5 Tips to Help Kids Adjust to a Big Transition

When you were a kid, did you ever feel like your parents made so many decisions regarding your life and you had absolutely no control? It’s a frustrating feeling for children, but totally avoidable. I hate to break it to our parents’ generation (and no offense, mom, if you’re reading), but it is perfectly acceptable for children, even very young ones, to have some say in decision-making. Whatever your parenting style, I promise you, giving children a sense of control is a gift that will continue to benefit them for years to come. And let’s be honest, it makes life easier on you too by minimizing tantrums!

When a family decides to move, whether by choice or because of a predetermined reason, there are steps moms and dads can take to help the kiddos feel secure and maybe even excited for the changes in store. Concerns about moving kids–whether to a big kid’s room from the family bed or cross-country–make a pretty frequent appearance here at The Other Baby Book. And not to expose myself as a parent who has “forced” multiple moves on my daughter (5 homes in under two years…..don’t ask), but I do consider myself somewhat experienced in the “helping kids to adjust to change” category.

So here are my suggestions, none of which are mind-blowing, but all of which are manageable in a variety of settings. (Bonus: these are compatible with different parenting styles and are flexible in structure.)

  1. The official announcement: whether your child is 10 months or 10 years, start talking about the move in a positive, excited voice. This is not the time for baby-talk, but a very clear and concise introduction to the move. Then continue to talk about it on a daily basis. By doing this, you are making the change seem a normal and routine upcoming event, not something to be afraid of.
  2. Create a vision: Paint word pictures for your child of what their new home (or new room) will look like. If you have photos or can visit in person, all the better. The idea behind this is that the child will begin to internalize and accept the upcoming change. Continue discussing and dreaming about the new place all the way up through the move.
  3. Offer choices: Give your child (or children) the opportunity to make decisions during the moving process. They can be small, i.e. “do you want your new room to be yellow or purple?” or help build excitement: “would you rather have a tree swing in the backyard or a sandbox (or both?), or even build comfort: “which stuffed animals should we take along for the car ride to the new home?” Choices give children a sense of control and help them feel involved in the process.
  4. Give responsibility: Even the youngest toddler can help pack boxes, and in turn, build a sense of accomplishment and contribution to the family. Ask older children to photo-document the old home or old sleeping arrangement and make a photo album. If you’re moving a child to their own room, let them start taking naps in the new room and arrange their things before expecting them to sleep overnight.
  5. Avoid negative conversations: As hard as it may be, keep the stress, arguments, and drama away from your children. They do not need to experience and be a witness to it or to associate change with negative feelings. It’s okay to be scared and acknowledge that to your kids, but keep your overall tone positive and reassuring. We cannot expect our kids to adjust well if we aren’t ourselves!
  6. Maintain routine: Keep your children on their routine as much as is humanly possible. Naps should be, more or less, at the same time. Kids who continue getting plenty of sleep through naps and overnight will be able to deal more effectively with change. Provide healthy snacks and well-rounded meals, even if you need to eat out. Too much fast food and junk food = cranky kids and wildly fluctuating blood sugar levels. Do yourselves all a favor and make a game plan in advance as to how you’ll find healthy meals if you’re traveling far. And this advice is for you too, mama! Just speaking from experience, drinking too much coffee and having too few healthy meals is a recipe for feeling out of control and lacking the energy so greatly needed during a busy time.
  7. Build trust and respect: Finally, provide plenty of opportunities for your kids to voice their concerns and have a mommy or daddy to lean on. Acknowledge that their feelings and anxiety are normal and that you are there for them, no matter where you live. Make sure a special stuffed animal or comfort object is available throughout the entire process. And by all means, don’t forget plenty of hugs and kisses!

Have you ever moved with kids and what was your experience?

Creating space to “hold” your child’s emotion

holding a sacred space for our childrenAs any parent knows, the size of a person’s emotions has nothing to do with the size of his body.

Babies and toddlers stretch us emotionally by confronting us with feelings that we’ve been taught to dismiss, ignore, or stuff down to get by in Western societies. After all, it wouldn’t be cool for an adult to throw a temper tantrum in a mall or at the supermarket.

To avoid the squashing of emotion, we parents are taught to validate their children’s emotions – giving the feelings names, and letting the kid know it’s okay to feel the way he feels. This is a powerful tool for helping a child navigate the world, and knowing he’s got someone in his corner.

The tool we’ll explore today takes that validation a step further, and it doesn’t necessarily involve words. It’s also incredibly healing to the adult who can pull it off. And I speak from experience, though I’ve only pulled it off once.

