How to Help Your Child Understand Mixed Feelings
April 9, 2015 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Teens, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (0)

Our children’s emotional inner lives are complicated. Even by the beginning of the second year you can see ambivalence emerging. “Pick me up, put me down”, all at the same time. As they grow and develop, blends of feelings, and even opposite feelings can — and do exist at the same time. This can be confusing. Imagine your preschooler wanting to go to a friend’s party and also being scared. Or your school-age child wanting to give up on learning something hard and feeling angry about not getting it easily. How about your teenager wanting to have sex with her boyfriend and worrying about how it will impact the relationship. These conflicts are the stuff of life.

As a parent you can help them by pointing out, “A part of you wants to go, and a part of you is scared.” “A part of you feels like giving up and a part of you is frustrated because this is so hard to learn.” Instead of seeing only one overriding sentiment and overreacting to it, it helps parents to recognize that our child is not, “a scaredy cat”, or a “quitter”, those are just parts of them.

As you teach your child about mixed feelings, they start to find center and are more able to find what they most want to do. “I can hear you have mixed feelings about having sex and I have faith that as you make room for all those feeelings, you will make the best decision for yourself.”  Giving a voice to these different aspects of your children calms them down as they feel known and understood.

Bookmark and Share
Book Writing with Kids
March 26, 2015 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off

Parents say “Use your words!” to help children turn their raw emotion into understandable language. Here is another way to transform feelings, help children process events and support your child’s love of language, art and books. Make books yourselves, together. Nothing high tech – sheets of computer paper, a stapler and markers are all you need. Turn your life events- moving, saying goodbye, a new baby, fighting with friends, learning to control anger, into a narrative.

Here’s an example. You are moving and a bit worried about how your child will handle it. You want to be able to prepare and discuss, but kids need indirect ways of talking about big things. So, tell your four year old you two are going to write a book about moving. Show her how to make a book by stapling papers together and off you go!

“What should the cover be like? We need a name for our book and a picture. What should be call it?”

“James is moving.”

“Awesome title! I’ll write that and then you draw a picture now for the cover of our book…Is that our building?”

“That’s our house and I want to stay here!?”

“I know, let’s start the book with that. I will write the words and you can draw and write your words. So, page one. James lives at 332 West 24th Street. He has lived there since the day he came home from the hospital. He doesn’t want to move and leave his house! He says, “I want to stay here.”

It is the rare kid who won’t be hooked by the plot line here! You continue your book about moving with your story and blend in the language your child uses in the prose. You translate a life event into a story, and thereby give a way to process feelings for your children.

Let’s cut to the last page.

“So James and his mommy, daddy and Maggie the dog move will move to their new house at 112 West 89 th Street. They will always remember and miss their first house. The End.”

Your child now can look at this book of his own creation, his own words, his designs. He is in charge of his own story, which we all know, helps.

Bookmark and Share
A New Year: An Inner Life Makeover
January 6, 2015 · Posted in Parenting, Relationships, Work/Family Balance · Permalink · Comments Off

By Lisa Merlo Booth

Every year at this time millions of people make countless New Year’s resolutions regarding appearance, work, family and relationships.  One person’s going to lose weight, another’s going to work harder and yet another is going to spend more time with their family.  All of these can be great ideas, yet somehow few actually get followed through with.

What if this year people focused on making changes on the inside of themselves rather than the outside?  What if we decided to look at why we emotionally eat rather than go on a diet that will lead to more weight gain in the future anyway?  What if we looked at our propensity to hide in our careers rather than enjoy our families?  How about exploring the relationship squashing patterns that have haunted us for a lifetime?  Hmmm, what if…?

For those of you who are courageous enough to take a look at yourself with a loving and critical eye, here are some ideas of what to look at.  Change some of your internal patterns and watch your life change on a whole new level.

1.    Look at your past several romantic relationships and write down what each partner’s main complaint was about you.  Don’t defend against the complaint—just take it in and look at it.  Imagine the complaint is true.  How has this quality hurt your relationships/life?  What step can you take to change it?

