Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Reverse Bucket List Summer: Helping Kids Grow in Gratitude {with FREE Printable}

I realized the other day that I have about 10 summers left with my oldest son before he'll be off on his own (or at least partially). Ack! That really puts things in perspective.

On the other hand, I do not want to feel pressured to create 10 magical summers filled with awe and wonder. I just want us to enjoy the time we have together. As a stay-at-home mom, I have the luxury to have the one thing that can never be replaced--TIME.

So how do you balance the desire to make summers fun, but not overscheduled, overpressured and overdone?

I have written before about the value I see in kids experiencing boredom. Summer is prime time for boredom. We have loads of free time, few scheduled activities and the weather is nice outside. I want to allow my sons time to just BE. Just to hang around the house, tinker in the yard, dig in the garden or build something out of a cardboard box.

Getting them past the uncomfortable feeling of boredom is often a struggle. There is usually whining; perhaps some begging for a new book or toy. I have to remember to push through that feeling and let them work it out on their own.

However, this feeling bears down on me too. I sometimes feel bored and want to take them to do every activity or camp that's available. Slow down, mama, I have to tell myself.
We often feel the need to entertain, direct, organize and otherwise "enrich" our kids' lives.
This year I really want to focus on nurturing a sense of contentment...in my sons and myself. Compared to much of the world, we live in such luxury. We have healthy, beautiful food, comfortable homes, and an almost endless assortment of entertainment options.

In such a culture, consumption has become a lifestyle. I feel this type of lifestyle breeds ungratefulness and that is one thing I do not want my kids to absorb from culture. As this author points out, "If your brain is focused on what you don't have, then you'll be unhappy." At some basic level, we all want our kids to be happy. I'm hoping that focusing on gratitude instead of consumption will help them develop a sense of deeper happiness than is long-lasting and meaningful.

I want my boys and myself to feel like it's just ENOUGH. It's enough to just enjoy nature or a good book. It's enough to just go for a morning walk and find a new bug that we haven't seen before.

Many summertime posts are filled with ideas of new and exciting places to see or things to do. All these things that we "must" do before summer is over. This year, in lieu of the summer "bucket list" I've decided to put together something different.

The Reverse Bucket List Summer: Helping Kids Grow in Gratitude {with FREE Printable}

Based on an article I read that involved a reverse bucket list, this year I'm going to help my boys create a reverse summer bucket list. The idea is to list activities that we did in the past that brought us joy and contentment. I'm hoping just the conversation itself will inspire a sense of gratitude. Then, of course, if we feel like doing these things again, that's great.

Here are a few things we came up with on our reverse summer bucket list:

1. played in the sprinklers until we got too cold and had to come inside

2. had a lemonade stand

3. went for a ride on paddle boats

The Reverse Bucket List Summer: Helping Kids Grow in Gratitude {with FREE Printable}

4. went to a national park (or 2)

5. went to family camp

6. went camping

7. went to visit a farm and feed the animals

The Reverse Bucket List Summer: Helping Kids Grow in Gratitude {with FREE Printable}

8. played board games or card games (we LOVE this one)

9. learned chess

summer chess

10. swimming with friends

11. found a new park and climbed a cool tree

12. went to grandma/grandpa camp

13. had an ant farm, tadpoles, or roly-poly farm
summer ant farm

14. plenty of water gun fights

15. wandered around a library or bookstore

16. went roller skating

17. roasted marshmallows by the campfire

18. went to see a kids movie on a hot afternoon

19. went to the farmer's market

20. listened to music at an outdoor concert

21. went for a cool hike with a great view

The Reverse Bucket List Summer: Helping Kids Grow in Gratitude {with FREE Printable}

22. found an awesome playground

The Reverse Bucket List Summer: Helping Kids Grow in Gratitude {with FREE Printable}

23. went for a bike ride around the neighborhood (costumes make it awesome!)

The Reverse Bucket List Summer: Helping Kids Grow in Gratitude {with FREE Printable}

Want to create your own Reverse Summer Bucket List with your kids? Foster a sense of contentment and gratitude to start the summer off right.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Meaning Out of Mayhem: How to Make Peace with Your Child's Crankiness

I was just telling our pediatrician what a cute, special age 4 is at my son's check up. It's an age when you are past most of the tantrums and kids can communicate well. They are inquisitive and still innocent in so many ways.

Two days later...I had to eat those words.

My son seemed to regress all of a sudden to tantrum-filled 2 or 3-year-old behavior. The first few days I thought it was maybe him feeling bad because of the vaccines he received at the checkup.

Well, a few days passed and he was still cranky and any little disappointment would set him off on a fit. He got upset because I opened the car door for him instead of him doing it. He wasn't excited about going to preschool, although normally he loves school time.

What is going on?

Then it hit me--growth spurt!

