Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Art of Playful Engagement

 I woke up on the wrong side of the bed the other day. Which means all of us did. I had only been up about an hour, when I realized that this day was going to go on the books of bad attitudes and negativity if I didn't do something to turn this ship around.
Now in another life, I would just go back to bed. I would sleep for another hour or two, and then take a shower alone, it would be warm, and no one would bust down the door trying to tell on anyone. Then I would have a quiet cup of tea with warm eggs and read a book, in quiet. Until my over-tired body woke up and I started this beautiful day with a smile. 
But I don't live in that world. 
At five am, my husbands alarm went off.
Then at around six my lovely, naked (as per usual) three year old came to snuggle me, he slipped under the covers and backed up into me. Then he turned his head and kissed me and said, "Mama, there is poop all over my bed and all over my bum."
That was the beginning of this day. 
And it went on from there. 
Kids refusing to get dressed for school. 
Snobby chef inspired children who were critiquing my over easy eggs, that I had "ruined their natural bitterness with all this garlic salt! Next time just use the chopped onion! And DON'T flip them!"

My little blessings were feeling more like God's plagues. What have I done that you must smite me Lord?!

I knew I had to restart the day. 

And then it came to me. The angels were singing and the lights from heaven were shinning down on me, as I started an aria about the water cups that my three year old had left in the middle of the kitchen floor. He had just finished throwing a fit because he wanted to get it on his own, and I'd let him, just for him to turn around and put it on the floor, get another, and fill it, then place it on the floor. By the time I had walked backed into the kitchen there were six glasses full of water in the middle of the floor. 

And so it began. 

A bel canto that went something like this, "You wanted A-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a glass of water. You wanted A-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a glass of water. You wanted to get it by yourself. Now you have gotten the whole neighborhood glasses of water, and my kitchen has become a splash zone. PLEEEEEEEASE dump them ALLLLLLLLLLLLLL out in the sink. NOwwwwwwwwwww (I held out now for a super long time.) And put every single glass back in the cupboard. 

All of the kids froze. It was a moment from heaven. 
And then all of us started laughing, for a long time. 

And thus it had begun. 

The rest of the day was filled with song. It was like being at the grand opera. There was emotion, tears, falsetto, crescendo, there was laughter, and drama. 

There were songs about practicing dribbling in the kitchen (for unending hours at a time), there were repetitive motif's about the toothbrush heads I find all over the house, in beds, and in DVD cases, in bathtubs, and music boxes, the toothbrush heads are everywhere except in the bathroom. 

There were many melodramas touching subjects from homework, to genital cleaning procedures, to sharing trains, to lessons on reactional behavior. 

And if nothing else, it kept me calm, and laughing, instead of angry, and upset. When you are constantly bursting into song, you can't go there. It kept me calm. And laughing. 

When I teach TBRI® Correction Principles I always emphasis level one, Playful Engagement. It is the beginning. This is how we should always begin to correct behavior in children. Because most often, they know. They know they've made a bad choice, and they wish they could take it back. SO just a playful, "Whoa Nelly!" or an over exaggerated British accent "Excuse me sir?!" Or whatever else, works for you. That makes your kids smile, that makes you feel ridiculous, and forces a smile out of you too. That is where we should all begin with correction. Because often times, when we don't go straight into attack mode, when we laugh, that's all it takes. Do you know the brain HAS to be fully engaged to laugh, to find humor. And when the brain is fully engaged is when we learn the most, and the quickest. It only takes 12 repetitions about the toothbrush heads in song. But when I scream, it can take over 350 repetitions. 

Early in the day I put up a Facebook post about my new parenting strategy. My friend suggested I try rapping as well. I was afraid that would encourage my cursing. You see it is so hard to use foul language when singing opera. But she uses it like this: "I said a hip hip a hippity hop. You bettah clean up yo room or I won't stop. " 

So try it? Whatever works for you. For me it's opera. I feel that I can add more drama and umph. For you maybe it's rap? Or country? 

But whatever you try, I bet it will help keep things light, and fun in your home. And I know we all want more of that.

(Side note, after a morning of singing I found this going on in the basement. Apparently they wanted me to just let it go! This is the first time I've ever heard Charli sing.)


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A place at the table.

One of our kiddo's self talk is really bad.
I've talked before about the attachment cycle, a baby cries and a tender, responsive, and consistent care giver is suppose to respond, every time. This cycle of, I have a need- I get upset... You hear me, you come- you help me calm, this is the attachment cycle. This cycle happens hundreds of thousands of times in an infants first year of life, and it lays the foundation for self-worth, self-efficacy, and mental health.

Unfortunately, three of our five kiddos didn't get this ground work laid correctly. And we are working to help shift and replace their foundations. I consider it one of our most important roles.