By way of introduction, we’ll start with a metaphor. A great Kabbalistic teacher once illustrated the principle of receptivity (which is what Kabbalah means, by the way) by handing an apple to his disciple. The disciple reached out to take the apple. Again and again the teacher reached out with the apple, and pulled it away when the disciple went to take it. Frustrated, the disciple looked to his peers. “Don’t take it,” they advised. “Accept it.” The disciple breathed out his confusion and curved his palm up into a bowl, and his teacher dropped the apple into his outstretched hand.

When babies have big emotions, it can be trying for their parents, who are often emotionally invested in their child’s happiness. We come at them with anxiety, frustration, the agenda of solving their problem, and sometimes even anger at the disruption.

To become receptive, we must hollow our feelings out like the outstretched hand of a student. That doesn’t mean ignoring or banning our feelings and perspectives, but accepting them, then letting them be. We approach our child with the intention to accept his feelings – to make a sacred space for our child and all the feelings inside him, and to hold them lovingly inside ourselves.

By creating that internal space, a space of non-judgement, non-striving – a vacuum really, we are becoming a bit more like God, the creator, the universe, or whatever you want to call it. Not only are we accepting everything that our child has to give us, we are embracing it. Through that act of unconditional love and support, we are able to connect on a profound level – not only to our child, but to ourselves and to that something greater.

There are few paths that offer the depth of testing, learning and personal growth than parenting. It can either be a struggle, or it can be a joy (and for most of us, it’s both). By reaching in deeply and letting our child know he’s okay – not only okay, but that every part of him is completely, deeply lovable – we channel more love into the world, and into ourselves. Parenting can heal our wounds, and it can help us to heal this deeply troubled world, one moment at a time.

7 Positive Parenting Resolutions for the New Year

Happy New Year!Like most parents, I have resolved to be the best parent I can be. And for me, that means integrating proven best practices as I come across them, incorporating them into my parenting toolbelt.

The end of the year is a time when many of us start looking to the future, reflecting on the positive changes we’d like to make in our lives. In the spirit of New Year’s, I’ve consolidated my top parenting resolutions here.

1. To love unconditionally.

Most western parents today were raised using a model where we were given or withheld love based on our behavior. Our desired behavior was rewarded and undesirable behavior, punished. While this type of reinforcement is effective with animals, with whom these techniques originated, they also send our children strong messages that shape their self image and self esteem. Love is contingent upon children satisfying our expectations, we communicate.

On the contrary, when children are given unconditional approval, which can be expressed through the absence of praise and punishment, they learn that – at their core – they are loved. Conversations about acceptable behavior can take place without communicating to a child that they are “good” or bad”.

2. To validate emotions and experience.

Little children experience big feelings. If adults can be overwhelmed by strong emotion, imagine the experience of a child who has no coping tools and very little power.

We can help children move through the turbulence of emotion by naming and validating their emotions. By making their emotions both relatable and acceptable, we give our children a safe space within which to grow. “You’re feeling angry because Johnny took the ball away from you,” we might say after witnessing our toddler’s rage. Offering to hold your child or speaking together to Johnny about the incident may help the child work through their feelings.

3. To instruct using positive language.

As newbies to our world, children have tons to learn about appropriate social behavior. The word “no” in isolation is minimally instructive, as it provides no actionable information about what is desirable. Spoken over and over to a baby or toddler – or teenager for that matter – it can evoke strong frustration.

Practical information about what is acceptable maximizes support while minimizing frustration. “Food is for eating, balls are for throwing,” can be a helpful response to a child who throws his food. While challenging at first, aspiring to reduce or eliminate the use of the word “no” can be a powerful tool for parents. A child’s boundaries can be set even more powerfully when the realm of acceptable behavior is clearly defined.

4. To model what I wish to elicit.

Children learn by watching what we do, not by listening to what we say. While it’s tempting to demand respect from our children, one of the most productive – and fulfilling – ways to elicit respect is by extending it to them. Using polite language like please and thank you, responding to their requests with love and understanding – especially when they can’t be granted – and providing a safe space for them to create and make mistakes all send powerful messages about love. When we honor our children as separate beings with equally valid preferences – keeping in mind that it’s our responsibility in advance to limit their options to those that are supportive of their healthful development – we create a mutually respectful relationship.

5. To assume the best of intentions.

Have you ever noticed how the world rises to our expectations? Expect to have a bad day, and you’ll notice the frustration of hitting an empty tank of gas. Expect to have a good day, and you’ll pay special attention when that lady lets you go ahead at the supermarket.

