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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

V-W-X-Y-Z: Value What eXcites Your Zealously

Children learn how to be good citizens and good family members by watching and listening to family and close friends. They pay attention to everything. Our little ones absorb information about us and about what and who we care about through every cell of their being. Be intentional about expressing your excitement about people, places and things that you value.

If you find something or someone to be worthy, important, useful, interesting, then show it! Show it to your children in the way you speak and the way you behave. Show it in your investment of time, energy and other resources. A parent is the single most powerful teacher a child will ever have, and children learn from everything parents do and say.
They also learn from everything parents choose not to do and choose not to comment on. If you love a friend or family member and think they are an awesome person, spend time with them. Talk about them. Talk to your children about them. Hang pictures of them in your house.

If you love nature, spend time in it with your children. It is the early years of intimate family life that teaches children the value of relationships to other living things, including the earth on which we live. It is family who teaches and models the principles of honesty, commitment, trust, process, recognition, validation, connection, and living fully.

Monday, May 9, 2016

S-T-U: Support Thoughtful Understanding

For better or worse, children learn from everything and everyone around them. They are sponges, soaking up knowledge through listening, observing, and feeling. One of the strongest methods of learning for children is role play and imitation. They also learn by carefully observing what and who their parents approve or accept, and what and who their parent disapprove of or disavow. Common sense suggests certain connections between parental modeling and children’s choices. For example, it seems that parents who use tobacco products would be more likely to have children who do so. And that parent who use alcohol inappropriately would be more likely to have children who do the same. And, finally, that parents who are sexist or racist or elitist or classist would be more likely to have children with the same prejudices.

Research does generally support those correlations, but it is important to be cautious about drawing conclusions about solutions, especially simple solutions. For we all know that simple solutions to complex problems have an almost overpowering appeal. The more complex the problem, the more complex the effects on everyone! And complexity tends to increase the intensity of people’s feelings about the problems. No one likes feeling helpless or powerless, no matter what their age. It is human nature to need some sense of control in order to maintain a basic confidence in one’s own ability to manage problems and challenges. Complex problems challenge our sense of control because there are so many levels of involvement whether one is talking about the complex problem of an individual, a family, a community, or the larger society.

This combination of the way in which children learn and the human tendency to oversimplify creates an important job for parents. First and foremost, parents need to be able to acknowledge their own weaknesses and inconsistencies to themselves. Thoughtful understanding is based on empathic compassion combined with fact-finding investigation. And parents need to develop thoughtful understanding of their own problems to be able to talk with their children about them. It is confusing for children when they learn in school that smoking is bad for one’s health or that alcohol is a drug and have to make sense out of their parents’ choice to smoke or drink. It is doubtful that there is a parent who smokes who does not also with they did not, at least at times. Parents often feel embarrassed or even ashamed of their problems. Parents who practice thoughtful understanding for their own difficulties and challenges become better able to model appropriate problem-solving for their children.

As a way of supporting the development of thoughtful understanding in your children, pay attention to the messages that fill our world on a daily basis. Don’t ignore messages that you agree with or messages with which you disagree. Let your children know what your like and what you don’t like about the media that surrounds us. Let your children know and then wait for them to ask for more information. When they approach you, help them get the facts about whatever they are concerned about or interested in. And help them develop compassion for their own and others people’s problems. Support thoughtful understanding, the foundation of compassion.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

P-Q-R: Protect Quiet Routines

All of our lives are hectic – full of demands that create the need for swift evaluation of complex issues and equally swift changes in direction. Sometimes the changes are physical, sometimes mental, and other times emotional. Sometimes the changes are something that we were anticipating and other times we are caught completely by surprise. In either set of circumstances, as adults we have a variety of tools available to cope with rapid and difficult changes. We have the ability to recognize that we have successfully survived previous change point and transitions in our lives; and we have the confidence in our own skills to do so again.

Even when our coping skills are challenged by excessive amounts of change and stress, we know how to reach out to others for help. We have learned ways to reduce and relieve our stress even if those methods are temporary like taking a nap, a walk, or having lunch with a friend. What we may not think about is the complexity of the process involved in our development of these coping skills. And we may underestimate the impact of even a seemingly small change of routine for our children.

For anyone, change is something that disrupts our routine. A predictable routine helps to protect and preserve our sense of safety, security, confidence, and competence. The type of change our own ability to cope with it are factors that determine how disrupted our sense of routine becomes. And those factors also affect our ability to protect our children from unnecessary disruptions. Contrast these two events.

