25 April, 2011

How We Parent

The reason we bring a child into the world is different for each of us based on our wonderfully unique beliefs.  David and I believe that children are born with a purpose in life.  In addition, we believe that we, as parents, are meant to help guide our children and provide them tools to use throughout life.
As we were deciding to have children, we asked ourselves: What do we need to do as parents to ensure our children are raised to the best of our ability?

To help us answer this question, we began researching early childhood development. We knew that the first three years of life were very important developmentally, and we were amazed to learn about the human brain development and its relationship to parenting. 

Medical research shows two major phases in life when humans have a significant amount of brain development: 

     1. Conception through age 3, and
     2. Age 10 through puberty. 

This is not to say that our brains do not develop at other times in our life, rather, our brains are always growing and changing. During these two phases, our brains build bridges easily forming our basic patterns for life. “Early experiences impact the development of the brain and influence the specific way in which the circuits of the brain become “wired.”  The outside world shapes its development through experiences that a child’s senses – vision, hearing, smell, touch and taste – absorb.”[1] 

These bridges are the basis for shaping our brain for how we will think, feel, move and learn throughout life. The bridges can be re-wired outside of these two phases; however, it is more challenging to change once they have been created. 

Some interesting facts about brain development during conception through age 3 are:

          1.     The brain begins development around the 27th day of gestation when 
          the neural tube closes and the brain and spinal cord begin development.
          2.     The brain begins working in the 5th week after conception.  
          This allows the fetus to begin moving in the 6th week.
          3.     In the second trimester, the brain develops critical reflexes: breathing, 
          sucking, swallowing, etc.
          4.     Around birth, the cerebral cortex begins functioning.  
          The cerebral cortex is responsible for mental life, such as thinking, 
          remembering, and feeling.
          5.     At birth, the basis for the creation of bridges exists, 
          but they are not fully connected.  
          6.     From birth to age 3, the initial bridges rapidly form many of our 
          natural tendencies.  (Gross motor skills, vision, fine motor skills, speech, etc.)
          7.     By age 3, there are well over 1,000 trillion bridges created.
          8.     A 3 year olds brain is twice as active as an adult.

So, with 1,000 trillion synapses being created within the first 3 years, what can we do to help our children create a healthy foundation?  For us, the answer was to create an outline of our goals for parenting.

We knew that we needed to begin reviewing how we behave as individuals because children learn from their parents’ behavior.   As a result, we decided to review our personal behaviors and determine the following:

          1.     What behavioral traits do we like within ourselves and want to keep?
          2.     What behavioral traits are we lacking within ourselves that we want to create?
          3.     What behavioral traits within ourselves do we need to let go?

After we answered the three questions above, we created an outline of our ultimate parenting behaviors!  This outline is a list of behaviors we want to emulate as individuals.  By emulating these behavioral traits during a significant developmental phase (the first 3 years), we hope our children form a solid and loving foundation for their lives.

Below are examples of behavioral traits we want to model and instill within our children. 

          1.     Love others and our self.
          2.     Respect all living, and non-living, entities.
          3.     Learn how to express emotion in a healthy manner.
          4.     Maintain a positive outlook on life.
          5.     Maintain an inner calmness.
          6.     Live life with joy.
          7.     Live life with gratitude.
          8.     Live life with compassion.
          9.     Laugh.
         10.  Learn how to communicate lovingly.
         11.  Meditate daily to rejuvenate.
         12.  Exercise to maintain overall body health and strength.
         13.  Spend time in nature.
         14.  Create a healthy diet which will nourish.
         15.  Forgive.
         16.  Live in the present moment.
         17.  Embrace patience.

