Posted By Communications Manager,
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Updated: Monday, May 30, 2016
You know and love today’s PAMP as a vibrant community of families across the peninsula connected by an active online community and amazing in-person classes and events. This volunteer-led, non-profit organization also has a small but essential team of part-time staff to keep operations running smoothly.
But it didn’t always look this way.
Twenty-five years ago, in 1991, several moms from the Menlo Park and Palo Alto area came together to form a mother’s club. Back in those days, connecting with other parents was a very different experience -- no smartphones, text messaging or social media. Moms formed clubs to meet other moms and organize playdates for their young children.
And so PAMP was born. Founders Trish BoBorff, Kathryn Hall, Nancy Hosay, Kathy Mlinarich and Mary Pless, along with 38 members, officially formed a community dedicated to supporting each other along the journey of parenting. In 1991, the club was known as the Mother’s Club of Palo Alto and Menlo Park.
To get the word out, members would post flyers around town to alert others of upcoming playdates and parties.
In 2002, the club wanted to be sure the name reflected inclusivity of the whole family -- not just moms. The Mother’s Club of Palo Alto and Menlo Park was renamed The Parent’s Club of Palo Alto and Menlo Park (PAMP).
As the area grew, so did the club. By 2003, PAMP grew to over 1,800 member families. To support the growing organization, a Board of Directors was established to oversee club operations, and PAMP officially became a non-profit organization with a 501(c)(3) status.
With the changing times came changing technology. The club started using Yahoo! Groups as an organizing tool. The club continued to grow, and by 2008 it was so large that staff positions were added to support operational efficiency.
As the club continued to evolve, new elements such as large organized events and small weekly classes were added to the club offerings. To accommodate these changes and to embrace the newest technology, in 2009 PAMP transitioned off of Yahoo! and onto Big Tent. This change allowed PAMP to expand the offering of club gatherings.
Today, PAMP offers a wide range of events and classes throughout the year.
The success of PAMP’s newly launched in-home playdates has nicely complemented the existing drop-in Blanket Babies, Crawlers and Toddler Time events. Other new family activities include Farm Day (featuring train rides, pony rides and more), Jump events (with bounce houses for every age kid) and Family Move & Pizza night. PAMP has also recently transitioned off of Big Tent to a new online platform that enables members to get all the latest PAMP information from the public website and the membership site in one place.
The club has done a lot in 25 years. Here’s to looking forward to the next chapter in PAMP history!
Posted By Communications Manager,
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Updated: Sunday, May 15, 2016
Hang out at a playground, visit a school, or show up at a child’s birthday party, and there’s one phrase you can count on hearing repeatedly: “Good job!” Even tiny infants are praised for smacking their hands together (“Good clapping!”). Many of us blurt out these judgments of our children to the point that it has become almost a verbal tic.
Plenty of books and articles advise us against relying on punishment, from spanking to forcible isolation (“time out”). Occasionally someone will even ask us to rethink the practice of bribing children with stickers or food. But you’ll have to look awfully hard to find a discouraging word about what is euphemistically called positive reinforcement.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, the point here is not to call into question the importance of supporting and encouraging children, the need to love them and hug them and help them feel good about themselves. Praise, however, is a different story entirely. Here’s why.
1. Manipulating children. Suppose you offer a verbal reward to reinforce the behavior of a two-year-old who eats without spilling, or a five-year-old who cleans up her art supplies. Who benefits from this? Is it possible that telling kids they’ve done a good job may have less to do with their emotional needs than with our convenience?
Rheta DeVries, a professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, refers to this as “sugar-coated control.” Very much like tangible rewards – or, for that matter, punishments – it’s a way of doing something to children to get them to comply with our wishes. It may be effective at producing this result (at least for a while), but it’s very different from working with kids – for example, by engaging them in conversation about what makes a classroom (or family) function smoothly, or how other people are affected by what we have done — or failed to do. The latter approach is not only more respectful but more likely to help kids become thoughtful people.
The reason praise can work in the short run is that young children are hungry for our approval. But we have a responsibility not to exploit that dependence for our own convenience. A “Good job!” to reinforce something that makes our lives a little easier can be an example of taking advantage of children’s dependence. Kids may also come to feel manipulated by this, even if they can’t quite explain why.