We walk outside one morning to retrieve our morning paper, only to find that it is not in the usual spot. We look everywhere and cannot find it. How are we effected? What do we do? How do we manage the situation?

Let’s say that we come hope after work that same evening to find that the locks on our house have been changed and a process server is there to serve us with divorce papers. Now how do we behave?

Clearly not all marriages end in divorce, but nearly half do. Many families experience the serious illness of a parent or a child. 1 in 3 adults will experience a bout of clinical depression sometime in their life. And all of us will lose a loved one to death or accident at some point.

Protecting quiet routines on a daily basis should be a high priority for parents. Routines that are for the soothing and comfort of the grown-ups and routines that are for the children are of equal importance. It is these quiet, dependable, daily routines that sooth and reassure us and our children through the ups and downs of life, whether big or small. Think about the quiet routines that sooth and reassure you on a daily basis. Make a list. Then do the same with your children. 

If your child is too young to speak, watch and listen, and notice the rhythm of their day. Become conscious of the quiet routines that create a sense of security and safety in your lives and then honor them. This is easy to do when life flows predictably. So make your study at such a time, sot that you are prepared to protect those essential quiet routines when the very real anxieties of change are part of your daily life.

A daily shared meal or a bedtime story or a walk around the park or neighborhood are examples of quiet routines that can be preserved through all states and stages of family life. Remember that children’s ways of coping with change are very different from those of adults. In general, the younger the child, the smaller his or her world in terms of the daily landmarks they use to orient themselves and feel safe and secure. 

You may be feeling a tremendous sense of disruption and upheaval because of a change in your family life. But be cautious about communicating that to your child. Practice self-restraint and check first to see how your child is doing. Stop, look, and listen are steps form own childhoods that have much to offer us at a time of transition. Remember that your child does not think in the same way you do, so don’t assume that because you feel overwhelmed your child will, too. In fact, children tend to very easily take on the feelings of the parent if the parent does not allow the child to have his or her own experience.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

M-N-O: Mold Natural Opportunities

Effective parenting doesn’t just happen. Neither do good grades, good friends, good relationships or a good life. Sure, sometimes luck and fate conspire to present us with a chance at something special. But for the most part, we create our good fortune by molding the natural opportunities that life offers us simply as a part of being human.
Growth and development are natural impulses. Research has shown that there are optimal times for learning language as well as learning emotional and physical skills. And it is parents who help mold these natural opportunities. The attentive parent notices when the infant is trying to hold his or her head up on their own. That parent then creates a structure in which the infant can safely practice. Will the child learn the skill without parental structuring? Yes. But that accomplishment would be purely a physical without the enrichment and connection afforded by the parent who molds a natural opportunity into one that is stimulating and nurtures the emotional and mental development of the child as well as the physical.

The concept of molding natural opportunities is based on research about signs of readiness or interest in displayed by a child. Parents can attend and actively listen for these signs, then structure the environment and provide activities in a manner that respects and enhances those naturally occurring moments. A great example of this is toilet training. Parents struggle with this issue and so do children. Self-control versus other-control. Some parents push their children too hard and too fast to gain self-control of toileting even there are no signs of readiness. And some parent ignore the signs of autonomy because the parent needs to feel needed. For the latter parents, the child growing up means the parent losing their importance in the life of the child.

There are many ways for parents to encourage and support children. One of the best is books! Even better is story-telling. It’s easy to get started. Plan a field trip with your children. Take them to the children’s book section at the local library or at a local bookstore. Plan on spending the afternoon there with your children just exploring books. Keep it unstructured and follow your child’s lead. They will let you know what they are interested int. And it can give you some wonderful ideas for molding natural opportunities as they present.

For example, many children are fascinated by dinosaurs, dragons and reptiles. While you may not be crazy about reptiles, they offer an inexpensive way to teach children about diversity, uniqueness, habitat, environment, and overcoming prejudice or fear. And you don’t have to bring them into your home or even pay to go the zoo. Go to a pet shop that specializes in reptiles. The staff is usually happy to educate children and adults about the animals. Your trip to the bookstore or library could lead to a series of local field trips that teach and support your child’s natural interest. Sometimes you will find that you will grow right along with your child as their interests move you outside of your own comfort zone.

