You probably found out about Robin and Positive Parenthood from someone you trust. Often, it goes something like this: you're struggling, and someone who's family is kind of like yours sees you. This person says to you... "hey, my kid was also <banging their head/having a tough time washing their hands/refusing to put on socks/falling apart at Whole Foods/insert behavior> and I didn't know what to do, but then I found Robin and Positive Parenthood. It changed my life. You need this class."
Probably, you were rather reluctant in the beginning. Maybe you protested with "this might work if you have one kid, but I have three!" Perhaps you raised your eyebrows at the idea that your kid wasn't trying to push all of your buttons. You might have let out a deep sigh when the homework was to praise your child's behavior more, and when you suggested there wasn't a whole lot to praise, Robin told you to "praise the shards."
But the point it, you got into the 12-week Guiding Cooperation class, right? And it changed your life. It allowed you to build relationships with your kids. It offered you a way to understand what was happening for your child. It was a coping strategy. You held on tight, and you practiced, and you got really vulnerable and shared tough moments with your peers in the class.... and slowly, little bit by little bit, things began to shift. You began to shift. Your child began to shift. You began to notice there was so much more than just shards to praise. The behaviors didn't completely vanish, but you now had the tools to deal with them in a kind, supportive way.
And now we want you to share YOUR story with your friends who could benefit from Positive Parenthood. And if you do that... you get something golden: when you refer three families who sign up for Positive Parenthood, you get 50% off an in-home coaching session with Robin. Got five families to sign up? FREE COACHING SESSION.
Let me say that again, for all you people who want Robin to move in with you for a week: all you have to do is find some friends who need Positive Parenthood as much as you did, and talk about your experience. Send them to the website and the instagram account. Then send a joint email to them and email@example.com.... and you're well on your way to some 1:1 Robin time!
Let's DO this!
You know song by The Shirelles that kicks off with "mama said, mama said"?
I've finally found my Buddha phrase. Two years into taking the signature, 12-week Positive Parenthood course for the first time, I finally found my Buddha phrase. I've made them up when pressed- I've tried "this too shall pass" and also "don't worry, be happy." None of them really fit, though....
The Buddha phrase is a short thing you decide to say to yourself in moments of distress, in order to stay calm yourself so that you don't resort to saying things like "BECAUSE MAMA SAID SO" or "if you don't share that plastic dinosaur with your sister RIGHT NOW you are never going to play with plastic dinosaurs ever again." So, it's a pretty little phrase with a pretty big role, because it is actually going to help you stay calm when parenting is rocky, and most parents know.... that things can get real rocky, real quick, real often when their are parents and children and responsibilities involved.
So, "this too shall pass" has never really worked for me because I would never say that. "Don't worry be happy" didn't fit because it felt like something I'd say when I was on a carefree beach with someone worried about getting sand in blown into the fruit salad, which is a much smaller aggravation than my everday experience of not feeling calm when my children start fighting over plastic dinosaurs, baby dolls that talk, or that specific blue cup (and not the exact same blue cup which we own six of- only that one).
So I've been searching for a Buddha phrase that would really work. A phrase that I could really ground to, one that would actually help me regulate myself when my children are doing all the things that really push my buttons. And tonight this song popped into my head:
Mama said there'll be days like this
There'll be days like this, mama said
Mama said there'll be days like this
There'll be days like this, my mama said
Our Buddha phrases have to work for each and every one of us, personally. There's a dad we work with who's Buddha phrase is "teflon." It helps him remember that he can let the hard moments slide off him, that he's got a no-stick finish for all those times when things are legit challenging. You know, saying "teflon" to myself would never work- I'd be like I'm not some kind of weird metal and isn't there a health concern with teflon?
But that's the beauty here: it works for him. He found it. That's all that matters.
