My name is Jen. I have a contagiously funny husband, three awesomely gorgeous daughters, a knack for design, a love for writing, an obsession with kids fashion, a secret desire to be a photographer and a curfew of 10 pm. WHO'S WITH ME?
OTHER PLACES I HANG OUT
Sign up for email notifications
What Your Child Needs From You: Creating a Connected Family REVIEW + GIVEAWAY!
Parenting is hard.
There are days when it all comes together magically and there are others when your heart and brain and general sense of well-being are challenged to the point of exploding from your body while simultaneously offering a less-than-polite hand gesture on its way out. As parents, we endure a lot of pressure. Whether it’s self-inflicted with notions of taking on everything with an air of perfection or from outside sources like the necessity of financial contribution for survival, or even the weight that comes with making sure the little creatures you reproduced don’t someday end up on the cover of a racy tabloid, we have a lot to handle.
We get stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated and impatient and then our unaware 5 year-old walks into the living room, spins to look out the window, and drops her full glass of cranberry juice onto the new rug, while your 3 year-old is yelling for you from the bathroom that she needs help RIGHT NOW, all at the same time your 20 month-old is trying to get your attention with no less than 42 “MAMAs” per minute. And what happens in those moments is that we stop listening. We shut down. We start to yell. They start to cry. NO ONE GETS ICE CREAM.
Unfortunately, if we don’t recognize how our day-to-day grind and stresses could impact our bonds with our children and their needs, or how to handle their emotional outbursts with each other and the world around them, we could end up with one, big unhappy family. I consider my relationships with my three young daughters unbreakable and joyful, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t lose that connection to them in times when all the fleeting emotions of LIFE get in the way. And there is nothing I want more in this world than to keep our family happy and bonded forever.
Which is why I was SO thrilled to have found and read Justin Coulson‘s: What Your Child Needs From You: Creating a Connected Family.
I’ll admit it: I’m not a huge parenting book reader. In fact, I’ve read exactly TWO before this one–neither of which resonated. I’ve always felt that I could just “wing it” and the books I came across were too cumbersome, preachy or didn’t offer solutions. However, What Your Child Needs From You struck a chord. It was relatable, simplistic, made complete sense and IT WORKED.
Justin is a parenting expert with a Ph.D. in psychology, an author, a dad to 5 daughters (!!!), and an incredibly nice guy. Simply put, Justin’s passion is parenting and creating happy families. He’s been featured on the TODAY show, The Project, Kidspot, and loads of radio stations, blogs, magazines and news articles around the globe. He also shares lots of parenting wisdom on his own site, Happy Families.
In other words, he knows his stuff.
There were so many pieces of this book that I loved and connected with. The book is outlined by 4 short chapters, filled with powerful psychological research related to parenting: how to be emotionally available to your children, how to understand your children, how to teach your children good ways to act, and the meaning of kindness, compassion, and love within your family. Each chapter gave examples and real-life scenarios (and left the ideal of ”perfect parenting” behind) as well as offered real parenting solutions to those scenarios. I love that Justin’s personal experiences are shared and he doesn’t inundate us with clinical studies. Each chapter also gives “putting it into practice” and “points to ponder” blurbs, which force you to really think about how you respond to your children. I think one of the best features of this book was that it was only 96 pages, straight to the point, and easy to read in one night. I have it set on my night table with sections highlighted within, that I often refer back to.
Two messages that most stood out to me when reading this book were “be emotionally available to your children” and “emotions are contagious.” The flooding of high and strong emotions (which are typically negative) inhibit the ability to process thoughts effectively. This, and being emotionally available, are my biggest challenges as a busy mom. I can think of no less than 10 circumstances where this “flooding of emotions” has happened in my house recently. My beautiful, mischevous, animated and wonderfully curious 3 year-old (also know as “The Nudist” around here) will get worked up about something (anything) that might seem ridiculous to you, but is very non-ridiculous to her, and the more worked up she gets, the less available I become and the more I “catch” that same emotion. What ends up happening is that instead of working with her and her emotions, I work against her and just try to put a stop to it any way I can.
After reading this book, I challenged myself to a different approach: I remained calm, acknowledged her emotion, talked about that emotion and asked her how it affected herself and those around her, and THEN gave my parenting spiel (still in a calm manner).
And, guess what? Her hysterics stopped. She listened. She did what I asked. SHE FELT UNDERSTOOD. All because I didn’t automatically lose my mind and make empty (and absurd) threats. I also needed one less glass of wine that same night.
This book was truly my parenting AHA moment. There are so many valid teaching moments for us, as parents, in each chapter (from mindful vs. mindless parenting, how to effectively discipline, how to see the world through your children’s eyes, and more). It’s a book that every mom and dad should read, even if it’s only to remind us of what we’re doing right. It’s thoughtful, insightful, positive, intelligent, and has inspired me to become a better parent with time and practice.
I loved this book.
Because I wanted to learn more, I asked Justin a few questions after I was done reading the book and he was kind enough to give me his insight. (I loved these answers just as much as I loved the book.)
Q: How do you advise to be completely present for your children if you are a work-at-home parent?
A: This is a question that comes up consistently – and you don’t even have to be a work-from-home parent to struggle with it. Should we be always emotionally available?
