The Power of Paying Attention

The Power of Paying Attention

The Power of Paying Attention

From their very beginnings, our children demand, and warrant, a massive amount of attention. During the infant years, we’re paying attention to hourly shifts and changes so we can appropriately respond to their needs – does he need a new diaper? Is it feeding time again? Into toddlerhood, we’re monitoring the terrain dangerous to walking and small objects they could potentially swallow. This is the most basic way that we love our children through behavior: we keep them safe.

As children grow and develop, it might feel as if our attention isn’t required because they can finally make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich or operate the shower without fear of drowning. What parents don’t often realize, however, is that our attention is still very necessary: it simply shifts direction.

Underlying all childhood behavior is an emotional component and a need the child is seeking to meet. Unlike the newborn years where the needs are primarily physical in nature (changing a wet diaper meets comfort and health needs that also work to meet the emotional need for safety, love, and secure attachment), parents of older children must learn to adjust their attention toward the needs higher on Maslow’s hierarchy.  Elements such as a sense of belonging in the family and social acceptance also drive behavior later in childhood. As children develop into pre-teens and teenagers they begin their search to meet a need of identity formation and accomplishment as they explore and connect more with their own sense of individuality.

If this feels like a lot, well, it can be!  What’s a parent to do? At risk of oversimplifying, the answer is: simply pay attention. Notice patterns. One of the biggest risks of today’s fast-paced world is parenting that is “present but absent.” Our parent-minds venture toward the more obvious needs demanding our attention and begin to give less attention to the quieter, more subtle things our children still need.  As a parent, it may feel good to know our child can put himself to bed on his own, and we may miss his need for that special snuggling time from young childhood where the day ended with warmth and affection. While children don’t necessarily consciously notice this, they do have an inner way of adjusting their own volume to attempt to demand our attention when we don’t give it readily.  This can range in presentation from tantrums and yelling to self injury, depression, and other quiet, numbing behaviors.

At its root, in many forms, what our children want and need from us is connection. The same connection that keeps them safe and fed in the early years also builds their personal confidence and teaches them how to establish meaningful connections with others and within the world as they grow older. Giving them your loving attention beyond words, by establishing eye contact, being willing to sit at their level, and putting away distractions – even important ones – helps them to learn the skills necessary to build meaningful connections with you and with others.

In this way, over time, we learn how to respond to particular events and situations with awareness rather than being prone to simply react based on surface behavior. Take a moment to remind yourself of your child’s developmental capabilities in relationship to your expectations. Celebrate that your child is attempting to meet a need, and help him find a way to get that need met that is healthy, appropriate, and within the values of your family.

Mindful Parenting Reading List

Mindful Parenting Reading List

Mindful Parenting Reading List

Our Mindful Parenting enrichment is based primarily off of two works, Parent Talk by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller, and Everyday Blessings by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn. These provide the basic framework from which Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW, shares about understanding the role of the parent in the parent-child relationship and offering specific tools for responding to common frustrating parenting situations.

If you’re looking to expand your personal summer reading library, or are just wanting to know what to borrow from the local library, here are a few of our office’s favorite titles related to raising children. 

Parenting with the Brain in Mind by Dan Seigel

The Incredible Years by Carolyn Webster Stratton

Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher

Ghosts from the Nursery by Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley

Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves  by Naomi Aldort

The Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel

Am I Messing Up My Kids… and other Questions Every Mom Asks by Lysa TerKeurst


Demanding Obedience vs. Building Respect

Demanding Obedience vs. Building Respect

Demanding Obedience vs. Building Respect

Previous generations often emphasized obedience in children as the ideal outcome of parenting. This arose from a hope that children would respond to a parent’s directives, as opposed to having a rebellious attitude.  Ideally, however, at the heart of a child who responds to a parent’s instructions is not blind obedience but rather loving respect.

How do we find this balance between obedience and respect?  Is balance even possible, or are these two concepts mutually exclusive?  Most parents agree: they do not wish to have a child rearing approach that even remotely resembles that of authoritarian dominance.  Most don’t want to act like prison guards. And yet, many also feel an approach which values listening, patience, and responsivity will be “soft” and result in children who are entitled, lazy, and spoiled.

Positive parental attention and strong boundaries guide children’s behavior toward cooperation. When a child’s emotions and needs are validated by his parent the child can trust that his parent recognizes the challenge of the situation and will remain alongside him within that challenge.  Validation leads the child’s mind to then more easily shift into solution-seeking behavior independently without the need for the parent to tell or demand the child to respond in a certain way.

Though parents may not be thrilled with the solution the child has found, validation allows for the avoidance of a power struggle.  The opportunity for more teaching between parent and child exists. The key, however, is that the child begins to find solutions to his or her aggravating problems with loving and firm guidance, rather than only listening for directives from authorities.  Children are taught to think through and consider the consequences of their actions rather than just react to make their parents happy.

“Being a good parent does not mean your child acts the way you want all day, every day, in all situations,” says Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW. Far too often, parents use their children’s behavior as a measuring stick for their own parental abilities rather than allowing them to simply reflect the moment or situation in which the child is living.  Even good parents have children who make mistakes, push boundaries, and misbehave.  This is often far more reflective of the child’s developmental stage, personality, and the very human experience of overcoming obstacles than it is about “soft” parenting.

