Mindful Parenting Manual Session 3

Mindfulness Exercise: Acknowledge Link Let Go (ALL)

Feedback on practice Examples from clients or my week if needed.

This week: we’re looking at the foundations for a healthy relationship with your children. Next week we’re looking at conflict, when it’s all under pressure. 

Draw ROG on WB for Relationships

R = Doesn’t do Relationships well. Red does fight/flight, up/down, win/lose.

O = It Depends – on whether the person is helping or hindering your goal (eg getting somewhere on time). Goals trump Relationship.

G = Relationship trumps Goals. You can be fully present to your relationships with kindness and curiosity.

Let’s start with two of the most important pieces of information you will ever need to know about your children.

1. They are born wired to thrive. They’re not born neutral. Developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld has a great list. Here’s just some of them.

“a sense of agency and responsibility”

“full of vitality – not easily bored”

“venturing forth energy”

“full of interests and curiosity”

“a good relationship with themselves”

 “able to recover from trauma”

“considerate and well-tempered”

“able to solve problems”

“resilient and resourceful”

“able to benefit from adversity”

I had 3 responses when I read about this.

  • What happened to mine?
  • I’d be pretty proud if I had a child with that list. I’d feel I’d done a great job as a parent. (Interesting there’s no obvious ‘success’ stuff here, and clearly no guarantee they’ll have a ‘happy life’).
  • So if they’ve already innately got all this within them, what do they actually need from me? I thought it was my job was to sculpt all these things in my children.

Which leads me on to the second most important thing you’ll ever need to know about your kids. Apart from food, shelter and safety, and in our society education…

2. They need one simple thing from you. What do you think? (If love is the answer here just say no (gently) although glad you said it! I’ll explain in a minute.)

The research shows it’s CONNECTION …..with one caring adult in charge. Explain: many of you will have grown up with loving parents who were not well-connected.

Why Connection? For a young mammal in the wild physical connection means survival. For humans it’s physical and emotional connection. When a child senses disconnection their brain switches from green to red and their natural healthy development pauses (refer to list) until it can get back to green connection. So if children spend a lot of time disconnected from us, they may struggle to develop some of these natural strengths. 

I checked this list today and realised all 5 of mine have grown in pretty much all these areas. That’s not something I can claim responsibility for. The only change has been that I’ve stopped trying to grow them in them, and started focusing on my green brain connection with each of them instead.

Disconnection

I think Connection is our natural state as parents, so I’m going to start with different ways our children can feel disconnection at a day-to-day level. Hopefully if we can take away some of those, we’re already well on the way to deeper connection. We will look at what I call The Art of Connection in the second half.

I put Disconnection into 3 categories:

Physical: Work, trips, kindy, school, activities, even bedtime. These cause disconnect for some kids some of the time (Example of my twins when they started school). So this isn’t something to beat ourselves up about. Of course if we really don’t see our kids very much, looking at the schedule may be helpful. Once we realise they may be going into red brain because of the disconnect that’s about to happen, we can approach the situation very differently. When we respond with a “for goodness sake you’re fine” or “look at your sister/brother”, we compound physical disconnect with emotional.

I’m going to look at tips for separating well later on, but even understanding we may be dealing with a child who’s facing disconnect rather than pushing boundaries, is a more helpful place to start. 

Actions: Phone calls, texting, chatting to others, distracted interactions, general stress. Again for some kids some of the time. Sometimes we’re just in classic Orange brain, we say ‘yes hun’, but we’re not really listening and they can tell.

But other examples can be quite green at least initially: Your kids are playing fine without you and you get on the phone or they suddenly need you. Or they’re happy at the playground until your friend appears with a coffee and you start to chat, and they can’t swing themselves anymore. Or you pay attention to a sibling and they can’t live a moment longer without a cuddle. When we understand the need for connection these moments feel less planned or perverse and make perfect sense. Availability has turned into possible unavailability, even worse you’ve connected with someone else, so they may need to come and check in.