2. Creating praise junkies. To be sure, not every use of praise is a calculated tactic to control children’s behavior. Sometimes we compliment kids just because we’re genuinely pleased by what they’ve done. Even then, however, it’s worth looking more closely. Rather than bolstering a child’s self-esteem, praise may increase kids’ dependence on us. The more we say, “I like the way you….” or “Good ______ing,” the more kids come to rely on our evaluations, our decisions about what’s good and bad, rather than learning to form their own judgments. It leads them to measure their worth in terms of what will lead us to smile and dole out some more approval.
Mary Budd Rowe, a researcher at the University of Florida, discovered that students who were praised lavishly by their teachers were more tentative in their responses, more apt to answer in a questioning tone of voice (“Um, seven?”). They tended to back off from an idea they had proposed as soon as an adult disagreed with them. And they were less likely to persist with difficult tasks or share their ideas with other students.
In short, “Good job!” doesn’t reassure children; ultimately, it makes them feel less secure. It may even create a vicious circle such that the more we slather on the praise, the more kids seem to need it, so we praise them some more. Sadly, some of these kids will grow into adults who continue to need someone else to pat them on the head and tell them whether what they did was OK. Surely this is not what we want for our daughters and sons.
3. Stealing a child’s pleasure.Apart from the issue of dependence, a child deserves to take delight in her accomplishments, to feel pride in what she’s learned how to do. She also deserves to decide when to feel that way. Every time we say, “Good job!”, though, we’re telling a child how to feel.
To be sure, there are times when our evaluations are appropriate and our guidance is necessary — especially with toddlers and preschoolers. But a constant stream of value judgments is neither necessary nor useful for children’s development. Unfortunately, we may not have realized that “Good job!” is just as much an evaluation as “Bad job!” The most notable feature of a positive judgment isn’t that it’s positive, but that it’s a judgment. And people, including kids, don’t like being judged.
I cherish the occasions when my daughter manages to do something for the first time, or does something better than she’s ever done it before. But I try to resist the knee-jerk tendency to say, “Good job!” because I don’t want to dilute her joy. I want her to share her pleasure with me, not look to me for a verdict. I want her to exclaim, “I did it!” (which she often does) instead of asking me uncertainly, “Was that good?”
4. Losing interest. “Good painting!” may get children to keep painting for as long as we keep watching and praising. But, warns Lilian Katz, one of the country’s leading authorities on early childhood education, “once attention is withdrawn, many kids won’t touch the activity again.” Indeed, an impressive body of scientific research has shown that the more we reward people for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. Now the point isn’t to draw, to read, to think, to create – the point is to get the goody, whether it’s an ice cream, a sticker, or a “Good job!”
In a troubling study conducted by Joan Grusec at the University of Toronto, young children who were frequently praised for displays of generosity tended to be slightly less generous on an everyday basis than other children were. Every time they had heard “Good sharing!” or “I’m so proud of you for helping,” they became a little less interested in sharing or helping. Those actions came to be seen not as something valuable in their own right but as something they had to do to get that reaction again from an adult. Generosity became a means to an end.
Does praise motivate kids? Sure. It motivates kids to get praise. Alas, that’s often at the expense of commitment to whatever they were doing that prompted the praise.
5. Reducing achievement. As if it weren’t bad enough that “Good job!” can undermine independence, pleasure, and interest, it can also interfere with how good a job children actually do. Researchers keep finding that kids who are praised for doing well at a creative task tend to stumble at the next task – and they don’t do as well as children who weren’t praised to begin with.
Why does this happen? Partly because the praise creates pressure to “keep up the good work” that gets in the way of doing so. Partly because their interest in what they’re doing may have declined. Partly because they become less likely to take risks – a prerequisite for creativity – once they start thinking about how to keep those positive comments coming.
More generally, “Good job!” is a remnant of an approach to psychology that reduces all of human life to behaviors that can be seen and measured. Unfortunately, this ignores the thoughts, feelings, and values that lie behind behaviors. For example, a child may share a snack with a friend as a way of attracting praise, or as a way of making sure the other child has enough to eat. Praise for sharing ignores these different motives. Worse, it actually promotes the less desirable motive by making children more likely to fish for praise in the future.
