Archive for the ‘Blogs by Gayle Swift’ Category

The Emotional Connection between Speaking and Listening

Wednesday, June 27, 2018 @ 12:06 PM
Author: admin

the-emotional-connection-between-speaking-and-listeningEven without a caption, we can infer that the dad in this photo clearly wants his son to listen. This graphic explodes with emotion. Negative energy stirs within ourselves as we look at it. It awakens memories of similar conversations where emotion overwhelmed reason. We can hear our own personal “inner” soundtrack replaying the audio from our own experiences.

When yelling occurs, it supersedes communicating. Both persons involved in the “conversation” feel overwhelmed, angry and “injured” to some degree. Neither is listening. Resentment and anger amplify; each person focuses on the righteousness of his own position. This hyper-focus tends to negate or invalidate the opposing viewpoint. When emotion hijacks* our intellect, little or no communication occurs.

Effective communication requires mutual respect and openness.

As Intentional parents, we will want to practice ways to ratchet down emotionally charged conversations. Develop strategies for addressing frustration and anger in the moment. These skills take time and practice to master!

We must regularly remind ourselves of this intention. Save the earnest discussions for times when parents and children are not in meltdown.

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The second photo, on the other hand, conveys the polar opposite emotional content from the first. Both father and son appear engaged and attentive to one another. They are emotionally open and available to hold a meaningful conversation. For most of us, the picture triggers personal memories of feeling heard and validated. It is in these types of interactions that communication and connection occur.

The point of this post holds true for all of our conversations, not only those between parent and child.

How will you use the insight gained from this blog to help you improve your communication at home and out in the broader world?

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*For more information about emotional hijacking, read Daniel Goleman’s seminal book, Emotional Intelligence

Notice and Narrate Instead of Offering Praise

Tuesday, June 12, 2018 @ 04:06 PM
Author: admin

Notice-Narrate-instead-Offering-Praise-I-love-you-ritualsAttention is the currency of human connection. We all yearn to be noticed, to be seen for our authentic selves. It’s human nature. As parents, we regularly experience our children’s desire for us to look their way. Watch me, Mommy! Look at me, Daddy! Sometimes their need for attention can feel like an insatiable hunger. Effective parents recognize attention-giving as an effective parenting tool. They utilize their children’s need for attention by heaping attention on desirable behaviors and by ignoring behaviors they wish to extinguish.

Unfortunately, the need for attention can devolve into a desperate need for approval. Kids can fall into the habit of excessive approval-seeking. Self-satisfaction, the pride of accomplishment, the pleasure of learning all can fall victim to the over-weaning need for approval. How can Intentional Parents avert this undesirable result?

Imagine our child calls out for our attention. This requires us to pause what we’ve been doing, note their action and make them the focus of our attention. If we do this, we’ll fulfill their need to be seen. This will enable us to make a connection by spending something far more valuable than money: our extremely valuable “undivided-attention currency.” Their goal to feel “seen” will be filled.

What results accrue to our side of the equation? What benefit will we get? Is it the one we truly want?

If we constantly offer attention that has a judgment attached–either positive or negative–we’ll vest our kids on obtaining our approval and/or avoiding our disapproval. They will perform for us. But is that the true goal of our parenting?

Don’t we really want them to mature into self-motivated thinkers, who will follow family values, make choices and engage in action because it is what they perceive as the “right” thing to do based on their own internalized, moral compass?

We believe there’s a better way of expressing our attention, a way that helps kids feel noticed without “addicting” them to praise. Dr. Becky Bailey, originator of the Conscious Discipline theory and author of several books offers many practical and emotionally positive strategies. Although her main focus is the classroom, parents and caregivers can learn a lot from her strategies. She suggests that adults notice or narrate without adding an element of judgment or praise.

Instead of I think you did a great job!

say, You worked and worked until you finished it! 

Instead of, I love it! It’s an amazing Lego© construction!

say, You spent a lot of time working on that!

Instead of,  That’s a terrific drawing! It’s a…house, right?

say, You used lots of color in that drawing; tell me about it.

Instead of,  I’m proud that you helped Michael.”

say, You noticed Michael needed help and you helped him. In our family, we all try to help.

Feel the difference between the two sets of comments. Notice that the focus is on the child not on adult opinion or evaluation. The narrator-style comments still provided the child with the attention he sought. They centered on traits the adult wishes to nurture or help the child notice about themselves. Each time they have a noticing experience, these values and traits become more deeply internalized.

