Tag Archives: communication

Sibling Bonding

Everywhere I turn I hear parents lamenting sibling rivalry. I hear them asking how to get one child to leave the other alone. I hear them saying they don’t want the four year old to touch the baby, but then in two years they get upset when the six year old doesn’t want the two year old around.

When Agatha was born, we had our fair share of ‘problems’ as we navigated from one child to two. Our poor little Agatha was bumped and bruised, cut and scraped so many times. But she was so in love with her big sister (when she wasn’t afraid). We eventually figured things out and the relationship improved.

Now that Cordelia’s here things could be very difficult, but instead we find things even better than before. Our two big girls are so excited to help and share, and Cordelia is so in love with her sisters. She can’t get enough of them. There is no fear, there are no cuts or bruises, just love.

How did this happen?

First, the girls were involved with the pregnancy. They came to appointments, they helped us choose names, they touched my belly, they talked to the baby, they hugged and kissed her while she was still inside. They were present at her birth, and were invited to hold her as soon as I was willing to let my baby out of my arms for the first time.

When Cordelia came home with us, we encouraged the girls to hold her as much as they wanted. We’d sit them at the couch and hover. After all a newborn baby is rather floppy. As Cordelia became stronger, we hovered less. Now Agatha holds Cordelia on her own all the time, Ella carries Cordelia around the house. Whenever they want to do something with each other, or the baby, we try to find a way to help them play together, to accomplish their goals.

Some ways we do that include: playing tag with the girls, and tackle games. I carry Cordelia and chase the girls around the house. I’m sure to give all of them plenty of chance to see each others faces. In the beginning, I’d point out the huge smile, the look of intense pleasure, on Cordelia’s face, now we just play. They all have so much fun together. They all get a chance to be on an even playing field. As Cordelia gets bigger I’ll add in soccer. I carry her (when she’s bigger I’ll hold her hands) while she runs and kicks the ball, and the big girls try to get the ball away, or Cordelia tries to get the ball from them. They aren’t competition games because there is no win or lose. The whole entire point is to have fun. It doesn’t matter who has the ball because everyone’s playing together. As they get older these games could translate into competition, but for now it’s bonding.

During the day I spend a lot of time interpreting for the big girls. They rush over and pick Cordelia up and she whimpers. I point out the sounds, and let them know she doesn’t like that. I then offer a suggestion for what they could do that’d she’d likely enjoy. As she gets bigger, I’ll also help her figure out words to use so she can let them know on her own that she’s unhappy with a particular turn of events.

Right now it seems as though the most important part of having a positive experience with their sisters is me helping them figure out what the other means. They don’t have the knowledge base to figure out on their own that certain faces or sounds mean someone else isn’t having fun. They also don’t have the ability to put someone else’s needs or desires above their own. It’s my job to advocate for each of my children.

It doesn’t matter, for the most part, what happened, who started it, why someone’s crying, or anything else that divides the children. What matters is figuring out how to find a solution that preserves respect. It matters that they learn new methods of communicating, and playing together.

One day they won’t need me to step in as often as I do, one day they won’t need me to point out when someone else cries. One day they’ll take these skills and use them on their own, in the ‘real’ world. But for now they’re little girls playing together, loving each other, and loving life.

Is there something your family did – or does – that helps promote bonding between children, particularly children of vastly different ages and abilities?

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The Genius of Max & Ruby

I’ve yet to meet a parent that likes the show Max & Ruby. In fact I’m probably the only parent that actually finds the show cute and funny. Of course I’ve talked to the girls and they see it the same as I do, so I’m not concerned.

Two little bunnies, Max and big sister Ruby. Live (seemingly) alone. There’s a grandmother close as well as friends, and some adult bunnies. The beginning of the show Max wants to do something, but Ruby wants to do something else. Inevitably Ruby either doesn’t understand Max, or ignores him. At the end of the show Ruby figures out what Max tried to convey and everyone’s happy.