Children are extremely responsive to our moods and expectations. We can avoid some huge potholes by refraining from labeling our children, i.e. “she’s the smart one” or “he’s the aggressive one”. We can also do our children a huge service by assuming that they have the best of intentions. Your child wants a strong relationship with you, filled with love, affection and mutual respect. And as long as you assume the best, even when he’s pulling the cat by her tail and throwing rice across the room, you can educate and nurture in a way that preserves a loving relationship. Remember, we’re all students here. And perhaps never more so than as parents.

6. To learn from my child.

Children come into the world with a lack of inhibition that is tremendously instructive. They show no shame in asking for what they desire, and they act instantly upon their most primal instincts to meet their needs. Ever notice how young children will suddenly start running around, or singing at the top of their lungs?

While most adults have learned to repress their desires, children are in touch with their basic needs – food, love, and exercise. When your child demands attention, take a cuddle break and relish the opportunity to love and be loved. When your child declares a dance party or initiates a wrestling match, join in! These feel-good games raise your heart rate and release your natural joy. What could be better?

7. To be present.

So often, we get caught up in our thoughts or to-do lists. While we can experience a sense of temporary relief or satisfaction by making progress on standing projects, the high only goes so far. Children live the grace-filled experience of being in the moment, each and every moment. By letting our agendas go and allowing a child to draw us into his world, we experience the aliveness of living in the present moment. While we’re giving the child a gift by attentively joining his game, that gift returns to us tenfold in each moment that we’re consciously present.

This year and every year, above all, I aspire to embrace the gifts that parenthood and life have to offer. I wish the same for you, in 2013 and beyond.

What are your parenting resolutions for 2013?

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Miriam is a work from home mama who literally can’t stop kissing Dalia, her delicious 2 year old. Miriam’s other loves are her husband Misha, and her hometown of Boston. She loves reading parenting books, lunchtime yoga classes, crafting and helping others find their purpose through life coaching.

Love through the eyes of a new parent

We spend a lot of time thinking about faults. Our faults, those of people around us, our employers, politicians, even the world’s. In fact, once you start looking, you could spend a lifetime finding faults.

But finding faults makes us feel awful. It weighs us down and darkens our experience of life. Just as finding beauty boosts our experience of joy, finding faults pulls us into misery.

In fact, once we start looking at the world through a lens of joy and gratitude, we can recognize another world, hidden inside the one that we believed to be hopelessly flawed.

Once we start to recognize the light that shines from within each of us, we stand witness as it glows and flourishes, brightening the space that had been filled with shadows.

For me, motherhood was that pinnacle moment when I began to see how much light is in the world. My greatest teacher? My baby.

Babies are new to this world, possessed of an innocence that draws us right in. As we begin to bond and connect with them, we are drawn into their experience, surrounded by love and adoration. We find parts of ourselves awaken, those that yearn to nurture and nourish. We find our logical brains shutting down, bringing us into an experience of pure emotion and awe.

For me, those early days were some of the most pivotal in my life. While I didn’t recognize exactly what was happening at the time, I knew something inside was shifting, something I will be processing for the rest of this lifetime.

Parenting a newborn can provide a reset button, an opportunity to view one tiny soul as being entirely pure, and wanting to pour all of your light into them. Imagine if we shined this lens on everyone around us!

The vast majority of parents succeed in viewing their children through a lens of pure love, at least for an instant, now or then. What if we could sustain that focus in the lives of our children? What if we shined it on our spouses or companions? Our friends and families? Our coworkers? On world leaders?

The possibilities are endless. The more we approach our parenting from compassion, the more light we’re able to experience, and the more joy we have available to shine on our children. The same holds for every other relationship we have.

What if we could look past expectations, past deeds, even current behavior? What if we could see each person for the light that they bring to this world? What a beautiful world we would make.

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Miriam is a work from home mama who literally can’t stop kissing Dalia, her delicious 2 year old. Miriam’s other loves are her husband Misha, and her hometown of Boston. She loves reading parenting books, lunchtime yoga classes, crafting and helping others find their purpose through life coaching.

Why babies don’t “behave”

Have you ever had someone comment to you how “well-behaved” your baby is? If not, don’t worry, just read on.

This compliment reflects a pervasive Western misconception about how babies function. Have you ever met an under-one-year-old who understood what society expected of him and adjusted his behavior to accomodate those expectations? I haven’t.

I was among the lucky parents who was approached by strangers who commented on my baby’s “good behavior” (as opposed to those parents who received seething glares from fellow diners at a restaurant – although, believe me, we got those, too). But I deflected every compliment with a comment on my baby’s state of mind, like, “her tummy’s full and she’s satisfied” or “she’s well-rested.”