The Developmental Roller Coaster

Although he is my second child (you'd think I'd learn by now), I had totally forgotten how periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium often send we parents on a developmental roller coaster with our children. 

There is actually quite a bit of writing about this very topic; most of which was done by psychologist Arnold Gesell. As early as the 1920s he began studying children's development over many years. What he and his colleagues found is that children's development tends to happen in cycles of equilibrium and disequilibrium that repeat themselves multiple times during childhood. This graphic explains it well. 

Notice, that in the first five years of life, the periods of disequilibrium happen roughly every 6 months. Yikes, that is a lot of change for little people in a short period of time. It can be difficult for them, and honestly difficult for parents too.

Although it can be difficult to deal with a cranky toddler or preschooler, I think just knowing that these periods of distress are bound to come and go is helpful. It is also helpful to know that there is a reason for these changes in mood and behavior. As parents, I think we often tend to blame ourselves, or our parenting strategies for our children's mood and behavior. While of course, our parenting skills do have an influence on our children, it is also good to remember that development happens at its own course, in its own time, and in its own way, often without much control on our part. The folks from the Gesell Institute describe it this way,

"These rhythmic sequences make sense. They compose the process through which growth is achieved—not by addition, bit by bit, nor by a smooth homogenous enlargement, like an expanding balloon. Growth combines integration and differentiation…[it is] a patterning process involving varied alternatives in varying prominence. The process itself is inconceivably complex, but the underlying principle is readily understandable."
The beautiful thing about this pattern of development is that after the period of disequilibrium, a new skill or task is often clearly evident in our children. In young toddlers, in might be the ability to walk; in older toddlers, it might be a new understanding of pretend play. Only then, after the fact, do you understand what your child was struggling with in his/her development. 

Meaning Out of Mayhem: How to Make Peace with Your Child's Crankiness

I think we as adults can possibly appreciate this type of development in our lives. Have you ever been struggling to learn a new skill? Perhaps you are learning to play piano or learning a new dance, or even just struggling to understand a new idea introduced in a class. Your brain is frustrated, your think about this new skill all the time, you practice and you just cannot seem to master it. Then, you wake up one day and all of a sudden, you have mastered the task--you can play that new song on the piano or you can comprehend that new idea.

Tips for Surviving the Roller Coaster

  • Slow down the routine (if possible). Our little ones sense our stress all the time, but during these periods of disequilibrium, I think they feel it more. If you can slow down and spend more time just hanging out at home, it might help ease this period.
  • Connect through play. Playing with our kids at their level can seem just like another task, but it's a great way to connect to little ones. They can't sit down and converse with you like an adult, but often they miss the connection if the routine is too rushed. Even if it's just a few minutes a couple times a day, it might help ease them through this difficult time.
  • Find meaning in the disequilibrium. I think it helps just knowing that the difficult time has some meaning. Most likely, your child is going through some sort of developmental leap. Often, you might not notice this leap until after this period of disequilibrium is over. If you observe closely, you will find some meaning in the chaos.

 It's a helpful reminder that development, in all its forms, is a messy, beautiful process. Our job is to be a guiding, supportive companion with our child on this journey. 


Friday, April 21, 2017

Research Answers: Will Co-Sleeping with My Kids Ruin My Marriage?

I was scrolling through Fatherly the other day when I came across this article, "How Co-Sleeping Ruined My Marriage."  Like most of you, any reference to something "ruining my marriage" makes me perk up. I decided to read on.

Well, the husband, in this case, recounts he and his wife's ongoing, (and terminal as it were) disagreement over whether she should co-sleep with their two young sons. As the title implies, it did not end well.

It made me wonder--is this a common problem? I know couples sometimes disagree over the sleeping arrangements of themselves in relation to their children, but does it really lead to breakups?

Research Answers: Will Co-Sleeping with My Kids Ruin My Marriage?

The Talk That Rarely Happens

As the husband in the story pointed out, one of the issues in their co-sleeping battle was the fact that they had never really discussed sleeping arrangement before their sons were born. They fell into a pattern of co-sleeping early on because it was easy and they were desperate for sleep. Over time, however, his feelings about this changed.

I can really relate to this story, like many of you probably can as well. Before our first son was born, my husband and I had planned that he would sleep in a bassinet in our room and slowly transition to a crib in his nursery.

Well, like many new parents, I was surprised to learn how difficult this can be. During his first month or so of life, our son rarely slept for more than 30 minutes at a time unless he was being held, preferably on someone’s chest. Needless to say, this put a kink in our plan of him sleeping in the bassinet.

Eventually, we became what researchers call, “reactive” co-sleepers. In other words, we did not plan to share our bed with our infant but did so as a reaction to his sleeping habits. This is in contrast to “intentional” co-sleepers who plan from the beginning to share their bed with their infant. As it turned out, over the course of several months our son was able to sleep longer periods on his own, first in our room and then in his crib in his own room.

