Complete Wellness

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Kids

Dave Barry wrote a very funny book called Babies and Other Hazards of Sex. It is full of humorous insights into pregnancy and childbirth. But after childbirth is when the real problems start. The darn things do not come with an instruction manual. The hardest thing is trusting yourself. No one knows your baby like you do. There is no one right way to do things, so as long as you’re thoughtful and not doing anything dangerous, you’re doing what’s right for your family. Trust that.

This 24/7/365 job is made much more tolerable with a partner. Parents might be a married couple, committed partners, parent and grandparent, or a single parent. When your household is based in a consistent set of standards, everything else has at least a starting point. Loving kindness, respect, honesty, wonder, love, safety, affection, peace, love. These types of values are immutable. Let them be your foundation and purposefully touch base with them frequently. 

Make sure you work as a team. Discuss things upon which you don’t agree calmly, quietly and away from the child(ren). When you can’t agree, you have to compromise. You must come out of this discussion unified. Do what is best for your family. Sometimes, you might have to get outside professional advice, counseling or arbitration. Too many friends and family will give well-intended advice. Consider it. Thank them. Ultimately, you and your parenting partner need to be together. Learn to do this early on. The conflicts only get more intense.

Remain committed to your adult relationship. It should last longer than the 18 or so years you’ve got with this kid.

Am I spoiling my baby?
In infancy babies cannot be spoiled. They know whether they are comfortable or not. That’s all they know. They may communicate this in different ways. They may have preferences of whom they wish to hold them or how they want to be held. But basically they are comfortable or they’re not. So hold them, cuddle them,, pick them up all the time. It’s good for all parties involved.

What do I need to buy?
Babies do not need a lot of stuff. They just don’t. Diapers, milk/formula, a carseat, and a safe place to sleep. That could be a crib, basinet, basket or bureau drawer. They do not need electronic wipe warmers and 10,000 toys. Believe me, they’ll need plenty of stuff later on. Dress them in one more layer than what you’ve got on and you’re good to go. 

Flexible Scheduling
And if you have to go, you should go. You have to make a ton of adjustments to your life, but your baby has to learn to be flexible as well. You both have to make accommodations. You agree to get up and wipe smelly poo from their adorable bottoms in the middle of the night and they have to agree to go along with your schedule. As an example, I have had patients call and say they couldn’t get to an appointment because the baby was sleeping. Unless the child has been ill, wake his diapered butt up and do what you’ve got to do. It’s never too early for them to learn to be flexible and to adjust to the needs of others. Also it begins to set the very important precedent that you, the parent, are in charge.

Baby food
Breastfeeding is the best. It seems like a natural progression for our little parasite to be feeding off you from the inside before delivery and then from the outside after. Unless you don’t want to or can’t breastfeed, in which case you absolutely shouldn’t. As my mother used to say, feeding a baby is not really about the food. Feeding a baby is about holding, staring, cooing, bonding. If you’re bottle feeding, the baby should be held as if you were breast feeding; just that close. Prop babies not bottles. That is to say, someone should be holding that bottle even though you’ve got the baby in a seat. (or as we referred to it “a bucket.”)

Baby Sleep
The recognition that babies have a much lower, almost nil chance of Sudden Infant Death or Crib Death when they sleep on their side or back was brilliant. It seems like the risk was of breathing into blankets and pillows and rebreathing carbon dioxide. Amazing. I am not opposed to bringing the baby into your bed at night. A sober parent with no sleep disorder will not suffocate a baby by rolling on top of it. Do what seems prudent and practical for your family. The adults need to maintain their relationship with each other and need to come to agreement about this arrangement. If everybody sleeps better in a “family bed”, then that might be right for your family. But only if it makes everybody happy. The adults will be stuck with each other for years after the kids are grown and gone.

Baby in Charge
When they get to be ten months old or so, the little buggers begin to manipulate people; just making you do stuff ‘cause they feel like it. That’s when real parenting begins. Up to that time, they’ve been so cute and helpless that you get all attached and won’t just toss ‘em out the window at 3AM when they’re keeping you up for whatever reason. Somewhere between 10 and 15 months they will begin to cry, not because they are uncomfortable or need something, but just because they want something.

