Friday, December 31, 2010

Winter Solstice Celebration - Part II: Topic - Coping Skills by Cody Dale

Cody Dale is a Child Behavior Specialist. She has been working with children for over ten years and has majored in both Early Childhood Education and Child Development. Cody began her career by teaching in an infant/toddler room at a pre-school in Huntington Beach, California. With high ratios and over-stimulated children, she found that she just wasn't getting the one-on-one time she really desired with kids and after two years, began her journey to becoming a nanny. Throughout most of her career, she was involved in RIE training. Just within the past year, her career has taken her down a very gratifying path and now teaches classes and workshops as a Parent Coach in both the Tahoe and Orange County areas.

In this post, I will be sharing what Cody discussed with us at our Winter Solstice Celebration. The topic was on how to understand what our toddlers/young children are going through in these learning/growing stages and how to learn coping skills to teach our children when they get upset and frustrated (or as my family likes to call it “big feelings”).

As mentioned in the book, “Connection Parenting – Parenting Through Connection Instead of Coercion, Through Love Instead of Fear” by Pam Leo, the author talks about when a child’s needs are met (i.e. when they are well-fed, well-rested and when they have been given emotional attention) how cooperative they are. One of the things children may not understand at this age is how to conserve energy the way adults can. When an adult thinks about a typical day, they think about all the things they have to do, and while that can be overwhelming, it does give us the ability to conserve energy throughout the day so that we don’t run out of steam halfway through. Children on the other hand, don’t have that ability. So even though you may have done your absolute best to get their needs met, a lot of times our kids expend all their energy in excitement or play and can then become tired and frustrated by the time us adults still have to run an errand (i.e. grocery shopping). This is where learning how to show our children coping skills come into play in situations like these. Or when children get frustrated with a toy, when playmates on the playground are doing something they don’t like, or when they want something they can’t have. Coping skills are important to have throughout life and now is a great time to teach them techniques that will work for them through adulthood.

One of the first things you need to decide as a parent is what kind of coping skills you want to introduce to your kids. When kids are babies, some parents offer methods, such as pacifiers or special blankets. But now that your kids are older they are capable of using other coping methods. One of the things RIE teaches is not to take away a child’s pacifier/stuffed animal or special blanket until they are ready. But as kids get older and become more active and more involved with school or classes, the less those methods work because they can’t take them everywhere (and if they do it keeps them from being able to fully participate in the activities they are doing). So creating coping skills that children can use anywhere and eventually can do on their own is important.

The following methods are techniques that Cody likes to use when teaching kids about coping skills:

1) Taking Deep Breaths

It sounds obvious but people don’t realize that even young toddlers can do this. However, you must teach them this technique BEFORE they are upset. It’s most effective to take a time when the kids are awake, fed, and happy and just show them some deep breathing exercises. Some children like pretending to be a dragon, or doing very loud over exaggerated breaths. After showing them the breathing exercise, you can explain to them that sometimes when you are upset it is really helpful to do these things. Remember, it will not sink in the first time, it is a skill that must be worked on, but they do learn quickly!

Another thing that RIE teaches is that it’s okay to explain to your kids emotions, such as telling them when you’re frustrated. This helps kids get in touch with their emotions and reassures them that everyone feels this way sometimes. For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, you could tell your child (in a calm way) that you’re going to sit down and take some deep breaths. Sometimes even go further and asking them if they want to help can be beneficial. This is the age where kids love to be involved and help! This process could actually be fun for the child helping you and showing you their deep breaths.  And it could also be a bonding experience that will put both of you in a good mood.

The next time they are frustrated you can ask them if they want to take some deep breaths. They might not want to but feel free to do it yourself (especially if the situation is getting you overwhelmed too!) and a lot of times they will join in. Of course you never want to force them to use a coping skill because that is counter-productive and breaks down the bond between the both of you.

It is also helpful to practice skills that you would like for your child to learn before they are in a situation where they will need them. One good example is having tea parties to practice table manners before taking them to a restaurant. This of course works with coping skills, as well. A great suggestion is to play pretend with your child and ask them to show you different emotions.  Ask how they might act when they are feeling a certain way (sad, happy, excited, etc.). You could even ask them “If I was upset what could I do? Often times, kids may answer by saying “Try deep breathing”! This is a great way to teach them how to brainstorm and another way to reinforce coping skills.

Note: deep breathing exercises seem to work really well with both active and calmer kids.

