10 Steps for Taming a “Tantrum” With Love

We’ve all witnessed it – our serene and blissful child transforming before our eyes over a seemingly small disappointment or discomfort. His freshly built, wooden bridge toppling over with little brother’s touch. Her sock being situated incorrectly within a shoe. The cookie denied. Suddenly our little one’s breath becomes shallow, tears spring to their eyes. Perhaps they let out a howl. Perhaps they flail their arms or legs.

There are so many reasons why a child may find himself in a rapid release of overwhelming emotions, unable to see things in a rational way. Maybe yesterday they had a long ride in the car, energy suppressed, all cooped up. Or maybe bedtime was late with an early rise for school. Now they’ve lost their ability to process things in a balanced way. Maybe they were so excited for school, they couldn’t focus on breakfast and their blood sugar is sending them on a roller-coaster ride. Maybe they took in too much television, toys with bright lights or sugary snacks. Or maybe they are experiencing tremendous development, seeing the world through new eyes and fearful of all these great, new challenges. Whether exhaustion, hunger, over-stimulation or natural development is the cause of a child’s break with their ability to process things peacefully, their ability to overcome these moments – self-worth intact – is all in the hands of their caregivers. These moments can be beautiful and transformative, filled with a parent or caregiver’s love and understanding or they can be sad and lonely times for a child.

When these moments occur in our home, I am learning to bring a more steady and observing energy to the situation and gaining in return a deeper closeness with my sons once the storm has passed. Positioning myself as a headlight in the distance allows my children to be guided back to the individuals we both know they really are, positive sense-of-self intact, feeling loved. It doesn’t work all of the time and sometimes I forget. This is a journey and all we can do is put our best foot forward again and again.

These are a few ways that I have helped my children when they have been overcome by their feelings:

1. When emotions run high there is always time to take a moment and decide how you will proceed. There is time to take a breath and center yourself before responding. Breath deeply, maybe sit down or kneel beside your child and collect your own thoughts and emotions. Maybe find a memory of a time when you have lost yourself and remember how scary and powerful that moment can be. Find a place of compassion within your being. Soften your eyes and release any feeling of needing this situation to be over. It will be over in good time.

2. Resist the urge to convince your child not to feel what they are feeling. Instead, in your most understanding tone, say something like, “that is a very big feeling you are having.” If you mean it, they will know. Then just sit and observe for a moment, concentrating on your breath. There is time for this as well, for waiting, for looking on and being steady. It doesn’t matter if you are in the grocery store, the doctor’s office or in your front yard. Most people will understand your situation. Try your best to ignore those who do not.

3. Without words, stroke your child’s arm or offer to pick your child up allowing them to choose whether or not your embrace will help. Validate their sense of loss or disappointment, upset or confusion with a simple phrase like, “Oh, I have felt that way before too.” “I can understand how you must feel.” After all, aren’t children mirrors of the emotions they witness in the world around them? Often they are simply demonstrating exaggerated version of the very same emotions we experience as adults.

4. For the younger child who may not understand these phrases, try instead saying something like, “Mama knows” a few times and wiping their tears oh-so-delicately.

5. Designate a safe place within your home that you may go to recover from incidents such as these. For instance in our home, we’ve created a “peace circle” (thanks to the suggestion of a wise babysitter and kindergarten teacher). This place is a sometimes circle, sometimes oval, crafted out of various pillows and balance boards where we spend time when we are struggling. As your child begins calming down, you may suggest that you go together to this special place for some comfort. Walk slowly, gently with your child to this space, setting the tone. Spend time there reading or playing quietly throughout the day so that your child’s special place has a positive association. Once the idea of a sacred space is established in your child’s mind, you may create this same sort of place anywhere you go, simply by giving it the same name.

6. Know that these caring gestures do not mean that you should “given in” to the demands, request or situation that brought on the episode. We are not called as parents to allow our children everything they want or think they need but to stand by instead helping them to experience their own – very significant – feelings  in a safe and loving way.

7. Observe your inner dialogue when these issues arise and notice whether or not you might be able to loosen your grip and allow for things to unfold in the most natural way possible. Notice any tension throughout your body. Notice where anger may arise. Work to recognize these feelings, validate them and  then allow for them to fall away from you. So much of how we respond to our children has to do with our own upbringing. Make certain that your response is in alignment with your present-self, not your child- self.

8. If things are not quieting down or are escalating, try stepping a few feet away from your child and beginning a tactile task. Folding clothes, stacking blocks, braiding yarn. These activities may draw a child out of themselves and allow them to begin again with something new.

9. Allow your child to rebound with dignity maybe saying something like, “wow, that was a very big feeling you were having!” “I am so glad you are feeling better now.” “Let’s go and …..” Try not to lecture your child as to what they should have felt or done differently.

10. And, finally, most importantly, know that what your child needs more than anything when they are falling apart is to have someone by their side who loves them and knows how to put them back together again. Knowing they aren’t alone, knowing someone understands them, the presence of these things, will create fewer and fewer falling-apart moments and allow for more wholeness in your home and in your life again.