Kids need parents to be consistent. Everything else in the world might change, but his or her parents need to provide stability. Kids are all different and families are all different. In fact they say each child is born into a different family. (The first born is surely born into a different environment than the second baby. Etc.)

So the parents, however that position is defined, the primary caretakers, should be in agreement as to how things will play out, what behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable and how to respond to both. None of this stuff has to be done ahead of time. It’s really OK to sort of make up the rules as you go along. There should be basic principles that you all can agree on and to which you can refer. There’s no sense in creating rules for curfews for a toddler. But once you make a rule it really should stay.

Dealing with Toddlers
The bottom line is 1: Say what you’re going to do. 2: Do what you said you were going to do…..every time. Rules should not be made when you’re angry, and the punishment should not be delivered with anger. Behaving in anger MEANS you are out of control.

For example, if you make a declaration; “You may not have dessert until you eat a green bean.”, then you relent, you give in to the whining and complaining, you have taught your child two lessons. 1. If I complain long enough I can get what I want, and 2. My parent doesn’t mean what he or she says. 

Lesson number one guarantees you MORE whining and complaining. Experiments have proved over and over that intermittent rewards create the strongest incentive to continue a behavior. When they get what they want by whining till you give in, even if it’s only once a week, it makes them even more likely to insist, whine, cry, and nag. So really be careful of your declarations, and then STICK.

Lesson number two teaches that what you say may not be what you do. Think about that one. “I love you.” “I’ll protect you.” “Everything is OK.” Maybe you don’t mean those when you say them either. Always try to mean what you say. If you say “You can’t have a soda.” And then you give in and give him or her the soda, what else don’t you mean? If you’re not in charge, then that leaves your child in charge, and that is too scary for a kid.

I learned about how to deal with, well pretty much anybody basically, by watching one of my mentors in action. We were walking into the Emergency Room one day and the ER doc was MAD. As we approached, he came walking toward us, he was spouting off his frustration. “You guys send your patients over here….blah blah.” “We always have to bail you guys out….blah blah”

And my mentor took a breath and looked him right in the eye and said “I see that you’re frustrated. What can I do right now to make this situation better for you?” As the onslaught continued, my mentor did not match it. He continued “What can I do to help? What is it you need me to do right now?” 

It was brilliant. The angry, out of control doctor was speechless. He had to think of a solution, instead of focusing on the problem. He was perfectly flummoxed. He had been expecting my mentor to meet him head on, but he got the end around.

The real lesson came a few weeks later when my mentor’s three year old son was spending time in the office. At one point the kid had a little temper tantrum, yelling at his dad. My mentor then said, “I see that you’re frustrated. What can I do to help you right now?” (Sound familiar?) “What is it that you need me to do right now to help the situation?”

So the real lesson for me was that when your anger is controlling your behavior , when you’re out of control, you’re on level with a three year old. All of us have that inner temper tantrum, for some it’s closer to the surface than others. So recognizing that our adversary might have the mental capacity of a three year when angry, forces us to recognize the same possibility in ourselves.

When we are acting out of anger, we are out of control and behaving like a toddler. You know how toddlers behave. They have some choice vocabulary. “I hate you!” “No!” And they are entirely selfish. And they totally have no idea that anyone else has any feelings. That’s you when you’re angry! Seriously, it is.

It is scary to a child when an adult is angry and loud (read “out of control”) because they count on you to be stable. When you’re mad, you are definitely not stable. Children need and want us to provide stability so they can feel secure.

Punishment
It is very important that you choose a punishment that you are willing to carry out. Don’t say ‘If you don’t pick up your toys, we won’t go to the store.” if you really need to go to the store. Or say “I’m going to pull over if you don’t stop poking your sister.” Unless you fully intend to actually pull over if the behavior persists. (Please make sure there is a safe place to pull off the road if you’re going to do that.)