2.    Pay attention to the messages your children say to you when they’re angry, hurt or upset at you.  Do they say you’re always working, never listen, mean or…?  Take in their feedback and examine it for truth.  Don’t defend—just own your piece and decide if and how you need to change it.

3.    If you struggle with eating, pay attention to the times you eat and track what you were feeling right before you ate and immediately after you eat.  Look for emotional eating and understand what’s underneath your poor self-care.  Stop focusing on dieting and start focusing on your internal struggles regarding self-worth, appearance etc.

4.    Pay attention to how you respond to upset, poor treatment or discontent.  Do you get intense and over-react or do you shut down and silence?  Imagine what it would be like if you stepped in with a new kind of strength and were centered, grounded and strong in your responses.  What would you say or do differently? Do it.
5.    Pay attention to how you are at work, at home, with friends and with your children.  Are you the same person everywhere or have you lost yourself in one area of your life?  Get conscious of why you’re not yourself in one of these areas and dare to step up in a whole new way.

Having the courage to look at the areas where we aren’t doing well is the only way we can play bigger in our lives.  Our mistakes make us human; pretending we don’t make them keeps us blind.   Look at your edges (those areas where we are relationally off) and dare to work them not ignore them.  You will be thankful you did, as will those around you.

Bookmark and Share
Holidays: Sights, Smells and Tastes
December 23, 2014 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off

images-1The recession has been good for the holidays. This is the second year that the ethos of the holidays consists of getting less, spending less and really tuning into what the deeper messages about the seasons mean. Most parents who toned down the consumer frenzy last year were much more content with their holiday celebrations. Less stories about over stimulated kids ripping through mountains of presents and then demanding more. Less stress in preparing for the holidays.

What people remember most about their holidays as kids are the lights, whether Christmas or Chanukah, the scents of pine or baking or potatoes frying and the wonderful assortment of tastes. Who really remebers what year you got your bike, or a doll, or board games or gameboy? It is wrapping paper and ribbons and rituals we remember. So, when planning your holidays focus on the senses and not on the gifts. Pass on traditions or invent new ones. Those are the memories in the making.

Bookmark and Share
Make Your Wife Happy! Finish Your Jobs!
December 15, 2014 · Posted in Marriage, Parenting, Relationships · Permalink · Comments Off

This post is for the guys. Want to make your wife feel loved, taken care of and appreciated? One very simple way is to finish whatever household jobs you begin to completion. A task done fully and completely is an act of loving kindness.

After decades of meeting with mothers the same refrain is constant, “If he would just do the whole job, I would be so happy!” Translation: If you are supposed to empty the dishwasher, empty it and put every last thing away. Do not leave a pile of tupperware on the counter for her to do. If you are making a snack for the kids, put the peanut butter and jelly away and wipe the breadcrumbs from the counter. If you are bathing the baby, go back to the bathroom and empty the tub, put the used diaper in the garbage and put the dirty baby clothes in the hamper.

This may seem trite, but it is not. When a wife comes in to a fully emptied dishwasher, a cleaned up kitchen, or a drained tub she feels loved, thought about, appreciated and relieved. If you were counting on her making dinner and only the salad -no main course- was prepared, how would you feel? If she was supposed to bring your suits to the cleaners but never picked them up, what message would that send to you? You would feel burdened, frustrated, unappreciated. I guarantee it.

So here is a clear road map to less conflict, more team work and love: Always finish the tasks you start at home. It is an easy way to show how much you care and believe me, won’t go unnoticed!

Bookmark and Share
The Baby Brain: Wired for Connection
October 22, 2014 · Posted in Infant Development, Parenting · Permalink · Comments Off

We all are amazed at how babies are brilliant little creatures. Now brain research is able to look inside the infant’s brain to see the actual mechanisms that underlie their amazing abilities. A study published in Current Biology used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fmri) of the brains of three to seven month old infants to assess brain activity in relationship to sound. They found that the infant brain attends to human voices and emotions even more than familiar environmental sounds. These babies’ brains showed more activation when they heard emotionally neutral human sounds, such as coughing, sneezing, or yawning, than when they heard familiar non-human sounds like their toys or running water. We are wired for connection from birth.