*Once you start to see praise for what it is – and what it does – these constant little evaluative eruptions from adults start to produce the same effect as fingernails being dragged down a blackboard. You begin to root for a child to give his teachers or parents a taste of their own treacle by turning around to them and saying (in the same saccharine tone of voice), “Good praising!”
Still, it’s not an easy habit to break. It can seem strange, at least at first, to stop praising; it can feel as though you’re being chilly or withholding something. But that, it soon becomes clear, suggests that we praise more because we need to say it than because children need to hear it. Whenever that’s true, it’s time to rethink what we’re doing.
What kids do need is unconditional support, love with no strings attached. That’s not just different from praise – it’s the opposite of praise. “Good job!” is conditional. It means we’re offering attention and acknowledgement and approval for jumping through our hoops, for doing things that please us.
This point, you’ll notice, is very different from a criticism that some people offer to the effect that we give kids too much approval, or give it too easily. They recommend that we become more miserly with our praise and demand that kids “earn” it. But the real problem isn’t that children expect to be praised for everything they do these days. It’s that we’re tempted to take shortcuts, to manipulate kids with rewards instead of explaining and helping them to develop needed skills and good values.
So what’s the alternative? That depends on the situation, but whatever we decide to say instead has to be offered in the context of genuine affection and love for who kids are rather than for what they’ve done. When unconditional support is present, “Good job!” isn’t necessary; when it’s absent, “Good job!” won’t help.
If we’re praising positive actions as a way of discouraging misbehavior, this is unlikely to be effective for long. Even when it works, we can’t really say the child is now “behaving himself”; it would be more accurate to say the praise is behaving him. The alternative is to work with the child, to figure out the reasons he’s acting that way. We may have to reconsider our own requests rather than just looking for a way to get kids to obey. (Instead of using “Good job!” to get a four-year-old to sit quietly through a long class meeting or family dinner, perhaps we should ask whether it’s reasonable to expect a child to do so.)
We also need to bring kids in on the process of making decisions. If a child is doing something that disturbs others, then sitting down with her later and asking, “What do you think we can do to solve this problem?” will likely be more effective than bribes or threats. It also helps a child learn how to solve problems and teaches that her ideas and feelings are important. Of course, this process takes time and talent, care and courage. Tossing off a “Good job!” when the child acts in the way we deem appropriate takes none of those things, which helps to explain why “doing to” strategies are a lot more popular than “working with” strategies.
And what can we say when kids just do something impressive? Consider three possible responses:
* Say nothing. Some people insist a helpful act must be “reinforced” because, secretly or unconsciously, they believe it was a fluke. If children are basically evil, then they have to be given an artificial reason for being nice (namely, to get a verbal reward). But if that cynicism is unfounded – and a lot of research suggests that it is – then praise may not be necessary.
* Say what you saw. A simple, evaluation-free statement (“You put your shoes on by yourself” or even just “You did it”) tells your child that you noticed. It also lets her take pride in what she did. In other cases, a more elaborate description may make sense. If your child draws a picture, you might provide feedback – not judgment – about what you noticed: “This mountain is huge!” “Boy, you sure used a lot of purple today!”
If a child does something caring or generous, you might gently draw his attention to the effect of his action on the other person: “Look at Abigail’s face! She seems pretty happy now that you gave her some of your snack.” This is completely different from praise, where the emphasis is on how you feel about her sharing
* Talk less, ask more. Even better than descriptions are questions. Why tell him what part of his drawing impressed you when you can ask him what he likes best about it? Asking “What was the hardest part to draw?” or “How did you figure out how to make the feet the right size?” is likely to nourish his interest in drawing. Saying “Good job!”, as we’ve seen, may have exactly the opposite effect.
This doesn’t mean that all compliments, all thank-you’s, all expressions of delight are harmful. We need to consider our motives for what we say (a genuine expression of enthusiasm is better than a desire to manipulate the child’s future behavior) as well as the actual effects of doing so. Are our reactions helping the child to feel a sense of control over her life — or to constantly look to us for approval? Are they helping her to become more excited about what she’s doing in its own right – or turning it into something she just wants to get through in order to receive a pat on the head
It’s not a matter of memorizing a new script, but of keeping in mind our long-term goals for our children and watching for the effects of what we say. The bad news is that the use of positive reinforcement really isn’t so positive. The good news is that you don’t have to evaluate in order to encourage.
