Momma Bear

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Momma Bears are fierce, driven by their love to protect their children from anything that might hurt or upset them. If you see baby cubs in the wild- which I hope you never do, you know not to mess with those baby bears because momma is close by and will get involved quickly and be very upset with you. She won’t even wait to hear your side of the story. Don’t mess with a momma bear. Unlike many other animals who have to fend for themselves quite quickly after they are born, momma bears don’t even let baby bears out of the den until they are a few months old. The momma bear protects and feeds her offspring and is never far away for the first year and a half of the cub’s life, again a very long time compared with other animals.

 

Our culture has adopted the representation of a momma bear as someone who fiercely loves and protects her children and will fight anyone who may harm her child. Moms in the neighborhood don’t mind telling how they went “momma bear” on someone and proudly wear the t-shirt.

 

Moms and dads need to be the ones to step in and fight for what they know their children need to develop into mature healthy adults. If you feel like something is wrong with your child’s health, you will tirelessly make calls and take your child from doctor to doctor until you feel like someone listens and addresses your concerns for you child. If you feel like your child has difficulty learning in school, you become and advocate for your child and work with the teachers to find what your child’s optimum learning environment is and how adaptions can be made for your child to succeed.   I fully embrace the Momma Bear personification in these circumstances, you are the adult, these issues are beyond your child’s level of can-do and you know you can help your child by working behind the scenes to get him what he needs to grow in health and knowledge.

 

The danger of being really good at being a Momma Bear is taking too much of your child’s unpleasant experiences upon yourself as you seek to protect from all harm. Some difficulty is needed in order for a child to be resilient as well as to develop into a problem solver. If we mediate all sibling arguments, call other moms to sort out our children’s differences and get on coaches and teachers when our child tells us about something unfair that happened that day, our child will not have that experience of sorting it out on his own.

 

In their book, Drop the Worry Ball, Alex Russel and Tim Falconer make the case that as long as the parent is standing over the child while he does his homework or brings a forgotten item to school and analyzes how a child can improve his game, the child doesn’t have to worry about it and doesn’t take ownership of it as long as mom or dad is handling the responsibility and the worrying. They make the great analogy that you should sit on the bench and cheer on your child. Just like when you took your toddler to the park and sat on the bench while he played. You were there and available if he needed you, but mostly you smiled and encouraged him when he said, “Look mom!”. Sit on the bench as your child works on out of the home responsibilities such as school, sports and friends. Encourage them and let them know you have confidence in them to work it out and learn from their mistakes.

*In the bench analogy, if your child gets hurt on the playground, you do respond. You can tell if it is a scrap or a serious injury. You either say, “aw, you’re ok,” or you jump up and run to them. You know. So yes, if you see signs of physical danger that your child is getting beyond what he can handle, please do be a Momma Bear and protect your child.

 

Our goal in parenting should be to raise responsible, resilient adults. As our children grow older, how much we do for our child should decrease as they get older so that by the time they are adults, they can handle it from here. Momma Bears who always seek to protect their children from harm and consequences are holding the worry ball for their kids. Give it back to your children and be a source of encouragement. Always ready with a hug and connection as your cubs learns and grows.

 

 

 

References: Russel, A & Falconer, T. (2013). Drop the Worry Ball: How to Parent in the Age of Entitlement. Toronto, Ontario, Harper Collins Ltd.

Parenting with a History

black and white connected hands love

 

Our parenting style is an accumulation of our history, our community and our environment. We don’t just parent, we do things because other parents in the play group do it that way and our own parents did it this way. Often we don’t even like aspects of how we were raised and we find ourselves parenting in some ways like our parents. What I would like to bring attention to right now is how your not so pleasant past may be affecting how you parent today.

 

If you had trauma in your own childhood, that trauma could be affecting you as an adult. It can affect you physically as well as emotionally and how you interact with others- for our focus here, how you interact with your children. An overwhelmed parent can shift into a victim mindset, and if that parent was victimized in the past, the body sees a child as a threat and the parent can react to a child’s behaviors out of his own fears.

 

First, be aware of your own trauma history. Knowledge alone, can change how you interact with others by bringing awareness to why you might act the way you do. I strongly encourage you to take the ACEs survey to find out what your ACE score is. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. The questions for the ACE are as follows reprinted from the website acestoohigh.com  (https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/):

 

Prior to your 18th birthday:

  1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
  2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
  3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?
  4. Did you often or very often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
  5. Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
  6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
  7. Was your mother or stepmother:
    Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
  8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?
  9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?
  10. Did a household member go to prison?

Now add up your “Yes” answers:  This is your ACE Score

 

 

 

 

If you have any score at all, you have some sort of trauma in your past. The higher the score, the more likely that it is affecting your life in some fashion. I encourage you to look at the research website, acestoohigh.com to see the correlation of ACE scores and different problems in adulthood. So many of the correlations are between a high ACE score and physical problems!

 

 

I am not a counselor, I cannot work through these problems with you. The best things I can recommend to you if you have an ACE score is to find a competent counselor who can help you work through your own childhood traumas and work on self-regulation such as mindfulness or breathing exercises to help you stay in a calm body. A calm body cannot be anxious. What I do want to do is bring awareness to you as a parent. So much of our parenting is from our history, and if something our child does subconsciously triggers a fear response from our childhood, we are parenting out of reaction and fear more than focusing on the needs of the child and connected parenting. If you can pause during an intense moment with your child and just say to yourself, “Right now, I am scared,” that self-awareness will go a long way on what you do next, and it isn’t so much about what your child is doing right now as much as it might be you reacting to something in the past that this reminds you of.