In order to help us model the above behavioral traits, we created an outline of basic “how-to’s”, some of those I have outlined below (the number below relates to the number above):

         1.     Show love to our children and others. 
         2.     Teach respect and use the word respect daily.  We praise our 
         children daily for taking respectful actions.
         3.     Allow our children to express their emotions and do our best to be 
         supportive of them during difficult times.
         4.     Project a positive outlook on life to our children.  While we may have a 
         negative thought, we do not express it around our children. 
         (For example:  Look, it is raining.  Isn’t that wonderful!  
         The rain helps to provide us and the earth the needed water.  
         Rather than, aw, what a gloomy day, it is raining and cloudy.)
         5.     Make every effort to remain calm during all situations around the children.  
         We express our frustrations in private.
         6.     Find joy every day with our children and activities we partake in.
         7.     Express our gratitude often.
         8.     Be compassionate to our children and others.
         9.     To laugh and play and enjoy time together.
        10.  Communicate in a calm manner.
        11.  Create a meditation ritual that is done daily and will expand as they grow. 
        12.  Get outside and move regularly.
        13.  Spend time outside talking about the beauty of nature.
        14.  Eat natural, whole foods. 
        15.  Forgive others and our-selves.
        16.  Children naturally live in the present moment.  
        We as adults try to follow their example and live in the present 
        moment with them.
        17.  Remember that everything does not happen in accordance 
        with our personal time frame and that is ok.

We are so grateful that we created these outlines to help us parent. These outlines have become our parenting goals.  They remind us of what we strive to accomplish as individuals and as parents.  They help us focus on the positive.  By focusing on the positive, we are able to fully enjoy our children and ourselves.  In addition, we are able to use the not so positive moments motivate us to be better individuals and parents for our children. 

While we created our parenting goals prior to conception, I believe that creating an outline like this at any time in your life is a wonderful concept.  Whether it is for parenting, or just self-improvement.  The written outline helps to provide focus and incentive to make personal changes.

As we move through life, our parenting goals change and grow with new experiences.  We have done a lot of growing as individuals, and are proud of how our children are becoming their own unique, special individuals.  We don’t always meet each goal.  But hey, we are human!

So, here is to loving ourselves, loving our children, and loving our parenting.  

What do you think about our approach to establish parenting goals? What do you think of the brain studies?  Do you have any thoughts or suggestions to help parents take advantage of the immense development within the first three years of a child’s life? 


[1] North Dakota State University - http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/famsci/fs609w.htm

17 April, 2011

Kahlil Gibran Quote

I love this quote by Kahlil Gibran regarding parenting children.  As I read this quote, I am reminded that I am simply here to guide my children with love so they may learn to stand with confidence.

"And a woman who held a baby against her bosom said, 
Speak to us of Children.
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which 
your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, 
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, 
so He loves also the bow that is stable."

~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.

12 April, 2011

4 Square Breathing Technique

One of my goals in my life is to find the calm within the storm. There are always challenges in my life where I become stressed, or anxious, but I always look to find a way to bring myself back to calmness as soon as possible.  Staying mentally and emotionally calm allows me to think clearly and rationally.   I find this especially true when parenting.  There seems to be a direct correlation between my children’s calm state of mind and mine.  If I am stressed out and anxious, my children pick up on this feeling and convey it in their own way.  When I am calm, my children are much more calm and in control of their actions and emotions.

This morning, I was suddenly reminded to use my 4 square breathing technique to help bring calm myself, which in turn, helped my children calm down. 

Emma fell down the stairs (second floor to first floor) and took her brother, Liam, down with her, while Owen was eating.  As a result, Emma and Liam both started crying from the fall.  I immediately went into emergency mode!   I stopped feeding Owen and ran to the stairs to check on Emma and Liam. 

Liam – he was crying “Emma Emma Emma Emma” – which meant he was ok. 
Emma – she was wailing, so scared and hurt by the fall.
Owen – he started crying because he was hungry and wanted food! 
Me – I was terrified that Emma had been hurt by the fall and stressed with all three children crying.

As I moved the children into the living room, I sat both Emma and Liam on my lap and we started reading a book while they were whimpering, all the while running my hand gently over Emma to see if there were any tender spots on her body to be concerned about.  While I was doing this, I remembered that I needed to calm myself down, which in turn would help calm the children down.  So, I started 4 square breathing with the kids sitting on my lap.  Immediately, I felt calmness settle into my body, mind and emotions.  In addition, the kids started to calm down. 

Emma and Liam were both fine and Owen was wonderful after he finished his meal.  All was well, and, it was a wonderful reminder to breathe through the stress.

