One of the biggest secrets to success in parenting is being in tune with your mind and body. We’ve all heard, “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” That’s because our mental and physical state really can have a huge effect on the people around us. For that reason, it’s important that Mom keep tabs on how she’s feeling and how her condition may be impacting her family.
Being aware of mind and body is also critical in running. Many of the functions in running that can easily be taken for granted (like breathing, posture and mind set) can cause real problems (like injuries and poor performance) if they are out of whack. So, paying attention and making necessary adjustments is an important practice to get into.
The great news is that each time we lace up and escape for a run, we free ourselves to focus solely and completely on the one person we are likely to ignore in a typical day… OURSELVES. In our solitude, we can tune into OUR bodies, analyze OUR thoughts, and intentionally work on areas that need our attention.
Running provides a low distraction training ground to get back in touch with ourselves and be more in sync at home.
As we continue our series on HOW RUNNING MAKES ME A BETTER MOM, let’s take a look at how focusing on breathing, posture and mind set can help us become better runners and better moms.
FOCUS ONE: BREATHING
in RUNNING –
Proper breathing can make all the difference in the world when running. I used to go out for a jog and soon find myself huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf, fighting off painful side cramps, and quickly losing energy. Once I learned to pay special attention to my breathing and incorporate a few techniques (like belly breathing instead of chest breathing), running became far more enjoyable and tons easier. (I have a few of my favorite references on my Triathlon Tips, Tools and Training Pinterest Board).
Breathing plays a big role in parenting, as well, starting with the newborn days. As a new mom, I remember feeling completely stressed out when my first born struggled to fall asleep at bedtime. The more he cried, the more tense I became, until tears started pouring from my eyes, as well.
What I didn’t realize at the time, is that babies can sense their parent’s anxiety, particularly when they are being held. All the wishful thinking in the world will likely not help Baby relax if Mom is a bundle of nerves. I finally learned to be deliberate in my thinking and breathing as I rocked my baby to sleep. While focusing on the quiet room, the softness of Baby’s skin, the blessings of being a mom, and the gentle movement of the rocking chair, I learned to breathe slowly and deeply. And as my breaths became calm and steady, my body and mind relaxed. Like magic, Baby’s breathing would begin to mimic mine; and soon, he’d peacefully drift to sleep.
FOCUS TWO: POSTURE
Being aware of the way we hold our bodies when we run is also a big deal, particularly when it comes to preventing injuries. Once I decided to get a little more serious about running, I started to focus on technique and make adjustments. Checking out articles like this helped me to see and fix what I was doing wrong. One of the first things I noticed was that my shoulders tend to scrunch up to my ears and I tend to lean over while I run. I learned to change my posture by relaxing my shoulders and standing straight like a puppet on a string as I moved. These, coupled with changes in arm swim and stride have helped my running be more efficient and enjoyable.
Paying attention to body posture in parenting is important, too. It’s easy to forget how much bigger we are than our li’l ones and how imposing we can come across. Just the way we instinctively stand over our kids can shut them down with intimidation when we’re actually trying to get them to open up and listen. Imagine what it might feel like to be told what to what to do by (even a gentle) King Kong. OK, I’m not trying to suggest that moms look like big hairy beasts, but our size and height can be just as overwhelming to a child, particularly when our arms are waving and our voices are raised. Research shows that intimidated tots can’t focus on a parent’s words when their brain is busy fighting fear and uncertainty. (For more on how children’s brains work, check out one of my favorite books The Whole-Brain Child by Drs. Daniel J Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson).
So instead, if we focus on squatting down to meet our child at eye level and lower our voice, our body language will tell them, “I’m not trying to scare you or even pull a power play on you. I love you, and I respect you.” Making just those minor adjustments can free your child to be more receptive to what you say next.
FOCUS THREE: MIND SET
Running is a tough sport – both physically and mentally. There’s pain to push past, mind games to conquer, and crazy course conditions that can spring out of nowhere. (Not unlike parenting, huh?!) But for me, running’s a sanity saver, and part of its appeal is the challenge of overcoming the mental and physical obstacles I face along the way.
Now, I must confess, there are days when the negatives of running seem to get bigger with every step. If I’m not careful, my mind will turn a tiny mole hill into a mountain of misery, and the next thing I know, I’ll quit trying and walk home. So now, I make every effort to be intentional in focusing on the positive.
