults and as parents. We are struggling and we are not coping. Why are we not coping? We are not coping because we were raised to live in a world that no longer exists. We were raised within families where everyone gave advice, but everyone kept their noses out of other people’s business, especially when it came to raising us.
You may wonder where I am heading with this?
Our kids are our responsibility and we are quick to say “If you pay my bills then you can say how I should raise my child..” The problem is, our children will hopefully grow up and become adults, and depending on how we raised our children, our adult children may have a deep and lasting impact on the people around them and on the world at large. If we raise children apathetic to the world by the example that we lead we have failed society at large. If we keep our noses out of people’s business and how they raise their kids, we are often allowing the cycle to continue,
So often we centre child rearing as an isolated event. Just the family at the centre, yet we use the phrase, it takes a village when it suits us. We cannot have it both ways and expect a balanced and well rounded human being as the end result. Just look at the adults around us and at the world around us. We did not turn out so great, if we did, the world would have looked far better than what it looks like. This experiment with raising kids has been failing for decades. We need to start doing things differently.
We have access to the internet, so we can actually check if the advice given to us by our online village is safe, correct and good for our children. We can search the internet and give factual information to a parent who asks for support and information. From getting your baby to potty train to how and when to start with solids. How, why and when a child throws tantrums to how to parent them in a responsible way, without continuing cycles of abuse and trauma. We can step away from what my parents did and my grandparents did, so it must work and really start educating ourselves and others on safe child rearing practices.
We do not have to keep up with the Jones’, BUT we have to stop misinformation and dangerous advice given on parenting groups and forums. We have a responsibility as the village to ensure that kids grow up safe, and without years of trauma under their belt before the age of 18.
Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies… There comes an age where our kids start to lie to us. There are many factors that play a role in why kids lie to us and at times all the factors just line up to create a perfect storm of power struggles and misunderstandings. There are developmental reasons for this, but also a societal norm as well as home based reasons our kids start to lie to us or attempt to hide things from us. In this article we will touch on all 3 of those reasonings.
Developmental milestones and lies:
According to Kohlberg and Piaget, moral development happens in different stages and the developmentally appropriate age where kids begin to experiment with lying is in the age range of 5 to 10 years. There are other Early Childhood development Psychologists and researchers that have the view of moral development starting at an earlier age. The age of 3. (If you want to read up on the scholars and research click here for the research article)
For the purposes of this article, we include the age range 3 to 10 years, as that is the current settled science regarding the development of morality.
Piaget identified two different types of morality in his research:
Heteronomous Morality: Which means, morality imposed by authority figures and the outside world, thus morality depends on the consequences and not the intent. Known as Moral realism (5 to 9 years – 3 to 8/9 years according to the latest research)
Autonomous morality: Self-imposed morality, thus the intent outweighs the consequences. Known as Moral relativism. (9 to 10 years – 7/ 8 to 10 years according to the latest research)
According to Grace Point; Early Childhood Moral development article: “Developmental psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg built on Piaget’s work to create his theory of the Stages of Moral Understanding. According to Kohlberg, young children at this age base their morality on a punishment and obedience orientation. Much like Piaget, Kohlberg believed that young children behave morally because they fear authority and try to avoid punishment. In other words, little kids follow the rules because they don’t want to get in trouble. It’s too much to expect preschool-aged children to automatically “do the right thing”.Click here for the full article.
Why is this important when we look at lies? Lies are the beginning stages of how children learn to navigate morality. They measure our reactions to their actions and determine what is good or bad and how to survive this life and how to fit in. When a child feels like they will be punished for what is viewed as a morally wrong action, they will try to lie and side step punishment in that way. There is however another factor that needs to be taken into account and that is the developmental space the child is traversing during the 3 to 7 year age group. In this age group they have an extremely active imagination. Their brains are not yet able to distinguish between reality and fiction. For them their imagination is tangible and real. So even if they broke the mug whilst playing, but in their mind the imaginary friend did it in the playing, they will state that it was their friend who did it, because to them their imaginary friend was the guilty party as they cannot distinguish between fiction and reality. So they are not lying and their words are not morally corrupt, they are not aiming at upsetting you or lying to you explicitly, they are telling you their version of the truth.
