7 Ways to Teach our Kids Resilience

image1We can’t change the fact that our children will face certain challenges in life, and we also can’t protect them from every little bump they’ll experience along the way (even though we might want to). With our increased sense of wanting to protect our young ones from life’s growing stressors, we are also seeing a spike in children who develop mental health issues such as generalized anxiety and depression.

(NOTE: This does not include the concerning rate of children being misdiagnosed at the first sign of ‘abnormal behavior’.. which, if you ask me, is a problem i itself and could use it’s own blog post …but later). I’m referring to how we are starting to see more and more children significantly struggling to cope when life doesn’t go their way.

Just like adults, children need an outlet to vent any frustration, anger or sadness (which often comes in the form of a lovely tantrum…. usually in the middle of a busy supermarket 😉  Of course, these are just part of the joys of parenthood, and take on various forms well into adolescence.  There’s nothing to worry about when your child ‘cracks it’ once in a while. But when significant reactions  immediately impact their lives, such as generalized anxiety, panic attacks, severe low self esteem, unrealistic expectations and in some cases even self-harming, it becomes hard to ignore.

Of course, as parents, we don’t want to create these ‘special snowflakes’ that feel like the world owes them and can’t handle negative feedback or hurdles that stand in their way. However, with the increasing urge to micro-manage children’s lives and to ‘protect’ them from common life challenges such as conflict, loss, rejection, failure and change; some parents unintentionally engineer such an outcome according to US clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel. 

She suggests that some parents coddle their children too much, which prevents them from learning from these experiences. “They need to learn from a shallow best friend, an uninspired teacher, or a bad situation. They need to learn these things without us interfering” (Mogel).

Kicking a young child out of the nest and letting them fend for themselves is not necessary, however, helping them build resilience will aid them in managing difficult situations later in life. Resilience is something they can learn and grow from as they develop a certain set of skills that help them tackle the ups and downs in life.

So instead of overprotecting them, or leaving them to fight their own battles, how do we find a balanced way to teach resiliency skills? Below are some suggestions taken from various research articles that have proven to be quite effective.

1. Let them struggle

While your help is much appreciated, it is equally important to let children feel frustrated, so they will attempt to find different solutions to the problem. This can range from your 4 year old’s irritation at her Lego blocks ,because she can’t find the piece that fits: to the university student who can’t handle living on their own because they’ve never had to manage any roadblocks in life before. Let your child find their own way to manage a difficult situation (even if you have the answer ready for them) and be there as their guide rather than doing the job for them. My mother once said ‘sometimes you need to watch your child fall down and scrape their knee so they learn to be more careful next time, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be there to help you back up again’ which really stuck by me.

2. Challenge Negativity 

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that most of us, during our teens, have used the expression ‘this is ruining my life’ at least once. Children (and teenagers in particular) tend to amplify certain setbacks they experience, as they don’t fully understand yet what is happening to them or how to deal with it. Setbacks that might appear minor to us (such as a fight with a friend or missing out on joining a team) might feel like it’s the end of the world as they know it. It’s important not to feed into that and join the drama party, nor can we minimize or push aside what they are experiencing. Ask your child if this one event needs to effect the rest of their day/week/month. Problem solving starts with going through the options, help them take a step back and put things in perspective. Allow them to experience and feel the negativity whilst averting them from being completely swallowed up by it.

3. Take on the ‘big family mindset’ 

Today, the average family consists of one or two children and it’s affecting our parenting style, says columnist Julie Beun. In larger families, parents tend to be more of a facilitator than a micro-manager. The children get more of a chance to be independent problem solvers as they help raise their siblings, get themselves dressed in the morning and eat breakfast. In smaller families, the parents tend to ‘take care of everything’, and although this may make things run smoother, it doesn’t always work in our favor. We need to learn how to take a step back and let our children figure it out (no matter how frustrating it may be waiting around for them to zip up their jacket or put the shoe on the right foot… our time constraints should not get in the way of our child learning how to take care of the little things).

4. When at first they don’t succeed, get back up again 

Like the age old adult expression “sh*it happens” it’s ok to tell our children that mistakes happen (perhaps substitute the word “sh*t” for the time being though 😉  Hall says, we need to tell them it’s ok to make mistakes because it gives us a chance to learn from them. Together with our children, we can ask them what we learnt from our mistakes and how we would do things differently. With smaller children, an in-depth analytical approach might be a bit too much, but a simple “oops, I made a mistake, I will do this to fix it’ could work just fine in showing them how to cope with mistakes and set backs.

5. Confidence in their Competence 

A child’s confidence stems from their competence, and their competences are excelled by their confidence. Focusing on your child’s qualities as well as recognizing their mistakes and how they handled them are a great first step. Comparing them to others (siblings, peers, etc) might create unnecessary competition, rather than showing that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, the desire to protect our children might give them the (unintended) impression that we don’t think they have what it takes to tackle an issue head on, hence trying to empower them to make decisions of their own lets us be there as their guide rather than their carer. In saying that, it’s also important to not push our children to take on things they can’t realistically handle just yet.

6. Being part of a community 

Being resilient is also about knowing and understanding our place in the bigger scheme of things, and that not everything is always handed to us on a silver platter. Having our children do small chores can be a great example of developing this sense of being part of something bigger, being part of a team (and also shows that we often have to work to get things done). Children first learn their contribution counts by doing household chores (young children could feed the dog or put things in the trash , whereas older children can help clean a room or do laundry). It can help them with their problem solving and self regulation says Hall.

