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In Thrivers, The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine (available here), Michele Borba, ED, internationally renowned educational psychologist and bestselling author of Unselfie (here), explains the seven character traits that will safeguard children against adversity in this uncertain world. Dr. Borba encourages parents with common sense advice -- specifically, seven essential life skills -- that help children not only face struggles with greater ease, but come out stronger because of them.

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With the current childhood mental health crisis, Thrivers belongs on every parenting bookshelf in the world. It's a deeply researched instruction manual for raising emotionally healthier kids.

With this in mind, here are the three of the many reasons parents need to read Thrivers today:

  1. Children's mental health is at an all-time low, but it doesn't have to be.
  2. Dr. Borba offers us a very specific and message of hope and encouragement, backed by an incredible amount of research.
  3. She empowers parents with specific skills we can teach our kids starting today. We have the power to turn things around, starting with our very next interaction with our children. 

Thrivers Addresses the Children's Mental Health Crisis

In the United States alone, approximately 4.4 million children aged 3-17 have diagnosed anxiety (source); and 1.9 million have diagnosed depression (source). The reasons why some kids struggle so considerably are manyfold, but Dr. Borba offers practical advice to parents about how we can help turn these numbers around for the better.

Specifically, in Thrivers, her timely and important book, she encourages parents to teach kids and young adults these seven character traits to offset the effects of adversity: self-confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism.

Dr, Borba combed scientific studies about what contributes to kids' negative thinking, then developed age-by-age steps to building resilience and nurturing a growth mindset. What you'll notice is that the mindset kids have is teachable; children don't need to be born with resiliency and grit to be thrivers.

Children become thrivers tomorrow because mentally strong parents prepare kids for the future today.

Thrivers can learn how to embrace these seven life essential skills: self-confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, optimism

Recently, Sarah R. Moore of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting met with Michele Borba ED to discuss these reliable predictors of success, and how parents can point kids in the right direction. We all know raising children isn't easy, but we can absolutely help our children thrive.

Dr. Michele Borba, ED discusses Thrivers, The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. This is an excerpt; watch the full interview here

The Interview

Hello friends, I am here today with Michelle Borba, ED, to discuss Thrivers, The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. I'm so excited to share her goodness. I want to know how we can teach kids to be thrivers in this very uncertain world. We are better for her books and for the knowledge that she shares with us.

A moment ago, before we started recording, you told me that Thrivers has been a passion project. Can you tell me a little bit about what drove you to write it?

Michele Borba, ED, on why she wrote Thrivers

My whole life, I've been trying to figure out why some kids struggle and others shine. As a special education teacher, I observed that all the kids coming into my class were identified as having severe learning difficulties, for some reason.

However, some of them were struggling less and seemed to be bouncing back. Maybe they weren't going to be bouncing back academically, but they still had confidence. I've kept track of them and many of them are doing quite well in the world right now.

So, it was that moment that I decided to start studying resilience. There's some amazing work that I think is untapped, and that we're not using as parents.

"The first thing I discovered is that resilient children are made resilient. They're not born thrivers. So that means we, as parents, have a lot to do with it. It's not DNA. It's not temperament. It's not birth order. It's that they seem to have protective factors from a skill set that they can learn." - Michele Borba ED, author of Thrivers

The thing that's wonderful is that we can teach those skills, and it's not for tomorrow. We're going to do it the rest of our parenting career. And as a result of our efforts, we're going to help our kids. The same skills help them in the classroom will also help them in life. Here's what they encompass:

That's what Thrivers is -- pulling the science and coming up with practical strategies so we can raise up a strong generation of kids who thrive.

Sarah of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting

That is beautiful. That is truly world-changing work when you raise a whole generation of people who are more resilient and more able to handle adversity.

Why we need to raise emotionally healthier kids now -- something's changed

I think it's really important to put a reset button on this.

We know that this generation is well loved. They're well educated. They're more diverse and they're wonderful. However, I began to see some stats that were mind-boggling. I learned that they were also the loneliest, most stressed, most mentally exhausted, and they felt empty. And then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CDC is showing us that those challenging issues only amplify in a crisis such as the pandemic, even affecting kids at younger ages.

"If a child doesn't have those protective buffers, they'll suffer. But if there's any silver lining to this, it means now is the time to teach the skills." - Michele Borba ED, author of Thrivers
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What makes Thrivers thrive?

Let's backtrack for just a second. It would be really helpful for people to understand in that thrivers are.

What does it mean? What does it look like? Do you see them walking up the street and go, "Hey, those are thrivers?"

I can see thrivers from a mile away. Not everyone can see them from a mile away because it's more of what happens on the inside as opposed to the outside, but it's basically a kid who's got an "I can do this -- I've got this" kind of an attitude.

"When any kind of little stumbling block comes along the way, thrivers don't quit, give up, or try to have somebody else do it for them. Thrivers find a way through. They brush themselves off and start all over again when necessary. That's what thrivers are." - Michele Borba ED discusses the mindset kids have when they're thrivers

What I discovered is that successful children and young adults usually have strengths in their minds, hearts, and will. We'll discuss how we can point kids towards these things and teach kids these seven character traits that are reliable predictors of success.

Why we need to look at thrivers from the inside out, rather than the old markers of accomplishment, such as their grades, activities, and other external factors

Sarah of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting:

That makes so much sense because who we are matters, not what we're doing. That said, so much of society looks at what we're doing.

What is our kid's GPA? How many activities are they involved in? Are they "on track" from the ripe old age of 4 to get into the perfect university 14 or 15 years later? What should we do to help people look beyond the accomplishment -- grades, test scores, whatever it is, and see the whole child?

The importance of raising children who are thrivers and people first, not "products" to show off

I agree with everything you said, except I'd say it starts at age 2. It's starting even then -- so early. The most interesting part of the research when I was writing Thrivers, is I interviewed 100 kids, one on one, for an hour each.

I asked them, "Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, I understand you were the most stressed out generation known to man. Do you agree?"

"Oh, yeah, we are," they said.

"Well, what's causing it?"

Kid after kid said almost the same thing that you just said, but in kid language. One kid said it the best.

He said, "I think it's because we're being raised as products and not humans, and we're more than test scores." - A child Dr. Borba interviewed while writing Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine

And it hurts so bad to hear him say that because, of course, we want our kids to succeed, but we may be overlooking the inside stuff.

How thrivers reduce stress

When I asked the kids, "What are your hobbies?" They all looked at me, like "What do you mean? We have this activity and this activity and this activity..." -- but hobbies help a child decompress.

A very simple perspective is, don't overlook the ordinary things that help your kid become extraordinary. When we look at the research, many of the resilient kids use prayer or spirituality. It helps them decompress.

Now that may not be for you -- fine -- other kids go read. Other kids say, I listen to a certain kind of music. Other kids walk around the block or shoot baskets. The point is that they figure out how to decompress and they go to that.

"When push comes to shove, what we're doing is waiting until the kid is an anxiety attack and then trying to teach him how to calm down. By then, it's too late. Helping kids feel connected to something greater than themselves is one of the highest correlations to reducing stress." - Dr. Michele Borba, author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine

When kids become self-absorbed, what happens is their empathy goes down. Their stress goes up.

After awhile, what happens, because you have to dial your empathy down when you're stressed -- because you're in survival mode -- burnout is the outcome.

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Hope for children who are thrivers

There's hope for mental health turning around. Maybe the place to start is with parents who say, "Okay, now we've listened. So what are we going to do about this?"

The first step to change is realizing this is not an overnight process. It's not going to be difficult. You don't need a PhD and it's not another program or an app.

It's just intentionally saying, "I'm going to make sure that my child also learns to thrive." Now, let's figure out "What am I going to do tomorrow?"

Yeah, and what a paradigm shift for so many of us, big and small.

Thrivers have empathy for others

Sarah from Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting

I think, perhaps, we often approach this the wrong way. In Unselfie, you wrote about the role of empathy and connecting with one another, and seeing other people's perspectives.

We sometimes think that to help our kids grow their empathy, we just need to tell them how others feel. It's more than that, though.

Why empathy is one of the seven life essential skills kids need to thrive

Empathy is probably the most highly correlated to mental health. And when we're looking at what's going on right now, and why are kids tanking?

It's because they're lonely. They don't have social connection. They're looking at screens and not each other. So what do we do?

Don't throw up the white flag and go, "I can't do anything."

The first thing is, they need to practice empathy. It's kind of like a muscle and it needs to be stretched and worked out.

You can do that at home, with your family meetings. You can do it with listening.

Maybe the fastest thing with a young child is tell them, always look at the color of someone's eyes when you're talking because it first of all, it makes the child hold their head up. If your child holds their head up, they're going to be seen as more confident.

That's cool.

The second thing is they'll start noticing is the person's face.

Realizing the other person exists, and the gateway to empathy, is emotional literacy.

So what are they going to be doing? They're going to be looking at the facial expressions.

And now here's your next tip that for the next three, four, five years, start talking about feelings more naturally with your kids. You can't empathize and feel with another person unless you realize, she looks sad, or he looks upset, or he sounds grumpy.

If you're asking, how do I do that during a pandemic?

You tell your kid, let's call Grandma, but it's always through Skype or FaceTime, and you prime the child before they begin.

Listen to Grandma's voice, and you'll know when she's tired, and it's time to hang up, or watch her face, and you'll know when she's happy, or when she's sad.

You'll know what to say.

You can prime the child, but note this other little point.

All the research says we do a far better job of teaching empathy with our daughters at age 2, than we do with our sons at age 2. We need to do this with boys, too. 

So just talk naturally.

If you have a middle school kid, watch the movie Inside Out or a show on TV. Every once in a while, turn the sound off and do feeling charades. Ask, "How do you think he's feeling right now?"

Just talk about it because that's the first gateway to empathy. Then you can help your kids start stepping into the shoes of somebody else.