Most parents don’t like how bossy Ruby is, they also don’t like how she puts her wants over Max’s, they don’t like how she ignores him while she pursues her own desires. They don’t like that the majority of the program shows Ruby being mean and only the last few moments show a better way to meet everyone’s needs.

Ella and Agatha think it’s funny that Max knows what’s going on, that he tries to tell Ruby, but she doesn’t stop to listen and gets into one problem after another because of it, but if she just listened to the younger, smaller Max, then everything would’ve been okay from the start.

I suspect many parents don’t like the show because subconsciously they’re aware that the show mirrors their own actions and words. Max wakes up and Ruby’s eating yummy strawberries for breakfast. Max wants them, but Ruby has an egg for Max. He refuses. She threatens “No strawberries until your plate is empty”. She eats the strawberries in front of him, “Oh these are yummy, if you just ate your egg, you could have some too.”

It hits a little close to home. Especially when the show makes it very plain that it doesn’t matter if he really eats his egg or not, it doesn’t matter if he gets dirty. It’s easier to clean him up, than get upset.

But it’s easy to say one child shouldn’t treat another in such a way. Adults are different. It’s okay for a parent to tell their child one day they can’t get muddy, they can’t play with a certain toy, they can’t do what they want, but the next day (when the parent wants to do something quietly) the parent encourages the child to do exactly what the parent says ‘no’ to the rest of the time. Then the parent gets mad when the child comes over to see what’s happening. The parent doesn’t need to find out why the child comes over, they’re the parent. But if one child treats another in such a manner, then it’s considered rude, impolite.

I find it amazing that parents expect children to learn to cooperate, to share, to listen to other’s views, yet as adults they don’t bother.

Don’t get me wrong, I know many parents who do. But I also know how difficult it is to spend the majority of your life with someone else as boss, and now that we’re no longer children with someone else dictating to us, it’s really difficult to let go of the little bit of power we have.

However, I believe it’s very important that we do. We need to model to children how to behave. Show them that all people deserve respectful treatment, including those smaller and weaker than ourselves.

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My Secret Parenting Weapon

Every parent has one. Something that calms the savage child faster than anything else. My secret weapon is a God send. If only I remembered to use it more often.

This has been one tough week. Cordelia’s a tad distracted during the day, and so really doesn’t nurse. Which means she’s latched on pretty much all night. I find I don’t sleep near as well when someones biting me. I’m not sure why.

Agatha’s taken to waking up after roughly ten hours of sleep. Anything less than twelve usually results in massive tears within moments of opening her eyes. It also means she’s likely to attack her sisters over every little slight.

Ella’s growing. I’m not sure in what way yet, but each day presents us with a different personality. Most of them are happy, but a curve ball is still a curve ball, even if we manage a home run.

With roughly four hours of disjointed sleep per night, I’m trying to help my girls navigate a crazy world full of so many different opinions and ideas. By itself that’s pretty tough, but I’m not the most pleasant person when I’m tired.

The other day we were out with friends and Agatha took both hers and Ella’s babies for herself. And refused to give one to Ella. I tried pleading, cajoling, begging. But nothing worked. I was ready to force her to hand it over. Just in time, I remembered.

I said. “Agatha, we have a bit of a problem and need to find a solution. I really need your help.” A huge smile spread across her face at the word ‘solution’. I said, “I see two little girls, and two babies. But I see one little girl holding both babies while the other little girl cries. Can you help me find a solution?”

She instantly handed over the baby Ella wanted and said, “How about Ella hold this one, I hold the other one?” She handed it to Ella and asked Ella if it was okay. They both agreed.

This secret weapon didn’t work over night. We needed to use it several times before the girls trusted me enough to use it. They needed to know I’d listen to their ideas, without discounting them out of hand. They needed to know, that I wouldn’t force my own ideas. They needed to know I trusted them to find a solution, they also needed to trust themselves.

Over the past few days I’ve used this on several occasions. The words alone are enough to calm a tense situation. It’s such a wonderful tool. Everyone leaves the scene feeling loved and respected (though I don’t guarantee happy). All I need to do now, is use it whenever a conflict happens.

