Best-Selling Parenting and Children's Book Author

fear

Hitting Doesn’t Lead to Hugging: Parenting an Angry Teen

angry teen 2[Reprinted from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The teen years can hit a family with the force of a hurricane. Parents who practice control-based parenting and have felt confident in their control over their children up until this point often find themselves lost, dazed, and bewildered, entangled in a parenting morass of their own making. The truths they discover shock them and leave them vulnerable and defenseless in the face of outright or passive mutiny:

  1. Hitting doesn’t lead to hugging. Just ask the mother struggling with her teenage daughter who had become withdrawn around the age of twelve or thirteen, often spending hours in her room and refusing to engage with the rest of the family. The mother recognized that there was a problem at the time, but interpreted it as laziness, selfishness, and rebellion and responded with correction instead of connection. The mother says, “My daughter won’t accept discipline given in love anymore, and I don’t know how to control her behavior.” The ‘discipline given in love’ her daughter refused to accept was being spanked with a paddle wielded by a parent who then demanded an apology from the child for her behavior, followed by a hug. This mother is discovering that, now that her daughter has reached her teen years, she no longer accepts the hitting, and she no longer accepts the hugs, either.
  2. Lectures don’t lead to learning. Just ask the father who complained that every time he sat his son down to read him the riot act for something, he could see his son’s eyes glaze over as the teen retreated to an inner world. The father would repeatedly demand that his son pay attention, and his son would then quote his lecture verbatim, but nothing worked to change his son’s behavior. The father shared, “I don’t know what to do. How can I control my son if I can’t reach him?” What this father is discovering is that lecturing instead of listening is a one-way street that leads nowhere.
  3. Coercion doesn’t lead to cooperation. Just ask the mother who was so frustrated with her son’s inability to finish his math homework that she began to take his things and hold them as ransom to try to force him to cooperate. She emptied his room piece by piece, day after day, until she’d literally taken away everything he owned, including every article of clothing except for the clothes on his back. After six weeks of her son wearing the same clothes and sleeping on the floor, she said, “I don’t know what else I can take away from him. He doesn’t have anything left! How can I control him now?” What this mother is finding is that you can’t force cooperation and children outgrow coercion just like they outgrow clothing.
  4. Ridicule doesn’t lead to respect. Just ask the father who made his daughter post on Facebook that she had lied to her parents about her screen-time and couldn’t be trusted to have a laptop, so she wouldn’t be online for a month. The father was infuriated to then discover that his daughter was using her friends’ computers to go online, so he made her call every one of her friends’ parents and explain why she wouldn’t be visiting for the next month. When the father later found out his daughter was using the computers at the library to go online, he made her stand in front of the library with a sign that said, “I’m a liar.” A week later the father found his daughter online in the middle of the night, using a laptop borrowed from a friend. The father says, “What can I do? Every time I find a way to control my daughter, she finds a way around it. How can I make her respect me?” What this father is finding is that you can’t force respect. Ridicule and shame are disrespectful and only breed more disrespect.

What these parents are discovering, and what you may have already discovered yourself as your children have reached adolescence, is that no matter how much you escalate punishments, they won’t work to get your children under your control because one human can never really control another. Yes, you can overpower a small child, and you can use fear and intimidation and manipulation to force children to comply, but only for a season. Once they reach the teen years and their own identity begins to fully emerge, they gain enough separation to realize that they can finally say no to the hitting and threats and manipulations. They may say no with outright rebellion or by withdrawing into passive resistance, but they will say no, and then you are lost because you haven’t built a relationship based on mutual respect and cooperation. You’ve simply spent years forcing your will on a smaller, weaker human.