I call it connection-checking not attention-seeking. It can be persistent, even violent. If they could say “hey dad, I’m just checking you still love me even though you’re paying attention to someone else” that would be so much easier. But it’s subconscious for our kids, so if we can see beyond the behavioural part, we can at least start with a different response.

Reactions: Yelling, controlling, snapping, silent treatment, parental hiss, consequences. And that’s just my repertoire.

Reactions are a little different as they’re Red brain so always causes disconnect for our children. If they don’t react anymore we’re in trouble. It means we’re beginning to lose our connection under constant instructions or discipline, and our kids ‘choose’ the safer option of protecting themselves from the relationship.

If our kids do sense disconnect they will have one of two reactions:

  • Fight: Attempts at regaining our connection, often called attention-seeking. It’s fairly easy to spot, as it’s loud, persistent and can be violent.
  • Flight: May look like compliance or peaceful retreat, but can lead to confusing behaviours as children act out their sense of disconnection until they’re safely connected again. Examples: tantrums, fighting with siblings, refusals, dawdling, helplessness, bed-wetting, low self-esteem, alpha behaviours.

(Personal Example: Fight/flight differences in my kids with Si’s depression) These are not chosen behaviours, they’re RB responses. Our children don’t “know our triggers”, as so many parents tell me, they’re far too egocentric for that. They are acting out of disconnect, so they’re in survival mode and anything can happen.

These behaviours aren’t always linked to connection, they could be exploring or pushing boundaries, but the best place to start is still with connection. If we start at the behavioural end we usually need bigger and bigger fire extinguishers.

Insight Questions:  Write questions on WB if but keep 3 categories up for reference 1. What regular separations or disconnections each of your children experience that you think they’re aware of in each of the categories (Don’t write down every time you or they are apart unless its relevant.) 2. Write down one you could reduce this week. 3. Write down one you would like to work on that’s a bit longer term.

Discuss with neighbor. Feedback.

SKILL 3. The Art of Connection

The Heart and the Box

This is my simple diagram that will run through this session and will be adapted slightly for session 4.

In terms of connection, the box is us as the connector, the heart is the connection itself. The child is the recipient of the connection, so not at all responsible for this arrangement.

The Box – Your Life

The box is us as people not just as parents. We grow our own green brain, treat ourselves with kindness and our kids get a great person to be around and to copy. If you hadn’t noticed, your kids aren’t really listening to what you say, they’re watching you and sensing you. If you think about your own home growing up, you’ll feel a sense of acceptance, judgment, fear, of time, busyness, stress, calm, coldness, fun, distance. It’s about the atmosphere or colour our children are growing up in, which is simply the overflow of us. Words I use are Pilot, Compass, Anchor, Role-Model, and my favourite  “Cathedral”.

Text Box: My stuff

To help us do this, we need another box. Draw My Stuff/Work-in-Progress box, beside the bigger box/heart. Our kids need to see that we’re human and struggle, but they don’t need to be on the receiving end of us parenting out of those struggles.

This box is where we put anything that sounds like, “as long as they…..”, “if only they were like….”

Common ones I flirt with:

Achievements/Success: academics, sports, music, popularity, looks.

Behaviours: politeness, kindness, respect, generosity, (we can teach the right words: please, thankyou, sorry, but we can’t sculpt the characteristics of gratitude, respect and remorse.  These we can only model).

Comparisons/Improvements of any kind.

The key to this is that our relationship with our kids is unconditional. They will be graded and compared to within an inch of their lives outside the home. It’s our privilege to offer a safe place where they cannot be improved upon in any way. If you got a tomato plant, it will either be a healthy one or not, it wont be an apple tree whatever you do to it. I often say to my kids “You know there’s absolutely nothing I would change about you…” (the more I say it the more I mean it).