Breath is one of the most effective ways to calm down and allow for clear thinking.   By controlling the intake and outtake of your breath, you begin to calm the majority of your body and emotions.

The 4 Square Breathing Technique is done as follows:

       1.     Inhale for a count of 4.
       2.     Hold your breath for a count of 4.
       3.     Exhale for a count of 4.
       4.     Hold the exhale for a count of 4.
       5.     Repeat at least 3 more times (or as many times as you would like.)  
               (Inhale 2, 3, 4. Hold 2, 3, 4.  Exhale 2, 3, 4.  Hold 2, 3, 4.)

If you cannot do this for a count of 4, simply use a count that works for you, such as 2 or 6.  Just keep the count consistent for the entire process.  (2 in, hold 2, 2 out, hold 2, etc.) 

This is a wonderful technique to use when parenting to help keep you calm, which in turns helps to keep the entire household and family members calm. 

We all have different methods of calming ourselves.  If you have a method for calming down during stressful situations, please share your experience.  It would be wonderful to learn of different ways we keep ourselves calm.


09 April, 2011

Raising Children with Love

Research has shown that the first few years of a child’s life are crucial for their development.  It is the basis for how they will establish life long perceptions and self-esteem.  As a result, we want our children to be raised in an environment that is peaceful and loving so they in turn will become peaceful, loving and confident individuals.

When David and I settled into our new life-style as parents to Emma, Liam and Owen, we immediately realized:  Children are pure and loving individuals, until we as parents, choose to teach and/or model a behavior that is not purely loving. 

David and I decided to create some basic “guidelines” to assist us with our daily parenting in the hopes of maintaining a purely loving environment for our children.  These “guidelines” are as follows: 

1.       Parent with a calm, loving and peaceful state of mind.  If we are calm, loving and peaceful, our children will feel that, and it will impact their feelings and actions. 
2.       Engage in peaceful and loving discussions around the children.  No arguments, heated debates or discussions on world events.
3.       Play peaceful and calm music.  We do not play music that has lyrics conveying a negative message.
4.       Read peaceful books.  We do not read books conveying a negative message. 
5.       Keep the first few months after their birth calm and peaceful to assist with the change of environment they experience. Babies are adjusting to many changes just by being born; we want to help them make the transition from the womb to the world as easy as possible.

By implementing these “guidelines” we are creating a peaceful home life for our children and ourselves. We believe we are creating “a pure beginning” for their development.

So with this, let us start taking a look at different ways we can support each other as parents and provide our children with a rich and wonderful childhood!


01 April, 2011

Mealtime Preparation for Toddlers

Mealtime with toddlers is something that is always a surprise!  One day they eat, the next they don't, one day they like something, the next minute they don't!  But, no matter what the outcome, mealtime in our household is always an enjoyable and entertaining time.  We all sit down together to eat and enjoy our time together.

Many of my friends also have created a family mealtime in their household where they all sit down to eat together as well.  And, the methods of preparing the food differs from household to household, based on the time and priorities established by the parents.

Take us for example, we decided we would tackle the preparing of meals from scratch for our kids: such as Quinoa with squash and cauliflower followed by Avacado and banana pudding for dessert.  Then there are my friends Laurie and Steve.  They both work and decided that feeding their toddlers would consist of more mainstream food that was prepared to allow them more time with their kids when they get home from work.

When we get together, we always love to laugh at how different we are with the foods that we feed our kids.  Her children are eating Mac and Cheese and blueberries, where mine have some sort of veggie medley mash.  It is a sight to behold!

We enjoy sharing stories about different meal plans and how well they go over.  We embrace our mealtime diversity to the tee - with many great laughs and chuckles!  But the one thing that is the same is: we both enjoy sitting down to spend the most quality time possible with our children during mealtime.  That is our priority.

So tell us, how do you plan and spend your mealtime with your children?  Do you eat on the go, do you eat together, do you prepare your own foods, use already prepared foods, or are you somewhere in the middle?

There are so many variations based on the needs of the family and what works for your family.  The important part of it all is that you feel good about what you are doing and that it works for you.

I hope you enjoy your mealtime, and that your children enjoy it too!