Molding natural opportunities includes teaching our children to swim even when we don’t know how because of our own fear. It includes finding a piano teacher we can afford even if we can’t carry a tune in a bucket. It might mean asking the boss for a change of schedule to be at our child’s soccer game when we have two left feet ourselves. It includes helping our children to develop positive relationships, learn how to resolve conflicts, develop positive peer relationships, and feel a part of a community.

Molding natural opportunities means putting our children’s needs ahead of our own. It requires the difficult work of allowing our children to be completely different form us in some very important ways. The greatest challenge to our own values as a parent may come in the pursuit of supporting and respecting our child’s authentic self-expression. But the committed parent does it because effective parenting is not accident. Effective parenting is intentional.

Molding natural opportunities means being able to understand our children as separate, unique individuals and helping them to form relationships to the world with their own personalities, interest, and vision. Just as we learn more about relating to them at many levels, they learn to broaden and deepen their perspective in relation to others. It means sharing with them what is basic and genuine to us, and guiding them into the opportunities that are unique to their world, their lives, and their experience.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

J-K-L: Just Keep Listening

No matter what, we must listen to our children – actively and closely. And that’s not easy sometimes. For our little ones speak a different language than we grown-ups do. They speak in metaphors, symbols, behavior, and animalese! Children’s language consists of imagination, wishing, hoping, whining, crying, tugs and yelps, aches and pains, ghosts and monsters, candy castles and magic lands.

So how do we listen well when we don’t speak the language? Listen actively first. Get down to the child’s level physically and make good eye contact. Watch their faces. Pay attention to gestures and other body language. Tune into yourself as you watch and listen to your child. If we’re open to active listening, our child will help us feel how they feel. Whether it is fear or sadness or anger, tune in first and then begin a conversation. It’s called empathy – experiencing the situation from the other person’s point of view.

Empathy is how we effectively listen to our children and it is how we teach our children to listen to others. If we model active listening for our child, s/he will use it with others. There’s no moment quite as lovely as the first time a parent sees his/her child reach out to comfort or support another person who is having a hard time. That moment of kindness bodes well for the future of the child, the family and the larger culture. For active listening lays the foundation for the development of effective communication skills based on respect and mutual cooperation. The older our children get, the more important communication becomes.

All parents are concerned about protecting their children from adult information about sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, crisis, trauma, and violence. Inappropriate information is everywhere: billboards, television, radio, magazines, internet, video games, and social media. There’s a limit to any parents’ ability to monitor what their children experience. The earlier a parent opens the door to mutual communication about important and difficult topics, the more likely it is that children will walk through that door and have conversations with Mom and Dad.

How do we open the door and keep it open? The first step is self-honesty. Each parent must acknowledge the tough areas for him or herself. When do you clam up? What makes you go silent? What topics do you avoid? When do you over-react? What are you paranoid or neurotic about? Whatever the answers to these questions, pay attention. These will be the challenge points between you and your child as s/hr grows. Don’t wait until his/her adolescent years to start the dialogue.

Speak briefly and simply when these sensitive areas present. Start when your child is young. If you see or hear something that bugs you, offends you, something you disagree with, make a simple statement like, “Yuck! I don’t like that!” Even very young children get the message. First, you have feelings about it, and second, you’ll talk about it. This gives your child permission to talk to you about your tough issues and his or her own tough issues. And children have a way of responding to your active listening when you least expect it. Two days, weeks, or months later, your child will ask the difficult questions or express his/her opinion. And even when it feels challenging, there is nothing quite like it.

So keep listening. From the cries of the infant to the valedictorian speech of the graduate, the time goes quickly. We must make the time to actively listen to our children. S/he will respond dramatically to being heard. Our investment in listening now will create respect and mutual cooperation in the lives of our children and the lives of others as our children move out into the world.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Guide His/Her Independence

Children can imagine incredible possibilities long before they can handle the reality. Whether it is a 2-year-old contemplating a huge flight of concrete stairs with the thought of climbing them all alone, or a 12-year-old contemplating the same steps with the thought of jumping down them on a bicycle, the impulse for challenge, growth and independence is natural. So is the parental response to protect and safeguard the child. Balancing protection with a healthy dose of guidance is essential to nurture the child’s need for exploration.

Because the world of a child is very small – just what s/he can see, feel touch and hear – parents need to guide his/her independence to ensure that the child pushes the limits safely. For part of the wonder of childhood is that tender confidence that all within his/her control is possible and safe. But parents know better. Accidents happen. Our children will be hurt sometimes as they experiment in the world. Our job is to protect them when we can, and to help them soothe the disappointment of limitations and pain when they inevitably come.

