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Author Archives: Eileen Joy

Taking Back Their Right to Talk Back

This morning I was in a rush,  not all morning, it just sort of crept up on me and before I knew it, there was little time left in the morning.  I’d had my shower, I had to braid my daughter’s glorious head of hair, and we had to get out the door.  My mind was dwelling on other things… I was not present… I was mentally worrying my “TO DO LIST”

Exam… tax return due… groceries needing to be done… sheets on bed needing to be changed… load of washing to hang out… a few bills to pay… pay for my yoga lessons… and don’t forget Master 7′s school assembly…

I was certainly not present, too busy mired in the future to recognise the gifts of the present.

My daughter sat in front of me, we were already late.  She had selected her hair ties and I was braiding her hair.  I asked Master 7 to go and get Miss 5′s school bag, because we really needed to be motor.  He did.  He plonked it down in front of her and declared that her bag was overly heavy.

I cracked.

The morning before Miss 5 had had a major problem finding some “news” to take to school.  She wanted to take toys, toys is not really the done thing, and she and I had had to compromise over the “news” item.  I berated her because I was tired of having to come up with last minute news items five minutes before walking out the door, and this seemed to me to be a normal occurrence putting a fly in the morning ointment.  I had spoken with her about being more organised and muttered inwardly about priorities etc.  I was not being a very mindful Mummy at all.

Then yesterday… as we were leaving school, I noticed that Miss 5′s bag was inordinately heavy.  I commented on it, and she promised to empty it when we got home.

So when I saw the heavy bag plonked in front of me, I didn’t see a bag.

I didn’t see a moment of forgetfulness.

I didn’t see my beautiful daughter.

I morphed into an angry bull with a red flag waving obnoxiously in front of me, I dug in my heels, I roared and I CHARGED!!!

“If you weren’t so lazy last night then you would have emptied your bag and it wouldn’t be so heavy right now”.

Yeah, I said that.

Miss 5 promptly burst into tears.

“Mummy, we don’t say those sort of words” she sobbed.  ”Mummy, I am not lazy, that was not nice”

Master 7 stood.  He looked at me right in the eyes, and he said.
“Mummy, that was really mean what you just said”  he paused.  He looked right into me again, and then he dealt me the kicker.  ”Mummy, that does not fit with the values in our house, we don’t say things like that in this family”.

Cut. Down. To. Size.

By my SEVEN year old.

Did I get angry that he had talked back to me?  That they had BOTH talked back to me.


I felt like laughing, I felt like cheering, I felt like I had run a marathon and I was passing the finishing line, my kids had talked BACK TO ME.  YUSSSSSSS!!!!!  Why did I feel so fantastic, why did my heart then swell with love.  Why did I then pull my daughter in and apologise to her profusely, and hug her tightly?

Because of this.

My children do not fear me.  They know what is right and what is wrong, and they have NO FEAR in telling me when I get it wrong.  They know our family values so clearly, so profoundly that they can talk back to me when I get it wrong.

In that moment, my love for them was so fierce that I could have cried, and for the rest of this day you have not been able to wipe the grin off my face.  My kids GET IT.  They get that labelling people is not ok, and they know that I love them so unconditionally that when I label them, they are not afraid to call me on it.

Let your kids talk back.  They need to know how to.  If they can’t talk back to you, then how on EARTH will they be able to talk back to the kid who is telling them to do something that they know they shouldn’t.  Let them talk back to you, let them tell you all about it, let them know you love them so much that they need not fear your response.


Warning, Earthquake, Meltdown Threatening, Tsunami Approaching

Nuclear-MeltdownThis morning was going swimmingly.  My son and I had negotiated quite carefully on the state of the playroom, it was, I have to say, a mess.  We had agreed the night before that he would do his best to tidy it after breakfast the following morning, but before school.  He had also agreed to tackle the toppling tower of books at the end of his bed.  We had jokingly re-negotiated it in the morning with him eating his breakfast at a slower pace than normal, and me commenting on whether this was because he didn’t want to today up.  He grinned, we laughed, and he finished his breakfast and went to tidy up.

My daughter however was having a grumpy morning.  She certainly fit the old saying “got out of bed on the wrong side”.  She lay on the floor after our morning hug and tried to give the cat a very (from the cat’s point of view) unwelcome hug.  I gently explained that the cat didn’t like it, but did she need another hug from me.  She did.  She melted in and told me that she had had nightmares again that night.  Oddly nightmares about falling out of a badly constructed tree house with one of her friends from school.  Odd, well, odd just because it was!  Anyway, we talked, and she went and had her breakfast.  She wanted to take the family kite to school.  I was not sure about this, and suggested a compromise, I explained I would talk to her teacher about a good day to do this, because it’s a big kite and needs adult supervision.  She was very upset about this, but we talked, and agreed that she could take a small Sylvanian Families character to school instead.