Can you make changes, even this late in parenting? Yes. Stop hitting, threatening, intimidating, coercing, shaming, and trying to control your child. Wipe the slate clean with a sincere apology, and then start rebuilding your relationship from the ground up:

  • Create a foundation of trust by proving yourself trustworthy. That means honoring your word that you won’t punish or manipulate your teen to try to control them, no matter what.
  • Sacrifice your own hopes and dreams for your teen and support their hopes and dreams. Will they make mistakes? Yes. That’s part of life. Let them make the mistakes without repercussion from you, and help them through the natural results of those mistakes so they will know they can count on you when life hurts.
  • Set limits with your teen instead of for your teen. Ask their opinion about curfews and relationships and housework. Tell them that it’s an honor system from this point on, no punishments, and ask them how you can help them to honor the limits they’ve helped set.
  • Remember that, while your teen is rapidly approaching adulthood, they are still a child and still need guidance. Don’t disconnect (i.e. give up) and just let your teen figure things out for themselves. Yes, they do need to try and fail and try again so they can learn from their mistakes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need you. Your role at this point is supportive as you stay in-tune and available and help them to process all of the big transitions and emotions and events that happen in adolescence. Walk them through the problem-solving steps (see The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline, Chapter Twenty-Five) as many times as they need you to so that they can learn how to become problem solvers themselves.
  • If they backtalk, LISTEN (see The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline, Appendix B). If they struggle with homework, help them. If they lie, forgive them and work with them to come to a place where they feel safe to be truthful. If they break curfew, ask them why and work with them to sort out the problem.
  • Memorize these words, “I’m here. I hear you. How can I help?” They encapsulate the Three C’s of gentle parenting—Connection. Communication. Cooperation. Use them every day to rebuild your relationship.

The thing to remember is that you are the only adult in the relationship for the time being, so be the first one to listen, the first one to forgive, the first one to apologize, the first one to understand, the first one to back down and try to find another way when the going gets tough. Before you know it, your teen will be an adult, just like you… Just. Like. You. Make sure the ‘you’ they see is the ‘you’ that you want them to become.

Related posts:

When Toddlers Become Teens

The Color of Change

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

The Problem with Punishment

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

Why Whining is a Win!

Rethinking Tattling

Two Thousand Connection Points a Day: Attachment Parenting Beyond Infancy

L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.


Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

[Portions reprinted from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

bridge over troubled water

We all have times when we struggle, when life gets hard, when stresses overtake us and the constant demands to grow and change and learn inherent in simply being human just feel like too much to bear.

Children are no different than adults in that they, too, can often feel overwhelmed by life. The sheer volume of growth and change and learning integral to childhood inevitably produce stress, though that isn’t necessarily a negative for all children. Some children, just like some adults, seem to have an innate ability to cope with stress, to adapt to change, and to face and conquer challenges. Some personalities even thrive on it!

But then there are those children who simply seem to struggle with life. Growth spurts cause incredible stress and discomfort. Change produces intense anxiety and resistance. And learning, being introduced to new thoughts and ideas, being stretched and challenged, inspires unease and distress.

These children are often labeled problem children, strong-willed, difficult, entitled, or brats. The reality, though, is that these are often the most sensitive children, small people who were created to be intimately in-tune with their bodies, their environment, and their fellow human beings. They feel, deeply and empathetically, other people’s pain and distress. They endure shifts in their surroundings like frontal assaults to their safety and security. They experience touch and movement of their bodies, and growth within their bodies, with painful intensity.

All too often, these sensationally gifted children are misunderstood. Their strong reactions to stimuli are misinterpreted as willfulness and stubbornness. They are punished instead of helped, controlled instead of supported, hurt instead of heard.  Their uniqueness, gifts, and insights are forced underground where they often simmer in silence, bursting forth in flashes of rage or turning inward in brooding depression.

These children don’t need labels. They don’t need to be contained or controlled. They need what all children need…love, understanding, and guidance to grow into the gifted, unique individuals they were created to be.

Helping and supporting your sensitive child who is struggling is like building a bridge over troubled waters using the Three C’s of gentle discipline:

Connect:

  1. Observe and really get to know, understand, and appreciate the gifts and needs of the unique little person you are privileged to parent.
  2. Build a foundation of trust and respect in your parent/child relationship by ‘listening’ to the needs being expressed by your child’s behavior even when their behavior seems completely out of proportion to the situation.