7. Teach them how to calm themselves 

When children get upset (especially younger children) it’s easy for a small upset to turn into a full blown epic tantrum. That’s because they don’t know how else to express their anger/sadness/frustration just yet. Reasoning with an upset, young child might not be as easy as trying to reason with an adult. Rather, teach them easy and realistic ways to calm themselves down first, before taking a closer look at what upset them. One of the more popular ways to calm ourselves down (in both children and adults alike) is taking a few deep breaths, breathing into our nose and out of our mouth. This can be easily taught to a small child and done together if they need you there to guide them. Another way to try and help a child bring themselves down from an upset is to count to twenty (or however high they can count) allowing them to shift focus to the task at hand instead of the stressor that upset them in the first place (they essentially break the cycle and engage their brain). Once they have managed to calm themselves down, they have now acquired a new skill that will also help them to reflect instead of react.

8. Discipline is about Teaching, not Controlling or Punishing

Sometimes, when I say we ‘discipline’ our children, people tend to jump to the conclusion that discipline means to control or punish them. I strongly disagree with that stereotype, as disciplining needs to be seen as teaching a child (which can be done without control or punishment). Using discipline to help your child understand that their actions result in certain consequences, could help them understand that they also have the ability to bounce back from a setback.
Dr. Ginsburg summarizes what we know for sure about the development in resilience in children, which is that our children need to know that there is an adult in their life (mother, father, stepparent, grandparent, you name it) who believes in them and loves them unconditionally.
Stress is a part of life, and an important tool in our survival. Resilience is the set of skills that develops a positive and proactive attitude towards stress, and helps us deal with stress, which greatly impact how it affects us. We can grow and encourage  resilience in our children by participating in their self development, role modeling resiliency and most importantly supporting them unconditionally. Being there for them, no matter what, gives them a solid foundation they can bounce back on when their worlds feels like it’s falling apart. Eventually, they will learn that they can create and grow such a foundation for themselves

Mommy Ruler’s Day Off : 9 Things Mom Gets To Do When the Kids are out of Town (in pics)

For the first time in what feels like forever, I am home alone for two whole days … That’s right… two.whole.days! My darling hunk of a husband took our daughters to see the grandparents, leaving me to venture on my own for a bit.

Since the birth of our second little monkey , I honestly don’t think I’ve had any ‘me-time’ like this for longer than a few hours, so I decided to make the most of it  ….

Things mom gets to do when the kids are out of town: 

  1. Read, Read, Read !!!

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2. Shower… in peace 

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3. Have the time to blow dry your hair … and feel like a celebrity

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4. Take… well…. you know… in peace 

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5. Caricature Mani/Pedi 

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6. Clean Up … (I mean I know it’s a mini-break .. but I wasn’t raised in a barn !)

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7. Still working though …. Gotta make the big bucks ….. (hahahahaahahaaha… well…. ‘bucks’ 😉 

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8. Haven’t been fully alone like this for a while … eek!

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9. And of course, spending time documenting your time off and turning it into a blog, because even though you’re loving your new-found freedom, you secretly miss those little monkeys and all the time you spend with them… warts and everything 🙂 

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We’ve got to stop this “Parent Shaming”

We have got to stop this parent shaming !!!

By a show of hands, who here has been judged, at some point, on their parenting. Now by the same show of hands, who here has judged other parents (*no… you don’t actually have to raise your ha*….. you see what I’m trying to get at here). Call it assessing competition/compatibility or just being plain bitchy, but we’re all guilty of at least thinking it.

Now back in the good old days, judging was done behind each other’s backs and we could just stick to our little groups of people who handled their kids the same way we did. However, fast forward to the Internet age, and on a daily basis my Facebook feed is flooded with propaganda, health articles and ‘new research’ that seems to show me exactly how bad I am doing at this whole parenting thing.

Not only do we have the ‘facts’ (and I use that term oh so lightly), but with that come the many voices that suggest to the rest of us that we’re doing a crappy job. In the age of oversharing on social media and a false sense of anonymity online, people seem to have taken it upon themselves to judge, criticize and sometimes just plain bully others ,without accounting for the consequences their words might bring.

Of course shaming each other seems to be somewhat of a global issue ranging from our religious/political choices, how we view our body image and what foods we prefer to eat (spoiler alert…. it ALL gives you cancer.. apparently.)  With that, I’d like to focus in particular on parent shaming and some of the issues I’ve stumbled upon in my short 3,5 years as a parent of two children (yes, based on the above criteria, that now makes me an expert  😉

1. ‘Fed is best’ (phrase taken from an existing Facebook page)

Both my girls have been bottle fed (*gasp*). They didn’t get any breast milk from the very start (*double gasp*). With the second one we even gave up within the first month (*exists and slams door*). But did you know that I was never able to produce the milk to begin with…. and yes we tried every tip/suggestion/hint we could find or were given… nothing worked. I had the storage… just not the stock. My girls were frustrated, hungry and missed out on bonding with their mom because each feeding session caused more and more stress for all of us (at one point I had a nurse milking me like a cow while another tried to attach my baby to the boob…. very sexy.. and relaxing) In the end, feeding them formula made them just as happy and healthy and we could focus again on the key issue of getting them fed and enjoying the time to bond and love them.

A number of friends have breastfed their babies in public (*gasp*)… they didn’t use a feeding schedule (*double gasp*) and some are even still breastfeeding their toddler (*the crowd goes wild*). But did you know that it makes them feel so much closer to their little ones.. and yes they know formula could do the trick just as much to give them a break…. but they don’t need nor want it. This is their choice and they are happy about that and I don’t see the kids complaining either.

Everyone has their own prerogative on how they feed their children and damnit.. as long as these babies are fed healthy (meaning breast or formula… not whiskey) then they’ll be just fine!

2. Dad’s don’t babysit, they parent

Ok, the breastfeeding can be more relatable to moms (in account of the whole ‘having boobs’ thing) but for too long have I seen the dads be pushed on the bench when it comes to ‘knowing how hard it is to be a parent’. So with this, I would like to do a little shout-out to all the papas out there. Being parents is about being a team, and like any team, everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses that we bring to the field. There is no superhero and the silly side-kick when it comes to parenting (although it’d be fun to start wearing our underwear on the outside).