What DNA and temperament have to do with the ability to be thrivers

Sarah of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting

You mentioned that thrivers don't have to thrive only because of their DNA. Much of their ability to be thrivers stems from what we can teach them through their childhood and family relationships. At the same time, we know kids are born with different dispositions and temperaments.

For example, my daughter is very sensitive. I remember her being two years old, and we were in a store one day where there was a large photo on the opposite side of the store from where we were. From across the busy store, she looked at the photo and asked, "Mama, what are those people feeling right now?"

We were surrounded by all sorts of things that could've been overloading her sensory systems at this busy store, but she wanted to know what those people in the photograph were feeling. On the flip side, I know plenty of kids who might see me bawling my eyes out, for example, and they'd be like, "Everything's fine. She's happy. I don't see it."

How does the innate difference in the "wiring" of these kids play out in empathy and becoming thrivers?

Dr. Michelle Borba on the three kinds of empathy

I love that question, because sometimes we've got one kid who watches Bambi and is a basket case for the rest of their life. We've got another kid who watches it and is fine.

There are actually three kinds of empathy. I call it the ABCs of empathy. You're going to be able to figure out which of your kids are strong in which area, and there's where you parent.

You might have a child who sees somebody in distress and soon, they're sobbing with them. What you want to do with that child is give them permission to step back. Let them know they can't take it all in. They can't solve everyone's problem. You need to give them permission so they don't care so much.

I love Mother Teresa -- she had the best of the best lines. She said, if I kept looking at all the masses, I would be a basket case. I can't do it. All the people who are starving; all the people that were hurting. So I just look for one, and that helps. You say, "What is the one thing you can do for that one person?" We can't solve everybody.

The second kind of child may not be the crying kind. They may not be the one who looks like they're upset, but they're actually quieter. They're more the thinking kind. Don't assume they don't have empathy.

They're trying to process it and they're trying to think about how that other person feels. Where's he coming from? Oh, bless this kid, because that's what we need. They have what's called perspective taking skills. That is, by the way, the top employability factor right now, as Harvard says. We want kids to step into others' shoes.

Now to that kid, you have to say, "You don't have to agree with what someone else says. Just try to understand where they're coming from."

The final kid is the kid who wants to step in and do something. That's the behavior side. And that's what's called empathy, and action, and compassion.

When I interview those kids, it's each one is so different on what their passion is. As a parent, we need to ask, what's driving your child's concerns? Let the child lead you in that direction.

I have three boys. When they were little, I took them to see the movie, The Bear. I didn't realize it was so sad. My little one was a basket case. By the end, he came home and said, why are they shooting the bears? He said to me, "I've got to dictate this letter to you so you can send it to the President. Stop killing the bears."

I thought, "Well, this is gonna go over like a lead balloon," but he dictated a letter, I put it in an envelope, lo and behold, that kid got letter after letter after letter from the government. He knew he had to take action. Gosh, am I glad he dictated the letter and I put it in the mail. It helps our kids know that when you have stress, you can be a change maker. You can make a difference. It's one of the best ways to reduce a child's stress.

About Michele Borba, ED, bestselling author of Unselfie, Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine, and many other books that parents urgently need to read in this uncertain world

Michele Borba, Ed.Dis an internationally renowned educator, award-winning author, and parenting, child and bullying expert recognized for her solution-based strategies to strengthen children’s empathy, character, and reduce bullying. She is an NBC contributor who has appeared over 150 times on the TODAY show and featured on countless shows including: Dr. Phil, Dateline, The View and CNN. Her 24 books have been translated in 20 languages including End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy, Building Moral Intelligence, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. her latest (March 2021) is Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine.  She offers realistic, research-based advice culled from a career of working with over one million parents and educators worldwide. Follow her on Twitter @micheleborba and Instagram @drmicheleborba

After-school restraint collapse is a fancy way to say after-school meltdowns. And I want you to know this: they're normal. In fact, they're downright common and can happen to all kids.

More on that in a moment. Here's what the reality feels like, though: it's messy.

You may be eagerly and happily awaiting the arrival of your child as they come home from school, anticipating they'll be full of stories and wonder -- then BOOM. It's like a tsunami rolls in your front door and you're left with the emotional aftermath (not to mention all the cleanup).

What's going on?

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What is after-school restraint collapse?

After-school restraint collapse is a meltdown that a child experiences after school, and specifically as a result of their school experience.

While the after-school restraint collapse can affect all kids, it can be more prominent in sensitive children with learning or socialization problems. Further vulnerabilities, like a lack of sleep, hunger, overstimulation, or sickness, may result in even the most even-keeled child losing control at home. (source)

Does this mean there's something wrong with your child? Are they TOO sensitive or do they have a "socialization problem?" Does it mean they hate school and you shouldn't send them back? Probably not at all. They're probably just overwhelmed and having a good old fashioned meltdown.

Having meltdowns doesn't mean children are regressing to the toddler years (unless, ahem, they're actual toddlers). It just means they're human, having big human feelings like every other person on Earth. We all get overwhelmed sometimes.

Because they're kids, though, they need some special support when they get home -- along with some specific tools to help them decompress.

What causes after-school restraint collapse?

For all children, school may or may not be a safe place emotionally. That doesn't necessarily mean that "unsafe" things are happening at school.

To the contrary, it simply means that school can be overwhelming, even for kids who absolutely love school.

However, unlike at home where children generally feel free to be themselves, school is about conformity. School is about obeying the rules; about being quiet; and not being disruptive in class. To a point, having a predictably calm learning environment is essential for learning to happen in a group setting.

As such, except at designated free times, children are generally expected to contain their energy and behave a certain way.

To be clear, I'm not dissing schools. In their defense, schools -- and teachers in particular -- are almost invariably doing the best they can with the resources they have. Still, there's a schedule to be followed. Adults often enforce certain rules with the intent of helping children learn and progress academically. Teachers simply can't slow down much when one or two (or more) children are waffling emotionally while the rest of the class is waiting. There's work to do.

What happens to all the children's pent-up energy, though? If they can't let it out through playing, roughhousing, and moving whenever and however they feel called to do, it has to go somewhere.

In many cases, children simply bottle it up and save it for when they get home.

All the happy, sad, disappointed, and excited energy has to go somewhere. It doesn't magically disintegrate when the bell rings.

School can sometimes feel like a pressure cooker with no release valve.

Kids need to decompress. Especially for the child who behaves well by the school's standards and you know is under a lot of pressure, we, as the adults, need to create a safe space for them to process what happens at school every day. If they don't decompress, it's a sure-fire recipe for upheaval.

Incidentally, these restraint collapse meltdowns differ from tantrums in some notable ways.

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How do tantrums differ from meltdowns?

A tantrum is a child's big reaction when something happens that they feel was out of their control. They have strong feelings that things should've gone their way. It's often tried to a specific frustration.

Example of a tantrum: Your child has been mentally planning for a sandwich for lunch. You serve pasta. They express their displeasure loudly, perhaps seeming to lose all sense of self-control in the interim.

A meltdown is the release of stored emotion, with or without a clear and identifiable cause. It may manifest as something that seems small to the adult, such as the color of the child's cup -- but really, it's the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. It's often associated with feelings of overwhelm.

Example of a meltdown: A child sits down to start their homework. Rather than happily starting in on it, they start to yell about the homework, not wanting to feed the cat, not wanting to take a bath, etc. Suddenly it feels like everything is wrong.

Parenting is hard when you're unsure where to begin soothing the child.

As a parent and parent educator, I choose to reframe the word "meltdown" as an "emotional release." I've never liked the term "meltdown" because, for many people, it ascribes a negative connotation with completely normal behavior. It's healthy to get our feelings out. We all need effective decompression strategies that support our mental health.

For children, crying and "acting out" are often their natural ways to connect with us. If we're responsive in supporting them, it reinforces to their brains that the world is a safe place.

That doesn't mean that all behavior is acceptable; but the expression of emotions certainly is. This is part of growing their emotional regulation skills. They learn that it's safe to feel their feelings.

Here are some specific steps we can take to support our kids and help them through restraint collapse.

How to Address After-School Restraint Collapse

1. Create neutral ground & manage expectations

The only things you can predict are that your kids will

...but there's no way to know in advance what that something is. Parents often naturally assume that when their kids get home, they'll be happy. As we know, though, that's not always the case.

Sometimes it helps to have a phrase to repeat to yourself before your child comes home. For example, "I wonder what my child will be feeling today."

In doing so, you bring yourself to a place of neutrality. You remove your expectations and set the stage for holding space for whatever your child may be feeling.

2. Have consistent and planned downtime

An overwhelmed child doesn't need to be rushed to the next big event. If they enjoy extracurricular activities and events, that's wonderful -- and they still need downtime. No child needs to practice "burning the candle at both ends" before they even reach adulthood; that only leads to future burned out grown ups.

Kim John Payne, M.Ed., speaks extensively about this critical need for balanced and planned downtime, including here in this recent interview. Even the busiest and most social kids need quiet time to relax and regroup.

What does this downtime look like? For some, it's time together outside in nature, walking or riding a bike; others just need some space to be alone and process. Still others want to talk and connect with you. Of course, they may feel different emotions day-to-day and their needs for support may change.

Perhaps the most important stress-busting tool to help them deal with stress in healthy ways every single day is the next point: play.

3. Increase unstructured play time

Kids spend all day at school moving from one highly structured event to the next, save, perhaps, for recess. When we allow more of it, though, here's what happens:

"Recent research suggests that children should experience twice as much unstructured time as structured play experiences and touts the benefits of unstructured play on whole child development including fostering social competence, respect for rules, self-discipline, aggression control, problem solving skills, leadership development, conflict resolution, and playing by the rules." (source)

When children don't have enough play time, their stress levels go up. It makes them suffer not only emotionally, but also physically (source). It then takes less extra stress to push them into meltdown land, so why not lower their stress by doing that which comes most naturally to them -- more play?

