Team Fairy vs Team Princess

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Parents of young girls today are inundated by all things pink and frilly. It’s often taken for granted that every girl wants to be a princess.

As a tomboy who grew up with little interest in barbies; an environmentalist who seeks to minimize my footprint; and a feminist who wants to prevent my daughter from measuring her worth by her beauty, I decided to limit the impact of the “princess factor” on my daughter. Enter the fairies.

While every child has innate interests, there are also many that are developed through social interactions.  Using my influence as a parent, I subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly steered my daughter away from princesses and toward the fairies. And I’ve been very pleased with the results. Here’s why.

Values.

Fairies engage in environmental stewardship. They take care of the plants and animals, and are careful not to kill any living thing nor introduce non-natural items (like plastic) into the natural habitat. These are values that help to build a healthier future for our planet, and frankly they’re much more exciting coming from fairies than from mommies.

Princesses value material wealth and external beauty. They seek to acquire beautiful dresses, shoes, jewelry, and other princessly accessories like makeup tables and palaces. These desires are very cleverly played upon by marketing giants such as Disney, who also engage in questionable business practices like marketing “educational” videos to infants (whose brain development is harmed by screen time) and selling products to children with toxic chemicals like PVC.

Tips for parents whose girls love princesses: you may want to look to your child’s own closet for “fancy” dress up clothing and work together on creating tiaras from headbands and embellishing hair clips using materials around the house to create a fun and inexpensive opportunity for hands-on creative play.

Activities.

Fairy play involves creative activities like building fairy houses from the natural environment. You can learn more about the rules of the forest from the fairy houses books (affiliate link). Fairy play also involves using your imagination to explore what it might be like to have magical powers. It can engage children in exploring leadership challenges like being charge of the weather or animal welfare.

Princess play involves dress up, and princesses often engage in role play around traditional story lines like making themselves look beautiful by wearing the right clothes and meeting princes at balls. Princesses often need to be rescued by a prince,  which may lead to marriage. This storyline creates an idea that women need to make themselves weak in order to be loved.

Parents of princess-loving children can work with them to identify the gender assumptions behind those story lines and rescript a more empowering story.

Paths to learning.

Fairies open doorways to loving the natural world. One passion that has grown out of the fairy realm for my daughter is learning about and working with medicinal herbs. A fabulous series that we’ve been using to explore this area more deeply is the herb fairies. Another product we’ve used to cultivate her knowledge and conduct kitchen experiments is the Kid’s Herb Book (affiliate link).

Princess obsessions often lead to reading princess stories, AKA fairy tales. There are some decent newer stories out there (we like Part-time Princess), although the traditional volumes often contain fear-inducing and/or disempowering plot lines which I do my best to avoid for my 4 year old.

If your child is already interested in princesses you can discuss the roles women play as leaders, and which leadership qualities can benefit humankind. Other royal topics worth exploring are social welfare issues and conflicts between nations. Together, you and your princess can engage in creative  problem-solving through role play.

Fairies or Princesses? It’s all in the presentation.

Parenthood is a maze marked by competing interests. As parents of young children, it’s our job to get clear on our values, and shape our kids’ worlds accordingly.

I love the fairies for the gifts they’ve brought to my daughter. But even princesses have gifts to share if we can co-create them to reflect the brightest future we can imagine for our children.

 

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Why favorites are not my favorite

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Like many conversations with children, it’s almost innate. “What book is your favorite?” “Which ice cream flavor is your favorite?” You like Sesame Street? Which character is your favorite?”

Harmless, right? It seemed so. But as I watched my daughter integrate the implications of this question, it created a shift in perception that was dark and disappointing.

It happened around age 3. At first, it was a total anomaly to her. What is this “favorite” they’re asking about? Initially she didn’t respond to the question. And it kept on coming.

As understanding dawned, she took some time to process this new idea. It was as if I could see the wheels turning in her head. “You want me to rank these things – to put something above something else.”

Toddlers are full of joy, wonder and amazement. They love everything – well, most things, and they shower those they trust with unconditional love.

