My Kids Grow and So Do I


Sunday, January 11, 2015


New Year Resolutions

Now that the holidays and New Year's celebrations are behind us, we go back to business as usual. We pick up our lives where we left off, before the hectic holiday season took hold of our agendas - but with one huge difference: our New Year resolutions. By setting new intentions we express the hope that things will turn out better for us and our families in the year to come. 

Hope Opens Possibilities

Hope is lovely, it opens new doors and shines new light onto new paths that beckon us to explore. Hope is the antidote to negativity, the launching pad that lets you spring higher than you ever thought possible. How does hope work, psychologically and spiritually speaking?

The Present Moment

Hope happens now, in this moment. You can't have hope in the past, nor can you decide to have hope in the future. That makes no sense. It's a device of the present moment and it changes your mood in an instant. Hope dismisses the past and it opens the doors to new ways in which the future may appear. Even though there may be a cart-full of proof from past happenings that shows that hope has no basis in reality, and even though there may be a wagon-load of projections into the future that indicate things cannot possibly improve - when a person is seized by hope in the present moment their outlook changes completely and with that their mood and attitude. 

     And now comes the interesting part: that very changed mood or attitude is the lever that allows a new reality to come into being; hope invites it in.

The Proof Is in the Eating

Wouldn't it be wonderful to know for sure that a postive mood invites a new reality into your life? Some say it's how the world operates: "What goes around, comes around", others call it the Law of Attraction. Whatever it is called, the only way to witness it in operation is to give it a try. Just as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so is the confirmtation of this principle a matter of doing and thereby demonstrating it:

     At a moment when you feel gloomy or despondent, see if you can find a glimmer of hope somewhere in a far corner in your mind. Rather than dismissing it on the basis of the reality of the past or the unlikelihood of change in the future, embrace it and enlarge it, hum it and sing it. Don't argue with so called solid evidence - you'll lose the argument. It's a matter of letting hope take you to a new register, a whole new range, And watch your mood improve. 

     By finding a sliver of hope and building on it, you can change your stumbling block into a stepping stone.

Changed Outlook

Even though there may be countless valid arguments against hope, there is no argument against an improved attitude in bleak or negative circumstances. What can possibly be wrong with an improved perpective? In fact, any person in their right mind would quickly choose a happy mood over a sombre mood, a uplifting outlook over a grim one. And with hope you have the mechanism at your disposal, now, to make the difference. Hope, just like a lovely piece of music or a telephone call from a friend, is a present moment device that you can employ to improve your mood and thereby invite  a new reality into your life.

Kids and Hope

As parents we are in a most fortunate position: we can model this technique to our children and help them embrace hope in their lives. The future isn't set - it is wide open en those who have hope have the widest range of choices available to them.

This post was published on Notes on Parenting simultaneously.
Images courtesy of photostock at; top-picture adjusted by author.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Art of Grocery Shopping With Kids

If you're like most parents you prefer to do your weekly shopping alone, as in: without kids. It's easier and faster and sidesteps potential irritations, such as: Don't touch - Stay close - Don't yell.
     But then again, sometimes we don't have the luxury of going solo and we find ourselves navigating the isles with one or more kids in tow.

     Here's how you can make that experience a positive one, so much so that in the future you may decide to bring your kids along just for the fun of it. When you bring positive energy to the experience and share that with your kids, all participants will benefit.

The Art Explained

     Just as there is a recipe for cooking spaghetti and meatballs, there is a method to this miracle of shopping with kids. First and foremost: remember the three key features that make up an inspiring environment: relationship, autonomy, skill, and put them to use. Effective teachers use this triad daily in education and is it just as helpful in family settings. These three features influence and affect each other positively when consciously engaged, as you shall see.

Change your frame of reference from 'shopping' to 'family quality time'. Throughout your expidition your focus is first and foremost on your kids' well-being. Talk with your children, listen to what they have to say and respond adequately and appropriately all through the time you are together. You are 'allies' in this trip; you are on the same side: their side.

     Approach and view everything from a child's perspective as much as you can. That way you are on the same wave-length and in a much better position to anticipate a possible mishap and deal with it adequately.

     Make sure you have plenty of time and are not in a hurry. Calculate about double or triple the time you would need when shopping alone.

Ask your child or children to help you and allot age appropriate little jobs to them. There are tasks they can fulfill, such as pushing the cart (or a kid's cart), selecting products and putting them in the cart, putting items on the check-out counter, etc. Involve them in the various processes of shopping, allowing them as much autonomy and responsibility as possible. Allow choices whenever possible and walk/talk those choices through together (this ties in with relationship).