What does that look like? Well, when I’m out for a training run, I force my focus away from the negative and hone in on the beauty around me, the lyrics of the worship music filling my ears, and the strength of my legs that are carrying me another mile. During a race, I focus on the spectators cheering from the sidewalks and the local bands playing live music. My legs may be wobbly and my energy may be waning, but with my mind redirected to the positive, I’m able to successfully complete what I set out to accomplish…with a smile on my face.
Strengthening this mental discipline on the road proves to be incredibly helpful in parenting, too. Particularly when it comes to keeping my cool under pressure.
“What’s the secret to staying calm in the ugly moments of parenting?” This is a question I get quite often in parent workshops. While the answer may not be easy, it IS simple, and I believe it’s worth its weight in gold.
The secret has to to with focus. When our kids make unwise decisions or display crazy amounts of inappropriate behavior, it’s natural to zero in on all that is bad in those situations. But, like a huge, dark storm cloud, our perception of the “terrible/frustrating/annoying” behavior can grow uglier and more ominous until it distorts our entire view. Once that happens, we become blind to all that is good in our kids, which increases our frustration, and ultimately leads to overreacting.
Here are steps to successfully handle the ugly while focusing on the positive.
1. In your mind, separate the child from the child’s undesirable behavior. (Literally visualize the behavior as a separate “entity” from your child. – Like a little purple monster standing next to your child).
2. Remember that this unwanted behavior may seem enormous, but it’s actually tiny hiccup in the life of your child.
3. Zero in on the positive (and more permanent) characteristics of your child, and give a shout out of thanks to God. Such as, “Thank you, God, for this incredible child, she IS a precious gift and I am so blessed to be her mom.” or “Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with this little guy in front of me – help me to remember that he IS fun loving and gracious 99.9% of the time.” And keep those “positive anchor thoughts” foremost in your mind.
4. Now team up with your child to come up with a plan to get rid of the ugly behavior and prevent it from coming back. (Try saying something like, “I love you so much. And I can see that you are very angry at your little sister right now because she messed up your room. I would be mad too, but hitting is not the answer. Let’s see if we can come up with a better way to tell your sister how you feel.”)
Staying calm and relatively positive in the midst of misbehavior can make all the difference in the world…both in short and long term. The key is learning to put things in perspective and intentionally focus on what’s really important. It takes practice, but it’s a great habit to get into.
Taking time to be in tune with ourselves is essential to good parenting. When we are having a great day, it’s so important to celebrate all that’s going right! But when we are aren’t feeling quite ourselves or we seem to hit the same road block over and over, we need to step back and take a look at what’s going on. Running has helped me to be more mindful of my mind and body when I’m alone, challenging myself to go a little farther or a little faster than I had before. Those same skills can be applied to parenting, when we are in the company of little people and the conditions are a wee more complicated. So for sake of my sanity, and to keep my mind sharp, I keep on running.
Question: What about you? Where do you focus best? When was the last time you really took time to get in tune with you? If you haven’t done that lately, I encourage you to take the time soon. I bet your family will be happy you did! You can leave a comment by clicking here.
When it comes to motherhood, I have a theory that runner moms have a huge advantage over other mothers simply because we run. Here’s why:
Running is undeniably not for wimps and neither is parenting. Each demands mental and physical toughness that, at times, seem to exceed human capacity. But running provides a training ground for flexing many of the same muscles needed to be an incredible mother. I’m basing my logic on personal experience. Even though I’ve been running half marathons for years, and I’m a professional parenting coach with teenagers of my own, the obstacles in running and parenting can still kick my butt. It’s in the challenge of striving for personal best that I’ve become better at both.
One of the things I love about running is that each accomplished mile is a concrete reminder of just how strong, determined and resilient I can be. On days when endless parenting failures leave me so defeated I’m ready to give myself up for adoption, a good cathartic run beats even a glass of Cab or a pint of Haagen-Dazs.
But the benefits of stress-reducing workouts go far beyond their restorative powers. I’m convinced that they actually equip moms to be wiser, stronger and more effective parents. Determination, self discipline, perspective and focus are just a few of the parenting traits that naturally emerge during a run.
Inspired by one of my post-run journal entries:
At the end of an exhausting day of endless parenting fails, collapsing on the sofa in an Emmy award winning pity-party sounds pretty darn inviting. Exerting real effort in anything constructive is totally out of the question. And engaging in any form of exercise seems laughable.