It bothers me when people refer to daddies ‘babysitting’ to give mom a night out, but I don’t see us paying them at the end of the night and sending them on their jolly way for a good night’s sleep afterwards.

And believe it or not, when mommy’s not there, daddy also knows how not to kill the baby, what lyrics go with ‘Do you want to build a Snowman’ and that ‘snugglebut’ is the only teddy that helps them sleep better.

Just like moms no longer want to be seen as the 1950s housewife who gets excited about the new washing machine, dads no longer want to be seen as the authoritarian parent who couldn’t tell the front or back of a diaper if their life depended on it.

3. What if I told you that our babies slept through the night without using controlled crying nor co-sleeping…

When it comes up that our girls slept through the night from 3/4 months onward, I am often immediately greeted with the “Oh, I could never listen to my baby cry it out”. Often, one style of parenting is joined with a number of assumptions linked to that style and we don’t look at the background of the situation or most importantly…. is the kid happy?

We used somewhat of a schedule when feeding our girls (of course if they were really hungry before their scheduled time… we fed them… duh). But having a bit of a routine for both of them when it came to feeding and bedtime seemed to really work for us and them and of course I also take into account the immense amount of luck we’ve had with good nighttime sleepers… a lot of luck.

In saying that, parents who do decide on controlled crying are not sadists who sit outside their baby’s bedroom door and giggle every time the child cries out … like the rest of us, they are just trying out what works best for everyone involved in finding the right way to get our babies to sleep. We might not always agree on other people’s methods, but everyone is trying to just figure it out as we go..

I also know a number of parents who co-sleep, and even though it’s not something we did ourselves, we seen their kids as happy and healthy mini-humans. Yes, the parents are tired, I can’t think of any parent who isn’t, and no, none of them have gotten squashed just yet.. they’re fine!

Again, as long as the kids are happy it’s ok to find a schedule or a method that works for both the parents and the children. Sleep deprivation is just part of the game… find your own way to make it manageable.

4. If you have found the solution, share, don’t shame

I applaud those parents who have found the light and the only true way to parent their babies effectively. I even more so enjoy their regular social media blasts where they share their newfound enlightenment with the clear assumption that the rest of us are all still in the dark and know nothing or are ignorant and resistant to change.

If you find some interesting articles out there, or new research that could interest others, by all means, do share the love! But don’t shame the rest of us for not knowing this obvious valuable piece of information (even though you just read about it only 2 weeks ago yourself).  I’m glad people have found the light and maybe it is indeed the best way to go… if so, give the rest of us a chance to get their on our own … because your smug attitude will just make we want to rebel even more.

(*side note: not everyone sharing an article on parenting is considered a douche, we’ve got the right to speak our minds (this blog post being case in point)

5.  Don’t make up statistics or facts to prove a point

This is where fictional information on the Internet comes to play, or as our buddy D. Trump calls it ‘fake news’. Some people out there are good at relaying their personal opinions as hard facts. An example, chocking and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is a big worry for all parents, so please don’t tell a parent that their way to put their child to bed can lead to SIDS unless you have the scientific facts to back you up. We have been told that our use of ‘sleep positioners’ (to stop baby from rolling) could lead to SIDS… bullshit. Some of my co-sleeping friends have been told they could squash and choke their baby while they sleep…. bullshit. We’ll always find that one case where a baby did die etc, but don’t use someone’s horrible (and most likely rare) experience as a statistic to support your opinion on.

6. If you feel very strong about something, that’s fine, but does it need to be said?

In saying that, I feel strongly about this, but vaccines do not cause autism (I’m sorry that is just a scientific fact, we really can’t dispute that one can we?). That doesn’t mean I’ll go hunt down the parents that choose not to vaccinate, nor will I ever confront them about it (however hard it can be). The same goes for people who choose not to have medical, life-saving, interventions for their children because of their religion… I admire doctors who have to deal with this on a regular basis because I know I would struggle at keeping my mouth shut. Again though, this is the parents choice and it sucks big time to see this happen no matter how strongly we disagree with it (I know I do… just write a blog about it instead :p )

As usual, these are all just a compilation of my own personal opinions and suggestions (this being a personal blog and all). If I’ve offended some people with what I wrote please know this was not my intention, but it can be seen as such a ‘taboo’ topic these days that it’s hard to know what you should and shouldn’t write. I guess the main objective I’m trying to get at here is to try and live in a community where we support each other, not to make each other feel bad because we do things differently.

We can’t stop from judging… it’s in our nature.. but think before you speak … is it necessary to say out loud or could we just think it to ourselves?

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*(yep, these our kids watching TV… whaaaaaa?! 😉

“Workin’ hard for the mommy”: I chose to bench my career for family

Just like wanting the ability to eat what I want and not gain weight.. (which sadly was no longer an option once I hit 25.. *pff*)  my need to ‘have it all’ did not stay limited to my love for peanut butter M&M’s and party snacks…

When I first started my career, fresh out of university, I was a doe-eyed optimist with a Psychology degree under her belt, ready to dive into the workforce….and boy, did I dive in! I launched my career working for children services, which opened my eyes rather quickly to all the darkness that’s out there. That being said, it became clear that I had a knack for working in the field of psychological trauma, where I could not always prevent the trauma, but made darn well sure that I was there to help survive it! It was not long before I started to live and breathe the job, just like my colleagues in the field did. After a few years of working close to 12 hour days in high risk situations and court deadlines, I decided to take it down a notch and move into private practice where I could focus more on the psychological process rather than the initial intervention. I loved my job and everything it stood for .. the only people I had to look out for was me and my dog (yes, he counts as a person). And then, another many years later… I met a boy.. (*blush*)

