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Parents Corner

Too Much to Do, Too Little Time!

A chronic factor in the lives of parents is the statement "I have too much to do and too little time". Recently in Bottom Line, August 1998 and November 1998, there were excellent articles about this very factor.

With the busy lives parents lead; running to appointments, work, children’s activities, household commitments, chores, and the rest of the endless list, it is very important to decide what is important in your life. Adding a new dimension to the way you observe your child may be a key in setting those priorities. And, let’s not forget the importance of time to be alone. In our busyness, the lesson of enjoying solitude is one we have often forgotten, not only for ourselves, but for our children. I believe you will find the suggestions made here excellent and worth closer examination.

Remember, changing a few small things in your parenting can have big rewards. Try something new and watch the positive results.

Julie Loe

John Gottman, PhD, University of Washington, has some tips for Much Better Parenting Made Simple-ish

Recognize your child's emotions. Many parents are keen observers of their children's behavior, but they don't always detect the emotions that are behind the behavior.

Example: If a child is scribbling on the walls or grabbing toys from another child, it's natural to focus on curbing the misbehavior.

But look as closely at the why as the what. Why is the child upset? Why is he angry?

Even when no misbehavior is involved, it's important to notice low-intensity emotions—such as sadness when a toy breaks—before they escalate into problems.

Helpful: To become more attuned to a child's feelings, parents need to be more aware of their own emotions first.

Think about how you handle worry . ..sadness...anger.. .and fear.

Are you temperamentally intense —or more easygoing? As you think about, and become more aware of, your emotional reactions, you'll be better able to decode your child's feelings and behavior.

See your child's emotions as opportunities for intimacy and teaching. View a child's negative emotions as a chance to bond and teach, and you can turn negative situations into positive interactions.

By viewing behavior differently, children's anger, sadness and fear become more than just a reflection on you and your parenting style.

Helpful: When children are upset, comfort them and listen.. .and talk about how they feel rather than immediately moving to discipline them. This type of reaction lets children know they are understood, loved and valued.

Like coaching an athletic skill, our concern gives children a chance to practice how to express emotions and solve problems each time an occasion arises.

Listen carefully. Listening means more than passively collecting information through your ears. It means tuning in to the child's current emotions by paying attention to his body language and facial expressions as well as to his words.

Then you're ready to see the situation from his perspective, and you can reflect his emotions back to him in soothing, non-critical words.

Example: At first, your responses may be a brief "Ummm,"..."Okay," or "I see." But as you draw out your children, you can better assess their emotional situations.

You can also acknowledge their feelings by giving those feelings their proper names—"Sounds like you're anxious about..." or "You seem to be a little timid. Why?"

This part of emotional coaching shows your children that it is acceptable to feel the way they do...that you're interested enough to listen patiently... and that you believe they are able to cope.

By listening carefully, you also have refrained from jumping in with a ready-made solution. You haven't minimized or contradicted your children's genuine feelings by saying, "Don't feel bad. It will be all right if you... "

Instead, you have given your children a chance to express their emotions and, in the process, search for their own solutions to the problems at hand.

Help your children find words to name their emotions. Words have power. When you help your children label their feelings, you give them some control of those feelings.

Naming emotions helps a child transform a scary or vague feeling into something real that can be defined and is normal.

Example: To a young child, jealousy may be an indistinct, unpleasant feeling. The child knows he doesn't like the fact that other children are being called on in school. But he hasn't yet reached the developmental milestone of abstract thinking, so he cannot identify his uncomfortable feeling.

If we use the term, jealousy to name it, he learns that the amorphous feeling he has whenever other children are given special attention in class is acceptable. The feeling has a name. Other people know about it, and it's fine to feel that way.

Simply naming emotions will have a calming effect on children when they're upset. By knowing and using the names of their feelings, they can learn to soothe themselves. Kids who learn this early in life are more likely to concentrate better, achieve more in school, enjoy good health and have better relationships with their peers.

Remember that children, like adults, experience mixed emotions. Children, however, don't know that unless we teach them.

Example: A child who is about to go off to camp may feel both proud of his independence and fearful that he’ll be homesick. Parents can guide him by exploring his range of emotions and reassuring him that it's normal to feel two or more emotions at the same time.

