Mindful Parenting Manual Session 4
Welcome: No exercise or feedback to give extra time. This is the session most of you signed up for the whole course for. Explain there’ll be time next session to go through examples and questions.
Draw ROG circles on WB for Conflict
R = No conflict can be resolved well in Red
O = Goal is to Change/Fix/Solve situation
G = Connection stays our priority (session 3) but Empathy + Boundaries are the core of GB in conflict. GB in conflict is not a pushover.
Last week we looked at our connection with our children on a normal day. Draw Heart and Box and ask group if they remember what they represent. Us as role-models (Box) and our direct love/fun with our children (Heart). This week the Box and and Heart come under pressure. In conflict the box becomes firm boundaries for our kids, and our direct love turns into relentless empathy.
Box is now:
Boundaries for Behaviour
Heart is now:
Empathy for Emotions
Before we dive in I’m going to give you a health warning. There is no system that exists that offers a neat solution for all conflict. The only one is a dictatorship, which is tempting, but leaves you with little or no connection, even if you get good behaviour. You will not be able to fix and solve it all, it will be messy, or your children will never grow up healthily. Mindful Parenting in conflict is based on research that shows the greatest determinant of sustained behavioural shifts in kids is their solid connection with the adult/s in charge.
Empathy and Boundary-setting are the two skills most effective in conflict-management that’s focused on staying connected. Most parents feel more comfortable with one or the other. Boundary-setters tend to want a bit more control and find empathy really difficult, it can feel soft or permissive. The home can be well-ordered, but an intangible distance starts to grow between everyone. The empathisers feel like they really want to be close to their kids, and that lots of rules are unhelpful. This works up to a point and then usually some boundaries get applied with frustration or anger, because empathy on its own doesn’t work.
The two questions our children are asking us subconsciously every day is “Am I safe with you?” and “Have you got this?” The first is the Heart/Empathy – am I ok with you, even when I’m at my worst? The second is the Box – are you in charge even when I’m all over the place?
It’s really helpful to work out which way you lean. Some of you will know already, some of you will know by the end of the session. But the idea is you become skilled at both.
Emotions and Behaviour are hard to separate in the heat of the moment but we have to learn them separately in order to integrate them Then we can use them interchangeably. We’ll look at emotions first as lots of situations dissolve with empathy, and then we don’t need to set a boundary. Then we have more energy for the situations that do still need them.
EMPATHY for EMOTIONS
Our children have the same emotion balloon as we do, so the same 4 emotions (ask), and the same 3 possible responses (ask). We can help them become healthy processors, rather than stuck or suppressed as they grow up.
Imagination exercise. As with all Mindful Parenting techniques we have to experience it. So shut your eyesand imagineyou’ve been home all day with the kids and it’s not been a good day at all. Your partner comes home, or your mum or a friend drops in and asks how your day was. You give them the full download. And this is the response you get: (Keep eyes shut and repeat with 3 different responses – ask if they’re feeling the calm!):
- “it can’t have been that bad, you just need to calm down hun”.
- Maybe you should have taken them to the park. That might have worked better than staying home?”
- “Wow, sounds like a tough day……makes perfect sense as they can be really full on…..pause… do you want a cup of tea?”
Brief feedback on how each response felt (usually 1 and 2 cause a rise in frustration). Reflect on how often we tell our kids to calm down (do they ever say “mum that’s so helpful?”) or try and offer helpful solutions to what they could have done or should do next time.
SKILL 4. Mirror-Link-Pause
Draw red arc and green steps down with MLP (My Little Pony). It’s Acknowledge – Link – Let Go (ALL) for others.
Use example from imagination exercise. What did I say…and then etc…
MIRROR – “I can see that, it sounds like, that sucks…” Avoid “I understand” if you can. The mirror has no opinions, it’s not about you, just observations either about the event or the emotion. “It sounds like a tough day” or “I can see you’re really cross.”