Every parent who’s been there knows that it’s impossible to control your baby’s behavior. The best effort we can make to ensure that our baby reflects the contentment and joy we associate with “good” behavior is to anticipate and meet his needs, as well as we can.

My baby was “well-behaved” because her needs were met. She had trouble sleeping alone, so I cuddled her to sleep. She often wanted to nurse, and I met her requests as quickly as possible. She preferred being held to sitting in a carseat, so we carried her in arms or in an ergo most of her first year and well into her second.

Was my baby responsible for regulating her internal state to please strangers in restaurants and supermarkets? No. Her parents were. And believe me, we weren’t thinking about those strangers when we were doing it.

We didn’t do a perfect job, if such a thing exists, but we did the best we could. And she let us know instantly how well we were doing. And so, I guess, did all those strangers.

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Miriam is a work from home mama who literally can’t stop kissing Dalia, her delicious 2 year old. Miriam’s other loves are her husband Misha, and escaping the Boston winters with friends and family in Israel. She loves reading parenting books, lunchtime yoga classes, crafting and helping others find their purpose through life coaching.

Parenting from the ego vs. intuition

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Gabrielle Bernstein’s newest book, May Cause Miracles

I’ve been reading an amazing book these days, Spirit Junkie by Gabrielle Bernstein. I went to summer camp with Gabby as a teenager and was thrilled to see that she’d released several wildly successful books and has been on an active speaking circuit, including on Oprah.

The main theme of Spirit Junkie is tapping into your inner guide, the source of wisdom and intuition. In order to better hear its voice, which is always speaking to us, Gabby walks readers through tools to override the voice of the ego, which is based in fear.

What types of things does the ego lead us to do? It has internalized past hurts and projects them onto current relationships in our lives, forcing us to relive our painful pasts time and again – in situations that have absolutely nothing to do with the original hurts. And for parents, it’s the source of the anger and frustration that leads us to lash out at our children.

When I look at the difference between punitive parenting and conscious parenting, I see the difference between parents who are acting from their egos and those who are listening to their inner guides. Punitive parenting comes from the belief that humans are flawed and children must be made to hurt in order to prevent them from hurting others. Sadly, being hurt is just more arsenal for the ego to bring forward and justify attacking others in the future. Conscious, or natural parenting, comes from a place of faith in humanity, a belief that children are innocent and look to us to model love and respect, and set fair limits.

All of us have experienced varying degrees of hurt in our lives – that’s part of the human experience. The big question for us is how do we process that hurt before passing it along to others. It’s easy to act from the ego – it’s the dominant voice in our minds, and it takes active, repetitive effort to take back our thought space. But for those parents who have endeavored to work on themselves in order to pass on even more love to the next generation, the journey is well worth the effort.

Conscious parenting is gaining ground, and the very best books out there, like Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort, or Connection Parenting by Pam Leo, recognize that the most important work we can do as parents is to work on ourselves.

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Miriam is a work from home mama who literally can’t stop kissing Dalia, her delicious 2 year old. Miriam’s other loves are her husband Misha, and escaping the Boston winters with friends and family in Israel. She loves reading parenting books, lunchtime yoga classes, crafting and helping others find their purpose through life coaching.

Babyhood for Sale!

It’s 2:50am, Dalia’s second week home from the hospital. I’m slouched in bed, my bedside lamp lit, reading The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems. Misha paces the room with Dalia draped over his arm, a la The Happiest Baby on the Block, jostling her lightly and singing in her ear.

“I’ve found it!” I shout (in a whisper, of course – I don’t want to initiate another round of endless crying), “THE ANSWER! Here, let me read it to you.” “Just tell me what it says,” Misha whispers in frustration. “Okay, it says not to do anything else but pat her on the back—one pat per second, like a clock—and shush loudly in her ear. Not short shushes, but long, sustained shushes. We can’t do anything but that—no jostling, no singing, nothing. Or else she’ll never learn to go back to sleep quickly.” “But she likes the bouncing,” Misha protests. “No, stop bouncing her!” I panic. “It says here that bouncing stimulates her. Let’s try it this way.”

Fast forward three sleepless nights. The shush-pat is not working. Not only is it not working, we’re all miserable. This technique, billed as the answer to all our sleep problems, is a dud. This is when my faith in The Baby Whisperer takes a dive. In fact, this is when I begin to understand why there are SO MANY BABY BOOKS on the shelves. Because there are SO MANY BABIES! And so many parents. So many parents with different thoughts, opinions and beliefs about what would be right for them and for their babies.