When the child is very young the need for guidance is nearly constant. Even infants can easily hurt themselves as they learn to control their arms and hands, if there is something in the immediate environment they might accidentally pick up. We must make sure that infants are placed only in safe spaces with safe surroundings where they cannot roll or slide into trouble.

As the child begins to move on his or her own the need for protection, including restriction of movement or access, increases dramatically. At the same time the need for stimulation and exploration is vital to healthy cognitive, emotional, and physical development. Guiding the toddler’s independence starts with accurately assessing the world from his or her point of view. Cover or remove sharp corners. Stay close and observant when in an unfamiliar environment. Stay ahead of the child visually as s/he explores so you can anticipate and structure successful exploration.

Once the child is competent on wheels – low, stable, three-wheelers – a whole new world opens up. Hopefully the parent has been practicing the art of limit setting and natural consequences to teach self-control. If so, the wheel phase is much easier. Establish clear time and distance parameters appropriate to the age of the child. Set clear consequences for violations of either time or distance rules and then stick with it. The easiest consequence is a loss of the wheels for a period of time. The amount of loss time depends on the child’s age and personality. Periodically check up on your child to make sure s/he is within the distance parameter. You might start with just the back or front yard patio, for example.

Seek opportunities for your child to make his/her own decisions. Watch for signs that your child has preferences and help him/her express them. Clothing choices are one of the easiest places to allow and encourage the expression and exploration of personal choice. Second is room organization and decoration. We can guide his/her independence in these areas most effectively by offering appropriate, but limited, choices.

For example, parents can select two or three outfits appropriate to the weather and activities for the day and allow the child to choose. Parents with a very high tolerance for creative clothing choices may be able to provide even wider choices, as long as the choices are consistent with adequate protection related to the weather.

One of the most important and difficult are of guidance for any parent is allowing our children their angry feelings. That’s because the ability to control impulses and have strong feelings, contain them, and direct them appropriately starts with the opposite behaviors; impulsive action, overwhelming feelings, acting out and lashing out at the closest target – parents. 

If parents can support their children through approximately 2,000 of these difficult moments in the first five years of life, the adolescent years will be much easier. That’s because the skills of independent thinking and mature action develop over time. Parents lay the groundwork during the first five years of a child’s life by consistently and loving guiding his/her independence.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Deliver Encouragement Frequently

In the last article we looked at the ABC of parenting: Action Before Conversation. Now let's look at a second concept in the alphabet soup of effective parenting. Deliver 

Encouragement Frequently (DEF). This is so obvious, yet difficult to do in the midst of our busy daily lives. We know our children need support from us. And we want to provide both emotional and physical nurturing for them. We've all heard the great advice: "catch them being good." It sounds so easy. So, how do we do that?

Children often need encouragement the most when we're feeling the least inclined to give it. This may be a result of our own level of stress, the child's behavior, the demands of an ordinary day, or all of these factors. If we start with ABC, Action Before Conversation, we can lay the groundwork for DEF, Deliver Encouragement Frequently. For example, you walk into the house after a stressful day to discover that your adolescent child has created havoc with the freshly cleaned floor. The child's friends are there. You feel your frustrated reaction and the impulse to speak out.

Stifle it. Say "hello". And take action, by taking care of yourself first. Go to your room, change your clothes, count to ten, focus on relaxing, and plan your next move. You want to be sensitive to the fact that you've just greeted your child, and that peers are still in the house. If you can't live with the dirty floor for a while, then calmly get your child's attention and request that his/her friends leave. Once they're gone, express your concern and ask for cooperation in addressing it. If you can live with the dirty floor for a while, simply wait until later in the evening when everyone has unwound a bit and you have some private family time.

DEF is a balancing act. We balance our need for respect and cooperation from our child, with our child's need for structure and teaching. And we do this in a constant state of change. For our child is a dynamic force in our lives. S/he may be unable to toddle up the stairs alone today, and then run up them tomorrow. S/he couldn't ask for what s/he wanted when you left the house this morning, and is able to speak it clearly when you pick her up from daycare.