You may actually have to leave the grocery store, leaving your cart full of food. But if you actually do it, you will probably only ever have to do it once or twice. You must be willing to carry out your threats or your children learn to not believe or trust you. And if you have to carry out the punishment, try your hardest to do it without anger; either before you lose it or just suck it up and act as if you in total control. (See Relaxation Response.)

I am a big proponent of Time Out as a punishment method. The biggest benefit I see is that you don’t have to decide what to do when your child is in need of correction (and you’re pissed). It also gives you a time out, a moment in which to get yourself together again.

My favorite time out position is the nose-to-the-wall position. I was taught this method by a young mother with three children for whom I was the family doctor. She was a tattooed, motorcycle riding exotic dancer, and one of the best mothers with whom I have ever had the privilege of working. Her children were clean, polite, well-behaved A students. She was loving, kind and tough.

She shared with me, by accident, as one of the kids was misbehaving in the office, her highly successful technique. She simply commanded the offending child “Nose to the wall.” Her son dutifully found a flat section of wall and stood facing it. 
So smart! It took the child out of the immediate situation in which he chose an unacceptable behavior and put him into a relatively sensory deprived arena. You can’t always find a chair or appropriate place to sit, but you can always find a bit of a flat surface. In the grocery store or mall, you can usually find a support pillar that isn’t covered with temptation. I’ve even had to resort to using the car door on those occasions that I had to pull off the road to regain control.

I subscribe to the “one minute per year of life” rule for the duration of the time out with a five minute maximum. And it is also imperative that the punishment is IMMEDIATE. A two year old gets two minutes, a five year old, five minutes, right then and there. If it’s too late or too long, you really don’t get the benefit of your child learning.

I’m not a big fan of sending kids to their rooms. Usually it starts a separate fight. It’s too easy to let the conflict over the punishment itself last too long. And to be honest, most kids’ rooms are so full of toys, etc. it’s hardly a punishment. If you say “No Cartoons.”, (Please notice that I ended that sentence with a period. You’re not shouting a command. You’re simply stating a fact.) you have to be willing to put up with a bored kid for that hour, or however long the restriction is in place, but remember, the punishment isn’t for an hour, so you can help your child find other ways to entertain him or herself. Suggest reading or drawing or playing outdoors. (Not playing in traffic, like you might feel like suggesting.) Playing on a computer is probably not a good alternative as it is very like watching TV, but of course it’s up to you (and your co-parent. Sticking together is really key. Remember I mentioned that those little buggers learn how to manipulate us well before they can even talk.. And they will figure out really fast how to split parents…so clever)

There are few absolutes. Safety is one. Things like carseats are non-negotiable. Hitting is NEVER OK. Kids hitting each other, kids hitting adults (in anger) or adults hitting kids EVER. Exceptions; if a child is reaching for a hot pot or electrical socket, running toward a street or other imminent danger, please grab, slap, whatever, to save an injury. You really get to understand how quickly time goes by when you watch your children grow and if your child is hitting you or others, it will become less and less funny as they start to outweigh you. You’ve got to take that behavior out early. Hitting is a flagrant act of disrespect. Disrespect, verbal or physical, has got to be clearly not tolerated from anyone. Respect must be mutual.

Simple but hard
So the basic principle of say what you’re going to do, is pretty simple but it doesn’t allow for threats like “Go ahead and touch that and we’ll see what happens.” Or phrases like “if you do that you’re gonna get it.” Some curious children might think it’s like being on a game show. “You can touch the vase or you can get the surprise consequence behind Door Number One.” Sometimes they might think it’s worth a shot. So at least let your child make an informed decision. “If you jump on the table, you’re going to get a time out.” “If you kick the dog, we’re leaving.” Then do what you say, immediately and without anger. (You may have to really fake the “without anger” part, but it’s important.)