So this shift from unconditional to conditional was difficult for me to anticipate – I’d never read or heard another parent’s account of the conceptual shift – and altogether disappointing.

Suddenly, my child, who’d embraced her surroundings with the wonder we all aspire to, had somehow become jaded. For her world had categories. And these categories not only elevated some things – the effect we’d anticipated – but they also made others worse.

Serendipitously, around the same time that her understanding of favorites took hold, we hired a fantastic babysitter. She was fun, childlike, compassionate, and she brought her ukelele with her to let my daughter play with it. And after one session with her, my 3 year old approached me, darkness in her eyes.

“Mommy,” she said, “Steph is my favorite person.” I was taken aback. Deep breath. “How wonderful that you love your new babysitter!” I managed with genuine enthusiasm. But her small, pensive face was clouded with conflict.

What could it mean to a developing toddler, to feel she has to rank someone above the person who for her whole life was her safe place? How might that compromise her feeling of safety, of attachment?

I did my best to explain that we could like “this and that.” That people didn’t need to be ranked above other people. That parents especially didn’t need to be ranked. We have special relationships with our parents, and they will always be special in ways that other relationships aren’t.

But it was too late. Sure, my ego was bruised briefly. But for her, the concept of favorites made her world a little less safe, a little less open, and a little less welcoming. For suddenly she felt compelled to make and declare a choice that somehow lessened her primary relationship.

If I could take it back I would. In our world it’s not altogether realistic to avoid the concept of favorites. It will emerge eventually. But to extend that joyful, unconditional innocence of toddlerhood; I’ll do my best to keep “favorites” out of my vocabulary the second time around.

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Miriam KatzMiriam J. Katz is co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year, where you can find a guide to safe co-sleeping and other fun tools. Miriam is an intuitive life coach whose passion is to help others overcome internal blocks to living their life purpose. She lives in Boston with her husband and two children.

How Praising Gives us the “Gimmes”

img_9891I’ve been on board with limiting praise for my kids ever since reading the compelling book Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn (affiliate link). I understood it in theory, I learned to apply it in parenting, and I was happy with my decision.

But I didn’t understand the internal impact of praise until recently.

The Back Story.

My good friend is a yoga teacher, and while she’s relatively new at it, she’s also a total rockstar who’s managed to pack her schedule with enough yoga classes to more than compensate for the corporate job she left behind.

Recently she received feedback on her teaching from the owner of one of the studios where she works. We sat down to process the feedback, which shook her confidence a bit.

One of the recommendations was to stop praising. Not that she does it very often. She asked for my thoughts on the matter.

As a coach, I know that praise moves us from a place of unlimited support to a place of judgement. By saying something is good or bad I limit my clients’ experience, so I’ve learned to leave praise out.

As a parent I also know that praise takes a child’s focus off of himself and directs it to praise-seeking activities.

But as a yoga practitioner? I actually enjoy having the occasional “good job” or “nice pose” thrown in there. It gives me a lift and makes me feel good.

I shared my feedback, and trusted my friend to process the issue on her own.

My Experience of Nonjudgment

At my friend’s next class (I attend one of her classes weekly whenever possible), I noticed that she didn’t praise. Not once. And I noticed a shift within myself. As I adjusted and knew not to expect the praise, my attention began to focus more on my internal experience of my yoga practice.

What I began to realize was that those “good jobs” gave me a momentary high, but it was the kind that fizzles on the next pose when I wonder why I’m not receiving more of them. Am I not as good at this one as I was at the earlier one? Is someone else better than me?

In the absence of praise I was able to understand the freedom of not being judged as good or bad. An authority person’s feedback, be they a teacher or parent, has a gravitational draw that brings our attention out of our own experience and focuses it on their assessment of us. The ego then kicks into high gear, measuring us and comparing us to others. In yoga that type of thinking is precisely beside the point. It’s taken me years of practice to learn to keep my eyes on my own mat. But in the process of eliminating praise, my friend helped me bring my full attention to my own experience.

The Implications

By focusing on my own experience I suddenly am liberated to be present with my practice, noticing any tension or emotions arising that need my attention. I  am freed by being in the present moment by feeling connected to everything that is happening, in exactly the moment in which it happens.

