Category Archives: What do YOU think?

The post that almost was…

Wow!  I feel like I've been gone for YEARS from this space. Sorry about that. My day job (which turned into a night-job when I was overseas) got the better of me and it's been hard to find the time to sleep, nevermind write a coherent sentence on this blog. I was going to post on parenting styles today (following some requests in the comments section): differences among authoritarian, authoritative and permissive parenting and some of the child outcomes associated with these styles. But I'm going to be lame and just say tune in tomorrow because I can't finish it yet.

For now, as I'm catching my breath, I'm wondering: What do YOU let go of when everything becomes overwhelming (in other words, when 24 hours can't possibly cover the things you need/want to do in a day)? And what do you never, ever compromise?

For me, the three things that go to hell when I've got too much work to do are sleep, writing this blog and exercising. (This past week, I can also add: emailing back friends, reading blogs, reading books, cooking, eating or drinking anything other than bread, butter, cheese and wine). The two things I almost never compromise (if I have any teeny-tiny bit of choice) is time with my kids on the weekend (I don't work until they're asleep) and deadlines my boss has set for me. What about you?

Parenting challenge #2: Be honest… you’re angry

 "Anger ventilated often hurries toward forgiveness; and concealed often hardens into revenge."  ~Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

This week's Parenting Challenge was inspired by a number of comments and subsequent discussions that were brought up in the comments section of the first Parenting Challenge. In particular, a number of us made the point that trying to be playful during conflicts or discipline episodes is so hard sometimes because we're just too damn angry to feel playful. When we feel angry, we don't WANT to come up with a cute little "pretend" scenario that will gently pull our child into complying with our wishes. Some people observed that  the "playful parenting" solutions like trying to involve our children in pretend play may only work in more calm contexts in general, rather than the more heated temper tantrums or times when we're over-the-top sleep-deprived and at our wit's end. 

This week's Parenting Challenge comes from Ginott's classic, Between Parent and Child. This book has a ton of explicit and implicit parenting gems (while at the same time feeling very dated in some of the examples, language, and so on). One of the most useful discussions I found in the book was the one on parents' own anger and how to deal with it. Ginott says that ALL parents feel angry at their children sometimes, and oftentimes it is completely justifiable. The problem begins when we try to completely deny those feelings. Usually, our children feel our tension anyways, so the first point is that when we try to swallow our anger, our children feel some strange vibe in the air that is unsettling at best for them. The second point Ginott emphasizes is that anger in and of itself is not a bad thing — it is an emotion that signals both to ourselves and to our child that something is amiss. LACK of anger in some contexts can in fact communicate indifference to the child… not such a good thing either. The feeling in and of itself isn't so bad, it's what we do about it that can have either beneficial or harmful effects. Finally, Ginott makes the point many of us have acknowledged: like it or not, angry feelings INEVITABLY arise when we're parenting. Figuring out how to deal with it best is what we can aim for (rather than the complete elimination of this "basic" / biologically-based emotion).

Here's the challenge then: Let's try to actually EXPRESS our angry feelings, instead of completely quashing them. But let's try to do so with Ginott's prescrption:

"Anger should be expressed in a way that brings some relief to the parent, some insight to the child, and no harmful side effects to either of them." 

Tall order, I know… But the idea is that we don't want to express that anger such that it ESCALATES our bad feelings or our child's bad feelings. But we DO want to communicate our frustration in a way that opens up the possibility for repair and connection, with some learning potentially thrown in. I'll talk more about repair (either this week, if that feels right, or next). But I think before we think about how best to repair interactions when they go awry, we need to first think about how we can express those negative/angry feelings in the first place. 

So, there are a few tips given in the book about communicating anger:

  • Accept, WITHOUT ANY GUILT OR SHAME, that we will get angry at our children sometimes. 
  • We can express our feelings of anger as long as we don't do so by attacking our child's personality or character (e.g., avoid saying things like "I'm so angry because you're a lazy / slow / stubborn / mean / bad / stupid / etc. child.").
  • Use "I" statements when expressing anger: "I feel frustrated when you don't listen to me." "I'm getting more and more angry the longer you take to pick up your toys." "I'm angry at you because it took me 30 min to cook dinner and you just threw it all over the floor."  
  • If the first mild expression of your anger gets no reaction, elaborate and express your wishful actions: "I'm so angry that you dumped your toys out of the bin right after I cleaned them all up. It makes me so, so angry that I don't want to play with you now." "When you hit your baby brother, I see red, that's how angry I get. It makes me want to stomp upstairs and not let you play with baby brother." 