Psychotherapist Linda Graham, MFT., reminds us that,

“The brain learns from experience always and it learns best when those experiences are little and often.”

With this method, our attention focuses on reinforcing their skill sets and inner qualities. It’s about what we see and what they think. And we do want them to be thinkers. And tryers, creators, practitioners of our family values. Big distinction. Kids who are overly invested in praise and approval, fall into a pattern of doing things only when they have an audience. Or, the corollary of this, they become sneaky and only observe the rules when they think they might get caught. Some develop an inability to make decisions because they’re overly focused on approval or other people’s opinions instead of their own inner moral compass.

Being able to trust themselves, to learn good decision-making skills and to engage in life as a “learning Conversation.” It helps kids build internal resilience because they know parental approval and acceptance are not conditional.

As a grandmother who has the opportunity to care for my grandson several days each week, I have had the opportunity to observe the power of this shift in adult/child interaction. It is stunning. I can also say, that turning off the autopilot of praise is challenging but so worth the effort. Changing deeply ingrained habits takes effort and persistence.

I love it when I ask him, “Who’s a tryer? A helper? A hard worker?” and he names himself in reply followed by the names of the rest of our family. Barely three and he has internalized the belief that he belongs to a family that values effort and compassion!

Intentional narration offers another teaching strategy: add a soundtrack to your own efforts. It’s a great way to correct a common misconception that kids have about adults: that life is effortless for their parents, that they don’t have to work hard at things, that they are magically proficient at stuff, etc. So how might this sound? Here are some examples:

Daddy is going to school tonight. Even though he’s tired, he’s going to learn how to do his job better.

I don’t know how to do that, so I’m reading this book to learn.

I want to feel healthy, so I’m doing my yoga practice every day.

I’m learning ______, so I need to practice it every day.

This task is hard. I’m going to keep working at it until I figure it out.

In this family, we help other so I’m watching Susan while her mother goes to the doctor.

In this family, we always try, so I’m going to try again.

Those are just a few ideas. When we allow kids a peek into the times that we are being persistent, determined, tackling stuff even though it is hard, we offer them an observable model from which they can learn.

 

 

 

 

Interested in learning more about Dr. Bailey’s work?

Check out other titles on her website

 

Admitting Hard Realities and Holding Difficult Conversations

Wednesday, May 30, 2018 @ 07:05 PM
Author: admin

Admitting Hard Realities and Holding Difficult ConversationsThose of us touched by adoption understand what it is like to feel “othered” or different. Many of us have adopted transracially and therefore, have a particular interest in ensuring equality for all. We get a closer look at the impact of racism, bias, micro-aggressions, and invalidation that happen to our families. Current events awaken us to the tragic inequities and actual dangers which threaten our kids. We recognize another sad but very real truth:, our children experience a more intimate relationship with the consequences of racism when they are outside of the sheltering protection of being with their white families.

We want to support, prepare and protect our children. To do that, we need to know what is happening in their lives and we need to talk about it. Yet for a variety of reasons, they may not be entirely forthcoming about the challenges they face in this arena. Perhaps it makes the ugliness too real. Perhaps, they want to forestall our worrying, perhaps they feel diminished by even giving the topic voice, perhaps they fear we won’t “get” it–some, or all of these factors may be true.

It is absolutely essential that we have the difficult conversation, talk about the dangers, the unfairness, the cruelty and the small-mindedness that drive bigotry. We cannot afford to wait for our kids to raise the subject. It’s too vital and too dangerous to postpone or ignore. Yet, as parents, we know how notoriously difficult it can be to get kids to open up. So, what can we do?

Our children are products of the internet era. Why not

Use kids’ preference for, & comfort with, all things tech? Suggest watching this video together (Hey, I saw this on Facebook and wondered what you thought of it?) Then talk about it. 

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Read this companion article by Erin Canty who “grew up black in a very white neighborhood in a very white city in a very white state.” Erin says it captures her experience quite well. Titled, 7 Things Black People Want Their Well-meaning White Friends to Know to Know posted on UpWorthy. I don’t know if she is an adoptee. Perhaps she is. Perhaps she isn’t. However, her post is very relevant in any racially-diverse family whether formed through biology or adoption.

https://wp.me/p4r2GC-1Zh

Talk about the Hard Stuff Because They Are Thinking about It Already

Wednesday, May 23, 2018 @ 09:05 PM
Author: admin

Talk about the hard stuff; don't sweep it under the rug.In our two previous blogs, we focused on the role of the family adoption library as a way to facilitate important yet perhaps difficult conversations about adoption complexity. Books are one of many tools parents can draw upon to help them. The most salient point in these blogs was this: Hold the conversations and have them with enough frequency that everyone becomes comfortable with the topic.