2) Re-Centering Yourself

Another method that works really well for children is to take them into another room (preferably the bathroom), turn the lights down low and take a few minutes away from the situation to give a few snuggles. This could even give an opportunity to talk/ask them about their frustration (not to reprimand or scold as this, of course, breaks the bond). Alot of times kids become over stimulated and by doing this technique, it really helps them to calm down.  Just like most adults need time and space to re-center themselves (i.e. whether it's taking a few breaths to relax, meditating, etc) when they get frustrated and/or overwhelmed, children do too!

An example that Cody shared:

“One of the little girls I work with, named Samantha, has really done well with this. It’s actually something I have been doing with her since she was born (she’s now almost three). Samantha loves to snuggle and when she would get frustrated as a baby I would take her into her nursery or the bathroom, turn down the lights if I could and just sit and rock her for two or three minutes. She would lean into me and sigh and cheer right up and we’d walk out of the room both recharged. Now that she is older Samantha recognizes when she is frustrated (sometimes with a little help), and goes into the bathroom by herself. She closes the door (we have made the room baby proof and make sure we can hear her) sits in there for a few minutes, sometimes talking to herself and then walks out, cheerful as can be!"

If there is not a bathroom for a child to go to, they can always go off to a corner and turn their back to everything that’s going on and re-center themselves. Keep in mind that you will need to assess what your child’s personality is. Active children often get more frustrated if you use methods like sitting and calming down with a grown up. If you discover that re-centering technique isn't helping, perhaps going outside with your child and running around the yard a few times to release their energy would be more beneficial.  And if it's too cold, then perhaps dancing or doing jumping jacks or basically anything active that will help to release their frustrated energy.

3. Self-Soothing

Part of respecting and connecting with our children is reading their cues and allowing them to self-soothe (if they want to or are capable of doing). Children will give you signs of what they need in order to calm down. The trick is knowing how to read them!  As parents and caregivers, we tend to want to always help or "fix" things and sometimes we try so hard that we forget to take a minute and just stop and see what our kids are telling us.

Another example that Cody shared:

“One of the things that brought this to my attention is an incident I had with one of my kids, Charlie, a few years ago. One of my best friends had watched Charlie since he was born and they (along with myself) and the kids I watched had play dates nearly every day. Charlie was very comfortable with me and I had watched him on many occasions when his nanny was busy. However, one night when I went to his house, even though he greeted me with hugs and kisses and excitement, when his mom left he was really upset. He was crying and carrying on in a way I had never seen him. He was about two and a half at the time and I spent a few minutes trying to talk to him, asking him if he wanted a hug, explaining to him in a calm voice that mommy would come back, trying to distract him, trying to figure out if he was hungry or tired….and when I had tried everything I could think of I finally stopped and observed him and realized he was staying on the other side of the coffee table from me, showing me with his body language that although he wanted to be in the same room with me (he could have run to the other room), he didn’t want me physically near him. The more I thought about it I realized that anytime I suggested anything to him he got even more upset. Finally, I realized that all he needed was for me to simply sit there and be there for him. As soon as I did that he cried for another minute or so and then calmed himself down. He took some deep breaths on his own, put his head down on his arms and when he lifted his head he gave me a teary eyed smile and came over to me with his arms up for me to hold him. I picked him up and he cuddled on my lap for a few minutes and when he was finally calm I apologized to him for not listening to what he was trying to tell me and we had a great night.”

STOP, OBSERVE and really watch what your children are doing. So often they are telling us what they need with their body language or words, but we are so wrapped up in our own thoughts it is difficult to see.

Even children that have not been taught coping skills know how to calm themselves or will show you what they need to calm down. We see in videos with young babies that when they are overwhelmed by a situation they will turn their head away and not look again until they have calmed down. Many parents try and force kids to look at them or talk before they aren’t ready because they don’t realize that what these kids are doing is self-soothing!

Some kids will come over to you for a cuddle right away and just want to be held. Some will try to talk to you, some will run away and find a quiet corner, they WILL show you what they need! And one of the most important things you can do is to just stop and give them what they need. When you do this, they calm down so quickly you will be surprised (keeping in mind that sometimes what they need is sleep or food). Once they are calm, it gives a better opportunity for you to talk to them. For kids that run off and need alone time, give them a minute or two and then quietly and calmly go over and ask if you can talk. If they say “No” or give you an indication that they are not ready, try and sit down without saying anything. A lot of times they will let you stay in the room with them and within a few minutes they are ready to talk.

As adults we have so much on our plate that we always feel like we don’t have enough time, but when you stop and deal with these things as they come up, it takes a shockingly short amount of time out of your day and you really will make it up with how cooperative your child becomes afterwards.

This philosophy is also explained in Connection Parenting.  As quoted from the book: "It takes the same amount of time and attention to meet children's emotional needs as it does to deal with behaviors caused by their unmet emotional needs. Either we spend time meeting children's emotional needs by filling their love cup or we will spend time dealing with behaviors caused by their unmet needs. Either way we spend the time."