Both children then decided to strip their beds for washing day.  I was busy in the kitchen and then I heard the thud of two sets of feet pounding down the stairs and the wailing that can only come from children who are hurt, both physically and emotionally.  This was the EARTHQUAKE.   I knew that something had happened to my babies, between them, and both of them were shaken to their core, and that they were reacting.  Uh oh… impending meltdown.  I had about three seconds warning to don my radioactive protection suit and guard myself against fall out.  What I would do in the next few minutes would determine how much fall out there was going to be and whether I could throw enough cooling water on their reactors.   I had no idea what the earthquake looked like, but those feet pounding and the
crying warned me that the earthquake wasn’t the worst that could happen… a tsunami of emotion was headed my way and that I needed to surf the wave with my children or risk being swept away by it. the fallout from a combined tsunami and earthquake could be massive.

EarthquakeMy son is not easy with emotions, and he has rage issues, what’s more is he has problems expressing emotions to me.  I know deep down in my heart this is because I left him to cry it out as a baby, I did not respond to him, so at a deep level he doubts my ability to listen now.  So, I pulled him onto my lap, he was stiff, but he let me.  His body was shaking with anger and tears were pouring down his face.  The tsunami was on the horizon.

I knew I didn’t need to hold my daughter, she trusts me that much more.  I put my hand on her as she wailed and she stood next to both of us.  They both tried to tell me ALL about what had happened.  The waves were frothing now, thick and furious, the foam was spraying everywhere and I could feel the water starting to pull me under.   I needed to surface, I needed to show my babies that this wave CAN be surfed, that we don’t need to be swallowed by the wave, the fallout doesn’t need to damage us anymore than necessary.

Cultural TsunamiMy children started shouting at each other, even though I was holding them, they weren’t surfing yet, they were struggling to breathe.  I could see it in their purple faces, the tears falling down their faces, the clenched fists and the tone.  I could feel my sons body rigid and shaking, he was full of anger.  He was going to drown if I didn’t move fast.  I started stroking his back, gentle, but firm pressure.  I whispered in his ear, “I *will* listen to you, do you trust me?”  – it wasn’t enough, he was still drowning, his fingers were slipping through mine, he kept shouting.  I turned to my daughter, hand on her upper harm, looking at her, I soothed her with my eyes, she was still wailing, but not shouting.

I turned back to my son, and repeated  ”I *will* listen to you, do you trust me?” he nodded, ever so slightly in between the sobs.  I continued.  ”Let me listen to your sister first and then you can say your piece”.  She started to speak, I had her, she was surfing with me now, she was wobbly, but she had it.  But once again my son’s fingers slipped through mine and he was still gasping for air.  He started shouting over the top of her and she went into meltdown again.  Then I made one last super human effort to haul them both out of the wave.  ”Enough” I said in a firm voice.  ”I will listen to both of you, one at a time, then we can go from there”.  I had them.  They were still wobbly, but at least now we were surfing.

Between the tears, the splashes, the story came out.  Both of them, one after the other.  As each story was relayed, I repeated it back to them, word for word, and asked them if I had got that right, each time they either nodded or gently corrected me (I will post more on this technique soon).  I passed no judgements.  That’s not my job.   I had not seen what had happened, and *even* if I had, who am I to pass judgement on their emotions and feelings and the way they saw the events.  Their story was truth, for them, in that moment, even if it sounded different to their siblings, what mattered is that they were listened to.  And what mattered, was that no matter how hard it was, their sibling heard that sometimes the same event can be seen differently through different eyes.

The wave was under our feet now, we could see above it, but we were letting it guide us.  They were reacting less, their core temperature was coming down.  I had saved them from the storm.  We had learnt to surf together and we were cresting now.  So I said, can we agree on two things?  You both got hurt, and you both wanted the book?  They agreed.  Then they paused.  My son desperately wanted to change part of his story.  I let him, I listened again.  He told his story.  At the end, my daughter agreed, even though this painted her in a poor light, she agreed, he was right about a key part of the dispute.  She said she shouldn’t have done that, and she said she would do it differently if it happened again.  Wooohooo!!  Now we really were surfing!  I asked them what they thought they could do now.  My daughter said “I’m sorry”.  Then slowly, and very quietly, my son said “I’m sorry too”.

I hugged them both, together, and held them tight.  We were ok, we had learnt to surf this wave, we had survived the earthquake, settled the reacting core, and negotiated the tsunami.  It doesn’t mean we will surf every wave, it doesn’t mean that meltdowns won’t happen, but we caught this one, and we rode it.  It guided us to a place we might not have been able to come to before, and the more we learn to surf the tsunami after the earthquake, the better skilled we are when the next one threatens.


Time to rethink family rules

Do you have rules in your family?

Do they sound a little like this?

Don’t hit

Don’t jump on the bed

Don’t do this…

Don’t do that…

In my family we’ve gone through different incarnations of family rules.  We started out with a set that looked a little like the ones above.  It was, no hurting people or animals, using polite words… there were a couple of other things, and then the last one was to have fun.  We wrote them on a list and put them on the fridge.  Even though our eldest, at that stage, was pre reading age, he knew those rules off the top of his head and was able to point to the fridge in reference of the rules.