The lies we tell and how we react to the lies they tell:
We as parents lie to our children, and we do it so often. We read them fiction or they watch television and we tell them stories about Santa and the Easter Bunny. We use white lies when we are stuck in a corner and sometimes we say we will do something and forget to do it, or hope they forget we said that we would do it. It all adds up.
I can already see the eye rolls when I equated reading a story or watching television to your child as a lie. Unless the story is a historical factual book, fiction at its core is lies, it is a flight of imagination. It is acceptable lies because we as adults and even older children can differentiate between reality and fiction. We can differentiate between reality and imagination, and we enjoy these flights of imagination. The process of these flights of imagination is called “suspension of disbelief”. It is called that because we suspend our need for facts and reality, we deep dive into someone else’s imagination and we celebrate it.
There is nothing wrong with the aforementioned practice and we would be remiss to deny the advantages that comes from reading books to our children, however we need to be aware that we as adults embrace a “type” of lying and for a young child that can be confusing as their language development and brain development cannot make that distinction yet. So when we read Peter Pan to them, they become the lost boys or Wendy or even Tinker Bell, Neverland is real to them. So extending grace for their flights of imagination, their lies for protection cannot be overstated.
I mentioned our lies we tell, by not executing what we said we will do, or by telling a white lie to get out of a sticky situation. They pick it up and as their brain matures and they learn to navigate the world, they will make use of those things. Kids see, hear and then mirror everything. Have you ever instructed your child to tell someone you are not there to answer the door or speak on the phone? Or have you ever told someone on the phone that you are already on your way while still getting dressed? They see it and they will use it too, they will use it on you.
Unless we have never told a lie or instructed our kids to lie on our behalf, we are in a sticky situation when it comes to parenting lies.
Then there is how we react. In the way we react to lies or misbehaviour, we create the space for our children to navigate the difference between wrong and right. This age group, especially under the age of 8, views right and wrong as a moral black and white situation. So there is no room to manoeuvre. If you scream and shout over a glass of spilled water and have the same level of reaction to a broken ornament or when they run across the street, they cannot differentiate between the different types of wrongs and which is the lesser of all the evils, so to speak.
If we react poorly in the early days of their experimentation with imagination, accidents and their difficult behaviour, we create in them a fear of how we will react in a particular situation. So we give them a defence pay-out and inadvertently encourage them to lie to us.
Societal and life:
When a child feels uncertain or out of control they will try to lie and control the situation at hand. It hardly ever pans out in a good way. Ironically if you read some of the pre-teen fiction, it is all about a child lying to adults, while trying to figure out life and the situation at hand.
Society seems okay with lies, as long as it does not cause any damage to a person. Hence “white lies” as a label. We encourage flights of imagination by paying for someone else’s lies written in a book. So in the eyes of society, lies are good when you get paid for it, and lies are bad if you use it to hurt someone else or cover yourself. It is okay if you lie to get out of a situation, because being viewed as rude is far worse than telling a lie to protect someone’s feelings. You see how tricky it becomes for our children especially when they are that young. We punish children for lying, but then when they discover Santa is not real, we make up a new “softer” lie to ease the blow.
We need to own this, this is part of life, and we need to own the fact that our children will pick up on lies, try to lie to us with some success. So how do we parent this? How do we handle the lies our kids tell us?
How do we parent lies?
Be a person of your word: When you say you will do something, do it. Even if they forget that you have said you will do it. Don’t give in on boundaries for the sake of the peace and then hope they will forget about it, they will remember and it will have a huge impact on your trustworthiness in their mind. They will start to distrust you, and they may not even be able to pinpoint why, they will just have a gut feeling of mistrust.