But, before I have time to start sobbing, a small and powerful inner voice inevitably whispers, “Go for a run. It’ll make you feel better. You know it will… Go on… Do it!” After bantering with my thoughts for longer than a sane person should, I find the determination to lace up my shoes, untangle my headphones and step outside.
Plugging the earbuds into my ears, I shut out the world and focus on the task at hand. My finger jabs at the red button on my Nike Running app, and the familiar male voice announces, “Beginning workout…” My feet feel compelled to move, and I cynically applaud myself for the herculean effort that got me here. Playing sloth on the sofa still seems like the better option, but at least the hardest part is now behind me.
My first few steps on the street are labored and intentional. I actually have to tell myself to put one foot in front of the other. “No excuses.” “You’ve got this,” “It WILL get easier,“ I remind myself. And by the time I reach the mailbox, I settle into a comfortable pace in sync with my running playlist. Peacefully alone, my narrow-minded perspective slowly broadens, allowing rays of sunshine to rush in. Earlier arguments with my kids over homework and snippy attitudes don’t seem as drastic now, and life’s more reasonable solutions come out of hiding.
At the mile and a half mark, I hit what I call a “warm-up wall.” My legs feel like they’re dragging through quicksand, and I have trouble catching my breath. Another inner whine begs me to “Slow down and walk.” In my defense, I open up a can of perseverance and keep running. This mama refuses to wallow in regret all the way home. Besides, I know that if I just push through to mile 2, my feet will become lighter, and I’ll find my happy pace.
By mile 2, my melodramatic complaining turns to grateful celebration as countless reasons to be thankful emerge. In truth, nothing about my chaotic day has changed, but the endorphins dancing in my brain remind me to lighten up and focus on the positive. And in this time of genuine thanksgiving, I discover what I’d been missing all day – my connection to God. In the middle of the muck, I had dropped my life line and tried to go it alone. No wonder I was such a mess. My perfect source of strength, encouragement and wisdom was cut off, and I have no one to blame but myself. Skip the blame. Instead, I ask for forgiveness and allow God’s grace to carry me the last half mile back home.
As I end my 3 mile workout, I log it with a smile emoji, and a renewed sense of self confidence showers over me. Sure, I may have totally messed up in the Mom Department today, but I did manage, against all odds, to successfully complete a stinkin’ run. And in one 30 minute workout, I feel like a new woman.
Who knows what parenting obstacles tomorrow will bring, but I’m more ready than ever. I’m a runner mom.
More to follow…
Join me in the next few weeks as I dive into more detail about the specific traits that make moms successful. We’ll take a look at WHY those attributes are so important to parenting, and HOW moms can strengthen them with every workout.
I hope you’ll join me!
Question: How has running helped you as a mom? I’d love to hear your story! You can leave a comment by clicking here.
When people ask me if I’m a runner, I’m reluctant to say, “Yes,” even though I do run at least three times a week, and I’m usually training for a half marathon or a triathlon. I’m comfortable telling people I run, but I’m intimidated by the thought of being labeled a “runner.”
In my mind, runners run far and fast and look like they’ve just stepped off the cover of Women’s Running Magazine. If people perceive me as a runner, I fear they’ll think less of me if they know my average run is four miles and I barely break 10 minute miles. But if they simply know I sometimes run, there is less pressure to live up to. Labels, both good and bad, come with expectations. And, while those expectations can be beneficial at times, they can also create unnecessary stress. This same phenomenon is true when we label kids.
Take a “positive” label for instance, like such a smart girl. A bright, straight A student may enjoy the admiration that’s attached to a characterization like this, but what happens when she gets a D on her first test or when schoolwork starts to feel challenging? For kids who feel even partially defined by their performance based labels, setbacks can knock them completely off their rockers. It’s not uncommon to hear huge doubt setting with comments like, “I made a D: I must be Dumb.” or “School isn’t as easy for me this year…maybe I wasn’t so smart after all.”
But imagine what might happen if that same child is raised to believe she is incredibly special, not for what she does but for who she is. And that she is full of potential. And that she is loved– not just by her parents but also by her Heavenly Father who created her. What if that same child was taught that none of us are perfect (nope, not even Mom or Dad), but through the unique strengths and gifts that God gives us, we are able to overcome our mistakes and our weaknesses?
Kids who know that they are loved and valued are better equipped to defeat challenges in their lives and are less susceptible to the influence of labels. As parents, we can help our children through tough situations by reassuring them of our love and our confidence in them simply by active listening.