Being a French expat in Australia, I knew my partner would not be around forever, but that didn’t stop us from falling in love (*nawww*) and a year and a half later I followed him back to Europe. As my parents were expats (we’re originally Belgian), I had lived in various countries before, so the idea of moving away did not scare me as such. I had finally found someone I wanted to actually commit to and although some interpreted my move as ‘throwing away my career’, I saw it as a great opportunity to learn more (and be with the one I loved.. you know…. ‘having it all)…and of course the dog came along as well…

Fast forward another 3 years, when we welcomed our eldest baby girl, and life truly changed for both of us. We were living in Hong Kong and, given the situation, I was able to stay home for a year and raise our daughter. Now, I had worked in trauma, interviewed sex offenders and dealt with pedophiles… and yet that year, being a stay-at-home-mom, was one of the more challenging years I had had in a long time (not that there’s really a comparison..but you see what I’m trying to relay here..) I had never experienced this feeling of being so busy; you didn’t have time for anything, yet feeling so bored at the same time; before. I felt like I couldn’t identify as anything else but ‘a mom’ and although I poured my heart and soul into this gorgeous little monkey, I didn’t feel like I was making a difference in the world anymore. Please don’t get me wrong, being a stay-at-home-parent is a full time and admirable job and for those doing it every day, you’re bloody amazing and my hat goes off to you ! This is merely a depiction of what I was feeling at the time and the internal struggle I myself felt, missing my career and trying to find my place again. I like working, having a routine and feeling like I’m going to be a productive member of society for the day.

I expected life to change when I chose to follow my husband overseas, and I felt nothing but excitement. I expected life to change when we started having kids, and I felt nothing but love… some fatigue… a bi-it of nausea… but mostly, love.

But what I didn’t expect was the feeling of guilt when I decided to give up some of that precious time with my child and go back to work, paired with the resentment I felt every time I lugged a big laundry basket down the stairs. I wanted the best of both worlds, but that was just no longer an option. I made the choice to shelf my career for the time being,  working in a less stressful job with fewer hours. Coming to terms with these new priorities in our lives still created the occasional internal battle but as I would’t give up one for the other, I had to find a middle ground.

The reason for this post, is because we just welcomed our second little monkey into the world.  I spent the last 3 months living in a blissful cocoon, sniffing my baby’s hair and what not, but the reality of postponing my career for that while longer, has come and hit me all over again…

I’m not the only parent going through this and after speaking with a number of people in similar situations, I decided to share a summary of useful tidbits that are helping me along the way and that may be useful to others as well.

1. Drop the guilt-trip

There is absolutely nobody, other than yourself, judging you for giving up on the work you were doing in order to put your family’s priorities first. You didn’t fail because you’re holding a degree you’re not using nor did you waste the last 10 years to just be a house wife/husband (what we do before molds us in who we become today, that doesn’t change no matter where our paths take us). We are our own harshest critics. Those who do judge, don’t know your story and therefore don’t deserve your guilt either.

2. You can’t have your cake and eat it too… *mmm cake*

I know many couples where both the parents have a successful and driven career whilst raising beautiful and happy children… it is possible yes! Having a career does not mean you make unhappy babies…..far from it… but it’s only realistic to say that one does impact on the other (and like a scale, the balance changes from day to day).  That doesn’t mean it can’t be great.. we just can’t have it all. The sooner we drop that expectation, the sooner we can jump on the seesaw and just go where gravity takes us and balance as best as we can.

3. It’s okay to feel resentful once in a while, just don’t drown in it

There’s nothing wrong in feeling that bit of bitterness from time to time.. I sporadically have pangs of jealousy when seeing my single friends and reminiscing of the times where we went to dinner any night we wanted and going for an after-work beer was a spontaneous choice rather than a well-planned-out operation. But then I come home to my kid picking her nose and licking the window while the other one is laughing hysterically at her feet .. and as much as I loved that family-free, social time in the past.. I wouldn’t want it any other way now. I think we all look back at certain moments in our past with much fondness, but that doesn’t mean we want to be right back there either.. And of course, having kids does not mean you become a total shut-in.. that too, is a choice..(one, I know, I personally need to put more effort in).

4. Sacrifice is a team effort

My husband and I chose to rank our jobs and made the conscious decision which one to prioritize (future opportunities, financial input, location etc). Safe to say it was a no-brainer that we would follow his career and I would put mine on hold for the time being. But a decision like that is made together, and there is not one party sacrificing more than the other. As a couple,the most important aspect for us is to remain part of a team and where I have given up certain things for him, he has most certainly given up things for me as well. I know, at times, because I was no longer the main breadwinner, I felt like I didn’t contribute as much as my husband did,  which clouded my view and often would be the basis for arguments. Not once has my adorable Frenchman made me feel like I’m not contributing, and it was, yet again, my own inside voice that put me down more than anything. I know my partner fully supports me when I decide to jump back in the saddle… no one needs to be the martyr.

To be honest, once the kids are at a school age, I don’t know if I’ll fully get back to the career I had before. But what I do know is that I wouldn’t trade my life nor my little family for anything, not even a job. (Unless I become ‘George Clooney’s personal body lotion application executive’.. then they’re on their own)

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy these little rugrats and the bearded lover who is the absolute cheese to my macaroni, and be grateful for all that I have.. I might not have it all.. but it’s more than I need and for that I feel like the luckiest one.

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Parenting Wars: Bringing Balance to the Force..

Episode II

“It is a period of subliminal unrest. Online forums, striking from a hidden base, have won their first battle in spreading insecurity within the Parenting Galaxy. During the clashes, parenting styles were dissected and misinformation lead to judgement and ridicule .The Internet, an armored entity with enough power to destroy an entire mindset, left parents confused and turning against each other. 

Joining the battle in keeping the peace, Stef attempts to write a blog, with the help of Yoda, to try and aid her people and restore freedom of choice to the galaxy…” 

I always sensed it.. I had heard stories.. but I was never confronted with the force until I became a parent myself. I’m most certainly not the first, and definitely will not the last, to write a post on the ongoing tension between parents and the different parenting styles out there, but I wanted to throw my perception on the topic in the mix as well… trying to channel the great Master Yoda.. yoda-photo-drawing

(Note: before you have me committed to the psych ward, I am fully aware Yoda is a fictional character created by George Lucas in the Star Wars Space Opera franchise and therefore not real..)

