Friday, March 25, 2011

List of Unconditional Parenting Principles

If you haven't heard of UP (unconditional parenting), do yourself a favor and get the book, Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. It is a must read for anyone interested in attachment parenting, gentle discipline, or any alternative style of parenting. Like my list of AP principles, I like to return to this list to remind myself of what's important.

Principles of Unconditional Parenting
1.       Be reflective
2.       Reconsider your requests
3.       Keep your eye on your long-term goals
4.       Put the relationship first
5.       Change how you see, not just how you act
6.       R-E-S-P-E-C-T
7.       Be authentic
8.       Talk less, ask more
9.       Keep their ages in mind
10.   Attribute to children the best possible motive consistent with the facts
11.   Don't stick your no's in unnecessarily
12.   Don't be rigid
13.   Don't be in a hurry
from "Unconditional Parenting" by Alfie Kohn

Monday, March 21, 2011

Story time is not quiz time

Charlie Brown's Super Book of Questions and An...
Charlie Brown's Super Book of Questions and Answers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
At 15 months, my son already has an extensive vocabulary. He loves to tell me about the images in his books using words, sound effects, or sign language. Communication is an exciting and fun game for him. I suppose that's why I began asking him about the pictures in his books, "What is this? What sound does that make?" Much of the time he would have the "correct" answer and I found myself agreeing, "Yes, that's right." Occasionally, he would give a response I didn't understand or he would call the picture by some other name, leaving me uncertain about an appropriate response. 

Those "incorrrect" answers were the ones that got me thinking.  I don't like the idea of correcting him by saying, "No, that's not a dog, it's a cat".  Of course I want him to learn the difference between a cat and a dog. I'm just not worried about it. Those verbal skills will come when he is ready. Verbal corrections from a parent, however, could interfere with his ability to imagine and see beyond the page. There is no correct answer for creativity or a sense of humor. Imposing only one way of interpreting the images in a book would be a hindrance to his ability to discover things I am not capable of seeing. 

When I thought about how I handled his "correct" answers, I felt just as uneasy. Something felt very wrong about saying "That's right" to each of his answers. It was as if I were conditioning my child for a response instead of enjoying a book together. It felt very much like
 conditional parenting, that destructive type of parenting I so want to avoid. I love my son unconditionally, whether or not he can name an image "correctly" with a word, sign, or sound. I am more concerned that he nurture a love of books and of learning. How I interpret a particular page is less important than the joy my son finds interacting with it. Yet I began to feel like I was offering a reward (my praise) through this question and answer method of book reading. I became concerned that he might focus more on the reward for his "correct" answers than on the book itself.

So I made some changes to our story time together. Very small, subtle changes that feel a lot better. Instead of asking "What's this?" on every page, I ask him "What do you see here?" or "Can you tell me what sound it makes?" The name game continues as it did before, but now my questions allow him the power to explore, imagine, and name as he wishes. I am no longer asking a question that may only have one correct answer. Instead, I am asking him to share with me how he interprets his book. I am asking him to tell me what
 he enjoys about the book. I refrain from determinant answers like "That's right". Instead I might say "Oh, yes, I see a dog! Woof woof." Occasionally I let a "You're right" slip in, but it's no longer my typical reply. When my son asks about an image ("Dat?"), I tell him what I see on the page so there is still room for instruction if he wants it. When he gives me a bizarre or unexpected answer, I allow the opportunity for him to teach me a thing or two ("Hey, it does kind of look like a ball!"). I marvel at his creative interpretation and feel grateul for these fresh eyes. After all, it's not a quiz. It's a bedtime story.
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

List of Attachment Parenting Principles

I think it's useful for AP advocates, opponents, and the uninformed to return to this list of Attachment Parenting (AP) principles on a regular basis. I won't review these principles in depth here. I have just listed them to serve as gentle reminders and to pique interest.

API's 8 Principles of Attachment Parenting
1.       Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and childbirth
2.       Feed with love and respect
3.       Respond with sensitivity
4.       Use nurturing touch
5.       Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally
6.       Provide consistent and loving care
7.       Practice positive discipline
8.       Strive for balance in personal and family life

 Dr. Sears's Interpretation of the 8 AP Principles: The 7 Baby B's
1.       Birth bonding
2.       Breastfeeding
3.       Babywearing
4.       Bedding close to baby
5.       Belief in the language value of your baby's cry
6.       Beware of baby trainers
7.       Balance
      Dr. Sears also notes that AP is...
       ·         a starter style
       ·         an approach, rather than a strict set of rules
       ·         responsive parenting
       ·         a tool

Monday, March 14, 2011

Blogging is Scary

It should be pretty obvious that I am no professional blogger. Not yet, anyway. I have to admit from the start that it sounds like an attractive avenue for me, now that I am a mom and all. Now that my original career plans have been laid aside. It's taken me many years to even consider starting a blog, even though writing and journaling have been powerful tools in my personal evolution. But blogging? That's just scary.