Communicate:

  1. Keep an open door policy, particularly in the late evening hours when the house is quiet and everyone else is settled for the night. Sensitive children often need stillness to feel safe enough to begin processing all of the overwhelming stimuli and emotions they experience throughout the day.
  2. Help them to verbalize their feelings and experiences by listening to their hearts and not just their words, and quietly offering observations to help them to put things into perspective.

Cooperate:

  1. Work with your sensitive child to help them find coping mechanisms that will help them deal with overwhelming sensations, emotions, and situations. Some ideas are to offer them options such as…
    • wearing noise-cancelling headphones to block out extraneous noises
    • escaping to a Cozy Cave to take a break from the stresses of daily life
    • creating a private code word that they can use to let you know they are feeling overwhelmed or that you can use to alert them that they may need to take a break or to dial things down a notch or two
  1. Equip them with tools to express themselves in acceptable ways (i.e. “It’s not okay to be rude, but it is okay to tell someone you need a break” or “It’s not okay to run away at school, but it is okay to go to your teacher and tell them you’re having a hard time.”)
  2. Work with them intentionally on a daily basis to overcome the stresses and minimize the impacts of what is, to us, normal daily life, but to them can be deeply troubling experiences.

Building a strong, supportive bridge into the future with your sensitive child will provide them with the coping skills they’ll need as adults to overcome normal stresses and challenges as well as those that come when life inevitably flows into troubled and turbulent waters.

For more tips for parenting your sensitive child and helping them learn coping mechanisms to deal with stresses, see The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline.

 


Related posts:

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

The Problem with Punishment

When Children Act Out ~ Reflecting Our Emotions

Why Whining is a Win!

Rethinking Tattling

The Incredible Power of the Whisper

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

The Thoughtful Parent’s Guide to Positive Parenting Guides

Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water Studio Version

When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

I’m on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard,
I will comfort you

I’ll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Oh, if you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind…

L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.


Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages

Two Thousand Kisses a Day Book Cover 2Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages now available on Amazon:

 

 

 

 

~The birth story of a book~

A mother is born…

Many years ago (26 to be exact!), a small, scared, pregnant, teenage girl walked down the aisle to her tall, scared, clueless, young man and they said their “I do’s.”

 But what were they going to do? No earthly idea! They didn’t have the internet to surf for blogs about parenting and marriage, couldn’t afford the few paltry magazines available on those subjects at the time, and weren’t convinced that the way their parents had raised them was exactly how they wanted to raise their unexpected little blessing. So, they simply joined hands and hearts and figured it out the old-fashioned way…through trial and error.

The young girl gave birth prematurely and, after a terrifying NICU stay, brought home her barely 5 lb baby boy. Since the young couple were living on one income and were barely able to feed themselves, it made sense to them to breastfeed their little one. Neither one had ever even seen a mother breastfeeding her baby or even heard of a lactation consultant and no one at the hospital had mentioned breastfeeding at all, so the two young people just kept working through the cracked, bleeding nipples, engorgement, over-supply, and other issues until they got it figured out…and then they were breastfeeders!

Neither one of the young couple had ever read a parenting book or had ever even heard the words ‘cry-it-out,’ and the young girl discovered their first night home how much easier it was to clear away all of the pillows and blankets to keep her baby safe and then simply take her little guy into bed with her and breastfeed him when he was hungry…and then they were co-sleepers!

‘Self-soothing’ was another term the two young people had never heard, so the two of them just did what came naturally and picked up their baby when he fussed or grunted or just looked cute and finally found it easier to just snuggle their little preemie into a baby carrier and tote him around with them wherever they went…and then they were babywearers!

As their precious little guy got bigger and began to explore his new world, the young couple delighted in everything he did and simply moved him or distracted him with songs and toys if he got into things. They couldn’t bear the thought of hurting their son, so punitive parenting just wasn’t an option. They decided to treat their little guy like a person instead of a possession and communicate with him instead of punishing him…and then they were gentle discipliners!

