Halloween Tricks and Treats

Halloween can be a very special but difficult holiday. Parents have numerous opportunities before and during this holiday to support healthy behaviors and to share important health and safety information with their child. Sugar laden treats and “scary” costumes are learning opportunities for your child. During the Halloween season remember to see things through the eyes of your child. This requires an understanding of your child’s perception and development.

Infants and toddlers become fearful when appearances suddenly change. This can happen when a mask or costume is worn by someone they love or trust or when they see a garden hose coiled like a snake. For a preschool child certain categories and themes are common causes of fearful thoughts and behavior. These include darkness, thunderstorms, loud or unexpected noises, animals, robbers and hidden monsters. Children do not develop the ability to separate fantasy from reality until about five years of age. For older children fear is heightened when there is a social element such as group fear or social isolation.

Begin to prepare your child for the sights and sounds of Halloween long before the holiday. Become a follower of your child. Help your child substitute imagination and creativity for confusion and fear. Always listen to your child and take all fears seriously. For the school aged child it is important you show your concern. Never dismiss or disavow the way your child interprets symbols. Start by naming and discussing specific fears. Discuss calming strategies and techniques. Use rational and reasonable explanations to help your child re-interpret the emotions that are being experienced. Your ongoing support will decrease associated anxiety and bolster your child’s ability to self-manage future feelings and emotions. This type of empowerment allows your child to focus on the creative and imagination benefits of this holiday and not react with fear and anxiety.

When shopping with your child or discussing costumes for Halloween never choose or direct your child to choose a certain costume. Allow your child to be led by her own comfort level and interest. By recognizing and understanding your child’s needs you will be better able to interpret and respond to difficult emotional responses while avoiding feelings and emotions your child is not yet prepared to address.

Halloween also provides opportunities to discuss issues of health and safety. Choose a costume that is reflective, brightly colored and flame resistant. Avoid sharp accessories and facial masks that obscure your child’s vision or increase the risk of tripping or hurting oneself or another. Always test any make-up on a small area of your child’s skin before it is applied to the face.  Talk about food and nut allergy risks. Discuss safe and courteous behaviors including the use of a flashlight, avoiding candles and stairs, traveling in a protective group, never entering a house alone and not running between houses or across a street. Making eye contact and graciously saying thank-you are also important as are proper hand washing, general food safety techniques and proper inspection of all “treats” before they are eaten.

On this holiday take the time to discuss with your child the importance of healthy treats and how much sugar is healthy. Talk about balance and view this holiday as a tasting “buffet” opportunity for your child. Avoid becoming the “sugar policeman.” By including sugar education in your daily lives long before Halloween your child will know ahead of time the importance of limiting sugar intake. Help provide what and when guidelines for sugar intake for the younger child and for the older child avoid critique and criticism about sugar intake. Show by example how you limit your own sugar intake. You are your child’s greatest teacher. Children should eat no more than 16 grams of sugar a day and an adult no more than 32 grams. A can of juice or soda contain about 40 grams of sugar and a single starburst about 4 grams. Make food label awareness and healthy food choice a part of your everyday life.

Halloween can be filled with magic and learning for every child.

The 4 C’s of Successful Parenting

Parenting is a scary topic. Most parents want to do the right thing, but busy schedules and complex issues make it difficult to know what is the right response to their child’s inappropriate behavior. The general rule is to always anticipate negative behaviors and head them off before they occur. You also want to seek a relationship with your child that encourages your child wanting to please you. By interacting with your child in a supportive and ongoing fashion you will develop a relationship built on trust. Your child sees you are attentive, responsive, attuned and sensitive to his needs and this will encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior.  At the same time, however, always be aware of a negative behavior due to your child being tired, hungry or feeling alone. In these situations the best thing you can do is to respond to the basic needs of food, safety, warmth and security and allow the behavior issue to resolve itself.

If you are successful in these general rules your next step is to move up to the four C’s: competent, committed, consistent and confident parenting. In order to become a competent parent you should reach out to those you admire and ask for advice and suggestions about parenting tips and techniques. Read parenting books, blogs and articles or take a parenting course. Read about child development and always remember to look inside yourself to understand the choices and decisions you make. Learning how to manage your own emotions, deal with disappointment or frustration and examine your ability to have full and meaningful relationships with others. These are the initial steps to become a competent parent.