Another interesting finding was that these babies showed greater response to sad sounds versus neutral ones. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective–to be more alert to a bad situation is probably adaptive for a baby. This may be a part of understanding why we all tend to remember and focus on the negative rather than the positive experiences in life.

Adaptive capacity or a design flaw is debatable, interesting never the less.

Bookmark and Share
Minding Our Business
October 8, 2014 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Parenting · Permalink · Comments Off

By Bethany Saltman

T and I are scheduled to offer a retreat, along with other senior lay students/parents, on the practice of parenting at Fire Lotus Temple in Brooklyn, the city center of Zen Mountain Monastery. And I agreed to lead a discussion about parenting after being approached by a lovely new mom in Woodstock, and owner of Illuminated Baby, which will happen soon after. Oy.

As readers of this column can attest, I am not in much of a position to be doling out advice on how to be calm, cool, or collected. But even more than that, can talking (and/or reading) about Buddhism really help us be better parents, or might it just add to the list of things we should be doing?

The web is full of sites, articles, and blogs about how to “Use Buddhist Teachings for Better Parenting,” with subtitles such as “Learning to be a Calm, Compassionate Parent with Buddhist Teachings.”

Here are some tips from one I found:

Buddhism Teaches Compassionate Parenting If one just takes a minute to breathe, calm down, and react [sic], life with children will be happier and easier.

Learn How to Parent Mindfully from Buddhist Practices By being mindful, it is possible to pay more attention to what a child is really trying to say and to enjoy the small pleasures and details of a child’s life and convey the message that one’s children are truly valued and loved.

Being an Accepting and Understanding Parent Each individual is a Buddha and one must respect and accept that uniqueness.

Being a Responsible, Loving Buddhist Parent By setting good examples of responsibility and being loving towards others, parents can help children imbibe these important values.

Who could argue with such sound advice? Of course each individual is a Buddha who deserves to be respected. But what does that mean when the Buddha in front of you is flopping around in the bed, covers transformed into a cave, whining about being tired, and you have exactly 20 minutes to get said Buddha out of said bed, clothed, fed, teeth brushed, and out the door for her ride to kindergarten? And the reason for the rush is that you let her sleep in because she was on the brink of getting sick and as much as you love and respect her, you also know that her illness during this week filled with your deadlines would be treacherous, to say the least.

Responsible, maybe, but not very loving. You try to be patient, respecting her position, even paying attention to the small details of the wind rustling in the trees outside, try to hear what your little Buddha is truly saying; is there a message beneath that plea to just sleep one more minute, mama, please? You try to breathe. In fact, you do, breathe. But the sound of your own inner voice, screeching with irritation, reciting your list of things to do (in order to be respectable person in the world) wins out. And you growl at the little Buddha.

Buddhism teaches many things, but as far as I can tell it is all geared toward finding in ourselves what the Buddha called “an awakened heart,” which is also called “bodhichitta.” As Pema Chodron says, “This is a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound.” And unfortunately, this is what we have to move into in order to become mindful. Learning to calm down, even breathe and notice is of course part of it all, but the only way to get there is to do the first, hardest thing: Don’t try to change anything. Be, totally. Every aspect. Don’t add to my experience of the moment, regardless of how painful it is or how lame I think it is/I am.

As my teacher Daido Roshi used to say, “Really trust yourself.” Not to do the right thing or have the correct answer but to simply “do what you’re doing while you’re doing it,” another of his favorite teachings. Does this then mean that when I am growling, just growl? Maybe so. Chances are I will “make a better choice,” as we encourage our kids to do, when I am not adding so many layers to my own experience, getting caught up in what psychotherapist Karen Horney calls “the tyranny of the shoulds,” and just giving all my mean-animal sounds their moment of truth, even when they stay, as they hopefully do more and more, on the inside, and not shared with others. When I am truly apprehending the moment, whines, irritation, and all, that’s mindfulness, and over time, mindfulness definitely leads to less irritation. But there are no shortcuts.