Now, this journey might sound like an easy one when summed up this way, but I can assure you it wasn’t. The young couple, my amazing husband and I, encountered strong criticism of our parenting choices through the years:

  • We were warned that our marriage would suffer at the very least, and our babies would suffocate at the worst, if we slept with them in our bed instead of putting them in isolation to sleep.
  • We were informed that my breasts would look like deflated balloons and reach my knees by my thirties if I breastfed more than a few weeks.
  • We were admonished that our children would grow into spoiled brats if we responded to their needs instead of teaching them to ‘deal with it’ and ‘self-soothe’ their own, and would end up as social outcasts or criminals if we encouraged and guided them instead of spanking them.

These challenges to our parenting style were difficult at the time, and they sometimes even resulted in people choosing to de-friend us (not Facebook de-friending, in real life!), but that had the powerful positive effect of making us really examine what our beliefs were and, as a result, strengthening and solidifying our values, our marriage, and our family.

As for the dire warnings listed above:

  • Our beautiful, strong, loving marriage is in its 27th year.
  • Our children all survived and thrived on co-sleeping (our littlest is still safely and contentedly sleeping in our bed) and have, in their own time, moved happily to their own rooms.
  • Except for being a couple of cup sizes larger at the moment since I’m breastfeeding a toddler, lol, my breasts are normal despite the fact that I’ve breastfed little ones for a cumulative 10+ years of my adult life!
  • Our children are, in order, a 25-year-old Pastor (our firstborn son mentioned in the story above who is now a husband and father of two!), a 23-year-old Family Therapist, an 18-year-old pre-med university student on scholarship, 13- and 7-year-old beautiful and well-behaved homeschooled girls with lots of friends (soooo not social outcasts!), and a sweet and happy 2-year-old baby girl. Not a spoiled brat or criminal in the bunch!

Our journey to gentle parenting has had another, somewhat unexpected, effect. While we may not agree with others’ parenting choices, we have been on the receiving end of criticism far too long not to have learned this lesson: Gentle parenting is for parents, too! We have learned to respond gently to our friends who don’t agree with us, even when they don’t respond gently to us. Responding with harshness and criticism doesn’t work with adults any better than it does with children! Responding gently to those who disagree with us may or may not affect their parenting choices, but what it does do is model respectful behavior and conflict resolution to our children and, most of the time, preserve dear friendships.

A gentle parenting advocate is born…

This journey also resulted in a passion for children and family harmony that launched me many years ago into the world of parent coaching and child advocacy and later initiated the creation of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources as a consulting and educational resource for parents, caregivers, and educators. The culmination of this work led to the development of a series of gentle parenting handbooks designed to equip parents with the information and tools they need to gently guide their children from infancy through toddlerhood and the preschool years and on through middle childhood, the teen years, and beyond.

A book is born…

Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages is the first in the series. It is an introduction to the ideas behind gentle parenting and provides practical examples of its application in each of the developmental stages of childhood such as the transition from diapers to potty, problems with sharing, coping with picky eaters, guiding children gently through behavioral issues, and more!

*also published in The Natural Parent Magazine

L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.


The Trouble With Kids Today

[Portions reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost available on Amazon]

“People are telling parents like me that we are failing our children because we practice controlled discipline in our homes. I say: the children that are raised without it are the ones being abused and robbed of the chance of success in adulthood.” Controlled discipline in the eyes of this author of I Don’t Like Spanking My Kids, But I Do It Anyway is physical punishment. Equating discipline with punishment is a common misconception, but she is, unfortunately, not alone in her stance.

Many of today’s most popular self-proclaimed parenting ‘experts’ also equate physical punishment with discipline and go to great lengths to describe the best methods and tools for hitting children along with instructing parents to maintain a calm, controlled, and even cheerful demeanor as they ‘lovingly’ hit their children.

It is interesting to note here that, when it comes to the law, crimes of passion are treated as less heinous than premeditated, planned, and purposefully executed crimes which are termed ‘in cold blood.’ And yet when physically punishing a child, a crime in many places across the globe, hitting in anger or frustration (i.e. passion) is deemed wrong by proponents of spanking, while hitting children with calm and deliberate intent (i.e. premeditation) is encouraged.