Did those rules help family life?  Not really, not one iota.  They were just something to pull out like a stick to say, “you haven’t been following the rules”.   Are the rules effective?  Do they advise you what to do?  When we say don’t hit, don’t hurt, what do we end up thinking about, hitting and hurting obviously.  It’s like saying, don’t think about the elephant in the corner of the room.  It’s impossible to not think of it, it’s there!!
Elephant in the room

When we take something away, when we say that you “can’t” do something, we don’t put something in place to say this is what you CAN do.  Children find it far easier to accept something when we tell them what they can do, in fact adults do too.  So there’s no point in saying, you can’t hit, it leaves a vacuum.  Ok, so I can’t hit, what do I do instead?  You’ve taken away what I thought was my response to a situation, but help, what can I do instead!

This is the problem with rules.  They’re inflexible, they tell us what we can’t do, and they don’t help to create a climate of trust.  They can’t be used for all situations.  And if we have a list of rules for a toddler, pre-reading child, they are very hard for them to get to grips with.  In short, they’re a bit limiting :)

What can we do instead?

In the last two years my family has adopted something a little different.  It was inspired in part by seeing these pics come up frequently on Facebook posts:

Family Rules

Family Rules

I love both of these images.  In fact, I have the second one as a decal,  which I haven’t put up yet.  But, I noticed there were still a few problems with these.  Chiefly being that they were quite wordy and hard for little kids to remember.

So that’s when I hit on something else, something far simpler, something that would last forever, and that my kids could easily remember.

We are… the:





That was it.  Simple right.  There was not much I couldn’t fit into that.  Hitting someone, well, that’s not gentle touch (hugging) and it certainly wouldn’t help someone to be happy would it, not to mention not helping the situation.  However there were a couple of things that I had failed to add to it.  My son, being the wordsmith that he is added two more words to it.



There.  It was perfect.  We don’t jump up and down on the bed, (most of the time) because it’s not healthy to do so (dirty feet on the covers and you run the danger of hurting yourself).  We try to really *hear* people when they speak to us.  Not just their words, but we really try to hear what they are saying too.

In fact in the two years we’ve been using these words, I haven’t come up with a situation that I can’t use them in.  Quite simply they cover everything.

And recently, that’s when it hit me.  They aren’t rules at all.  These are family values.  Values that can be as old as time.  These are the things that we VALUE in our house.  These are the things we WANT in our house.  We don’t want to harp on about the things we don’t want – that’s what rules do.  We want to celebrate the VALUES of our house.

What do you think are the values in your house?  Do you think you are celebrating them?
5 Hs Happy Hugging Helpful Hearing Healthy House


Let me introduce you to the Queen, the RED Queen.

Dear Fellow Mum,

I read your post to me and there were parts of it that could have been written about me.  Sure there are bits of your story that I cannot relate to, but those are also bits that make me want to wrap my arms around you and tell you that you have a friend.

Let me be clear you are NOT alone.

Your anger is not uncommon.  I too lose the plot, far more than I should.  I scream at my kids, I yell at my kids, and I say hurtful things, and I have done this many, many times.  This behavior is not about them, it is about me.  It’s all about me.  Something happens, something flips my lid and then I see red.  I stop seeing the full rainbow and I see only red.

Anger is not an acceptable emotion for women, and even less so for mothers.  We are meant to be totally forgiving, meant to be endlessly calm, meant to be a font of all things peaceful and calm.  That’s a ruse to fool us, and one that binds us carefully to a culturally constructed image of motherhood that eats us away internally, like an acid eating away at our soul.

I’m here to strip it away and stomp all over it.  You are allowed to be angry,  In the instance you described to me, I would be raving mad, I would be spitting invectives, I would be close to making a voodoo doll about the person you referred to!  The problem with our cultural discourse is that women are not allowed to be angry.  When we are angry we are called emotional, histrionic, heck – there was a whole industry on studying women’s “hysteria” some of which was probably deeply buried rage.  Fortunately some of that has ebbed away, but we still haven’t been provided with a good model of female anger.  Indeed, I could go so far as to say we don’t even have a good model of anger for men, however at the moment I’m talking about women’s anger, a mother’s anger.

I’ve been so angry that I have actually wanted to hurt my children.  I didn’t, but I wanted to.  Things have happened that have made me so angry that I no longer see the whole rainbow, I see red.  There is the good parent wailing, whimpering in the background of my mind telling me that I will regret my filthy outburst, but the nasty parent figuratively slaps her into submission and continues on her raging path.  She is my Red Queen.
Red Queen

What have I done to help my Red Queen, because she is me, and she gives me so much fire.  She gives me the passion to do the things I do.  She gives me the strength to keep going, she gives me the strength to rage against the machine.  So I love her, I do not want to kill her, she is me.  What can I say to you, fellow Mum, to help you make peace with your Red Queen?  Firstly, you are not alone.  Secondly find someone, anyone, you can be honest with, someone you can talk to, someone you can text, someone you can rant to.  Someone who understands, someone who has a Red Queen too.