To become a committed and consistent parent you must evaluate your expectations about parenting and then determine your ability to follow through with your desires. What are your core parenting beliefs? What behaviors do you support? What actions are you willing to take? When are you willing to take them? How willing are you to pursue the actions and results you desire? Are you ready and able to follow through with your goals and objectives? Most parents have difficulty with limit setting even though they know the setting of age appropriate limits is associated with positive behavioral outcomes for children. Limit setting builds trust and a respect for consequences. Children raised by parents who are committed to consistent limits are better able to delay gratification and wait for something they want. They get along better with peers and are more confident in social situations.

To become a confident parent you must believe in yourself. You must become empowered by your knowledge and actions to believe you are the best parent you can be. This knowledge will allow you to project assertiveness to your child with your facial expression, gestures, tone and rate of speech and eye contact. Before you redirect your child go through a set routine to practice what you are about to do. This allows you to be prepared for what you are about to do and allows you to find a comfortable rhythm and mind set. Always consider enlisting the support of others concerning your actions. When doing something new or difficult it is helpful to have the support of someone you trust and love. Have a weekly parenting review with your spouse to support each other. Be available to receive a phone call or text message from a spouse who needs your immediate support. The simple act of hearing someone tell you they believe in you builds confidence. Another tip is to stop what you are doing and maintain eye contact with your child during a parenting interaction. Your body position and gaze will show him you are engaged and this interaction is important to you. Stop moving or fidgeting. When parents redirect children they often are uneasy with the interaction and their body movements show it. Talk in a smooth and controlled fashion. Avoid signs of excess emotion including talking too fast, too slow or too loud. Stand or sit upright with your shoulders back, head up and your arms uncrossed. You will look and feel more confident.

As a parent if you follow these general rules much of the fear of parenting will dissolve and be replaced with the confidence that consistent, committed and competent parents feel every day. So start now. You can turn these C’s into A’s.

Parent Self-Care

When a child is born all eyes focus on him. His beautiful eyes, the softness of his skin, the curls in his hair and the warmth of his embrace. When your infant snuggles into the crook of your neck the world disappears and all you see and hear is your child. Whether a product of our genes or emotional drives this focus drives a parent to protect a child who is unable to protect or nourish themselves. Without your love, affection and attention he could not survive. This is one of the reasons why he responds to your care and love. He not only wants you he needs you.

From the moment of birth your infant’s behavior shapes your life.  Your drives and their behavior force you to attend and respond to them.  This is good.  As parent you want to feel attached and needed by your newborn. A problem arises, however, when you allow this desire to override the respect you have for yourself and the pursuit of your own needs.

As a new parent you must learn to recognize, understand and respond to the needs of your infant. By doing so, you will allow him to begin his lifelong journey of self-discovery.  During his life your encouragement will allow him to develop a sense of self, a sense of others and eventually pursue the question of who he is and what he can do.  This passionate pursuit of what inspires him can only happen, however, if he is taught to be recognized and pursue his own needs.

Parents usually neglect their own and their spouse’s needs while caring for their new child. This places them at risk to undermine the goal they seek. Every parent wants their child to grow up with the self-awareness and strength to find their own place in the world. To have the ability to maintain relationships built out of mutual cooperation and respect. As an infant your child learns how to interact with all the people and things around him. Just as he is preparing himself for the future so to must you. As he moves into the toddler years he will begin to assert his own decision making and you must be there ready to help him with guidance and teaching. To set an example for him you must not allow your own self-care to evaporate under the heat of his needs. You must not neglect your needs or you will be unable to provide the independence and self-care modeling necessary for your toddler and his later years.  Your child learns most from watching you. He must from the earliest age believe that you provide him safety and security without losing yourself within the life of another.

You and your spouse must continue to chase your passions. You both deserve this.  Seek what inspires you beyond the touch, sight and sound of your infant. To do less results in a sense of loss and anger.  This anger cannot be directed at your new infant and so it is redirected to oneself or someone else, including your spouse.  When a parent stops performing self-care she justifies it as a necessary requirement of parenthood .  Yet, deep within, they mourn at the loss of self. Mothers and fathers often feel selfish when they think about the independence they have given up. This remorse is normal and expected. What you cannot do is stop your pursuit of self-care. Every parent must continue to seek the time and the opportunities to continue their own life journey. Look to the arts and to nature to help you see the magnificence of the world around you. Rent a video and make yourself your favorite dinner. Read a new book or start a new hobby. Call an old friend, go for a walk in the park, start a scrapbook or take up a new sport. Eat healthy, stay physically active, get your sleep and find someone to talk to who will listen to you non-judgmentally.