4. Emotional Coaching

When using Emotional Coaching, you must wait until the child is ready to do this. This doesn’t mean that the child is not upset anymore, but merely that their crying is slowing and their breathing is starting to return to normal. That is when they are able to talk and listen. Before that, all they need is a cuddle or someone to be there for them.

It’s very important not to invalidate your child’s feelings. For instance, if a child falls down, most parents/caregivers try to not react and tend to say “It’s okay”. This can actually be damaging to tell a child this. As part of social understanding, kids will look to you to see how to react but NEVER tell a child that it’s okay! The reason for this is because if the child was scared by a fall or if it does actually hurt and you invalidate their feelings by telling them “it’s okay”, it not only breaks down the bond between you two, (because you are not validating their feelings), but it may also leave them feeling confused and incapable of understanding what they really feel. We want them to be conscious of what their body is feeling and be able to articulate it. So it’s very important to ask questions instead of giving answers. If you think the child is okay you can stay where you are and say something like “Oh, you fell down, are you okay?” Don’t overreact because that will cause them to be even more upset.  Just ask instead of telling. This technique can be used for when they are sad, frustrated, etc.

In the past year, Cody has been researching the way the arts, specifically theater, helps kids with emotional behavior. She has found with kids is that not only do they absolutely LOVE puppets, but puppets can really help them understand their emotions. You can use puppets to show emotion (stories where one puppet is frustrated and the other puppet talks and helps the first puppet) as another way to show them coping skills. For instance, once they see a puppet deep breathing it can be a lot more fun to get involved. It can also help in communicating with your child by using the puppet. Alot of times a puppet is easier for the child to talk to. Either purchase a couple of puppets or even better yet, make it a fun project by making them. You can make them pretty easily with socks and a few arts and crafts or even with things around the house.

Emotion Coaching

What are the five elements of emotion coaching?

1. Be aware of a child's emotions

2. Recognize emotional expression as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching

3. Listen empathetically and validate a child's feelings

4. Label emotions in words a child can understand

5. Help a child come up with an appropriate way to solve a problem or deal with an upsetting issue or situation

Dr. Gottman's research found that children of emotion-coaching parents had more abilities in the area of their own emotions than children who were not coached by their parents. In other words, these "coached" children grew up to become what Dan Goleman has referred to as "emotionally intelligent" people. What are characteristics of these children? They:

• Are able to regulate their emotional states

• Are better at soothing themselves when they are upset

• Can calm down their hearts faster after an upsetting incident

• Have fewer infectious illnesses

• Are better at focusing attention

• Relate better to other people, even in tough situations like getting teased in middle school

• Are better at understanding people

• Have better friendships with other children

• Are better in school situations that require academic performance

***This information was taken from The Gottman Relationship Institute website.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter Solstice Celebration - Part I

"Winter solstice! A time of transition in the annual war of light vs darkness, cold vs warmth, abundance vs shortage, life vs death! All people in our northern climes have tended to view this as the crucial time of year. A time to hold ceremonies designed to assist nature in rebounding from the path toward oblivion to one directed toward prosperity. A time to huddle at home with family and friends in love and worship, or a time simply to hibernate, as much as possible, sleeping more, and attempting to keep ones mind on other things.

It has often been said that the greatest joy tends to follow deep sorrow. What is so wonderful about the winter solstice is that once we are past that moment of time we can look forward to brighter skies. Slowly at first, then more rapidly as we go into January and February, days get longer and everything around helps us celebrate the increase of light. It speaks well for the human spirit that our greatest religious/spiritual celebrations take place at winter solstice time, as people radiate warmth of fellowship and love on these dimmer days. The festivals of darker days are really celebrations of light."

This really resonated with my feelings of how children are our celebrations of light!  So it was only fitting for our December gathering to be a Winter Solstice Celebration.  A year ago in December marked the Family Love Village's 1st Christmas gathering to welcome our very first guest speaker. That guest speaker was Cody Dale who spoke to us about RIE. For 2010's Winter celebration, once again Cody Dale was invited back to help us bring in the new year with a new topic on how to learn coping skills for our children.  The presentation will be fully described in Winter Soltsice Celebration sequel.  For Part 1, I wanted to share what we did for our celebration (especially since Part II will be a little on the lengthy side since there was so much important information that Cody shared with us).