Thirdly, I suggest you think about your anger models.  Who have you seen be angry?  What were they angry about?  Who informed your anger pattern, who taught your Red Queen her modus operandi?  And who does your Red Queen need to be like?  Once we understand where our Red Queen got her wrong path from, you can start to set her on the right one.   My Red Queen, she was gifted to me by my mother, and she by hers.  I have decided to remake my Red Queen, I’ve given her a makeover, sometimes she forgets, but more often than not she remembers now.  And when she doesn’t I wrap her in my arms and I forgive her, and I tell her it’s ok, because it’s hard to change patterns gifted to you before you could even interpret them.

And so, fellow Mum, I wrap my arms around you and offer you friendship, your Red Queen is not indication you are weak, it is not an indication that you might be suffering from mental illness.  I suspect it is a sign of your strength, and it is wonderful, and to find it’s true direction it needs toning, like any good muscle.

Much love, from one Red Queen to another


Guilt, being Right and being Challenged

My husband would say that I don’t like to be told that I’m wrong, especially by him, but that when presented with “evidence” from “experts” then I start to sway.  To a certain point he is right, and to a certain degree he is wrong – hardly surprising really.  When I became a parent, on August 14th, 2005, I learnt that there was another person, whom I loved fiercely who would also tell me that I was wrong.  Unlike my husband though, I couldn’t have a “logical” conversation with my beautiful son and attempt to convince him otherwise.  He was who he was and he wasn’t prepared to listen to any humbug nonsense I had read in some Baby Whisperer book somewhere.  He knew better than I did, and boy did he.  He spent 9 months trying to tell me what was going wrong and what was wrong and trying to let me know what to do better.  But I didn’t listen, something that I really struggled with, I’ve talked about that before, so this post isn’t really about that, but it’s related.

This post is about the struggle to accept the new, the “uh-oh” moment when we are confronted with information that seeks to challenge us, that may make us doubt what we did and will almost certainly cast what we did in a negative light.  This sort of information is BOUNDLESS in parenting circles.  I’ll give you a few examples from my parenting life thus far to help you see where I am going:

  • I used cry it out with my son.  He screamed a lot, but he got to sleep. Then I read things like this.
  • I put my son in a separate bed from me, from Day 1.  After having a baby brother die from SIDS (even though it wasn’t a co-sleeping situation) I was going to do everything possible to protect my son.  Then I started to see things like this.
  • We didn’t have skin to skin straight away, we didn’t breastfeed straight away, he was away from me for the next 2-3 hours.  Now I know this
  • He had 1-2 bottles of formula on about day 2 in the hospital.  Because I was beside myself.  Now I know this and the ramifications of this break my heart every single day.
  • I used Time Out with him, and my daughter.  And now I am aware of the negative effects and how I can do things differently.
  • When my daughter bit me repeatedly, to the point where I got a breast infection, not once, but twice, I got so angry and cross, that I bit her back.  Now I would do things differently.
  • I called my kids “good boy” and “good girl” – in fact I still do it now, every now and again.  But now I am trying to do this.

ALL of those things, every single one of them, I am now opposed to or have changed my mind about.  They are all examples of where and when things went wrong.  For each of those things I have been exposed to information that made me really REALLY stop and think, that made me wonder, that made me doubt, and to be frank made me feel guilt.  The guilt was large for some, the guilt was small for others, but the guilt was still there.


The way I see it, when we are presented with things that challenge things we did in the PAST there are a few ways that we can choose to approach it.  The first is that we can dig our heels in, arm ourselves with the key defense of “I did it and he/she/I turned out FINE”.  I see this approach all the time.  I see it because I’m on Facebook a lot, and I read a lot of the Mummy blogs.  People get so wound up about this that I can just imagine people having apoplectic fits over it.  The thing is, you might be “fine” but how much better could you or your child have been had you not done some of those things?  You cannot and should not feel guilty for not knowing what you didn’t know, so why resort to the defense of “I’m fine” when the research, when the scientific and well researched evidence is not speaking to YOU directly and not saying you should feel guilty.  You are responsible for your reaction to the information, you choose to feel guilt or not over it, and you can choose how to express that guilt.

You could choose to just ignore it, pretend you didn’t read it, don’t engage, after all, it will all go away.  This is what a lot of ordinary folks do.  I see them, I’m friends with them on FB, they don’t want to examine things too closely for fear of what they might find.  They actively avoid it.