Tomorrow I have an appointment and want to go alone to make things fast and easy. Agatha wants to go with me. I’m going to explain my point of view, and ask her to help me find a solution. I wonder what she might come up with.

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Why Children Misbehave

About a month ago we went through a period where the girls were completely out of control. Someone was always being hurt, someone always being mean. There was a lot of yelling, a lot of tears, a lot of hurt feelings. The girls needed more attention , more love, more understanding, but the behaviours made it difficult to want to give them what they needed.

At some point, I believe, every parent gets to that point at least once. One night after a particularly rough evening, Ryan turns to me and says, “I just don’t get why she (Ella) does these things.”

The answer was painful. Obvious. We were responsible for her behaviours. Not directly of course, but in a lot of ways the things we did in response to her actions, caused more, bigger actions. At the time I wasn’t modeling calm behaviour. I didn’t model a gentle voice, I didn’t model patience, or a willingness to see someone else’s perspective. Her acting out directly mirrored my own acting out. Between Ella and I, Agatha also acted out. She no longer had comforting arms every time she needed them, she no longer had a soothing voice when scared, her sister no longer gave her the space she needed. With three people in the home angry and hurting, it only makes sense that Ryan felt the tension. It’s expected that he began to act out as well.

Use whatever analogy you choose. A family is a single unit, like the body, a car, or computer. When one part doesn’t functioning properly, the rest malfunction as well. As my hormones came back into balance and the quality of my sleep improved, my moods and level of patience improved. The difference was instantaneous and so beautiful. The girls calmed down, Ryan came home happier and better able to join the girls in their pursuits. Our family healed.

I believe, and please don’t take this as finger-pointing, that if a child is acting in a way that’s unacceptable to the family, then the parents need to look at their lives and see what the root cause is. Children, especially young children, pick up the stress and tension within the home and act on that. The moods in the home become substantial, palpable. A harsh word is as strong as a rough hand, a brick wall. When the people within the home are out of tune, then children aren’t capable of acting in a calm collected manner.

So what’s a parent to do? Sometimes situations are out of control. A person is sick, there isn’t enough money etc. Find out what you need in order to feel in control again. Or what can you do to make things better.

In my case it was a mental shift. I had to let go of needing certain things. I had to reaffirm my conviction that the parenting style we’ve chosen is the best for our family.  If it was a lack of money, we’ve been there, we’d find a way to make the money go farther, or decrease our wants. If a person was sick, we’ve been there too, we’d try to find ways to work around the illness without taxing the person. We’d try to find ways to focus on the rest of the family, rather than the sick person.

In all cases we find ways to have unstructured fun as a family. Before starting our fun we, the adults, talk and try to guess what behaviours we’re likely to see – running, climbing, jumping, screaming, grabbing, pushing, pulling, hitting…. and try to find ways to allow the behaviour without anyone else being hurt or afraid. From the “Playful Parenting” book we’ve taken the ‘love hit’ suggestion to heart a few times. If a child hits us, instead of getting upset, lecturing, saying ‘no’ we laugh and look goofy as we inform them it was a ‘love hit’ and now we’re so madly in love with them we must hug them and kiss them forever. They run away squealing – the hit and whatever caused it completely forgotten. The parents are now back ‘in control’ and everyone is enjoying their time together.

In order to fix hurt hearts and down feelings we don’t need a ton of time, but we do need to prove that we’re there for our children. We don’t need to give them everything, we can still offer guidelines and boundaries, but we must do so gently and respectfully. If we model it, they will follow it.

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Parenting Sacrifices

Every family sacrifices. Some more so than others. But the fact remains that in some way sacrifices are made. Though in our family, and I hope in yours too, the sacrifices we make don’t feel like sacrifices for the simple reason that the things we give up aren’t important to us.

In a previous post I mentioned that if I cleaned my house, my children would be neglected. I’m willing to have the messy (not dirty, just messy) house in order to have time for all the other things. For me, in order to have a clean house I’d need to give up something else. Time sitting with Ryan, reading, soaking in the tub, sewing, baking, surfing the net, writing posts, or any other number of things that I do regularly. I’ve given it up, and I’m okay with that. I wouldn’t be okay if I had to give up something else in order to have the clean house.