Kids love to become 'good' at something, even if it is pushing a cart straight along the floortiles in the cereals isle. Notice and compliment your kids on every little contribution, reinforcing their positive involvement in the shopping expidition (this ties in with relationship and autonomy).

     In addition to mastering shopping skills kids will want to 'do' much more. If you direct their creativity, rather than wait for them to explore in ways that are not supermarket-friendly, you can make the shopping experience a fun time for all. Consider the following two activities to get your creativity flowing:

  • Feel the wonder of a long empty isle with a shiny floor and create a game to go with it, such as counting steps to go from left to right, skipping squares, letting the cart roll as gently and smoothly as possible, etc.
  • Feel the wonder of a stack of plastic bags ready to be used for produce. Take one and inflate it to create a balloon, tying it securely at the top with one or two tight knots. Invent games to go with this, such as keeping it afloat with only two index fingers, heading it as high as you can, etc.

Positive Energy Field

Next time you're scheduling a trip to the store, consider lifting the experience from a chore to 'together-time' with your kids. This is a chance for you to get to know them better and for them to get to know you better: a person who is able to transmogrify an ordinary trip to the store into a rich experience in which you seize the opportunity to invest in your relationship.

     To be even more specific: this approach allows you to augment the quality of the energy field that exists in and around you and in which your kids participate, for the benefit of all - not least of all: you yourself. Eventually, your role-modelling will have inspired your children in turn. They will have learned how to enhance the quality of their own energy field and enlist it in order to create more mutually satisfying and inspiring relationships.

(This is an example, by the way, of reframing or recontextualizing a situation, something that last week's post discussed as well.)

     If you'd like to share about how you view the process of enhancing your own energy for the benefit of both your kids and yourself while going about your daily business, let us know and use the comment box. If you have any questions, that's the place to ask them. Thanks!

Image (adapted for this article) courtesy of

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Annoying Behavior

What Options Do You Have?

Don't you just hate it when kids in your presence exhibit behavior that you just can't stomach? When it concerns your own kids or kids in your care - in other words, when they move within the circle of your own influence - then you may have options to address the annoying behavior. But what do you do when the behavior takes place outside of your circle of influence or when the behavior is just annoying to you personally? In other words, what options are left when there is clearly nothing else for you to do than to swallow and accept it?

Loud Play and Loud Mopeds

This exact thing happened to me recently, and repeatedly I might add. The first instance was children playing and yelling, creating a ruckus in the yard next door, after they had come home from day care. This happened right at the moment that I was retreating to my back porch after a long day at work. The other instance was young teens enjoying the new tarmac on the road by going up and down the street on their mopeds and motorbikes, causing vrooming sounds to rise at odd hours in the neighborhood where I happened to be staying temporarily.

     Both occasions called forth feelings of annoyance. At the same time it was clear to me that there was not much that I could do, or wanted to do, about them: I support kids playing outdoors, especially in their own backyard, and I understand that kids need to be able to express joy and frustration as part of that play. As to the revving of engines, I know young teens love showing off and need to feel that the world is theirs to discover - it's part of growing up. In both cases then, as a neighbor and as a visitor, there was not much I could do to change the situation.


Now comes the interesting part: given that these sources of personal annoyance were directly under my nose and given the fact that I had decided not to interfere one way or the other, what options did I have left to work with? This is where reframing comes in.

     Reframing means putting something into a different context in order to give it a new meaning. The new meaning that results from the reframing causes a different response and a different emotion associated with it. How do you go about reframing? Reframing happens when you insert gratitude into the equation.

     In the case of the rambunctious neighbor children I told myself the following:
I am grateful for new life on this earth and in this town 
I am grateful to life for renewing life
I love living where I live
I am grateful to my neighbors for living next to me
I am grateful to my neighbor children for being sparks of the divine
I love it when kids are lively and full of energy
I am grateful for knowing that all is one
I am grateful for knowing that liveliness and energy are part of me
I love observing and experiencing new life and liveliness around me
I am grateful for the opportunity to experience liveliness in new ways (ha!  isn't that a good one!)
I love opening up to new ways to experience creation happening around me
I embrace life as it expresses all around me

Things Change Through Gratitude

     Next thing I knew, three things seemed to happen all at once:

  • the kids next door dimmed their voices considerably on occasion if not much of the time
  • the kids chose times to play outside when I was not there
  • the kids' loud play no longer annoyed or even bothered me

     This may look like three separate things; my guess though is that they are really all one and the same thing: namely, they manifest the fact that, through the expression of gratitude, I was able to accept and embrace a facet of life that I had been excluding before.