Try to avoid fighting with your child if you can. You are the undisputed boss. You are in charge. There is no reason for you to engage in a struggle with your underling. If she is trying to get out of a door and you’re holding it closed, that’s a fight. Pick her up or remove her from the door. If he has taken something he’s not supposed to touch, calmly get it from him immediately and put it where he can’t get it. No fuss. No anger. No struggle. Again, you may be biting your tongue, but act calm and steady.

Interruptions
If you’re on the phone or talking to someone and your child is pulling on you, decide if you need to continue your conversation or not. If you need to continue a conversation, turn away from your child. Sometimes you may have to hold the child’s hands. Do not look at the child. Do not talk to the child unless you do so on your terms. This is a time when you will really have to fake being calm. Take a breath and speak slowly and quietly. It’s also a time when you’re going to mess up and possibly ignore your child when he or she is appropriately trying to get your attention. Oh well, we’re all doing the best we can.

Your child will not respect you and will be insecure if you don’t do what you say you’re going to. Life is unpredictable enough without you being part of the problem. Please be as steady and stable as you can. Your child will benefit profoundly. Bedtime, mealtime, naptime, friends, homes may all change, but you should be reliable.

Rules should be thought of as immovable consequences. When your baby is around 10 months old, he or she will drop things off the table and let you (demand that you) pick them back up about 8 million times. He or she is learning a concept called Object Constancy. The toy always falls, but it doesn’t disappear just because he or she can’t see it. And it always comes back. That’s security and reliability. If your child knows that when he…pick your offense…climbs on the coffee table, throws a toy, whatever…, that every time there is the same consequence, just as immediate as the dropped toy off the table, it becomes accepted as a law, like gravity. And just as bored and unflustered as you were when you picked up the toy next to the high chair is how you should approach these corrections. It’s not that you’re choosing a consequence for these actions. It’s just what happens. Bland. Constant. Rock solid.

So it’s really kind of simple. Decide what you want the rules to be and then follow them. You have to follow the rules just as your child does. Your child decided what to do and you have to respond according to the rules that were made. You have no choice. You don’t have to get upset or take it personally. You just have to do what must be done. You may have to point out that rules might be different at school, or Grandma’s house or at friends homes. Kids are really smart about adapting to various environments and getting away with whatever they can, the cunning little cusses.

It really helps if you have a cooperative co-parent because, no kidding, sometimes you’re going to lose it. (Remember, when you lose control, it’s scary to your children- unless it happens so often that they become immune to it.) Have a plan to give the situation over to the other partner before, as we say, “the red shade comes.” The red shade refers to the rage which blinds you and lets you not remember exactly what happened next.

As you and your child grow up a little, things will evolve. There will be new and different challenges. The principles will remain the same. You need to be consistent and calm……or at least pretend to be calm. Your child wants and needs boundaries and rules, and consequences. If he or she does something wrong, it makes sense to have a punishment. In fact, it gives closure. It makes things even again. It lets kids not harbor feelings of guilt. When a debt is paid, your child has a clean slate. It feels right.
Making sensitive people

Paying attention to your child’s feelings and helping him or her be sensitive to the fact that others have such feelings is a whole other challenge. (Don’t you wish “nother” were really a word. I’m lobbying for it. Seriously….” a whole nother” just flows. Doesn’t it?) You can start this process very early, just for you to get used to it. But the kids don’t really get it until they’re at least three years old.

I’m totally opposed to excusing unacceptable behavior due to feelings. It doesn’t matter what motivated your child to hit or bite another, it’s just not OK. There was a time in the 80s when you would hear parents saying “What were you feeling when you hit Susie?” Doesn’t matter. Can’t go hitting Susie. Period. We can talk about how you were feeling when you are done with the consequence…Time out or other punishment.

Trying to get your child to understand that others have feelings begins by pointing out how others might perceive any given input. You can start by noting for your child how something feels. When he or she falls, gets hit, or knocked down, you say “Wow! How did that feel?” or “Jeez. That looks like it hurt.” What you’re doing is sensitizing your child to the idea that one can imagine how another feels. You really have to do it a lot though.