Posted By Communications Manager,
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Thanks to everyone for coming out this past weekend! We had another fabulous adventure at PAMP's Fun Day at the Farm.
The day included visiting the petting zoo, seeing animals like goats, chickens, rabbits, ducks and even a mini pig. There were also pony rides, hayrides, train rides and a bouncy house. If you missed this one, don't worry -- we'll be hosting another Farm Day later in the year.
PAMP member Kim, attending her second Farm Day event, said, "We enjoyed it so much the first time when only my daughter could participate that we wanted to share it with my son (who is now old enough). They both loved it!"
Kim said she enjoyed seeing, "... the excitement and smiles on my kids' faces with every pony ride (2xs each), train ride (2xs), hay ride and bouncy house bounce (uncountable)! The authentic farm atmosphere and the fact that it kept us busy for two whole hours with my kids begging for more."
Stay tuned for some awesome PAMP events coming up this summer, including the Member Connection dinner & movie night as well as the Jump into Summer bounce house fun.
Posted By Communications Manager,
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Updated: Sunday, May 15, 2016
As a parent educator, I advise parents not to ask their child to apologize when they’ve done something wrong. This surprises many people! Parents, eager to teach their children good social skills, assume this is the way you do that. When a child grabs a toy from his sibling, hits her sister, or kicks your car seat, parents want their child to feel sorry about what they did. Asking for an apology seems natural. The problem is that it isn’t very effective, and most likely will not result in the child having true regret. Try the method I suggest in this video clip. View it as an experiment and see what happens. Use this technique frequently and observe whether it has impact. It could take a while, but you may end up pleased with the results.
Janada Clark teaches Love and Logic classes, and has taught at Stanford, schools, and churches. She also teaches at Blossom Birth and Day One Baby.
Posted By Communications Manager,
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Updated: Monday, May 9, 2016
How prepared were you (or are you) for becoming a new mom? Or a second-time mom? Not did you get the car seat/baby sling/cloth diapers, but were you (are you) prepared for all of the emotions and feelings that come about after a child is born?
Did you know that 1 in 7 women experience a maternal mental health complication? Each year more than 600,000 women, children and families are impacted by a maternal mental health complication like postpartum depression, pregnancy depression, postpartum and pregnancy anxiety, panic, OCD and anger.
There is much emphasis on the mental and physical preparations for the act of childbirth and less mental preparation for after baby comes. Enter the upcoming panel discussion on the healthy minds of mothers.
The goal of this discussion is to further educate the community on postpartum and maternal mental health, and to help remove the stigma associated with mental health issues -- specifically postpartum issues. How can mothers and their significant others be more aware of and better prepared for the mental impact of having a child? How does the physical impact the mental? What do recent studies tell us about postpartum depression?
Listen to panelists share their personal stories and experiences. Find out how to reach out for help without hesitation and talk about your own feelings. This discussion is perfect not just for moms and expectant mothers, but also fathers, significant others, grandparents, siblings, etc.
A Healthy Mind: A Discussion with Moms on Maintaining Their Mental Health
Wednesday May 18, 2016
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Cubberley Community Theater 4000 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
Posted By Communications Manager,
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Updated: Friday, April 29, 2016
You won't want to miss this event! Back by popluar demand is Fun at the Farm Day!
Sunday, May 15th
Pastorino Farms, Half Moon Bay
PAMP Members are invited to enjoy a fun day at Pastorino Farm, hosted by Friendly Pony Parties. There will be Pony Rides, a Petting Zoo, Hayrides, a Bouncy House and Farm tours. We will provide snacks and drinks, and you can bring a picnic lunch if you wish.
Pastorino Farms in Half Moon Bay is 30 minutes from the Palo Alto/Menlo Park area. Come and enjoy all of the great activities and spend time with fellow PAMP members. The event starts at 10am, but you can show up any time and spend as much or as little time as you want. Children of all ages are welcome.
Cost is only $10 per family! if you want to attend for free, contact us to volunteer, as we need a few people to help with hosting at the event.
Please RSVP for your family, and indicate the number of adults and children so we can plan accordingly.