     And what about the revving mopeds in the neighborhood? This situation was no doubt a revisiting of the first situation, egging me on to accept and embrace aspects of life I was refusing to allow in. Once accepted and embraced, using the tool of genuine gratitude, the need for appearances to jar my status quo was no longer there and the annoyances melted away.

     Have you noticed how gratitude can shift your perception of the world? I'd love to hear from you. Please share by leaving a comment.

Gratitude and reframing (recontextualization) are mentioned in Neale D. Walsch's book 
The Only Thing That Matters as some of the tools that help you deal with negative thinking. 
Highly recommended!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Paying Compliments

How to Effectively Praise Your Kids and Steer Their Behavior

"Let me help you with those shoes" 
"Hold my hand tight" 
"We have to wait for the traffic to pass" 
"Do you want your blankie?"

     In much of our interaction with kids we’re on automatic. In our responses, instructions and questions we usually come from an every-day-type of consciousness, as illustrated by the examples above.

     Don’t get me wrong: most of the time it’s absolutely fine to be on automatic; life would become quite tiresome and unnatural if each and every comment had to be mulled over extensively before being expressed. There is an aspect of parenting, however, where deliberately planning and timing what you say greatly enhances your child rearing practice. That aspect is paying compliments. Ideally, a compliment is a positive reinforcer: a compliment motivates the recipient to increase the frequency of the behavior that called forth the compliment.

     When you, the parent, know how to pay compliments effectively, both your kids and you stand to gain tremendously.

     Literature on bringing out the best behavior in people and specifically in kids (see references below) shows quite a bit of agreement on what works and what doesn’t. Here I’ll share some of the strategies that have proven most effective in my life while raising three boys.

Six Features of Effective Compliments

Compliments reinforce desired behavior when they are immediate, specific, frequent, singular, relevant and genuine.

1. Immediate
Compliments are most effective when given immediately following the desired behavior.

2. Specific
Describe the desired behavior, or the accomplishment, and what it means. See examples below. 

3. Frequent
Make your appreciation count by expressing it often. 

     When kids are not told they are appreciated they are likely to assume the opposite. Do not overdo it, though, and try to stick to a 1:4 ratio, meaning: for every corrective comment you make, say something positive, such as a compliment.

4. Singular
A compliment is most effective when it stands alone, when it gets the full limelight. 

     Don’t mix positive and negative comments. As soon as you add "but + (critical note)", you have negated thecompliment's positive effects. Corrective statements have their place for sure. When offered at an appropriate moment and within the context of an open, honest conversation, they help clarify goals and motivate your child to perform at their best level. Expressed this way they actually increase the impact of your compliments.

5. Relevant
Only pay a compliment when it has been truly earned. Praise offered routinely will desensitize your children, or even worse, make them dependent on your constant approval. 

6. Genuine
Mean what you say. Faked appreciation is not going to cut it.


Consider the following examples:

"Thank you for bringing your plate and cup to the kitchen. That helps make my task easier." 
"Thank you for playing quietly while I was on the phone. I could give my full attention to grandma and I know she appreciates our courtesy." 
"You played the part of shepherd very convincingly. Aren’t you proud of yourself?"
"I noticed you waited for Gina. That was considerate of you." 
     These comments convey your appreciation much more convincingly than would a mere routine "Thank you" or a general "You were great!". They go a long way in fostering behavior that is appropriate and desirable. 

Read More
If you’d like to learn more about bringing out the best in your child, just google the phrase or one of the following phrases: ‘praising your child’, ‘encouraging good behavior’, visit the sites below or check out the book Bringing Out the Best in People, by Aubrey Daniels. 2000. McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-007-135145-0.

Image courtesy of

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Is Disciplining Spiritual? Part 2

An Every Day Example

Today I would like to follow up on last week's post on discipline. What follows is a prime example of discipline applied spiritually and it perfectly illustrates the steps involved.

     As I may have mentioned before, I teach English as a second language at a high school in the Netherlands. I want to tell you about an exchange I witnessed the other day, an exchange between my fellow-teamleader and a 16-year-old student. I'll call them Curtis and Sandy.

Discipline at School

     Sandy had mailed Curtis, her teamleader, to let him know how she felt about the framework the school had set up for practical research projects, saying that both the time path and the deadline were absolutely outrageous and that she had no intention of staying within the framework. Both content and tone of the mail were way off-base, and so Curtis called her in to talk about it. As I was working on an another matter in the room Curtis and I share, I was in a perfect position to observe what happened next.