Do not ask your kids to lie for you. It may seem small, but really we cannot ask them to behave in a certain way one moment and then another the next moment, just for the sake of our own convenience.
Be honest and upfront, even when it is uncomfortable.
Own your mistakes and do not make excuses for your blunders. You messed up, fix it, no amount of lies will ever fix the mistake.
During the imagination driven age group, allow for lies. When your kid lies here, you can use the words: “you wish ‘xyz’ did not happen.”, “I will appreciate it if you tell me the truth, when you tell me the truth, I’m able to help you. When you hide the truth it makes it difficult to fix the situation.” or “that is an amazing story, I think you need to write it down. You may become an excellent writer one day.” obviously without sarcasm or snark.
Ask what their intent was, no matter the age of the child. Not accusingly, but inquiringly. Asking why as a genuine question, will reveal far more to you than shouting at them.
Read stories and books and join them in their flights of imagination, that way they learn the difference between a straight up lie and suspension of disbelief.
If you do the seasonal character (Santa/Easter bunny) type of things, make a point of telling them it is imagination and it is fun to do so. Under a certain age, they will tell you that they are real even when you tell them they are not. Celebrate it with a “Yes you really want it to be real and I love joining you on these adventures.” That way you are not lying to them, you are suspending disbelief and you are able to keep the “magic of imagination” alive and well. Not doing so, you stand the risk of tainting your relationship with your child into one of second guessing the words that you say, especially about the good stuff in life.
Watch how you react to mishaps, and even blatant disobedience. If our reaction to those kinds of behaviour is scary, fear filled and punitive, they have no reason whatsoever to tell you the truth. Lying then just postpones the blow up indefinitely and as humans we are prone to choose avoiding conflict or delaying conflict if possible. So create an environment where they feel safe to share the truth, no matter what the truth may be.
Ask them what they think needs to happen when they are caught in a lie: This is especially important when they are older. That allows them to really think of the impact their words and lies have on others. The disappointment and hurt lies may cause etc.
Kids will lie, it is part of their development, and it’s how we parent it that will make the difference. We do not want to raise our kids to be liars, but we don’t want to kill their imagination. There is a fine line, but it is possible to traverse that line if we handle it with guidance instead of punishment. When we engage our children in honesty and sincerity that is when they learn the moral value of honesty, kindness and accountability.
Dear mother and father of a boisterous child, I think of you in the chaos of everyday life. I see your exhausted eyes and uncomfortable smile as your child once again were the one who created havoc in the shops, or at home or at a friends house. I see the flicker of amusement and pride when they do something that you know is not socially acceptable, but darn they executed it so well. I see the fear when they push their bodies beyond the limit of your comfort zone. I see you.
Dear mother and father of the cautious child. I see your worry when you have social engagements and our child does not want to engage with others. I see the exhaustion when social conformity does not seem to be of any relevance to them. I see the caution in your eyes when people ask why your kid is not joining in the activity.
I feel your frustration when you see social media posts that label gender according to behaviour and your child is just not that. I feel the fear and worry you have, because your child just does not fit the box. The what ifs of the future and wanting for your child to fit in, for their own happiness.
I see you.
Here is the reality though. Gender is fluid and boisterous and caution is part personality and part taught behaviour. Sexuality has nothing to do with interest in activities and just because a child is born with certain anatomy, does not mean they have to behave a certain way. A penis does not equal broken bones and wrestling and a vagina does not equal nurture and sas.
So why is there this stereotype? Because it gets socialised into children, here is a link to a video that just shows us how much we use anatomy to socialise our children click here
Due to human nature that is genetically programmed to want to fit in (we are geared for survival and that means if we are part of a pack our chances of surviving exponentially improves). So at anytime our kids does not fit the “social construct” of their genitals we start to panic. We start to fear. That fear tires us out and we feel like we are failing our children.