By stepping into my ego, which I know experientially know is activated by praise, I step into a state of lack, of wanting or needing attention in order to be okay. This is what I call the “gimmes.” That place where you think you need stuff in order to be okay, be it praise or things. This gimme state just feeds on itself, creating a gimme monster.  I don’t want to disservice my children by shifting them into this mindset of lack.

I stand by the advice we included in the Relate chapter of The Other Baby Book. Limit your praise, and free your children.

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Miriam KatzMiriam J. Katz is co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year, where you can find a guide to safe co-sleeping and other fun tools. Miriam is an intuitive life coach whose passion is to help others overcome internal blocks to living their life purpose. She lives in Boston with her husband and two children.

 

3 Tools to Leverage Parenting as a Spiritual Path

img_9649Raising children is hard work. It’s deeply trying, physically and emotionally. Many studies have confirmed the drudgery of parenting, finding that the work itself is more tiring than chores or paid work . For those of us who have little ones, whether we care for them all week long or after hours, that’s no mystery.

Parenting is an all-in occupation, with every bit of us being needed for the job, including those parts of us we’d rather forget about. Parenting pushes all of our buttons on purpose. It’s our second chance to dig up and heal all of those old traumas we’ve buried. And depending upon how many kids we have, it’s also our 3rd chance, 4th chance etc. Because with each new character in our brood those feelings emerge as freshly as we experienced them in childhood.

How do you react when you hear your child screaming? It hits you deep down, right? And you’d do anything to make it stop. And that’s by design. By observing how you handle that feeling, and your reaction to your child as they get bigger and push your buttons, we get a unique window into our own childhood, into our parents’ experience, and theirs before them.

We are the inheritors of a unique legacy. All of us come out of childhood with some form of baggage. And we spend an outsize amount of our lives burying it so that we can “function normally”. But normal functioning isn’t dancing on top of a garbage mound and pretending we’re at a beauty pageant. It’s digging down and finding out who we are under all that garbage. It’s allowing and even welcoming all the experiences of life, and all the messy emotions that come with them. And if we have children, we’ve signed up for the messiest of those duties.

Childcare is physically challenging, but as babies turn into children, we find that the emotional challenges feel far more difficult than those early months when our bodies ached from constant carrying and personal hygiene fell low on our priority list.

Parenthood holds up a huge mirror that helps us see our stuffed feelings, our ideas about what’s wrong with us and our beliefs about who it’s acceptable to be in the world. Dealing with that gracefully is difficult on a good day, much less when your charge has smeared peanut butter in your hair and peed on the carpet.

3 ideas to get you through.

1. Laugh. A sense of humor can get you through just about anything. Another benefit is that laughter is healing, in that it lets us release tension and it tells our brain to celebrate. And celebrating is definitely the correct response to useful information that will help you to free your inner child so that you can actually enjoy watching your kid splash in the puddles while wearing her sneakers. or better yet, join in!

2. Take notes. I know it’s difficult to find time to journal when you have a kid, but some of us somehow find ways to send texts. So text yourself when you notice a pattern, when you’ve caught a glimpse of yourself (good bad or ugly) or when you find something you’d like to ponder later. These truths about ourselves are gems, and it’s worth taking a few minutes to jot it down if you can.

3. Roll with it. Yes it’s difficult. And it’s hysterical. And it’s sad. And every other emotion you can imagine. When we open ourselves to our inner experience, as we’ve detailed in the Flow chapter of The Other Baby Book, we can be present to what’s happening in this moment with our child, which is all there ever is.

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Miriam KatzMiriam J. Katz is co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year, where you can find a guide to safe co-sleeping and other fun tools. Miriam is an intuitive life coach whose passion is to help others overcome obstacles to living their life purpose. She lives in Boston with her husband and two children.

Long Term Effects of Crying It Out (CIO)

Crying it out (CIO) has become a popular tool among Western parents seeking to get their babies to sleep through the night. It ranges from controlled crying – leaving a baby to cry for a few minutes at a time before comforting him – to extinction – leaving a baby to cry until he stops, which can take hours.