Today I read a blog written by a seventeen-year-old adoptee. The post appeared on DearAdoption.com which “is a platform for Adoptees promoting authenticity and educating others by sharing a vast array of experiences as lived by those most affected by adoption.” The author wrote about his personal adoption experience. He affirmed that he loved his parents, felt connected to them etc. But…

And this is the “gold nugget” in his post: on the inside, he’d been struggling for years. Struggling to understand his ambivalent feelings, struggling to parse his gains and losses, struggling to protect his parents from his worry, struggling to fulfill his “obligation” not to upset them because it could be perceived as ungrateful.

That’s a lot for a youngster to handle without support. It is tragic that the parents whom he describes as loving him deeply have somehow missed the opportunity to walk with him through his struggles. It would appear that they have not succeeded in creating that open atmosphere of trusts, acceptance, and empathy that would reassure their son that they are capable of hearing not everything is perfect regarding his adoption.

Intentional parents create a safe & inviting space where difficult topics can be discussed. This level of communication provides a safety net so kids don’t believe they must hide or deny their thoughts and feelings or that they must struggle without parental support & guidance.

What have you done in your own family to build this sense of conversational security and openness with your children? What else might you do to further reassure them? How might you raise the issue of “withholding information” or “protecting parents from hard truths” directly? How would your family benefit from this type of intentional conversation?

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Six Top Reasons You Want an Adoption-attuned Family Library

Wednesday, May 9, 2018 @ 02:05 PM
Author: admin

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This may lead them to have conflicted emotions, identity challenges, as well as a lack of resilience to bounce back when things get tough.

If parents–consciously or unconsciously–telegraph to their kids that talking about adoption distresses parents, kids will stuff their fears and worries and will then struggle to handle adoption complexity on their own and without the “guardrail” of parental support. Intentional parents know their children need parental support to figure out how to braid together a healthy, cohesive identity that respects all of their parts. Books serve as an immensely valuable tool for helping families address adoption complexity. A loving parent’s lap offers the perfect, safe place to share a book that helps them talk about this significant part of their family. They benefit both parent and child in powerful ways. Here are the top six ways:

1. Because you built your family through adoption, you have some additional adoption-connected parenting tasks. When you adopted, you obligated yourself to become the best parent possible. This means you must educate yourself on how adoption adds additional layers or responsibility and challenge to your parental role, to family dynamics, and to be envoys for your children. To fulfill those tasks, you need help identifying and performing them well. Books provide insight, strategies, and encouragement. They introduce new ideas which parents can consider and they can reveal issues which parents may not even realize exist or need to be handled.

2. Your children also have “inherited” adoption-related tasks which they must handle to ensure they grow into their best version of themselves. Books offer a safe chance to explore the topic. They create a chance to ask questions that reveal a child’s beliefs and fears about adoption. Parents can then address them and allay their children’s fears.

FamilyAdoption-Library-path-to-healthy-adoption-conversations-shameful3. It is not easy to find the “right” time to talk about the challenges, questions, and conflicts that adoption creates. Books create non-threatening ways of asking questions, exploring solutions, and describing complex emotions. They offer models of possibilities and a chance to imagine how potential tactics might work. Families can discuss the strategies and decisions which the characters chose, how effectively they worked, and the likelihood that it might work for other families (including one’s own.)

4. An accessible, well-stocked adoption bookshelf sends a message: that adoption is a safe and welcome topic. It telegraphs to children that parents are comfortable discussing adoption, that they can handle the conversation, and that they believe it is something they want to discuss as a family.

5. Children can pick a book off the shelf when they feel the urge or need to talk about adoption. It’s easier for them to hand a book to a parent that to open a conversation with a “Mom, we need to talk…”

6. Books help parents and children feel less isolated, less different. They help families feel like part of a tribe of other families facing the same situations. This helps reduce the feeling of being different and encourages a sense of shared community.

For specific book suggestions, check out our list here. Be sure to consult, GIFT coach, Gayle Swift’s blog, “Writing to Connect” which reviews “general” books that are not intended to be about adoption. She evaluates them through an adoption-attuned lens that identifies ways of raising important adoption conversations in a natural, relaxed way.

Next week we will explore: Five Reasons Your Family Adoption Library Can’t Handle Everything.

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