And I think I've found mine. It's singing to myself "mama said, mama said... there'll be days like this, my mama said." See, I pulled the mother-as-a-parent-educator lucky card, and not only do I get to work on Positive Parenthood professionally, but I also have the good fortune of being Robin's daughter. While her calm nature isn't genetic (she's been called the Buddha of parenting more than once) it is the case the recalling her lessons and acknowledgement of the sweet madness (is that an oxymoron? I don't think so!) that is parenting is in itself, very calming for me.
And that is exactly what this little chorus does for me. It reminds me, that even Robin herself- our parenting guru and my mama- knows that sometimes, there's going to be hard days. And that, no matter how hard the day, she always always holds the belief that the Positive Parenthood tools can help you through anything.
Literally, anything. And it is that steadfast belief, backed up by decades of knowledge, dozens of tools, and the fact that she raised me that calms me down enough to know that... it's going to be OK, and I can be OK even if my children are really struggling, and that truly, the most important thing is.... me being OK when my children are having a really, really hard time.
So, here's what works for me:
Mama said there'll be days like this
There'll be days like this, mama said
Mama said there'll be days like this
There'll be days like this, my mama said
What works for you? Do you just replace "mama" with "Robin" or do you have a saying like "teflon" or "this too shall pass" or, as Robin herself shares is her Buddha phrase, "hmmmmm...." What works for you?
This afternoon, I watched my five year old niece swing her two braided pigtails behind her and furrow her eyebrows so that they nearly touched, after a child grabbed a block from her stack. And then another kid knocked over a fence she had been building around two plastic cows. And then a cousin playing a poking game with a younger child poked her in the side, and she turned and swung at him, nearly leaving a black eye in her wake.
She got in trouble- for she had hit another child. She was yanked from the play-area and made to sit in a white plastic chair, alone, until she could calm down and agree to play nicely. She was angry.
But here’s the thing: she really was angry about the block that was grabbed from her (and also frustrated because she wanted to play) and she really was angry about the fence that was knocked (and also, crushed that her cousin didn’t see her magnificent building efforts) and the uncalled for poking (and also, annoyed to be distracted from her play).
The adults around her knew none of this, but they were exasperated because they wanted to catch up with each other, not mediate childhood squabbles. And so, they removed her (less she hurt another child) and stuck her in a chair to think (because you can’t hit, and that’s not the way we act in this family, and think about it until you’re ready to come back and be kind).
The question emerges, did this little girl learn anything from her time out? What if what she learned was that her anger- and all the feelings underneath- were invisible to the adults who love her the most? What if what she learned, was that it didn’t matter that other children knocked over her creations, and that it was OK for older children to poke her because they were poking other children?
Those are not lessons I want my niece or any child I love to learn. And yet- I participated in this- I was one of the adults who wanted to have bread and coffee while the children played over yonder.
What if, instead of letting our desire to be with the grown-ups and our short-fuses for kids who hit other kids get the best of us, we connected with our kids? What if instead, we kneeled down, slowed down and tried to understand what was happening for the child who just struck another?
What if we approached the situation with empathy, instead of exasperation?
Here’s the thing about anger: there is almost always another emotion (or more than one) underneath anger. And when we approach a situation with empathy, what we feel are the feelings underneath the anger.
What do I mean? Let me give you some examples:
For my niece, under her anger about the knocked over fence was frustration that she couldn’t play as she wished, underneath her anger about being put into time-out was perhaps sadness or a feeling of her experiences being invisible to her caregivers.
For you, imagine you didn’t get a promotion you really deserved, and you were angry. But what was underneath that anger? Maybe some embarrassment that you didn’t get the job, maybe some fear that you wouldn’t be able to make it professionally, maybe some disappointment in yourself.
For you, maybe you’re a mom. Maybe your child was dawdling in the slowest way only children can dawdle, while you hurried them along because you really wanted to get them to the playdate because you really needed to talk to another grownup about life. And maybe their incredibly slow way of getting their shoes on was making you mad, and maybe you snapped a little. Underneath your mad was a need to be heard, a feeling of losing yourself to dawdles. See how underneath the mad, there’s something really tender?
