Recently I went to a workshop on Mindfulness, and its use in psychotherapy. I was quite excited as I listened because I could see its usefulness to parents.
First of all, what is mindfulness? When people practice mindfulness, they try to change the quality of their awareness so that they are observing and accepting of themselves. Mark Sorensen, Ph.D., (www.sorensentherapy.com) one of the presenters, teaches his clients to Stop, Observe, Accept, and Refocus. This shortens very nicely to SOAR. That’s a good concept isn’t it?
Imagine that your three children are home after school. They are quarreling, procrasting about homework, and begging you to intervene. Meanwhile, you are very tired. This is a recipe for an angry outburst in many families.
What would SOAR look like here? Stop means that you stop your action and your thinking. Just stop with resolve and intention.
Now, Observe. Observe your own mind. What is the story you are telling yourself about the situation? Here are some possibilities: “This is a disaster.” “I’m a terrible mother because Angie is behind in spelling, and I can’t get her to start her homework.” “This will never stop.” Wow — thoughts like those would upset anyone. Try to separate the events from the story you are telling about them. Imagine that the events are appearing on a radar screen. Observe your thoughts, your emotions, and your physical feelings. “I’m thinking this is a disaster; I feel anxious and angry; my shoulders are tight and painful.”
Next Accept the situation. (I know this sounds absurd, but stick with me.) Accept is an attitude. You stop struggling with the reality. You are open to it. “My children are arguing. My children are asking me to intervene.” This is a way to relax into the situation.
Lastly, Refocus. Try to refocus to good intentions. Can you feel compassion for yourself? Patience?
After this sequence you might be better able to decide how to respond to the situation in a productive way.
I’ve listed the steps, but this is a discipline that is learned with practice. One participant suggested that people practice “Mindfulness Moments” or M&M’s during the day. You can tie the M&M’s to specific behaviors, like using the bathroom! Each time is an opportunity to go through the steps.
I will be researching some resources on this topic, and I’ll post more next week. Meanwhile be kind to yourselves as you observe Thanksgiving.
This week we all have our minds on the disclosure of sexual abuse of young boys by a coach at Penn State. I have been struck by the emphasis on who did what when rather than concern for the children who were abused. For many of us it raises the frightening prospect that our children or children we know could be sexually abused.
I want to spend some time talking about how parents can find out whether a camp, preschool, Sunday School, or club is a safe place for their children. The way I see it there are three lines of defense.
One is to educate children about good touch and bad touch, and to encourage them to tell an adult about anything that feels like a bad touch, no matter what someone else told them. But children are young and can be influenced by a powerful adult, especially one they look up to. Most perpetrators are known to their victims. So what else can parents do?
Criminal Background Checks
The next two parts of defense have to do with the policies of organizations that care for children. First, find out whether they require criminal background checks on their staff. If they have checks on some but not all staff, ask how they manage the unchecked staff’s contact with children. Are they always supervised on site by someone who has been checked? That would help.
However, most perpetrators never make it into the criminal justice system. Doing background checks screens out people who have been convicted, and a policy of doing this conveys that the organization cares to prevent child sexual abuse, but this is not the whole story. Again, most perpetrators are known to children.
This brings me to the part of protecting children that I think is the most effective: safe practices. If you ask a program coordinator about their policies for child safety, they should be able to tell you about a number of practices. How do they screen new staff? You can ask about what kind of training staff have in preventing child sexual abuse. There should be training for all staff.
Ask who the staff are accountable to. Is there someone who knows what the programming is and can authorize it?
Ask if there is a written policy on protecting children from child sexual abuse in the program. Is it posted? Find out who is responsible to report abuse or neglect to the proper authorities. Find out what the response plan is.
Ask whether staff are ever alone one on one with children. Hopefully, they are not, but if they are, ask what the procedures are to provide supervision in those situations. For instance, they might be in a room with a window in a door so that a supervisor can walk by at any time and see what is happening.
Ask what the practice is for taking children off site. Again, are staff ever alone one on one?
Ask whether parents are welcome to visit at any time. If the answer is no, that is a concern. While you wouldn’t want to disrupt a program, you would not want to feel that there is anything going on that you are not privy to.
Ask whether older children ever have care of younger children and whether they are one on one with younger children.
As you can see, the primary concern is whether there are opportunities for private, unsupervised contact between a child and staff or anyone with greater power (like a teenager). In addition, you want all staff to be accountable to someone.
Some people might find that this type of program sounds a little paranoid, but once it is in place, it protects everyone—including staff. Policies like these protect staff from false accusations. In addition, there are people who might be perpetrators if given enough opportunity. Being very clear about policies and practices can actually be helpful to prevent someone from becoming a perpetrator.
A fine resource on this topic is Reducing the Risk at www.reducingtherisk.com. It is a comprehensive program and training manual written for religious institutions, but the basic lessons are the same for any organization that serves children.
How do you get your children’s respect? How do you know that they respect you? Is it that they obey? That’s a big part of it when they are young.
When parents of young children come to me for Parent Coaching, they often ask for help with compliance. Their children don’t “listen.” I think that most parents have this problem at one time or another. I know that I did. Parents find themselves telling a child over and over to do the same thing. Often they report, “He doesn’t do it until I yell. I don’t want to yell all the time, but that’s the only way he’ll listen.”
I begin by talking to parents about how they tell children what to do. We talk about the importance of getting your child’s attention, perhaps with a light touch on the shoulder. I also advise parents to tell a child very clearly what do to. “Pick up your room” is not specific enough for many young children. They need to hear, “Put the toys in the bin and put your clothes in the drawer.” In fact, some need to be told only one thing at a time, but that’s for another week.
This all goes fairly well, but some parents, especially Dads, are surprised when I advise them to say “please” and to use a firm but kind tone of voice. I am sure that these people are telling me how they were raised. Somehow it hurts their own sense of authority to say “please” to a child. I hear that children should just do it. Why do we need to be so polite to kids?
One reason is that you want them to treat you politely. Children learn best from the behavior we demonstrate. This produces a wince from many of us. All parents have their moments.
Another reason is that harsh commands tend to make people (even young children) angry. Never mind that you are the parent and you are in charge, if you rely on requests like “Get in here and pick up this room,” your children are quite capable of demonstrating that “you aren’t the boss of me.” We’ve all been there.
The third reason is that it works. Be clear. Ask for a specific behavior. Be calm and take the edge out of your voice. And yes, say please. See how it works. And let me know.