Here’s how that might sound between a parent and third grader who brings a failed spelling test home from school. Listen to how Mom connects with her daughter and helps her feel supported while guiding her to a solution.
Sally (close to tears): “I’m so dumb! I can’t believe I failed my spelling test today!”
Mom (showing empathy): “Oh, Sally! It hurts to do poorly on a test. And you studied hard for that one… no wonder you sound so disappointed.”
Sally (wrinkling her face in frustration): “I just don’t get it!”
Mom (gently): “It really surprised you, huh? I’m surprised, too. You usually do great on spelling tests. How would you like to take a look at it together and figure out what went wrong?
Sally (relaxing a bit): “Yeah, ok.”
Mom: “Let’s get a snack first and recharge that brain of yours. The good news is that there is lots to learn from making mistakes, and what you learn can help you even more on future tests!”
Sally tried to label herself as dumb because she did poorly on her test. Instead of trying to convince her daughter that she isn’t dumb, Mom connected at a deeper level to help her feel valued and loved. Sally moved from feeling defeated to empowered, and she left the labels in the dust.
As you go through your day, I challenge you to listen for labels that are placed on people, and then watch closely. Their reactions may surprise you.
When I need a little reassurance that God’s impression of me is all that matters, I love to listen to Francesca Batastelli’s He Knows My Name. What an awesome reminder of God’s love for us!
Back talking. Fighting for the last word. Monosyllabic answers. Colorful *@&!?% word choice. Who knew parent-child communication could be so erratic? Or, at times, so stinkin’ frustrating? If dialoging with your child has become messy or even stagnant, it may be time to do a bit of myth busting to clean up the faulty thinking jamming lines of communication. Here are 5 Common Communication Myths debunked:
1. MYTH: Parents should have all the answers.
FACT: When kids are looking for advice or help, they will typically ask. But if parents dispense advice to unwilling ears, kids are bound to reject it or resent it. As The Adult (with decades of experience and wisdom), we often put undue pressure on ourselves to have The Answer to all of our kids’ problems. But if we resist the temptation to rescue or repair, we allow our kids the opportunity to grow and experience the thrill of finding their own solutions.
2. MYTH: Questions are the best dialogue starters.
FACT: Craving to connect with our kids after a long day at school, we typically ask, “How was your day, Honey?” And, very often, a mumbled, monosyllabic “Good,” is all we get in response. For a more meaningful ride home, try sparking a conversation with a warm greeting or statement like, “I really missed you today.” OR “From the looks of those purple fingers, I bet you had art class today.” OR “You’ll never guess what happened to ME today…”
3. MYTH: When a parent says, “No,” children interpret it as, “No.”
FACT: I’m convinced that deep within the cerebral cortex of 98% of children is a faulty connection which makes his brain think “REALLY???” when his ears hear, “NO.” To stop a child from doing something we don’t want them to do, I believe we have two basic choices: repeat the word NO until you are blue in the face, or use a YES alternative. Examples: “Yes, you may go to your friend’s house to play as soon as you unload the dishwasher.” OR “The kitchen is not for yelling. Feel free to yell in your room with the door closed or out in the garage.”
4. MYTH: If your child is using colorfully inappropriate language, he’s destined for a life of debauchery.
FACT: Young kids are experimenters by nature. When they are introduced to a new word (on TV or from potty-mouthed classmates, for instance), they are wired to try it on for size. Often they don’t even know what the word means. They just know it must be pretty cool because it gets a huge reaction from listeners. The next time Junior experiments with a new word, try to keep your cool and calmly ask if he knows what the word means and who he heard it from. Then, in age-appropriate terms, define it and explain why it is not to escape from his precious little mouth again. (It also helps to brainstorm an appropriate alternative to use in place of the new word).
5. MYTH: Kids and adults speak the same language.
FACT: Sure, if you speak English, chances are your children do too. But that does not mean that you share the same style of communication with your kids, and that difference can create frustrating misunderstandings. To enhance understanding, find out if your child is a visual, kinesthetic or auditory learner. If she is visual, try hand signals, notes and visual cues to get your message across. If she is kinesthetic, you may need to gently touch her shoulder or use hand signals when you talk to her. And if she is auditory but still does not seem to get what you’re verbally asking, try to simplify your instruction. She may simply be overwhelmed by the amount of information she is trying to process at once.
