Compassionate Parenting Blog
During this transition to Phase 2 as schools being to reopen their buildings, it can be challenging to support our children when we have so many questions and feelings ourselves. Some of you may choose not to send your child(ren). If your child(ren) will be returning, here are some ways to reassure them and encourage resilience.
Stay well and stay connected
May 4 – 10, 2020 is Mental Health Week. During this time of shelter-in-place, looking after our mental health is more needed and more challenging than ever. I created this infographic as a simple visual reminder of four ways we can support our well-being. If you find it helpful, you can print it or save it on your phone. You can also share it with friends and family.
If you find yourself needing more support, reach out.
The Canadian Mental Health Association has some great resources they have released this week.
Kelty Mental Health is hosting a series of podcasts for Mental Health Week.
The Crisis Centre has phone lines that are open 24/7 and an online chat line. Call 1800 SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) if you if you are considering suicide or are concerned about someone who may be. 310-6789 (no area code needed) for emotional support, information and resources specific to mental health.
The BC Association of Clinical Counsellors has a Find A Counsellor resource to help you find a therapist anywhere in BC.
Stay well and stay connected
How are you doing? How are you and your family in this time of COVID 19?
How I am doing is a pretty mixed bag to be honest. Short answer is, I’m okay. The longer answer is more complex – I’m feeling grateful, worried, nervous, unfocused, unsettled, content, peaceful… sometimes all at the same time.
I expect your answer is complex as well.
As we enter week four of physical distancing, I’ve been ruminating on this question of how I am. How my family is doing. And I’ve gathered some thoughts that I wanted to share. Maybe your experience is similar, maybe it’s different.
In my home, there is myself, my partner, our two elementary-aged children and my brother. My brother came to stay with us as he transitioned to the lower mainland after living in the States for a few years – he was actively searching for a place to live when we began isolating. So here he is and here he will stay for a while. Which is a blessing, because he would be living by himself if he had found a place and moved before “all this”.
Physically, I am well. A couple of days the first week I went out for walks. “Ah,” I thought, “This is what I’ll do! Long walks, I will have time and be needing to get out of the house!” The forest is easily accessible from my home, and I envisioned daily forays into the wild. That didn’t last long. I actually found after that first week that I didn’t want to be out and about far from home. I’m not too sure why. Lately, I’ve thought that maybe it’s something to do with not feeling safe and therefore needing to stay close to home base and my family. We did go on a long family walk this weekend, and I’m sensing that I might be ready soon to venture out on my own again. Maybe.
What I have been doing is a 30-day wheelie challenge – my whole family has been participating. I can happily ride up and down my street practicing my wheelies and social distancing at the same time. FYI, I’m not very good, but I am enjoying it. I have also been doing some morning yoga. At first, I needed to push myself to get up early to do it. “This is what you need, Suzanne. Remember mental health is important. This is important.” Now, I’m in more of a routine and I can say it has been vital for my mental health. Speaking of which…
Mentally, I was quite unfocused at first; I still am, but it is getting better. That first week, I was even unable to concentrate on reading a book. Deciding what to do next around the house seemed challenging. I did manage to knock off a couple of projects that I’ve been meaning to do for a bit (patch the hole in the kitchen where I tried to hang a coat hook – but the hook fell out and left a gaping hole). The projects I’ve tackled have been low skill level, low commitment projects. Nothing needing large amounts of focus or brain power.
I am beginning to feel more grounded when I’m at home. However, when I go out to shop, I still feel lost. It all feels surreal and like I’m moving through water. This will change in time, I am sure. But for now, I have to really concentrate when I’m out; “What store am I going to?” “What is on my grocery list?” “Remember to stay 6 feet away from others.” (I am grateful for the markings letting us know where to stand in grocery store line-ups; it means I don’t have to worry that I’m not the correct distance away anymore). I still haven’t read any of the books beside my bed that I was sure I was going to dig into right away. But I think I’m getting closer to picking one up.
Emotionally, I worry about the effect of the increased stressors on families who no longer have access to community supports. Schools, governments, not-for-profits, community agencies and others are all rising in amazing ways to meet the challenge of connecting with families who need support. I know, however, that they will not be able to connect with everyone who needs it. This hurts my heart. When I feel like this, I try to remind myself of what I can do. Having a sense of what I can contribute to the greater good helps. Sometimes it is the small things, like taking groceries to a friend who is unable to leave their home.