 

References: ACES Too High News, https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

 

Nakazawa, D.J. Childhood Disrupted. Atria Books, New York, NY.

What is Your Attention Focused on?

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There is a great anecdotal story that circulated during the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. She made a lot of public appearances that year and a lot of “regular folk” got their chance to interact with her. One woman stood in line to meet the queen for a long time. She finally got her chance and just as she was presented to the queen the phone in her purse began to ring. What to do? Act like she can’t hear it? Fumble in her purse and turn it off? Answer it? What is the royal etiquette for this situation? The queen herself solved the problem by saying, “you should answer that dear, it could be someone important.”

 

While we might debate whether the once in a lifetime experience of meeting the queen is more important that whoever might be on the phone, what this story reminds me of is our daily choice of what we pay attention to. We cannot multitask very well.  The most important thing is the thing we are thinking of right now. Whatever that woman decided to do there, that was the most important thing. If she took the call, she would have been focused on the call. If she ignored the call, she is deciding the queen is the most important thing right now.

 

In parenting we chose to either react to the behavior or look at what is causing the behavior. Do you react to the deed or respond to the need? Which one do you pay attention to, which one is important? In connected parenting, the need behind the behavior should be the most important thing that we focus our attention on. You’ve done this before. When your child did something risky that may have resulted in an injury, your first impulse is to rush in and ask, “are you hurt? Are you ok?” It’s not the time to lecture. Your child’s safety is the most important thing right now.

Outside of an emergency, it is usually a bit harder for a parent to prioritize the need over the behavior. But it is still just as important in a non emergency to make sure your child is ok. To do this we have to be able to parent from a calm regulated place so we have the ability to pay attention to the most important thing. Take a slow deep breath. Drop your shoulders to relax your muscles. Doing these physical things help your body to relax. Here’s a fun fact- you cannot be anxious in a relaxed body! Try it.

 

Once you feel you are regulated, look at your child, remind yourself that you love him and his behavior is a communication of some deeper issue. Is your child scared, hungry or tired? Are they trying to meet their needs for freedom, fun or power? Does he need someone safe to address those needs more than he needs a lecture about how he just messed up? Right now, decide which is more important, the phone call or the queen? Chose the need, and focus all of your attention on it, and later you can go back and address the behaviors.

Choosing Connections to Meet our Needs

 

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In a previous post, I wrote that behavior is communication. Whatever behaviors we choose, it seems to us to be the best way to get our needs met. Psychologist William Glasser came up with a list of 6 basic needs that every human seeks to have met. I know every philosopher and psychologist has their own list, so bear with me, you may have your own list, this is the one I like.

These basic needs are:

Survival

Power

Belonging

Love

Freedom

Fun

 

If you are not getting your basic physical needs met, then your need for survival will surpass all the other needs and they will not matter until your need for survival is met.

 

So, assuming the need for survival is met, then each person has varying degrees of how much of the other needs they require to have a fulfilled life. The amount of each need we require will fluctuate according to our age and circumstances and personality. You may find at some point in your life you have a high need for power, and at other times you may find that you need freedom more than power.

 

Look at that list and think about which of those needs are most important to you. You should be able to recognize that one or two of those needs are very important to you, and you may even be willing to give up some of one need in order to get more of another need.

 

Look again at that list and think about your child. What needs do you think are important to him?

 

Think about your relationship with your child through the lens of your needs and his needs. Each one of you is trying to get your own needs met. Your behaviors are a way to meet those needs. Most likely when there is friction in the relationship, one or both of you are trying to meet those needs through external control. External control means you are using controlling behaviors like criticizing, blaming, complaining and nagging to try to get the other person to meet your needs. The friction happens when that controlling behavior contradicts what the other person needs.

 

It is so important as parents to pause and look past the behaviors and see what your child needs right now. When we understand that we are making choices to meet a need, we can understand that the other person in a relationship is also trying to meet a need. To get along in a relationship, whether it is parent/child or any other close relationship, the external control has to stop, and you must find a way to negotiate your needs. That may sound rational in an adult relationship, but hard to conceive in a parent/child relationship. But it can be done when a parent keeps in mind that what he wants out of his relationship with the child is ultimately a connection and he can negotiate his own power when possible to help the child meet his own needs of power, or freedom or fun. When we are able to stop controlling someone else, the amazing thing is that we gain control and we have a stronger connection with that person.

 

Practically speaking, negotiating your needs and your child’s needs could look like this:

 

Parent of teen: “You want to go to this party (fun, belonging, freedom), and I want to make sure you are safe (love and power). How can we both get our needs met here?”

 

Only bring to the discussion things that you are willing to negotiate, don’t say anything that the child should do. This brings the child to your side to help you solve the problem together without any judgement from either of you.

 

Parent of younger child: “You want to watch TV (fun) and I want these chores done (power), what can we do to solve this so that we are both happy?”

 

It will take a lot of creativity and negotiation on both sides, but ultimately, you are bonding with your child, keeping communication open and you are also teaching him great self-honoring decision-making skills that will benefit him throughout his life.

 

References: Glasser, William (1998). Choice Theory. Harper Collins, New York, NY.

The Gottman Institute: https://www.gottman.com/parents/