1. No true parenting style, there is ..

There is no such thing as the one and only, perfect parenting style. There’s already enough conflict around the religions people practice and the political parties they vote for, and don’t even get me started on the ‘tight are not pants’ or ‘is the dress blue or yellow debate’! Why should we add more stress and fight over the best way to raise our child? “There is no such thing as a perfect parent, so just be a real one” – (S. Atkins.)

2. “Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view” 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with disagreeing with a particular parenting style. But before you go and condemn someone and call them a ‘hippie’ for practicing attachment parenting or mumbling ‘nazi’ as an authoritarian parent disciplines their child, educate yourself on what is out there. I believe there is not one true solution to each problem. Every parent and every child is different and what may work wonders for one, does nothing for the other. When you don’t understand someone’s reasoning, try and see it from their point of view (that does not mean you have to agree or understand it.. but just to respect it..)

3. To only one style, limit yourself, you should not..

I’m a very indecisive person at best, picking a restaurant with me can be an absolute nightmare! I’ll be craving pizza with just a side of sushi but really that Indian place has the best Naan… So it was no surprise that when it came to parenting, I could not make up my mind on which style to follow and implement. I like the idea of giving my children choices and trying to negotiate with them on certain topics, but then again I am also a very firm believer in having boundaries and routines to guide them. I don’t believe in physical punishment, but have no problem putting my 3 year old in the corner as she calms down from what I can only describe as a satanic episode. I want my child to explore the world around them, but often I also have to say the word ‘no’ (quite often actually). I don’t believe the child needs to adjust to the parents’ schedule or vice versa for that matter. I think both parties need to compromise and the family works together as a unit to try and have a happy, balanced life for everyone. Children need affection, love and attention.. no doubt.. but sometimes mommy also needs 20 minutes and that glass of wine..

4. “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering” 

(yes, I’m channeling Star Wars in case we hadn’t picked up on that yet). 😉   In today’s society where the internet bombards us with factual and fictional information, we are torn between what we truly believe works for us and what we fear others will think of that (and I’m not only talking about parenting here).  Rather than being proud of the way we parent, we often feel as if we have to justify why we do things a certain way. This underlying defensiveness blocks us from sharing experiences with each other and learning from others. Rather than passing on what we have learned, we hold back out of fear of sounding judgmental and minding our own business. There is nothing wrong in sharing what we know.. as long as we do it with respect and not through judgement.

5. “A Jedi uses the force for knowledge and defense. Never for attack”

Elaborating on the above point of sharing information with each other… share it to do good, not to judge or attack. If a parent is struggling, positive comments such as “what worked for us was…”, “you’re doing great, have you tried….?”, “We’ve been there..” etc can be useful and comforting. Comments that focus on attacking someone’s parenting only encourages the divide that is already there. An example that comes to mind is when I heard someone tell my attachment-parenting friend that the reason they weren’t sleeping well with their 2 month old was because co-sleeping is not the way to go….*pause* you see, to me the reason they weren’t sleeping well is because… ding ding ding… they have a 2 month old!?! I don’t co-sleep myself because it’s not for my husband and I, but I have many friends who do with perfectly happy kiddos and it works just fine for them.. so no dramas here if you ask me.  Don’t get upset if someone does not take your advise, don’t take it personal if your advise did not work for them and if you have one of those  mythical ‘Oh-my-child-never-does-*insert negative behavior*’ children.. that’s amazing news… keep it to yourself.

 

6. “Truly wonderful the mind of a child is”

I think the most important thing that should be present in every parenting, is the love and respect for our children. At the end of the day, the way we parent directly affects our children.. we’re going to screw them up no matter how we go about it, so we might as well focus on what works best for us and them, as long as they know they are loved and protected and pass on the same courtesy to others.

7. Reckless you be, matters get worse 

As much as I support and preach the need to be open minded and respect other’s decisions, it goes without saying that this too falls within reason!  There is no condoning child abuse or recklessness where a child is placed at direct risk of harm. Everyone has their own rating scale of what they consider to be reckless and harmful, and that unfortunately I cannot change, so I’m basing this on my own experiences as a child psychologist and former child safety officer. From where I stand, if you physically harm your child (I’m not talking a spanking here or a tap on the hands, I’m talking abuse) you are wrong. If you demean your child and emotionally batter them (I’m not talking about raising your voice or getting angry, I’m talking abuse) you are wrong. Then there are the grey areas that are not necessarily illegal… I must admit, if you choose to not vaccinate your child with the basics or let your child die because you do not believe in blood transfusions or modern medicine.. I find it very hard to understand and respect that decision, and for that I’m sorry.

8. A parent, you must not necessarily be, to support 

You don’t have to be a parent in order to help someone or give advice on parenting. There is also no parenting level of who knows it better depending on how many children one has or how old they are. You don’t ‘level up’ every time you have a child… Everyone has their own experiences and many of these can be second hand and just as valuable. It does take a village to raise a child and the more we know, the more we have to work with..

9.” Do or do not, there is no try “

Just dive in… sink or swim. Parenting is all about figuring out what works best and going with the flow (or sometimes being swallowed and dragged down the stream by the flow). Nobody knows it all.. although some may claim they do, and sadly they will never find out that they don’t. Just do the absolute best that you can..

10. Your example, your child follow, it will 

At the end of the day, let’s just focus on raising children that are tolerant of others (even when those others are different), that love one another (even when the others are being a butt) and that have the confidence to live in a society where we all just live our lives the best way we can.. together. In other words.. don’t be a dick and your child will follow by example…

As usual I haven’t written anything new here but I do hope I managed to share some of the love and show other parents out there that we’re not at war.. we’re raising the new generation, with all it’s beautiful variety (warts and everything) as we aim for our children to have a great life.. and there’s many different ways to give that to them

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“Please”, “Merci” en “Dank u wel”: Raising our Child in Three Languages- our seven cents worth..