I am really appreciating the time with my family. Having my children around has been an emotional stabilizer for me. I would love some time by myself, to be sure! But having this extended time with my family has been more good than not good.
I am still working, and I actually feel quite focused at work – when I can work from my office. Working from home is another story – probably better left for another post! Suffice to say, I’m not always at my best when I’m working from home and attempting to school from home as well. The photo at the top is me in my office at Aspire getting ready to do an online counselling session. It took some time to find the telehealth platform that works best for me (and is compliant with privacy legislation), and the right lighting so that I don’t look like I’m in the witness protection program. But I’m pleased to say it’s coming together, and it is going well.
I continue to wrap around friends and family as best as I can – and they wrap around me and my family. A colleague shared this article with me and I have sent it to many friends and colleagues since. I found it very comforting and grounding. Maybe it will be helpful for you as well.
Here are some other ways to take care of yourself from The Canadian Mental Health Association. It is important to reach out if you are feeling overwhelmed during these times. That may mean calling a friend for a chat on the phone or seeking support from a mental health professional or helpline. The Mental Health Support Line can be reached at 310-6789 (no area code needed) 24 hours a day. They will put you in touch with your local BC crisis line. To chat online, visit crisiscentrechat.ca. A worker is there to chat from noon till 1am daily.
If you are interested, I am offering a free, one-hour online workshop on April 29th from 6:30 till 7:30pm called “Taking Care of Ourselves in Times of Change and Uncertainty.” Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend and I will send you the Zoom invite. Community and connection is vital in times like this, and this is one way I can build community and stay connected.
Stay well and stay connected,
I hope you and your family are well and managing with this new world as it emerges. The unknown and unpredictable nature of our current world is creating lots of anxiousness. You may be trying to comfort your children, find activities to keep them occupied and make sure sure that they are physically distancing. You may be concerned about friends and family with compromised immune systems. You may be attempting to manage your own worry about “what next.” All while trying to locate toilet paper.
Yesterday, my daughter and I decided to make a video of our favourite board games to share with other families. (She did the filming!) It was our way of having some fun while connecting with community online.
We hope that in these unfamiliar days, it might give you some new ideas of things to do together.
You can view the video here.
If you are curious about what games we chose, but don’t want to watch the video, here they are:
- Outfoxed – cooperative game for 2 to 4 players. Ages 5+
- Forbidden Island – cooperative game for 2 to 4 players. Ages 10+ (but I’ve played with our 6 y.o.)
- Qwirkle – 2 to 4 players. Ages 6+
- Rummycub – 2 to 4 players. Ages 8+
- Azul – 2 to 4 players. Ages 8+
- Tiny Towns – 1 to 6 players. Ages 14+ (again, played with our 6 y.o. with modified rules)
- Anomia – 3 to 6 players. Ages 5+
Offering rewards – as in “get good marks in school and I will buy you a new toy/game” – is an oft used parenting strategy. The question is, does it actually work? Research shows that for mundane, repetitive tasks, rewards do work. For more complex tasks where nuanced learning is involved the answer is usually “yes” – for a while. In the short-term, it will work. Your child will get better marks, not fight with their siblings, or do whatever is your desired goal. Long-term however, offering rewards as a means to change behaviour for complex tasks does not work. The marks will not be sustained and the fighting will resume. Ever tried a star chart and wondered why it worked for the first month but then stopped working?
The clue as to why this happens is in the statement, “whatever is your desired goal.” The goal is yours, not your child’s. Your child will understand you requesting an outcome that is yours, not theirs, as an attempt to control behaviour.
As Jessica Lahey points out in The Gift of Failure, extrinsic rewards are viewed as attempts to control behaviour, and humans don’t respond well to others trying to control what we do. We are much more likely to stick with something that comes from personal choice. In order for lasting change to happen, the rewards need to be intrinsic; the motivation for the change needs to come from within your child. And they need to have choice – if there is a choice between doing something imposed or something chosen by free will (i.e. either responding to the reward or not responding to the reward) – they will choose free will and not respond to the reward.