LINK – “That makes perfect sense bc…” Use your intimate knowledge or a gentle guess. If you don’t get the right link don’t be offended if they say “it’s not that!” let them tell you. Remember All emotions are OK and all make sense. Just likeALL. If you have no idea you don’t need to know, don’t push for explanations, you just say something like “I know it makes sense hun, however you’re feeling.”
PAUSE – This is the hardest bit for us as parents. Express empathy & then stop talking! Don’t go into the “but…” which is often a learning lesson or a solution.
If you have been a fixer your children may feel completely dropped when you start using the pause, so you can fill the gap by asking for their ideas (remind them how good they are at it), offer help to get through it, or help with problem-solving, but avoid giving suggestions. EG: Friend with 14 yr-old “WHY ARENT YOU HELPING ME!” when she started using the pause.
MY EXAMPLES – one for each emotion
- Fear: School camp
- Sadness: Unkind friend
- Anger: Decision I’ve made (ipad off, no party)
Ask for examples from group and work together to come up with MLP responses.
(Examples from home from my week if feels appropriate)
Over time MLP is less like a script, but it really helps to script it to start with. It becomes natural after a while. In my house if often sounds like: “I know”, “poor you”, “what a nightmare of a day”, “that’s tough” “tidying up is rubbish”, “it sucks that its bedtime.” It may sound flippant, but if there’s genuine empathy, they don’t feel dismissed. Dig into your own childhood and you’ll remember how huge the little things were.
Video: How to speak Toddlerese – Harvey Karp (if time) https://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/261138/how-to-speak-toddler-ese/ or refer to it, as MLP works much more with body language and energy with pre-verbal kids.
If you are a natural empathizer your goal is to learn the skill of MLP but particularly the Pause, so you don’t tip over into fixing and solving. Your goal also is to learn when to move to boundaries, so you don’t get stuck trying to use empathy as a behavioural tool. (Example of parent with 3 little girls empathising all day, and exhausted. Move to Box much quicker.)
If you struggle with MLP, it’s likely you find it hard to empathise with yourself too. You can keep practicing to get the tone and energy right, but a really effective strategy is to practice ALL on yourself, then the empathy starts to overflow naturally.
MLP is not designed to get our kids to stop emoting but to feel less alone in their emotion. It “works” if we feel empathy (stay green), not if they calm down. However lots of situations in my house do end here, especially sadness and fear, but anger too. Our kids feel the shift from red to green themselves, and then we often don’t need to set any boundaries.
SKILL 5. Boundaries for Behaviour
All emotions are ok, but not all behaviours. So now we’re into Boundaries for behaviour – point to the Box.
Boundaries are not the cross part of parenting. Although they are hard work for us as parents, but they are as much about love as empathy is. Research shows that boundaries reduce anxiety for children, so inconsistent boundaries can be a huge part of creating anxious kids. They need boundaries to thrive.
Everyone is different and what boundaries you choose isn’t really a part of Mindful Parenting. Keeping things legal is good, and keeping everyone safe. Apart from that Mindful Parenting is about how to do boundary-setting in green brain.
I’m going to give you a few ideas for establishing boundaries in advance that mean we’re less likely to be working so hard, and there are less flash points. Then we have more energy for the regular conflict we can’t plan for in advance.
Firstly have as much routine as possible. It doesn’t mean leading a dull, structured life, just certain things happen fairly repetitively. Think Teeth-brushing and seatbelts. For example: Bedtimes, screen-time, pocket money, tidying, jobs, school food eaten before aft tea. The brain stops resisting things that happen repetitively. (Example of my kids with jobs every day. The more regular, the lower the resistance).
Can include broader routines such as reliable changes as they get older. Example from my home: Freedom and responsibility go together: At a certain age/stage a new job and a new freedom.
We can also have some routine responses to situations that happen often, which can prevent us from going into automatic red or orange. Examples of mine:
- Ask each other twice before I’ll get involved
- Ask for help if you have tried twice – “It sounds like it’s not working….”
- I don’t get involved if I wasn’t there, except to mediate while they work it out (reduces all the “he said/she said”).
- General rudeness isn’t ok. Provoked is different.