I recently came across a lovely piece written by a Buddhist professor and practitioner from Sri Lanka named Lily de Silva called “Interpersonal Relations and Vipassana Meditation.” In it she writes, “Though essentially a social animal, the human being practically lives alone in a private world of his own, constructed by his sense experience.” Isn’t that the truth!? And it is that sense experience that we need to fully, totally contact in each and every moment. Our senses, our bodies contracting, smelling, tasting, thinking—regardless of the content or our beliefs about that content—that is mindfulness. Without minding ourselves, meticulously, we can only be an “accepting and understanding parent” when we feel accepting and understanding.

She continues, referring to a teaching of the Buddha called The Sakkapanhna Sutta, “Though people wish and make pious resolutions to live in harmony with one another without enmity and aggression, without recourse to weapons against one another, they in fact live in disharmony, harbouring anger and ill-will against one another, sometimes resorting to weapons to terrorize and kill one another. What is the reason for this paradoxical situation that in spite of wanting to live in harmony, they cannot do so?” This is one of my favorite questions. It is too easy to say how we want to behave toward our kids, our loved ones, even those we don’t like. But unless we actually see what the Buddha calls “unwholesome emotions” we will never be able to take the next step, which is to refrain from expressing them.

Buddhism is an incredible tradition that offers insanely detailed tools for seeing through our strong feelings, the various places in the mind we store them, the six realms of existence in which we meet and manifest them, the unfathomably myriad ways we can express our negative views, and concrete paths that lead to living a wholesome life in service to others. The Buddha saw for himself the cosmic nature of all things, the way everything arises, dissipates, and, unless unflinchingly clarified, arises again, in accord with karma and circumstance. This is heavy duty stuff that takes years and years to grok, to put into practice and to integrate. I am so grateful that I have a teacher and a sangha to help me along the way because it’s really hard!
Pema Chodron writes, “Many of us prefer practices that will not cause discomfort, and at the same time we want to be healed. But bodhichitta training doesn’t work that way.” There is no way to heal what ails us without meeting it first, really taking care of our most personal business, face to face, heart to heart.

This article first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine October 26, 2011.

Bookmark and Share
Toilet Teaching
September 30, 2014 · Posted in Parenting, Preschoolers, Toddlerhood, Toilet Training · Permalink · Comments Off

pottytrainingtipsI just did a toilet training workshop for 30 parents of 2-3 year olds. We had a lot of laughs since no matter how old you are potty humor is still pretty funny. But when we got down to business, it was clear that the idea of “pushing kids” as being psychologically damaging is still alive and well in the 21st century.

I just did a toilet training workshop for 30 parents of 2-3 year olds. We had a lot of laughs, since no matter how old you are potty humor is still pretty funny. But when we got down to business, it was clear that the idea of “pushing kids” as being psychologically damaging is still alive and well in the 21st century.
Parents are nervous to take the lead, be the teacher, and guide their children to understand how their body works and how to use the potty. In the effort not to “push,” parents don’t take action but rather the talk, talk, talk, cajole, and talk talk, talk, talk some more. “Sally is in underpants, do you want to wear underpants too? “ “Do you want use the potty?” “Big boys use the potty!” They hope against hope that these toddlers will just come to their senses and agree. Anyone who has toilet trained a kid knows – you can’t just talk them into it. You need to put in the time. Naked time, reading stories on the potty time, hang around the house time. Explaining time, cleaning up accidents time. laughing about butts and poop and penises time. Your approach to potty training should be one of guidance and comfort, but expectations as well. As one mom kept saying, “Oh, so you just keep teaching!?” Correct, teaching it is!

Bookmark and Share
Sleep Training “What If’s”: Part One
September 11, 2014 · Posted in Infant Development, Parenting, Sleep · Permalink · Comments Off

Tips from our book, A Mothers Circle:

Parents often second-guess why their baby is crying. They feel guilty and, looking for an out, they imagine that their baby is sick or teething or hungry. Here is the first of a three-part series answering frequently asked sleep training questions.

