Talking To Your Kids About Sex in Spoonfuls
July 27, 2014 · Posted in Communication, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments (0)

If you feel like everything happens to kids earlier now, you are right! Puberty now begins for girls as early as nine years old, and boys as early as 11. To ensure that kids are not more horrified than they need to be, parents should start talking about the changes their bodies will undergo much before they start to happen. One spoonful at a time. When the topic comes up, which it will given the world we live, you can be ready to take it just as far as your child wants.

Here is where our over-sexualized culture can come in handy. It’s pretty hard to get past kindergarten without being exposed to grown up bodies and sexual energy. So when the topic comes up, you can steer it to their growing bodies.

“Look at her boobies” your six year old daughter says while pointing to a billboard. ”Yes, those are big boobies, boobies usually start growing in 4th or 5th grade.” Stop.

“Mom, those two are sexing!” your eight year old son exclaims in response to a smoochy kiss in a movie . “Those two were kissing in the movie. Not “sexing”. Stop.

If we stop after a statement like that, you get to take the temperature of the discussion. Does your son or daughter squirm and slip away, or do they have another question or comment. If you child has more interest give another piece of information and then wait.

“When will I get my boobies?”

“Well, I was about 13 when mine started growing, but it happens a little sooner now. I’m not sure exactly when yours will grow but we will know when they are starting because you will get little bumps under your skin called breast buds–that’s the sign that they are starting to grow.”

 

“Josh told me sexing is when a penis plants a seed in a lady.” He replies giggling and jumping around.

“Well Josh has the right idea, want me to explain it more?”

“Penis plant! Penis plant!..”, he chants and marches around the living room.

“Ok, buddy, we won’t do that now, but another time we can talk about it.”

These little spoonfuls of conversation show your openness, aren’t overwhelming and pave the way for more and more communication about a necessary and important topic.

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Savoring Summer
July 16, 2014 · Posted in Parenting · Permalink · Comments (0)

Summertime is for collecting. Collecting shells, sea glass, fireflies and memories. Collections are like strings of little pearls of summer, a physical remembrance of special times growing up. Think back to your memories of summer. The smell of grass, the ocean, the feel of diving into a clean, cool swimming pool. It is a sensuous time of the year and hopefully, a slower one. Summer is a time for regrouping. For adults it goes by in a flash, but for children the summer is a long stretching season.

This summer, focus in on the sights, smells and tastes that are sacred summertime things:  Watermelon and bar-b-q, sand castles and catching frogs, sun-kissed skin and fireworks. Quiet New York days in the hot, hot park. Savor these times with your children. They will be embedded in their minds forever.

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Being Right
June 25, 2014 · Posted in Anger, Communication, Marriage, Mental Health, Parenting, Relationships · Permalink · Comments (0)

The Curse and Seduction of Being Right

by Lisa Merlo Booth

 

Many people struggle with the curse of being right.  When people struggle with being right it feels as if you’re constantly in an argument about the “facts.”  Sometimes it can feel as if you’re talking with a lawyer instead of a friend or partner.  For example, you might ask your partner to lower their voice and they respond with, “My voice isn’t loud.  I was just being passionate.”  Or perhaps you start to tell a story about work and say, “When I left home at 8 a.m.…” and your partner quickly butts in and corrects you with, “Well, actually you left after 8 a.m.”  Whatever the circumstances are, you feel as if you’re in an endless battle.  All you want to do is share your thoughts or make a request, yet the other person is busy checking your facts instead of listening to your message.

Needless to say, if you’ve ever been on the other side of this dynamic, it can be incredibly frustrating.  If you’re the one constantly “correcting” or arguing the facts, then you can be incredibly frustrating.

Stop correcting and start listening.

Being around someone who is constantly telling others how they’re wrong blocks intimacy and connection.  Ironically though, many people get caught in the being right trap…because being right is seductive.  After all, people think, isn’t it important to have the right facts?  If my partner says he’s angry that I was late for our dinner on Saturday and I know we went out on Friday—shouldn’t I correct him and tell him I was late on Friday, not Saturday?  After all, I’m right—I happen to know for a fact that we went out on Friday because Saturday was our son’s soccer game and we ate dinner on the road while driving to his game.  Shouldn’t I correct him when I know I’m right?

No.

The seduction of being right is that often our information…is right.  We’re not making it up, we’re not giving false information and we’re honestly correcting wrong information.  What’s wrong with that, we wonder?  Several things are wrong with that.  To start with, when we’re so ultra-focused on arguing the facts, we miss the bigger point.  In the dinner example, my husband was upset that I was late.  My focusing on the “accurate” day is irrelevant—even though my information may be correct.  Second, if I’m busy critiquing what he says, then I’m shutting down the conversation.  If I shut down the conversation then I’m blocking repair.  It’s often only a matter of time before people give up trying to talk with someone who seldom listens and instead corrects the minute details.  At some point we just say forget it.When it comes to healthy relationships, remember to not get lost in the details and instead hear the main message.  If you’re stuck on critiquing the messenger, s/he is likely to stop relaying messages.  When that happens, your relationship is in trouble.  The other person gets tired of being blocked repeatedly and in the end they often just turn away.  It’s in your best interest to have the courage to stop getting lost in the details and instead hear the message…and fix your part in the situation.  Insisting on being right is damaging.  Don’t give in to the seduction.

 

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Tapping into Our Best Adult Selves: A Short Breathing Practice
June 10, 2014 · Posted in Mental Health, Parenting, Therapy · Permalink · Comments (0)

Here are the core emotional qualities of our best adult selves.

