The “Talk About It” Chair

Years ago, I picked my 2 1/2-year-old son up from daycare and heard from his teacher that he had bit another toddler earlier in the day. Now, in defense of my son, he had been bitten by this other little boy numerous times leading up to him biting back. Even so, I knew I had to talk with him in a way that a 2 1/2-year-old could understand about why biting is not acceptable and what behavior I expected of him in the future. We drove home from daycare talking about everything else regarding his day other than the biting incident.

When we got home, I went to sit in a rocking chair in our living room and invited my son to come and sit on my lap. He climbed up and settled in. As we began to rock in the chair, I told him that he needed to tell me what he did to the little boy in daycare. He looked at me with tears forming in his eyes and said, “No, Mommy. I don’t want to.” I calmly encouraged and reassured him. I told him I just wanted to “talk about it.”

After a bit more nudging, he began to tell his version of what happened. I listened as I held him and rocked. When he was done, I told him it was his turn to listen to me. First, I thanked him for telling me what happened. Then, I told him what I expected him to do differently the next time something like this happens to him. I checked to make sure he heard and understood what I said. When he confirmed with a, “Yes, Mommy”, I told him we were done “talking about it.” He got off my lap and ran off to play. We never talked about the incident again.

I really didn’t think much more about this particular interaction with my son until another incidence arose that required us to “talk about it.” Like the last time, I asked him to sit on my lap in the rocking chair and the conversation unfolded like the one before. Except, this time…

When the conversation was over he got down from my lap, looked at me and asked, “Mommy, is this the ‘talk about it’ chair?”

I was speechless. I didn’t realize that’s what the rocking chair meant to him. So, my fumbling response was, “Yeah, I guess it is the ‘talk about it’ chair!” He ran off saying, “Ok, Mommy!”

There were many more conversations with my son, and eventually my daughter, in the “talk about it” chair over the years. And, as they outgrew sitting on my lap, the “talk about it” chair became whatever chairs were nearby. It didn’t matter which chairs we sat in. They knew that when we sat down to “talk about it” the experience would be similar to all previous conversations.

I would love to tell you the “talk about it” chair was a well, thought-out parenting strategy on my part. But, it wasn’t. It just happened…accidentally.

Isn’t that how parenting really is, though? A lot of times it just happens accidentally and in the moment – with no pre-planning or thought on our part. Sometimes we accidentally get it right. Other times, we accidentally get it wrong.

I’m thankful I accidentally got it right with the “talk about it” chair.

The “talk about it” chair established a sense of trust and respect between my kids and me. It let them know they could talk to me about anything on their heart and mind and sometimes, even confess when they did something wrong before I even knew they had. I couldn’t always promise our conversations would end without a consequence. But, I could promise they would have the opportunity to talk as I listened and that I expected the same back from them.

Little did I know how important those “talk about it” chair conversations set the stage for the adolescent years when the conversations became more challenging with my kids. As with any teenagers, the older they got, the harder it was to keep open communication with them. But, having a foundation of positive communication before the teen years carried us through the difficult years. It still wasn’t easy, but it was easier.

Establishing positive, open communication with your child early on reaps so many benefits. It leads to greater cooperation and feelings of worth for your child. It builds a stronger relationship between you and them. It makes using other parenting strategies, especially parental monitoring, easier and more effective. It forms the basis of good communication with other people as your child grows into an adult. It reduces the chances of them engaging in risky behaviors. The list of benefits could go on and on.

Every child is different and how you create open communication with each one might vary. However, there are some basic communication strategies research has found as being important and effective with all kids – especially when they are used early on. If you are wondering how you can establish positive communication with your child, then take a moment to learn more about these basic strategies by reading, Six Effective Communication Strategies to Use With Your Child.

Let it be clear…I am NOT a perfect parent. There were numerous times I accidentally got this parenting gig wrong. It’s when I had to put myself in the “talk about it” chair – openly admitting to my child what I did wrong, committing to what I need to do differently next time and asking for their forgiveness and patience. It was the hardest thing I had to do. I knew that if it was what I expected my children to do in the “talk about it” chair with me, I needed to be able to do the same with them.

The “Talk About It” Chair

The “talk about it” chair is still in my home even though my kids are all grown up and have homes of their own. It continues to be a reminder of all the conversations we had during their early years and the conversations that moved to other “talk about it” chairs as they grew older. It is also a reminder of that one time, after getting home from daycare with my 2 1/2-year-old son, I accidentally got it right as a parent.

Nurturing Never Happens in a Rush

One of my most favorite conversations to have is about parenting. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been doing it for 31 years and I know how hard it can be, but equally, how rewarding it can be.

