Review of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids

I am going to make a guess that Dr. Laura Markham is a fan of to-do lists. Her book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids is filled page-after-page with bulleted lists of what one can do to help guide their child (or children) to have more empathy for themselves and others.  I too am a lover of lists and good advice and, so, I devoured this book.  If you’d like to check out my notes, I will leave a link to them and other resources at the end of this post.

"Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids" book on hardwood floor

The book is broken into three main sections. The first is focused on how we can learn to regulate ourselves. The second part is dedicated to how we can foster a connection with our children. And the third section is titled: “Coaching, Not Controlling.”

Starting With Ourselves

When I say it out loud or when you read the book, it sounds like common sense – but sometimes we need to get hit with some common sense. To help guide our children (or be in any kind of relationship we care about), we have to start with ourselves. If something triggers our anger, resentment or some other emotion we need to be with that emotion. Not make ourselves feel wrong or bad for having that emotion.  We certainly can’t respond positively from that place.

To start with ourselves means that we have to find ways to make sure our “fuel tank” is full. As Rumi put it, we have to make regular visits to ourselves.  How often do you check in on how you’re feeling? If our fuse is short and we have no patience left then we won’t be able to be available to our children, spouses, friends, co-workers … etc. This isn’t covered in the book for very long (could be it’s own book!), but it’s a foundation on which the rest of the sections rely on. So, the takeaway: find ways to center yourself.

For me, I look to meditation especially the RAIN exercise.  And, not being shy to call out for help.

A Real Life Example by Littlest Martha and her Little

Not that long ago I was a single parent for a few weeks (huge shout out to all the single parents! All the props!!). It was Sunday and I wanted to make my kiddo pancakes. Ok, I wanted pancakes. I had a premix of batter (healthy stuff that was in the pantry unused for a reason) and frozen bananas.

Banana pancakes on Sunday morning! What a lovely way to start the day. But, as an interim single parent of a toddler, I needed the television to keep him calm. Good in theory but he can talk now and has opinions. The show I choose wasn’t good enough. He wanted a particular episode but couldn’t tell me which one. He could whine and say: “NOT THAT ONE!”

Now, did I mention that I can’t cook? I can burn things really well. And so I was par for the course with my regular cooking technique as the pancake batter was sticking to the pan and yet when I flipped a flapjack I could see chunks of it were totally raw. It wasn’t working out.  In the trash it went.

Not ready to give in I decide to make eggs. I can, usually, make eggs. But not that morning. I broke the egg yolk (which is criminal when you want sunny-side-up eggs) and got shells in the pan. And I wasn’t attending to the kiddo so he was in full meltdown mode. Eggs in the trash. TV off. Bad move with the TV. He was crying so hard his face broke into red bumps and had the couldn’t-breathe-gasps. My heart was broken: I suck as a mom. I sure as shit can’t cook. This isn’t working.

I scooped up the kiddo and we moved to another room (away from the TV and kitchen) — our collective triggers. This made him even more upset (didn’t know we could go to an 11!) as I wasn’t addressing his wants of putting on a program of his liking. But I held him close to me and put on my meditation timer for two minutes. I asked him to take deep breaths with me.  That we both needed to calm down.

Since he’s a toddler I really exaggerated the breathing by pushing my stomach all the way out and making loud whooshing sounds for each inhale and exhale. The first minute he resisted but the last minute he gave in. The tears slowed, the rash faded and his breathing became a little bit more normal. We were seeing each other again.  I don’t remember what I said to him but I remember being present and showing him that I cared. After that we had cereal and watched a show together.

BUT I also, in the midst of the crying (his and mine), reached out for help. Grandparents PapaJaja (as they are known as one entity in our household) were going to come for a visit in the afternoon. I texted them that if they wanted to come earlier it would be most appreciated. It was intended as a joke but JaJa knew a cry for help and they were there within the hour.  She urged me to go and do something for myself. She taught me about the value of having a full tank so we can give of ourselves to others. When we’re on empty those around us get the dregs.

So I did. I went to a coffee shop. All by myself. It was heaven. Thank you again, PapaJaJa.

 

Fostering A Connection

Swinging at the park

The time we spend with our kiddos is always special. We know that. Here comes that common sense wallop again. When with our kids are we present? Are we fostering a connection with our littles? Maybe.  Sometimes?