The idea here is that expressing your authentic feelings of anger does two things: (1) communicates your dislike for some behaviour you'd like your child to change in a way that is more "real" and, thus, more easily understood and respected by your child and (2) allows for you to move on from that emotion, because it's expressed and you no longer have to expend so much energy to suppress it. This is energy you could more productively use to flexibly figure out a solution to the conflict. 

Again, I'll refrain in this first post from giving a bunch of theoretical background why expressing anger with our children might be important. I do want to add my own developmental thoughts (preliminary as they may be): (1) Very young children who can't understand the words for particular emotions are going to have a tough time with this one, but it's not impossible to start even with them. A one-year old may not fully understand the words you're using, but she may still get your facial expressions and your intentions to communicate something important, so all is not lost on the very young with this approach (and obviously, we parents are still benefiting from being able to express some of our frustration and practicing how to do so in a safe, non-insulting way, so that when they ARE old enough to understand our words, we'll be more versed at this strategy). (2) Children around the age of 2.5 years old will be able to really understand emotion terms and get their impact. Before that, you're not wasting your time, but it's more like you're setting the stage. After that, there will be variability in terms of how interested children will be in learning what you're teaching them (just like there's variability in how interested kids will be about numbers, letters, trains and dolls). (3) Children in "sensitive windows" of development, particularly the 18 – 22 month and the 3.5 – 4 year old stages may be particularly vulnerable to our expressions of anger because of the emotional challenges they're dealing with (e.g., struggles with autonomy vs. independence with the 18-month old; battling with potentially overwhelming feelings of shame and/or jealousy with the 3.5 year old). That doesn't mean we shouldn't still try to express these emotions, but being aware of our children's increased vulnerability may help us temper the manner in which we express ourselves. (4) Children over the age of 3 or so, or children with older siblings, may particularly benefit from watching their parents express anger in a non-violent, non-explosive, but nevertheless authentic way. Their cognitive capabilities are such that they may even initiate repair strategies with us… not a bad outcome. 

As usual, I could go on and on with elaborating why this might be a tough strategy to implement, the kinds of contexts that it would be impossible to do so, and the different types of children for whom it might work or blow up in our faces. But I want to leave most of that discussion to you. Let us know: Do you express your feelings of anger to your children? Do you think it's a good or bad idea to do so? When you try to communicate angry feelings, how does your child react? What makes it difficult for you to talk about your angry emotions? Were your parents able to communicate anger in a way that was not terrifying or soul-crushing? 

Parenting challenge? Pick up a new parenting tool and tell us how it worked

I've been thinking about how we can all learn more from each other: How we can share what we've read and what we've tried with our kids that's worked. And I've also been very aware of how helpful reviewing all those discipline books (and many others I didn't include in that last post) has been to my OWN parenting challenges this week. Having to go back to some of those books and review my dog-eared pages was fabulous for getting me thinking about new ways to approach recurring discipline episodes with my boys (it's also made me realize that I didn't tell you the stuff I DIDN'T like about those listed books… I'm rather critical when it comes to parenting books, so you can imagine that providing you with those balanced reviews would have taken me another 5 pages). I've actually had one of the best weeks in months with my boys, largely because I've been more conscientiously applying various approaches that I've forgotten about or simply not tuned into.

I think one of the best things we can do as parents is to try to remain FLEXIBLE. I've written a couple of dry-as-sand academic articles about the social and emotional benefits to children of flexible parenting. By flexible, I mean the ability to use a whole lot of different solutions to the same discipline problem, the ability to express a range of emotions (both good and bad), without becoming stuck in one emotional state for too long, and the ability to repair interactions when things get ugly. I want to write a whole lot more about this issue of repair, and how important I think it is for parent-child relationships (and healthy development in general). I've been studying the benefits of "repair" in family interactions for almost a decade and I think it's so critical.

But back to the more general idea of flexible parenting: One way to try to become more flexible as parents is to simply add parenting tools (with some evidence of efficacy) to our toolbox. This flexibility will manifest differently for different parents, depending on what you already do, the extent to which you're happy with what's working and you're unhappy with what's not, the age of your child (of course!), and so on.  