Posted By Communications Manager,
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Thanks to everyone for coming out to PAMP's very first Mother's Day Tea event!
We had a large crew of PAMP members, including moms, dads, grandparents and kids from babes to tweens. It was such a sweet way to bring generations together and to bring new friends together -- all in celebration of mom.
There was an arts and crafts table where the kids made cards and decorations. There was even a fairy who performed a magic show for the kids!
We hope you have a lovely Mother's Day this weekend, and we look forward to another Mother's Day Tea next year.
Posted By Administration,
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Updated: Sunday, April 24, 2016
Have you been to a PAMP Blanket Babies home playdate? New parents bring their young infants and gather together in the comfort of a member’s home.
Kate Babington is one of the parents volunteering to host Blanket Babies. Kate says, “Moms of young infants, some first time moms and some veterans, gather to talk about the joys and stresses of the early months while sharing about their activities, travel, baby products, family, doctor visits and any number of things.”
"It's a good way to meet several new moms and build relationships with those you have most in common with,” Kate continues. “And it's a very forgiving environment, should your baby be out-of-sorts or extra sleepy, or should you need to arrive late/leave early, pump, or breastfeed."
Kate has been a member of PAMP for about a year. She and her infant son Anders enjoy connecting with Blanket Babies families at other activities, too, like music classes and swimming lessons. When Kate returns to work, she says she “will enjoy connecting with the mothers I have met on my days off."
1. What is the last non-kid movie you saw?Nell.
2. Are you a Bay Area native or transplant?Transplant. I've lived here 10 years.
3. What’s at the top of your to-do list?Savor the rest of maternity leave!
4. Who is your favorite Sesame Street character?Snuffleupagus. 5. Why are you a PAMP volunteer?I enjoy spending time with other moms and look forward to the programs continuing.
These super fun home playdates have become quite popular. Be sure to RSVP to save your space if you plan to attend!
PAMP is always looking for other members to host playdates. It’s super easy, and it’s a great way to make new friends. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The upcoming PAMP Mother’s Day Tea event isn’t just your average family get-together. It’s a time to get dressed up — fancy! — and let your imaginations fly.
We’re looking forward to honoring mothers as a community. Join us as we gather in a beautiful 22-acre garden setting at Holbrook-Palmer Park.
The best part about this event for moms is that you just need to show up! Everything is taken care of so you can just come and enjoy. There will be full tea service, kids activities and more. Sip your tea and savor delicious scones and finger sandwiches while the kids sip lemonade and craft their very own personalized Mother’s Day cards. Dress to impress as we’ll have a photographer on hand to take family photos at the table.
The PAMP event is two weeks before the actual Mother’s Day date, so you get to have two celebrations instead of just one! Be sure to RSVP by April 20th!
Mother’s Day Tea
Sunday April 24th
Jennings Pavilion, Atherton
The cost is $20.00 per adult and $10.00 per child (sorry no discount for younger children). Our buffet tea service will include a selection of teas, mini-scones, devonshire cream & jam, finger sandwiches and fresh fruit for the adults. Children can sip on lemonade and nibble on cookies and fresh fruit. Craft supplies will also be provided.
While we cannot make any guarantees, we will do our best to accommodate any dietary restrictions. Please contact Brittany Campbell if you have any dietary concerns.
Posted By Administration,
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Updated: Sunday, April 17, 2016
Book Excerpt: Chapter 7 from What They Won't Tell You About Parenting by Tom Limbert
Have you noticed? People can become very much addicted to drama. I almost wrote “children” instead of “people,” but I think we all know it’s people. I hope I’ve convinced you that empathy is truly your best friend when it comes to parenting. Now I’d like to assure you that drama is indeed your enemy. We’re all stressed out. I get that. I lose my cool plenty. But if you look at the whole thing logically, it only makes sense to make a conscious effort to not add drama to our children’s drama. What happens when we do? Let’s look at how our brains respond to a thrilling movie. According to a study done by a team of researchers from the City College of New York and Columbia University, visual and auditory stimuli that elicit high levels of engagement and emotional response can be linked to reliable patterns of brain activity. In layman’s terms, we get a buzz. That’s why we keep going back.