Research Answers: Will Co-Sleeping with My Kids Ruin My Marriage?

Research Chimes In

This brings up an important point--the distinction between "reactive" and "intentional" co-sleeping. This is what the research really focuses on in looking at how it may influence marriage. Although only a mental distinction, the idea of parenting in a way that does or does not correspond with your ideals (in this case bed sharing) may influence the interactions between family members regarding this topic. 

So let's look at what the research has to say:

The results of the study were quite illuminating.
  • On the whole, the amount of time spent co-sleeping with an infant did not significantly predict marital satisfaction between the couple. 

In other words, parents who spent a lot of time sharing a bed with their infant were no more likely to be dissatisfied with their marriage than those who spent less time bed-sharing with their infant.

However, when you consider the distinction between “reactive” and “intentional” co-sleepers, a difference in marital satisfaction was seen:
  • Among “reactive” co-sleepers, those who spend more time sharing their bed reported lower levels of marital satisfaction. 
  • In contrast, among “intentional” bed-sharers there was no significant relationship between time spent bed-sharing and marital satisfaction.
There are several ideas I think this study helps us understand. Most clearly, it shows that co-sleeping, in itself, does not necessarily make your marriage happy or unhappy. It seems what is more important to marital satisfaction is the path by which parents come to the decision to co-sleep. 

If parents always planned to share their bed with their infant, this choice seems to have little impact on their marital relationship. If, however, parents end up co-sleeping with their infant as a reaction to sleep challenges, it can have a negative impact on their marriage.

Of courses, like any social science, this study comes with the usual caveats. This is only one study--you cannot make sweeping generalizations from one study. Additionally, while interesting, this study is not long-term. We have no idea how many of these couples stayed together in the long-run or how their marital satisfaction may have changed over time.

The Reality of Parenting

In a larger sense, I think this study sheds light on the important distinction between “reactive” and “intentional” parenting choices in all sorts of contexts (e.g., discipline, nutrition, etc.). In our lives as parents, I think we all come across issues in which we make choices that do not always correspond to our pre-parenthood ideals.
  • I swore I would never let me kids keep a pacifier beyond early toddlerhood
  • I swore I would never reward my kids with sweets
Sound familiar? 

Most of us probably engage in parenting choices every day that are not so "intentional" in their nature. Sometimes we do things just to get through the day or phase of a child's development. In itself, this is not always a bad thing. Many times our planned responses change to accommodate our child’s needs or temperament.

I "intended" that I would be able to control my infant's sleeping habits. Ha! Little did I know that his temperament would dictate that. My "reactive" parenting choice was to respond to his needs and my need for sleep.

However, when faced squarely with a situation in which I realize that I'm acting in a "reactive" rather than "intentional" way, I find it helpful to keep in mind a distinction between long-term and short-term goals. 

In the case of co-sleeping, my long-term goal was always to have my son sleep in his own bed. Even while we were co-sleeping, I still had that in the back of my mind. As a result, we were able to slowly make this transition while still meeting his need for closeness.

I think keeping in mind this idea of long-term versus short-term goals helps us keep a balance between "reactive" and "intentional" parenting choices. The reactive choice we make today does not have to be set in stone as a choice that remains forever. A reactive choice might meet a short-term goal, but we might need to make more intentional (usually harder) choices to meet a long-term goal in how we want to parent.

Can you relate? Did you discuss the plan for co-sleeping before your child arrived? Comment below and let's chat.

Like this article? Here are other resources on sleep and infants:

Mom's Expectations About Infant Sleep: Is There a Connection to Actual Sleep Patterns?

You Can Survive Colic

Infant Sleep and Parental Responsiveness

Messmer, R., Miller, L., & Yu, C. (2012). The Relationship Between Parent-Infant Bed Sharing and Marital Satisfaction for Mothers of Infants Family Relations, 61 (5), 798-810 DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-3729.2012.00734.x 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

How Breaking the Attachment Parenting "Rules" Taught Me One of the Best Lessons

I clearly remember sitting in my first mom support group 7 years ago. It was summer in Texas so I was sweating from carrying my son in his car seat into the meeting. I was also sweating because I was nervous.

Would he cry the whole meeting? Did I bring the nursing cover?

I sat down and yes, he immediately started crying. I took him out of the car seat and tried to console him quickly so we wouldn't make a scene.

All the other moms seemed so much more relaxed. I seemed to be the only one with a newborn. This was one of the first times I had taken him out of the house by myself so I was just getting used to the whole procedure--car seat, diaper bag, etc.

Soon I heard the other moms discussing things like babywearing, co-sleeping, and attachment parenting. My mind was swimming. I have a degree in human development, but I was confused. Is attachment parenting the same as attachment theory that I had learned about in my classes?

