Posts Tagged With: attachment parenting

Babies Communicate! The Importance of the “Stop Hand”

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Sweet baby Captain telling me very clearly that I was being too loud.

When my husband and I discovered we were pregnant back in 2007, we were thrilled and appropriately nervous.  How could two people who had been living alone in a remote cabin in the forest, miles from town or other people, who had absolutely NO experience with kids, have a baby and raise it together in a healthy, happy and safe way? We had the most basic components: love, healthy relationships and excitement to welcome a new life into our family, but there were so many things to learn!  I would like to share one of the things that was very clear, easy to respond to, and helped us tremendously to listen to our baby, before she was able to use words, or other gestures, to tell us what was going on.  We called it the “stop hand”.

I spent a lot of my pregnancy in the mountains, without a lot of interaction with other people, while my husband was working during the days.  I was not alone however!  I was in the good company of 4 dogs, 2 cats, a load of chickens, and 2 beautiful geese named Ping and Vail.  The male goose, Ping, was my constant companion, as I sat in camp chairs outside reading.  He would honk at my big tummy and try to get my attention as I poured through birth and baby books.  Someone had given me a copy of Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child by Katie Allison Granju, Betsy Kennedy and William Sears, for which I will always be grateful.  The ideas presented really rang true for me, and just seemed like the right thing to do.  Co-sleeping, baby wearing, breastfeeding and elimination communication, among other things, were not hard practices to want to do.  Every parent makes different choices and these were just ones that struck an instant chord for us.  I plan to share our personal experience in elimination communication, and other natural parenting choices we made, at a different time.

Listening to our baby’s cues and doing our best in general helped us through a far from ideal birth experience, both mine and my husband’s postpartum depression, and endless sleepless nights.  What I want to focus on in this post is a specific cue that our daughter gave us as a baby, without words, to communicate that something was bothering her, before she started to fuss and cry.  It was the “stop hand”.  As you can see in the photo, Captain had her hand, palm out, open and nestled against her cheek. She was telling us “please stop”.  She would do this while awake, or asleep, to tell us if a noise was too loud, a movement or environment was making her uncomfortable, she didn’t want to be touched a certain way, or if she generally just wanted something to stop.  If we acknowledged this cue and stopped whatever it was that she didn’t like immediately, she was fine and would continue to sleep or go about her baby business.  If not, she would crinkle up like a piece of pink tissue paper and cry.

My husband and I started noticing the “stop hand” being used by other babies on our trips to town.  Once, we were picking up Grandma from the airport and saw a family with a tiny, brand new baby in a car seat carrier. The baby’s parents were hugging the grandparents, and we could see how hard it was for them all to say goodbye. The baby started to fuss in his sleep.  His mom suddenly reached for the straps and quickly lifted his still sleeping body from the carrier to hold him up to everyone for one last look. The stop hand immediately shot to his little cheek and stayed there for quite a while, as though trying to ward off the ooohs and ahhhs, before he crinkled up and wailed in misery.  I remember my husband whispering to me, “Oh look at the stop hand over there!”  We weren’t judging the parents at all as they were sadly saying goodby to loved ones, but we noticed how clear it was that the baby did not want to be touched while sleeping peacefully.

One other time that comes to mind was when I was in a Costco one day. Costco, with its bright lights and warehouse shopping vibe, probably isn’t very comfy for a babe anyways, but I saw a mom talking with a friend and all the while she was pushing the tiny baby back and forth rhythmically in the stroller to “soothe” him.  Each time she pushed and pulled the stroller, she would stop it with her foot and it would go bump, whooosh, bump , whoosh….  The women were admiring the baby, who had a stop hand pressed to his cheek like a little shield. He was sleeping, but starting to wake and really wasn’t ready yet.  I heard his mom say, “I wonder why he always puts his hand on his face like that?” and, 30 seconds later he was screaming.  Again, no judgement here, it is just something we noticed!

The “stop hand” baby cue seems to be fairly common and it helped us soooo much with Captain to recognize it!  It is a wonderful thing to respond to some of the things that babies are “saying”.  Reading their cues helps keep them happier and feeling secure. I would love to hear more about the cues we can experience with babies from any parents who care to share.  I am happy to say that Captain is 5 now and healthy, happy and doing great.  It is funny that still, on occasion, we see the stop hand pop out while she is sleeping.  It just happened the other night when she fell asleep in the car and I picked her up to carry her into the house.  Ohhhh little stop hand! It just fills my heart with the love and tenderness that I have felt toward her for all these years to see that little hand on her cheek!

I wish gentle love to all babies out there, and health and happiness to the children they become.