Or, you could choose the approach of confronting the information, making peace with it and yourself.  Realise that you did the best you could do in the circumstances you were in, realise that you cannot be held responsible for the information you didn’t know and realise that it is perfectly OK to change your mind, and to have been “wrong”.  I now choose this approach.  Further, I aim to help parents make INFORMED choices about these and many many more issues.  So many parents don’t have access to the information and so end up making the best of the situation.  Think how much harder it is to light a fire using sticks if you don’t know to use a hard wood and a soft wood… information can make things easier and offer us hope.  It can show us the door to a new world, the way to make peace with ourselves, and the path for others to follow.

So, I ask of you this, when you are next confronted with a piece of information that you THINK is judging you, that you think is trying to paint you as a BAD parent, pause, re-read and consider what you are painting over the picture and realise how much baggage you have brought to the place.  Once you let that baggage go, once you can look at it, acknowledge it and say “I don’t have to carry you any more” then life will become that much lighter, and your parenting journey will be open to a world of learning and opportunities.



Discipline and Punishment, is there a Difference?

My husband and I try and maintain a household with discipline, but not punishment.  I say try, because sometimes we fall into the punishment cycle, but mostly, I mean mostly, we try and aim for discipline.  What do I mean?  Is there a difference?  Well, I believe there is, and I’m going to try and explain it to you.

Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault
And no, despite using an image of Foucault’s text, I’m not going to reference Foucault… not in this post anyway!
Let’s start with the word “discipline”.  It’s been distorted over the years to contain a conflation of the word “punishment”, but I’d like to take it back to it’s Latin roots:

“disciplina ’instruction, knowledge’, from discipulus” (taken
Okay, so the definition of the word discipulus is: disciple, student, learner, pupil (taken from

There’s a clear theme about learning and about knowledge.

Let’s look at the word “Punishment”:

“the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense: crime demands just punishment (taken from

The word has a French root, punir, which means, if we take it back to the word “punish”: “Middle English: from Old French puniss-, lengthened stem of punir ’punish’, from Latin punire, from poena ’penalty’” (taken from

Thats all about retribution, payment, penalty, a payment excised for a crime.

Hmmm… I don’t know about you, but I think that’s hardly the environment that learning happens in.  In fact I would say that learning and punishment are probably diametrically opposed, unless you’re talking about a Pavlovian dog mentality, in which case sure, they are connected.  But… and this is a big but, does the proverbial Pavlovian dog KNOW why they are being punished and what was so intrinsically wrong about what they did, or do they avoid the negative stimuli in the future because it will cause pain?  And bearing in mind that avoidance of negative stimuli is just that… avoidance… so that might include ANY and ALL forms necessary to avoid it, none of which might involve thinking about whether the avoidance action is actually good or not.

So, I’d like to say that there IS a difference between the two concepts, and that I’d like to reclaim the word discipline back to it’s Latin roots, and stick with the teaching element of it.

What does this then mean for parenting?  If we extrapolate those two meanings outwards what would we get?  Well, fortunately someone has done the work for me!  Although I would have come to the same conclusions!  I drew the following chart from this link: which you can click on to obtain all the references:

Discipline vs Punishment

Although, I would like to add what I consider to be the fundamental difference between Discipline and Punishment… (and thus the one I hold onto the most):

Punishment teaches our children to do or not do something for fear of what might happen to them, Discipline teaches our children to do or not do something out of concern for what might happen to others. “

So what might be some examples of discipline and punishment?  I’m going to draw this into two separate (but related) types for each of these words/ethos’

Physical and Non Physical Discipline and Punishment

The thing is that both Discipline and Punishment have physical and non-physical expressions, and bear in mind that the examples given in the dimensions are by no means exhaustive.  I could have added Time In for Discipline NP and Time Out for Punishment NP.  The sad thing is that we tend to focus (in discussion) on the non physical side of discipline and the physical side of punishment.  This focussing means that we avoid seeing the full spectrum of possibility for growth and healing in discipline and damage in punishment.

So by now you might be wondering, what are some more specific examples of discipline and punishment?  Especially the former, because after all, we all want to know what to do, rather than what not to do – right?  Well, you will be pleased to know that that is the next one in this series of posts on Discipline and Punishment, stay tuned!   And yes, in that one… I might talk about Foucault.

What *IS* Attachment Parenting?

I’ve seen a lot of confusion out there about what Attachment actually *is* recently. So much so that I feel that this post is in order. What do we mean when we refer to “Attachment”… what do we mean when we say “Attachment Parenting” and when we say that we are an “Attachment Parent” what are we seeking to assert, what sort of goal do we have in mind?

What is Attachment Parenting

Attachment. If you don’t know about the history of the term attachment and how it came to be specifically applied to relationships then I suggest you read up on it here. Yes, it started out as a theory, first espoused by John Bowlby, that focussed on the relationship between parent and child, note I said parent. From the link I have referenced it states that:

“Its most important tenet is that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally.”