Think back to the last time your were angry: what else was there? If you really looked, what might you find?
With that perspective, let’s return to this situation in which my niece has just slugged another child. She did hurt the other child. And yet, she’s only five, and we grown-ups were very engrossed in grown-up things in the time leading up to the slugging.
Perhaps this child could have used some help when the other kid grabbed her block, or knocked over her fence. Perhaps she could have used some empathy instead of a scolding.
So what would that have looked like?
It would have required an adult to sit down in her space, and attend to what was going on for her. We might have asked her “Hey, what are you building? Where do these little animals go? Who is helping? Who is playing something else? How are you feeling? What do you need- do you need helping building the fence again? Do you need more blocks or a little space to work in?”
These are all empathic questions- questions that are centered to her experience. They necessarily understand her hitting as an expression of her frustration- and they assume that she was just trying to be a good, playful child. They assume that something went wrong, and that that something caused the behavior. And, they hold open space for the fact that the something that went wrong was, perhaps, that the parents involved were talking to each other instead of attending to their children or being present in their children’s space. And maybe, the something that went wrong was the fact that the parents’ need time for self-care, too, because we live in a world that affords very little of that. And, these questions hold space for this little girls’ experience without pointing fingers at her, her playmates or even her parents.
These questions assume that underneath the anger that was expressed through hitting, there is something else happening, and they assume that that something else is actually very important and that, if we can tend to it, maybe next time, we can do something else, instead of hitting.
So what if your child looks at you like you have three heads when you ask empathic questions after they express anger (whether they express anger via behavior like hitting or by telling you they’re pissed off)? It’s a good question, and one you might need to deal with if you haven’t approached situations like this in the past. It’s OK to offer yourself some empathy here, and let the kids know you’re trying something new, because the old way (time outs, grounding, whatever it was) seemed like it was hurting more than helping.
Because in the end, what we want the children to be able to do is manage their anger in ways that don’t hurt others, and we want them to be able to try new ways when things don’t work out. And if we’re going to ask that of our kids, you know who has to do it first?
Model that kind of vulnerability, enact that kind of empathy, and we’ll all be better for it.
Who remembers loads of presents under the tree? Who remembers eyeing those loads of presents, and tearing open the corner to see what was inside? Who remembers the joy of sitting with your family and watching the faces of your loved ones light up, as they unwrapped your gifts?
OK, those are the good memories.
Now, for the other stuff: who dreads holiday shopping? Who hates it when the Target parking lot has literally no spaces, and who feels a wee bit resentful when that one relative texts you to inform you their oldest child likes this one sports team and their middle child loves princesses and unicorns and their youngest is developing an interest in the arts and also likes zebras? Who counts up the many other ways you could have spent the money, if you weren't expected to do gifts? Who resents the influx of plastic toys, plastic wrapping, and paper that fills up the recycling in seconds? Who doesn't have space for more toys that are likely to break or be forgotten, within the month?
Yah, you. If you're still reading, here's a bunch of gift ideas that won't break the bank and that will make memories that last longer than a sparkly pink, tap-dancing unicorn. Because at the end of the day, what we- and our children- remember most fondly about the holidays is the giving, the anticipation, the witnessing of each others' joy, the unstructured time together. So put your money and your gift-giving where your values are- and give a gift that facilitates time together, that sparks anticipation, that enables joy.
A Move Night: For the screen-loving family
Cost: $$-$$$ depending on family size
Pack up a movie night- tickets or a gift card to a local cinema can be paired with favorite candies, some microwave popcorn, a bottle of wine for the grownup or a blanket to cuddle under. Arrange them in a festive bucket (which can be repurposed for the popcorn!) and give the whole family a night out at the movies.