If talking with your child or teen has become more difficult in recent weeks, check to see if a Communication Myth is getting in the way. Sometimes just a slight adjustment in approach can re-establish harmony and get healthy conversation flowing once again.
I’ve got to stop trying to be helpful! Lately, I find the more I jump in to lend a hand, the more confusion, frustration and chaos I cause. How sad. But true.
I’m a do-er and a helper. Combine that with my waves of high energy or over-caffeinated brain, and you’ve got a Super Servant ready for action. But often I forget that people don’t need (or sometimes even want) my assistance, and it can be rude for me to jump in without asking first. Sometimes I take a helpful leap only to find I’ve done it wrong. Talk about embarrassing! This holds true for my friends, family and even strangers. But I think it’s most significant when dealing with my teenagers.
Just as plants need plenty of fertile soil and room to grow, teens need their space and opportunities to be independent. I tend to forget this, and I inadvertently box my kids in with advice and reminders. My intentions are loving and my desire is to be helpful. But more and more, my two cents is perceived as nagging and intrusive, and it’s disrupting relationships more than strengthening them. So, I’m learning to back off a bit and show more respect for their quest for independence.
Ironically, I often talk about how to help kids STOP their annoying behaviors. I talk about how to look for the underlying need that is contributing to the behavior, and I suggest providing an appropriate alternative to replace the annoying behavior. (This alternative helps fill the unmet need that is underlying and causing the behavior). Well, it seems I’m engaging in an annoying behavior (intrusively helping), and I need an appropriate alternative to help me stop.
In order to show love and be true to my helpful heart while respecting my teens’ space and capabilities, here is the intervention strategy I’ve come up with:
- Share what I see: “Looks like you’ve got a busy week of school ahead of you- big math and science tests and a history project due! How are you feeling about that?”
- Show confidence in my teen. “You’ve done a great job of keeping your grades up all year, and I know you can handle the load next week. I’m going to do my best to not nag you, but I also want you to know I’m here for you. If you happen to need me, just ask.”
- Continue to show love in other ways, like making a favorite meal, surprising them by making their bed, putting an extra treat in their lunch box, or writing a note of encouragement and leaving it on their pillow. These gentle reminders tell them that I’m thinking of them and provide a non-intrusive pick-me-up to keep them motivated.
The bottom line is that by respecting my teen’s space and need for independence, I AM showing love and support. It feels counterintuitive, but if I can remember this, I’m sure it will make backing off a bit easier. Showing love by backing off… now that’s going to be a tough one to master!
I love Oreo cookies. And ice cream. And rich milk chocolate- or extra dark… Ok, let’s face it. I have a gigantic sweet tooth. And if I don’t keep it under control, it will devour every fitness goal I have. But completely depriving myself of sweets is up there with my chances of climbing Mt. Everest. It ain’t gonna happen. So, I try to set goals that focus on Moderation and Motivation. It works for me, and it’s an incredibly effective parenting strategy, too.
What Doesn’t Work
When I try to limit my sweets intake, the Super Strict Approach almost always backfires. Here’s how. Let’s say I tell myself, “NO! You can’t have those Oreos. The sugar and fat will make you sluggish-remember you’re in training!” If I really want the cookies, a hard line approach only fuels my resolve to get them. And in my stubbornness, I’ll argue until my inner Cookie Monster is victoriously munching on chocolate wafers and smirking at my puny willpower.
A Better Approach
My sweet tooth isn’t going away any time soon, and fighting against it leaves me bitter and frustrated. So, I’ve learned to use its power to my motivational advantage. I tell myself, “YES! You CAN have 3 Oreos… as soon as you run 5 miles.” (Notice the Moderation of 3 cookies and the Motivation to run 5 miles? Specific rewards and objectives are critical in goal setting). With this approach, my determination shifts focus from arguing to earning the prize.
How this Plays Out with Kids
When we firmly tell our kids they CANNOT have something that they truly want, a switch in their brain turns ON causing them to focus with laser intensity on ways to bypass our NO. As parents, it’s easy to see this as strong-willed defiance. (“Why can’t they just OBEY?” is a question I’ve asked myself repeatedly.) But I have to remember that obedience is something that is learned…along with self discipline. It’s not something we are born with, and it takes time to shape.
Quite frankly, I don’t want squash my kids’ spirit of determination. It will serve them well in year’s ahead. Instead, I want to teach them to use it respectfully. And I want them to obey authority because it’s the right thing to do, not simply because they fear the consequences or wrath of mom. Ultimately, I want my kids to learn to make responsible, self-disciplined decisions whether I’m there to guide them or not.