It is also interesting to note that, in the not-too-distant past, husbands hitting their wives was also viewed as not only a societal norm, but a necessary part of maintaining a harmonious, successful marriage. In fact, a man who epitomizes the words calm and controlled, Sean Connery, shared his thoughts on the ‘reasonable smacking’ of his wife in a 1987 interview with Barbara Walters:


The core belief behind ‘reasonable smacking’ of wives was that there was no other effective way to control them. I have to agree. If controlling another human being is the goal, then force is necessary. Fear, intimidation, threats, power-plays, physical pain, those are the means of control.

But if growing healthy humans is the goal, then building trust relationships, encouraging, guiding, leading, teaching, communicating, those are the tools for success.

Many parents simply don’t know what else to do. They were raised with spanking as a means of control and “turned out okay” so they default to their own parents’ parenting choices without researching alternatives to spanking or considering whether “okay” could be improved upon.

As to the I Don’t Like Spanking My Kids, But I Do It Anyway author’s contention that “We are raising a generation of children who are over-sensitive because they eventually find out that they aren’t as good at baseball or ballet as some other kid and their parents promised them that everyone is equal. They feel entitled because we teach them that they should. They throw tantrums when life doesn’t go their way because their parents have tiptoed around them to make sure that it does,” that reasoning sounds strangely familiar.

People throughout history have complained about ‘the trouble with kids these days.’ They’ve pinned all the ills of their society on permissive parenting. They’ve ranted about out-of-control children, disrespectful youth, entitlement, spoiling, disobedience, violence, self-centeredness, etc:

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders…. They no longer  rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,  chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and are tyrants over their teachers.”
~Socrates, 5th Century BC

“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions.
Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”
~Plato, 5th Century BC

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and
respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint”
~Hesiod, 8th Century BC

“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.”
~Peter the Hermit, 13th Century AD

My grandpa notes the world’s worn cogs
And says we’re going to the dogs.
His grandpa in his house of logs
Said things were going to the dogs.
His grandpa in the Flemish bogs
Said things were going to the dogs.
His grandpa in his hairy togs
Said things were going to the dogs.
But this is what I wish to state:
The dogs have had an awful wait.
~Unknown, circa 1936

Small children disturb your sleep, big children your life.
~Yiddish Proverb

Perhaps, just perhaps, there isn’t any ‘trouble with kids today.’ Maybe the trouble is with societies who view normal stages of development as somehow abnormal. Maybe the problem is with parents who repeat the patterns their own parents set and don’t delve into the belief system they are now passing along to their children. Or maybe the problem is simply the rose-colored glasses older generations tend to have about their own youth when they share idealized versions of ‘the good old days.’

Could it be that ‘kid’s today’ are just kids like they have been through the ages, full of exuberance and curiosity and learning their way in a great big world? Could it be that a listening ear, gentle guidance, and trusted arms to turn to when inevitable mistakes are made are really all children need to grow up into kind, helpful, responsible, productive members of our society?

Consider this, “Since more than 90% of American parents admit to spanking their children, it’s hard to accept that a decline in spanking is responsible for the purportedly escalating rates of youth violence and crime. Could it be that the 90% of children who are subject to violence at home in the form of being slapped, paddled, smacked, yanked, whipped, popped, spanked, etc. are taking those lessons out into the world? Is it just possible that children who are hit learn to hit? That children who are hurt learn to hurt? Perhaps the lesson they are learning is that ‘might is right’ and violence is the answer to their problems, the outlet for their stress, the route to getting others to do what they want.” Better Children, Better World

Could it be that sowing peace in our homes is the answer after all?

 

Related posts:

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

Spare the Rod: The Heart of the Matter

Jesus~The Gentle Parent

Tots to Teens~Communication Through the Ages and Stages

Testing the Boundaries~What’s A Parent To Do?