     Curtis opened the conversation by conveying his surprise at the tone of her e-mail and he asked her what was wrong. Sandy, sounding emotional, went on a rampage of indignation at the set guidelines for the project, once again stating her firm decision not to adhere to any of it. Curtis, still a bit surprised by her vehemence, proceeded to explain the grounds for the time path and the deadline, asking her to commit to it, just as all other students were expected to. She would not budge, with her tone of voice supporting her stance. She insisted on being allowed to follow her own more relaxed time path and deadline.

     At that point Curtis told her clearly: "If this is how you want to do it, we've come to the end of our conversation. I'm ready and willing to help if you decide you could use my help. There is nothing I can do for you now." And he showed her the door.

     The next morning, Curtis came into the room with a smile on his face. He had received a message from Sandy in which she had apologized for her behavior and had said she would adhere to the framework set for the project. He then made arrangements for coaching sessions. Needless to say I complimented Curtis on the splendid way he had handled this situation.

The Steps Involved

How is this a good example of spiritual discipline? Let's put the features of spiritual discipline next to the practical steps Curtis took in this example:

As soon as a particular behavior is out of bounds, a time-out is appointed.

Curtis ended the conversation.
Focus on the behavior, not the person.                      
Curtis indicated his willingness to help Sandy if she showed willingness to conform to the guidelines.

After some time for reflection, contact is once again established.
Curtis' open door helped Sandy to make up her mind and conform to the guidelines after all.

Respect and harmony are restored.
Sandy communicated in a polite way; Curtis made follow-up appointments for her.

     Instances like this fire up my inner drive for working with young people. The new generation are worth each and every effort we make on their behalf, each and every drop of sweat we shed.

Images courtesy of

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Is Disciplining Spiritual? Part 1

When your kids are still babies, their needs and the care you give them often leads to a sense of symbiosis you have never experienced before. The lives of parent and child are closely intertwined, and it is hard to imagine that one day, that very same child will want to disobey you or rebel against your guidelines. Chances are, they will, and that's a good thing, too.

Challenging boundaries of behavior

     Children need to challenge the boundaries set by their parents and caregivers for various reasons. It's part of growing up and discovering who they are. In addition, they might want to know if a new type of behavior is within or without the acceptable area. At other times they might want to make sure that they have explored the full range of possible acceptable behaviors; after all, it would be a waste to let some type of behavior go unused when it’s perfectly acceptable :-). And lastly, they may just want to make sure you’re paying attention. Whatever the reason for challenging the boundaries of behavior, children need their parents and caregivers to be alert and explicit.

Honoring your shared spirituality

Parents and caregivers would do well to clearly communicate to their children the boundaries of behavior that is acceptable in an age-appropriate way, and role-model it so the children can simply copy. Once kids know the boundaries, they will want to stay within them most of the time. However, as stated above, they will want to explore the area outside of those boundaries. How can you, the parent, be strict, clear and explicit and at the same time be gentle and kind? In other words, how can you discipline a child while at the same time express and honor your shared spirituality?

     The time-out technique outlined below is a great parenting tool for those times when children venture outside of the framework of harmonious and respectful behavior. It is the crossing of the boundaries of harmony and respect that most often lead to the need to step in. The beauty of the technique lies is the respect it allows you to model and the harmony it allows you to keep access to. Because of that, you will be able to apply the technique lovingly, in keeping with the spiritual nature of both you and your child.

The Time-Out Technique

Partly thanks to the reality TV show The Supernanny the technique of a time-out on the ‘naughty step’ or ‘naughty chair’ has gained widespread acceptance when it comes to communicating to your children where the boundaries of behavior lie. Especially for young kids the time-out technique works beautifully. In fact, it was one of the mainstays in the rearing of my three boys.

Discipline Works on Three Levels

The technique is effective because it works on all three levels of our being: the physical, the mental and the  spiritual level.

     On the physical level the time-out literally restricts the out-of-bounds behavior the child was displaying, be it yelling, hitting,  bullying, etc. It effectively stops their unacceptable behavior instantly.
     On the mental level the time-out period allows the child time to reflect on what has just occurred. They will think back on what they did and will make the connection with the parent’s corrective response.