Dr. Markham has taken considerable time to provide guidance on how we can carve out at least 15 minutes each day with the focus being to reconnect.  In those 15 minutes, screens are not allowed and that includes cell phones for parents. “Special Time,” as she calls it, is every day and it alternates from when the play is lead by the child and when parents can choose the activity.

When we have an opportunity to guide the play we can roleplay whatever emotional gunk that is being worked out in the household at that time: the fun of sharing, the fun of listening, hitting isn’t nice … etc., etc.

Fostering a connection is valuable onto itself but goes a long way to build trust. And then, when the tantrums flare up our children know they can come to us for guidance.

 

“Coaching, Not Controlling”

Yes, yes. Whatever we need to call it, Doctor. Teach me how I can get my kid to behave in restaurants and grocery stores!

Now for the good bits! Yass!

 

Well, full disclosure – the book doesn’t provide guidance on specific examples like what I mentioned above but she does provide the tools we need to help our children cope with what they are feeling. (And then I did a search and found an article on her website. Yes, yes she does provide guidance for specific examples like parenting in public.)

Let’s take a step back, please. Dr. Markham has a lovely quote in her book that helps frame how we can rethink about how we raise our kiddos.

“Although discipline means “to guide,” in common usage it always seems to include an element of chastisement or making the child feel bad along with guidance. To change our thinking, we need to change our wording beyond “discipline,” which most of us associate with harsh teaching. Instead, let’s offer our child loving guidance.”

Loving guidance.

There. Right there — the book’s essence in two words.

If we can help children understand and accept their emotions just as they are and do so with loving guidance then we’re more than halfway there.  The trick (per the book, and I’ve started to witness already) is that once the tiny human has recognized the feeling then the feelings lose their charge and begin to dissipate. (TIP: This can happen with adults too. Being able to learn how to label emotions as they arise can help you navigate aspects of our adult life too.)

Fun Fact!  The lifespan of an emotion is less than 90 seconds!

This Fun Fact is brought to you by brain scientist and author Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. Dr. Markham doesn’t mention Taylor in her book but I have to share the 90-second rule with you.

According to Taylor:  “Once triggered, the chemical released by my brain surges through my body and I have a physiological experience. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from my blood and my automatic response is over. If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run.”

If we can understand and apply the 90-second rule in our lives then we can start to see an impact on our children.

I’m listening to you, Mom.

Dr. Markham understands that children are always listening to us.  In much of the book, she provides examples of how we can narrate for our children. Something as simple as: “You are so mad at your brother.”  Then, once the emotion has been labeled it loses some of its staying power and we can shift on to how to help our child problem solve the situation they are in.

Favorite Examples

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids is filled with tips, exercises, and anecdotes on how to help children feel safe with their emotions and develop their emotional intelligence. And, if you’ve not realized by now, I do recommend picking up a copy.  The following are two exercises we’ve implemented in our house and we love them.

Swapping “Stop Whining” with “Strong Voice”

The high-pitch frequency of a kid’s whine is like nails on a chalkboard for parents (and maybe all adults?).  According to Dr. Markham:

Remember that whining is an expression of powerlessness. Refusing to hear until they use a big kid voice further invalidates them. But you don’t want to reward the whining by “giving in”, so instead consider this exercise (inspired by Lawrence Cohen’s “Playful Parenting”:  Hey, where did your strong voice go? It was here a moment ago. I LOVE your strong voice! I’ll help you find it. Help me look. Is it under the chair? No … in the toy box? No. HEY! I found it!  That was your strong voice. Yay!  Welcome back strong voice. Now, please tell me again what you needed, in your strong voice.”

The kinda crummy part is that we often hear the whining when we’re scurrying around (i.e. trying to leave for work). So doing the exercise at a time when already stressed and feeling pressed for time may feel counter-intuitive.

However,  having done the exercise enough times we can often ask our kiddo where his strong voice went and he will revert back to using his words.  Of course, now our little guy knows he can use his strong voice to demand things: “Mom, I want ice cream! for brekfest!”

Now to find re-visit the chapter on setting boundaries. But, hey, cup half-full here:  there has been a reduction in the whining!

Keeping YOUR Cool During A Child’s Meltdown

You’re in it now. Not sure what happened but the kid is having a meltdown and you’re in the middle of it. Big tears (crocodile or not) are flowing freely. Eyelids are red and puffy and for whatever reason, your child forgot how to swallow and has reverted to a stage of drooling you’ve not seen since they were an itty-bitty.  The following list includes some things to try and remember and do to get and stay calm.