4. Greet them with these three things

When your child gets home, I recommend you greet them with these three things:

  1. A smile. A smile is a natural invitation to talk. When you're available to connect in this way rather than rushing off to the next big thing, it helps kids feel seen.
  2. A hug. For many kids, a hug is positively the best way to melt off some feelings of overwhelm. Touch truly is healing; it releases oxytocin (the "love hormone") and helps kids feel better. (source)
  3. A snack. True -- you can't "feed" stress to solve it. However, learning is hard work and it burns a lot of calories. Let your child decide whether or not they're hungry, but it's a good idea to keep a nutrient-dense snack handy. (Here's support for picky eaters.)

5. Find ways to stay connected even when you're apart

For many kids, it's just plain hard to be away from you -- the person they love most in the world. Many people wrongly believe that after a certain age, separation anxiety should no longer exist.

In truth, we all miss our loved ones sometimes. Healthy separation anxiety, to some degree, should last forever. It means they care.

If separation anxiety is an issue, you can do several things to stay connected even when you're apart. Here are some starting points.

6. Let your child get it out

As Drs. Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson say, "Name it to frame it." Help your child name what they're feeling. Some kids may not even realize the "energy burden" they've been shouldering all day.

Some benefit from having a calm-down corner (which is NOT a time-out), whereas others prefer to co-regulate. Follow their lead. No matter their preference, the key message you want to convey is "You and all your feelings are safe here for as long as you need to express them." Being their rock helps create and/or reinforce their secure attachment to you.

Don't take restraint collapse personally -- AND set yourself up for success

Parenting is hard enough without us having to feel responsible for our child's after-school restraint collapse. Know that you didn't cause the restraint collapse; you're their safe person with whom to express it. Figure out what you need to feel peaceful regardless of whatever emotions roll in alongside your child.

When you can be their calm and know that you're their source of security and safety, this is what matters most. You're there for them. Keep showing up, and soon enough, they'll lean more fully into the peace they call Home.

Below is a partial transcript from Part 1 of my interview with Debbie Reber, author of Differently Wired (afflinks). 

Watch the full interview here:

Watch Full Interview Here

Sarah of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting: Welcome and Intro

Hello. I am Sarah with Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting and today I am so excited to talk to Debbie Reber, author of an amazing book for parenting in general, and specifically for differently wired kids.

This is the kind of book that makes me elbow my husband in the ribs and say, "You've got to hear this, you've got to hear this!" 

We are both better for your work, Debbie, and I am so glad to have you here today.

Debbie Reber

Thank you so much! What a nice intro.

Sarah on adjusting from the child we "thought" we'd have to the one we really do have

Let's dive right into the discussion of differently wired children. Let's talk specifically about getting to know the children that we have, not the children necessarily who we envisioned having long before we birthed or adopted them.

They don't always "look" exactly like what we envisioned they would. When parents learn their child is differently wired, how do they typically come to terms with the child who they actually have and are raising?

Is it intuition? Is it a diagnosis? How do we even come to know this child who we have?

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Debbie Reber on acceptance of the differently wired child

Well, it's a slow process for many of us. I describe it in the book like pulling off a Band-Aid® very, very, very slowly because a lot of kids fall under the "umbrella" of differently wired, as I use it, which is just being neurologically atypical in a variety of ways.

It isn't so obvious, and a lot of the differences are invisible.

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When they're younger, it may look like really intense behavior. A lot of us have kids who were colicky when they were little.

Just more intense -- the more kids like more energy, more movement, more emotions.

So we always kind of have a sense that, "Okay, this is a little more intense than I was envisioning and wasn't expecting it to be this hard." Perhaps those are thoughts that we might have.

And then over time, we start to gather more information, right?

We kind of intuitively may recognize something's going on, but we're also usually looking for evidence that everything's fine, which is always welcomed by us, right?

When we have little ones, we want someone to say, "You know, this is all kind of developmentally normal."

So, often, it's just piecing together information -- feedback from preschool and other teachers, which many of us start getting more and more of us are kids get older. And observations from other people.

And then we start asking questions. Eventually, many of us will go in for an assessment with an OT or with someone to start piecing together the information. But it's a slow process. And there's a lot of self-doubt, I think, that happens for parents as we're trying to determine, you know, is something going on or isn't it? Is this just in my head? - Debbie Reber, author of Differently Wired

[We wonder] are we being overprotective? Are we being helicopter parents? Are we paranoid? What's really going on?

Sarah on other people's insight

Yeah, absolutely. And I love how you say that other people offer some of the insight that sometimes we're seeking.

We want to know, "Is our kid okay?" We want to know, "Are we okay?"

I know in my experience, I might have felt that something was different. This wasn't necessarily what I envisioned parenting would be, but it wasn't until another parent would come to me and say, "Oh -- is your daughter (and then she'd fill in the blank)."

I'd never even heard that term before. Let me look that up. And lo and behold, "Hey, that resonates. That makes sense to me. I think we have something to explore here." [Or no, that's not on target and I can release it.]

Debbie Reber on normalizing being differently wired

Yeah. I would say that most of my friends would often normalize what we were experiencing. It was very well-intentioned -- "You know, well, my child does this, too" or "This happened to us," and as a way to make me feel better, but that was more confusing to me.

And it was a friend, ultimately, I think when my son was four, when I was trying to explain some of the intensities and challenges we were having, she was the one who said, "Oh! That sounds like a sensory processing issue. You should read this book..."

That's when the light bulb went off for me for the first time. I was like, "Oh, there could be a reason for all of this," beyond just my husband and I not nailing it as parents. - Debbie Reber, author of Differently Wired

Sarah on rethinking our frame of reference

Yeah, absolutely -- because of course you were doing the best you could with the information you had.

Let's talk a little about our frame of reference.

Most of us grew up naively thinking that everybody was more or less 10 percent within the same range, neurologically speaking. Is it that we are simply more aware of neurological differences at this point or have children always been differently wired, and we just kind of said, "Oh, that child is just a busy child" or whatever.

How have the labels changed? How is the understanding changed over time?

Debbie Reber on understanding neurological differences in differently wired children

I think the understanding has changed a lot. In raising my son and doing the research for this book, I reflected so often on kids that I went to school with back in the 70s and the 80s.

I was like, "Oh, oh my gosh, that's what was happening with this kid, and with this kid," and I I started realizing, you know, just kind of piecing it together. These kids who, back then, even something like dyslexia was not really talked about her understood.

And so it was really grouped on intelligence or the weirdos or you know, like we just had these kind of broad labels: the bad kids.

The kids who had no emotional regulation were just bad kids and they got punished or they dropped out of school. They went down that road.

And that really breaks my heart when I think about that and recognize, "Oh my gosh. So many of these kids had ADHD, or were on the autism spectrum, or had these other differences."

And so I think we're so much more attuned to it now.

Even from when my child was in early elementary to now -- he's 16 -- I feel like we're still evolving as a society and there's just more and more awareness, but it's been a long time coming.

Sarah on when we "didn't know better"

Yeah, without a doubt, I had the same reaction you did when I think about the kids who I grew up with, also in the 70s and 80s.

It really takes me to a place of compassion and empathy and my strong mama heart wants to go and hug all of these little versions of these now adults, and say, "Now I understand. You weren't trying to be difficult or whatever label you may have had. We just didn't understand you. And as your classmate, I'm sorry I didn't know that about you because I would have loved to show up for you better."

Debbie Reber on parents discovering their own neurodivergence through their children

Yeah, and so many adults are discovering their own neurodivergence through raising their child.

I actually did a couple podcast episodes on this where I interviewed adults who had realized they were on the spectrum or had ADHD in their 40s.

What does that do? There's a sense of relief. There's also a sense of sadness, right? And all those pieces fitting together and then realizing, "Oh my gosh. This little person that I was for all these years, and my needs were not being met, and this is how I internalized it. It's really challenging for a lot of people to reconcile. 

Sarah on rewriting our stories from a place of greater understanding

It is. You know, and at the same time, to your point, a lot of these adults get to rewrite part of their stories. If an adult grew up thinking, "I'm just a tricky personality." "I'm just hard to love." "I'm just hard to be around." "I'm disruptive" -- all of the lies that they were fed as kids -- now they can say, "I did the best I could with the wiring that I  had -- and look at all of the ways that I did learn to cope and to regulate and to exist in a world that wasn't necessarily built for me. Look what a superpower that was to get where I am today."

And I love how you had it from a place of empowerment rather

than a place of, you know, self-punishment or any of the negative things that parents could be doing. Now they're saying, "Hey, I've got this too, and now I understand all the better what my child might need."

Debbie and Sarah on the labels we had

Debbie: Yeah, a hundred percent. For me it explains the class clown label that I was given in the senior poll. "Best excuse maker." So that gives you a little sense of who I was in school. 

Sarah: Awful, awful labels. Yeah, I was "most reserved" and I hated that one. This doesn't define us anymore, does it.

Debbie: Absolutely not. No. I'm still a bit goofy, but I'm definitely not a class clown anymore.

Sarah: Right there on the goofiness with you. That is an important element of success in today's society.

Debbie: [laughter] Yes. True.

Sarah on the diversity of being "differently wired" -- and helping parents avoid feeling too overwhelmed

One thing that I love so much about your book is that you don't limit "differently wired" to one specific medical diagnosis. You talk about a broad range of things -- ADHD, Asperger's, ASD, giftedness, sensory issues, learning disabilities, anxiety, twice exceptional, highly sensitive children, and various combinations thereof -- and that's not even a full list.

This is not a single, "Ooh, I can point right here and say that's what it is" and build our life around that. Many times these things coexist together.

So for the parent who is getting, be it a single diagnosis or some combination of these things, how does the parent keep from getting totally overwhelmed?

And what does the parent do with this information once they have it?