There once was a Belgian/Australian lady with an Aussie dog who met a French/handsome man in the land Down Under. After travelling some time across the world for work, they settled back in Paris and now have two perfect little, curly-haired blends of all of the above. Safe to say we have our own little mixing pot of various cultural habits, culinary discoveries, and most importantly all the languages that come with being a multi-national family.

Before our girls were even conceived, we had made the conscious decision that we would be raising our future children in the three languages we ourselves grew up with: French, English and Flemish (which essentially is Dutch but with a way cooler accent 😉 hihi – says the person from Belgium.

Raised as a multi-lingual child myself, and living among expats for most of our lives, we knew that such a task would come with its own challenges (besides the techniques taught to us by the literature surrounding this topic). We’ve got a long road ahead of us still, but thought to share with you seven truths we have learnt so far:

1. Raising a multi-lingual child will not confuse them.

Despite what some people believe, having a child learn multiple languages from day 1 is not as difficult as it would be for an older child or adult. Their little brains are sponges who will soak up any information they can and will put it into place later. Keep filling that sponge – but be as consistent as possible.

2. Consistency is key

It’s important to remain consistent. No language is ever learnt by throwing around random words without a clear context or setting. As we are raising our little poop machines in the three languages, we have mom who speaks to her in Flemish, dad in French and English is spoken when we’re all together as well as in the cartoons they see on Netflix (yes, we’re those kind of parents who let their children watch TV…. a lot… for shame!)

3. People will have an opinion about your parenting, regardless of what you say or do

I must admit, a cocky part of myself thought people would react quite well to the fact we are raising our child in a multilingual setting. So it came to a bit of a surprise that quite a lot of reactions leaned towards the negative or even critical side… Comments such as ‘it will only confuse them’..’they will loose their French (*we live in Paris)’.. ‘I would not put that pressure on my child’ .. and ‘who needs Flemish anyway’ are among my top favorite ones. At the end of the day, people are crappy and will have something to say about your parenting no matter what you do or don’t do.. so let them criticize away as your child learns how to say ‘mind your own business’ in three different languages.

4. Lost in translation

As most multilingual families/couples know, a lot of arguments can blow up with a simple mistranslated sentence or saying… some can turn out quite comical where others have you turning on each other like a couple of stray cats. Always communicate with each other and your children, and identify where the confusion lies so we learn from our mistakes. For example, ‘What ya doin’? in English does not correspond well with its direct translation of ‘Tu fais quoi?’ in French. On the contrary…. saying it like that sounds more like ‘what the bloody hell do you think you’re doing there mate!’ (we learnt that one in the car!)

5. Don’t underestimate the power of cartoons!

As I mentioned before, our children do watch TV daily, and before you put on your ‘judge-y’ pants, all their programs include age appropriate and educational cartoons. They do not watch Game of Thrones with us nor do they become violent as a result of over stimulation to movement and colors. In fact, our eldest learnt (when she was 2) to count to 10 with ‘Curious George’, the names of all the playground equipment with ‘Peppa Pig’ and experienced the joys of completing a task with ‘Dora the Explorer’. I most certainly am not promoting our children sit in front of the tube all the livelong day without any other activities, but don’t worry too much if some days that TV has been on longer than others.. they’ll be fine.

6. Some delay in speaking can be expected

A lot of children speaking more than one language, may mix up some of the words a little as they start forming full sentences.  Yes, compared to little Johnny from next door, they may not be reciting their favorite poem just yet or they tend to sound like a UN translator after a few drinks as they mix up their languages… but give them a few extra months to get the hang of it and they’ll be able to tell you all about their day in more language than one. If anything, the initial mixing of languages can be quite adorable at times!

7. Your child is not better than any other

There are of course some parents who act as if their multilingual child is far more advanced than any other child who can’t ask for their blanky in Latin or what have you… Every single child has its own strengths and weaknesses and where your child might excel in one area, another trumps them in another field. It’s not a competition (contrary to what most of us experience) and our little monsters are all geniuses in their own way!

None of this information is new and I’m sure most of you have far more experience to back up the above points.. I wanted to share what we’ve known so far and encourage those multilingual parents who may have had doubts before to keep on going !!

In my opinion, if you can raise your child with more than one language,  it’s nothing but a gift you can give them ……

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Developing an Emotional Toolbox: How to help you and your child manage high emotions

From an early age, children understand the concept of a ‘toolbox’ and that it contains a variety of tools that are there to repair a machine or help fix a household problem. The idea of an ‘Emotional Toolbox’ (developed by Tony Attwood, PhD) is to develop different types of ‘tools’ that will help with the struggles associated with negative emotions (for example: anxiety, anger, depression, etc).  Over the many years working as a child psychologist, I have found it to be extremely helpful for just about anyone (not just young children) struggling with managing their emotions…

The initial idea of the Emotional Toolbox was linked to successful strategies in the treatment of anxiety and anger in children with Asperger’s syndrome (Sofronoff et al 2005/2007). Like any household toolbox, the tools are divided into different categories : physical, relaxation, thinking, social, special and inappropriate tools. Each category has tools that quickly and effectively reduce emotional energy, and promote thinking.

As a therapist,  I work with children/adults and their family, to develop personalized tools that can help manage their negative emotions, as well as look at some ‘inappropriate’ tools that, for them, possibly makes the emotions worse.