Choose Your Course
When kids want something that parents don’t want them to have, a fork in the road emerges. The path we take will directly impact the short and long term shaping of our kids. Here are the 3 most common routes parents take and probable outcomes:
- Head down the path of least resistance: give in and give them what they want. While this may be easiest, it teaches kids that Mom has an Achilles’ heel. And they will target her weak spot every time.
- Barricade the road with a huge wall to try to force a change of direction. While this will block the prohibited objective, determined kids will usually try to climb the wall, and others will flop down in front of it and pout (or tantrum) in defeat.
- Put up a solid Road Block while directing traffic to a more appropriate Detour. This route invites a child to focus on redirecting to a healthier, wiser outcome instead of fighting back. Sure, they will still be disappointed in the underlying NO, but when those emotions are met with empathy, their ability to cope will be strengthened.
Here’s an example using a Road Block with a Detour and a sprinkle of Moderation and Motivation, too. Setting: The time is 4:30 PM. Mom is in the kitchen preparing dinner for5:30PM when six year-old Conner comes running in with a puppy dog look on his face:
Conner: MOM, I’m huuuuungry. Can I have cookies and milk…please?
Mom: I bet you’re hungry! You’ve been playing outside all day in the sunshine. Dinner is in one hour. Cookies are for after dinner (Road Block), but I’m happy to serve a healthy snack to tide you over (Detour). How about some yogurt or carrots with Ranch dip?
Conner: But I want cookies. NOW.
Mom (Clarifying the Detour): You may have 2 cookies (Moderation) after you eat a good dinner (Motivation). If you choose to argue about it, the cookies will have to wait until tomorrow. Would you like a yogurt or carrots as a snack for now?
Conner: Yogurt, please. Can we put the cookies on a plate and set them on the counter so you don’t forget after dinner?
Mom: I do forget sometime, huh? Sure. That’ll be a good reminder for both of us.
What this Teaches:
The bottom line is this: Mom successfully sets unpopular but necessary boundaries by:
- helping Conner stay focused on coping with the disappointment instead of fueling his desire to argue with her,
- setting clear limits with Moderation and Motivation: 2 cookies, after dinner, and as long as there is no arguing, and
- offering an appropriate alternative to curb Conner’s hunger before dinner.
IF Conner continues to argue for cookies, Mom can calmly but firmly remind him, “I know you are disappointed, but I was clear that there would be no cookies tonight if the arguing continued. I’m going to remove cookie privileges tonight, and you can try again tomorrow.” This will, no doubt, be met with greater disappointment. A helpful approach in shaping coping skills at this point is to continue to show empathy for the disappointment, while instilling hope and believing in the child’s ability to be successful next time.
For instance, Mom might say, “It’s tough to lose privileges. It’s hard for me to take them away, too. Tomorrow will be a fresh start. Would you like to aim to have your 2 cookies with lunch?”
If Conner is incredibly tired from his big day, he may not have what it takes to hold it together at this point. If he begins to melt down, redirecting him to a quiet activity in his room or a nice warm bath can help him reset before dinner.
Teaching our kids to obey and eventually master self discipline is one of the toughest tasks we face as parents. But when kids are given the tools to learn to cope with boundaries and disappointment, and shown how to make wise and healthy decisions, they can acquire skills that will benefit them for a lifetime.
I challenge you today to face limit setting with a fresh approach. Provide appropriate detours along with those road blocks and watch your kids respond more cooperatively. And the next time you break out a package of Oreo cookies, please be sure to eat one for me!
Question: What limits are most difficult for you to set with your kids? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Duty makes us do things well, but love makes us do them beautifully.
At the heart of a child’s misbehavior is a need that is begging to be addressed. If the need goes unanswered, the unwanted behavior will continue. Think of it this way, a whining child is like a pulled hamstring, ignoring or trying to muscle through the pain will only make matters worse. But take time to figure out and calmly treat the underlying issue, and you’re on the way to real results with long term effects.
Yes, that’s right. Calmly treating the underlying issue is critical to success. And that holds true for the emotions of both parent and child. I’ll be writing about techniques to master this incredibly difficult practice in later posts, but here’s something to know for now. Recent brain research actually shows that when a child’s brain is bombarded with negative emotion, it’s not able to receive logical direction and information. Therefore, in order to turn the thinking side of your child’s brain ON, loving connection must be made first. Please try to keep this in mind as you read this intervention for whining.