So here's  my question/challenge: Would you all be interested in reading blog posts about, and TRYING, some different parenting techniques or discipline strategies (from the books I've already reviewed) and then reporting back on your results? The way this could work is that I could post a description of some little method or a more general approach or mindset that's advocated in one of the 10 books I listed in my last post. Then we can all try to implement the approach in the following few days and report back in the comments about how great or how completely hopeless that particular technique proved to be. This would almost be like our own little study (biased to high-hell, but still…), especially if you all were willing to give a little information about your child's age and explain the reasons for your success or lack thereof. Of course, certain approaches are going to work better than others for certain issues, different ages, different parents with various parenting philosophies, etc. But I think we could all learn something new and maybe even have some fun with this, if there's lots of participation. I would be FULLY into participating myself, of course.

Extra bonus: You won't feel like you have to go out and buy a bunch of books — I'll make sure to give you a smattering of approaches from a bunch of authors.

What do you think? Thoughts on how to make this work? Is this just a lame idea?

Come out, come out, wherever you are…

Apparently, I missed some big "delurking day." I'm so out of the loop… CLEARLY. So, I'll try to hop on the bandwagon belatedly.

I'm feeling a little isolated right now and thought I'd throw out a few questions to you all to see if we can get a sense of who's reading this blog. (I know you're out there, you're just not commenting… which is fine, I was a lurker for a LOOOOOOOOOOOONG time before I started commenting.) I'm dying to know a little about my readers, just out of general curiosity. But I'd also like to get a better sense of what types of posts might be most relevant to you and a little bit of info about you all would help a lot. So… tell me dear readers:

1. How many kids do you have?

2. How old are they?

3. What's frustrating you most these days in terms of you children or parenting in general?

I'll go first (although many of you already know the answer to the first 2):

1. I have two boys.

2. Both are 3 and 5/6 years old (4 in March). Fraternal twins.

3. Biggest frustration: I can't get enough time with my kids during the week. I work 40 hours/week and because the boys don't nap anymore, they're in bed by 7:30. Any later, and they're in melt-down mode. So I get a measly 3 hours/day with them, and at least one of those hours are spent nagging about eating, dressing, undressing and getting out the door. And the fact that I can't figure out any way to solve this except to wait until they're a bit older and need less sleep saddens me.

No pressure, but PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE come out of lurkdom for a moment and make me feel less nerdy in this big, strange blog world…

The US edition of Bedtiming is HERE!

I am THRILLED to let you all know that the US edition of Bedtiming is out! For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, a couple of years ago, my husband (Marc Lewis) and I wrote a book that was first published in Canada. The US edition is now out (published by The Experiment) with a brand spanking new cover and subtitle (nothing else of substance has changed from the Canadian version, for those of you who have asked).

Book cover
We wrote Bedtiming while trying to figure out the ins and
outs of our own children’s sleep habits and how to ultimately change
those crazy habits so that we could regain our sanity. The book goes through the best ages and stages to attempt your favourite sleep-training method. There are several chapters outlining the developmental research that points to several sensitive stages across infancy and early childhood — these are the stages we recommend that you avoid sleep training. There are other stages that children are more resilient, more focused on the "external" world of objects, and less anxious about separations — these are the stages we recommend giving your favourite method a go. The feedback I've received from several readers is that they have found the chapters that outline all the cognitive and emotional developmental stages useful in and of themselves, just to understand what is going on in the mind of their own child. I LOVE this because it was exactly our intent — we are developmentalists and so consider these developmental milestones so intrinsically fascinating and useful to understand for a range of children's issues (including, but not limited to, sleep training).

In terms of sleep issues: We are very clear in the book (like I am on this blog) that there is not one perfect sleep-training technique that is right for all children and all families. There's a chapter in the book that summarizes the pros and cons of the top 5 or so sleep-training
methods, but we don't recommend one over any
other. The method is yours to pick, according to your parenting philosophy, your own upbringing, cultural background, support system, your child's temperament, and so on. The main message of the book is that the TIMING of sleep-training may be just as (or more) important to success than the method you pick.

This blog was
first developed as a place to talk about the issues raised in Bedtiming, to highlight particular research findings that form the basis
of the book and, most importantly, to provide readers a space to ask
questions and trouble-shoot through their own sleep-training highs and
lows. If you go through the archives for the first 6 months of this blog, you'll find loads of Q and A's associated with the issues raised in the book. I hope that I can continue to use this space for that purpose, for those of you who pick up a copy and have additional, more specific questions.