A Zoo Membership: For the parent who needs to get out of the house with the kids
Zoo memberships are great for families with little ones, and you can bet a parent who just can't think of anymore crafting projects or tree-house games is going to love taking her kids to the zoo, especially when someone else buys the membership! Grab some animal cookies, juice boxes, safari hats, and toy binoculars, and pack them altogether in a canvas zoo backpack, ready to go to the zoo!
A Tea Party Set: For the grandparents who love fancy things
Make a vintage tea-partyset: go to a thrift-store and purchase mismatched teacups and saucers (enough for the grandparents, grandchildren, and any special stuffies or pets) and arrange them in a basket (thrift-store!) with tea bags and snacks (Trader Joe's has some great teas. Good TJs snacks for tea-party sets are croissants, cookie "dunkers" and berries, but you pick what your people would love). Pop a picnic blanket in the basket, and encourage them to have a proper tea party with their grandkids! (This is a win-win for stressed out parents who could potentially take a nap during the tea-party).
Cooking Supplies: For the relatives who just moved into a new house
Fill mason jars with different colored staples from the bulk section at grocery store. Some good ones include black beans, green split peas, orange lentils, popcorn kernels, almonds, pink sea salt, brown sugar..... basically anything you think they might use! Mason jars can be purchased in bulk for cheap. Tie a ribbon around the top of each jar; bonus points if you can find some sort of basket or crate in which they can store the staple-jars!
Family Scavenger Hunt: For The Kids Who Love To Adventure
Set up a day-long scavenger hunt that begins right when the kids wake up (you can stick the first clue under their breakfast plates!). The idea is to leave a series of clues for them to find, each one giving a direction to the next one, until with the culminating clue, the kids find something special (it can be presents, but it could also be reading a new book with a grandparent, or a big family dinner, or glasses full apple cider with cranberries floating in them). Have them meander through their home and/or neighborhood, and if there is an adult who can drive, it might be fun to leave clues at different relatives homes (works especially well for families that visit multiple houses on holidays, though requires some advance notice!). As they move through the clues, include fun "to-dos" like "Give six people high-fives," or "run around the house four times and find one person who has broken a bone" or "Gather four red food items and present them to the oldest family member in exchange for the next clue." You can hide clues under rocks and behind doors and in bathrooms, and older children can be given clues like "your next direction is where you wipe your feet after a long muddy day" (for under the doormat). Be creative- your "clues" could be tidbits about individual people (find the person who held a snake when they were seven; the holder of the next clue has a secret tattoo; to find the next clue, find the person who can tell you a story about a cat having babies in her dresser drawer, and draw a picture of the story, etc..)! This will engage your kids throughout the day, and give them a solid plan for something to do when you are out and about.
I was getting ready to leave for work. One child was sick and clinging. Another was quietly following me around. And the third was whining, crying, asking to be picked up, and throwing tantrums because I offered her a purple cup of water instead of a green one. The family member who was babysitting was sitting on the couch, scrolling through social media. And I was on the verge of losing it because I was trying to do a million things, my kids were whining, and the person who was supposed to help was checked out. So I snapped. I looked at the whining, crying child and told her she had to stop crying. I wiped the sick one's nose and set her on the couch, and she began to wail. Again. Sound familiar?
I have long wanted to be calm, patient and present with my children... but it has taken me a while to get there and the truth is, it’s a practice. It’s something I have to do over and over and over again. I have long wanted to love them and nurture them and grow their emotional capacity, but I have to practice. So, I wanted to share five different Positive Parenthood tips that have really enriched my parenting practice… five things I do now, that allow me to be calm, patient, and present with my children.
Five Ways To Become The Calm, Patient, Present Parent You Were Meant To Be (and join us for our free coaching call on this topic, too!)
Still stuck? Have more questions? Wondering what this looks like in practice? We’ve got a completely free Positive Parenthood Coaching Call about this topic coming up with limited seats- grab your spot here! So start practicing, join us to ask questions, share tips and learn more, and let us know how it goes.