Your child, as a mini-scientist learning about the world, is going to “misbehave” and test limits. What you want to do as a parent is curb that behavior. What I implore you to do is teach alternatives. In behavior modification terms, when you react dramatically by yelling—a natural and instinctive response to something annoying—you do so because you think that will stop the behavior; your yelling is positive punishment. How’s that workin’ for ya? Legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant once noted, “If you whoop and holler all the time, the players just get used to it.” I say your kids learn to crave it. When you feed your child’s drama with your own, you are reinforcing the very behaviors you wish to stop. A reinforcer is a stimulus that follows some behavior and increases the probability that the behavior will occur. That’s you yelling, and the title of your movie is The Reinforcer. It’s your child’s favorite.
The movie analogy is perfect. Your child will not only enjoy watching you, he will delight in the idea that he is able to make you act that way. Cynthia Tobias, author of You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded), explains, “As a small child, if I figure out how to push your buttons, it’s irresistible to me not to do it. It kind of worries me that I have that much power over you, but, gosh, it’s fun to use it. You don’t want to give your kids that kind of control over you by giving in to the anger and the screaming” (Ray 2012).
I was at a restaurant recently and saw a mom grab her daughter by the arm and frantically drag her toward the door for a stern lecture in the face. I don’t know what the child did or what the mom said, but I know this: the child didn’t learn anything and will do whatever she did again. I’d lay good money on it. The scene was just too intense. That girl will seek that rush again. Anger is the enemy of instruction.
If you were your child and you were bored, and you hadn’t been taught to recognize that emotion and what to do with it, would you (a) meditate, (b) do some light reading, (c) clean the house, or (d) play the crazy puppet game with the wacko parent who’s home with you? It’s a no-brainer. So much fun. Who cares that I’ll have to sit in my room for a bit afterward? I need a fix. By now it’s grown to be a cycle—a vicious one at that. Child gets bored, pokes sibling, sibling freaks, parent snaps, everyone gets amped up on cortisol and adrenaline, yell and scream, go to rooms. Rinse and repeat. Addicted. Time to stage an intervention of sorts. Let’s end this spiral of distress.
Got that phrase (spiral of distress) from an article titled “Emotions Are Contagious” by Lori Desautels (2014) on edutopia.org. You just know that title caught my eye. The article is about the role that “staff counteraggression” plays in violence in schools today. Desautels quotes psychologist Nicholas J. Long in her article. I’m going to do the same, as it all applies to you and your home: “When a student is in stress, his emotions will echo in the adult. If the adult is not trained to own and accept his or her counteraggressive feelings, the adult will act on them and mirror the student’s behavior” (2014). This equates to more violence in schools. Hopefully not the case in your home, but I hope you’re seeing how these cycles of drama can get snowballing out of control before we know it.
Thankfully, Desautels offers teachers some practical methods to stop these contagions of negativity in their tracks. It’s all about emotional intelligence and consciously striving to create more positive interactions. That’s what leaders do. Desautels’ tips begin with raising your awareness (we’ve already done that in a way) and learning to “Recognize the Signs.” The idea is to be on alert for the first signs of emergent negative emotions (changing tones, facial expressions, gestures) and to nip it in the bud with confident, positive guidance.
How might this look in your home? Say your three- year-old boy has learned to push your buttons by bouncing a ball inside the house, though you’ve told him a thousand times not to. You’d immediately go to him and say something to the effect of, “Hey, buddy, remember we can’t do that in here because we’ll break things. Let’s play catch when I’m done working here. What will you do until then?” Keep it light and self-assured. Why not add on a threat? For one, it’s a disrespectful display of distrust he will dislike (you’re essentially dissing him). Heard of self- fulfilling prophecies? Two, you’re basically daring your child and planting a seed—he may not have even wanted to do it again, but now it’s so enticing since you mentioned it and doubted him. You want to convey that you believe in him (even if it’s a Jedi mind trick). You don’t want to tempt or dare him.
Very likely, as you damn well know, your little, trite chat didn’t quite get through. So your boy bounces the ball again. He’s blatantly testing you in hopes you’ll play his favorite movie again. This time you reiterate the rule and the reason for the rule, briefly and confidently. Then you ask him to identify his emotions. “How are you feeling?” you might ask. “Because I asked you not to bounce the ball and you aren’t listening, so I’m wondering what’s wrong.” In this way, you force him to self-examine a bit and you help him realize that his emotions influence his behavior. You are clearly implying that the expectation in your relationship is to listen to one another as you are modeling the same for him. Finally, you give him a couple more acceptable choices to help him pass the time. In this way, you help him realize not only that his emotions influence his behavior, but that he has choices in how to respond.