 

L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.


Death of a Butterfly: Helping Children Cope with Loss

sad little boy

[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also now available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

sad little boyMy little Funny Face accidentally killed a butterfly today. Her sweet little heart is broken, poor thing. We’re walking through the stages of mourning together as I use these small (to us adults) losses to equip her with healthy tools for handling the difficult things life will surely bring through the years, as it does to all of us. Whether it’s the death of a butterfly, the loss of a favorite stuffed animal, or another loss that matters to them deeply, guiding children through their uncomfortable and often overwhelming emotions is something parents are often unprepared to handle. Here are the steps we take together when life gets hard and loss becomes a reality to my children:

1.) Feeling~The first step is simply allowing my children to feel their emotions. If they’re crying, I listen to their cues to know when to offer hugs or if they need some time alone or just someone to sit quietly next to them. If they’re angry, I watch closely to see if they need some directions for a safe outlet such as punching a pillow or going outside to kick a ball or if they are able to just stomp around and get it out that way. If they are unnaturally quiet, I let them know I’m there if they need me and then I leave them alone to sort through their emotions in their own time.

2.) Expressing~The second step is guiding my children to express their feelings in some tangible form. This step begins either when they initiate a conversation about the loss or when I see that their emotions are getting the best of them, indicating that they need some assistance in moving forward. This step may take the form of simply talking through what they are feeling, but typically it includes drawing a picture, making up a song or dictating a poem for me to write down for them, making a memory box, or some combination of each of them.

3.) Refocusing~The third and last step is giving my children ideas about how to move on. It’s often hard for them to figure out how to redirect their thoughts from constantly swirling around their loss. It takes a measure of mental maturity to be able to focus elsewhere when emotions are running high. This is not to say that they should never think about their loss again. I am always open to listening to their feelings and sharing their memories with them. This last step is just gently helping them to consciously shift their attention from what they have lost to what they still have, moving their thoughts from loss to life. This step often takes the form of encouraging them to head outside and play in the mud or climb a tree, or it might be offering to read them a favorite book or play a board game with them or maybe inviting a friend over to play.

While these three steps are in no way exhaustive, the idea behind this process is to simplify the stages of grief in a way that is accessible to parents and understandable to children. And then, when life hits hard and big losses occur such as the loss of a loved one, divorcing parents, etc. having walked through these small losses with our children sets the stage for helping them to work through the harder things while preserving a healthy parent/child connection.

When big life losses do occur,  staying in tune with our children and letting them ask questions freely while we work to temper our answers in age appropriate terms is vital. Watching for changes in their behavior helps to give us clues as to what they’re feeling. If they start having trouble sleeping or resisting going to school or having meltdowns, etc. it might be helpful to seek out professional counseling for a brief time. We also need to keep in mind that small children have active imaginations and the line between fantasy and reality is very blurry for them. Death may not impact them much at all if the reality of it doesn’t sink in, or, on the flip side it could have a significant impact and they could begin to imagine all sorts of awful things happening to them or their family or friends. It’s important to let our children lead the way as to how we need to help them cope. Our local library or online at Goodreads or Amazon’s Listopia can also be good resources for age appropriate books on death and grief to share with our children. We do need to be sure to read through them ourselves first to make sure we’re comfortable with how things are presented, though.

Here is a brief, generic ‘script’ that can be used as a starting point for sharing difficult news about a loss with our children:

 “I have something to tell you, and it’s a very hard thing. I want you to know that you are safe, and I’m safe, and I’m right here to help you, okay?”

(Give them time to respond.)

“Your (grandpa, aunt, friend, etc.), *name,* died. Do you know what ‘died’ means?”

(Give them time to respond.)

“It means they’re gone to (fill in your belief), and they won’t be coming back.”

(Give them time to respond.)

“It’s okay to be sad or even angry or scared. Those are normal emotions when people die. We are all very sad because we’re going to miss *name.*”

(Give them time to respond.)