Calm, Compassionate, Curious, Connected, Confident, Creative, Courageous, Clear, Patience, Perspective, Perseverance, Presence

When we can lead our lives from this essential self we have healthier relationships, make better choices, and feel more flexible and calm while we ride the waves of life. These qualities make a great leader, and what is a parent, if not a leader?

Though we are rarely in a state of feeling all of the above qualities, we do our best job as parents when we have a combo of at least a few. Cultivating and strengthening  these feelings helps when daily tangles with children leave you frustrated, helpless or angry.

Here is an exercise to develop these emotional states:

Take a full ten minutes when you won’t be interrupted, shut off your phone, and get in a comfortable position. Notice your breath. Is it shallow, or fast, or deep or jagged? Then take 25 inhales and exhales and try to even out the rhythm. Scan your body from head to toe. Notice every sensation. Tension in your jaw? A rumbling stomach? Tightness in your lower back? Imagine sending breath to that area. Consciously try to release tension in any tight area. When you realize that your mind has gone on a tangent — planning, worrying or problem solving, just take note and try to gently come back to your breath. You may notice a sense of lightness, or relaxation. Check and see if you have access to a deeper sense of calm, patience, and compassion for yourself. Even if it only lasts a moment, this more spacious place is where our best parenting flows. Memorize the feeling in your body. You can actually call it up at other times when you feel more riled or triggered. The ups and downs of parenting can be brutal – being able to tap into a more balanced state is a is like a built in oasis. Try it!

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Media in Moderation
June 1, 2014 · Posted in Infant Development, Media, Parenting, Technology, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (1)

 

Media and Children– From The American Academy Of Pediatrics

 

Media is everywhere. TV, Internet, computer and video games all vie for our children’s attention. Information on this page can help parents understand the impact media has in our children’s lives, while offering tips on managing time spent with various media. The AAP has recommendations for parents and pediatricians.

Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices. To help kids make wise media choices, parents should monitor their media diet. Parents can make use of established ratings systems for shows, movies and games to avoid inappropriate content, such as violence, explicit sexual content or glorified tobacco and alcohol use.

Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.

By limiting screen time and offering educational media and non-electronic formats such as books, newspapers and board games, and watching television with their children, parents can help guide their children’s media experience. Putting questionable content into context and teaching kids about advertising contributes to their media literacy.

The AAP recommends that parents establish “screen-free” zones at home by making sure there are no televisions, computers or video games in children’s bedrooms, and by turning off the TV during dinner. Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.

Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.

 

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“Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire”: Punishment and Children’s Honesty
December 1, 2011 · Posted in Anger, Communication, Discipline, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments (0)

A recent article in Child-Psych gives important data about children and discipline and lying. In a nutshell, the harsher the punishments, the more kids lie. Yet another piece of date to support the goal of  approaching punishment from a calm, centered place instead of reacting in anger.

A study conducted by Talwar and Lee looks at two separate West African schools, one with punitive disciplinary practices, the other non-punitive. Children at both schools participated in an experiment to test resistance to temptation and honesty or lying about their success or failure to hold themselves back. While almost all children  failed the resistance portion of the program, the response afterwards varied greatly. Only half of the children at the non-punitive school lied about their actions, compared to the punitive school where nearly all of the children lied. Additionally, the children at the school with harsher punishments made up more elaborate lies as compared to the other.

Harsh and severe punishments will actually increase the likelihood of a child developing a habit of lying. Consequences to bad behavior is crucial, but it is also just as important to keep a level head when communicating it to your kids.

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Minding Our Business
November 24, 2011 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Parenting · Permalink · Comments (0)

By Bethany Saltman

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

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

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

Here are some tips from one I found:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marriage Vows are Really Parent Vows
November 23, 2011 · Posted in Fatherhood, Mental Health, Parenting, Relationships, Teens · Permalink · Comments (0)

When times are good with your children, you can’t even imagine not wanting to be a parent. When difficulties arise, from the typical and small, like constant temper tantrums, to the  unthinkable, like diagnosis of Asperger’s, or juvenile diabetes, or your teenager in the grip of an eating disorder, your mettle as a parent is tested to the limits.

You may wish for an escape–that is natural. You may seriously doubt your capacity to parent, but as with nothing else, you are committed for life. You are on the journey no matter what. This lead me to think that the marriage vows, which can be and are retracted for many of us, really belong to our children.

“I take you______to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, till death us do part.”

It is to our children that we make this vow. Everything else in life can really be changed.

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Thanks Giving
November 17, 2011 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments (0)

Kids love traditions. The smells and tastes of the holidays, the family rituals, are stored in their little brains forever. Here is a great tradition to make Thanksgiving true to its name.

Using a sketch or scrap book start a Family Thanksgiving Book together. Give each person, large and small, a page to write or draw what they feel thankful for. From the sublime to the ridiculous, your health to your boots, from “Mommy and Daddy” to “my legos.” Do this each year at Thanksgiving and over the years it will become a real treasure.

 

 

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Louisiana 2011
October 27, 2011 · Posted in Charity Project, Parenting · Permalink · Comments (0)

Bookended by an earthquake and a hurricane we went to Gray, Louisiana for our sixth trip! Collage, watercolor, pastels, mask and crown making were just some of the activities the kids participated in.  Since it was the 6th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, many of the children recalled memories of being airlifted into helicopters, living in shelters and losing their homes. One of the boys said, “It was mighty scary and a little exciting!” It was great to be able to reflect back that it was ok to feel many different things about the experience.

We continue to be moved by the kids reactions when we drive up after a year away. One girl, who we have seen every year since she was six, was happy but surprised! “We thought you would forget about us.” How wonderful to be able to prove her wrong.

If you would like to learn more please go to www.sohoparenting.com/charity. We would be delighted to accept any donations made out to Start Corp. The funds go to art supplies, after school activities and family trips.

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