Excerpt from Debbie Reber, author of Differently Wired
Watch Full Interview Here

Debbie Reber and the labels and diagnoses our children receive

I think labels are so tricky and I certainly talk a lot about them. I've thought a lot about them.

Labels can be super helpful as we're getting information because it can give a context for things that are happening with their child. It can open up the door to services or accommodations or other types of support that we need for our kids, especially, you know, legally, depending on what the diagnosis is, but they don't actually solve anything.

I used to really want the label because I wanted an answer, right? I wanted to know this is what it is and I wanted the answer so I knew exactly what to do to fix it.

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And I think that's what so many of us, especially when we're earlier on in this journey, we want an answer to explain what is challenging in our lives and ultimately, a label -- well, I can give you some insight into a course of support or areas to prioritize your support on.

But [a label] doesn't change who your child is and isn't -- there's no playbook, like, 'Do this, this, and this and that will fix or solve for all of these symptoms.' - Debbie Reber, author of Differently Wired

So I think that they're tricky. In Venn diagrams of differences, you'd see so much overlapping between, you know, profoundly gifted, ADHD, and autism spectrum, for example. Sometimes they could fit into any of those buckets.

What I like about the term "differently wired" -- it's not a medical term, obviously, but it's a positive term that parents can embrace and hopefully reframe what could be seen as a negative or a deficit or a problem that needs to be solved. Instead, it's about an understanding that my child's brain isn't considered neurotypical; and my child is a unique thinker; my child's brain wiring is is outside the box and that's okay. - Debbie Reber, author of Differently Wired

It's a difference.

And so I really love that language as a way not just to feel more positive and optimistic. But also, when we are honed in on this one little diagnosis, we're very narrow in our vision. I feel like societally, that keeps us marginalized because we're all in our own little buckets.

And so we can talk about well, it's not that many kids who are dealing with this, or it's only this percentage of the population has this issue so it keeps them all "problems."

But when we expand and more inclusive and say actually there are so many people whose brains are not considered "normal," we have to accommodate for that.

Debbie Reber, author of Differently Wired, on education

We have to take a step back and look at what are we really doing in terms of how we're educating kids.

We're educating to a majority that probably isn't even a majority. I think that differently wired kids make up more than 50% of the population if I were to put money on it.

Sarah on our desire to "fix" our differently wired kids

I agree wholeheartedly and I love how you reframe the labels. So much of our ability to come to terms with who our child is, is to look at them in a positive light, you know?

I often talk with my clients about reframing a tantrum as an emotional release. It's the same thing, but it really feels different if we look at it as this is a healthy expression of emotions.

The same is true for what you said. If you have a child whose brain simply differently wired, that doesn't make them less worthy of love, compassion, all of the gifts that we have to offer as parents -- and also as a society.

[And I agree that the numbers of differently wired kids are much higher than what's typically stated.]

Related expert interviews: The Explosive Child, Highly Sensitive Children, Childhood Anxiety

You also said another word that I want to go back and highlight for a minute. You talked about our desire to "fix" our differently wired kids. This reframing really helps us reframe the need to fix our kids, too, doesn't it?

Debbie Reber on accepting our differently wired children

Yeah, because fixing implies that there is a problem or that there's something broken. And that is because we are holding up our kids to a neurotypical standard. We're suggesting that there is one way of "being" that is acceptable and normal and okay and everything else...well, and in order to to fit into this "normal" bucket, all of these issues have to be fixed or addressed.

That does such a disservice to so many people. Again the 'normal' side of people -- there's nothing 'normal' about it. 

The mental health problems [people have] and the ways that people compensate to get by in society -- and those who struggle with so many things like executive function and paying their bills and being organized and running a household -- all of those things -- everyone's making it up as we go along right? There's no one gold standard. - Debbie Reber, author of Differently Wired

And so this divide, and thinking that these other people aren't somehow broken, it just really does such a disservice. It implies that they're not okay in who they inherently are. To give a child that message is just heartbreaking to me.

Sarah on changing the narrative and addressing parents' fear of raising the differently wired child

It is. And it doesn't have to be that way. We can reframe it, and it is on us as the parent to say, "I'm going to change the narrative, not only for my child but also in the narrative that my child shares with those around them as they grow up, too." That's so important.

Let's talk a little bit about fear. One of the most common themes that I hear from parents is fear.

Suddenly, they're raising a differently wired child who may not feel at all

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familiar to them -- or perhaps feels very familiar to them. Either way, it's a little bit scary sometimes as a parent, wondering how we can best support our child. 

How can parents move from a place of fear to a place of trust and growth in parenting their differently wired child?

Debbie Reber on making peace with parenting our differently wired child

I think that it's really important to to know that fear is part of the human experience. It's part of our inner self trying to protect us and keep us safe.

We don't want to make fear [of raising a differently wired child] to be a bad thing. We want to have a relationship with it. We want to see it for what it is. - Debbie Reber, author of Differently Wired

I encourage parents to get really open and honest with themselves about investigating what things they're really worried about. What are their biggest fears?

They're often about this unknown future. Because the path is very unclear and not laid out before us, and the way that we assume everyone [else is] raising a neurotypical kid.

Related guest post: One Mother's Journey of Raising an Atypical Child

And so yeah, when we're kind of spiraling out of fear about future unknowns and all of those things, and "Can I do this?" and "This is going to be hard" and all the things that we do -- yeah, we run into problems. And we're not parenting from from a place that would really most benefit our kids.

Understanding what those fears are, questioning those fears, and choosing love, you know, I talked about choosing love and possibility.

I love that quote by Neale Donald Walsch: "All human actions are motivated at their deepest level by two emotions--fear or love."

When we start to understand what making a choice from fear feels like in our bodies, like usually know we're doing it. Our gut my may be saying, "This is the wrong move, Debbie" but in my head, I'm like, "But X, Y and Z."

So we're living in our heads and not our bodies.

So, if we can start to tune in more with our bodies and and parent from that place; make choices from that place, we will start getting feedback that that was the right choice to make. It'll feel lighter. - Debbie Reber, author of Differently Wired

It feels scary. I'm not going to say it's not scary, but it'll it'll feel like a lighter choice or we'll start to get feedback that the results are, "Oh, that was the right decision to make." And it's kind of like a muscle that that we're building.

I think, again, we have to uncover the fears of raising a differently wired child and acknowledge their existence; make some sort of uneasy alliance with it and then keep pushing ourselves to choose love and possibility instead.

See more from Debbie Reber, author of Differently Wired:

Watch Full Interview Here

We've all been there. We're sitting nose-to-nose with a human much smaller than we are, and we're simply not connecting. We want x. They want y. And neither of us is budging. We want to be peaceful parents, but it doesn't always come easily. In moments like these, might playful parenting be the key?

If "play is the work of childhood" (a quote by child psychologist Jean Piaget), then playful parenting is the best way we can work with our children. It's the absolute key to cooperation. It's speaking in their own true language; the language of their hearts and minds.

Playful parenting is all about connection.

Children play "rain or shine"---it helps them decrease stress, learn new things, and figure out the world (source). The time we invest in playful parenting helps us connect with our kids, while also helping them feel emotionally safe and understood. That, in turn, makes our job as parents easier.

Playful parenting helps foster cooperation naturally.

We want to enjoy our interactions with our children. If we focus on "getting" them to do things, the relationship becomes about power. Instead, I'd encourage parents to work alongside their children as partners against whatever problems they're trying to solve.

Playful parenting embodies what positive parenting is all about; working with kids rather than against them. Being a playful parent signals to a child that we're on their side—we're in this life together.

We can connect and be close without power struggles.

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What does playful parenting look like in action?

These playful parenting tips below work especially well for ages of 2 - 8, but versions of them can continue well beyond these years.

An important note to remember is that playful parenting works best before emotions have escalated. If the initial engagement with your child is positive, it's the surest way to maintain a sense of peace in your home. As they say, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Playful parenting certainly can work retroactively, however. Perhaps our first attempt at talking with our child didn't go over so well. Make space for the child to become emotionally regulated again, then try a fresh start.

Here are 7 common scenarios where playful parenting can work wonders.

Brushing teeth

One fun way to accomplish this is to feign total incompetence. As you approach your child with her hairbrush, say, "Open wide! Time to brush your teeth!" Similarly, holding the toothbrush, say, "Oh, this will make your hair so fancy!"

Your child will love the feeling of power and total competence as they point out the error of your ways. You, of course, will be shocked to learn your mistake. With exaggerated hesitation, you will agree to try it their way for a moment.

After a minute (especially if they start to protest), add, "That's right! I use this on your ARM! Arm, be still." Use it near your own arm if need be. It's okay to go back and forth a time or three to get it done.

Going potty

Try to trust your child's body and timing here. If they need help remembering to check, however, make it fun. Maybe they're climbing onto a choo choo train. Perhaps it's a rocket that's about to blast off to a new solar system.

Putting on clothes

Do YOU, parent, fit into that 3T sweater? Please try. If your child isn't keen to get dressed, a bit of laughter clears the air and helps you connect. It's worth the time to slow down and be silly if it cancels the 45-minute tantrum that might otherwise ensue.

Another great way to accomplish getting your child ready for the day is to involve the stuffed animals. They're your allies. Can your child dress a doll while you're putting on his socks? Can your kiddo tell you what his animal friend needs to wear for his rainy day, and what he might need to do to match him? Get your kids outside their heads here. Involve them in care taking.

Cleaning up toys

It's important to remember that once you have children, it's normal for your home not to look, well, like it used to. That's okay.

You might walk into a room and see a mess, but your child sees a world of possibilities. Allowing for some "mess" might be one of the best gifts you can give yourself stress-wise.

When it does start to feel overwhelming, however, cease talking about cleaning and all that "responsibility" rubbish (child view). Your child will inevitably pick up on any anxiety you convey around cleaning. For everyone's sake, work to make it a peaceful and lighthearted process.

Since this is a common trouble spot, I'll share several ideas of how you can incorporate playful parenting into this sometimes tricky topic.