Today, I would like to share with you the basic template of developing an emotional toolbox together with your child. (*PLEASE NOTE: This is just a template to help you get started at home and not equivalent to a therapeutic session. Any ongoing concerns you may have for your child should be followed up through professional psychological intervention)

With your child, set some time aside where you can uninterruptedly brainstorm and work together on creating their own set of tools and activities that can help them manage their negative emotions when they feel overwhelmed. Below you can find the different categories and a brief explanation, as well as a sample template, to get you started…

Physical Tools

This category represents tools or actions that release emotional energy through a physical activity. Choose a ‘logo’ that symbolized physical activity for them (for example, sneakers, a soccer ball, etc). Then, with your child, discuss which physical actions could help them ‘release’ their excess energy at the time and when this tool could be best implemented (remember, playing soccer might be a very helpful tool to calm them down, but will not be useful at night just before bedtime).

Relaxation Tools

Just as it sounds, relaxation tools are there to help them calm their body and mind through mediation-related actions. This can include reading a book, taking some time-out and listening to music, and the most effective form of relaxation…breathing techniques. Breathing techniques can be practiced together for your child to understand how they work and the benefits as they feel their heart rate slow down and their body relax. Again, choose a logo that will help them identify with this type of tool (for example, a flower, the sun, a book, etc)

Social Tools

Social tools include the involvement of your child’s support network. That can be their immediate family, school staff, friends etc. The social tool requires them to enlist someone from their support network to help them manage a stressor, this can include asking mom for a hug, talking to their teacher about a problem at school, or asking a friend to play or sit with them. A logo I found useful is the outline of their hand (where each finger signifies a person in their support network).

Thinking Tools

Thinking tools focus on helping them understand and rationalize their behavior when dealing with negative emotions. Have them write down what is happening at the time, using three columns: 1. What am I feeling 2. What was I doing before I started feeling this way 3. Which tool can I use to help me work through this feeling until I feel better? Some children respond well to having their very own notebook (which can be decorated as they see fit) to help them take notes and track their progress.

Special Tools

Some children might have a special interest that takes up a lot of their time, or a special toy (for younger children). This can be placed in any of the above categories, however, some children like to have an ‘extra’ tool for the things they hold ‘extra’ dear.

Inappropriate Tools

It is also important to identify the tools they use that have proven to be unsuccessful and aggravate the situation (for example, hitting someone, breaking property, hurting themselves etc). Once you have, together, established these tools, write them down in their toolbox and draw a big red line through them. This helps your child understand that these tools are not helpful and puts focus on the other, more useful, tools around that they have created for themselves.

Important Notes:

  • Help your child understand that they have developed a variety of tools to deal with different situation and locations, and it is up to them to choose a tool that works best at the time.
  • Mastering their toolbox effectively will take time and practice. Just like learning any new skill, the more they practice and evaluate their progress (with your help), the easier managing their emotions will become overtime…but this does not happen overnight !!
  • Allow room for error.. just like adults, they are bound to slip up once in a while. Take the opportunity to reflect and evaluate and look at how it could be done better next time ..
  • Managing negative emotions does not mean suppressing negative emotions. Your child needs to know they are absolutely allowed to feel these feelings and find helpful ways to work through them rather than ignore them and act out.
  • Sometimes, some tools might need some tweaking or new tools are developed as their needs and interests change and grow constantly.

I hope this template helps you get started….. Once you have created the Emotional Toolbox (this can be a piece of paper, an index card etc) it is useful to display it somewhere your child can easily access it (for example, the fridge door). Whenever they feel overwhelmed, help draw their attention to the toolbox and together discuss which tool would work best for them at the time… (depending on your child’s emotional management outside the home, sometimes having a replica of their toolbox at school/nanny/etc can help them practice further).

As mentioned earlier, any significant, ongoing concerns you may have are always best followed up through professional intervention..

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A shift to a Stay-at-Home Mom

Hands down, I’ll (albeit quite guiltily) admit that, before I became a mom, I was one of those people who sometimes thought stay-at-home-moms had it just that little bit easier than working singletons who did 60 hour weeks. It didn’t take long for me to realize that was all a bunch of ‘crapoly’, and there is in fact no winner or loser in this underlying ‘who-works-the-hardest’ competition that seems to have been going on for generations.

I won’t lie to you, I don’t feel I was made to be a stay-at-home mom forever, and I plan to return back to the workforce, but I have developed a new level of respect for those who do it for the long haul!

It’s only been a short 10 months, so I’m far from an expert here (especially as I’m chickening out) but thought to share some of the things (good and the bad) that have come up when staying at home with our little fart machine.

1) You can push yourself an extra hour with a dead arm and lower back pain, just to keep your baby from napping that little longer on a long bus ride … (but can’t apply that same will power to push an extra 30 minutes on the cross trainer!)

2) You surprise yourself at how much you remember as you run out of nursery rhymes and end up singing the entire Disney collection… (Broadway here I come!)

3) You can eat, cook, get cash out, take a dump and wipe your a**… …all with one hand!

4) Following on that, you’ve suddenly become ambidextrous and can do all chores using either hand…… and could probably slap in a few toes as well if you weren’t so worries about transferring germs from the floor.

5) Although you have a great husband, friends and family available (be it in person or on Skype), there are days where you have never felt more lonely.

6) Your child’s pain in a thousand times worse than your own!

7) You have a ‘poop’ and ‘pee’ schedule….and not for your little one. You plan your poops during nap times and can hold in your pee for hours (I swear, who needs kegel exercises..).  For those parents who tell me : ‘Oh, just let them cry while you poop‘ I tell thee: There are two things I love most in this world… a good meal… and a good dump. I am already eating above the sink with one hand…. please let me have my trashy magazine on my throne in peace.

8) You ears might start bleeding (feels like) if you hear the ‘Bumba goes to the Circus’ theme song one more time

9) You don’t control, but sure as hell have a lot of input into, ‘what’ and ‘how’ your child learns and witness as they grow into their own little personality …..and that’s a pretty nice privilege to have!!

10) When you do get a chance to sit down for a minute, and perhaps watch half an episode of ‘True Blood’ (yep… I like trash…put me in an Eric and Jason sandwich any day) … you can’t help but feel guilty for sitting down and ‘relaxing’ while others are at work.

