Parenting Stress

Stress is a normal part of parenting but chronic stress leads to an unhealthy parent and a diminished parent-child relationship.  Responsibilities, limited time, financial constraints and negative emotions deepen your stress. This leads to chronic stress and weakens your immune system, saps your energy and harms your decision making.  It leads to sleep disruption, an increased or decreased appetite, headaches, irritability, general health complaints and concentration problems. This is why every parent must learn how to recognize the most common causes of stress and adopt ways to eliminate these causes.

The most common causes of chronic parenting stress are physical fatigue, feelings of uncertainty, a lack of control and negative feelings such as anger and frustration. Skills and techniques to eliminate these causes are essential tools for every parent.

Parenting takes time and energy and parent workloads and responsibilities continue to grow. The first strategy chosen by most parents is to find more time to get things done by getting up earlier and going to bed later. Less sleep leads to physical illness and fatigue. Sleep is restorative and provides you the energy and concentration to make the daily decisions you must make. A consistent sleep schedule with eight hours or more of sleep every night is the goal for every parent. Studies have shown the dangerous health issues and impaired cognitive skills associated with sleep debt. If you are not getting adequate sleep the first step in stress reduction is to get more restful sleep.

The next cause is uncertainty. Parenting decisions are filled with uncertainty. The right decisions are often hazy, complex or even invisible. Change provokes fear and anxiety in most parents. Most parenting decisions, however, are limited. They can be repeated over and over. Although there are minor variations the themes are often the same. Parents must choose a limited number of approaches for similar situations and apply these in a clear, concise, consistent, confident and competent fashion.  A new response does not need to be chosen for every new event. When you choose a discipline strategy and a parenting style you eliminate most of the parenting uncertainty that causes stress.

The third cause of stress is lack of control. Parents feel they should be in control of their child’s actions. As a parent your scope of influence is limited. You can influence but you do not control your child. You are a guide, a protector and for the young child and infant – a caretaker. Modeling a healthy physical, emotional and spiritual lifestyle and providing unconditional love and acceptance are your only responsibilities. You must never blame yourself for the decisions your children make. Giving up the control you never had is essential for every parent. .

The final cause of chronic stress for parents is about being overwhelmed by negative emotions. It is normal for parents to have feelings of anger, frustration, sadness and loneliness. These feelings will damage your relationship with your child. You must recognize and understand these negative emotions if you are to respond to them. Find ways to allow time to pass. Ask for support, advice and sometimes someone to quietly listen to you. Step away from your child and take a break. Take a short nap, talk to a friend, go outside for a walk or eat a healthy snack. Reward yourself every day with a self-indulgent activity and watch your stress lesson. Seek out family members, friends, counselors and spiritual advisors to provide you the emotional support you need to work through these negative feelings before they lead to an unhealthy parent-child relationship.

The Power of Love

Life is filled with moments taken, moments given and moments shared. I will never forget the time a mother and her autistic child showed me the true meaning of love.

I first heard the sound when I turned the door handle to my exam room.   “Thump, thump, thump.” It grew louder as I swung open the door and turned to the source of the sound a mother holding her preschool-aged son.  His gaze and the sound did not change as I entered the room.  He forcibly rocked back and forth in his mother’s arms striking the back of his head against his mother’s chest.  As if a queen she sat with her chin slightly lifted to avoid being struck by her son. Her body swayed back and forth with the harsh blows of her son. She leaned close to him as if she was giving her heart to him. With her cheek touching his she whispered something into his ear.  He suddenly relaxed and the room became silent.

“Are you alright?”  I asked. “Yes,” she answered. “He does this when he is afraid.”  “Is there anything I can do to help?”  “No,” she answered.  Speechless, I slid my stool forward and touched her arm.  She smiled as stroked the cheek of her son. He closed his eyes and his body relaxed.

That day this mother showed me the meaning of acceptance, love and courage.  She chose not to be controlled by her son’s special needs or his behavior.  Love and affection allowed her to move beyond fear, anger, denial, sadness and frustration and communicate with her child with limitless trust, understanding and compassion.