The key idea is this: Changing your nomenclature helps tremendously. Use kid terms. Not only enter, but lead, the world of make-believe.

When you see a bunch of toy cars all over the floor, notice the incredible traffic jam. The drivers need help getting back to their proper parking garage (the toy box)! "Drive" them back together. Sound effects help.

Building blocks have somehow scattered across the floor and need to make it back into the bag? No problem! You're not holding a bag; you're holding the HUNGRY MONSTER. "Feed me!" it bellows playfully. "Hungry! Must eat blocks! More! More!" On it goes until the mess is gone.

Even for adults, playing this way lightens our moods. Imagine what it does for our kiddos!

Get creative. If something doesn't have a logical "home" (like cars in a box you call a parking garage), make it silly. "Let's put all the dolls in the tree house [on the shelf] for the night!" Even a paper bag can be a "tent" for something. Bring toys and their storage spaces to life.

Lastly, remember how incompetent you were at brushing teeth and hair? You're even worse when it comes to picking up the toys! A ball? It weighs as much as a semi truck! How in the world can you lift it? Can someone save the day? (Many children love to rescue adults.) That giant toy elephant, however, is a breeze for you---it's light as a feather.

Your superpowers are very confusing---and hilarious.

Getting out the door

Although I often shy away from competition, this is the one time I'll offer a race. Who can put on shoes the fastest and touch the doorknob? For some kids (particularly highly sensitive children), however, competition can cause anxiety, so use it with caution.

Would anyone like to hop to the door like a bunny? Roll across the rug to get there? Be carried and spun in circles? Sometimes a different mode of transportation is all they need.

Supporting parents with day-to-day responsibilities

If your child can help put away non-breakable items from the dishwasher, for example, let them try. A great question to ask (even if they've done it before) is "Do you think you're strong enough to move these cups from the dishwasher to the counter?"

Children love feeling competent. So much of their existence includes not knowing what to do, so when they feel capable, it's incredibly empowering for them.

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Encouraging positive behavior

If your child is struggling with a particular task that involves his or her body, for example, talk to the body part directly through playful parenting. Let's say a child is handling the family dog too roughly. One option is to remind the child what to do in simple terms: "Gentle hands, please." This lighthearted and clear approach often works well.

A playful parenting modification would be, "Excuse me, hands? Yes, all 10 fingers -- wiggle your way over here, please." Rather than looking your child in the eye, look at, speak to, and gently touch your child's hands as if they, alone, are the offending party.

This works particularly well for sensitive children who might feel embarrassed about what's transpired, or who have a tough time with correction.

You continue, "Dear hands, I could really use your help here. Our dog needs gentle hands only. Here are some things you CAN do. Would you rather play a game, do some clapping, or wave yourselves up in the air?"

Playful parenting gets the "correction" done in a lighthearted yet still entirely effective way.

What if playful parenting doesn't come naturally to us as adults?

How does it work, though, for adults who aren't as naturally playful as kids are? Our brains are wired quite differently from theirs! As we know, kids can have fun playing with parents, friends, and even cardboard boxes. Not all of us have been to comedy school -- do we have to be naturally funny?

Not at all.  In short, we can meet our kids where they are in their play. Join in and see what they're doing. Opportunities for playful parenting often present themselves naturally if we enter our children's world of imagination.

Example: Let's say your child is busy playing castles and dragons / dress-up. However, it's time for dinner. Rather than making them disengage from their play, roll out an imaginary red carpet and march to the table together. Or, climb into their invisible chariot that takes them to the banquet hall for the royal feast.

We don't need to manufacture something new and creative to make playful parenting "work" for our kids. We just need to let our guard down a bit and, to the extent that we can, see life through their lens for a little while.

I'll speak more about this in an upcoming course (details forthcoming).

Playful parenting is involved parenting.

This is parenting for connection; parenting for the relationship not just for today, but also for the long run. Sure, if you're new to playful parenting, it might seem to take more time "in the moment." Ultimately, however, it can spare your family buckets full of tears and be entirely worth the effort.

Oftentimes, after some practice, cooperation happens so easily through play that it's faster than any other alternative.

As a side bonus, you might be surprised how self-sufficient children can become after they've learned how to do all these things in an emotionally safe place with you---and they feel connected. Studies show that secure and healthy attachment actually foster greater independence in the long run (source).

Playful parenting is a wonderful return on your investment. Long-term connection starts when kids are little. It has a compounding effect--it grows over time, decreases conflict, and increases trust.

Being a playful parent is a part of the equation that fosters connection for many years to come. It's all about relationship.

What are some of your best playful parenting examples? I'd love to hear about them!

Books for Further Reading

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The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) may be relatively new as a namesake, but it's certainly not new as many people's reality. Some of us are just wired differently than others, be it from nature or nurture (although in this case, science argues for both).

With our sensitive wiring in mind, those of us who become parents need to learn parenting strategies that are not only effective, but also keep us from feeling overwhelmed by our children--the very people whose care has been entrusted to us.

Personally, I know the HSP life well. I'm the daughter of a highly sensitive person. I, myself, am an HSP. And now, I have little one of my own. I write this based on years of research as well as from my own experience. In other words, I "get it."

My hope is that my research will help the HSP parent find greater peace in their parenting strategies.

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An HSP Parent Feels Things Differently

In short, MRIs show that the HSP has a nervous system that works differently than that of the other 75 to 80 percent of the population. However, HSP traits don't necessarily manifest the same across the remaining 15 to 20 percent of the population that we comprise.

What science does demonstrate across the board for the HSP, however, is that our MRIs show distinctly different areas of brain activity versus non-HSPs in response to the same stimuli. Specifically, the MRIs show "stronger activation of brain regions involved in awareness, empathy, and self-other processing" (source).

As a result, HSPs can experience the same events entirely differently from non-HSPs. And empathic HSPs take their innate sensitivity a notch farther.

That said, there are a couple of concepts worth noting before addressing parenting strategies: "Highly sensitive people are typically introverts, while empaths can be introverts or extroverts (although most are introverts). Empaths share a highly sensitive person's love of nature and quiet environments, their desire to help others, and their rich inner life." (source)

We can use what we know to our advantage.

Parenting Strategies for the HSP Parent

While mainstream parenting is, well, mainstream, we simply aren't. Therefore, we can't expect that standard parenting strategies would work well for us. If we try to fit into a certain "box" that doesn't reflect our sensitive nature, parenting might feel harder than it has to be.

Some of these ideas can lighten your load.

1. Be gentle with your children -- and with yourself.

Many of us have what feels like a whole lot of extra neurons dedicated to empathy. And HSPs, following a standard rote of discipline that leaves us feeling disconnected from our children simply isn't a good fit.

Parent gently. This includes "parenting" yourself, too. Be kind to yourself and keep your inner (and outer) voice in check.

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This book has a wonderful and comprehensive chapter about the HSP personality type. (Afflinks. As an Amazon associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Your purchases help us support important charities.)

If HSP parents treat our children harshly, many of us will internalize the punishment and feel it ourselves on some level. If our parents were harsh with us or ignored our big feelings and we have emotional memories of that, we'll feel those feelings all over again as we administer them in our own homes. That doesn't feel good.

Of course, children do need loving limits. With practice, we can hold those loving limits compassionately with our children while also healing your own inner child.

If you're new to gentle parenting or want to learn about it in ways that support the information in the books, many positive parenting groups exist to support you. Support from likeminded parents can help you navigate to a gentler way of being.

Release the pressure to discipline the way our parents did, or our peers did, or the way some outdated parenting book said we should.

Trust your sensitivity to be your ally and your guide.

2. Bank the time that you can't "take care of yourself first"--and find creative ways to weave self-care into your routines.

We all know we can't pour from an empty cup. We'd like to be able to take care of ourselves first. However, some HSPs find it challenging to find parenting strategies that balance self-care and our tendency to put others first.

For me, taking care of myself first just wasn't always my reality. When my child was very little, I couldn't just let her cry and "figure it out," no matter how exhausted I was. Despite the well-meaning (albeit unsolicited) advice from others, I let my heart lead my parenting.

I'd felt better if I'd parented lovingly and while being emotionally present for my child day and night.

Does that mean that I just abandoned my needs, though? Absolutely not. Something that worked really well for my family included reducing screen time and replacing it with story time. We also instituted screen-free days with unexpectedly positive results. That wouldn't work for everyone, of course, but I knew I needed my quiet time to recharge.

So, I created the best of both worlds: quiet and clutter-free areas around the house where I could go to read with (or near) her while still staying emotionally present.

I also made mornings our standard time to get out of the house. That way, I knew I could come home and everything would be quieter from that point forward in our day. Afternoons became a predictably sacred space for us.

"Home days" earned just as much priority as other appointments. I consciously worked to find the patience for positive parenting, knowing that practice would make our inner lives more peaceful. If I couldn't "go" to self-care, I brought peace to meet me where I was.

3. Ground yourself in who you were before kids.

Many HSPs grew up keenly aware of their sensitivities to sounds, bright lights, and overly gregarious people. Whatever external stimuli triggered you before having kids, they're likely still there, along with the responsibility to raise children despite them. And in many cases, kids are all the noise, lights, and excitement wrapped up into little human-sized packages of energy. That's standard child behavior.

That said, this is in no way a knock on children. They're perfectly good at being exactly who they were designed to be, lights and all. Life moves on, as they say, but becoming a parent doesn't mean you're not yourself anymore. Suddenly, you're responsible for raising a human who might challenge all of your HSP-ness.

Remember how you grounded yourself before you had children. What's something you haven't done in so long that you've nearly forgotten about it, but that helped you find peace?

Consider journaling as a way to reconnect with yourself. It's proven to be a solid and reliable way to express

HSP journal
Journaling can be helpful.

our own big feelings and working through them peacefully (source).