  • Acknowledge your own feelings
  • Remind yourself that it isn’t an emergency
  • Remind yourself that expressing feelings is a good thing
  • Take the pressure off
  • Take a deep breath and choose love
  • Tolerate the emotion without taking action
  • Find a way to process your own feelings

Keep it simple. Your child needs you to to witness her outpouring of emotion and let her know that she is still lovable, despite all these yucky feelings. Explanations, negotiations, remorse, recriminations, advice, analysis of why she’ so upset, or attempts to “comfort” her (“There, there, you don’t have to cry, that’s enough”) will all shut down this natural emotive process. Don’t force her to express herself in words; she doesn’t have access to the rational brain when she’s so upset. Of course, you want to “teach” but that needs to wait.  Your child can’t learn until she’s calm. You don’t have to say much. Your calm, loving tone is what matters. Intead, consider the following expressions:

  • You are safe. I am right here.
  • I hear you. Everybody needs to cry sometimes.
  • you’re telling me to go away, so I will move back a little bit, but I won’t leave you alone with these scary feelings
  • When you’re ready, I’m right here for you. 

I remember instances where I’m trying to tell him why X wasn’t a good idea when he was gulping for air between sobs. Those messages didn’t land, especially since all he wanted was to feel safe, not made to feel wrong or bad on top of it.  So I find the expressions listed useful and liberating as I now know that the first priority is to just be there for my little guy.

In Closing

Thank you, Reader, for hanging on this long. I hope the information helps you and inspires you to take time for yourself (if you’re a parent or not) and to look to your (or your child’s) emotions as messengers and not something we have to push down and avoid.

With gratitude,

Martita signature

Resources:

Ir reading my little chapbook blog post didn’t tucker you out, here are some other fantastic resources that you may want to check out.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk
(it’s awesome!)

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Why You Need A Morning Ritual

I’ve been waking up at 4 a.m. for a few months. But, it’s ok, I want to.

For a lot of folks, those two sentences are at odds with each other. While a 4 a.m. wake-up isn’t essential, it certainly makes for a better (read: longer) morning ritual. And regardless of when, everyone should consider having a morning ritual.

What My Mornings Used To Look Like

Previously, my mornings started with four alarms: “Wake up” “Seriously, you need to get up now.” “Are you in the shower?” “Ok, now you are late.” I’d snooze through the first two alarms. Easily. Thanks to sleep inertia, I’d start the morning groggy but I’d also be disappointed with myself for not getting up earlier. And I was stressed. What was I going to wear? What was I going to have for lunch? Run. Scurry. Panic.

Then we threw a kid in the mix.

The Inspiration

Thankfully, I recently heard an NPR article (or maybe it was a TED talk?). Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to bookmark it. The reporter opened with how Maya Angelou, regardless of if she was traveling and staying in a hotel or at her home, would wake up every morning at four in the morning to write. He listed other creative thinkers and well-respected businesspeople who enjoyed getting an early start on the day.

And then he tried it. He woke up and found that it was a difficult task at first, but the stillness of the morning was invigorating and his creative juices were flowing.

I had to try it too.

Measuring Success Because My Type A Self Won’t Be Denied

The first couple of days I would spring out of bed. The anticipation of four in the morning made it difficult to sleep. It was a similar sensation to when I have a plane to catch. Doesn’t matter if it’s a short one-hour flight — the night prior is filled with tossing and turning because I’m so worried that I’ll oversleep.

Being the bullet journal junkie that I am, I actually have some data. I started in July and was successful 45% of the time. August: 54%. September: 40%. But there’s a catch with September. I’ve only woken up 12 times (so far this month since as of this writing it is September 29) at 4 a.m. but I have enjoyed my morning ritual 22 times this month. And so, if I change my metric of success to being that I got up and had a morning ritual, September isn’t too shabby at a 73% success rate. Woot woot!

So, dear Toto, allow me to pull back the curtains and share what makes up my new morning routine.

Morning Ritual Timeline:

4:00 – Alarm goes off. I open one eye to search for the phone. Think about skipping the whole deal. Snooze the alarm.
4:15 – The alarm goes again and I turn on a light. No more hopping out of bed for this gal. The motion can be described as a drag-my-feet-across-the-carpet-in-which-I-make-enough-static-electricity-I-could-taze-someone motion as I walk into the bathroom. Then it’s downstairs to do other essential things. Important things like coffee.
4:30 – Free write.
5:15 – Alarm goes off. This was my normal wake-up alarm. It now serves as a reminder to transition.
5:20 – Yoga for 10 minutes.
5:30 – Meditation for 10 minutes.
5:40 – Read for 5 minutes.