Kids under the age of six are so tied into their mothers particularly, that they perceive that their mothers literally feel everything they feel. In some Eastern cultures, when a child under six is ill, traditional healers will treat the mother in order to help the child. That’s how tied in mother and child are.

Three year olds are amazing animals. They have pretty good vocabularies, boundless energy and are disarmingly cute. It’s a deadly combination. They know what they want and know how to manipulate you like a puppet. And without intense coaching, they have no concept that anybody else has any feelings. When they step on your foot, it’s no different from stepping on a rock or a toy on the floor. When they say they hate you, it’s the same as saying it to their imaginary friends or the TV. Unless, of course, you repeatedly and vigorously point it out. Frankly, it’s easier just to ignore it and not take it personally.

Developmentally, they have to grow into this recognition of the sensitivities of others. Some just can’t yet. It’s like trying to explain algebra to a five year old. Their brains just can’t get around it…..until they can. So you have to keep at it. Kids with learning differences or perception issues might take even longer. It’s easier on you if you just adopt a habit of verbalizing the observations of feelings of others.

Not just physical sensations, but emotional reactions need to be highlighted as well. When someone insults your child, make a statement to point out your child’s feeling to him or her. “Aw, that wasn’t very nice to say. That probably made you feel pretty bad.” said in response to some rotten kid saying that your brilliant angel stinks at kickball. You might also suggest an alternative way that that information could have been related. “She could have just said she wanted to choose someone else for her team.” Or if your rotten kid says something mean to someone else’s little angel (They are all rotten and little angels.) you can take that opportunity to insist that your child apologize…sincerely, and suggest an alternative statement. 

As far as the apology, attitude counts. A bad attitude is definite a punishable offense. Early and consistently, and by example, we have to show our children the importance of how we say things. They know at a very young age, intuitively that so much of our communication is not the words. Feel free to model this behavior fairly directly. “Say it like this; “I’m sorry.”” And keep at it till they say it well. And if it turns into a conflict, go right to your escape mode. Time out or whatever other clever default mode you always use, and go to it before you get mad. Then it’s over. Don’t go back there. It will come up again and your child will have another opportunity to display the new skill of a sincere apology. Or go into Time out again. Whichever he or she chooses. Again, your child has to know that this is just how it is. Always. No emotion. No exceptions. That’s just how it is. “Say you’re sorry. Try again. Say it like this.” If still no dice, you go to your discipline mode.

Positive Feedback
Oh, and one really important thing that is true for everybody, especially kids, is that people respond to positive feedback.. Anything you can find to praise, any positive aspect in a given situation should be pointed out as often as possible in a sincere fashion. I’m not by any means suggesting that your child is always right or doesn’t need correction. But you have the chance to point out that he or she has done a good job listening, or following instructions, or being quiet. I’m just highlighting the opportunity to support you child’s self-esteem.

You may have had to badger the little darling till you lost your voice, but when he or she actually picked up the toys, even with your help, acknowledge the effort, honestly and immediately. It’s just human nature. We respond to positive feedback as if it were dessert. We love it, crave it and will do almost anything to get it. Use it. It’s good for you and good for them. A win-win.

Older Kids
My general understanding of kids as they get a little older is that at about age 12 for girls and 14 for boys, all of a sudden you become completely stupid and incompetent in their estimation. They marvel at the fact that you’ve managed to survive thus far without their help and input. Some families get a bit of a break for a year or two. I find that kids raised in Jewish households, who go through a Bar or Bat Mitzvah training, get a one to two year reprieve. They are focused, involved and a bit more dependent thus a bit less likely to revolt for a short time. It seems like any coming-of-age ceremony would accomplish this. But it’s just delaying the inevitable.

As your children get to be ten, twelve or fourteen, you lose. Hormones kick in and they turn on you. They might question everything. Most importantly, they might question your authority. You aren’t always right or omnipotent anymore. It is critical to maintain, or establish your role as absolute ruler. 

School
All kids are different, but they all need to be educated.

 

 

 

 

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