4. Connect outside the home--and inside it, too.

If you have an understanding partner, share your heart with them. A friend or a counselor can be a wonderful resource for an HSP, as well.

If you don't have a good circle of friends, create your community -- start somewhere. If you lack childcare or the desire to leave the house, connecting virtually can still lift you up. A video or phone chat with a faraway friend does wonders for refueling the emotional tank.

Within certain parameters, even social media can offer some benefits specifically for introverts, including the HSP. Connecting with other adults is easy to overlook because many don't consider it a "parenting strategy." However, connection is critical to our emotional wellbeing.

Connection, in turn, contributes to the emotional fuel we have on reserve for the challenging parenting days---and for all of the regular days, too. If social media starts to creep in too intrusively and negatively affect your relationships, however, know that there are many things you can do to keep your screen time in check.

Finally, not all connection needs to be with people. Connect spiritually. Connect with nature, too -- science shows how beneficial it can be for grounding ourselves (source).

The HSP Parent Can Be a Highly Attuned and Compassionate Caregiver

Rather than trying to fit into a mainstream mould that wasn't built for us in the first place, we get to create our own parenting strategies that honor who we are. We can create an approach that leaves us feeling encouraged and connected, even despite all the ways that parenting stretches us and pushes our boundaries.

With the natural bigheartedness of HSPs, our children will fare better when we embrace that which comes naturally to us. There's always room for more compassion in the world.

Further Resources for HSP Parents

There are a few really detailed and exceptionally good books to study, such as The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, PhD, and Reading People by Anne Bogel (the latter is only a chapter, but it's entirely relevant). I HSP bookrecommend them to HSPs who want to understand themselves better. They're also beneficial to non-HSPs who want to understand us better.

You can watch a movie about highly sensitive people. You can even take a online quizzes to gauge whether you're a likely an HSP. If you've read this far, though, you probably already know the answer.

I didn't need a quiz or an HSP "label" to understand my own wiring, but it didn't hurt to know what to call it so that I could research beneficial parenting strategies more effectively.

With or without a quiz, if you understand yourself to be an HSP and want parenting strategies that support you, check back here for more resources soon -- including an online session dedicated to parenting a highly sensitive child.

If "play is the work of childhood" (a quote by child psychologist Jean Piaget), then playful parenting is the best way we can work with our children. It's the absolute key to cooperation.

Children play "rain or shine"---it helps them decrease stress, learn new things, and figure out the world (source). Parents do well to remember that the time we invest playing not only helps us connect to our kids, but also makes our job as parents easier. I've never met a child who didn't love it when a parent brought a playful attitude and laughter to the relationship. It helps kids feel close and emotionally understood.

Playful parenting is all about connection.

Playful parenting helps foster cooperation naturally.

We want to enjoy our interactions with our children. If we focus on "getting" them do things, the relationship becomes about power. Instead, I'd encourage parents to work alongside their children as partners against whatever problems they're trying to solve.

True, for our kids' well being, we need to set healthy boundaries—our influence is key in that. That's what positive parenting is all about; working with kids rather than against them. Being a playful parent signals to a child that we're on their side—we're in this together. We can connect and be close without power struggles.

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What does playful parenting look like in action?

How does it work, though, for adults who aren't as naturally playful as kids are? Our brains are wired quite differently from theirs! As we know, kids can have fun playing with parents, friends, and even cardboard boxes. (Fortunately, boxes are wonderful toys.)

The tips below work especially well for ages of 2 - 7, but versions of them can continue well beyond these years.

Brushing teeth

One fun way to accomplish this is to feign total incompetence. As you approach your child with her hairbrush, say, "Open wide! Time to brush your teeth!" Similarly, holding the toothbrush, say, "Oh, this will make your hair so fancy!" Your child will love the feeling of power and total competence as they point out the error of your ways. You, of course, will be shocked to learn your mistake. With exaggerated hesitation, you will try it their way for a moment. After a minute (especially if they start to protest), add, "That's right! I use this on your ARM! Arm, be still." Use your own arm if need be. It's okay to go back and forth a time or three to get it done.

Going potty

Try to trust your child's timing here. If they need help remembering to check, however, make it fun. Maybe they're climbing onto a choo choo train. Perhaps it's a rocket that's about to blast off to a new solar system.

Putting on clothes

Do YOU, parent, fit into that 3T sweater? Please try. If your child isn't keen to get dressed, a bit of laughter clears the air and helps you connect. It's worth the time to slow down and be silly if it cancels the 45-minute tantrum that might otherwise ensue.

Another great way to accomplish getting your child ready for the day is to involve the stuffed animals. They're your allies. Can your child dress a doll while you're putting on his socks? Can your kiddo tell you what his animal friend needs to wear for his rainy day, and what he might need to do to match him? Get your kids outside their heads here. Involve them in care taking,

Cleaning up toys

Cease talking about cleaning and all that "responsibility" rubbish (child view). Since this is a common trouble spot, I'll share several ideas. The key idea is this: Changing your nomenclature helps tremendously. Use kid terms. Not only enter, but lead, the world of make-believe.

When you see a bunch of toy cars all over the floor, notice the incredible traffic jam. The drivers need help getting back to their proper parking garage (the toy box)! "Drive" them back together. Sound effects help.

Building blocks have somehow scattered across the floor and need to make it back into the bag? No problem! You're not holding a bag; you're holding the HUNGRY MONSTER. "Feed me!" it bellows playfully. "Hungry! Must eat blocks! More! More!" On it goes until the mess is gone.

Even for adults, playing this way lightens our moods. Imagine what it does for our kiddos!

Get creative. If something doesn't have a logical "home" (like cars in a box you call a parking garage), make it silly. "Let's put all the dolls in the tree house [on the shelf] for the night!" Even a paper bag can be a "tent" for something. Bring toys and their storage spaces to life.

Lastly, remember how incompetent you were at brushing teeth and hair? You're even worse when it comes to picking up the toys! A ball? It weighs as much as a semi truck! How in the world can you lift it? Can someone save the day? (Many children love to rescue adults.) That giant toy elephant, however, is a breeze for you---it's light as a feather. Your superpowers are very confusing---and hilarious.

Getting out the door

Although I often shy away from competition, this is the one time I'll offer a race. Who can put on shoes the fastest and touch the doorknob? For some kids (particularly highly sensitive ones), however, competition causes anxiety, so use it with caution.

Would anyone like to hop to the door like a bunny? Roll across the rug to get there? Be carried and spun in circles? Sometimes a different mode of transportation is all they need.

Supporting parents with day-to-day responsibilities

If your child can help put away non-breakable items from the dishwasher, for example, let them try. A great question to ask (even if they've done it before) is "Do you think you're strong enough to move these cups from the dishwasher to the counter?" Children love feeling competent. So much of their existence includes not knowing what to do, so when they feel capable, it's incredibly empowering for them.

Playful parents aren't doling out chores to their kids and leaving them to complete them on their own.

This is involved parenting. This is parenting for connection. Sure, it might seem to take more time "in the moment," but ultimately, it can save your kiddo buckets full of tears and help you both feel like you're really in this together as a team. Because you are!

And, you might be surprised how willing children become to do tasks on their own after they've learned in an emotionally safe place with you---and they feel connected. It's a wonderful return on your investment. Long-term connections start when kids are little. Being a playful parent is a part of the equation that you can both enjoy.

Books for Further Reading

playful parenting
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playful parentingplayful parenting

I haven't met Dr. Vanessa Lapointe in person (yet), but I can say without hesitation that I'd trust her to watch my child. If you know anything about me, you'll know that I pretty much don't let anyone watch my child. And she's technically a stranger...so this isn't a lighthearted endorsement. Her first book that I read, Discipline without Damage, had me at "hello"---it simply resonated with me on every level. (afflinks) Now that she's added Parenting Right from the Start to our parenting tool kits, we all need to put it on our must-read list for parenting books.

Parenting Right from the Start is one of the closest things I've found to the manual we all wish accompanied our babies when they're born.

It's a game changer for parents who want to do better for their children. Aside from covering a lot of Parenting Right from the Start Dr. Vanessa Lapointe"basics" (among others, sleep, eating, toilet training, and positive discipline), here's what I like about it:

Parenting Right from the Start
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Dr. Lapointe understands different temperaments and how to parent different children differently.

If the book weren't helpful enough already, Dr. Lapointe includes a section about "dandelion children" vs. "orchid children." Anyone with a highly sensitive child might know these terms; they refer to two distinctly different temperaments and their abilities to thrive in different circumstances. This knowledge is near and dear to my heart as a parent raising an orchid (a highly sensitive child). Regardless whether this analogy speaks to you, Dr. Lapointe's expertise about individual differences among children---and the most effective ways to parent them---is unquestionably beneficial.

Personally, one of the things I most appreciate about Parenting Right from the Start is that Dr. Lapointe makes it okay to parent differently from those around us.

She helps us examine our own "wiring" as parents. She helps us understand the beliefs with which we enter into parenthood and might not even realize we have. It's beyond beneficial; it's a therapeutic mindset from which we all can benefit.

One of my own struggles when I was a new mom was feeling isolated in my parenting style. Most of the other moms I knew were raising their kids in a way that just didn't work for my heart. I longed for other like-minded adults to connect with in my parenting journey, often wondering if I was just way off base. Fortunately, I did find my proverbial tribe (and some other great parenting books along the way), but how much nicer it would've been to have Dr. Lapointe's professional expertise in my back pocket from the start! I'd have felt more sure of the approach that I follow with my whole heart and with full confidence, now.

Life presents us with plenty of opportunities to make the world a better place. Parenting Right from the Start helps us do that.

If I were to sum up the book in a sentence, I'd say it's a book about how to foster a lifelong and positive connection with your child. When it comes right down to it, that's what's most important. And that's exactly what this book helps us do in big and little ways.

From a place of connection, our kids feel safe to be who they are; to embrace the goodness that we've imparted to them; and to carry it out into the world beyond our homes. After all, that's a wonderful measure of success as parents, isn't it?