Morning ritual completed. Healthy habits established.

On the days that I don’t wake up at 4 a.m. I still make time to free write, do yoga, meditate, and read. However, the amount of time to write is greatly reduced. So it would behoove me to move my butt out of bed at that early hour.

The Elements Of Littlest Martha’s Morning Ritual

Free Write

silver fountain pen resting on a journal with cursive handwriting
Beautiful fountain pens are encouraged. Baby rabbit statue that your parents saved for you as a child to serve as your paperweight: bonus.

There was a time that I would be terrified to write on a blank sheet of paper. The fear of writing something “not good” prevented me from writing anything at all. Now I crave the weight of the fountain pen. I get excited when the ink bleeds all over the paper and onto my fingers. I especially love it when it gets lodged under my fingernails. It’s the tattoo of a writer.

Prior to my 4 a.m. morning ritual, my writing was very mean. To myself. I’d wait for some muse to come and would often find anger and disappointment at myself for not “being good enough.” (I’m noticing a theme here.)

However, I now flip through the pages of my free write journal and find poetry and prose on whatever is taking space in my mind that morning.

It’s a theory but I’m going with it: perhaps at this early hour the ego, my critical self, is still sleeping and not able to dish out the criticisms.

True or not, now when I’m looking for material to turn into a short story or poem I flip through my blue moleskin journal and have several months of material to draw upon.

Yoga

Siberian husky on a blue yoga mat
This is what happens if you leave the yoga mat unattended. You get squatters.

I sit for 9 to 10 hours a day. And now we know that “sitting is the new smoking” so yoga is my smoke break. I have a series of poses that I have committed to memory and will cycle through those for 10 minutes.

Thanks to the Insight Timer app I have presets that I use every morning. Once the timer is on it activates a Do Not Disturb setting so no email alerts or texts can come through.

If you’re interested in starting your day with some yoga, check out these sun salutations.

Meditation

sunrise over the ocean with inspirational words

I am such a fangirl these days for meditation. However, it couldn’t have been more than a year go when I was introduced to meditation and I said: “Yeah, thanks but not for me. I lack the discipline.”

Again the Insight Timer app came in handy here. When I was brand new to meditation I would enjoy browsing through the guided meditation options. All so lovely. Morning affirmation meditations, Metta meditations (“Metta” is the pali word for lovingkindness), meditations to help you fall asleep, music and much more.

For my morning ritual, I will leverage the presets and meditate for 10 minutes. The thoughts would come rapid-fire like a tennis ball launcher on steroids (and they still do), but before my inclination was to try and chase them down. Exhausting.

As I’ve learned from Tara Brach, the mind excretes thoughts in the same way the body excretes enzymes. So, now I sit on the cushion and acknowledge the thoughts as they go whizzing by and return to the breath. It’s taking some practice but with each meditation, I find the experience is becoming more and more restorative and freeing.

Read

"Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids" book on hardwood floor
One of the books I actually finished reading. And it was pretty darn good. Blog post fodder right here.

My younger self was always reading. Car ride? Reading. On the beach? Reading. On the soccer field (provided I wasn’t playing)? Reading. The appetite to read hasn’t left me but I am not walking around with a book anymore since there are adult things I have to do now.

Enter the Insight Timer app. The third preset in my morning ritual is to read for 5 minutes. Unlike the other presets (as you can customize all presets) this one has no music, only the gong to signal when done.

This portion of my morning ritual has shown the most tangible results. Reading for 5 minutes a day has been really helpful. When I find the material is slow I know I can just read it for a few moments, but when it’s good I find myself sneaking a few more pages … or chapters.

The ultimate goal here is to read a book a month. Younger self, you’d be happy to learn that I’m on my way to finishing my third book.

An Extra Bonus To An Early Wake Up

Bright sunrise over rooftops

By this time the sunrise is peeking through the windows. Experiencing a soft sunrise warm up the sky and light up the room you’ve been sitting in is nothing short of magical. And it’s the perfect opportunity to give thanks.

For me, I use that chance to give thanks for the people in my life, the blessings in each day, that I get to see another day, and for my morning ritual. It’s also at this time that I’ll recite my mantra or the day’s intention.

Your morning ritual doesn’t have to start at 4 in the morning, but I hope that you make enough time for yourself to do the things that bring you joy, peace, and inspire your creativity.

With gratitude,

Martita signature