The next time your child does something wrong, stop and think about this mother.  Hear the thumping sound and find a way to feel her patience and understanding. Share your love and accept your child no matter what was said or done.  Let love fill your heart and connect you to your child. Listen to your child. Touch your child. Feel your child. Allow this language of love to lead you to the best path to take.

Parenting Persona

All parents must identify and understand their parenting persona. Your persona drives your parenting decisions and plays a major role in how successful you are as a parent.  Recognizing and understanding your parenting persona allows you to choose parenting tactics to meet your own needs, the needs of your child and the needs of your family.

Are you a reactive person? Do you respond to your child with anger? Do you have difficulty coping with change? Are you prone to being irritable or fearful?  Do you lack persistence and have a short attention span? Do you tend to withdraw when confronted with uncomfortable situations? Are intense situations often followed by feelings of guilt or remorse? Do you expect perfection from your child? Do you become frustrated when you do not have control of a situation? Do you easily become impatient? Are you judgmental of others? Do you worry about what others think or say about you? Do you criticize others? The answers to these questions will help you determine your persona.

Your persona regulates and alters the way you respond to your own feelings and events in the outside world. Being able to manage and understand your persona allows you to accommodate your behavior and change the way you relate to your child. Your persona is influenced by your temperament, reactivity, regulation and life experiences and provides a description of how you will respond to parenting situations.

The best way to visualize your parenting persona is to identify your response patterns. The three basic personas are mental analyzers, feeling followers and reflex defenders.

The first parenting persona is the mental analyzer.  Mental analyzers are imaginative thinkers who are inquisitive and have a thirst for knowledge. They are prone to appear detached and prefer to have plans for everything and avoid the spontaneous. They find comfort analyzing their child’s behavior, seek mental answers on how to alter a child’s behavior and are most secure when making plans.  Analyzers are prone to being detached from their child. They tend to be conceptual, rational, practical and interested in how their child thinks. They enjoy the mental process of researching parenting responses and are skeptical, rational and avoid being caught up in emotions.

The second parenting persona is the feeling follower. Feeling followers are highly attached to people, moods and emotions. They are aware of the feelings of others and tend to be outward directed when compared to the mental analyzer who is more inward directed. Their decisions are dependent upon the way they feel about something. They prefer to be connected to others and rely on an emotional vocabulary to understand and respond to the behavior of their child. Feeling followers worry about how they are perceived while enjoying the recognition and external validation of others.

The third parenting persona is the reflex defender. Reflex defenders are aware of and depend on boundaries for decision making. Autonomy is very important for these parents who rely on intuition, instinctive impressions and a sense of fairness for decision making. They are prone to being defensive and protective of their parenting decisions and rely on simplification of parenting responses to prevent decision making from becoming burdensome and overly complex. They prefer not to negotiate and are prone to critical and judgmental responses to others as a way to protect and defend their actions. Anger is often visible in their responses and they tend to be highly committed to their decisions and do not rely on recognition or how they are perceived by others for personal gratification.

By determining your parenting persona you will be better able to understand and alter the parenting decisions you make.

Parenting Choices

Your abilities to anticipate and respond to the needs of your child play the biggest roles in the amount of stress a parent experiences.  Stress is part of parenting. Being able to recognize, understand and eliminate this stress helps you find the emotional vocabulary to listen to and connect with your child.

Uncertainty of how to respond and interact with your child is the most common cause of parental stress. It is a barrier you can overcome. Everyday parents are confronted with seemingly endless events and behaviors that require parenting responses. By following specific child-directed responses this uncertainty can be eliminated. These techniques can reshape the way you respond to your child and the way your child responds to you.

The first rule is to follow your child’s lead and avoid criticism, questions and commands. Unless there is a safety or security concern, ignore negative behaviors and use praise, reflection and imitation to direct and lead your child’s behavior in a positive direction. These types of responses decrease the risk of negative interaction. Choose words, a tone of speech and use gestures that show enthusiasm. Your words and actions must say to your child: “I enjoy being with you.”