Seeing external rewards as an attempt to control isn’t a conscious decision. Seven years olds don’t consciously think, “My parents are trying to make me learn piano by offering me candy if I practice every day of the week. I will do it for five weeks, and then I think I’ll hold out for something bigger.” What happens is that what is seen as motivation by parents is unconsciously seen as an attempt to control behaviour by the child.
Alfie Kohn, a parenting and human behaviour author and educator, writes:
“…an impressive body of scientific research has shown that the more we reward people for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. Now the point isn’t to draw, to read, to think, to create – the point is to get the goody, whether it’s an ice cream, a sticker, or a ‘Good job!’”
So, what’s the answer? How do you encourage the behaviours you would like to see in your child? As suggested above, the key is intrinsic motivation. The pride and sense of accomplishment that come with sticking with and figuring out a tough problem are examples of intrinsic motivation. Mastering a skill and the feeling of competence that accompanies that are powerful motivators.
This doesn’t mean that you walk away from your child when they are faced with challenges. It means that you stay close and present when they are working through them. Think of how you were when your child was learning to walk. You probably watched, held your breath as they wobbled, and offered a steadying hand here and there. You didn’t turn your back nor did you take their steps for them. We need to be able to offer the same scaffolding for our children as they learn and grow in all areas.
Children sense your trust in their ability to solve a problem or work through a challenge. Your belief in them gives them the courage and support they need to tackle a problem and to take the risks needed to solve an issue. As a result of this trust, your relationship with your child will become stronger. The connection between you and your child, knowing that they matter to you and that you have “got their back,” will encourage them to persevere, thereby allowing them to earn the delight and satisfaction of having accomplished a skill or task themselves.
Be warned, this way of parenting takes time and patience and you may be tempted to revert to rewards for what appears to be a “quick fix.” In times like this, take a deep breath and remember that for lasting changes, the motivation needs to be intrinsic. And that ultimately, children who experience mastery, feel competent, and have a sense of belonging, grow up to be capable and decent human beings.
For more on this topic, I highly recommend Jessica Lahey’s book, The Gift of Failure.
Kohn, A. (September 2001). Five reasons to stop saying “good job.” [article]. Retrieved from https://www.alfiekohn.org/article/five-reasons-stop-saying-good-job/
Lahey, J. (2015). The gift of failure. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Listening with intention to our children is critical. If we want our children to know that they are seen, then we need to listen with intention. Not just hear their words, but also be fully present and engaged in the process of listening. Mindful listening and active listening are other terms that also capture the essence of listening with intention.
Think about what you are hoping to convey to your child when you have a conversation with them – the deeper level of what you want to convey, not the immediate subject matter. When I think about what I wish to impart to my children, it is this: I want them to know in a felt sense that they are loved and precious beings. Their knowing this deeply, throughout their whole being, is entirely dependent on how they see themselves reflected back by their dad and I.
It works like this. A child thinks, “If my parent/caregiver/attachment figure believes that I am worthwhile, then I am worthwhile. I know that they believe that I am worthwhile because I can see myself, my true self, reflected in their eyes.”
And how do we reflect back to them that they are worthwhile? We listen to them mindfully, compassionately, without judgment and with all our senses. Look up from your screen, book or whatever you are doing and give your child your eyes. Notice their facial expression, body posture, and tone of voice to pick up clues as to how they are feeling. Listen for the emotion and the need being expressed behind the words, And then let them know what it is you think they are saying. My daughter saying, “I’m bored,” might really mean, “I miss my friend and I’m lonely.”
Now, listening with intention is impossible to do 100% of the time. I try to limit the amount of time my children see me on my phone, but I have on more than one occasion said, “Just let me finish this text.” I also get tired, irritated, frustrated, hungry, and overwhelmed – all of which challenge my ability to listen with intention. So I also practice self-compassion. I do my best and I am human. Sometimes, I circle back and apologize for being distracted. I don’t say it won’t happen again but I might say something like, “I’m sorry I was so distracted just now. I was upset because I just realized I forgot to send a birthday card I meant to put in the mail.”
I work on the belief that if I am able to be present, engaged and listen with intention most of the time, then my children will know deep in their bodies that they are loved and they will feel seen and valued for who they are.
And this is what I wish for them most in this world.