"...and the stockings were hung by the chimney with care." Still, it's sometimes tempting to consider the stocking stuffers for kids a formality before moving to the "good stuff" under the tree. Truth be told, and writing as a Mom who shops for the aforementioned stocking stuffers for kids, they're sometimes an afterthought even for me. With that in mind, we'd like to bring some joy and creativity back to stocking stuffers for kids! (afflinks)

Here are our family's top picks for stocking stuffers for kids (and kids at heart). They're simple. Fun. QUIET (bonus for highly sensitive kids and parents alike). They're reusable or recyclable, so they're better for the planet. And for extra points, they don't break the bank.

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1. The classic Slinky

stocking stuffers
Aside from rocks and sticks, this is pretty much the original low-tech fun.

What we love about it: everyone in the family wants a turn with this low-tech, old-fashioned goodness. And

long after the other presents lose their novelty, this one is still slinking around the house (sorry, not sorry). I don't know anyone, young or old, who tires of seeing how far it can stretch and whether it's going to get stuck on the stairs. It's a sure winner in the eternal fun category for stocking stuffers for kids.

2. Fake mustaches.

What would you think if I told you one of my favorite memories is my entire extended family

stocking stuffers
Just TRY not to have fun with these.

putting on fake mustaches together? My cousin's baby kept trying to eat hers from her upper lip, so her Mama turned it into the most hilarious baby-unibrow instead. My then-three-year-old mostly looked concerned about the facial hair everyone had spontaneously sprouted (but seemed unconcerned with her own).

To be clear, wearing goofy things isn't something my family would typically do. That's part of what made it so funny. Before you judge me too harshly, might I suggest you try your own? Handlebar or pencil-style, there's something for

everyone. We reuse them in funny art and craft projects. Caterpillars to glue on projects, anyone?

3. Mad Libs.

stocking stuffers
Hilarious fun for the whole family. What a great way to connect!

Remember these stocking stuffers for kids? They're pretty much the ultimate awesome stocking stuffer for kids, word lovers, and aspiring grammarians. I remember one night of playing Mad Libs when the entire family's noun of choice was "pickle." You can only imagine. We were all crying tears of laughter by the end of the game. What a fun way to connect!

4. A good book. 

(Click the heading for our full list and an easy way to browse.)

stocking stuffers
One of our all-time favorites!

Big or small, books are good for developing brains. With all the time we spend on electronics, there's something really special about snuggling up and reading together.

What makes our book list different from many others, though, is that we specifically chose these books because they're "safe" (as my sensitive five-year-old decided). They don't scare anyone in our house, and they have only positive messages. They make wonderful stocking stuffers for kids.

Like that one, others like Rosie Revere, Engineer and It's Okay to Be Different build self-confidence and acceptance (and even address the perfectionist in all of us, like -Ish and The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes). They help us relax and make friends like Scaredy Squirrel did. Some of them have made us laugh with Amelia Bedelia, or think with The Berenstain Bears Big Book of Science and Nature. Some warm our hearts like Mama Seeton's Whistle.

And personally, Zoey & Sassafras is one of my favorite series of books because it covers all those bases. Truth be told, I'm a book snob, and these are the ones that are on my "good list" as stocking stuffers for kids.

And of course, reading The Night Before Christmas  has become part of our Christmas morning tradition. Santa would approve!

5. Small puzzles.

stocking stuffers 2019
Great stocking stuffer for kids! Click each image on the website to see more styles.

Although we list some of these in our travel products (they're great for traveling with kids!), we play with them year-

round in our house.They're a solid stocking stuffer for kids because they're a wonderful activity to keep children still for awhile, or a great way to play when somebody's tired or under the weather. They're great for building concentration. Plus, I love how reusable they are.

These 3D wooden puzzles are SUPER cool, as well.

6. Microscope slides.

They're great as stocking stuffers for kids, and they also worked great in an advent calendar for us a couple of years ago (we use a "surprise" system for items that are too big for the compartments). Our

stocking stuffers
Reusable stickers are better for the planet and also make wonderful stocking stuffers for kids.

kiddo had a fantastic microscope, so we let her STEM skills soar by giving her some new things to examine. Plus, we delivered them in increments rather than all at once, so they lasted awhile. Still now, years later, she looks at them under the same microscope. These were a great investment for us, and in her education.

7. Colored pencils and stickers.stocking stuffers

Although these are a bit more "standard" when it comes to stocking stuffers for kids, they're universally entertaining. Plus, they're great options for the advent calendar, too.

8. The infamous Cube.

stocking stuffers
How fast can you solve it? How about a family-friendly race?

If my child (or my spouse) is going to spend hours lost in staring at something, I'd vote to replace electronics with something like the classic Cube puzzle! I've never solved it personally, but I watched a man sitting next to me on an airplane do "time trials" where he repeatedly solved it in less than a minute. It was incredible to watch. Can you do it? If so, how fast? How about a family challenge?

9. Magnifying glasses.

These are great for when I'm having trouble reading something  small (I mean...cough, cough, not me). Seriously, though, I had no idea how much use these would get in my house. You'd be amazed how often my child has "had to look at something more closely" and goes to fetch these to help her. She might go for a couple of weeks without using them but ALWAYS remembers them and comes back to them. They were a solid purchase for our house!

10. Kinetic sand.

Looking for some moments of zen in your playroom (or your kitchen or anywhere else)? This stuff is transfixing in the very best way. We all end up playing with it for hours on end. It's a great calm-down activity when it's time to relax post-Christmas hype.

No matter which you choose, these stocking stuffers for kids are sure to bring smiles to children of all ages.

Now, if only I can get my husband to share with my child...we're working on it.

And just in case you're counting days, here's the official countdown. May your Christmas be merry and bright!

Teaching children how to protect the Earth often isn't at the forefront of our minds. We recycle, of course, and we're generally good citizens. In all practicality, however, we're often busy...making lunch. Managing our children's bedtimes. Living life.

I don't write that judgmentally. I'm guilty of it, too.

As part of conscious parenting, however, it's imperative that we do teach kids why we need to protect the Earth. Conscious parenting and salvaging what we can of the planet aren't mutually exclusive. We have a moral obligation to not only teach children how to be kind to other humans, but also to show them how to nurture the global home they share.

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All this gentle and respectful parenting we're striving for won't mean a thing if our kids don't have a planet on which they can live safely. 

We shouldn't just teach kids about the implications of deforestation or melting ice caps, of course ---rather, they need to know about all the myriad factors that play into the future of this "pale blue dot" we call home.

However, it feels a bit overwhelming to have that responsibility on our shoulders, doesn't it?

It is overwhelming to protect the Earth, much less teach little kids about it. I'm not minimizing the enormity of the task. Fortunately, as individuals, we're not supposed to carry heavy burdens alone---especially seemingly insurmountable ones like climate change. Positively altering our world is going to take work from every single one of us as a global community. What matters is that we're doing our part. 

As conscious parents, we can weave important messages about sustainable living into our everyday lives.

There's always something we can do to protect the Earth. Here are three ways that work well as we parent our children: Teach Them, Show Them, and Lead Them.

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1. Lead children to protect the Earth by showing them how to be change makers.

In addition to modeling for your kids all the ways you protect the Earth, challenge them to find ways to be change makers themselves. See what they come up with. Here are a few examples:

unnecessary plastic
Kids can write letters to companies who use unnecessary packaging and suggest better alternatives.

Solar panels and electric cars aren't feasible for everyone, and we can't always choose whether our homes are powered by wind turbines. However, until more of those things are commonplace, you can write letters with your children. Make phone calls. Model to your children that communication matters---because their future on this planet matters.

2. Teach children how to protect the Earth by talking about it in your everyday life.

There are so many ways to weave this topic into your daily conversations. Although it's wonderful to have sit-down discussions about how to protect the Earth, it doesn't need to be complicated or heavy-handed, particularly with children who are highly sensitive. Adapt your message to suit your child's ability to process the information thoughtfully and without fear mongering. Starting small is great, particularly for small children. No child is too young to listen. It's all about planting the proverbial seed. It will grow if you let it.

Awareness and understanding go a long way; they're how kids establish their belief systems about what's important.

Here are some simple and effective ways you can teach young children about how to protect the Earth:

What you can say to your child: "I'm turning off the bedroom lights because no one's in there. That's how we save energy. Saving energy helps protect the Earth and everyone who lives on it."

What you can say to your child: "We're walking to the library today so we don't use the fuel that's in our car. Saving fuel helps protect the Earth by reducing fumes and protecting the planet's natural resources."

Talking goes a long way for kids. If they don't hear important messages from you, what would they know to look for (or to avoid) in society as they grow up?

3. Teach children how to protect the Earth by showing them what others are doing to help. Also show them what not to do.

It's important for kids to know that they're not too young to care; not too young to help.

Have you heard of Greta Thunberg, a 17-year-old girl from Sweden? She's a climate activist who's inspired marches for young people around the world. She completed an incredible 15-day, 3,000-mile (4,800km) voyage on a carbon-neutral boat across the Atlantic to bring awareness to climate change. She spoke at the United Nations Climate Summit in September 2019. Here's her very compelling speech to the Assemblée Nationale:

Greta's work is inspiring and wonderful, yet she's not the only one who's doing good work to protect the Earth. Young activists are doing important climate work all over the world. Share their stories with your children.

Watch your children's reactions to others' work to learn which elements of protecting our planet speak to their hearts. Then, foster those things. Do they love marine animals? What about their favorite forest creatures? Do your kids enjoy hiking, playing outside in good weather, or boating with Grandpa? See what other people are doing to make enjoying those things possible for your child. Tie those things into your discussions. They're specific. They're  memorable.

teaching kids about the environment

As with all topics, you'll be more likely to succeed at teaching your message about sustainability if your child feels emotionally compelled to learn. Just like some kids enjoy math for the sake of numbers and others don't care about math until they discover physics, pay attention to what resonates with your child. Show them what others are doing in an area that inspires them. Read books together about ways your children can help protect the Earth (afflinks). Check them out from your local library if you can.