As you might already know (from an earlier post), I have been participating in this 42-day online playgroup based on a book called the Abounding River which helps abundance, self-love, creativity, awareness, gratitude and generosity flow in your life. One of the practices is on being generous. I started thinking of how could the village create generosity this Christmas season. And at first I thought of Toys for Tots and how they help give joy to children in need which is a great idea but to me, just adds more to the consumerism and since it has to be a new, shiny toy in its new, plastic container, that it would be just one more thing added to our landfill (which all of you know me by now, I'm a geek for living green!) LOL

So I started doing some research on companies in the Los Angeles area that accepts gently used baby/toddler toys, books and clothes and found one called Baby2Baby. So I sent them an email to let them know I would like to host a drive to give presents to children in need and to see if they offer such a thing with their company during the holidays. I spoke to one of the founders and she was happy to accept the gently used gifts.

Unfortunately, after our gathering, when one of the village mamas (Eva) tried dropping off the items, she got lost and by the time she found the Baby2Baby location (7 minutes after their scheduled drop-off time), they were already closed. So Eva ended up donating all the toys and clothes to another wonderful non-profit organization (which I have mentioned in a prior post), Alexandria House - which is a transitional residence for women, teens and children in need. It felt good to hear that the children were really happy to receive these gifts and that the Family Love Village was making a difference in these kids' lives!

It was a wonderful evening where the villagers reconnected with some of the families that we hadn't had the opportunity to see in awhile (due to distance/location) and to welcome new families, as well. The potluck feast was a wonderful spread of Holiday yumminess.

To end the evening, I had passed out small pieces of paper to the families during dinner to participate in a ceremony to and for ourselves. I called it "Releasing of the Old and Igniting of the New" - where each person wrote down an old pattern/old behavior or thought that no longer serves who they are or want to be. Then on the 2nd piece of paper, each person wrote down a conscious behavior/pattern or way of thinking that they would like for themselves to become as conscious parents/spouses/individuals for the new year. After dinner, we all cuddled by the fireplace outside and shared what we wanted to release and set them free into the fire and then shared what we wanted to ignite in replace of the old. I suggested for the 2nd piece of paper to be kept somewhere where each individual can have easy access to it as a reminder of what we want to shift in our lives. Dalmacio and I put ours on our fridge. Although Dalmacio couldn't actually be there for the FLV gathering (due to taking care of our dog), we actually did this ceremony with my family when we had them over for Christmas dinner.

This ceremony was such a beautiful way for us to end our gathering.  It really resonated well with the the description of what the Winter Solstice represents - with winter being a time of transition (as mentioned in the beginning of this post) and why there are religious/spiritual holidays/rituals that surround this time of season; because the festivals of darker days are really celebrations of light. To me these pieces of paper can represent perhaps an unconscious way of being that we want to release so that we can let our conscious lights shine in the new year! Because it was such a beautiful experience, I think it will be a ceremony that the village can do together for years to come.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Building Community

A couple of weeks ago, I joined an online playgroup based on a book called The Abounding River by Matthew and Terces Engelhart. I was invited by my beautiful cousin Maya Hackett, the author of her own inspiring blog, Urban Organica to join her, along with other amazing and inspiring families and individuals. At first I found myself being in resistance because I was so overwhelmed with recently moving, unpacking and having just organized and completed the Family Love Village gathering on homeschooling (which I apologize because I haven't had a chance to re-read through everything from that night in order to write about it in this blog), as well as just cleaning up/settling in after my son, Andrik's blessing ceremony - which by the way all happened within ONE week of us moving to our new home. Yes, you heard it correctly, my family moved once again. That was twice within 4 months of each other. A friend of mine joked and asked if we plan to move every fiscal quarter. LOL No thank you!! We plan to stay at this house for some time! And yes, a house! An actual house!! No not yet bought - renting; but still, an actual house! :o)

So anyways before I go off on another tangent (for those that have been reading my blog know all too well I can do this), I wanted to talk a little bit about the book and the playgroup. So after Maya had explained what this playgroup blog was all about (again being openly resistant). LOL Even writing these words down sound ridiculous but to further explain, I was open, just not fully available to play wholeheartedly - especially about the part about writing in a THIRD blog! I mean come on, it's hard enough for me to write in 2, and now I've gotta write in a third one (which by the way, I seem to be writing in this 3rd blog more often than my other 2 - which after doing this playgroup, trust me- I'm one inspired writer who has lots to talk about in both my original blogs so don't you worry, my intimate group of dedicated readers! I've got plenty of love to share. Ok there I go again- on another tangent! lol). Back to the story. I wanted to be open and decided heck why not check it out. If several of my cousins and theirs spouses that I completely respect and admire are playing then why not check it out.