The negative self talk is heart breaking for me and comes from this experience of: I cried and no one came, I do not matter. Or I cried and someone came and treated me poorly, thus I am bad. The way I often describe it is this, most children walk into a room and assume everyone in that room adores them, and wants to hear all about their minecraft explorations, or worm digging, or football practice, they assume that they are the center of the universe. And so it should be.

Many kids who didn't have the correct attachment foundations don't feel this way. They walk into a room and assume they are disliked. They assume that they are the worst, or the stupid-est, or the one everyone is laughing at. And so many times any correction, or rule enforcing comes across as a direct confirmation to them that their worst fears are true.
"I knew I was the worst one."
"I knew she didn't like me."

Recently the negative self talk had taken a turn for the worse with one of our sweet babies. So we began talking with him regularly about how his choices, whether good or bad, do not effect our view of him. We talk with him regularly about how our love is constant, just like Papa God's.

Its been interesting to see his development as this truth has begun to take hold in his heart.

Yesterday I totally messed up with him and flipped my lid. As I was apologizing (a few minutes later) I asked him, "Do you still love me?"
He looked up at me as if I were crazy.
"Of course!" he exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air.
As I pulled him in tight I whispered, "Thank you! That is exactly how I feel whenever you make a poor choice. Of course I still love you! I will never stop loving you."

He asks for reminders about his status of unconditional love. What I have found most interesting is this, he often asks at dinner.
He still needs confirmation of his spot at the table.

He doesn't ask in times of trouble, and he doesn't ask in times of joy. He asks during the everyday moment in which we gather to feed our bodies and pour into each others souls.  The time when he looks around and can tangibly see each person's spot. He can actually see all of us, at once, fitting together, tucking ourselves around the table. And it is in these times when he feels our closeness as a unit, that he still doubts his place.

And that makes me cry.

And yet, what I love, is that now, instead of sitting there silently questioning his worth and his belonging. He reminds himself.
Sometimes it is a quiet whisper I hear him saying to just himself as he waits for his turn to talk about his day, and sometimes it is a declaration that he makes to all of us. "You guys love me no matter what!"

Progress is slow when you're shifting foundations.
But progress is progress.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Yikes. Messing Up.

It seems as of late I have been posting often about parenting and things I find important. And I just want to make sure that I haven't put myself up on any sort of pedestal.
I mess up often.
Knowledge and wisdom are worlds apart. Often times for me, in my parenting journey, the road between knowledge and wisdom (The way I've defined wisdom is: appropriately applied knowledge.) is long and winding, and sometimes I get lost, or stall out? 

Last night In the wee hours of the morning today, I totally messed up.

I often times raise my voice when it is unnecessary. Last night, after the fifteenth time my (almost) three year old got up and came running in to my room to tell me he had to pee, I told him he was idiot. 
(Insert disappointed gasp here.)
(Or acknowledged smirk of possession.)

In our house we practice re-dos. Or more appropriately, we practice grace. 

You know, when so and so demands juice. Or whose-it "accidentally" runs into his brother, after his brother declines his invitation to play his game, his way.

Instead of sending the offender to their room, (which in my opinion sends the message "When you mess up, when you're ugly, we don't want you."), or dooling out lofty consequences that often time burden me much more than my children, we try a re-do. 
A mere, "Whoa buddy, try it again!"
Or, "Yikes! You must be angry? Can you tell us what you're feeling with your words, instead of with your body?"
Sometimes its a, "My ears cannot hear you when you speak disrespectfully, can you please try that again?"
And most of the time it's just a simple, "Would you like a re-do?"

There is a scientific reason why the do-over is effective. The science geek phrase, "What fires together wires together!"
Don't you love that?! 

What it means is this, when 'a' happens, and you do 'b'. It creates a neural pathway in your brain. So every time that 'a' happens, and you do 'b', that pathway gets deeper and deeper. Pretty soon, when 'a' happens, 'b' has already begun. 
You know that term, "I am stuck in a rut." 
That could be literal when we talk about our brains. We make ruts in our brains, some of these are really good, but some of them are bad. 

That is why we do re-dos. 
We not only avoid other more extreme consequences which often lead to dis-connection, but we also make a NEW neural pathway (and all of us science nerds cheer wildly). So that eventually, when 'a' happens, 'b' happens to be a great socially adaptive, respectable, and safe reaction! This allows us to teach, and correct, without loosing connection.

I did say eventually, because it takes a normally developed, calm, fully engaged brain, ,about 360 repetitions to create this new nerual pathway or FREEWAY! 
But here is an awesome trick: In play it takes, on average, ONLY 12 repetitions to create a new neural pathway! 
(And the science nerds go CRAZY!!!!)