I don’t necessarily believe that parents with clean homes don’t spend time with their children, but I do believe they give something else up. For one person I know she spends huge chunks of time with her child – more so than I spend with mine (but I’ll talk about that some other time) – however she rarely makes her own meals. It would be a lot easier for me to keep up with the rest of the house if I didn’t spend so much time in the kitchen. Just ask Ryan, when I cook, I make a mess. I use every available counter space, and every pot or pan we own (and that’s just for scrambled eggs :p). That’s not far from the truth.

The sacrifices people make might not be in relation to the cleanliness of their home, or time spent with children, but something else. Maybe someone who used to read for pleasure no longer does, but has time with the family and a clean home. Maybe there’s something else.

It doesn’t matter what a family chooses to give up. After all, like snowflakes, no two people are alike and therefore no two families are alike. What does matter is that the decision was easy to make and your particular family doesn’t feel like it’s missing out.

Of course I’m not talking about sacrifices that are beyond our control due to life or financial situation. A family with a new baby sacrifices sleep, a family without a large sum of disposable income will sacrifice the live-in housekeeper and chef. There are certain things we can’t change, but others we can.

When our first baby was born we were told, “You won’t be traveling anymore.” Before her first birthday she’d been to three different countries (including home). When our second baby was born, we were told, “You really won’t be traveling now.” She took her first steps in England. Strangely enough no one’s told us we won’t be traveling now that baby number three has arrived. We like to travel and as such we do give up other things in order to do that. Others may not travel as much as we do, but use their money and vacations in different ways.

Life is full of sacrifices, decisions made, determining what is most important to us as individuals and families. We don’t miss having ATVs or a boat, or a pool, or three TVs or cable or a dozen other things, because other things are more important to us.

I believe that in day to day life the sacrifices should be so subtle as to be barely noticed. If you find yourself constantly wishing you had time for X,Y, or Z, maybe look at what you do spend time doing and see if your time has been spent on things that shouldn’t be placed so high on the priority list.

Some people might think we’ve got our priorities wrong, but that’s okay, they’re our priorities for a reason. Do you realize what you give up day after day? Are you even aware that a sacrifice has been made, or was it so natural that you can say “I don’t give anything up”?

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Direction

I’m still discovering just what this blog will be. Some of it seems to be parenting advice, or at least a reminder to myself how I wish to parent. Some of it’s admission of guilt, for myself, for my family, and for those out there who may think they can’t do it because on that one day (or week/month etc) they yelled or parented in some other manner that was less than respectful or gentle. There’s also the unschooling aspect. Where I show what it looks like in our home, and what we want it to look like. This blog is also a keeper of records. A diary for me, and a school journal for the girls.

If I write things down, I’ll be able to keep track of where they’re at compared to where they’ve been. It’ll also help me see where they’re going. I’m still unsure if one aspect of this blog will win out, or if it will continue being a hodge-podge.

Feel free to weigh in as to what you’d prefer to read, I’ll take your thoughts into consideration.

A month ago, even a week ago, if Ella played with play-dough all she did was mash it together into a great big ball. Then a couple days ago something changed. She pulled out the play-dough and began rolling balls, logs, spheres, cylinders, and sticking them together. It doesn’t matter what the above sculpture is supposed to be, what matters is that a body, legs, tail, and face were clearly recognizable. Whether using paper and crayons, pipe cleaners, or play dough she’s beginning to create recognizable figures, she wants to. And she’s sensitive about comments made prior to completion. She doesn’t want us to look at her work until she’s finished.

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Terrible Twos and What to Do

Before having children, I’d see a little child throwing a tantrum in a store and shrug, “It must be the terrible twos”. Later, while expecting our first, I’d see a child kicking and screaming and I’d cringe. With fear I wondered if there was a way to skip the years one through five. Then we had our baby. Everything changed.