I’ve been thinking a lot about being a parent lately. My first-born just turned 31 years old and my daughter recently became a new 28-year-old which has left me wondering, “Where has the time gone?” In hindsight, the parenting years seem like they have passed by so quickly and yet, when I was in the “thick of it”, I could see no end in sight.

If parenting was hard for me years ago, I can only imagine how hard it is for parents today. If you are a parent yourself or work with parents, then you know first-hand that parenting isn’t easy. However, no matter if you were an active parent years ago like me or are one today, the research on the most effective parenting strategies hasn’t changed much over time. All the parenting books and articles I was reading years ago were telling me to do a lot of the same things parents are being told to do today.

Simply put, there are some parenting strategies that have survived the test of time and one of those is the importance of creating a nurturing and loving relationship with your child. It is so important that some researchers call it the “super-factor” of parenting. The earlier you have established this kind of relationship with your child, it makes using the other parenting strategies that are important easier and more effective.

For many people the term, nurturing parenting, conjures up childhood memories of our parents and other adults caring about us with their compliments and their actions. We knew on some level that we were being nurtured when our parents told us they loved us, took time to listen to us and showed interest in our thoughts and feelings, comforted us when we were hurt or sad, laughed with us when we were happy or acting silly, played with us and set rules and guidelines to keep us safe. We knew we were loved. We were being nurtured.

All children need to feel important, loved and connected. Unfortunately, some children grow up not having a nurturing or loving relationship with a parent. For these children, having a nurturing relationship with another adult, such as a grandparent, aunt or uncle, teacher, coach or maybe even you, can be just as important and beneficial.

Good nurturing starts with an attitude and a deeply held belief that warmth is critical for success as a parent. It involves loving looks, friendly conversations in a warm and caring voice, smiles, sharing feelings, encouragement, empathy, empowerment and unconditional acceptance and love. Nurturing adults also give the gift of their time and attention.

A healthy, nurturing relationship with your child is built through countless interactions over the course of time. It requires a lot of energy, work and consistency with no one “right way” to do it. The outcome is what we all need to be working towards, but how we each achieve it will vary from family to family and from child to child. Here are some suggestions to get you or other parents started in discovering how to become a nurturing parent:

Express love and pride often.

Write notes of encouragement, praise and love. Slip them into the child’s lunchbox, backpack or under their pillow.

Remember the power of appropriate touch. Give a loving hug, comforting hand squeeze or pat on the back.

Give your undivided attention when children are talking. Stop what you are doing, look directly at the child and listen attentively.

Ask questions of interest about their activities, school day or friends.

Attend their activities not because you have to, but because you want to.

Eat meals together and use the time to talk about each other’s day and activities.

Spend time one-on-one with each other and do something they would enjoy.

Turn the TV off and silence all phones at least one night a month and do something fun together.

Tell them how much you appreciate them.

Draw attention to their talents and good behaviors.

Teach them to do new things.

Read to or with them.

Nurturing children is about the way we love them…the way we bring them up. If you’re a parent, there isn’t a greater compliment that you can receive from your children than to hear them say, “My parents really care about me. They really love me. They are there for me through the good and bad times.” That’s what nurturing is: love, caring and steady support through the good and bad times. Lots of love given freely. No, “I’ll love you if … or I’ll love you when …,” just “I love you.”

P.S. This is the first of a series of parenting blogs I will be sharing in the coming weeks. If you are a parent in the “thick of it” right now and can’t see no end in sight, I hope the blog posts give you helpful tips you can use, the reassurance to keep doing what you do and the empowerment to do what is sometimes hard to do. I encourage you to also share them with your family, friends, colleagues or clients who might need that one idea, reminder, or “pat on the back” to do what they need to do as a parent.

You

The response to my blog last week about personally experiencing surge capacity depletion was quite overwhelming – to say the least. My gut feeling told me I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling and apparently it was right. It’s comforting and reassuring when you know so many other people in all parts of the world are on the same journey with you.

After reading last week’s blog, a friend and past client in Belfast, Northern Ireland, wrote:

“Many thanks for this – it just summed up how me and many colleagues are feeling. Thank you so much! It arrived at just the right time. I have shared it with my team and please know they appreciate it also.”

Thank you for trusting me by sharing your own personal stories of surge capacity depletion. I am truly humbled.

Lately, I’ve been doing an extra amount of reading about self-care and preventing burn out and I’ve come across a number of tips and insights. I’ve slowly and diligently implemented them into my daily life and routine and have already seen a positive difference in my energy and overall health.