Praise is the next parenting response. It increases positive behavior and like enthusiasm, it generates a positive feeling between you and your child. When giving praise, always identify or label what you are praising. An example is: “Thank you for getting your hat and coat on.” Try to avoid questions. Questions often have hidden commands and suggest disapproval and not listening to your child. Focus on correction without criticism by avoiding words like: “no”, stop”, “quit”, “that’s wrong” and “don’t”. This eliminates unpleasant interactions which damage your child’s self-esteem.

Reflection is another response. It relies on repeating or paraphrasing what your child says to invite your child into a conversation with you. Reflection shows your child you are listening and tells your child you understand what he or she is saying. This type of two-way communication enhances speech and social reciprocity skills and helps you connect with your child. Reflection can also be paired with reporting. When reporting you tell your child exactly what he or she is doing. This technique improves your child’s attention span and shows you are interested in and approve of the activity or behavior your child is performing

Imitation is the final technique you can rely on.  By doing the same thing as your child you allow your child to lead and signal your approval for your child’s activity. Cooperative and parallel play teach your child to lead and supports learning how to give, share and take turns.

Using these child-directed approaches will help you eliminate parenting stress by preventing you from being overwhelmed by parenting choices. These techniques allow you to gain control and become the best parent you can be.

Be My Valentine

What tools do you rely on to parent your child?

Children are born into this world as perfect beings waiting for connections to be made. Although your child needs food, warmth and protection, mostly your child needs you.

Your ability to connect in a love-filled positive fashion provides a secure attachment which is essential for a healthy mental, physical and spiritual life. The interactions you choose become the grains of sand out of which your child’s social, emotional and cognitive castles are built. Your love and the interdependent relationships you offer teach, inspire and guide your child.

Your child is born with over 100 billion brain neurons and over the next few years hundreds of trillions of neuronal connections are formed. Brain networks form. Connections are pruned. Behaviors and skills modulated by genes and the environment erupt and your child becomes an adult and future potential parent. The parenting strategies and techniques you choose frame your child’s temperament and support your child’s future personality.

Stressed parents filled with fear, anger and guilt often rely on authoritarian parenting techniques built on dominance not love. This is both wrong and dangerous. Parenting is about enticement not force. It is about allowing your child to find and make the right and wrong decisions. It is about genuine praise and heartfelt effort rather than outcome. Parents who focus on demands and criticism command a behavior but run the risk of not teaching cooperation, independence, patience, understanding and acceptance. Providing your child freedom and encouragement are the holy grails of parenting.

One sided conversations do not last. A healthy parent-child relationship must be reciprocal. It must validate on a daily basis that you both value your child and promise to provide the stimulation and interaction fundamental to a secure, stable and organized relationship. For the infant and young child this means love, affection and attention and the fulfillment of basic body needs. For the toddler it means approval of exploration merged with the setting of limits, schedules and routines. For the preschooler the goal is the ability to understand feelings and being able to experience a wide range of emotions.

Your child watches you. Your words, actions and behaviors teach your child you care and are listening to him or her. How you behave teaches your child how to respond and communicate with others. Mirroring your child shows you approve and want those same words, actions and behaviors to continue.

Consider adding some new interactions into your daily routine with your child.  Practice reflection as a skill. Repeat and paraphrase your child’s words.  Invite your child into a conversation with you and see how two-way conversation accelerates both speech and social reciprocity. Report on your child’s behavior by describing what your child is doing. Watch how this increases your child’s attention span and willingness to engage. Imitate your child. Don’t just talk about what your child is doing. Get out of your chair and do it! You will be amazed by the excitement and added effort your physical involvement provides.

These choices are up to you. If you love your child the answer is easy. The power of connection will be the greatest valentine your child will ever receive.