As I wrote about in Part 1 of this series, the first step to finding a lasting solution is to answer the question: What is this behavior trying to tell me? Like interrupting, whining is an attention seeking behavior. It’s basically saying, “Look at me. Give me what I want…pleeeeease!”
The second step involves looking for the need behind the behavior, and this can be tricky. But like a detective, the more clues you uncover, the easier it is to solve the mystery. In parenting presentations over the years, I’ve shared 6 Key Questions that have helped parents get to the root of the problem.
- When did the behavior begin?
- Where does it occur?
- When does it occur?
- With whom does the behavior occur?
- What are the common factors in the environment?
- Are there certain foods or medicines that may be triggering the behavior?
It’s always a good idea to seek the professional opinion of a pediatrician, counselor or specialist if problems persist, get worse or are causing significant problems for your child or family. And if your gut instinct says, “Something isn’t right,” listen to it. The Momma Instinct is wise and should not be ignored. When in doubt, ask. Early detection and intervention are worth their weight in gold!
Let’s look at an imaginary example of a mom and her 4 year old daughter who whines.
Sally Sue is a bright, persistent preschooler who is masterful at getting her way. Her big blue eyes typically melt her mom and dad into giving her what she wants, and when that doesn’t work, she resorts to whining. Whining sends a jolt of electricity down the spines of her parents, causing them to either yell at Sally Sue or crater to her demands. The whining is getting more piercing, and little Sally Sue’s parents are frazzled.
Looking at the 6 Key Questions, Sally’s parents find:
- The whining occurs several times a week. It began about 6 months ago, right around the time her baby brother was born.
- Whining seems to be worse at home, but it can happen anywhere.
- The whining is worst when Sally is tired or really wants her way. It peaks late afternoon, just before dinner.
- Mom asked Sally’s preschool teachers and volunteers at Sunday School if she whines when she is in class. They all said “no” and shared that she is very cooperative and respectful. She does whine occasionally with Grandma, but the behavior is mostly with Mom and Dad.
- Whining is worst when baby brother has cried a lot (he has colic), or when mom or dad seem the most tired or stressed (still up during the night with the baby). It also spiked when Sally had an ear infection a few weeks ago.
- Sally does not seem to have any food sensitivities, and she does not take any medication, but her parents are now on the look-out for foods that may trigger a change in her mood or energy, just in case.
Putting all the pieces together, a pattern emerges. The whining began when baby brother was born, and it’s used almost exclusively around family, particularly Mom and Dad. It’s worst at late afternoon, when Sally Sue is tired or when she is sick. (This makes sense because needy behaviors tend to flare up when kids are not feeling their best). And it’s most evident when the rest of the family is very tired or stressed. With this specific information, Mom and Dad can hone in on the need: it sounds like Sally Sue’s whines are an expression of the stress and insecurity she may be feeling about sharing her world and her parents with a baby. (Particularly a baby who’s fussy and needs extra attention for his sensitive tummy).
My Possible Solutions:
To help fill Sally’s need for attention, create a special ritual with Sally Sue that gives her one-on-one time with each parent To help her avoid Whine Country in the late afternoon, look more carefully at specific needs that may be undetected. Could she be hungry? A small healthy snack earlier in the afternoon could do wonders. Is she extra tired or wired? A quiet time of reading, snuggling with stuffed animals, or listening to soft music may be the key. And to help her get better adjusted to being a big sister and gain an appreciation for her little brother, mom and dad could get her more involved with the baby. Some ideas:
- Ask her to help give Baby a bath.
- Ask her to pick out Baby’s clothes.
- Have Sally Sue select the cute little baby food jars at the grocery store.
- Ask Sally how she would like to help. Suggest reading to Baby, gently holding up sensory toys for baby to look at, singing quietly, telling Baby made up stories. (The more positive, engaging interaction they have, the better chance for a strong connection to develop).
If Sally Sue resorts to whining, try intervening with this strategy:
Kneel down to her level and gently say, “It sounds like you really want something, and I’d like to help. Whining hurts my ears. I’m happy to talk to you when you use your regular voice.” (* If you ask her to use her “big girl words” or “grown up voice”, this could backfire if she’s trying to get attention by acting like a baby. After all, it’s working for the baby brother).