Encouragement from mom or dad inspires cooperation from a child. So, for the sake of our children, let's all deliver encouragement frequently.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Action Before Conversation - A Parenting ABC

For the sake of our children, we could all stand to talk less and act more when it comes to correcting negative behavior. In general, act first and talk later. Parents spend far too much time explaining and reasoning with their offspring, rather than taking action. Try "get off the top of the refrigerator NOW" instead of "how many times have I told you that it is not safe?" Or a simple "pick it up" rather than a lecture entitled "I love a clean San Diego!"

Who's job is it anyway? Have you ever noticed that as parents' energy investment in a given task or situation gets larger, the child's gets smaller? If you're working harder at getting your child's chores done than she or he is, try a little exercise. Bite your tongue! Stop repeating yourself. Communicate your message as succinctly and firmly as possible, then bite your tongue and silently count to twenty. If the child hasn't moved, gently assist him or her physically in the direction of the desired behavior. Then repeat your brief message a second time using the same words, voice tone and volume. Bite your tongue again, and count to twenty. If the child still isn't cooperating, move to action.

Time-out is a great intervention for many children. The child loses something they want - contact with other people and ordinary activities, while gaining something else -self-control. There are some helpful rules of thumb for time-out:
  1. Length should be one minute for each year of a child's age
  2. When the time is up, the child should be given an opportunity to come out of time-out and practice self-control
  3. If the child achieves self control before the time-out is up, let him/her out early. They have risen to the challenge and it should be immediately acknowledged.
  4. Time-out should not be more fun than the problem behavior that earned it!
Withdrawal of privileges can also inspire a young person to be a good cooperator. But make sure you impose a loss that makes the child suffer more than the parent! Grounding a teen-ager for the rest of his or her life might prove too much to handle for mom or dad. Also, withdraw the privilege calmly and firmly – NO DRAMA!

ABC is especially important during times of transition. Some transitions are natural and expected, like the birth of a new child. Others are unexpected and create a crisis, like divorce. If you are in transition, stop and think before you make decisions about parenting. You may inadvertently burden a child with adult concerns. Or you may withhold appropriate discipline because of guilt or fear. So talk problems over with a trusted adult before talking to your child.

Listening is one of the most important skills of a good parent and it’s important to talk with your child after self-control is regained. Ask the child to tell you their understanding of what was negative about his behavior. Support all attempts at honest communication, and keep it brief. Take your cues from the child for the end of the conversation. Then take action again - a hug would probably be just right.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Loyalty Conflict in 2-Home Children: Co-Parenting for Better or Worse

Coparents often pride themselves on the fact that they never say anything negative about the other parent. They reassure themselves and others that they would never put their child in a position where the child has to choose between Mom or Dad.

Yet some coparents engage in very destructive behaviors with their children without a second thought when anger, fear, and a desire for revenge take over.

1 Mom gives a gift to the child. Dad throws the gift away.

2 Dad sends child home in new clothes. Mom throws the clothes away.

3 Mom tells Dad that the child can’t have sugar. Dad sends the child home with a bag of candy.

4 Dad tells Mom that he has a family reunion on her weekend and asks to exchange weekends. Mom plans a trip to Disneyland for that weekend.

5 Mom tells Dad the child has a birthday party for a school friend on Dad’s weekend and asks Dad to take the child. Dad tells Mom that she can’t plan things on his time so he isn’t taking the child.

6 Dad gives the child new clothes for Christmas. When child dresses for school and puts on the new clothes, Dad tells the child he can’t wear the clothes because Mom is picking the child up from school.

7 Mom plans a birthday for the child. The child invites his Dad and his Dad’s family. Mom tells the child the party is only for Mom and her family with the child.

8 Dad tells Mom the child has been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and Dad says that the child is fine, there is nothing wrong with the child.

9 Mom gives the child diagnosed with ADHD his/her prescribed medication as required. Dad refuses to give the medication.

The ways in which parents put children in loyalty conflict are divisive and disheartening. If you know a parent who does these things, or if you are one of those parents, challenge the status quo. The child suffers when the parent uses the child to work through adult conflicts and problems.

No coparent can control what the other coparent does. Each one of us can only control our own choices when our child is with us. Respond don’t react. Protect your child from the adult conflict. Teach, nurture, and listen to your child. Get support and help for yourself.

If you are hurting your child by engaging in any of these types of behaviors, admit the harm you are doing to your child rather than justifying your anger at the other parent. Do it for your child and do it for yourself.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Loyalty Conflict in 2-Home Children

Special outings can be a source of tension, stress, and pressure for children when Mom and Dad don’t get along. This is an example of an avoidable loyalty conflict for the child if the parents have basic coparenting communication.  Simple coparenting agreements include these kinds of activities. Mom and Dad agree to alternate or they agree that Mom will always do a certain activity each year and Dad will do another.