CIO is naturally a very controversial topic, and the parental blogosphere is awash in opinions and scientific research on the matter. Having co-written a book on natural baby care, I can report that almost any mainstream practice has research to back it up and research to discount it. And we can find wonderful critiques of those scientific studies and their flaws.

Most parents choose the path that feels right to them, and then find the research to back up their choice. Personally, I’m comfortable with my practice of comforting my babies every time they cry.

As my intuitive life coaching practice has evolved, I’ve incorporated into it complimentary practices, including energy healing and shamanism. And my accompanying research led me to an interesting discovery.

Shamanic journeying is a practice by which a healer, or shaman, accesses an altered state of consciousness in order to retrieve lost parts of the soul. These lost parts have fled the body – or more aptly, the unified psyche – due to emotionally or physically traumatic events, leading to a psychological condition known as disassociation.

According to the American Psychiatrical Association (APA), “Dissociation has been defined in several different ways:

  • a disruption of and/or discontinuity in the normal integration of consciousness, memory, identity, emotion, perception, body representation, motor control, and behavior
  • a disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity or perception of the environment. The disruption may be sudden or gradual, transient or chronic.
  • an unconscious defense mechanism involving the segregation of any group of mental or behavioral processes from the rest of the person’s psychic activity; may entail the separation of an idea from its accompanying emotional tone, as seen in dissociative and conversion disorders.

Dissociation is often considered to exist on a spectrum or continuum, ranging from normal (normative dissociation) to pathological dissociation.”

Soul loss or disassociation may sound obscure, but it’s a self-protection tool that we all use at some point. When in trauma, we have the capacity to separate from the source of pain, lifting into another mental plane. We can do this whether the trauma is severe, like loss of a limb, or moderate, like an embarrassment. The defining factor in a dissociative event that leads to soul loss is that the part of us that left our body finds the experience so painful that it chooses to flee for good. The resultant experience of a person who experienced soul loss can range from mild – a lack of energy, or a sense of not being fully engaged in one’s life, to severe – depression or suicidal tendencies. It can often be recognized by a vacant look in one’s eyes.

In most cases soul loss can be reversed, but in Western cultures it usually goes undiagnosed, and shamanic techniques are not yet mainstream enough that the average sufferer would know how to find a remedy. Psychologists have many tools to treat disassociation over time, but it’s my understanding that these methods aren’t as effective as shamanic journeying, which can cure soul loss in one session.

Let’s circle back to our original topic – crying it out. Infants are hard wired to cry out in order to have their needs met, and their little bodies get increasingly stressed when those needs are ignored. Babies who are left to cry experience the distress of 1. having a need that isn’t being met, 2. being unable to meet that need themselves, and 3. being alone in the world with those problems. Adults have the capacity to view his tears in a larger context, but to babies that is the big picture.

Is crying-it-out a significant enough trauma to cause soul loss? That depends upon the circumstances and the baby. The baby’s temperament shapes his perspective regarding his situation. Soul loss is self-protective mechanism that kicks in when trauma is experienced, and a subjectively traumatic CIO circumstance could therefore cause soul loss.

My own life coach once referred to my nighttime parenting methods as “stepping in the line of fire to protect the baby.” Sure, I’m tired. But I also have enough experience to know that this will end, which my baby doesn’t. The tears may stop, but the impacts of his hurt would live on, whether in the form of soul loss or a lesser wounding of the spirit.

When soul loss and psychological wounding are at risk, it’s worth seriously considering alternative sleep practices.  Co-sleeping and night nursing are our tools to meet nighttime needs. Those long nights with waking babies are certainly trying, yet the adage “the days are long but the years are short” holds true. The more love we provide during a child’s formative years, the better we equip them to handle life’s inevitable challenges from a place of strength.

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Miriam KatzMiriam J. Katz is co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year, where you can find a guide to safe co-sleeping and other fun tools. Miriam is a career and life coach whose passion is to help women realize their life purpose. She lives in Boston with her husband and two children.