This is why we try to correct behaviors with playful interaction!!!! 
The "Whoa buddy" said in a funky horse voice. 
Or the "Would you like a re-do?" in my best Scoobydoo impression. 
The dramatic "My ears cannot hear..." said in a staunch British accent (while pretending to faint)... 
Keep the brain fully engaged, and help learning new behaviors happen more quickly.

Plus there are more "serious" ways to be playful too! (Leave it to us grown ups to be serious about play.)
Whether we are attempting to learn new behaviors around problems we are encounter on a daily basis (like homework time, cleaning up the basement, or getting ready for school) with puppets, or dramatic character skits, it gets the message across, FASTER! 

So as I lay in my bed this morning after yelling at my two year old and calling him an idiot, the moon shining directly in the window above my pillow casting a eery glow on my dark and messy room, my heart continued racing because my adrenalin was still high, and my thoughts followed suit. I was remembering almost word for word this article I had read recently from the Huffington Post about how important our words are, and how yelling at our children is so terrible... As if I needed the reminder. 
It is all true. I don't disagree with her in anyway. 

But I was feeling so ashamed, ridden with guilt. This isn't the first time I have yelled at this sweet boy. (I mean, it was the first time today, because it was only 1 am...) And I was feeling really disgusting. And then I remembered some more science...
Did you know that when there is a connection between two individuals and it gets ruptured, when it is repaired neurotransmitters fire that actually deepen that connection and cause joy and happiness?! 

I quickly got up and scooped up that boy and brought him into my bed. I told him how sorry I was for being disrespectful and hurtful. I told him that when he looks into my eyes, I want him to himself. I want his preciousness to be found there. I want to reflect to him what his Heavenly Father sees in him. 

And I hadn't. 
And I was sorry.

There are things I really need to work on. And I'll never arrive. It's about the journey. 
And luckily, my children have allowed me do-overs too. 
Thank God for grace. 

(This video talks about the science of repairing a relationship, it's awesome!)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

This. Is. Important.

Today we applied for Laila's passport.
It is suppose to arrive on Christmas day.
There is no better present I would like to give my children.
I told Laila today, "This means the world is now your playground! Where do you want to play first?"
She robustly responded, "Smart Cow!" (our local frozen yogurt shoppe.)

So maybe she doesn't quite understand the magnitude of the "whole world" yet. But I know she will.

I told David, this is such an important day for her, as important as the day she gets her drivers license, or even gets married. It is so significant. (He knows I'm fairly dramatic.)
Helping my children understand the world, and explore it all, has always been a huge goal of mine. Some of my best memories, and perhaps some of the most defining, in my life all correspond with a stamp, sticker, or punch in my passport. 

To me a passport is a really big deal.
I got a little emotional when we left the office.
To me a passport means... the world!

My parents did a wonderful job of helping my sister and I explore the world. And my grandmother has always been the source of my "gypsy blood" as my mom calls it. You see, she told my grandfather that she would not marry him unless he took her on an airplane. He was a man of his word, so they wed in July 1947 and hopped on a plane from Oklahoma City to Tulsa.
And she hasn't stopped since. She has been to all of the continents, and has taken her grandchildren with her to many of her destinations. When I was eleven she told me to pick anywhere in the world, and we would go. So we went to Spain, Portugal and Morocco. We still talk about that trip. And a few special stories.

It was on that trip, after a particular meal of pigeon and leeks in Morocco that many of our tour group mates were grumbling. When we returned to our hotel, which had open windows as the sand and winds blew in off the Moroccan coast, a woman in our group started complaining to my grandma about the sand on the floor, my grandma tells the story of me looking at the woman and saying, with all the innocence and honesty that eleven year olds produce, "If you wanted this to be like America why didn't you stay home?"

I remember being a little scared but mostly completely fascinated as we watched the easter parades in the streets of madrid (Think KKK meets bloody jesus statues, and ornate floats being carried on the backs of hundreds of old men).
I remember riding a camel into the sunset in Morocco, and being on my first nude beach.
I remember wandering the markets of europe with my grandma following closely behind me hoping I would remember the way back as I searched for the perfect gem to take home.
I remember riding the bus into the cobblestone streets, sure we would be wedged between the buildings.
I remember eating olives off the trees in Portugal and standing in the same spot that once Christopher Columbus had stood.
I remember watching snake charmers in Africa.
And tortoises in the Galapagos.
I remember my sister and I trying fruits we'd never heard of in Ecuador.
I remember her and I swimming with sharks and holding hands squealing into our masks.
I remember standing in the Colosseum and shuddering.
I remember feeling the walls of the catacombs in rome and crying.
And sitting in the ruins of a public bathe in Sardinia.
Mostly I remember the palpable feeling of history, of depth, of understanding, and purpose.
And each time, my world being put more and more into perspective.
Whether I was hiking the Great wall of China, or feeding orphans in Africa, the world was becoming smaller.
With each trip, stamp, and sticker, I saw God's plan. I saw God's people. I saw what was important and what wasn't. The cross-cultural importance of relationships, family, education, and unconditional love. Every trip helped bring me back home. To what matters.