So yes, the book. The Abounding River - well the title definitely had a nice flow to it. And that's exactly what it's about. This book helps you to create abundance in your life. In this book you practice loving yourself, adoring yourself, accepting the world, being generous and grateful every day and experiencing being provided for. And I have to say that even though I’ve only just begun, I am really enjoying this playgroup. It’s a private online blog where we share our thoughts, feelings and experiences of the exercises given in the book. I’ve read books before and done exercises but this one is different, it feels really good to get the support from other families and individuals that are doing the book, as well. We’re creating community here with family members, friends and people who we have yet to meet in person but whom I feel I already know.

I know..I know - you may be wondering what does this have anything to do with what this blog is about? What does it have to do with families and love and villages, right? The answer: EVERYTHING! Not only is this a book (as well as a board game - intriguing right?) but the authors have built a whole community around this concept and now have several restaurants in the bay area (and one that I'm excited to announce is opening up in Los Angeles around Dalmacio's birthday March 5th) called Cafe Gratitude.

When I looked up the website, I was ecstatically inspired and even more excited to be part of the playgroup now! Their philosophy is everything that my family believes in and supports! Below is what I copied and pasted from their website:

We choose to work in partnership with vendors, customers, and the community in making choices that support the environment we share. Plastic containers & water bottles have been eliminated from our retail store, and we often request that new and treasured vendors repackage their products in cellophane or glass - just for us. But that is only the start. Here is a short list of the environmental commitments we are steadfastly loyal to:

  • If the organic variety of produce is not available, we do not choose conventional.
  • We use non-bleached, 100% cotton cloths for napkins. After being used, these napkins are sent to the auto industry for rag-use purposes. This creates an additional life-cycle and eliminates the use of harmful chemicals such as bleach, which is used in common laundering practices.
  • We filter our own water at all locations.
  • All our food scraps are composted and are often sent to the Be Love Farm.
  • We recycle our paper and cardboard.
  • Our dishes are washed with the most environmentally-friendly products.
  • All of our books, private labels, and menus are printed on recycled paper with soy based ink. Our offices also use recycled paper.
  • We take pride in our high standards, and we thank you for every dollar you share with us, further empowering our investment in the environment.
The community we have built is inspirational and we thank you for being a part of it. The gratuity offered to your server is shared with every hourly employee who worked that day. This means that every baker, dishwasher, kitchen line, bartender, host, and food preparer share in the generosity you bestow on your server. You not only provide for one, you provide for all. We have made it a practice to help one another in times of financial challenge, personal growth, during addiction recovery, healing from disease, repairing a car or even replacing stolen bicycles. We support one another’s artistic performances, share housing, and transportation. By experiencing the power of community, we take care of each other, knowing that the same support is available in return. Imagine EVERYONE working in an environment where, on a daily basis, you are celebrated and held as nothing short of amazing; every day, you are created as great!

Café Gratitude serves a menu of 100% organic, 100% vegan, local fare. Our food is free of refined sugar, flour, and additives. We have an extensive menu of raw foods and have recently expanded to serve cooked foods in many of our locations. We create all of our own food -from the produce bin to your plate - so we can avoid serving certain common allergens like wheat, soy, and peanuts. Over 45% of our produce comes from our Be Love Farm, and the compost from our Cafes is returned to the farm to nourish the next meal.

Yes, we love and appreciate the opportunity to open our doors seven days a week and serve the best organic food available, but even more, we are inspired by the awakening of our collective consciousness. Standing in the possibility that we are responsible for our experience of life, we encourage our community to focus their attention on qualities that inspire and empower, not just at work, but in all areas of their lives.

Okay I just fell deeply in love with this community just with reading the above statements from their website! This blends so well with my vision for the Family Love Village!  To be able to inspire and empower families and caretakers throughout the world as a collective consciousness towards gentle guidance/communication with our children and eco-holistic living is a passion I am willing to absorb my heart into fully.  I'm thrilled to be be in the game and connected with yet another community that believes in the same things that the village does! 
With this wonderful opportunity to play and practice with this online group and self-connectedness, I have been experiencing loving moments to and for myself. I've found that this is very sacred and vital for me to find the balance between doing my best to be a conscious mama (as my cousin calls it: a conscious parenting advocate), and to be a loving and conscious wife, as well as loving myself and getting my own needs met. Although this is definitely a fact that everyone needs to get their needs met in order to keep the happy sanity within the home, we don't always get them met. But thanks to the playgroup and the book, I am beginning a new journey towards re-discovering myself and planting new seeds along the way.

Gratitude is one of the vital keys to self-healing and self-loving. Thank you Abounding River and Cafe Gratitude for existing so that we can exist in a more loving, abundant and sustainable way. Here's to eating, living, and creating concsious communities!