Do we need to protect our children? Yes we have a responsibility to protect our children, but not in the way you may think we have to. Life is hard, life is tough and it is hardly ever kind to anyone. We will never be able to protect our children from the dangers of living life within the pack we choose to live in. There is always danger, but we can protect our children from ourselves. We can step back and allow our children to be safe to be who they are in our homes and in our company.
We can support them when they climb the highest tree or read the thickest book. We have a responsibility to protect them from arbitrary social expectations that is connected to their assumed gender. We do not have to fear our children being who they are, they will find their space and the less we insert our own expectations of who their true self is, the stronger and more resilient they will be.
Authentic people do not get blown around by the wind, they do not fear the social rejection, because they know who they are, believe in who they are, and they do so, because you as the parent embraced their authentic being. They will find their space and where they belong. They will find their pack and they will not just survive they will thrive.
So NO, Boys do not get broken bones or stitches because they are boys, and girls do not get sassy or hyper emotional because they are girls. Some kids are far more adventurous than others regardless of their genitals and some are far more cautious and sensitive regardless of their genitals. It is called being human. The sooner we realise and embrace this, the sooner we will start raising healthy authentic human beings.
Our 4 and 5 year olds are linguistic artists. They reason with the words of an adult and the understanding of a child. They copy and test and try. That said, we need to look at why our kids do things the way that they do. Sometimes it is something as small as a tweak here or there of how we engage with them, and sometimes it will take a bit more patience and understanding of where they are at as children.
Understanding ourselves as parents… We all have triggers, we all have moments where we just don’t know how to remain present. The reason for that is, certain behaviour from our children involuntarily takes us back to when we were that age. However, because we are the parent, we don’t tap into how that little child felt. No, we tap into how the adult in the room behaved and the irritation, anger and even sometimes the specific punishment doled out, comes to mind. Inadvertently we move to a position that seeks control in that particular instance. Our mind flashes back and before we can even register it, the thoughts running through our heads are panic and frustration and then we have only one goal in mind. “I need to get this child to do as I say.” Regardless of what the situation is, we are programmed to want to control kids. We experience it as a clash of wills.
Age 4 to 7 should be the pinnacle of the clash, if you handle this right. If not, the teenage years will be a battlefield where all involved will leave the scene damaged, bruised, battered and some without limbs when the kids finally spread their wings and leave the home. This sounds dramatic, I know. However the reality is, if you as the parent remains of the mind-set that children need to be controlled, especially when they push back, the emotional scars inflicted during the teenage years, will take a lifetime to heal. If they do at all.
When we parent this age group there are some important questions you have to ask yourself as a parent:
What is the end goal? What is it that you want to teach your child within this particular situation?
Am I trying to control the outcome? Do I want my child’s will to bow to mine?
Do I feel like I have lost control over my child? Are you feeling powerless in the situation?
Am I really hearing what my child is saying? Did I listen empathetically to what my child is saying?
What is my intent? Do I really want my child to understand or do I want them to just do what I asked of them?
Have I asked questions to understand better? When the conversation started did I at any time, jump to a conclusion or did I ask open ended questions to gain a better understanding of what they are thinking?
Is it safe? Is what they want to do safe? If not why? How can we find a way to address the safety aspect of the situation, without needing an outright no? Is it possible to give them the opportunity to try without fear of retribution?
Are the choices I have given real choices or just the semblance of choices? Giving a choice that confirms their autonomy is of vital importance. Real choices mean that whatever they choose they will not be overridden. Give them choices in things that matter, not just the clothes they wear. Include them in decisions that have an impact on them. That way you teach them reasoning skills and creative thinking.
Understanding where they are as children? Remember that children are capable of thinking, but they are only 4 or 5 years old. They may have a large vocabulary, but they’re still emotionally underdeveloped and the emotional and impulse control as well as self-regulation only matures at age 25. They are still learning.
During this age period they are at their peak initiative stage, allow them to try and execute plans. Things do not have to be perfect, but they have to try in order to fail and be able to learn from the experience. If we don’t allow them to try, we are hampering their development and actually killing their drive to learn and try new things.