     What happens on the spiritual level when a child is disciplined through the time-out method cannot be overestimated. The key words here are: respect and harmony. Usually, the out-of-bounds behavior is deemed unacceptable primarily because it has violated respect one way or the other. A gentle, respectful and immediate interruption by the adult, followed by the child’s self-reflection, paves the way for renewed respectful exchanges among all involved. In the new situation harmony is restored and love between parent and child can again flow freely.

     The beauty of the technique is that it allows you to make clear that boundaries have been crossed in an objective way. There is no need for anyone to become emotional about it. The child will take the measure as a piece of information to process and incorporate.

     When my children were little the time-out technique was used consistently. Ours was a slightly different take on the trusted principle. In our family room we had a set-up with two easy chairs and a table in-between. On that table I had placed a plastic box full of picture books from the local library. Once a week we would visit the library where the kids were encouraged to choose several books each, to take home. During the week, we’d snuggle up in the chairs and I’d read stories to the kids, and encourage them to read or look at pictures on their own as well. This little corner associated with fun time together was our time-out corner as well. During a time-out my kids were allowed to take out a book and quietly read or look through it. I reckoned they knew instantly why the time-out was appointed and the reading seemed to calm them down. More often than not, they’d forget they were actually doing a time-out and after five or ten minutes they’d ask me if they could get out of the time-out, and of course they could.

     The fresh supply of library books would often take the edge off the punishment, hastening the restoration of harmony between us.

Paying Compliments

     When harmony has been restored and exchanges once again express mutual respect and love be sure to focus on desired behavior. Spell out for your child, in a way that is appropriate to your child's age, what exactly that behavior consists of and offer praise when your child acts accordingly. When your child remembers to take their dirty clothes to the hamper, for instance, you might want to say: "You remembered to put your clothes in the hamper, just the way I like it! Thank you. That makes my job of doing the laundry much easier." Even though to adult ears this may sound a bit over the top, kids love to be praised for a specific thing they have done and for making you, their mom or dad, happy.

Taking It One Step Further: You

     Will you join me when I take this one step further, still? Not just kids can benefit from taking a time-out and offering praise where praise is due, adults can, too. Many times in life with kids we find ourselves in situations that we can't fully oversee. We might be focusing too much on the details, not being able to see the forest for the trees. At those moments stepping back and observing may prove invaluable when it comes to getting a broader perspective. Letting go of our hold on a specific outcome to an issue will create room that allows new opportunities to become visible. The time-out technique, originally introduced as a disciplinary tool, may very well prove to be a life-long skill to reflect and gain perspective.

     And when you've managed to conquer an issue that had been bothering you for some time, don't be modest about it. Tell yourself you did well and enjoy your success!

     If this post sparks an idea or a question, please feel free to leave a comment. Thanks!   

Image of boy courtesy of
Book box image courtesy of
Supernanny image courtesy of

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mind Your Teens: follow-up

In this space a week ago I reported on the case of a defiant student in high school, a boy I called David. This is a follow-up post.

     In an earlier conversation I had had with David, he had indicated that he felt like punching the teacher he felt most resentful towards in the face (my words for his more descriptive language). So, when he came in last Thursday for an appointment with that teacher, having already been expelled from school by the principal, I had made sure one of the maintenance staff was available nearby just in case.

     The teacher had indicated wanting to talk to David one-on-one, rather than having a group conversation with me and the head of the department taking part as well. David walked in, looking self-assured. He and the teacher sat down at the conference table in my office. A colleague and I continued our work at our desks at the other end of the room, bracing for the worst. What happened next was most extraordinary.

     The teacher opened the conversation asking David what he would like to talk about. David responded by referring to their last, very unhappy, exchange. They talked about this for about ten minutes and then parted, shaking hands, with the teacher wishing David the best for his future. What at first had seemed like a possibly highly volatile meeting had unexpectedly transformed into a moment of harmonious closure for both parties. How could this have turned out so well?

Creating a Field of Open Communication

It's the field David and his teacher were able to create together on that quiet after-school appointment. David had been composed and relaxed. The teacher had been willing to listen, being genuinely interested in David as a fellow human being. Both had come with empty pages, expecting the exchange to take shape on the basis of the dynamics of the moment, rather than on the basis of unfortunate dynamics of the past.

     I call this a true miracle of living in the moment where mistakes of the past are washed away and pathways to new opportunities open up for all involved.

     Afterwards, I made sure to compliment both gentlemen: as I walked David to his locker I praised him for his composure and mature attitude. Later that day I commended my colleague for his tact, his openness and approachability.

Paying compliments

As for accolades, in a future post we'll talk about compliments and why they are such a powerful tool when used effectively.