As a teenager, I would say without a doubt, it was through my travel around the world, and my faith, that I realize how unimportant highschool really was, how important and wonderful my relationship with my parents and family was, and how much I really loved my home.

I still have my passports from growing up, my very first one that was issued at around four months of age, to the one I had to get extra pages for in my busy traveling years, to my current one. And I still look through them all! Each of those stamps, stickers, visas, and punches has a lot of power. A lot of stories a lot of meaning, a lot of depth and purpose.

I want my children to be citizens of the world. Not in a new world order kind of way. But in a, I live my life with perspective, kind of way.

The perspective that only comes from experiencing other cultures and realizing how small it all really is.

This is so important to David and I.

Do you have something that you want to instill in your children, something that is so important? How do you signify it?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bottom Line Behavior

Another facebook message feed erupted on my (and other friends) time lines recently, it was about parenting again. Surprised?

We all take this parenting stuff pretty personally.
Unfortunately, we take it so personally we often times don't go into any discussion with an open mind.

We sense judgement, whether real, or imagined, and so we put up our dukes.

It makes this parenting dialogue so hard.
And I don't like upsetting people, and I don't like defending myself, so I backed out for a while.

But that was fear.
So I jumped back in with another "risky" facebook post that got people up in arms!

One lady even wrote, "I don't care what research or scientists have to say about...."
Okay, we're done then.
If you can't hear facts, without feeling offended, no one can have a conversation.

A pattern arose on my feed, as well as others who posted the same article, people were continually bringing up as their , "proof" that their parenting styles/decisions "worked" was their child's behavior.
"I used ______ strategy and it has worked because my children are very well behaved" (children are under 5 years of age).
"I can tell when other people haven't used _________ strategy because of their children's behaviors."

This really upset me, so I disengaged (part of my attachment past:)
I didn't know why I was so upset by these statements, I couldn't put my finger on it. So I have spent the last few weeks praying about this, and trying to figure out why these behavior statements upset me.
And I came to this question in my mind,

"Is the bottom line to your parenting strategy behavior?" 

And my answer is "Absolutely not!"

To me, aiming for "good behavior" is like the gospel being cut short, like really short, like maybe right before the New Testament starts.

Right before Jesus shows us it's about relationships, and love when it's least deserved, right before we realize that no matter what we choose, no matter what behaviors we display, God is constant.

I believe that parenting is suppose to be a worldly picture of how God loves us. In that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). In that, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and that we don't shame or disappoint (Romans 5:5) because we hold the hope of Christ.

This idea that we prove our parenting strategies by our children's behaviors, and ultimately, their choices, is very scary to me.

Fundamentally this terrifies me because if that's the bottom line in my parenting, I have surely proved that my Heavenly Father is a terrible father. I have surely proved that His parenting strategies are wrong. Because my choices and behaviors don't often reflect His heart or desires for me.

And ultimately, I have taught my kids that the love of our Father is based on behavior. That if my ultimate goal in parenting is their behavior (thus my severe punishment or disappointment when they misbehave), that God's ultimate goal in parenting is our behavior. And that is untrue.

If that's what my kids walk away with, when they leave my home, I have done my part in raising children who will never fully believe the Gospel. Who will never fully give or receive unconditional love.  Because they ultimately believe that their faith relies on their choices and on their behaviors, two things that they are responsible for. Not Christ's blood. Not His sacrifice.

I think this form of parenting (specifically in Christian circles), in which we equate our success with our children's behaviors and choices, comes out of an American church that has taught us the same. We don't rest, we earn. We don't show up messy, we cover it up. We can't be honest with others, or even ourselves, in fear of judgement and condemnation.
And so we parent this way. And we judge others parenting from this lens.
(Which makes the church a very unsafe place for parents who have children who are struggling behaviorally.)

Behavior should not be my ultimate goal.
My children's behavior and ultimately their choices, do not reflect on me. My love is constant and firm, despite them. (Just as Jesus loves us, despite us.)

So what is my ultimate goal in parenting?

My bottom line is relationship.

I want to see that when my children misbehave, choose incorrectly, hurt people, throw fits, or disobey, that my relationship is constant. That despite their choices/behaviors I am the same. My love has not wavered, my availability to meet their needs, comfort, rejoice, pray, celebrate, or cuddle, is always the same. Just like Jesus is for me.

Because ultimately, I don't want moral kids who believe they must earn a spot. I want messy kids who are alive in the freedoms of Christ.