In my graduate classes, there was no discussion of specific parenting "rules" that made up attachment theory. I just remember it being about trying to be as responsive to your child as possible. Hmm...I'm going to have to look into to this.

I remained listening to the rest of the meeting and became more intimidated. I loved my son dearly, but I didn't really want him in bed with me until he was a toddler. That's what seemed to be the norm among these moms. Is that what I need to do to form a secure attachment with him?

I went home almost in tears and confused. I never returned to that group.

How Breaking the Attachment Parenting "Rules" Taught Me One of the Best Lessons

Attachment Parenting vs. Attachment Theory

Fast forward a few years and I now have a much better understanding of the differences between attachment parenting and attachment theory.

I have written about the distinction between attachment theory and attachment parenting several times, but it is a topic I feel is worth revisiting. The word "attachment" is thrown around in modern parenting circles often, but there is a lot of confusion about what it really entails.

This article explains in depth the research behind attachment theory. In essence, attachment theory is about the relationship that is formed in early months and years between a baby and her primary caregiver. The beautiful thing about attachment theory is that it does not prescribe a set of specific parenting techniques or rules per se. At its core, it is a concept that helps explain the subtle, back-and-forth, dynamic relationship that happens between a baby and a truly responsive parent.

Responsiveness means learning to read your baby's unique signals; not a pre-conceived notion of what a baby needs. All babies have basic needs for closeness, care, feeding, etc. But how your baby expresses each need is unique. Some babies like being worn in a carrier, some like the swaying motion of a swing. Some babies need quiet to sleep well, others can sleep in a noisy room.

In real life, that means that attachment between myself and my child might look a little different than attachment between you and your child. It can even mean that attachment between you and each of your own children might look a little different.

How Breaking the Attachment Parenting "Rules" Taught Me One of the Best Lessons

Tale of Two Attachments

For example, my first son was a snuggler. He loved being worn in a baby carrier, loved laying on my chest, etc. So that's what my husband and I did...all the time. He responded well to this and gradually over time was able to sleep in his crib.

We assumed that our second son would be much the same way--I mean what baby doesn't love snuggles. Well, he was a bit different. Of course, all babies love being close to their parents, but as soon as he could lift his head and squirm just a bit, he pretty much tried to wiggle out of our arms. He occasionally slept on us, but really preferred the swing. He still liked being close to us but needed a bit more space.

Now, does one of my sons have a more secure attachment to us than the other? We have never done the "official" attachment test (there is a laboratory procedure to assess this) but based on their self-regulation and interaction with others, I feel fairly confident that they both have a secure attachment to us.

I do not claim that I have always done everything perfectly in terms of attachment-forming with my kids. But here's the wonderful thing about attachment--it allows room for mistakes and correction. Maybe you misread your baby's signal...she will probably let you know in some way and you can try again. Maybe you were distracted or upset one day and could not be as responsive as you would normally be--you can make up for it the next day. It's the predominate pattern of interaction that really makes up attachment. Does your child feel you can be relied upon most of the time for help, care, and assistance with their needs and emotions?

Attachment is really about guiding your child through emotional regulation. As Diana Divecha describes in her article, "parenting for a secure attachment... is not a prescriptive set of behaviors but more a state of mind, a way of 'being with' the baby, a sensitivity to what they are feeling."

How Breaking the Attachment Parenting "Rules" Taught Me One of the Best Lessons

With this in mind, I've ditched the culturally derived "rules" (for attachment and otherwise) and have instead tried to focus on the relationship with my kids. I simply try my best to meet my kids where they are at in a particular phase of development.
  • I included formula in my son's diet (along with breastfeeding) even though "the rules" said it was not recommended. I needed enough sleep to be responsive to my son rather than emotionally checked out.
  • I allowed my son to have a pacifier until he was 2.5 years old--another thing "the rules" did not support. I decided I would rather play with him than battle him over a piece of silly plastic. Note: he ended up throwing it the trash on his own.
  • Both my boys were not completely potty-trained until they were almost 4 years old (much to my chagrin). Ultimately, I had to value our relationship over "the rules" of an arbitrary timeline. Plus, you can lead a toddler to potty, but...(you know the rest).
This is where "rules" fall apart--there are no rules for the dynamic, ever-changing relationship with your kids.

The key idea that attachment theory has taught me in a broader sense is that parenting is more about relationships than rules. If I can keep this in mind, things usually fall into place.

"Life is best organized as a series of daring ventures from a secure base." --John Bowlby (co-founder of attachment theory)
More Resources on Attachment Theory:
The Thoughtful Parent posts on Attachment Theory: part 1 and part 2

Diana Divecha's wonderful article: What is Secure Attachment? And Why Doesn't "Attachment Parenting" Get You There?

Another excellent article: Can Attachment Theory Explain All Our Relationships?

**this post contains affiliate links