Insight Questions:

Write down 1 or 2 things you’d like to put in your “my stuff” box. They will make perfect sense given your story so you can be kind, even before you’ve processed these things. (no discussion or feedback – just a quick exercise)

The Heart – Your Direct Love

The heart represents our direct connection with our kids: spacious, playful, patient and present. It’s full of curiosity. What plant did I get? The way you do your heart has numerous possibilities. I love what I hear my clients talk about. Hanging the washing, cuddling, chatting, listening, stories, games, jobs, rituals. There’s no right way to do this. Actively exploring our child as a separate human being to us. My kid is wired to thrive, but I’m curious as to how that looks. Their brain thrives every time (ref list).

I ask most of my clients about the things that felt like connection in their childhood and most people talk about the small things. Regular routines, tickling, being listened to, not being judged. So this is about our everyday lives.

It’s not ‘quality time’ such as treats and dates, its everyday green-brain time.

It’s not holidays. (Clients stories of connection are never Fiji. Camping maybe)

It’s not entertaining our kids to death.

It’s not praise – words like “you know it makes no difference to how much I love you” are really helpful additions to any celebration of achievements (same phrase after mistakes).

All of this is great news for our budgets as well as our stress levels.

As those are pretty general ideas of Connection here’s just a few extra ideas to mull over:

Togetherness apart: Developing the brain pathways in our children that help them to know our connection is solid even when we’re not together physically.

  • They choose your undies and you choose theirs (every time they use the toilet the connection is reactivated)
  • Same lunch or something the same in it
  • Ask about their day and say you’ll be having your coffee same time as their morning tea
  • Draw heart on their hand and one on yours (idea from course participant. Another dad now does it everyday and the heart works for him too!)
  • Bedtime: Offer them something of yours to have, take a soft toy of theirs etc.. “Seeing as you are going to bed is there anything that would help?”

Collecting: (Gordon Neufeld). When we have been separated from our child they often have major meltdowns when they see us again. It’s not that they keep their best behaviour for others just to be difficult, it’s because they have experienced lots of emotions during the day they haven’t processed, they see us and they feel safe to feel it all. It’s a privilege! Reactivating the connection rather than solving the problems is key. Get their eyes, smile, hold (if they’ll let you), empathise and move on when you’ve got them again. After school and in the mornings are key times for this. Some kids wake up feeling disconnected and need the same reconnection before they can get going. (My story of after school and morning wake-up with one of mine.)

Direct and Indirect connection: Are you having a conversation, are you listening, are you playing? Or are you doing something else? Try and be mindful so your children know and are not getting mixed messages. (My story of one twin saying “But mum you said, yes hun…”)

Our children need both direct attention and they need to get bored and make their own entertainment. Boredom is key to the development of imagination and curiosity. Apparently children with no imaginative play have 20-30% less well developed brains. Be brave. That’s a reason to turn the screens off.

Reconnect: as quickly as possible. It’s our responsibility to make the reconnection. Learn to apologise, with no learning lesson. It’s really hard to do. It’s the only way our kids learn how to do it. Eg of words I use: “I’m really sorry for shouting hun, there were much better ways I could have done that.” (Personal example: R + Soccer shorts).

Insight Questions: 

1. Write down one connection you could grow this week with each child, whether its simply mindful attention or one of the specific tips. (no discussion or feedback – just a quick exercise)

Homework:   –   

  • See if you can reduce one area of Separation and increase one area of Connection with each child
  • Notice this week when you respond to something in your “my stuff” box
  • Keep practicing ALL (especially for your “my stuff” box)
  • Keep practicing Mindful B+S

Next week we’ll look at conflict. But we have to start with connection.

My Story of Connection with F (age 14):  She came in to my room v upset about friends at school. I nearly asked her to go as I was prepping a talk on Connection! Instead I put my notes down and just listened, held, listened, no fixing. She calmed, and said “Promise you’ll never leave me.” I was really stunned as we were talking about her friends. I said, “of course not, hun. I’m not going anywhere.” She said “I know…I just needed to check.”

She’s asking the question at the heart of this session. “Is this connection safe enough to hold me?” If we are mindful and kind to ourselves (box) and our connection is as unconditional as we can make it (heart), they can face anything.

Enjoy your practice. And see you all next week.

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