Parents desire a trusting and mutually respectful relationship with their children that includes children responding to parental directives without questioning parental intentions.  However, we must remember that children, in health, question everything as a means to learning. We see this behavior from infancy through adolescence: the baby putting dirt in her mouth to learn what is edible and what is not, the child questioning why he must go to bed at a certain time when he is not yet tired, the teenager questioning how far she can test her curfew boundaries.  Parents can honor children’s attempts to learn by taking their own inquisitive posture to power struggles within family dynamics.

A few practices that could be helpful when exploring respect:

  1. Utilize your own “beginner’s mind” to ask questions about the situation rather than casting judgment upon your children. Why is this important to my children? What is my role in this situation?
  2. Cast a sense of respect toward yourself. Honor your own emotional limits, and when needed, take a break – tap out to your partner or give enough energy to diffuse the situation and return to it when you have more emotional capacity.
  3. Teach children what respect looks like by offering it to them. Respect their capabilities by not asking more of them than their development allows.  Model how respect is given and received, and in this, how relationships are reciprocal.
  4. Validate, and then move toward solutions. Avoid jumping directly into a role of telling children what to do, but rather helping them think and consider outcomes for facing the challenges ahead of them.

“Marie Kondo” your behaviors, not just your closet

“Marie Kondo” your behaviors, not just your closet

“Marie Kondo” your behaviors, not just your closet

If you caught the Netflix miniseries Tidying Up, you’ve watched the ways in which she’s instructed families to sift through their belongings and release them back to the world when they no longer “spark joy.” In our office, we’ve discussed Marie’s wisdom and what it can offer to our clients and our own sense of well-being.

Her first step is to bring out into the open everything you own in a particular category. We often don’t know what all we have hidden away until we’ve taken it from hiding places. When faced with our large quantities, we can fully grasp the extent of what we have, what we’ve been hanging onto and put it into perspective.

Next, she suggests we hold an item in our hands to feel its weight. We let ourselves not just think about it, but have a physical experience of its presence in our life. And then we ask a crucial question: does it spark joy? Or perhaps, is it a conduit for joy? If it does “spark joy”, then it can find a proper home. But if not? Then we take a moment to thank the item for its service in our life, and we pass it along to be given away or discarded completely.

This process, which often leads to much purging through the home, can be helpful in our mental and emotional lives as well. Our EMDR-based philosophy recognizes that particular behaviors have been adapted because they served a purpose: to keep an individual alive and functioning during or after a point of trauma. It’s an old solution that no longer works.

We can actually be grateful to our survival mechanisms because they served a purpose, for a period of time. But just like that tattered college-years hoodie, it doesn’t serve the same purpose anymore. With the help of your treatment provider, you can acknowledge these behaviors, thank them for their service, and then be done with them. With the new spaciousness, you’ll find freedom to adapt lifestyles more congruent with your present instead of your past.

But what about sentimentality? How can we get rid of the mementos and reminders of our history? Holly Schweitzer-Dunn, LISW, reminds us that we can respect and honor our past without keeping it right in front of us. Letting go doesn’t diminish its history, but hanging on may diminish the future.

Surfing Why you should Marie Kondo Your Relationships

Reading Real Love: The art of mindful connection by Sharon Salzburg; The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr; Mothers, Daughters and Body Image by Hilary McBride; Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

Listening The Robcast: Kristen Bell on Anxiety, Part 1 and Part 2; Another Name For Every Thing

Watching One Strange Rock on Netflix

Visiting Sunny Florida! Nicole, Michele and the Schweitzer-Dunn family made recent trips.

Eating Holly recently dug out the greens for a fresh pesto!

Moving NeuroMovement- Learn more from Jill Bolte Taylor and Anat Baniel

Hancock County Park District is sponsoring a free Take a Walk in the Park day on March 30. And Aqua Zumba meets Holly’s need for a little bit of silliness and fun in a workout.

Registering The 3rd Annual Jenelle Hohman Color Me Happy 5k Run/Walk to support Hancock County NAMI is coming up May 18

Leading Andrea led a workshop on the Enneagram at the Findlay MOPS group and our office will be conducting a breakout session at the University of Findlay’s upcoming conference on Trauma and Addiction.

Creating Planning an herb and vegetable garden to be planted soon!

Resting A trip to Miami for family R&R

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The 5 Senses Check-in: Spring addition

The 5 Senses Check-in: Spring addition

The 5 Senses Check-in: Spring addition

  1. Make note of the color that is quickly changing across the landscape – greener grass, bright crocuses, and longer hours of daylight.
  2. Sniff out the earth’s work – even the smell of mud and earth carry with it a promise of something new.
  3. Listen for new hope – baby birds in the morning makes it a more pleasant way to wake up.
  4. Get a taste for the greens – our early asparagus, kale, and arugula help us connect with the brightness and lightness that await our days.
  5. Walk (barefoot!) – notice the texture of the ground beneath you as you take a brief walk, making connection with all the changes underfoot.

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