Parent-Directed Parenting

Parent-directed parenting strategies are built upon the parent leading the child. They are most commonly used in the preschooler or early school-aged child. This type of parenting is different from child-directed approaches where the parents follow rather than lead the interaction.  In child-directed intervention the focus is on social attention and nonverbal communication. Self-esteem and a positive parent-child attachment are the goals. In parent-directed intervention verbal communication is primary and the focus is on compliance through contingency management, limit setting and problem solving. Reasoning skills are emphasized and clear, concise and consistent verbal direction is delivered by the parent.

Parent-directed approaches involve telling your child what to do rather than what to stop doing. Children are told and not asked what to do. Directions are broken down into small, specific segmented activities. Parents must avoid multistep directions and the specific behavior that is sought must be concrete and developmentally appropriate. Polite and respectful directions are delivered in a non-threatening normal tone of voice and all directions are explained either before a direction is given or after a direction is obeyed.

When a direction is given and your child does not comply then a time out warning is given. The child is again given the initial command and told he or she will have to go to the time out chair if the command is not obeyed. If the child complies praise is given and the reason for the praise is labeled.

If your child disobeys for the second time then the child must go to the time out chair for several minutes. The child can be released from the chair after this period by giving a command that describes the quiet sitting and asks the child if he or she is now ready to follow the original command. The command needs to be repeated in the same way it was given the prior two times. If the child answers yes or nods that the command will be obeyed then their answer is acknowledged and the child is released from the time out chair and allowed to resume activities.

If your child gets out of the time out chair without your approval then the child is told he or she will go to the time out room. If the three minute timer is restarted and he or she gets out of the time out hair again without your permission the child is taken to a time out room for one minute and then returned to the time out chair to resume the three minute timer. If the child complies or does not comply then the same routines previously described are followed. For each of the successful steps an obeying behavior is always acknowledged and labeled praise is given.

Many parents find it helpful to perform several 5-10 minute sessions each week of parent directed commands for the preschool and early school age child. These sessions reinforce spontaneous parent-directed interventions and speed up your child’s willingness to comply with directions and strengthens the development of problem solving and reasoning skills.

Child-Directed Parenting

Your ability to anticipate and respond to the behavior of your child determines the type of parent leader you are.  Leadership is an essential part of parenting. As a parent leader you must choose parenting responses and an emotional vocabulary that allow you to listen, connect and respond to your child with unconditional love.

Uncertainty of how to respond and interact with a child is a common dilemma for parents. It is a barrier you must and can overcome by following specific child directed responses. These techniques can reshape the way you respond to your child and improve the way your child responds to you.

Toddlers and preschoolers are at the perfect age for child directed parenting. By respecting their choices and providing freedom and encouragement positive behaviors are supported and negative behaviors are eliminated. The foundation of this strategy is to follow your child’s lead and avoid questions, criticism and both direct and indirect commands.  Questions often have hidden commands and criticism suggest disapproval and not listening to your child. Focus on correction without criticism by avoiding authoritarian command words like: “no”, stop”, “quit”, “that’s wrong” and “don’t”. This eliminates unhealthy interactions which damage your child’s self-esteem, self-worth and self-image.

Unless there is a safety or security concern, ignore negative behaviors and use praise, reflection, reporting and imitation to positively influence your child’s behavior. These techniques decrease the risk of negative interaction between you and your child. It is also important to choose words, a tone of speech and gestures that show your love and enthusiasm for being your child’s parent. Your words and actions must say to your child: “I love being your parent and being with you.”

Praise is the most essential parenting response. It increases positive behavior and like enthusiasm generates a positive attachment between you and your child. Make sure praise is genuine and not reflexive. When giving praise, identify or label what you are praising. An example is: “Thank-you for putting your hat and coat on.”