From birth it is important to allow our children periods of transitioning. Transitioning in this context is moving from one thing to the next. We as adults do it daily and usually fairly smoothly. We move from one activity to the next with very little thought as we power through our day. Infants and children are still learning how to do this. Very few people actually talk about this or even think about this as a skill to be acquired. However, just like learning to walk and talk, our kids need to learn how to transition from one activity to the next without experiencing anxiety.
There are certain personality types who are slow to transition and others who love the pace of fast transitions, however even though there are personality traits involved, the skill of how to manage, prepare for and embrace transition is still a skill to learn. When parents engage it as a skill to be taught, it creates the opportunity for the person who is slow to transition to experience less angst whilst going through a transition and it teaches the fast transitioning person to slow down a bit and think before moving over to the next thing or activity.
Why is this skill so important? Everyday tasks and life in general, is filled with transitions, there are minor transitions like waking up and getting out of bed and major transitions, like changing one’s career path. Teaching our children how to manage this will enable them to find their rhythm in life and also ease the adjustment period for major transitions in life.
So how do we teach them to manage transitions?
Communication is the key: Talk through the changes with them. I.e. it is morning now, we are getting up and out of bed. Then we will change into our daytime clothes. Literally step by step verbal cues. There will come a time where you won’t have to be so focused on detail, but in infancy and toddlerhood, it is best to focus on the details of every transition and preparation for the next step. Knowing what comes next allows us to better manage life in general.
Inform them what the “daily plan” is. Initially just focus on the major highlights, up to the first nap/sleep period. For example, we are getting up and will complete our morning routine, then we will have breakfast and we will play outside. After we have played outside, it will be time for your nap. Obviously as they get older, they will drop their naps, so what is planned for the awake period will have more information. Do not expect your child under the age of 4/5 to remember every step or detail. The aim is to help you plan your day and for them to have some idea of what to expect for the day ahead.
Allow for time to transition between activities. This is such an important aspect of transitioning. In this space there is room for the slow and fast to complete their task or activity and then move to get their minds ready to focus on the next thing. Making use of timers can be helpful. Give a warning that the transition is coming and how much time they have left to focus on the task at hand. Remember you don’t want them to transition immediately, but only when the allocated time to prepare for the transition has been completed. Think of how it affects you when someone interrupts you and expects an immediate reaction. It gets mentally and emotionally exhausting to make the transitions so quickly and it increases our frustration levels. Knowing that you have a transition preparation period, also helps us as parents to plan ahead and rush less. It will help you as a parent to remain connected and present, but it will also teach children the concept of the need to wait for us to complete a task before we can engage with them.
Remember that what kids are doing is not any less important because they are children. So many times adults tend to only focus on what is important to them and we dictate the flow of the day. We plan our days around our own needs and responsibilities and our kids just have to tag along and do as they are told. This is very problematic at its core. The moment kids feel like life is happening to them and who they are and what they do does not rank on the list of priorities, they will start pushing back. They will start acting out, because they feel invisible and disconnected. They also have priorities and plans for the day, so respecting what they are busy with is important.
Plan the day with your kids: Not all people like to plan, they prefer to take the day as it comes, however, there are some things that must be done during the day and can be fit into a day plan or routine. Eating is one of these, going to the shops or school is another. These are big disruptive transitions that has an impact on our kids. So find a space in the morning routine where you and your child can have a discussion of what has to happen during that day and plan it together.
Prepare your kids for big events or transitions. If there is something like a big event/ holiday/moving or even a parent going away for work or holiday, it is important to discuss this with the kids beforehand. Here, having a calendar they can mark down works wonders. It creates a continuous conversation and space for you to check in with yourself and them about the coming change. It will also help your child prepare as much as they can for the transition. For the slow to adjust kids, when moving or going away on holiday, it really helps to have pictures of where you are going to. It helps them envision what to expect on a basic level.
Not all situations have space for transitioning periods, now what?