“You’ll probably need some time to think about what happened, and you’ll probably have questions. That’s okay. And it’s okay to talk about *name,* too. We all are going to miss *name* and talking about them can help us to remember happy times with them.”

(Give them time to respond.)

“Would you like to make a goodbye card or a memory box? That might help you to feel better.”

Obviously this is a generic script that will need to be adapted based on a child’s responses, but it provides a starting point to open the conversation and begin to walk them through the grieving and healing process. Time does heal, but often it isn’t simply the passage of time that heals, but rather the support and comfort from those with whom we spend that time.

Related posts:

Children in the three to six-year-old age range are beginning to realize that their parents aren’t the all-powerful beings that they once believed them to be. This realization can be very uncomfortable for them, causing them a great deal of unease as they are concurrently beginning to realize that there is a whole, big, wide world beyond their safe, little home, a that the world is full of potential dangers, hazards unknown, and just a lot of really big, scary things. So what is a parent to do with their newly timid little house-mouse? The Age of Fear~Young Children and Anxiety

 

L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.


The Age of Fear: 8 Tips to Help Young Children Cope with Anxiety

[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost.  Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also now available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

Your once fearless five-year-old suddenly refuses to leave your side at the park saying, “I’m afraid the birds will eat me,” while eyeing the tiny swallows hopping on the ground as if they’re evil geniuses plotting his demise.

Your three-year-old, whom you once found proudly grinning while sitting atop the refrigerator, has abruptly decided the swings are objects of abject terror that will, “Fly me to the ground.” (Translation: I’ll fall off!)

Your six-year-old who has slept like a log in his own bed for years is suddenly resisting bedtime and climbing into your bed with you at 3 am every. single. night.

Your happy little four-year-old suddenly becomes withdrawn and clingy, refusing to play with her playdate friends and wanting to sit in your lap. And, even worse, she’s started sucking her thumb again!

The preschool and early elementary school years are sometimes marred with exaggerated fears, odd anxieties, nightmares, night terrors, and other evidences of insecurity that can make the most confident of parents feel a combination of dismay, frustration, worry, and failure. Regression is a common accompaniment, from pottying accidents to night-waking to thumb-sucking. Often, acting-out behaviors also increase in this time period.

So, what in the world is going on?

No, it’s not an environmental-toxin-induced, super-early-onset of adolescent-hormone-overload. And, normally, it’s not a trauma-reaction to life changes such as moving or starting preschool or school, though those events can exacerbate the issue. (Be aware that these behaviors can, rarely, indicate an anxiety disorder, stress-overload, or abuse. If you suspect any of these things may be causing your child’s behavior, seek a professional evaluation.)

Typically, though, sudden anxiety behaviors in preschool/early elementary aged children are simply another normal stage of development, an indication of cognitive growth. In other words, as odd as it sounds, fear can be a sign of maturity!

Children in the three to six-year-old age range (Keep in mind that this is a rough age estimate. Children are individuals, not pre-programmed robots!) are beginning to realize that their parents aren’t the all-powerful beings that they once believed them to be. This realization can be very uncomfortable for them, causing them a great deal of unease as they are concurrently beginning to realize that there is a whole, big, wide world beyond their safe, little home, and that that world is full of potential dangers, hazards unknown, and just a lot of really big, scary things.

So what is a parent to do with their newly timid little house-mouse?

First, be aware that there is no one-size-fits-all miracle ‘cure.’ You know your child better than anyone else, and being responsive to her unique needs means taking your cues from her as to what may help or hinder her journey through this uncomfortable stage.

That said, here are some ideas that may help:

  • Before forcing your child to ‘face his fears,’ consider whether someone throwing a spider on you if you are deathly afraid of spiders or locking you in a closet if you’re claustrophobic would be helpful to you in overcoming your fears. If the answer is ‘NO!’ then honor your child’s feelings and move on to another solution.