5 Toddler Springtime Activities that Foster Independence

I love this time of year. Here in the southwest, the weather is mild and breezy, flowers are starting to bloom, and the birds are building nests. And just as the earth has decided to be fruitful and grow, I’m reminded that my toddler daughter needs some new responsibilities and activities to further foster her independence.

We follow a lazy form of Montessori and Waldorf methods in the home. Here’s the quick rundown: limited toys and stimulation (so she can focus on one activity at a time); natural materials that are inherently beautiful to use and work with; real, child sized tools and objects; and toddler-appropriate responsibilities.

With that short list in mind, here are 5 activities we’re working on right now:

  1. Bird-watching: Two weekends ago, we hung a bird feeder outside one of our sun room windows. The past week or so, our new morning ritual has been to sit in the sun room and look for birds and other urban wildlife. This has been a great time for me to savor my morning cup of joe while helping her learn about nature. You can easily make a bird feeder with items around your home or purchase one for under $10. Bonus activity: read books about birds so that you can identify the specific types that you see.
  2. Gardening: Last weekend, we started our seedlings and our daughter was enthralled with the whole process. Even the youngest toddler can help with this. We put the soil in the starter cups and made a hole, but let her carefully drop the seed in. This required her to concentrate and use her fine motor skills to complete the task. Toddlers can also help observe and watch for growth and water the plants. Give a child a small hand shovel and let them dig in the dirt next to you. If you don’t have access to a garden space, try container gardening and let your child pick out some herbs to plant. Bonus activity: allow your toddler to pick a bunch of flowers and give them a vase in which to arrange them. This includes filling it with water, carefully trimming the ends (with adult help), and placing the flowers “artistically” in the vase. Then the toddler can place it on a table or other special place at their eye-level. And yes, 2 years olds are perfectly capable of doing this.
  3. Prepare snacks: While this is not an activity only for the spring, I find that this is the time of year we desire to eat more fruits and veggies. The winter is over and fresh life is all around. Toddlers love to help in the kitchen, especially when it is snack time. For the youngest toddler, wash some berries (or other ready to eat fruit) and have them transfer the berries from the colander to their bowl. They could also help rinse them if you have a smaller colander in which they are able to hold it with two hands. For the 2-3 year old, take a banana and slice it, with the peel on, into small rings. Then show your toddler how to carefully remove the peel and place it into a bowl of scraps. The banana pieces are then transferred to the other bowl. Once all of the banana has been peeled, they can sit down with their snack. Bonus activity: for the 3-5 year old, teach them how to use a butter knife to cut the banana into smaller pieces. All of these variations can be completed with other fruits and veggies as well.
  4. Nature Walk: Go walk your neighborhood, a park, or some other area outdoors and have your toddler look for interesting objects: sticks, rocks, flowers, etc., that catch their eye. Take along a basket (a discarded Easter basket is what we use), to carry home the found treasures. Then once back home, create a nature display. Bonus activity: pick up a book at the library that corresponds to the object that most caught their attention, i.e. a book about rocks or flowers, for instance.
  5. Spring Cleaning: This activity is not just for adults. Help your young child to go through their toys and find ones to donate to others. Too many toys (especially ones with missing or broken parts) are distracting, and really, a child can only play with 1-2 toys at a time anyway. Explain why you’re going through the toys (i.e., to help those who have less, to make the home more orderly), but allow the child to be the one to physically put the items in the give-away box. This can be a hard lesson, but encourages reflection and inner discipline. Bonus activity: take your child along when it gets donated, especially if it is to another family in greater need than yours. Learning to serve together is a wonderful reminder of being part of a global community.

You may be thinking that some of these activities are inappropriate for young children. Before I researched and tested out the Montessori method, I thought the same thing too. But my newly two-year old daughter, while I think she is the most brilliant child in the world, is really a typical toddler, and can complete all of the activities above. Give your child the chance to take on a little more responsibility than makes you comfortable, and I promise you will be pleasantly surprised.

For further reading and ideas, check out these sources:

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Kate is a full-time mama, part-time professor, and lover of early childhood methodologies and alternative learning ideas. When she’s not testing out new activities with her spitfire of a two year old and turning their house into a home, you can find her moonlighting as a blogger here on TOBB.