This may be enough to stop the whining. But if she continues, announce that you are in a Whine Free zone (not to be confused with a Free Wine Zone). Invite her to whine all she wants in her bedroom, and when she’s ready to come back to the room you are in, you’ll be there to give her a hug.
If She Needs Help Getting to Her Room:
- Lead her while calmly reassuring her that she is not in trouble.
- Remind her that you are just helping her to her room where she”s free to get all of her whines out.
- Let her know how you’ll be waiting with a big hug when she returns to the Whine Free Zone.
Remember, by connecting patiently with her during this stressful transition, her brain can be receptive to what you are saying. Once her emotions take over, it becomes almost impossible to get a point across. Don’t be surprised if, when you get to her room, she asks for a cuddle, falls asleep or begins to cry. This is confirmation that she did need that quiet, down time. And in her room, she’s feeling safe to” just be.” Offer to sit with her a while so that she can see you care.
Life with a newborn can be exhausting, and it can stay that way for many months. Contending with the whining of an older sibling doesn’t make matters any easier. But taking time to recognize the need behind the whine (or other difficult behavior) and filling the need at its core will pay off solidly in the future.
Question: I encourage you to look at a challenging or annoying behavior that you may be facing with your child and try to apply the 6 Key Questions. Does that help you find the need behind the behavior? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Last week I received a question from a Mom about a challenge I think every preschool parent faces-Dawdling! I’m so glad she asked! Here’s her question and my suggestion:
My daughter is almost 5, and it is so difficult to keep her on task. If I ask her to go upstairs and go potty/get in pjs she will purposely dawdle and/or see that something else needs attending…like tucking her baby doll into bed. I almost always have to come up and scoot her along…is she too young to expect that she can stay on task and complete it in a timely manner? How can I get her to move along faster? Thanks!
Finding the Solution
Toddlers are Kings and Queens of Dawdle. And as parents, it’s hard to not feel frustrated by their pokiness, particularly when we have places to go and things to do. Unfortunately, young children do struggle to stay focused and get the job done. But as their brains mature and develop the necessary self discipline, we can certainly help them along with a few simple steps and a whole lotta patience.
Let’s begin with the basic question about behavior. What is the dawdling behavior trying to tell me? See if any of these answers possibly fit:
- “I want your attention.” (Each time we step in to help, dawdling gets rewarded).
- “I’m not developmentally ready to stay on task.” (This is a challenge for most young kids).
- “I don’t like doing these boring tasks.” (And who does?!)
I suspect the answer may be a combination of all three, so let’s go with that for now. Here are a few suggestions that could help her pick up her pace and get the job done.
- Stay calm! Try not to take the dawdling personally. Instead, see it as an opportunity to shape your child to become more efficient and focused.
- Make sure the task is manageable and understood. If pottying and PJs both need to be taken care of, make the instructions bite-sized. Consider having her go potty, then race back to you for a hug. THEN have her describe the PJs she’s going to wear tonight, and send her back upstairs with a mental picture of those cozy clothes fresh in her mind.
- Put a motivator after the task. As in the example above, a hug was the motivator for going potty. Maybe the motivator for putting on PJs is Stories at Bedtime. Try saying something like this, “We’ll have time for two of your favorite stories before bed if you go straight upstairs and put on your PJs. Yell down to me as soon as you’re dressed, and I’ll come right up to read.” Keep your attitude light and fun, so she’ll want to be back with you right away. If she doesn’t call down in a timely manner, give a warning that you are moving into the One Book Zone.
- Use eye contact when making a request. Even better, connect by gently touching her shoulder or holding her hand as you describe the task.
- Make the mundane fun. Sing a song, play favorite tunes in the background, make it a race, take “giant steps” to the objective. Kids are more inclined to stay focused when they are having fun.
- Leave a little extra time to accomplish the mission. This is for Mama’s sanity. To reduce stress, add a few moments of buffer space to cushion unexpected (or expected) delays.
- And, if the baby doll seems to be the main source of distraction, consider adding the doll to the mix and apply the Task/Motivator rule. For instance, during pajama time, direct your daughter to put on her jammies (task) THEN tuck her doll into bed (motivator). This way both will be ready to read stories (double motivator!).
Creativity, patience and extra understanding go a long way in helping kids learn to focus and put a spring in their step. Remember, we’re here to shape our kids to be more successful, and we do that best through relationship. Address the need under the behavior, and you’ll have results that all can cheer about.
Question: Do you have a fun or creative solution that has helped with dawdling? Please share! You can leave a comment by clicking here.