- “Try again” for all rude requests
These are very different responses to “no hitting”, “no rudeness”, “be kind” or “that is unacceptable behaviour”. These are not helpful boundaries, because we can’t enforce them. Helping our kids to find their healthy brain (remember session 3 list) and look for alternatives when they’re angry is much more effective.
(Reminder: If there’s genuine physical danger of course we need to be safety monitor, so these responses go out of the window until everyone is safe, and we may need red brain – the emergency brain – for that).
So we have routines, and we have our routine responses. But lots of conflict happens and these ideas don’t help us at all. So we need to be able to set firm boundaries in unpredictable and high emotion situations.
Kids don’t feel disconnection because of the boundaries themselves, it’s the drama around boundary-setting that creates disconnection, and delays the behaviour we want. So we need to understand the Adaptive Brain Cycle to help give firm boundaries and stick to them.
Draw Frustration-Futility-Tears arc
To do life well all of us need to be able to do the FFT cycle in both. “No no no no no (up and over the top into surrender) yes yes yes yes”. These can be – No invite to the party, no more dessert, sibling messed up your game, boy/girlfriend dumps us, didn’t make the team, mum and dad separating. With our kids we’re often the cause (frustration) and the comfort (tears), which is a bit of a brain spinner.
We need to understand this cycle because in kids the left side of the arc looks pretty messy. What we do as they rise up, is key to how quickly the process goes, and for how long we’ll be fighting the same battles. Certain things help (draw green lines off arc) and certain things hinder (draw red lines coming off arc).
(On diagram write out the Green things on one side of arc that help and the Red Things that hinder. Go through alternately – matching pairs – or one colour at a time.)
|Things that help – (Green) MLP Pilot voice/Boundaries as Facts. Less is more. EG: “Try again” Follow Through. No need for much explanation. Keep explanations until green brain is restored (if needed) Natural Results. (Grey area but give lots of examples) Keep problem where it belongs –offer support but not solutions. EG: “let me know if you need any help to get through it” Fun + Distraction (effective, but limited if relied on) On the way down from Futility to Tears or after Encouragement and praise for emotion processing||Things that hinder – (Orange/Red) Belittling the emotion Soft or Harsh instructions EG: “Would you please not.” “I said” Repetition/pleading Explaining/Persuading/Logic/ Questions/learning lesson Consequences/punishments/ Rewards Solving the problem ourselves or Giving in Learning Lesson|
More detail on each below:
MLP. Can be used during a boundary setting situation. Even while preventing a child from hurting another.
Pilot Voice. Sounds Factual. Imagine the pilot of the plane sounding cross or despairing. You’d never want to fly that airline again.
“It’s time…” “Given that…” “Come and…” “Try again.”
“Follow your trail.” “It doesn’t sound like it’s working”
“The answers not changing but let me know if you need help to get through it”
Example: One mum changed to ‘It’s time’ and got immediate results.
Eespecially with the little things. Say less and mean all of it. They get used to knowing the pilot voice means what it says. Don’t throw out lots of instructions or they’ll ignore you. Start with choosing ones you’ll follow through with, and leaving some others, until you’ve established your pilot voice.
You can choose something you would like them to do near a time they want something from you. But wait only as long as you can stay green
Think Teeth and Seatbelts – we always follow through and the fight stops quicker.
Keep explanations until green brain is restored (and then only if needed)
We’re so desperate to make sure our kids have understood why something is bad, but their brain already knows, and we often undermine our own authority when we offer explanations. Our children never say “Thanks dad I had no idea we weren’t suppose to hit”. Occasionally if you really think it’s an idea that’s hard to grasp it may help. One of my kids who’s the most intuitive, and also struggles the most with her emotions, often yells at me during a meltdown if I say too much, “mum I get it. You don’t need to say any more.” (She’s also the one who now says: “I’m working on my anger!”)
If the boundary is a fact there is often a natural result. These are not created consequences, such as time out (where you choose time and place) or unrelated consequences.