Life happens, so it will not always be possible to give transitioning periods before hand, however this should be the exception to the rule. The reason parents may believe that this is more the rule than not, is because we as parents get so wrapped up in the day to day life and ourselves that we forget things, and that places us in a rush or hurry and then we rush our children. So make use of timers for yourself as an adult as well. This may seem excessive, however having alarms set on your mobile device, enables you as a parent to have a less rushed transition yourself. In our home the alarms or timers are usually set to go off 5 min before we actually have to transition. That way we as parents can give the kids a heads up for the coming transition and they have 5 min to ready themselves. Since we have implemented this, our life is less stressed, and we are less flustered when we need to leave or go somewhere.
When there is an emergency and we need to leave immediately or stop an activity immediately, the kids are more likely to comply as they can sense the urgency in our behaviour and they know that this is not the norm. So they are more likely to absorb and manage the transition with ease.
One of the most practical skills, besides learning how to manage transitions, that grows from this process, is the ability to plan the abstract of a day. This skill will also be able to permeate into school and work life. We all have the same amount of time, but we do not all have the same amount of energy, so learning from infancy how to plan a day or schedule and how to manage transitions, enables us to manage our energy spend and anxiety.
In course 1 – We look at how we do life with our children in deeper detail. Click here for more information and dates on when the next course will be presented. Follow us on Facebook for great videos and other information regarding parenting.
Kids need support when adjusting to change, so do parents, especially when we add another sibling to the family. In the previous blog (see here) we have discussed why. How do we ease the adjustment for us as parents?
We will discuss a few tips and pointers in this blog regarding the adjustment period.
First things first
If the only thing that you as a parent take from this is to remember that it takes a long time to adjust, that all emotions are valid and every person has their own way of dealing within their own time span of how long it will take them to adjust, then it becomes easier to manage our own expectations of this adjustment period.
Adjusting as parents:
Adding a new member to the family is tough on any relationship and often parents shift into survival mode without realising it. The reason is that adding a child to the family creates stress, and a whole new level of stress at that. As parents we often doubt ourselves, generally more often than not. We have to contend with yesteryears’ ideas of raising children and new research that gets released almost daily. From food to development, to emotional and societal health. It becomes a smorgasbord of information and it can become overwhelming. Here is the truth though, parents become ‘parenting fit’. You will grow with your kids. You will make mistakes with your kids and you will do things differently as each child joins the ranks. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, learn from it, correct it and move on.
Very often parenting support focuses on the child, and what to expect from your child, we will go into detail regarding that in a different blog. For now we will look at what to expect from our parenting journey during this adjustment period.
One of the key factors is that the jump from one child to a second is usually overwhelming and very difficult. The most obvious contributing factor of this is that the older child is usually under the age of 7, thus still in an age group where their primary needs are being fulfilled by their parents or caregivers. Just because we added a sibling, does not mean their needs have changed or that they will need us any less. There is an anecdotal belief that after adding a second child, adding more children to the mix is not as big an adjustment as going from one to two. However, it is undeniable that adding any number of children to a family creates its own emotional stress and an adjustment period where every single member of the family needs time to acclimatise to the new normal.
This is a learning curve and a steep one at that, for all parties involved. Some of the things we hoped other parents would have told us when we made our family bigger were:
It is okay to feel overwhelmed, you will feel it often.
What is fair isn’t always equal.
Feeling jealous is normal for parents and children during this time – it is tough and as much as you love the new addition, you may miss your freedom or even perceive the other to have more freedom than yourself.
Tomorrow really is another day.
Parenting guilt comes in big waves, if it hits, don’t let it drown you.
It is okay to wonder if you have made a mistake on the hard days.
Not all of the days will be hard, not all of the days will be good. Having average days is normal.
Your kid’s personalities may clash and it is okay if they do.
Your older child may express severe negative feelings or behaviour towards their younger baby sibling – It is normal and to be expected. The baby is the source of change and their discomfort with adjustment. Them stating their negative feelings about the new sibling is okay and to be expected. It does not mean that they don’t love them, they are just not happy about the change in that particular moment.