Even with young kids, you can also point it out when you see something that's contrary to how we protect the Earth.

Be it a cigarette butt on the pavement, smoke spewing from a manufacturing facility, or someone acting irresponsibly towards our planet in any way, it's perfectly okay to point it out and say, "Yuck." Explain why it's off-putting.

What you can say to your child: "I don't like it when people leave their trash near the lake. It's dirty and can make the fish and animals here very sick. I want people to do better." Bonus points: pick up the trash and take it to the nearest bin. Pack an eco-friendly hand sanitizer to keep with you if you're concerned about cleanliness.

Show children that the generation before them is doing something to protect them.

Kids need to know that adults outside your home care about sustainability, too---lest they feel as overwhelmed as we do. It's hard to feel like an activist in isolation. Show them they're not alone. Find role models they admire (famous or not) and share with them what those people are doing.

Raffi, the beloved children's troubadour and creator of his namesake Foundation for Child Honouring, wrote two wonderful new songs about the climate emergency ("Young People Marching – for Greta Thunberg" and "Do We Love Enough"). Here's his press release. You can stream the songs from here.

I'd love to say "Show kids that we've got this." Although I can't do that, I'll write, "Show them that we're working on it."

Raffi’s Response to the Climate Emergency

Teach children about how to protect the Earth because they have even more at stake than we do.

The normal order of things is for them to outlive us on a safe and healthy planet.

We can't force kids to be stewards of the Earth; it's our job as conscious parents to model these things for them. They'll follow our lead. As a bonus, the more you instill your messages in your kids, the more they'll hold you accountable, too. Your actions will become their actions as they grow up. They're paying attention now.

"Another day is imminent. Another world is possible." -- Raffi Cavoukian


Sarah R. Moore is an internationally published writer and the founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting. You can follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram. She’s currently worldschooling her family. Her glass is half full.

In positive parenting, the power of a hug is some of the best preventative medicine that exists for the adult-child relationship, even with children who aren’t our own.

*

A girl I'll call Juniper, who was then two and a half years old, was standing with my child and me in the doorway just before we joined Teacher Tom for outdoor story time. It was the very first time I'd ever met her. I was the last adult chaperoning kids out of the building, so I couldn't join story time with my child until I was sure all the kids were accounted for. Juniper had no intention of joining us, though, as I could clearly see from her body language. As Teacher Tom noticed my child and me waiting in the vestibule, he beckoned for us to join him. A lot of people were waiting for us. He was unaware that I was encouraging Juniper, who was cowering in a corner, to follow us.

In an attempt to connect with Juniper, I crouched down to her level and reached out my hand. I'd have held her hand, hugged her, or picked her up, if she'd indicated any of those options were acceptable. To my surprise, however, she jumped at me like a mini-superhero, then started throwing punches and kicking me. She tried to bite my arm. Holy moly.

Despite being momentarily stunned, I heard myself think, "I'm going to Janet Lansbury this." (I didn't know Janet was a verb. I always thought she was an early childhood expert.) As calmly as I could muster despite Juniper's flailing limbs, I held her shoulders at a safe distance from my body. I looked her in the eye and said, "I won't let you hurt me. I'll help you through this." Immediately, she calmed, took a final halfhearted swing at me, and took off running down the hallway of the building. Knowing I couldn't leave a child alone in there, I invited my child to follow me as I gently pursued Juniper. I gave her plenty of space.

I practice positive discipline with my own child, and although I was in uncharted waters, I wanted to show the same respect to this flailing child as I do to my own.

To be clear, I use positive discipline as a synonym for teaching. I don't support force or punishment of any kind as a parenting approach. In my experience, a hug and almost any form of positive parenting go so much farther than anything punitive.

Before I continue with what happened, it’s helpful to understand some of the different approaches I could’ve taken, based on different parenting styles. This child didn’t need to be mine for the same neuroscience to apply.

If I acted like an authoritarian parent, it likely would've presented as me yelling after her, catching her, and picking her up against her will. Flailing or not, I'd plop her down into to story time. Traditional authoritarian parenting (the most commonly punitive option) centers around adults controlling children. It has negative long-term consequences for the parent and child relationship, as well as for the child

power of a hug
This book is insightful and helpful for improving the parent-child relationship.

herself, as John Gottman, Ph.D. describes in Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child (afflinks). Forced compliance does nothing to support children’s emotional intelligence or attachment to their caregivers, and I certainly wasn't going to make this little stranger "behave" somehow.

On the opposite end of the parenting style continuum from authoritarian parenting is permissive parenting. However, Dr. Gottman, Janet Lansbury, and many other experts caution that permissive parenting isn't the antidote to authoritarian parenting. It, too, carries risks for the child. Children need loving and reasonable limits to feel secure. Permissive parenting might’ve looked like my letting Juniper run wherever she wanted, and not saying a word to her about it.

Neither approach would've given Juniper helpful tools upon which to rely in the future. Moreover, if she happened to be a highly sensitive child (HSC), odds are good that anything punitive might have sent her into an even tougher emotional situation.

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Goldilocks was right; children need not too much or too little guidance. They need just the right amount of it through authoritative, positive parenting.

This balanced type of positive parenting is called authoritative parenting.  Note that although the name authoritarian parenting, which is negative, sounds like authoritative parenting, the latter is positive.

In any case, this certainly wasn't the time for a sticker chart or a "red behavior card,” which is common in many preschools. (I'd argue that no time is right for those, but that's another post.) As Ross Greene, Ph.D., argues in The Explosive Child, "...The reason reward and punishment strategies haven't helped is because they won't teach your child skills he's lacking or solve the problems that are contributing to

the power of a hug
This book helps with children's emotional regulation.

challenging episodes..." These methods don't teach children how to cope when they're emotionally overloaded.

Conversely, positive parenting is linked with better long-term outcomes for the child. This is true not only short-term, but also for the child's long-term wellbeing (1). Examples of positive parenting styles include RIE® (2), attachment parenting, authoritative parenting, and many others. Descriptions are readily available on the Internet, and my website has a list of my favorite positive parenting books. (Yep, I've read everything there. I share only the ones that have solid, actionable messages and that promote positive parenting.) I wish I had a dollar for every style of parenting in the dictionary these days, but truthfully, the names don't matter much.

With so many types of parenting to name, I just try to parent simply; parent from the heart. Parent from connection.

All that said, I wasn't entirely enthusiastic about pursuing this small Mike Tyson. However, I realized that this responsibility was on me even if I didn't sign up for it.

I trusted that I was there for a reason. I needed to find that middle ground that would help Juniper trust that I was on her side while still accomplishing what we needed to do: reconnect with the class.

Unsure whether it would work here, I was keenly aware of the science behind the power of a hug within the context of positive parenting.

So, I offered her a hug. Totally bewildered for a moment, she yelled, "No!" And then she sucked her thumb, rocked herself, fell to the floor crying, and then got up and ran at me again. For a moment, I almost blocked my body for safety. I saw something different in her eyes, though, so I stayed within reach. She ran to me as if I were a long lost friend and collapsed into my arms, bawling her little eyes out.

She hugged and hugged and hugged, leaving my daughter and me surprised, but on we went hugging. Her tension melted away entirely. We proceeded to story time peacefully.

At that point and for reasons unbeknownst to me at the time, I told her that I have a "hug button" on my shoulder. Anytime she'd need one, she could come and touch my shoulder, and I'd know what to do. I made sure to always crouch down when she came near, just in case she needed to push it.

For the following two weeks of the class, she continued to struggle more often than not. But eventually, I got smarter.

If any child were to put something unsafe in her mouth and start running down the hill on the playground, it was her. With some false starts, I learned that following her and asking her to remove the choking hazard would backfire. It was all the convincing she needed to keep the aforementioned item there. When I pushed too hard or sounded forceful, fearing for her safety, she’d take off running and create an even greater safety risk to herself.

Once I realized that, I chose to address her potential issues proactively. The moment I saw her put something in her mouth, I'd crouch down and call her name from wherever I was on the playground. I'd stay put. She'd look over, and I'd point to the invisible hug button on my shoulder.

More often than not, she'd nod and come running my direction (sometimes with the aforementioned object still in her mouth, but it was progress). She'd hug me for as long as she needed and then relinquish the item.

Except for when she didn't come. I'm not perfect (more like a million miles from it), and sometimes my tone would be too worrisome for her. Or sometimes I'd think I'd done it "right," but she was too emotionally overloaded to connect.

What I do know, however, is that proactive hugging stopped a whole lot of potential problems in their tracks. We reaped the benefits of positive parenting with this one simple point of connection.

I lost count of how many times a proactive hug completely deescalated potential problems. I'd see a "look" on her face that signaled trouble, so I'd offer a hug. And just like magic, all was right with her world again. Some of the other kids in class even joined in on the “hug button” initiative.

On the last day of class, Juniper walked up to me and offered me a hug for the first time, proactively. She'd never done that before. I happily accepted. Much to my surprise, she cupped my face in her little hands and she whispered, "I love you." It was the perfect 2.5-year-old translation of "Thank you for understanding exactly what I needed when I didn't have the words to explain it."

And I love her, too, in the most wonderful way of loving a small person I'll likely never see again. She helped show me the power of positive parenting from a lens outside that of my own family. She reinforced that it's better not to chase my child; but instead, to be rock solid and a "safe place" emotionally. She confirmed what the the gentle parenting books say should happen when a child feels connected. My own parenting is better for the important positive parenting lesson she taught me.

There's a lot to be said for the power of a hug.

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Source (1): https://www.parentingscience.com/authoritative-parenting-style.html

Source (2): https://www.rie.org/educaring/ries-basic-principles/

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