Unfortunately, when coparenting relationships are high conflict, special outings like LegoLand or Disneyland can easily turn into competitive events for coparents who are insecure in their role as a parent and who want to “win” in a self-centered game against the other parent.

Some common examples include:
1  Disney Ice Show
2  New Movie Release – G Rated or 2nd or 3rd in a series
3  Del Mar Fair
4  Monster Trucks
5  Comic-Con

Children suffer when coparents are so estranged from one another that they are unable to agree on basic information exchange for the purpose of protecting a child from loyalty conflicts. When coparents have gone weeks, months, or even years with no face-to-face contact the potential for set-backs and new allegations is high. Transition points in a family working toward a successful restructure are vulnerable times for each family member.

Family Court typically doesn’t provide transition plans for parents that are sensitive to these delicate transition times. Transition plans should include a gradual change from supervised visits to book-end visits to supervised exchanges to face-to-face exchanges with a neutral person present. This kind of transition process is necessary to support all family members in making the changes towards a healthy new structure but the law does not require this kind of support.

As the gradual change plan moves forward, conjoint coparenting counseling for the sole purpose of making basic agreements about information exchange and about special event procedures can make all the difference for every family member. These agreements remove uncertainty and stress on the family system, and establish new norms for 2-home family functioning that are critical for success.

Family Courts could provide transition plans appropriate to each family system, but it is a very rare occurrence in an adversarial judicial system struggling with understaffing, full calendars, and inadequate budgets.

If you want to create a new family structure which supports your children in moving between homes successfully, then find a way to sit down with your coparent and make some basic agreements. Most coparents find it difficult or impossible to stay calm without a neutral person to keep the agenda on track. 

Facilitated Coparenting Meetings at Transitions Family Program at Hannah’s House are an excellent way to approach this task. Most coparents meet for 1-3 meetings to make the basic agreements, and then do periodic scheduled meetings to follow up and refine.

Loyalty conflicts weigh on children. Loyalty conflicts diminish the joy and spontaneity of childhood. Protect your child from this avoidable stress and your new family structure will flourish.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Loyalty Conflict in Children

Loyalty conflicts are complicated.

Resolving loyalty conflicts is a process.

That process often starts with reparenting ourselves as we parent our children.

How do I that? How do I reparent myself to fill in those broken places while I try to raise another human being?

The first step in any process of human change is recognition of our own contributions to the status quo. This requires a spirit of inquiry about self because we are only able to be as honest with another person as we are able to be honest with ourselves.

If I am unhappy with the life partner I chose, I need to accept responsibility for that choice. I need to explore my needs and desires that led me to make a choice for myself that has proven to be a poor one.

I need to take responsibility and stop blaming my partner for the choices I made. I need to make better choices. I need to take some risks to change my own behavior in order to build a better life for myself and my children.

“I” statements have power. That is why most approaches to the change process include them. Try it. Keep the focus on self. Keep the focus on personal choices and personal responsibility.

I chose.

I decided.

I agreed.

I acted.

Parents teach us about choices, consequences, personal responsibility, honesty, and integrity. If our parents blamed others for their own shortcomings and disappointments then we are likely to that, too.

How can we teach our children about being a decent human being if we are blaming other people for the choices we have made? Becoming a better parent may mean having a different relationship, a different understanding, of how we were raised.

Does that feel disloyal? Do you feel a loyalty conflict? Do you believe that it’s wrong to admit that your Mom or your Dad made choices that hurt you or left you alone too much or blamed you too much or criticized you too much or made you grow up too fast?

Life happens to all of us. Life happened to our parents. Exploring the impact of the choices our parents made is not disloyal. Recognizing the impact of the life challenges thrown at our parents is not disloyal. Being honest about how we felt as children when our parents made the very best choices possible as they faced difficult situations, is not disloyal.

Children shouldn’t have to choose one parent over the other. But many adults say that they felt closer to one parent than they felt to the other, or that one parent had more positive influence than the other. Our feelings towards our parents are not a matter of loyalty or disloyalty. They can be a source of tremendous understanding, compassion, and empathy for our parents and for ourselves when we were children.

Becoming a better parent means acknowledging the ways we need to take care of ourselves to make sure that we don’t unconsciously use our children to meet our own needs.