If you're anything like me, you've got buckets and boxes and bags and shelves full of children's toys. If your kids are anything like mine, they will play and play and play.... and then things get shoved behind other things, or they tire of stacking blocks upon blocks, or they stop loving playing with the tiny farm animals.
But you still have the toys.
So let's consider what's happening for the child. The child (or children!) have played with the toys. Maybe you've played with the child. The job of a child is to discover the world, and the main way they do this is through play. Once they've exhausted the toys they have and the games they know, they move on to the next thing: for their job is to discover, and so they are seeking something new, something they've yet to discover.
That's where your job as a parent gets interesting. Your job is to set up situations where children can discover something new about the world, and you can use those forgotten dollies and leggos stuffed behind baskets of scarves.
How? You're going to set up a provocation. A provocation is a set-up: you arrange old toys in new ways. It sparks interest because your children are able to discover something new- you're showing them a new way to play and something fresh to discover.
I use child-size table, and I place it in the middle of the living area because they can’t miss it: it’s right on their pathway from the bedroom when they wake up in the morning.
On that table, I arrange toys. I mix legos and blocks, I display books or art projects, I dig out old stuffed animals and set them up for tea. I try to find the oldest toys, and I try to set them up in unexpected and magical ways.
Setting up a provocation accomplishes two things: 1) the kids are delighted I’ve put in some thought to how they experience the world, in the same way that I love it when someone remembers to bring me a cup of coffee or when my husband picks up my favorite ice cream on his way home from work; and 2) I’m showing my little ones how to discover the world by putting old things into new relationships.
They will play for hours with things that were tired- each and every time.
Here are some sample provocations I’ve made for them lately. I challenge you to set one up and take a picture of it- shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the pic and I'll post it here!
Oftentimes, people ask who Positive Parenthood is for.
The thing is, Positive Parenthood is for everyone.
It was initially designed for families dealing with special needs; however what we learned was that all families could use this knowledge on how to build cooperative, positive relationships with their children.
These days, our population is about 50% families that have a child with special needs, and 50% families that have typically developing children who are challenging. We believe that all children- at some point in their development- will challenge their parents. And that is where Positive Parenthood comes in!
Here are two Positive Parenthood families, with very different children, both of whom learned and benefitted from Positive Parenthood. Learn about Iris' journey through Positive Parenthood with her son Ozzy, and the way Chelsey applied the Positive Parenthood tools as she parented her three young daughters.
I am going to tell you a little story, and it is going to help you understand why co-regulation is at the heart of Positive Parenthood, and why parental calm can (almost always) save the day, and also, why parental stress can (almost always) ruin the day. It is a true story.
This is Robin's response for a very sleepless mama, who writes...
My almost-2 year old used to sleep through the night. For over a year now, she's slept soundly in her own bed in her own room. We sleep trained her around 10 months, and she did great. She cried a bit but got over it, fast. She snored. She was happy to have her bottom patted, her sleep noise machine turned on, and her mama to quietly say, "sweet dreams!" And that would be it until 7:45am.
Until last week, when she decided to never sleep again. When I put her into bed, she screams. I am not exaggerating- it really is screaming. She wraps her arms around my neck and refuses to lay down in her crib. It is severe enough that I actually made a doctor appointment, because I thought maybe she was in pain, like with appendicitis or something. I don't know why she's crying so much. She used to be so easy to put to bed, and I don't know what to do.
The pediatrician told me to stick to the routine, and let her cry. She said it's normal, and it'd only be a few more days. I am trying that- but its not working. Like she is crying- screaming- for hours on end. Her crying makes me cry. Last night, she cried for nearly three hours. Then I gave up completely and went into her room, got her out of the crib, and brought her to bed with me. I don't even know if this was the right thing to do.
I need help, except I already went to my pediatrician for advice and it just isn't working. I feel like I'm going crazy. I am just at a total loss, and I am so, so tired. Please help.
First of all.... I see why you're struggling. Did you know sleep deprivation is a torture tactic? Many mamas in your situation are just utterly exhausted, and need help figuring out how to get everyone to sleep more, mamas included!