Reflection, reporting and imitation are three other parenting techniques. Somewhat similar to praise each involves a mirroring of your child. Reflection relies on repeating or paraphrasing your child’s words. This invites your child into a conversation with you. It shows your child you are listening and tells your child you understand what he or she is saying. This type of two-way communication enhances speech and social reciprocity skills and helps you connect with your child. Reporting describes what your child’s is doing and improves your child’s attention span. Imitation is the last technique.  In this technique you repeat and perform whatever behavior your child is doing. Each of these techniques shows your child you are interested in and approve of their words, actions or behavior and want them to continue.

If you make these leadership techniques part of your parenting responses you will change the way you relate to your child and the way your child relates to you.  By allowing your child to lead you signal to your child your approval and stimulate positive cooperative and parallel play which support your child’s ability to give, share and take turns. Child directed parenting techniques are simple to master and easy to perform.  By avoiding questions, criticism and commands and utilizing the above techniques you support the development of a positive attachment between you and your child and encourage positive behaviors in your child.

How to Handle Holiday Stress

Focusing on gratitude, having reasonable expectations and giving rather than receiving will help you deal with holiday stress. Common parenting potholes include excessive pressure to perform, succeed or to be perfect. Past memories can also trigger stress.  When you avoid worrying, focus on realistic expectations and practice expressions of gratitude for what you have rather than what you want – stress is reduced.

Look at your holiday plans and don’t allow gift size and cost inflation to make you feel overwhelmed or inadequate. Think small. Allow success to build your energy and positive outlook. Avoid asking “What if?” questions. Such questions increase stress. Do a personal inventory of your stress and focus on taking action that calms you down. By taking care of yourself first and slowing things down the sensory overload of the holiday season can be better controlled and managed.

Road trips and out of home visits also add stress to the holidays. Sleep and meal schedules change and feelings of control decrease. As you lose self-control your ability to cope decreases and you are more prone to be drawn into stressful situations. Stress affects how you think and how well your body works. It leads to chronic illnesses such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and obesity and decreases you and your child’s cognitive performance. Although occasional mild stress can improve attention and performance, chronic and toxic stress is never beneficial.

You are the most important model for your child. How you respond and behave during the holidays instills model behaviors in your children.  By slowing things down and learning how to say no to yourself and to others you are teaching your child the importance of respecting oneself as well as others. Saying no allows you to honor and successfully fulfill your existing commitments without over-extending yourself.

The holidays are a time when you will have many opportunities to connect and communicate with your child. Community and family stories of sharing and giving are the perfect way to incorporate gratitude into the life of your family and your child. In these ways your child learns how to express gratitude. Being able to experience gratefulness improves your mood, energy and physical well-being.

The holidays are not a time of total freedom for your child. Responsibilities do not stop on a holiday. Household rules concerning, chores, screen time, video games, homework, exercise, bedtime and self-care all continue. Time must be saved for family meals and family activities and parents must not view a holiday as a time to catch up on home or work responsibilities. Never neglect or overlook a chance over the holidays to sit down and play a game, watch a movie or discuss a topic with your child. These opportunities present the opportunity to make a lasting memory for both you and your child.

How to Protect Your Child From Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse includes any type of sexual act or behavior with a child including non-contact behaviors such as showing or taking pornographic images of children. The best way for parents to prevent sexual abuse is through knowledge, education and understanding.

Most sex offenders are not strangers to a child. Sexual abuse is most often committed by someone who knows the child. This may be a friend, relative, teacher, coach or neighbor. Someone in a position of authority is commonly the perpetrator and children who are compliant, respectful and obedient are especially susceptible to abuse. In almost all situations the abuser intimidates the child to remain silent and not say anything or tell anyone about the abusive behavior. Often the child assumes a personal responsibility for the actions of another and feels he or she is the cause of the abuse. With time progressive guilt and shame deepen the silence and may actually block out memories for many years or even a lifetime.

Common signs and symptoms of being sexually abused include depression, oppositional or destructive behavior, anxiety, social-withdrawal, new academic difficulties, aggressive behavior, high risk behaviors and self-injurious behaviors. Parents must be aware however, that children who are being abused or who have been abused in the past do not always show signs or symptoms of abuse.