 How does a parent find the right book with the right instructions for their individual baby? Before I had a baby, this seemed like the right question. But now that I’m further along in the trenches, I realize that the premise behind my question was flawed.

Does a parent need a book to tell them how to parent? I’ll start with a resounding “No.” Each of us has all the resources we need to parent without once setting foot in a bookstore. These resources can be collectively referred to as a parent’s instinct.

Okay, I’ll concede–“No, a parent does not need a book to tell them how to parent” seems like a strange answer coming from the co-author of The Other Baby Book. So why did we bother writing a book?

 The answer boils down to the society we live in—the types of societies that most modern Westerners live in. We’ve gotten so used to the lightening-speed pace of discovery that we’ve trained ourselves to go out and buy the next best thing in the market, and to quickly adapt to the comforts it provides us. We adapt so quickly, that we begin to forget how we lived before that invention, be it a crib, diapers or baby food.

Once we’ve come to accept, as most of us have, that a crib is where a baby should sleep, a diaper is where a baby should eliminate, and baby food is what a baby should eat, anything else begins to look crazy. We get so used to the adaptations that come along with our modern lifestyle—even the horrible parts like braving months of sleepless nights, dealing with a diaper blow-out, and ignoring our hunger while we spoon feed our babies their meals—that we believe these incidents are natural side-effects of parenthood, part of the package. It’s only when we get a taste of the other side, of parenting without these “essential” props, that we begin to understand that some of these conveniences are entirely inconvenient. While life without these props may require some adaptation, it’s much easier to hear our babies’ needs, and our own instincts, without all the stuff blocking our view.

We read about native peoples who have never heard of colic, who know intuitively when their child needs to use the bathroom, and among whom obesity is unheard of, and we think their secrets are inaccessible to us. They appear to be veiled in heredity, lifestyle and some mystical rites passed down from generation to generation. But, in truth, Western parents around the world are gaining access to those secrets every day, and applying them with increasing degrees of success. Maybe not to the extent that these native peoples do, but we still have the rest of the noise of our modern world to contend with. And the more “modern” people catch on, the more these secrets become accessible to everyone.

Back to our purpose in writing the book. When we strip away the noise of the marketing machines that surround our lives, we can devote our full attention to building a relationship with our babies. No more trying to figure out why the baby doesn’t want to sleep in the crib, and how to get him back in there. When we forget the idea that the baby is supposed to sleep in a crib—which is the message that crib manufacturers need us to believe, by the way—we can listen to our own instincts to keep our newborns close by. Also, since the “how to’s” of practices such as bed-sharing have been lost to us in the past few generations of parenting, our book shares vital safety guidelines that are built into other societies’ traditions around sleep.

Looking back, our first weeks as parents were the most difficult we’ve ever faced. Dalia had a really hard time falling asleep by herself (she still does, but we follow her lead on that front). Misha and I took turns, sleep deprived, trying every solution we could think of. Anything but bed sharing, which our hospital staff had warned us was dangerous, and so we didn’t even consider as an option.

Our perspective on bed sharing began to shift when we met some co-sleeping families. I vetted their stories of heavenly sleep and assurances of safety with research on the benefits and dangers of co-sleeping. Appeased, I compiled a safety checklist and we tried it the next night.

We were so nervous that first night, the only one of us who slept well was Dalia. I was terrified I’d roll over onto her, or that Misha would. I slept a bit better with each passing night until we had successfully slept a full night together, waking just briefly to nurse when Dalia got hungry. As an added bonus, soon after we started co-sleeping my milk supply rose to meet Dalia’s needs, and I stopped supplementing her feeds with formula.

 On our eight-year wedding anniversary, three days before Dalia’s first birthday, Dalia’s grandparents babysat while Misha and I ate dinner at our favorite restaurant. To mark the end of our first year as parents, we shared our favorite things about parenting. Surprisingly, co-sleeping was at the top of both of our lists. What began as a stopgap solution to sleepless nights has brought enormous joy to all of us.

I entered parenthood with very different ideas about how I would care for my baby. After meeting my baby and getting to know her needs and opinions, I jumped off my intended path, experimented, and found the practices that work the best for our family.

Just because the approach we’ve taken works for us doesn’t mean it will work for you. Part of it may, or none of it may. And that’s okay. More than okay, that’s real life. Just because someone says something is a “must-have” or “must-do”, doesn’t mean it is, if it doesn’t resonate with you or your baby.

The best job we can do as parents is to be conscious of which tools best fit our families—values, lifestyle, personalities and all. No matter what anyone else tries to sell us.