No longer did I fear the child. Things weren’t always easy, but it was easy to see that those moments of crying, kicking, and screaming were usually preventable, or at least easily mitigated.

Some of you may wonder how I could prevent the tantrums and power struggles most often associated with the “terrible twos, trying threes, and the F***ing fours”. Here’s the answer folks. I didn’t say “No.”

What? Obviously I must have spoiled children that’ll never learn to listen and will be ten times worse as they get older. Right? Wrong.

By saying ‘yes’ as much as possible we actually achieve exactly what we want. Our children are able to listen when we do say ‘no’. We also allow our little ones the opportunity to explore their world safely and learn their own personal limits. We provide ourselves with peace of mind knowing our children won’t  try climbing something completely beyond their skills. It also provides our children with the knowledge that if they need help, they can come to us for help, and know we won’t automatically tell them no.

When our girls learned to roll and crawl, we gated anything that wasn’t safe. We never had to ‘no’ them away from something. As they learned to climb, we bolted cabinets and bookshelves to the walls. Even if they pulled on them, the shelves weren’t going any where. We put the fun stuff on the lower shelves so they were less likely to climb higher, and we had pillows below in case they did. Our girls have fallen, they’ve been bumped and bruised, but each time they fall they learn something new.

When out, we give them the freedom to run as much as possible. Before they run off we tell them our expectations: “They can run, but must stop when we say stop, and come back when we call.” We also tell them what happens if they don’t: “Then the must walk beside us.” If they don’t stay beside us, then we hold hands. If they won’t hold hands, then we leave. It doesn’t matter where we are, we leave. It only took me leaving a place once or twice before they got the message. I was willing to leave without the milk we needed in order to keep them safe, and me sane.

I don’t need to nag, hit, give time-outs, or otherwise punish them. They’re very good at keeping themselves in check and watching each other.

The days where someone has an unmet need are the most difficult. A tired, hungry, thirsty, hot, or cold child will not be able to regulate as well as one with all needs met. If we find ourselves out and about when circumstances are less than ideal, we have extra patience and keep instructions simple. A tired child will be less able to keep up, a thirsty child may ask for something and scream when told ‘No’. It isn’t a child’s way of trying to get everything they want, but rather the child’s way of communicating.

Until four or five (even later in some children) a little person can’t tell us why they feel so horrible, some might not even realize they do, until one more thing happens. A three year old is hungry (or any other need), but doesn’t realize it, she asks for a piece of candy at the check-out in the grocer. Mom says no. She starts to whine, cry, followed by a full melt-down as mom holds firm. If the need had been met, then the situation could have been prevented. If mom knew her daughter was hungry, then she could have offered: You can’t have that candy because…(fill in with reason of choice), but you can have a banana or a slice of cheese.

By offering something, your child knows you’ve heard them and understand their need, even if they don’t. Even if your child doesn’t want your offering, you’ve opened the gates to communicating, the melt-down is postponed or cut off completely, and you have the opportunity to talk to your child.

And this is the key. If you dictate rules to your child, they will push them. But if you offer a rule, followed by a valid reason (“Because I said so” is not a valid reason), your child is more likely to listen. We also allow the opportunity to discuss the rules and other options. We have back-tracked and changed our minds after talking to our girls. This is not being a push over or sending the message that they can ‘get away’ with something. Rather we send the message that we’re open to discussion and if they don’t like what we’ve said they can talk about it. We may change our mind, we might not, but we will listen to their side of things.

And last if nothing else can be done and crying or yelling happens, let your child know you love them, and move on. I’ve hugged the girls in full tantrum, let them know I love them, told them I will not let them hurt myself or others and have carried them kicking and screaming to the car when that was the only way I could keep everyone else safe. When they calm down, I hug them again, let them know I love them, and offer to talk about it if they want. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t either way I respect their choice.

These are things we’ve used from the moment the girls were able to move on their own. We explain ourselves and we demonstrate when needed. Even before they have the words, they can understand, and what they don’t understand one time they figure out quickly enough.

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