Before I fully answer the question I should point out that being emotionally available is not about being indulgent or permissive. It’s about being available if needed. The second thing I want to mention is that there are some times when we have to say to our kids, “Mom/Dad is very busy right now. When I’ve done x, y, z then I can come and pay attention.”
But ultimately, what this really means is that if our kids are seeking our emotional availability we should endeavor to give it to them. It means turning away from the computer screen, the stove, or the workbench for a few short moments – often only a handful of seconds really – and responding to them. Often they just want us to give them a moment’s focus and they’re happy. From time to time they may want us to ‘down tools’ and spend some time in an activity together. But this is rare. They generally just want us to available – to acknowledge them, to respond to them, to help them feel loved.
Q: How do you handle a child’s emotional reaction to something they don’t want to do? How do you apply your concepts to something that doesn’t have any apparent deeper emotional meaning than “I don’t want to.”
A: There are some times when our kids simply don’t want to go along. If they don’t ‘have to’ do it then I’d argue strongly that we shouldn’t make them do it just to prove a point.
In relation to the situation you’ve mentioned above, there are a range of different solutions that might help. First, you might be accepting of her preference to not wear clothes so you take her in the car wearing her pajamas, or just her diaper and singlet. (Naked is probably not an option though).
Alternatively, you might offer her choice. After recognizing her emotions (“You’re frustrated because you want to stay home rather than getting into the car”) you might softly but firmly say “You wish we could stay home, but we have to go in the car. We’re picking up your sister/going to the doctor and you will have to come along this time. It’s time to get dressed. Would you like to wear x or y?” Children are welcome to their emotions and they should have them. But they cannot dictate how things run in the house. Where they simply must comply with a directive (like this one in this example) we offer as much choice as we can.
In other words, her reasons for not wanting to in this situation are, sadly, largely irrelevant. Whether her reason is good or not doesn’t matter because as a 3 yr old she has to go. So we offer choice.
If she were older and the situation was such that compliance were not compulsory, we might ask her why and her reasons may be valid. If they were good reasons we might let her have her way. If it were a lousy reason we might respond with understanding and then provide choices that are more aligned with what our preferences are.
Q: My daughters are young (5, 3 and 20 months old), and I am home with them. Right now, I’m their world and feel very connected to them. My biggest goal is to stay connected to them as they grow into teenagers. Do you find that by practicing the concepts you talk about in your book that your 13 year-old responds to you in the same way that your youngest daughter does?
A: Children will respond differently to us as they develop, regardless of how we guide them and connect with them. Much of this has to do with their developing independence and quest for autonomy. As they mature they require different things from us and seek to connect with us in different ways. However, I believe that it is a universal need that all of our children have that they want us to a) spend time with them, and b) understand them.
It’s the quality of the connection that matters most. And that quality comes through those two things – time and understanding.
By practicing the ideas in this book parents will experience powerful connections with their children regardless of whether they’re 2, 22, or 62.
Q: How do you handle a sibling’s emotion in reaction to what her sister/brother did to upset them? (I gave the example of Lily drawing all over Averi’s artwork and while in that moment, I worked the book’s methods on Lily and what she had done, I didn’t know how to handle the emotion that came from her older sister, other than recognizing it.)
A: Connecting with her emotional challenge is the most important part. She knows that you understand. Once she’s calm and thinking clearly again, I’d be inclined to see if she can do some of the teaching. Ask her questions:
“You know what, I’m finding it hard to work out why your little sister keeps doing this to you. Why do you think she’s always drawing on your art?”
“What do you think we could do to make it so she feels part of it, but you don’t have your drawings ruined?”
“How would your sister feel about that? Are there any other ideas? Let’s think of some together.”
In so doing, you allow your daughter to “buy in” to the reasoning process. If she tells you that her sister is just little and doesn’t understand, then she’ll be more compassionate because she gets it. When you tell her, she just finds it frustrating. Additionally, as she comes up with solutions – ways to act that work for everyone – then she’ll be more likely to autonomously behave that way. After all, it’s her idea!
Asking questions is often the most effective form of explicit teaching. The less you talk, the better!
Q: As a parenting expert, are there ever parenting moments that stump even you?
A: I wouldn’t say I get ‘stumped’. Most parenting challenges are actually pretty simple to work through. We need to be available, understanding, compassionate, and effective in the way we set limits and work together. The challenges are really because of our stress levels, our fatigue/exhaustion, or the various other ways we deplete ourselves or fail to be attentive to our own needs and those of our children. If we care for our selves, stay ‘in the moment’, and work with our kids rather than do things to them, we generally find that those moments won’t stump us. We usually just need a little perspective.
Like anything in parenting, it takes time and practice to use the methods taught in this book effectively and consistently. Like Justin says, “Many of these challenges don’t have quick fix answers. They take our patience and our very best efforts. But in time, they work out if we look into our children’s hearts, see the world through their eyes, and compassionately, patiently guide them towards acting in good ways.”
I highly recommend this book and I’m super excited that I am giving away a copy of Justin’s book to one lucky reader!
To enter, use Rafflecopter below. The more you do, the more chances you have to win!
To purchase What your child needs from you: Creating a connected family, visit Amazon.