In “Emotions Are Contagious,” Desautels also suggests that teachers learn to understand the patterns of aggression and model self-awareness. “Experiential learning at its best is being honest and informative, rather than being reactive,” she writes. I couldn’t agree more. Remember, you are teacher. Next time your son is pushing your buttons, cut the BS and calmly go to him and draw his attention to what he’s doing and how it’s making you feel.
That, my friends, is modeling self-awareness and being honest and informative—not to mention respectful. Your kid will be baffled. How come you’re not doing that freak-out thing you always do? Finally, the coup d’etat of all parenting and interpersonal communication skills, ask your son to express how he is feeling and to consider why he is acting this way. It’s key to validating his feelings but also to helping him curb the behavior. Support him in learning to manage his emotions instead of acting out. As Desautels explains, “When we begin to notice an upset, a growing aggressive and angry reaction, it can be very powerful to acknowledge the student’s experience.” Bingo. Drama averted. Lesson learned.
To be clear, I’m not saying you should never furrow your brow or raise your voice a bit. There’s a time and a place to mean business and keep it real. You want to be confident and assertive but not cocky, disrespectful, or aggressive. Hell, bust out a middle name here and there for kicks and added emphasis. But once you get dramatic—and you know the difference—you’ll be diluting your message and reinforcing the very behaviors you wish to curb. This is about what works and what doesn’t. It’s far more effective to describe your emotions and talk about your mutual goals than to throw hissy fits. Say good-bye to Hollywood. Say good-bye, my baby.
The only way drama can be your pal is if you learn to see it as your cue to teach and lead. Start to see your children’s acting out as their attempts to cry for help. Parenting is overwhelming at times, but if it feels like that all the time, you’re not leading enough (that straight from the What They Won’t Tell You about Parenting file). Anytime you sense that things are getting out of control or you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop the train and lead. Take control of the emotional tone of the situation with an honest assessment of what’s happening and how it’s making you feel. Then ask your child to describe how he or she is feeling. Once you’ve acknowledged your child’s feelings, empower him or her to problem solve simply by asking, “What do you need?” or “How can I help?” or best of all, “What can we do to solve this problem?”
If your child is still interested in a battle of wills, stay calm. NBD (that’s how the kids text “no big deal”). Recall the reason for any limit you’re setting, stick to your guns, but hit him or her with your best shot of empathy and matter-of-fact antidrama: “I told you we couldn’t x because of y. I understand you’re feeling (sad, mad, frustrated, or all of the above). When you’re ready, let me know if I can help you feel better about all that.” Provide time and space. Voilà! You’ve just transformed yourselves from the fiercest rivals to the most trusted teammates. Reunited and it feels so good.
Most everything you know now you learned by making mistakes, too. Before you ask your parents if you were annoying (you were), the takeaway here is that our reaction to our children’s drama is key. Begin by accepting that drama is inevitable in your child’s development. That’s life. That’s what all the people say. Decipher the lessons and articulate them to the best of your ability. If we begin with a spirit of acceptance and compassion, we’re going to be much more effective leaders.
Remember, we are being watched and mimicked 24/7. It only follows that if you want your children to be gracious and respectful and listen to you, you have to treat them in that manner. If you want them to learn from their challenges and mistakes and apply the lessons next time, you might want to model that and let those lessons be the focus of your attention. Attention energizes. It’s totally your call, though, and a free country. Tomorrow, if it rains, it would be well within your rights to freak out. You could go outside and yell at the clouds or attempt to punish the sky somehow. Wouldn’t that seem illogical, though (not to mention ineffective)?
- from What They Won’t Tell You about Parenting by Tom Limbert, a published parenting author and Parent Educator at Parents Place. Tom has been working with young children and their families since 1992, including ten years at Stanford's Bing Nursery School. He has a Master's degree in Education with an emphasis in early childhood development, is the co-founder of Studio Grow, and the Director of Woodside Preschool.