As Bowlby researched more and other researchers joined him from many different fields more things became apparent. It was discovered that attachment types in childhood grew up to repeat these attachment models in their adult relationships. Not just with their partners, but with their children, their colleagues, friends, almost with everyone they meet. Your attachment type will dictate how you see relationships, it’s a schema, a road map that you then use for ALL human relationships. We learn this schema when we are little, and so it IS crucially important to your child’s attachment schema that you try to develop a secure one for them. BUT your schema can get in the way of this, just as your schemas can get in the way of all of your relationships. Think of the woman who cannot leave an abusive man, think of the man who is dominated by his wife, think of all the relationships you have. They will all be informed by your attachment schema.

The wiki link goes on to say that:

“The biological mother is the usual principal attachment figure, but the role can be taken by anyone who consistently behaves in a “mothering” way over a period of time. In attachment theory, this means a set of behaviours that involves engaging in lively social interaction with the infant and responding readily to signals and approaches. Nothing in the theory suggests that fathers are not equally likely to become principal attachment figures if they provide most of the child care and related social interaction.“

I’d like to draw your attention to the phrase “responding readily to signals and approaches.” This involves a certain respect for the child. A respect that involves thinking that the child’s signals and approaches are to be respected enough TO respond to them readily. This sort of relationship is one founded on a deep respect for needs. One that provides a pattern for future relationships. If you weren’t respected enough as a child then chances are your attachment schema was damaged, and your parenting work will bring up past hurts for you, whether you are aware of them or not.

So. Attachment is a schema formed in infancy/childhood that can form a road map to all future relationships. Attachment Parenting then must surely be a response to a child’s needs in a deeply respectful manner.

That’s it.

Attachment Parenting therefore is NOT:

• Co-sleeping/Bed sharing
• Baby Led Weaning
• Baby wearing
• Baby sign language
• Home Schooling
• Eating healthily
• Being anti medication/vaccinating
• Natural Childbirth or home birthing
• Lotus Birthing or Placenta consumption

It is not even BREASTFEEDING

I can anticipate that some of you might be shocked by this. Let me elaborate. Attachment parenting is ENHANCED by certain practices. But is not EXCLUSIVE to certain practices. It is founded on a DEEP respect for the relationship. I can have an attachment relationship with my husband, and trust me, it doesn’t involve him consuming my breast milk from my breast. Attachment relationships, including parenting are enchanted by certain techniques, practices, and behaviors. Back to the breastfeeding example. Fathers can and do form attachment relationships with their children without breastfeeding, some do so in the absence of the mother who may be deceased, but this does not mean that those children will not be parenting in an Attachment Parenting manner. Some mothers genuinely cannot breastfeed, this does not exclude them from Attachment Parenting. The only thing that truly excludes you from attachment parenting is when you fail to respond to your children’s needs in a respectful manner. In fact this would be the thing that would exclude you from ANY relationship, when you fail to take the other’s needs into consideration.

All the things I listed above, yes, they are useful, and they have come about because they serve a purpose and they enhance our attachment parenting, but we can still AP without them. The road we tread might be harder, but it does not mean that it is impossible.

Remember attachment parenting is not the latest baby carrier. It is not the latest crunchy fad, it is about the relationship. It is about attachment writ large, it is about hoping that the dyad you are building between you and your child reaches past your own childhood, past your family, past your house and into the broader community and starts to effect change, big change. It is about love. Everything else is technique.

Attachment Parenting

Look before you Leap (or Misplaced Parenting Assumptions)

It was Wednesday morning, and both my children needed to be somewhere (school and Montessori) and I had things to do, so I was busy.  I went into the bathroom to get something and that’s when I saw it.  A fat bunch of my daughter’s hair on the floor in the bathroom.

I sighed internally, she has been cutting her hair.  Ok, well it’s not like I am opposed to her having short hair, she can, if that’s what she wants, but I’d rather get it done properly than a Carys special.  I mean very few people can cut their own hair properly, let alone a four and a half year old.    So, I had to talk to her about this.  I picked up the bunch of hair and walked to where both of them were playing.

“Carys, what’s this?” I asked.  She didn’t reply.  I pressed on.  “Carys, have you been cutting your hair?” She looked sheepish, but didn’t reply, so I pressed even further.  “Did you cut your hair?”.  She mumbled “No.”  All through this my tone was even, I wasn’t shouting, yelling, no raised voice, and it was a calm tone.

Now I have a thing about lying, and I thought she probably was at this point, she has lied before, but she always ends up telling the truth because we are gentle with her.  “Carys,” I asked gently, “are you lying to Mummy.”

“NO!!!” she said firmly, “I am not!”

She promptly got down from the bed where she had been sitting and marched into my bedroom with me following her.  Once there she proclaimed, “Your booby thing got caught in my hair and it pulled my hair out.”

Ok… big step backwards!!  I had made a BAD assumption about her cutting her hair.  Mental note, remember (and I know this AND forget to do it), to not make assumptions about behaviour when questioning, instead I should have asked “Carys, can you tell me about this hair, I need to understand why a bunch of your hair is on the floor”.  So, feeling a little chastened about that, I then felt a mounting sense of, oh help, a new parenting problem…

So I asked, “Do you mean Mummy’s bra?”