This process is complicated under the best of circumstances. When our own family has broken apart, it can seem impossible. But our children can’t wait to be adequately parented until we grow up. We need to find a way to take care of our children and take care of self. Find a therapist or counselor or life coach who can help. Find a support group of like-minded parents who can help.

You are worth it and so are your children.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Loyalty Conflict in Children

Children shouldn’t have to choose one parent over the other.

Most parents would immediately agree with that sentiment. Oh, absolutely! I would never….

But children don’t feel the pressure and stress of loyalty conflict because a parent overtly and directly asks them to choose or asks them to agree with negative statements about Mom or Dad.

Children feel loyalty conflicts because they know when Mom or Dad is angry or rejecting of the other parent and it feels scary.

Children know when Mom or Dad needs the child to reassure the parent that the adult is important, special, and the better parent.

Children learn to choose one parent over the other because children can sense what parents need to hear and see in order for the parent to feel good about him or herself.
If Mom or Dad feels good, like a good parent, then life feels good for the child.

Loyalty conflicts in children, and the adult manipulation of children’s emotional vulnerabilities, happen in all kinds of families because some parents exploit children to compensate for adult challenges. Some parents emotionally manipulate children only when under great stress and some parents do it because that is the way they learned to get their needs met in intimate family relationships.

Loyalty conflicts emerge because parents have unmet needs and unmet or incomplete developmental tasks from the way they were parented as children. These deficits, or undeveloped aspects, become more intense when children are brought into the life of a couple.

We refer to a family living together under the same roof as “intact,” meaning unbroken. We refer to families who have separated from one another to live in two homes as “broken,” meaning damaged.

This simplistic way of categorizing families is convenient, but misleading. It completely misses the fact that we all have unmet needs and incomplete developmental tasks from our childhood.  How could we not? Life is hard. Unpredictable. Unfair. Good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. Parents do the best they can every single day with what they have to work with and with what life throws at them.

In other words, we are all “broken” in some way. We all have things to learn about being a better person, a more capable mother or father, a more positive human being. Hopefully, we will keep becoming more truly and completely who we are capable of being every single day of our lives.

Loyalty conflicts are complicated and there is not one solution. There is no magic word or sentence that you either say or don’t say.

Resolving loyalty conflicts is a process. That process often starts with reparenting ourselves as we parent our children. The process certainly requires a spirit of inquiry about self. In the next few days, we will continue to explore the issue of loyalty conflict. For our children, and for ourselves. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Does Your Child Have A Secure Base?

The foundation for the secure base is a secure attachment of a child to a parent/primary caregiver. It's like home base when you are playing tag, or the side of the pool when you jump in the deep end. That base is a place to rest and feel safe. Of course the child needs to leave home base or the side to play and explore but can safely return. That is the function of the secure person.
Some children are lucky enough to have secure attachments to both parents who have shared parenting since infancy. You can see that sense of security when a child first begins to be able to move on his or her own. The child is sitting with a parent, crawls away, and looks back for reassurance. Mom/Dad smiles and claps and encourages. The child continues to explore and play.
Sometimes the young child will come back to Mom/Dad for a hug or a touch and then off again to explore the world. School age children may not touch base as often but want to know that Mom/Dad is there when they need them!
A child with an insecure base has a hard time leaving Mom/Dad. The insecurity is an outgrowth of parenting, not innate within the child in most case. Mom/Dad is either anxious or distracted for too much of their parenting time with the child. Parents who are anxious and insecure tend to create children who are anxious and insecure. Parents who are distracted and preoccupied with adult concerns tend to create children who are insecure because they don't get adequate nurturing and feedback and reassurance.
When families break apart parents often become anxious, insecure, distracted, and preoccupied. Children can handle this stress for a while, but there is a limit!! Get support when you are going through a life change that is challenging. If your normal coping skills and support system aren't working then reach out and find more!
Your child needs a secure base in Mom's House and in Dad's House as quickly as possible after the families breaks apart.. The best way to accomplish that is cooperative and shared parenting for coparents who can be respectful to one another; or parallel parenting with little coparenting contact when the adults are not able to be respectful.
Transitions Family Program at Hannah's House offers FREE support groups for Moms and Dads every week - Wednesday 530 for Dads and Friday 530 for Moms. The groups are open to any coparent in San Diego county who is family-court involved, or coparenting children between 2 separate homes.
Good-enough parenting is what is required to ensure a secure base for your child. Just good-enough. Not exceptional, and certainly not perfect. If you need some support to get back to good-enough, email today.