5 Benefits of Mindfulness for Mothers

I remember vividly the time in my life when I discovered that mindfulness was so much more powerful than patience. It happened deep in the night, my baby nestled in my arms like an angel, months gone by with such little sleep. And yet, there I was, finding beauty in the night itself, the hum of an air purifier, the shadow cast by a sailboat night-light, the quiet. It was in my baby, his lovely, powdery infant smell, his exquisiteness. It was in the day that followed, the wonderful pick-me-up of my first cup of coffee, “a little coffee with your cream?” my husband teased. It was in my older son, Jonah, and the thunderous call he would make from his room at dawn, “it’s waaaaake up tiiiime!” I was present in a way during that time period that I have not been able to reach since, even though I am  (slightly) more rested. In those wakeful nights with my second son, Adrian, I was transformed from someone who endured difficult situations by trying to be patient to someone who could be present and find beauty in moments regardless of how hard they might otherwise be. I received this gift through mindfulness, through a heightened attention to my senses, through my breath. It was difficult but I remember it as being so beautiful more than anything. I can only compare it to the memories I have of this same little cherub’s birth. I was able to be fully present through my labor with him in a way that I was unable to do with Jonah and although I did experience intense feelings, I road the contractions like waves and truly loved my second experience of giving birth. It was not perfectly quiet or without any moments of fear but overwhelmingly it was beautiful.

I have come to believe wholeheartedly that no matter how tired one might feel, no matter how much anger might well up, and no matter how things may appear to others, mindfulness can bring peace to any moment within a person. I realized rocking my baby in the dark all those nights that patience has limits while mindfulness does not. With patience, you may reach “the end of your rope.” You may be put, “over the edge.” In mindfulness, all is well. All is well, always. I most certainly am not in a constant state of mindfulness with my children or in the rest of my life. I most certainly am devoted to returning to what I am sure will be a meaningful moment if I can get myself there as soon as I realize I’ve departed. I’ve discovered that mindfulness itself actually offers a powerful recovery from unmindfulness – both our own and that of others. For in mindfulness you will find great love. And love heals all.

These are five ways in which mindfulness may benefit mothers today in what sometimes feels like a world too busy to recognize a moment for all that it is worth. I hope these ideas will bring you closer to your children and closer to yourself.

  1. Mindfulness will allow you to experience your children fully and remember their childhoods. Vividly. You will remember the texture of rice cereal and the look on your baby’s face the first time this mushy mix crossed his tender lips. You will remember your child’s spoken words. How they sound. The special way in which they pronounce things. There is no regret for times gone by when you have experienced it fully.
  1. Mindfulness will allow you to live forward. No more dwelling on the meltdown that you handled badly at the restaurant last night. No more guilt-tripping over using the wrong words for disciplining last year. No more worries about what you could-have, should-have done better. In mindfulness all that matters is that you are seeing your child and experiencing them right now. Given a generally healthy home, being truly with your child in this current moment can repair mistakes you might have made in days, even years past.
  1. Mindfulness will allow you to value your own judgment as a mother over the judgment, opinions or fears of others. In mindfulness you will be in tune with yourself, uncluttered by thoughts of the past or future. You will know what the right decisions are for your children because you will be hearing them more clearly, seeing them with new eyes, experiencing them as more whole beings. In mindfulness, the good and bad opinion of others of you will carry less weight.
  1. Mindfulness will allow you to forgive yourself more readily when you act in unmindful ways. Every moment, given a chance, is overflowing with love. Every moment is a miracle really. Just breathing alone is a remarkable experience given the attention it deserves. Start there. It is proof that we are so much more than what we do or think or collect. When you’ve “failed,” finding the moment may heal you in an instant and allow you to start again in love. You will find love for yourself in the moment first. Love for all others will follow.
  1. Mindfulness will set you free. You will experience more joy. You will feel happier. You will have more energy. You will be filled with love. You will realize again and again and again all that this world has to offer when we are present and looking and aware.

 

5 Ways to Return to Mindfulness with Your Children

Being mindful with your children is not about being perfect. It is about recommitting to sharing moments with them time and time again – even when you’ve gone way off of your path and have to travel a long road back to be present again. If you’ve “lost your mind” for a moment, an hour or even a year or ten years – you always have the opportunity to start again. Here are a few ways that I have found myself again when need be.

  1. Stop whatever you are doing and connect with your breath. Hold your children in your arms if you must and take a deep, stilling breath. And then another. Stay here for a while enjoying a peace that is sure to come over you. Nothing is more important than your sense of calm. Nothing is more important than the sense of peace and safety you will share with your children in this moment. Not dinner. Not the laundry. Not bedtime. In breathing we are more likely to experience compassion for ourselves and for others so that we may choose loving and kind action. And in breathing we may observe our thoughts and experience them as an onlooker, with less judgment, instead of being continually in their grip. Notice your children modeling your breathing.
  1. Look your children in the eyes and affirm that you had been gone for a while but that you are back now. Children and even babies know so much more than we give them credit for. Better not to brush over your mindlessness. Acknowledge it. Let your child know that we all lose track of our thoughts at times and this impacts our actions but that we always have an opportunity to start again. They will understand and they will follow your lead in learning forgiveness and letting go and moving on.
  1. Find an activity to do with your children that uses your hands and immerse yourself into the moment with them in this tactile way. Pull weeds in the garden. Kneed dough. Finger paint. Braid yarn. Be conscious of your breath as you play. Listen more than you speak. Allow the activity to unfold naturally. Loosen your grip.
  1. Cancel something. Too many plans, a too-full schedule makes a person ripe for losing presence. Recognize the importance of quiet, peaceful, uneventful time at home and make it a priority. Genuine friends and family will understand. You may inspire them to do so as well.
  1. Quiet your mind again at the end of the day in the absence of your children. Give thanks for them as individuals. Reflect on each of their unique, positive qualities. Imagine them feeling happy and content. Imagine them thriving. Bless them each and know that they have been placed in your care perfectly.