EG: It works beautifully in the mornings. Explain what jobs are whose, and keep jobs to natural result ones, like clothes and lunches (age and stage) and avoid the tidying/bed-making until your pilot voice works well. Give a few factual reminders but that’s all. “We’ll be going in about ten and you’ll come as you are….” Clients stories of following through (with a bag of uniform and a muesli bar in the car). My story of the mornings now – green, everyone looking after themselves, but connected emotionally.
Here are some other examples.
- “If you can’t play with your sister without hurting her….you can’t play with her until you can.” They choose for how long they need to be at least arms length.
- “If you can’t stop throwing food…you can’t be near food.”
- “Given that time’s up and the ipad’s going off…are you going to do it or shall I?”
- “As we’re leaving in 5 minutes….are you getting ready or going in your pj’s?”
- “Given that you now carry your backpack…..if you don’t it will stay here, it doens’t have legs” – humour is fine if your child enjoys it)
- “If you cant get home by the time we’ve said…you can’t go out. You may need to stay in for one invite and then you’ll have another chance.”
- “If you cant play treat your siblings well when you have playdates you cant have playdates until you can.”
- “As I’ve said no more asking… if you ask again I wont be listening”
- If you take a while to get ready for bed there wont be time for books”
And there’s always another chance either straight away or another time depending on the siuation. This is all about engaging their problem-solving brain, not manipulating them into behavioural responses, or hoping punishment will work. It doesn’t.
It’s worth practicing these, as I found them hard at first, and now they flow. You’ll feel the difference in the colour of your voice.
Rewards also have a very finite life, and cause a child to connect ordinary behaviour with rewards, which is not helpful long-term. (read email of TV mum)
Keep the problem where it belongs, but offer support if appropriate.
This is similar to the Pause in MLP and can be offered just after the MLP pause, or anytime during the rise up from frustration to futility. It prevents us going straight to orange and also reduces conflict long-term as a child’s own solution is much easier for them to repeat.
“Given that ….. is/isn’t happening, do you need help to get through? Work it out?” “You’re so good at working difficult things out. What do you think?”
“I’m here if you need me to get through it.”
“Of course you want more TV – how about a big cuddle instead?” Create humour, but watch for those kids that feel laughed at.
Sometimes mine do want cuddles. Sometimes they’re far too angry for that. They may need time to do their journey up to futility somewhere else to keep people safe, but where and how long is their choice.
Fun and Distraction
Don’t overuse as their brain doesn’t learn the FFT cycle, but the connection works wonders, so if a piggyback sorts it out go for it.
One of my favourites. Again don’t overuse, but on some occasions it feels right to say: “You were so cross and now look at you“. “Getting through a difficult emotion is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, I’m so proud of you.” “Better than any race you’ll win or exam you’ll pass”. You canuse a glitter jar if you have one to show what they’ve done.
Squashing the emotion.
The opposite of MLP – “Oh for goodness sake!”, “It’s just a biscuit!”, “someone has to lose”, “you’re fine”.
It’s not a Request, so “Please”, “could you” “will you” aren’t helpful, unless you’re happy to have “no thankyou” as an answer. Avoid negative instructions “would you please not…”
Usually leads to Red Brain.
Repetition + Pleading.
“I have told you a thousand times” or “Will you pleeease..” Think Pilot + Follow Through.
No brain can learn in Red. They don’t have to agree with us or like something in order to do it. If you have a young lawyer on your hands you could be there a while. It doesn’t usually work, unless you’ve had a child say “oh yes that’s helpful”.EG: Carli and Bath
Don’t make it a prerequisite that they have to do it “nicely”. The behaviour has to happen, the emotion is up to them.
Consequences (and Rewards)
The Consequences model of parenting is tricky because often it works in terms of behaviour modification if we take away everything precious to them bit by bit.
We’re trying to force a red brain to do/not do something by threatening something redder. It prevents a child completing the FFT cycle so their brain doesn’t grow in resilience and taking responsibility. Rewards do the same in terms of externalizing the motivation – they prevent the maturing process.