For those of you who HAVE read the book, may I ask you to share with people what you thought of the book? I'm VERY open to critical feedback (as much as lavishing praise ;-)). I'm not good at this self-promotion thing at all, but I think it would be very useful to readers of this blog if they could access honest feeback about the book from real parents in the trenches (I promise I do not delete any comments, btw).

(To purchase the book, just go through any of the links under BUY THE BOOK, over on the left hand side of the blog… or go old-school and visit your nearest bookstore. Pssst… it's a bargain online at $10 and change).

What do YOU think? Let’s lighten up…

 I've been reading a lot of blogs way too late into the night in the past week and I don't know about you, but I'm so keenly aware of the INCREDIBLY tough times many people are having right now. It may be the holidays and all the boatload of baggage that usually comes with over-anticipated get-togethers with family. Or it may be the new year on the horizon and the tendency that we have to take stock at these times of transition. Or the moon is full, the days are too dark, the economy sucks, life can be just plain hard sometimes and/or all of the above. Whatever the reasons, I'm craving a little lightness, a little giggle, or just something to make me think, hmmmmmmm… interesting (instead of OMG. HOW AWFUL.). 

In psychology in general, and developmental psychology in particular, we often tend to focus or try to understand things that DON'T work with our kids, or have gone somewhat awry or are problematic. (It's certainly where a lot of the funding for our research goes — to projects that attempt to "solve" children's problems or enhance their performance/learning, etc.). But there are so many amazing things about our children that are worth wondering about, standing in awe of, or just plain laughing about. So tell me, dear readers:

What AMAZES you about your child? What makes you shake your head with wonder? 

I'll go first:

  • I am completely perplexed by the fact that one of my boys seems to be a carbon copy of his father and the other is almost exactly like me. Not just physically (although that's downright eerie too), but also personality-wise (I will save you the list of neuroses that each of our poor boys has inherited from their respective parent). Each boy seems to have taken 95% of one parent's genes. But that's NOT the way that genetic transmission works…
  • I don't understand how or why my children wake up in the morning with bright smiles on their faces 95% of the time (can you tell I'm not a morning person?).
  • Since 6 months old, one of my boys has a hysterical appreciation of slapstick comedy. I don't get it. His father TOTALLY does.
  • My other boy has an almost bang-on precise intuition about what others are feeling (he asks CONSTANTLY: Why is he sad? What made him mad? Is she lonely?). His father TOTALLY does not get this.

Your turn…

Can I ask you something? Guilty as charged.

After that last novella of a post, I thought I'd keep it a tad more brief today. I'd like to start putting up some posts that get us all contributing a bit more in the comments section. I would love to hear from you about some suggestions about how we could facilitate that better. All ideas are welcome!

In the meantime, how about I ask you a few questions about yourself over the next few months? First off, I'm just deeply curious about who our readers are. But also, I'd like to generate questions that might help with brainstorming ideas for future posts and, equally important, questions that may just help us know each other better (you know, in that totally anonymous, confidential, woo-woo disembodied world of the interwebs sort of way).  I'll answer whatever I ask, so it's a more even playing field. (And feel free to ask your own questions in the comments section). So… here it goes:

What do you feel guilty about? (Yes, I know, I KNOW, my upcoming business trip away from my kids has me focused on some pretty OBVIOUS issues I have). For better or worst, so much of what we do or don't do as parents is tainted with feelings of guilt. Here's my (incredibly SHORTENED) list of things that I feel guilty about:

- leaving my kids (duh)

- sleeping in on the weekend and letting my husband make the kids' breakfast

- HATING, HATING, HATING to read Thomas books, so much so that I finally bought CDs that go along with the damn books and I plonk my kids down on the couch to listen to them when they ask ME, their one and only mother, to read it to them

- skipping brushing my kids' teach in the morning about 2 times/week (when we're late for preschool… we're ALWAYS late for preschool)

- being late for preschool

- not cooking dinner for my kids 3 times/week

- yelling at my kids (but tell me… why WHY, WHY can't they JUST. PUT. ON. THEIR. SHOES?!)

- Not making eye contact with my husband until I've been home from work for 30 min. or more.

- Exercising when I should be playing with the kids.

- Not exercising.

And I could go on and on and on.  But it's your turn…