Good thoughts, Karen

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Categories: Positive Parenting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Dr. Laura Markham: How Loving Guidance Raises a Better Behaved Child

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Kids… gotta love them and can’t strangle ’em!

I want to share with you an wonderful thing I discovered last year.  It is called “Aha! Parenting” with Dr. Laura Markham.  At the time I thought I was having trouble dealing with my 4 year old daughter’s behavior, but what I was really having trouble with was my own reaction to her behavior. My wonderful friend, Annabell, shared with me the link to AHA! and I started receiving their weekly emails.  It changed my life, and that of my husband as well.  As soon as we implemented these simple things, that already reflected many of own beliefs, things changed a lot. Empathetic parenting really works! 

For example, the other night when it was time to get ready for bed, Captain was fired up and resistant.  When she saw the toothbrush she started screaming at me that I was bugging her and that she wasn’t going to brush and, quite suddenly, she smashed right into me and hit me in the stomach.  I was totally surprised and she even shocked herself and started screaming even more and crying at the same time.  Honestly, my very first thought upon being socked in the tummy was WTF?  But, I took a deep breath and put my hand on her shoulder.  She screamed again and pulled away.  I made her look into my eyes by getting down to her level, and as soon as she did she relaxed into a flop into my arms saying “I’m so sorry mom!!” First, I empathized.  I said “Honey, I know how tired you are feeling and it’s hard to get ready for bed sometimes.”  She nodded, sniffling.  Then I said “It hurts to be whammed in the tummy like you just did and we just aren’t a family that hits”.  She nodded and said “I really didn’t mean to Mom, I’m sorry if I hurt you”.  She then checked my tummy to see if it was okay and we brushed her teeth and were off to bed.

There are so many positive parenting helps and hints on Dr. Laura’s webpage.  I highly recommend signing up for her newsletter because when I receive mine each week, it somehow always seems to apply, and gentle reminders are fantastic for parents like me!  Here is the Positive Parenting page, with links, and I hope you read on.  Thanks for listening.

Good thoughts, Karen

Why Positive Parenting?

Why Positive Parenting? Because it works, from toddlers to teens.  Positive parenting raises a child who WANTS to behave.

Strict Parenting raises angry kids who lose interest in pleasing their parents.Permissive parenting raises unhappy kids who test their parents. In both cases, the child resists the parent’s guidance and doesn’t internalize self discipline.

Positive parenting — sometimes called positive discipline, gentle guidance, or loving guidance — is simply guidance that keeps our kids on the right path, offered in a positive way that resists any temptation to be punitive. Studies show that’s what helps kids learn consideration and responsibility, and makes for happier kids and parents.

“Children misbehave when they feel discouraged or powerless.  When you use discipline methods that overpower them or make them feel bad about themselves, you lower their self-esteem. It doesn’t make sense to punish a child who is already feeling badly about herself and heap more discouragement on top of her.” — Kathryn J. Kvols

Why Spanking Is Bad Parenting

When most people think of discipline, they think of physical punishment. Fear is a time honored and potent motivator, right? It certainly nips problem behavior in the bud.

But research confirms what intuition should tell us, which is that physical force teaches children all the wrong lessons. Children who are spanked learn that might makes right, that hitting is justified in some circumstances (such as when you are bigger), and that people who supposedly love you may hurt you.

Not surprisingly, study after study shows that children who are physically disciplined are more aggressive toward other children, more rebellious as teenagers, and more prone to depression and violent acting out as adults.

“But then how do kids learn lessons?”

Kids who are physically disciplined are actually less likely to learn lessons, because, as anyone who has ever been harshly punished can attest, they become obsessed with fantasies of self-justification and revenge rather than considering how to control themselves to prevent future misbehavior. Instead of becoming motivated to change and avoid the misbehavior in the future, they become motivated to avoid more punishment – not at all the same thing.

As a result, kids who are physically disciplined are not only more likely to repeat problem behavior than other kids, but are more likely to exhibit increasingly worse behavior, including deception.  If you’re still considering physical discipline, please read the section called Should You Spank Your Child?  If not, you’re probably wondering what does work.

Positive Parenting is the Most Effective Discipline to Stop Behavior Problems

“So what kind of discipline does a conscientious, compassionate parent use to coax good behavior out of immature little humans who are still developing the ability to control themselves — and are completely capable of driving you crazy?”

Every parent grapples with this issue. Discipline is one of the most googled words for parents. And even parents who refrain from physical force usually assume that discipline means some form of punishment, because our culture’s view of human nature assumes that humans must be punished so they will learn not to repeat transgressions.