Parent self-care is best for both you and your child.

Difficult Parenting Days

Difficult days happen for every parent. The key is to have some tools at hand when one of these days happen. Parenting is not always fun and easy. Be ready for these difficult days. Here are some suggestions for the dark days of parenthood.

Discover something new about parenting that you did not recognize or realize prior. Seek out new situations and opportunities for a new relationship with your child. Try a new activity or a new location for an old activity. By sharing new experiences with your child a day filled with negative energy can change. The appeal of a new environment is often enough to bring a smile to you and your child’s face.

Breathe. The act of breathing relaxes you. Step back from the negative emotions you are feeling and take a deep breath in to the count of 4 and then breathe out to a count of 8. Perform several cycles and clear your mind of all thoughts. By quieting your mind positive energy filled with new feelings, thoughts, words and actions will appear.

Throw out your negative attitude. Imaging wrapping it in thick brown paper sealed with box tape and toss it in a dumpster. If your profile and attitude are filled with fear, anxiety and inadequacy only negative feelings will follow. Substitute these negative thoughts with affirmations that make you recall events and situations where you parented your child in wonderful and memorable ways. Suddenly, new opportunities and actions will appear that positively impact your parenting.

Pat yourself on the back. Most parents not only try but do a good job parenting their child. Step back from self-criticism and self-doubt. Through verbal self-talk tell yourself you are a good parent who not only loves your child but has raised her to be a glorious human being whose life is filled with opportunities, love, expectation and acceptance.

Get your sleep. Close your eyes and rest, take a nap or go to bed earlier. Most parents are running on empty with a chronic sleep debt. Maintain your mind and body by getting out into nature, eating healthy, staying fit, experiencing the arts, enjoying your friends and always getting adequate sleep. Getting more sleep will provide you the same dividends that compound interest does for those who know how to save and invest their money wisely. Fall asleep each day knowing you will wake feeling stronger and better.

What Makes a Good Parent?

As a new parent emotions, aspirations and responsibilities surge. Your heart is filled with love and hope. You dream about your child’s future and the limitless opportunities that await him. Yet, at the same time, you are vulnerable to fear fueled by self-doubt. Your insecurity is universal. All parents wonder if they will be a good parent. All parents question whether they have the patience, fortitude and compassion to blend acceptance and love to deal with life’s imperfections. Parents wonder whether procrastination and ignorance will be their lifelong companions. The answers to these question are within your heart. Your child is a limitless gift. He is pure and comes into the world without regret or expectations. His heart carries no fear, anger, hate, disgust or envy. His heart is filled with unconditional love for you just as your heart is filled with this same love for him. There is calm within the peace and simplicity of love. This union allows you to find the balance, rhythm and intuition necessary to become the parent you want to be.

Your first job as a parent is to seek the quiet calm of contemplative thought. Silence will slow down your decision making and release negative emotions tied to your fears. The first step in this process is to clear your mind to wander and dream of the future. There is no rush. Find your center, your balance point and take the time you need to begin to dream. Imagine the endless opportunities your child will have. See the places he will travel to and visit. Listen to the voices and songs he will hear. Feel the sun as it envelops him on a warm summer day or the crisp wind during a winter storm.  Give yourself time to dream. Look away from life’s chaos to find peace in the limitless potential of your child’s life. A life he will choose. A life he will live and a life you will protect by providing the safety and security he needs as he begins his life.

So how do you find this inner strength? You find it in the support and love that surrounds you. Look to you friends and family. Seek out non-judgmental supporters who will listen to you in your times of self-doubt and help you seek your own answers. Find people who show their love for you by their willingness to share rather than their willingness to answer.  Identify places and things that bring joy to you and hold them close. Look to the arts and nature for the glory that envelops you. Set boundaries to protect your time and your own sense of who you are and who you want to become. Practice when it is right to speak up and when it is right to walk away. With the support of your friends and family take care of your own needs. Eat healthy, get your exercise and find time for the sleep your body needs to start each day fresh and ready to join your child in a glorious regret free adventure called life.

Start right now. Take the first step today. Change or enhance your life. Live every moment without thought for the if’s or the when’s. Take time to dream your dreams and manifest them into reality. Close your eyes and see a world without limits. Live a life built on passion and inspiration. Your child will see you and learn more from your actions than any spoken word would ever teach. Provide yourself and your child the greatest gift either of you will ever receive. The gift of unconditional love and opportunity to live every day of every month of every year.