EG: I was Consequence Queen. Always worked eventually, in the moment, but I could never understand why we would be doing the same cycle again the next day. I also deep down hated parenting that way.
A better word for consequences is punishment, and research is very clear that no punishment creates behavioural change. Why? Only connection enables a child to internalize the problem and take responsibility (over time) for it. Children (adults too) externalize the problem if there are consequences (or rewards), and have fight or flight responses.
In flight they get determined to be good which is not the same as learning. Their compliance is driven by a basic need to reconnect, so they may manage a while but they get triggered easily, and often repeat the behaviour, which is baffling to us.
In fight consequences can ramp up the behaviour and they often decide they don’t care about our consequences anyway.
The double whammy is that consequences also diminish us as the pilot. When I say “If you don’t…I will” I sound nothing like a pilot. I have parents ask me “if I don’t have any leverage how do I get my kids to do stuff?” It’s a valid question but the answer isn’t better leverage, it’s to develop your inner pilot. You’ll need sessions 1-3 to help you, as its hard to suddenly do it in conflict.
Giving In. Imagine an upset passenger being able to go up to the cockpit and get the pilot to change where the plane flies to. It’s too much power. Solving – just delays their ability to work it out for themselves.
Learning Lesson on the way down. Don’t ruin the Heart and Box process, which is all about helping a child work through their emotions with a safe companion and then solve their own difficulties with a boundary with our support, by popping in a learning lesson. They don’t need it, and it can also undo all the good work. Later, if it feels really appropriate, you can ask a child if they have any ideas for next time.
So back to Heart + Box. In conflict our goal is to stay in the green zone and stay connected. Our best chance if doing that is to learn the MLP/Boundaries dance. Remember again the two questions our children are asking:
Am I safe with you? EMPATHY Have you got this? BOUNDARIES
Which of the Heart or Box do you go to most easily? Is empathy/support your go-to, or boundaries and rules?
Just note down which is your growth area, as we need both. (Its obvious given the answer to question 1 but write it down anyway!)
Practice MLP/Empathy and Boundary-setting. Be kind and curious as you develop the green in both, especially in the area that comes least naturally to you.
Questions from the group. Often this session runs over so I let people know they can go, but I’m happy to stay a bit longer.
Keep practicing Breath + Senses, Acknowledge-Link-Let Go and Connection. You’ll need them for this one! Enjoy your practice and see you next week.
Keep a list of your own examples as the overall feedback from the course is the more real life examples the better.
EG: Client + Messy game in children’s bedroom. She felt the cortisol rise when she saw the mess, despite their clear enjoyment and blurted out: “Well as long as you know you’ll be tidying it up.” She saw the joy go out. She said to me later: “it’s no fun parenting like that”. We worked on it together and she came up with, “that looks so much fun (E), but only get out what you can put away by bedtime. I’ll give you a bit of warning, so it’s not too rushed (B).” And then the follow through is hers.
EG: “Stop fighting you two!” No E and no g-b boundary. “You’re both frustrated guys, it’s tough sharing, need any help? You will have to stop the game for a bit if you can’t work it out.”
EG: “Sorry hun, You can’t go to the party because we’re staying with Granny for the weekend.” Followed by wailing and “I’m not coming and I hate going to Granny’s anyway.” The boundary has been set, now it’s empathy time. “It just sucks you can’t go. I know how much you’d love it. Such a shame when things clash.” ….pause… see what happens. (Don’t move to the in-between area of: “don’t talk about Granny like that!”)
EG: L and afternoon tea after school, when food still in lunchbox
“You need to eat what’s in your lunchbox first”. “Nope” (foot stamp).
“Seeing as you are, do you need any help?”(light and factual)
“I’m not eating it” (but starting to panic/rise – I can hear it in her voice)
“Yep, carrots are yucky when they’ve been in your box all day. That’s hard…. Let me know if you need any help?”
“(crying) come and sit with me.” “Of course hun, let me get my cup of tea”.
EG: R and Wall-kicking.
A life-saver for us at a really difficult time in our home of illness and uncertainty.