For starters, there are privacy issues. How much of my personal information is safe to put out there for anyone to read? Isn't it risky to share too much, making yourself a target for hackers? I wonder if bloggers have higher rates of identity theft than other people. Or, perhaps their rates are lower because they are even more cautious. Then there are cyber stalkers, my favorite internet phobia. Maybe I've seen too many crime dramas about serial killers and psychopaths, but you have to admit these people are out there. And what better target than a mom blogger, sharing information about her children, habits, opinions and values. From my meager research of mom blogs, I've seen the gamut from full disclosure to very discreet. I will definitely err on the side of discreet. I'm not even sure I want to share my real name, much less the identity of my child.

The issue of anonymity is at the crux of my fears around blogging. Journaling has been a tool for personal transformation, healing, and growth.  The subject matter of my journals are deeply personal and private. I have rarely shared my writing openly, save for a few close friends. Becoming a mother is perhaps one of life's greatest transformations, so again I am compelled to write my way through it. But blogging is not journaling, even though you will find many blogs out there that function as diaries. I suppose in some ways, I want this blog to serve that function. Truthfully, though, it may be not be appropriate. Some reflections are best kept private. Some revelations are silent. It will be challenging to curb my desire to write for myself with my desire to share my thoughts with others. I am afraid of crossing the line and sharing too much. Or sharing too little and coming across as didactic and condescending. 

And that's a valid fear when I consider that a huge motivator for starting this blog is to share information with others. My hope is that I can provide some comfort and community to others on a parallel journey. Ultimately, though, I hope I can inform and educate. I read a lot. I think a lot. I critique and analyze. I am no expert or "PhD in Parenting" (insert link), but I know I have some valuable insights and information to share. I think I can make a real difference by sharing my parenting experiences with others -- my mistakes and my successes. I think I can help myself and others become better parents, better human beings. Blogging is a way to accomplish this lofty goal. 

I suppose the best way to resolve my desires with my fears is to keep my blog-self anonymous, at least until I feel safe in this new arena. At least until I can find my blog voice, the one that dances elegantly between journaling and educating. 

And now, press "publish post". Phew!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Yap Dog Parents

Today I became convinced that the key to solving most of the world's problems lies with the way we treat children. If adults treated children with respect and dignity, perhaps we would have a shot at real peace in the world. At the very least, it might do away with a lot of deeply seeded psychological issues that kids grow up with, issues that evolve into unhealthy patterns and personality traits when they become adults. Between the Yap Dog Parents and the Norman Bates mothers, it's no wonder these kids grow up into people with so many problems.

Take the parents at my local park, for instance. On more than one occasion, I have heard a mother yell at her child (and I mean YELL) "no!" over and over again, for doing something as harmless as carrying a stick around.  Do this, don't do that. Come over here, go over there. No, don't go near the baby. Share. Give it back. Give that to ME! Go play. We're leaving now. We're leaving in 5 minutes. Five more minutes. Just 5 more minutes. All of these outbursts come from the sidelines. The parent is seated on the side of playground and never actually gets up to reinforce their words. They just sit there and yap yap yap yap, much like a little dog yapping at a big dog on the other side of the fence. I call them Yap Dog Parents. Their yapping rings in the ears of their children and anyone else present. After about 5 minutes of this, I already felt incredibly annoyed. I can only imagine what those poor kids feel. They must not ever get a moment's peace. I can't imagine that being treated that way can lead to healthy relationships with their parents, high self esteem, or healthy coping skills to deal with criticism.

Perhaps over time the kids just learn to tune out the yapping. Then the parents would have to escalate to barking louder. The child might then withdraw even more. Alternatively, the kid might fight back with their own version of yapping, learned by example. By adolescence, those families would be looking at some serious tensions and arguments. Meanwhile, the children would grow up doubting their own ability to do anything. I mean, hey, if they can't even be trusted to carry a stick around when they're 8 years old, how competent could they possibly be? They would not learn how to deal with criticism, constructive or otherwise, because the criticism they received as children was so random and senseless, so controlling. They don't get the opportunity to process their parents' comments because they either tune them out or rebel against them. They don't learn to respect others because they were not treated with respect themselves. No wonder those are the kids who rip toys out of other children's hands. What kind of adults do they become? The kind who invade other countries, exploit the poor, or rape the land? Not a far stretch if you really think about it.

And what do I do at the park? I let my 15 month old son wander around by himself. I let him play with other kids' toys. I let other kids play with his toys. I watch him, silently, until he shows me a treasure or brings me a twig or looks over for a smile. I may ask what he's found or comment on the ball in his hand. When he wants to climb up to the slide, I follow him in case he tumbles. I go down the big slide with him when he wants. I let him pick up any object, as long as it's not harmful (and I hope there are few of these at a playground!). He has even learned to show me pieces of trash so that we can put in into the trash can instead of playing with it. When he wants to put something in his mouth, he usually looks to me to find out if it's safe. I make an "icky" face if it's not appropriate. Without so much as a "no" from me, he will put the object down and move on. He seems to trust that I have his back. I will only interfere when his safety is at stake. And I trust him to play safely. I trust that he will learn the difference between danger and safety, between being nice and being mean to others. I respect him. And if I'm lucky, he will grow up respecting me, too. If I've done my job as a mother, he will also grow to respect others.