“Yes” she responded.  “Your blue one.”

Fabulous, so now she’s going through the dirty laundry hamper and playing dress up with my bras.  At the age of four and a half.  Wow, I had hoped to deal with this one when she was older.

“Were you trying to put it on and wear it?” I asked, asking really gently and in a very curious voice, I didn’t want her to feel that this was not ok (even though for me it probably was not ok!).

“NO!!!” she said loudly and firmly.  Now I’m bewildered.  And to boot I had forgotten the lesson I had learned with my first wrong assumption, I had once again, in the space of not even two minutes made another false assumption about behaviour by loading the question.

“Ok” I said, thoroughly confused, because what else could she be doing with my bra?  “What were you doing?”

“I was snuggling into it on the floor, because it’s Mummy’s.”

There.  Wham.  Got me.  RIGHT. IN. THE. HEART.

Person leaping off cliff into ocean

Out with Time Out, In with Time In

Aletha Solter Quote

I’m going to divide this blog into two sections.  In the first I’m going to talk about why it’s not good parenting, and I will provide you with references where other parenting experts (far more experienced than I am) have explored this.  In the second section I’m going to look at what we can do instead, what can we replace this with?

This second part is crucially important.  In my teaching role as a Parenting Educator in New Zealand, I saw a rapid shift in parenting techniques as soon as Section 59 was repealed (this removed the ability to plead that a parent was using reasonable force to correct a child’s behavior, and has been – incorrectly – labeled, the “anti-smacking” law).  Suddenly, parents who had not carefully examined their parenting style and it’s impact were thrust into an awkward situation.  They had no idea what to do.  If they couldn’t smack a child then what could they do?  The government never thought to back up the repealing with so good advice and community support that could help these parents.  Instead these parents (in the main) turned to Parenting Pop Culture and the self-appointed queen of it, Super Nanny.  Ahh, Super Nanny got results, she didn’t hit, in fact she told parent not to.  But she did use this cunning technique called “Time Out” or “The Naughty Corner/Step/Place”.  Parents got this, one minute for each year of their life, they have to stay there, put them back if they come up, explain why they are there and expect, nay demand, an apology at the end of the allotted time.  Simple, not much gaffing about there.  No psycho-babble, quick and effective.  Just like a smack.   Even parenting “advocates” all around NZ advocated Time Out, even the most prominent ones have and STILL do.   I was told by someone within one of these organizations (this was at the beginning of my anti-Time Out conversion, because I too once upon a time thought it was ok) that even though the powers that be knew it was wrong, and knew that it was damaging, we talk about it and provide guidelines for it because that’s what people want.  Sound familiar?  Think about breastfeeding, crying it out etc etc… these organizations know about the research but do very little to promote it.  It’s a parenting hot potato, they don’t want to touch it, and I would say they also don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them, the public and the government in the form of lucrative contracts.  But that’s by the by, this is about *why* I’m calling Time Out on Time Out.

Whats so Wrong with Time Out?Boy in time out corner

Time Out, in part, as much as all other Pop Parenting advice, stems from Behaviourism.  Which in a nutshell is positive reinforcement versus negative reinforcement.  Think Pavlov’s dogs.  So, we reward what we want and punish what we don’t want.  Time Out is a punishment.  It is the withdrawal of all love and affection.  It is the banishment.  It conflicts with a basic human “need to belong”.   Super Nanny advises us to ignore the child whilst they are in Time Out, to make sure that they are in a safe area so you won’t have to intervene with them too much.  In this state the child can imagine what life would be like if they “cease to exist”.  Imagine how horrifying that is to a child.  It’s absolutely devastating to adults, think of when you have experienced social exclusion.  Scientists have been able to demonstrate that the pain of social exclusion lights up the same centers in the brain as does physical pain. Your love has ceased to be unconditional, it has become conditional.   Your child is experiencing pain, on a par with physical pain when you put them into Time Out.  I have to wonder, and this may seem crass, but why wouldn’t you just smack them?  It would achieve a similar result?  And this is just reason number 1 for me.

Let’s go back to the suggested technique.  The child is placed in time out, for the requisite time and is instructed to think about what they have done.  This requires a basic understanding of consequences with a clear head.  I did this, then this happened, someone got upset/angry/hurt, something got broken etc etc and this happened and now I am in Time Out, I don’t like Time Out, therefore I won’t do it again.  Seems fairly simple right?  Wrong.  That’s quite sophisticated and requires an understanding of consequences that children simply don’t have until they are about 8 or 9 – or even later.  Why you ask?  Have you ever asked an adult to perspective take, put themselves in another person’s shoes when they are angry?  Sure, yes I understand that you were angry that Jimmy stole your toy/car, but Jimmy was tired of waiting for it and you weren’t sharing and that’s no reason to hit him, go to Time Out and when you come out you will have to say you’re sorry.  Sure, yes, America, you’re angry that the Middle East has lots of oil and you are tired of waiting for it, but that’s no reason to invent WMDs and bomb them into submission, now go to Time Out and when you come out you will have to say sorry.  Ok, so maybe the analogy requires some more sophistication and less political posturing, but I’m fairly sure that most of you get what I mean.  When we are angry we are not capable of thinking straight, we go back to the basic fight/flight/freeze mechanism.  So, they are full of emotion and then we banish them and expect them to think clearly without any assistance at all?