But the word “discipline” has nothing to do with punishment. The root of “discipline” is “disciple,” from the verb “to teach.”

“Ok, so the question, of course, is what kind of discipline is most conducive to learning?”

Photo: Soulful

And, presumably, the ultimate goal of that learning is self-discipline, so the lesson doesn’t have to be repeated. So what helps kids stop themselves from acting in ways they know they shouldn’t? What gets them to start desirable behavior, and keep doing it?

Let’s start with the child acting in undesirable ways. When a child misbehaves, there are three possible explanations:

  • He doesn’t know what is expected of him
  • He does know but can’t control himself
  • He does know but doesn’t care.

If he doesn’t know, teaching is clearly in order: “HOT! The stove is hot!” or “We have to wait our turn for the slide.” But most teaching of this kind is modeled, as you thank Aunt Jane for inviting you, or wait for the light to turn green before you cross. Kids learn what is desirable behavior from watching you, or their classmates.

“What frustrates me is when my kids DO know the behavior is unacceptable but do it anyway!”

If he does know but can’t control himself, we need to help him learn to manage himself. But how?

Most discipline takes the attitude that children learn to control themselves by developing more motivation and stronger “consciences.”

But we all know that “doing the right thing” and overriding our “lesser” impulses doesn’t result from admonishing ourselves to do better, or from making new and improved resolutions. If that were sufficient, we’d all have perfectly balanced diets and fit bodies.

The secret of managing our impulses is becoming aware of and motivated by competing impulses. “I’d like to eat this entire pint of ice cream, but my cholesterol level and waistline are more important to me,” or, for your son, “I really want to skip my homework so I can play outside, but I don’t want to face my teacher without it.”

More challenging, of course, are crimes of passion: “This colleague is really attractive, but my marriage is too important to me,” or, for your son, “I really want to hit my sister over the head when she teases me like that, but Mom would be really mad.”

Eventually, we hope, he will move from his concern over losing Mom’s love to awareness of what he wants in his connection with his sister: “I’m really annoyed at my sister right now, but I know that when she’s not being obnoxious I do love her and I don’t really want to hurt her.”

Obviously, all this takes considerable maturity, which kids need our help to develop. It takes practice. Kids get this practice naturally as life deals them upsets and we help them handle them.

The key is providing our children with the experience of relationships where compassion trumps anger. When the body is flushed with the hormones of “fight or flight,” it’s hard for anyone to make wise decisions or to choose positively between competing priorities.

Helping children toward this level of emotional insight and self discipline doesn’t happen in the heat of emotion, whether the emotion is related to the original transgression (“But she was teasing me!”), or created by our punishing response(“I’ll teach you to hit your sister! Take that!”). Instead, we need to reduce the amount of time our child spends in the overcharged physical states of anger and fear, and give him an opportunity to calm down and reflect.

Once kids are calm, we can work with them to strengthen that positive motivation and help them to recognize and control their emotions, so they can manage the opposing impulse.

When It’s Not a Behavior Problem, It’s a Relationship Problem

“But what if the child does know that the misbehavior is off limits, but doesn’t have the competing impulse to control himself?”

This was our third possibility, right?  He does know what’s expected of him, but doesn’t care.

The misbehavior in this case is a symptom of a much greater problem. The competing impulse to control himself should come from his relationship with us.Children only learn to behave and manage themselves because we want them to, and because they want to please us. If he doesn’t care that he’s upsetting us with his misbehavior, it means our relationship with him needs strengthening.  Of course kids need our guidance, but if the relationship isn’t strong enough to support that guidance, then our primary focus needs to be on repairing the relationship.

Eventually, of course, kids reap the rewards of good behavior – good grades, self-esteem, approval from peers – and it begins to come naturally. It becomes part of their self image, and they automatically act to preserve that self-image. But this positive way of being always starts with their desire to please us.

Photo: MMarsolais

On the beach recently, I saw a two year old knocking down sand castles. He took such immense pleasure in this activity that it made me want to try it myself. When his mother saw what he was doing and came running, he looked chagrined, and allowed her to lead him reluctantly away. His desire to be loved by her was already slightly stronger than his desire to knock down sand castles.

Why don’t all of us run down the beach knocking down sand castles? Because we’ve discovered that it’s more rewarding to be loved.

Ultimately, love is the only leverage we have with our children. Even if they worked, fear and “Because I say so!” only last for as long as they can be physically enforced.

Every parent knows how fast children grow; fear works for a very short time if it works at all. Love, on the other hand, becomes a more effective motivator over time. And it raises kids who WANT to behave.

10 Tips to Put Positive Parenting into Practice in Your Home

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