Set limits on behavior as you explore strategies to solve problems. If the emotion-of-the-moment is anger and the behavior is bopping a sibling on the head with a ball, you need to let the angry child know that hitting is absolutely unacceptable but feeling angry is acceptable.

Strategy: You might say, "Hitting isn't allowed," as you take the child away from the sibling. "I see you're pretty angry at Johnny, but you cannot hit people. Can you tell me why you're so mad at him? Maybe you would like to draw an angry picture to show me how you feel?"

Help your child try to find his own method of expressing emotions in acceptable ways.

Dr. Gottman believes that with these few simple steps, parents can coach children to be more emotionally intelligent...

Moving on from this point we come to the importance of time alone. We need time alone, to really know ourselves—and understand how we think and feel.. .and where we want to go.

Ester Schaler Buchholz, PhD New York University addresses the need and benefits of time to ourselves, in All About Time Alone to Understand Ourselves

Why solitude is important

Alone time gives you the opportunity to sort things out and to relax— intellectually and emotionally.

Time alone restores your integrity, allowing you to think about the beliefs and values that matter most. It forces your creative side to flourish, as ideas and solutions emerge that were buried by the daily rush. Despite all of these benefits, many people are still afraid of solitude.

Our extroverted society encourages communication, not introspection. But the need to pull away from other people is as universal as the urge to connect.

Example: Child-development researchers have found that even babies signal a desire to retreat from contact when they're overstimulated—by squirming or turning away from their caregivers.

Alone time renews our energy and feeds our curiosity, so when we resume interacting with others, we have the insight and courage to take new risks.

Most time crunches are self-created. You alone have the power to lighten up and spend more time with your kids. In How Busy Parents Can Make More Time For Parenting, (Bottom Line, November 15, 1998) Nancy Samalin of Parent Guidance Workshops has some wonderful ideas.

Parents in my workshop tell me that it is well worth the effort. Here are the strategies that parents I know have adopted to make more time for parenting...

Decide what's important

People are always saying to me, "I have to get better organized," as if that were the solution to finding more time to spend with their children.

Time management is certainly helpful, but it involves much more than rearranging the items on your "to do" list. Maybe your list is just too long.

Remember that "busyness" is not in itself a virtue. You may find ways to spend time and save time, but for what?

The key to time management is to rediscover what matters most and relinquish some of the "shoulds" that may be cluttering up your days.

Helpful: Try making a list of everything you do in the course of a day. Then take your list and divide it into three categories—musts.. .shoulds.. .and pleasures.

After you review the categories, try to think of ways you can organize the musts, cut down on the shoulds and increase the pleasures that relate to your children.

Practice family sharing

The best way to make your children feel important and included in your life is to involve them in the activity of being a family. Kids often feel proud and important when they are allowed to be useful.

Examples: If you're preparing dinner, let your child set the table. When you're doing the laundry, ask him to separate the light clothes from the dark ones. When gardening, show her how to plant seeds or use a rake.

These tasks may take a little longer, but the time will be well spent in building a bond between you and your child.

Limit the work you do at home

I realize it's not always possible, but try to separate your work life from your home life.

Work activity is often discouraging for kids, who wait eagerly for mom or dad to arrive home only to have them both disappear from view to continue working through the evening.

Helpful: Work on office projects in the living room while your child practices the piano. Or wait until your kids go to bed to do your work.

Create time for kids

Children cherish special time alone with a parent. These memories are happy ones because they recall times when a parent was totally in the moment and solely focused on being with the child, one on one.

Helpful: When you're really squeezed for time, try to find ways to carve out small moments with your kids.

Examples: A mother in my workshop makes it a point to take a 20 minute walk with her seven-year-old daughter every evening after dinner—weather permitting. Another parent has a 10 minute evening ritual that begins with her saying to her five year old, "tell me four things that were funny today." An artist I know spends a half hours every night drawing with his son. Together, they choose their favorites to put up on the door.

It’s easy to tell children, "I love you", but it’s the actual time that we spend focused on them alone that makes them feel important and worthwhile.

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Last modified: January 26, 2013