Tips for adjusting as parents:
While planning or expecting the new baby, discuss as parenting partners the changes that lie ahead
Discuss the adjustment to parenting roles and expectations, the roles will shift and change due to the need to meet all the children’s and the parent’s needs. The secondary parent will have to become more actively involved with taking care of the children as well as the running of the home. This includes cooking and cleaning, feeding and bathing.
If you are a single parent, look at the above and work out a rough plan as to how you are going to a your expectations of how your home will look, how your day to day is likely to go. What things are vitally important to not only your own survival, but your own peace of mind? Can you get by for a while if you only wash dishes once or twice a week, if you can, how will you manage the dirty dishes so that it does not make you feel uncomfortable or anxious? Can you move some things around in your kitchen so that the older kids can help themselves to healthy snacks without needing you to help them? How can you adjust your home to accommodate self-reliance if needs be for your older kids? It is often the simple physical changes in the home that can make the adjustment easier and open up time to give the attention to the older kids that they so desperately need during this adjustment period.
Basically create a blueprint for the roles and responsibilities, it is not set in stone as each child is different and you need space to adjust your blueprint according to how the family will function as a unit, but having something to work from eases the conversations that needs to happen during this period.
2. Lean into the change
Parents and children alike experience “brain fog” or stress during this adjustment period, your child may show signs of regression i.e. was sleeping through or no longer wet the bed to not sleeping through anymore and wetting the bed again. It is normal for them to react this way and it will take time for them to master the skills again as the stress they experience starts to dissipate. Be honest about your own energy levels and plan your day to day according to it, ease into this and don’t be afraid to say no to an invite or even decline an outing when you are not coping.
3.Don’t expect a clean home.
While you are busy with your new addition to the family, your older kids may get up to mischief and make a mess in another room, try to minimise their access to things that cannot be cleaned easily and maximise access to things that can be cleaned easily.
Don’t scream or fight about the mess, ask them calmly to help you clean up. This is tough as we are already tired and stressed and it usually happens when we are at the end of our rope.
Kids are often mirrors of our emotional well-being. So when we have had enough of the stress, they have had enough and act out, physically showing us what we and they are feeling emotionally. Try to remember this and find grace in your heart and mind for yourself and for them.
4. Expect both parents to feel strain and exhaustion.
Rest opportunities are usually more limited when having more than one child as you don’t have an extra pair of hands to help ease the load. Take things slowly and day by day.
5. The older child can wait a minute or two
When they have to wait, expect whining and maybe even some anger. It is normal for them as they are used to very responsive parents and now they are experiencing the opposite. Breathe and remember that as much as whining can drive anyone dilly, they are whining because they are not used to having to share you and they do feel left out.
6.Try to make time to spend with your significant other.
In the first two years it may not be just the two of you spending time together, but even just lying on the bed next to each other with the children all over you, you still get time to connect.
7 .Don’t be afraid to ask for help or what you need
Even when a friend comes to visit and you need help with the dishes, ask them to help. It takes a village to raise a child, or so the saying goes. It does take a village to support a family and support often comes in overalls and hands in soapy water.
8. Communicate your needs clearly
Have grace with yourself and your partner. You are both going to make mistakes and sometimes big ones during this period. No person is a mind reader and we all have different ideas of what needs to take priority in the moment, so talk things through. Be open to suggestions from your partner and be willing to re-evaluate your blue print when necessary.
9. Have that cup of tea or coffee while it is hot.
Allow self-care to happen, initially self-care will probably be with a baby on your chest, while you take a long bath. Take time to relax and recharge. It lifts the brain fog and enables you to parent both kids with a more rational mind. = This one takes practice and should happen daily to get used to it and develop the habit even if it is just 5 minutes.
Please feel free to comment below or follow us on Facebook. Look out for our next blog on this vital topic, where we will discuss tips to help our kids adjust to the change.