Given how many of you expressed a depletion of energy and feelings of burnout this past week, I thought I would pass along to you some of the information I have found beneficial to me…

Burnout happens when you have been under excessive and prolonged stress. It happens when you feel overwhelmed and unable to keep up with all the demands of your life. After a while, you begin to lose the interest or motivation to do even the smallest things that need to be done. Burnout drains your energy and sometimes results in feeling helpless, hopeless, cynical and even resentful of the people and things in life you love the most. If left unchecked, it can result in a downward spiral that is very hard to get out of.

Practicing self-care is one of the best things you can do to prevent burnout or to get yourself on an upward spiral towards a healthier and more balanced life. “Self-care” encompasses just about anything you do to be good to yourself. It’s about knowing when your resources are running low and taking a step back to replenish and recharge.

When your schedule is full of appointments and commitments to provide care for other people it can be hard to find ways to care for yourself. One of the biggest barriers to practicing self-care is the feeling that you are being selfish when you do. Taking care of yourself and your health is not selfish. We need to participate in behaviors that contribute to our own survival and health so we can be healthy and available for others. Similar to being on an airplane, where you have to put your oxygen mask on yourself before you can help other people, you need to tend to caring for yourself before you can help other people. Taking time out of your day for you, for “me time” and to relax or de-stress is important. And, if you experience guilt by practicing self-care or feel like you are being selfish when you do, then think of it in terms of a “healthy selfishness.”

Self-care is a necessity – not a luxury.

One of the best things you can do on your self-care journey is to check in with yourself on a regular basis. Ask yourself, “What do I need right now to be the best me?”

Having a toolbox full of self-care tools you can pull from is important. Make sure you have at least three stress management tools you can do that you don’t need anyone else or anything else for. It could be as simple as cuddling a pet, reaching out to a friend, meditating, listening to music, practicing mindfulness, journaling or turning to a spiritual community.

Here are some other ways research has found you can prevent burnout through self-care:

1. Exercise

It’s no secret that exercise can relieve stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can lower the symptoms associated with mild anxiety, improve your sleep and ease your stress levels. If you’re not an avid exerciser, simply going on a walk can help you stay focused and solve problems more efficiently.

2. Get More Sleep

This might sound obvious, but it wouldn’t be if everyone got enough sleep. Deep sleep is restorative. Researchers believe that during sleep, cerebrospinal fluid flushes out toxic wastes, thus “cleaning” the brain. The National Foundation for Sleep recommends that adults clock between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. It’s also important to limit the amount of screen time before turning in. Scientists recommend that you stop using your devices at least 30 minutes before bed. Setting an alarm to remind you to start winding down can be an effective way to get more sleep.

3. Unplug

The very technology that is connecting us right now may also be doing us harm. It’s unrealistic to completely get rid of our “screened” technology, but there are health benefits to reducing your screen time – like improved mood, more time to try new activities and improved physical health. Schedule time each day to put down your phone or computer and shut off the television. Try reading a book, meditating or using your phone to actually call someone. If you can safely meet someone in person, even better.

4. Give Back

Stop expecting satisfaction from your job. Take it from me, burnout affects even the most passionate workers, as much as it does those who are in a job simply for the paycheck. If you’re no longer satisfied by your work, try volunteering or giving back. COVID-19 may have complicated matters, but there are ways to volunteer online or safely in-person. Starting a new hobby or investing time in your family and friend are also good ways to fill the void left by your job.

5. Honor Your Small Needs

You–and your body, mind and spirit–have needs that occur throughout the day. Self-care is about honoring all the small daily moments that need your awareness. By taking care of the small things, you prevent them from compounding into big things. Here are a number of small daily moments and needs you can address to sustain your physical, emotional and mental health:

Don’t skip meals because you’re busy. Make time to eat a meal and make it a healthy one. It will help you and your brain work better.

Stretch throughout the day. Our bodies become tense and immobile by holding the same position all day. Take five minutes to stretch.

Breathe. If you really pay attention, you would be surprised by how little you likely breathe or how incomplete your breaths are. Take a moment to take some deep breaths.

Laugh! Is there a person who makes you laugh every time you talk with them? Is there a comic strip that makes you laugh most every time you read it? Is there a movie or TV show that you find yourself laughing at no matter how many times you watch it? Do the things that you know will almost guarantee a deep belly laugh for you!

In the midst of a global pandemic, the need to care for your own health — all aspects of it — is of the utmost importance. Let’s face it…Navigating this new normal isn’t easy. But, the one thing you do have control over and can navigate right now is YOU. So, take a step back and honor what YOU need. Make YOU a priority. Make and take time for the things that keep YOU healthy, inspired and joyful. YOU will be a better worker, a better parent, a better partner and a better friend because of it, but more importantly, YOU will be a happier and healthier person.

And, remember there is absolutely nothing selfish about taking care of YOU!