 

  • When your child voices her concerns, resist the urge to minimize them. If she says, “I’m afraid of monsters coming in my window,” try not to say, “There’s no such thing as monsters.” Remember, she’s realizing you aren’t all-powerful, and that means you aren’t all-knowing, either! Rather than be reassured by your words, she’ll simply think you don’t know about the monsters and can’t help her and keep her safe. Instead, you can brainstorm ideas together to keep the monsters at bay. While you don’t want to say that monsters actually do exist, you can say something like, “Let’s think of ways to keep you safe. What if daddy throws the monsters away in the trashcans outside and the trashman takes them away?” Don’t be afraid to be seriously silly. In other words, take her fears seriously, but offer silly solutions that offer visuals of the monsters (or whatever the fear is) going away forever.

 

  • Help your child to make a ‘nightmare safe’ out of a shoe box. At night before he goes to bed, sit with him and encourage him to put all his scary thoughts in the box for you to take and keep safely away from him while he sleeps. Let him know that if he does have a bad dream, he can come to you even if it’s the middle of the night, and you’ll help him to put the scary dream in the box so he’ll be able to go back to sleep.

 

  • Avoid phrases such as “You’re a big boy now” and “Only babies do that.” Focus instead on encouraging your child to do the things you know he can do. For instance, if he’s usually able to climb the ladder on the slide but gets ‘stuck’ halfway up and asks for help, start by moving near so he knows you are close and willing to help him if needed. Then verbally encourage him, “I know you can do it. I’m here if you need me.” But don’t pressure him. If he gets upset or insists he can’t do it, help him down. Remember, it isn’t really about the slide at all. It’s about seeking reassurance that you can still be trusted to take care of him, that he’s still safe with you.

 

  •  If the occasional monster in the closet or under the bed needs to be evicted, try reading a book like Go Away, Big Green Monster! and make your own ‘Monster-Away Spray,’ to send all the scary monsters packing. The ones we made didn’t match the colors in the book perfectly because we just used foam stickers and googlie eyes from our craft box and blue spray bottles from the bargain bin at the fabric store, but my girls were thrilled with them. We filled them with water (and added a little spritz of febreeze in my six-year-old’s bottle because, “Monsters can’t STAND flowers!”) and then Daddy and Big Brother took turns pretending to be monsters and ran away squealing from the girls when they got sprayed. Role-playing with children (and just playing with them, period!) is a powerful tool in helping them learn coping skills. Now, a bit of bedtime spritzing in closets and under beds is all it takes to make my girls feel confident that they’ve rousted the beasties so they can sleep in peace!

 

  • If regression is an issue, keep in mind that your child is self-comforting by returning to a time she felt safe. Rather than punishing, ridiculing, bribing, or in other ways trying to ‘control’ the behavior, offer comfort in appropriate ways to demonstrate that she can trust you to meet her comfort/safety needs. This applies to acting-out behaviors, as well. Set boundaries, certainly, and provide plenty of guidance, but remember that punishment tends to push children farther away rather than connecting with them. Since your child is reacting to a feeling of disconnection from you in her new understanding of your non-superhero status, pushing her further away will merely exacerbate the issue, not solve it.

 

  • Just listen. This is the simplest solution to a rather complex problem. Slow down and make time to just take a walk with your child. Sit with him in the evening and watch him color or play a quiet board game with him. Lay with him in his bed for a few minutes before he sleeps and chat about the day. Just the fact of you taking the time to focus on him, to be quiet with him, to enjoy his company, and to reconnect with him will go a long way towards soothing his fears.

 

  • Even if your child isn’t introverted by nature, the following table offers some wonderful tips that translate well into this brief anxiety stage:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember, just like all the other stages of development, this ‘age of fear’ won’t last forever. Staying connected with your child and keeping the communication lines open through the ages and stages of development will help to ease their way as well as keeping your relationship strong and healthy.

 

Related posts:

Toddlers, Tantrums, and Time-Ins, Oh My!

Testing the Boundaries~What’s A Parent To Do?

To a Toddler Sharing is a 4 Letter Word~MINE!

Babes and Boundaries~A Gentle Parenting Perspective

Your Baby isn’t Trying to Annoy You; He’s Trying to Communicate!

 

 

L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.