“What if he is hungry?”

The specter of a miserably hungry baby crying out in the night hangs over most parents on the eve of their sleep work. Parents are somehow not reassured upon hearing again that a three-to-four-month-old baby who weighs at least twelve pounds can get through an eleven-to-twelve-hour period of nighttime sleep without a feeding. They have become so accustomed to feeding their baby at regular intervals through the night that this seems incredible to them.

If your baby is only taking one night feeding you might be ready to cut out that feeding completely. If your baby is like Leslie’s, needing only a minute of nursing before falling back to sleep, it is easy to see that he is not actually hungry. But if your baby has been taking eight ounces of formula or nursing for ten to fifteen minutes several times a night, he has without doubt grown accustomed to refilling his belly throughout the night. In this case, we do not recommend doing sleep work all in one fell swoop, particularly if your baby is only three to four months old. Rather, you can first help your baby to learn the skill of falling asleep on his own at bedtime. Then you can gradually cut down on his night feedings.

Some parents choose to wake their babies for one night feeding before they go to bed themselves. Having slept from 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., babies typically are so soundly asleep at eleven or twelve at night that they wake up only partially, then fall directly back to sleep after a feeding. Even though he is still getting this one night feeding, the fact that you are waking him up instead of the other way around makes your message consistent. Once your other goals are accomplished, you can eliminate this late-night snack.

Another option is to respond with a feeding only once during the middle of the night, but do it when your baby awakens on his own. Then do not feed the baby until morning. This done over a week-long period will teach your baby to fall asleep on his own and to only wake once for a nighttime feeding. After this is firmly established you can move on to eliminate the nighttime feeding completely.

Babies are creatures of habit. And they are smart. On the first night without his middle-of-the-night feeding your baby probably is a little hungry and is expecting to be fed. He cries because he knows he will be fed. But he doesn’t need to eat. Giving up the middle-of-the-night feeding is not easy for your baby; it is stretching him. But almost immediately he will naturally begin to eat more during the day and he will not be hungry at night.

Some parents prefer to gradually train their babies to expect less during their nighttime feedings. They continue to feed their babies when they cry at night, but diminish the number of ounces, or minutes on each breast, until a feeding is so minimal that it is clear their baby no longer needs it.

“What if he wakes up soon after he goes to sleep?”

Sometimes a baby will awaken forty minutes to an hour after he has fallen asleep at bedtime and parents can misread this short sleep as an early evening nap. Treat it as a night waking, not as a nap.

“What if he is teething?”

Parents regularly invoke teething to avoid sleep training. The truth is, babies are teething throughout this entire period. Unless your baby’s tooth is actually just cutting the gum, or his gums are inflamed, there is no need to interrupt or forestall sleep work. If the erupting tooth is obviously giving your baby pain, consult your pediatrician about options for relieving your baby’s discomfort.

Bookmark and Share
Will What’s Real About Childhood Please Stand Up?
September 3, 2014 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Parenting, Preschoolers, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off

by Bethany Saltman

Last night I had the pleasure of sitting with Azalea and reading a fine book called The  World’s Biggest Tea Party. It is about the My Little Pony crew and how on “one bright spring day in Ponyville, a group of pony friends gathered at Sweetberry’s Sweetshoppe.” One pink pony named Rainbow Dash, Azalea’s personal favorite, posed the question of what they should do that day and they came up with the crazy idea of having a tea party, and not just any tea party, but, as suggested by Pinkie Pie, “the world’s biggest tea party!” Azalea was riveted.