“The soul is healed by being with children.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

When I awoke this morning my back was throbbing and my heart was heavy. I shuffled about washing each of the many dishes that hadn’t come clean in our dysfunctional dishwasher. My husband read to our children and I welcomed a bit of time to experience myself and dive down into what was causing me pain. It was both physical and emotional. I washed a mountain of silverware. I fed my sweet kitty, wishing there were still two. I took a shower. And then I discovered that my baby Adrian – oh so quickly transforming into a little boy –was ready to nurse and possibly return to sleep having been awake since the first glimpse of sunlight. I picked him up marveling at his new ability to communicate. He has recently named nursing, “deet-deet” and his blanket is called “night-night.” When I asked him if he wanted to sleep he shook his head up and down a resounding, “yes.” We climbed the stairs. I nestled my face into his soft cheek and neck. He fought me as I changed his diaper and kept telling me, “deet-deet.” I felt my heart softening when I looked into his eyes. Who could be unhappy looking into those deep, hazel eyes? When I finished I turned on his air-filter and closed his shade. A sliver of light shone through on us, the side of the shade propelled forward by an air-conditioning unit in its path. I sunk into the rocking chair, Adrian delighted to be nursing. I found his still-plump baby hands with mine and admired the dimples at each of his knuckles. Children are so beautiful, I thought. I traced my hand along the silken skin of his arm coming into the brilliance of this moment, thinking too about the power of my children to ease my troubles. I don’t mean this in the unhealthy, they-alone-need-to-make-me-happy kind of way. I mean it in the, “how can I be in the midst of such beauty and not feel the presence of God, of something so much bigger than me?”

I found myself thinking also of the scene I’d witnessed the day before. Visiting friends at their cabin on the water I swam alone out to a giant rock about fifty feet from the shore. My friend aptly described it as, “not far but still a world away.” I’d felt so alive swimming out to that rock through crisp water. I found my footing on a slippery surface then made my way to the top of the rock and finally stood, taking in the scene surrounding me. I was technically standing on a rock in a pond but it felt more like I was in the center of a very large lake or even a river, the water passing me by like a current. I was also surrounded by tall Pines and stood for a moment mimicking their reach, arms raised upward toward the giant, bulbous clouds above me. I relaxed into the moment and finally stretched out on my back on the rock soaking in the sun’s powerful rays now poking out from behind the clouds. I gazed over at the shoreline, at my family, at my friend’s family. It was such a lovely site – each child in their own unique place of development. One decked out with snorkel gear and a life jacket knee deep in water, another sitting in a kayak popping her head in and out each time lighting up the shore with her smile. I experienced such joy thinking back to this scene. I found myself lifting from the fog that I had awakened with. Slowly, gradually I found a shift occurring inside of me. I didn’t want to miss any of this – not even one moment of these beautiful children and their brightness. The thoughts that were making me feel low suddenly began to seem less significant, surmountable. Adrian was asleep in my arms now. I rose carefully, nestling him over my shoulder. I walked to his crib and put him down, quietly giving thanks for this beautiful creature.

 

“It takes a very long time to become young.” ― Pablo Picasso

One of the best ways in which we may lift our children up in this life is to show them that the world is beautiful. We may show them shells and sunflowers, lazy days and wild adventures, delightful foods and sounds and sights to see. We may show them love and respect for self and others too. If we hope for them to go out into the world and do something profound (whether that means living a simple and happy life or making a grand discovery), they must first see the world as a safe place. And the world is a very good and beautiful place. If our children have this opportunity early in life then one day when they witness the things that may not be so good, they will know what is out of place and this will be powerful knowledge in their grasp. This is not an original thought but one that I have come to use as a valuable guide  for deciding how to present the world to my children. And for me, oh what peace I have found in the hours of digging my own fingers into sand and dangling seaweed on sticks, the endless driveway chalk drawing, dough mixing and long bedtime gratitudes. I think I may benefit most of all.

 

5 Powerful Ways to Connect More Deeply with Your Children

1. Observe your child. Find yourself directly in the moment with them and experience them more clearly now. Look deeply into their eyes and experience the color fully. Now stay there a while allowing yourself to dive deeply down into their soul through the window of their eyes. Notice their expression when they look more deeply back at you discovering your depth as well. Don’t say a word.