Lastly, but by no means least I want to address the “apology” aspect of the Time Out technique.  Somehow we think that by forcing a child to say sorry at the end of time out, after they have “thought” about the consequences, then we have achieved something and things will go back to normal.  Seriously?  Which would you rather as an adult, a sincere or forced apology?  If you are forcing your child to apologize when they have not even been helped to see the consequences you are not only not empathizing with them, or guiding them, but you are asking them to lie.  Remember that as an adult it can be extraordinarily difficult to say sorry.  Our children find this hard as well.  Frankly, it can be embarrassing to admit that we are wrong and children feel this too.  When children are genuinely sorry you will know they are from several cues, their body language of “shame” – head lowered, gaze aversion, trying to look small, will be screaming I feel silly and I’m sorry.  You can help with this by acknowledging the body language and asking things like “You look like you might be feeling sorry, is that right?”  You can even ask if they are having difficulty with it.  Once, when my daughter was struggling with this I asked her to imagine what saying sorry looked like.  She said a bunch of flowers and a hug.  She simply could not speak the words with her voice, so instead she chose to speak with her body and express her apology with a hug.  One day, she will feel brave enough to say it too, but in the meantime I am happy with a genuine hugging apology on her terms rather than a forced uncomfortable one on my terms.

So, by this stage I’m hoping you have rethought Time Out!  Just in case you still have questions though, and even if you don’t I highly recommend reading the following posts which helped me along my way:

What’s the Alternative?

There are many MANY alternatives to Time Out.  We need to remember that discipline is about the teachable moment, about connecting with our child and about helping them with self regulation.  Remember that discipline comes out of love, and that all your parenting decisions need to come from this.  Your child needs to feel unconditionally loved even when they have done something wrong, even when they seem most unlovable.

So what can we call this?  How can we re-language our discipline techniques to encompass connection when parenting?  I like the term “Time In”.  So what would the rules for “Time In” look like?

Time in

  1. Both the child and the adult engage in Time In
  2. We stay in Time In, we stay connected till all the emotions have been heard and regulated – there is no time limit.
  3. We work together on this, and we accept that either or both parties have responsibility for what happened.
  4. Time In is a place for unconditional love and honesty.  It is not a place for judgement or punishment.
  5. Time In is a teachable moment, for BOTH parties.
  6. Time In can happen anywhere, it is not a step, it is not a seat, it lives in our heart, it is when we are in time with our hearts.

So, I challenge you, toss out Time Out, and come in, to Time In.  I guarantee you will find love in it.

Why is it so HARD to change my Parenting Style?

I know how hard this is, I have tried many, many times to change many different things about my parenting.  I spent hours devouring Alfie Kohn and Robin Grille and then eager to try to new techniques, knowing that they are the right thing for me, eager to try them out, I try and try and all goes well for a few hours, if I am lucky, a few days, and then wham, the wheels fall off, and I fall apart into the old habits, or even worse I explode.

At this point a lot of parents give up, or declare that the technique was hopeless, was doomed to failure, because it was too “permissive” etc and that it is therefore better to go back to more “traditional” methods.

Why does this happen?  And what is actually going on?

Even one of our thoughts and behaviors is a result of a neural pathway that we have created and nurtured.  And the pathways that are strongest are the ones that we rely on the most.  We rely on them for everything, from knowing that a loaf of bread is bread, to knowing when to go to the toilet.  The thing is that neural pathways have their most explosive growth between 0-3 years of age, and at 3 they go through pruning process where those least used are pruned away.  This is bad news for kids raised in a neglectful environment, but great news for those not.  We can still create and prune after then, otherwise we would never learn new things, but often our patterns for caregiving, parenting, and relationships are set between 0-3 years.  This (in part) prepares you for how you will behave as a parent when your time comes and (in part) will help to define every relationship you have.


So, if you are trying to change your parenting, you are probably trying to change your neural pathways.  Especially if you are choosing a path that is different from the way that you were raised.  You are forcing your brain to go down weaker pathways. Your brain will want to go down the strong ones, the habitual ones. To keep forcing it down the weak pathways not only strengthens those pathways but will increase cognitive fatigue. Be kind to yourself, it is in those moments that you are most likely to lose it, and perhaps feel that it’s not worth it. Celebrate how far you have already come, apologize, smooth it over, and keep stretching your mind. Be kind, you are rewriting your brain (in addition to encouraging your children’s pathways to change), and that is exhausting work. These are but bumps on the road in your journey of parenting. And you have chosen to walk a harder, but more fulfilling path xxx