It’s such a trip learning who my daughter is—what she likes and how her mind works. And the craziest part is that she really is just four and a half, meaning she’s not faking it. When T and I first got our Siamese cat Jimmy we used to joke that he felt to us so sentient, so totally aware, that he seemed like a human in a cat suit. And when I look at Azalea sometimes I see a grown-up in a kid suit. Not because she acts like an adult, but because I kind of can’t believe that her kidness is so real, so true, even honorable. Azalea really likes cartoons. She loves to put rings on her toes, a scarf around her waist, be tickled, and then jump from the couch to the chair, and then back again. Not only would I rather not do any of those things now, I don’t think I ever let it rip like she does; according to my family, I have always been pretty serious. It is just impossible to imagine myself popping up and down from the dinner table in order to check on my horses in the next room, or hiding under my covers, begging to be found. Again! To people who know what it’s like to feel that type of playful exuberance, perhaps my dawning realization that childhood is real might seem bizarre, or even absurd. But I actually think that we are all parenting based on some pretty funky assumptions about who our kids are and what they’re capable of.

The Buddhist term for these assumptions is conditioning. It often feels like what we believe about the world is utterly personal, idiosyncratic, and sometimes it is. But conditioning also comes from forces larger than ourselves or our families. One of my very favorite books about the cultural conditioning of children is called Preschool in Three Cultures, Revisited: China, Japan, and the United States. In the original edition of this juicy ethnography, the authors traveled (in 1984) to these three countries, spent time in preschools, interviewed teachers about their pedagogy, shot lots of video, then showed video clips to teachers in other countries, asking them to respond to what the other countries’ schools were doing. In the Revisited edition, the authors returned to the schools in 2002, asking the current teachers to reflect on their schools’ past practices, as well as what is presently happening in the other countries via updated videos. What results is a cornucopia of conversations about who we think children are, and should be.

In the 2002 edition, the authors discuss how, as they continued to travel around the world, one incident in the 1984 Japanese classroom persisted as the most controversial. The Japanese preschool was housed in a Buddhist temple, which is typical. The incident of intrigue, however, was not about Buddhism so much as Japanese ideas about children (though the two are certainly related), and involved a boy named Hiroki, who in our great land would have been given a hefty dose of Ritalin (or worse, see the New York Times article on medicating children, from September 1, 2010) right off the bat. He fought with other kids, pulled out his willie during circle, threw flashcards off the balcony, and sang loudly while other kids were trying to talk. And the amazing part is that the teacher did nothing to intervene. She sent the other children to fight their own battles with him and generally ignored his misbehavior. The authors, Western-trained educators, said it took everything within their power to not put their cameras down and tell the kid to cut the crap. Likewise, Chinese and American teachers who watched the video were appalled at the boy’s “spoiled,” disruptive behavior and what was seen as the teacher’s lack of control.

At one point the authors asked the principal of the preschool if the teacher ever punished Hiroki, and he responded by asking, “What do you mean? Like, tie him up or something?”

The Japanese teachers believe that deliberate and respectful waiting is the most effective strategy for working with children, and believe that Hiroki and his classmates benefit from learning how to deal with one another, becoming “more complete human beings.”  While we in the US tend to foster independence, Japanese preschools give kids as much space as possible to discover, for themselves, their amaeru, a word that describes the presumption of benevolence of others, and thus, dependency. Hiroki was not seen as a problem that needed to be fixed, but just a kid exhibiting tereru, the behavior of someone who is ashamed of his wish to be dependent.

When the authors asked the Japanese teachers what kind of children they thought they were shaping, they answered, “Kodomorashii kodomo,” which means “childlike children.” Cultivating child-ness in children. Something for me to consider.

And another thing to consider is how much all these people care. It’s heartbreaking, really. Human beings have wildly different opinions about childhood, education, and adulthood, not to mention radically different resources and capacities. And I think it’s really important to know where we are coming from and where we get our big ideas. And to ask questions. But it’s also incredibly healing to look around and see how many people try really hard to do the right thing for kids. Most educators just want a good life for their students. And parents love their kids! Around the world they get them ready for preschool, ribbons in their hair, favorite shoes on their little feet, little pockets stuffed with random things. Regardless of what I happen to think is real, there is something unconditioned there.

This article first appeared in Chronogram Magazine on September 28, 2010.

Bookmark and Share
Buy Our Book, 'A Mother's Circle'
Facebook  RSS