11) The sound of a good fart, will always be funny, no matter what age you are

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Staying Neutral in the cold war between Parents and Non-Parents

As someone who is one of the last ones in her circle of friends to have a baby, I’d like to think I’ve had a taste of both sides in, what seems like, an underlying battle between parents and non-parents. I’m most certainly not saying that this applies to all groups, but after speaking with a few mommies and non-mommies, it does seem to be happening a bit everywhere as people’s opinion continues to grow on both sides.

Often it hides in the form of silly little comments that none of us want to hear, and I just don’t see why there has to be such a divide on the topic. We have enough issues in the world with people not getting along because of their political stance, religion or sexual preference, so do we really need to add anything on top of that pile? Of course, a transition period is normal when people have major life changes (be it having a kid, changing jobs, moving countries, you name it) and sometimes these changes may affect the closeness you once had, but that does not always need to indicate the end of a close relationship.

Even though I am the proud mommy of an 8 month old poop machine of my own now, I did have 32 blissful years without kids before that, so I’d like to try and write about the ups and downs for both sides and be neutral… like Switzerland.

What Parents need to stop saying to Non-Parents

1) “You think you’re tired? Try having kids!”

Yes, having a child is tiring and you don’t sleep much at all. But I can guarantee you that people know very well what it’s like to be exhausted, stressed, worn out and depleted without the input of little ones. There are other things in life that cause just as much sleep deprivation as kids do and we are not some exclusive club of insomniacs.

2) “Dog are not kids’

As a dog owner and a parent I can say: ‘Yes they bloody well are!!’ Of course, animals are not children, and people who compare their dog with your toddler know that very well. What they are trying to say is that dogs can be like children. Having someone wine at your feet as you try to cook dinner, cleaning up their poop, feeding them (as they chuck a tantrum because they want to eat what you are having instead), jumping in your bed at 5 am and needing constant cuddles…. sounds pretty similar to me.

3) “My life was meaningless before I had kids”

Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter very much, but I’m pretty happy to say that my life had plenty of meaning before I had her, thank you very much. People who tell non-parents that their life didn’t have meaning before having children, will only make those non-parents feel like worthless pieces of sh*t, all because they didn’t squeeze out a tiny human.

4) “You don’t know unless you have kids”

Yes, certain scenarios do require first hand experience at being a parent in order to fully grasp and understand the situation, however, that does not mean you can dismiss a non-parents’ input by shrugging off their lack of knowledge on the topic just because they haven’t had their nose buried in a shitty diaper. It’s the same as me not knowing what it is like to go Bungee Jumping, unless I have been strapped in and taken a leap of a tall bridge.

5) “Going to the playground would probably be too boring for you’

Why on earth do some parents think, that just because some don’t have children, that they cannot engage in child-related activities. I had a friend once, who had her first child and instantly cut us off from her circle because she didn’t think we could meet up on Sunday mornings or could hang out at the playground as she judged us for having a few drinks during a weekday (even though she was the one dancing on the bar table with her T-shirt pulled over her ears only a mere 10 months before that herself).

What Non-Parents need to stop saying to Parents

1) “Let’s just have a quick coffee/lunch/drink.. you can spare 30 minutes can’t you”

I’m sorry, but there is nothing ‘quick’ about anything anymore. Leaving the house literally takes more than 30 minutes (even if you pre-packed the diaper bag the night before).. there’s always a last minute poop, two runs back upstairs because you first forgot their spare dummy and then you left their fruit snack in the fridge. When we go have a half hour coffee, that takes about 3 hours out of our day.

2) “I wish I could stay home all day today as well”

I understand that your work is very busy and a nice day at home with a book and a glass of wine does sounds dreamy…. the reason we know that is because we have been dreaming of it since the day we brought little rug rat home. Please know that parents who stay at home with their children work just as hard as people in the office. Sure, we don’t deal with angry bosses and aren’t buried up to our elbows in paperwork; but we do deal with angry non-verbal human beings and believe you me, what we are covered up into our elbows in, is not paper… we should be so lucky. (and for those who need me to spell it out.. I’m talking about poop).

3) “You chose to have children, you shouldn’t complain’

Yes, we chose to have our little pooping miracles, and not a day goes by where we’re not grateful to have them in our life. But once in a while we too need to have an outlet and a vent about the joys (and challenges) of parenthood. Just as much as someone needs a glass of wine after a difficult meeting with a client or cuts in the company budget; blowing off steam is something we’re all entitled to.

4) “All you talk about is your children’

I must agree, even as a parent, there are days where if I hear the word ‘diaper’, ‘tummy time’ or ‘milestone’ one more time I’ll crawl up the walls. But please understand, especially as stay at home parents, 13 hours of our day are spent with only the company of our tiny human and little to no contact with other adults. Of course we remember what it’s like to talk about current world events, relationships, sex, and heck, we can even still crack a joke once in a while…. we had a kid, not a lobotomy!  But such topics are pretty hard to discuss as we try and restrain the wriggling toddler on our lap who is shrieking for more juice….. get us aside with a drink in our hand and our baby far away from us.. and we can talk about anything you want to talk about.

5) “But you still have time to write a Blog”

Yes, I do have time for a blog. I also started writing this 3 hours ago when she started her nap.. but in the meantime I have changed a poopy diaper, had a dance party, frantically searched for Bumba the Clown and had to calm down the dog who’s ears got pulled…. and now I am finishing this post as someone is pulling at my shoelaces and gnawing on the desk chair legs (probably not the most hygienic thing I should be allowing).

I would like to conclude on a deep and meaningful note to expresses how we’re all in the same boat and that none of us are better than anyone else… and I would like to leave you inspired and not offended, but my kid just discovered where we keep the guitar so I need to go before she snaps the E string and she looses an eye…

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