I want to stress that whatever you do, you and your partner need to be a united front. That means making a plan and sticking to it, whatever it takes.
If you decide to go with your pediatrician and sleep train your little one again, then you do need to follow the advice to create- and stick to- a routine. If that routine involves your little one going to bed and you patting them, turning on the noise machine, and wishing them "sweet dreams," that is OK. But you have to stick to it.
The reason you have to stick to it is that when you allow your little one to scream for two hours and then go and get her and allow her to sleep in your bed.... you have unfortunately reinforced her upset. So what she learned.... was that, by crying for a really long time, she can get what she wants- to sleep in mama's arms. What is working against your little one's consistent sleep pattern is in fact, adult inconsistency.
So- your pediatrician has identified one way to think about this issue, and I've outlined what you need to do to make this approach effective.
However, I'd encourage you to think about this from another angle. I'd encourage you to think about this in terms of your daughter's needs: what might she be needing right now, that she isn't getting at bedtime?
Given her age- approaching two years- she is very likely becoming more aware of her environment. It's very common that as she becomes more aware, she may develop new anxieties about the world, herself, and her experience in the world. At this age, many children need their sleep routines to shift- often, naps become a thing of the past just before or around the second birthday. Sometimes, its not hours of sleep that need to change around this birthday- it can also be patterns of sleep.
So, given where she is developmentally, and given her upset around bedtime, it seems plausible that what she is needing- and really, demanding- is comfort. It is OK, and good, and developmentally appropriate, for you to offer her that comfort. She may be afraid of the dark, or afraid of being alone, or afraid of you being in another room, or afraid of the unknown sleep brings.
Can you lay with her as she goes to sleep? Many parents sneak out of their children's bedroom after their breathing becomes long, deep, and even- evidencing sleep. That is OK, and it may mean laying with her, or sitting next to her bed, or delaying your own evening routine a bit. It is all developmentally appropriate, and it is also the case that it demands a lot of the parent.
So often, we are asked as parents to deny our children comfort, or to ignore our own instincts. Your instinct was good, mama- you went and got your crying child. You are hard-wired to go and get her. Now, we just want to hone that impulse and refine it a bit so that it is attuned to what your child needs.
First and foremost, that refining requires that you and anyone parenting with you decide what you are willing to do. You and your partner must be a united front: Will you lay with her? Allow her to sleep with you? Do you need her to cry it out, so that you can sleep alone, in your bed?
Get clear on this, first. Your needs and approach will shape her experience- and it will negatively shape her experience if you are unclear, inconsistent, or if there is discord between parenting partners (this includes and grandparents, nannies, aunt/uncles/brothers/sisters/others who may put a child to bed). So take some time to talk and to understand what you need, what you want, and what you believe, as a family. Then move forward into the decision making process. Make a plan that works for you and your family. Make a contingency plan for when it feels like its not working.
One option is to let her cry it out. That is what the doctor suggested, and in order to make it work, you must be consistent.
Another option is to lay with her until she falls asleep, to cuddle her as drifts off. What's hard about this option is that it requires more time and attention from a parent that may be already exhausted. This is why parents must be a united front: is your co-parent too exhausted tonight? You may need to relieve each other.
This option may feel better, but may be harder to practice because of the emotional demand on you as the parent, at the end of the day. It will require a commitment to supporting your co-parent (if you have one). Of course, if you're solo-parenting, it may mean you need to really set up more support for yourself. It's not easy, though it may well be the best option for your family.
We get it. It's really, really hard. As you venture through this sleep-disruption, we hope you are able to support each other in whatever decision you make, and of course- to always be consistent with your little ones, regardless of what works best for your family.
Most of our blogs are written by Chelsey, who manages our online space. Sometimes, Chelsey & Robin co-write. Sometimes, Chelsey interviews Robin. Sometimes Robin writes, too.