What Are the Factors in Determining Best Interest of the Child?

An assessment of the following factors may be helpful to you in determining the best interest of the child.

The age of the child.

The relationship of the child's parents and any other persons who may significantly affect the child's welfare.

The preference of the child, if old enough to express a meaningful preference;

The duration and adequacy of the child's current living arrangements and the desirability of maintaining continuity;

The stability of any proposed living arrangements for the child;

The motivation of the parties involved and their capacities to give the child love, affection and guidance.

The child's adjustment to the child's present home, school and community.

The capacity of each parent to allow and encourage frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent, including physical stress.

The capacity of each parent to cooperate in childcare.

Methods for assisting parental cooperation and resolving disputes and each parent's willingness to use these methods;

The effect on the child if one parent has sole authority over the child's upbringing;

History of Domestic Violence

All other factors having reasonable bearing on the physical and psychological well-being of the child.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Protecting Children During a Family Breakup: Avoid Loyalty Conflict

The breakup of a family is difficult for everyone. For some, it is a shattering experience that comes as a shock with no warning.
For the person who is more "ready" to leave, it is still painful. For the person who is caught unaware and unprepared, it is devastating. When children are involved, this difference in the adult experience absolutely must be acknowledged and managed by the parents. It is the only way to protect the children from loyalty conflict, from feeling like they have to choose, from feeling like they have to decide that one parent is the "good" parent and the other is the "bad" parent.
While this should be obvious, it often is not. In the midst of tumultuous change, emotional upheaval, and shattered dreams we go into survival mode. Parents shut down all but the most essential functions which tend to relate to very basic self-care, work, finances, and transportation.
The children are left to deal with being caught in the middle between parents who are blaming each other. One parent is justifying the decision to leave (relief and guilt) while the other parent is outraged (hurt) at being rejected.
Parents who are ending their partner relationship need to plan for the needs of the children before the separation occurs. Let your children see that even though you could not resolve your conflicts to stay with each other, you can mutually love and care for the children.
Can children cope with parents who place them in the middle?
Of course they can. Children need both parents. Children love both parents. Children want to please both parents. Children can learn to choose Mom when they are with Mom, and to choose Dad when they are with Dad. They can do it, but it will not help them develop a healthy and positive view of intimate relationships. It will not prepare them for commitment and honesty in their own relationships in the future.
Don't make your children choose.
Instead, meet together (with a professional if needed) to make some basic agreements for the sake of the children:
1 What will you tell the children?
2 Can you meet together to tell them the mutual story or do you need to meet separately?
3 When will you tell the children? You need to tell them as close as possible to the same time if you are unable to do it together.
4 What will change and what will stay the same in the life of the child?
5 Will you litigate or will you mediate?
6 If you choose litigation, how will you protect the children?
Planning at a time of crisis is tough. That is why crisis counselors are important. The breakup of your family is a crisis. Think seriously about sitting down together with an expert in family breakup and successful family reorganization and make a plan.
Your children need protection from the adult issues. They will have enough to deal with as they learn that moms and dads can quit loving each other; as they learn that life can be scary and unpredictable; and as they gradually develop the skills they need to learn to be able to go back and forth between Moms House and Dads House.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Are You Ready For Reunification?

Parent/Child reunification requires hard work and perseverance.
Answer the following questions as honestly as you can in assessing your level of preparedness for the journey ahead.
Choose 1 -2 - 3 - 4 for each questions:
1 Confident I have this skill
2 Still developing this skill
3 Don't have this skill
4 Open to help
Questions Returning Parent (RP) / Primary Parent (PP):
I have the patience to start slowly and build increased parenting time as my child is able.
I can support my child's need to a relationship with the RP.
I can commit to consistency in parenting time.
I can commit to provide my child for shared parenting consistently.
I will not abandon my parenting time plan at the first sign it isn't working.
I can protect my child from conflict between myself and the other parent.
I will not ask my child to take sides.
I am prepared to explain my absence to my child and their other parent without blaming.
I am prepared to support the RP in explaining his or her absence to my child.
I am willing to participate in counseling either individually or with my child to facilitate reunification.
I have remedied past unsafe behaviors.
I can set aside my personal feelings for my child's other parent.
This process can be incredibly rewarding for your child. They can emerge a better adjusted child with the ability to have love and guidance from two parents.