The risk of molestation can be decreased by establishing and supporting an ongoing parent-child relationship focused on open and trusted communication and connection. By spending time with your child and talking about sexuality you will be providing your child information on how to respond if an abuse occurs. Parents who believe their child is not at risk for abuse are hiding behind a mask of ignorance and denial. By talking openly and directly about sex and sexual abuse, using age and developmentally appropriate terms, your child will be able to respond in the right way and at the right time to sexual abuse. There must be no secrets between parents and children.

Children must recognize, understand and respond to the boundaries and limits of sexual behaviors and sexual exploration. Discussions must be open, non-judgmental and shame, fear and guilt must always be avoided.  Your child must understand the meaning of privacy and how certain body parts of his or her body are private and cannot be touched, looked at, talked about or photographed without permission. Children must be taught to allow their own feelings to lead their response. If a child feels scared or uncomfortable he or she must say no and immediately notify a parent about the incident. If a parent is not available then a teacher or guardian should be immediately notified.

When your child is outside of your care special precautions are necessary. Be cautious of adults who take your child on unsupervised outings or special events and make sure your child is adequately supervised during overnight stays away from your home. Verify who is in the away household where your child is staying overnight and talk to those adults directly. Alcohol and drugs must be avoided since both encourage risk taking behaviors by children and adults. If concerned about a location or situation then consider being a chaperone or making an unscheduled visit to check on your child. An open door policy allowing parent visits is always best.

By listening to your child with love and sensitivity you will encourage openness and increase your child’s willingness to share any concerns. This prevents embarrassment and decreases the chance your child will keep the incident or behavior hidden. Never discount your child’s feelings or blame your child for his or her part in an abusive situation. By providing ongoing support, professional counseling and unconditional love to your child healing can begin.

How to Talk to Your Child About Sex

There are three topics parents must be prepared to talk about when sex is discussed between parent and child. These three topics are body parts, sexuality and romance or love. Love is both simple and complex. It is one of the strongest human drives at every age, and yet, its meaning changes from infancy to adulthood. This is why parents must educate their children about the meaning of love or someone else will.

Parents must discuss sex with their child early and often. Proper timing and location are essential. Public places should be avoided, and it is best to follow a child’s lead and wait for a question, situation or event to incite the discussion.

Sex discussions are age, knowledge and maturity dependent. The focus must be on how sex and sexuality makes you and your child feel. Proclamations, don’ts and judgment must be avoided. By discussing the do’s with your child a positive attitude about sexuality is portrayed to your child and fear, anger, shame and guilt are avoided.

Common parental mistakes include talking down to a child or not respecting a child’s intelligence or curiosity. Generational, gender, religious and cultural biases also must be recognized and dealt with. These mistakes often limit your ability to teach your child.

Topics to be addressed include the importance of being both sexually aware and sexually healthy. The physical, emotional and spiritual components of sexuality must be recognized, understood and responded to. In addition, the role of peer and partner pressure must be discussed and rumors or myths concerning sex must be dispelled. Safe sex must always be supported and the risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases must always be openly and honestly discussed and accurate information provided.

Parents must talk about how sex fits into a relationship. Learning how to set expectations empowers children and teens to establish and follow appropriate boundaries concerning sexual behaviors and practices. This type of preparation teaches children why many types of sexual behaviors are worth waiting for and at the same time enhances expectations of future sexual experiences made more powerful by experience and maturity.

The best teaching tools for parents are role-playing and the media. By using the media as a springboard for role-playing discussions your views, behavior and attitude are easily represented and expressed to your child. Family and personal values can be discussed as can the timing of sexual behaviors. Parents who focus on asking rather than telling will obtain more engagement. At the same time it is important not to ask too many questions and to always speak in generalities unless specifically asked.

A final skill every parent must master is the acceptance of experimentation and exploration by children and teens. Never tell a child that his or her behavior disappoints you. This engenders guilt and decreases your child’s opportunity to learn from a mistake and make healthier future decisions about sex.