About us

Welcome to our page. We are moms, educators and therapists who hold a firm belief in gentle, mindful parenting. We hope to empower you with current research, personal stories, and inspired readings to help you approach parenting through a mindful awareness of how your connection to your children affects their present and future behaviors and emotional intelligence. When children are treated with kindness, respect and unconditional acceptance they have the freedom to grow in to healthy, compassionate and responsible adults.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Free Teleconversation - Healing Anger and Guilt Through Parenting

Hello! We have a FREE 4-part teleconversation designed to help parents heal the anger and guilt that interferes with their relationship with their children.

A Special invitation to honor all of who you are...and your child too!

  • Does your own childhood impact your parenting?
  • Do you sometimes struggle to parent respectfully?
  • Do you find yourself feeling disconnected from your children?
  • Do anger and frustration affect how you parent?
  • Do hostility and frustration spill over into your relationship with others?
  • Do you find yourself with a short fuse in public settings, like in traffic or in the grocery store line?
  • Do you want to parent from a place that fills your heart?
  • Do you wish you could set boundaries that support you, your children, and your work?
We have a special invitation for you to Hear the Conversation as we dismantle the mystery and challenges you experience in parenting.

That’s right, when you feel guilty because you got angry, and you lost your patience with your child. The words you wish you could take back. The daily struggle you encounter because… well, because the truth is life isn’t just as you dreamed it would be…

You feel resentful, frustrated, and angry. And you feel guilty for feeling that way.

We know what that feels like too!

Who We Are

AmyFace-228x300Amy C. Bryant is the founder of Wild Child Counseling, LLC, a gentle parenting consultation and counseling resource for parents and families. She empowers parents to connect with their children in respectful and meaningful ways, with collaboration and play as the main emphasis. Amy also founded “Parenting Beyond Punishment,” an online blog and FaceBook community for parents who want to move out of the reward-punishment parenting paradigm and into a more connection-centered approach to working with their children. She also contributes to Play At Home Mom, a blog designed to help parents connect with their children through play. Amy earned her Masters of Science and Specialist in Education degrees in professional counseling with a focus on children and adolescents. After graduation, she began her own research on the parent-child relationship and its effects on childhood outcomes, an interest that continues to flourish as she navigates her connection with her own soulful daughter.

neca2Neca C. Smith is the founder of AidevO People Consulting, LLC a personal and professional growth and development firm. She is also the author of “Anger Intelligence (TM): Changing the Way You Think About Anger” Workbook and “Triggers: What Sets Us Off at Work and What to Do About It” eBook. Neca is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Life Consultant that has a passion for her clients live life well and coaching them to experience peace where there is chaos, clarity where there is confusion and movement where there is stagnation.

Francoise_099-198x300 Françoise Everett is the founder of Guilt-Free Mothering, a breakthrough resource for entrepreneurial moms who desire to create a life they love. She works with extraordinary, conscious mothers to guide them to unprecedented personal success in motherhood and in business.
Françoise has studied extensively with Asian masters. She is a certified yoga teacher, energy healer, and brain education instructor. Prior to becoming a soul-centered entrepreneur and success mentor to mothers, she had a successful 12-year career at The Boston Consulting Group, a prestigious international consulting firm. Françoise holds a BS in Marketing from BabsonCollege and an MS in Communications Management from SimmonsCollege.
Françoise considers motherhood to be the highest calling in her life. She is the mother of her beautiful daughter Malia, lovingly adopted from China in 2003.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

2-Year Old Hitting

Any tips on a 2-year old who hits? I feel like I have tried everything. I hug him and try to talk him through it. I say, "I understand you're frustrated, but we don't hit; hitting hurts. Try to let me know what's wrong." We have tried time out, re-direction, and ignoring. It's getting worse, especially when we're out in public. He also does it at home. He will be happy as can be playing with me or daddy and out of no where he starts hitting us. I normally say ‘no hitting. Mommy doesn’t want to play when you hit’ and I get up. His reaction to this is to follow me crying and hitting me. Or he will just come up and smack us. I need advice I'm struggling.

You’re definitely giving him some of what he needs by offering him a hug (acceptance of his emotions), naming his emotions (developing emotional intelligence), and telling him you don’t like it because it hurts (teaching appropriate boundaries). Young children are still learning to communicate. So when they have a need, they tell us in the only way they know how - through their behavior. Your son believes that hitting you will help him get his needs met; this misunderstanding is developmentally appropriate and common. As parents our job is to figure out what the need is that he is expressing with his hitting behavior, to meet that need, and to teach him ways to express that need in appropriate ways.There are a couple of things you can add to your approach to help him out while he’s learning to communicate his needs in more effective ways. I always recommend this approach to helping children learn appropriate expressions of their needs.

  1. Accept emotions and name them (emotional intelligence):
    “You’re angry and you want to hit."
  2. Model appropriate boundaries:
    "Mommy is for gentle touches." (you can gently stop his hand)
  3. Show him what he can do:
    "Here is a gentle way to get my attention." (gently rub his hand on your face or your arm.")
  4. Tell him what he can do:
    "You can say 'I'm mad!' or you can stomp your feet."
  5. Time and patience: children need time for their brains to become developmentally ready to understand, process, learn, and implement new behaviors. So continue to patiently guide him for however long he child needs in order to begin to embrace this new approach to expressing his needs. Every child is different, and there are many behaviors you'll be guiding him through!
While reading through your description the first thing I thought was "he's trying to get your attention and connect with you." Especially since he follows you when you leave him after his initial misguided attempt to get your attention. When our children try and fail to get our attention they often become overwhelmed with big emotions. These emotions often triggers us as parents, "my kid just hit me and is now having a meltdown because I chose to remove myelf from the situation?! Sheesh!" But our children didn't see the limit we set, they felt abandoned. So this is the time when our children need us to move closer to them more than ever. When he hits you the next time (after your initial few times of guiding him) you can encourage him to think about what he can do:

It is important that everyone feels safe in our home. When you hit me I feel unsafe. What can you do to help me feel safe?

Another idea that comes to mind is POWER. Everyone needs to feel they have some control over their lives, and toddlers are no different. They have a deep need to express their power over themselves because they have so very little power and control over what goes on in their lives. So it may also be helpful to find ways to empower him:

"Do you want to sit on my lap or beside me?"
"Do you want to brush your teeth or do you want me to?"
Do you want to put on a shirt or shorts first?
"What do you need to do to finish getting dressed?"
"Where do we keep your clothes?"

Finally, children REALLY want to connect with us, and they do this best through play. In the words of the great Adlerian play therapist and child advocate Dr. Gary Landreth, "Birds fly, fish swim, children play." Children communicate and learn about the world around them through play; it is their language. If we are to truly connect with our children then the best way to do so is through PLAY!

For more information about the power of play you can read my article on Play At Home Mom here . And for more specific play ideas for connecting with your children please visit Play At Home Mom!

To learn more about the importance of play in child development and the parent-child connection you can check out these books through our aStore:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Listening and Cooperation

Perhaps you've heard the phrase "practice what you preach." I know I heard it a lot growing up...and yet I couldn't for the life of me figure out why. Maybe because there always seemed to be a lot more "preaching" than "practicing," even from those who were saying it. Unfortunately I think this is still the case for most parenting today. Most parents expect their children to behave in ways they, as parents, are not able to behave themselves. And if we cannot model the behavior we want our children to learn, who are we to flinch when they mimick our example?

So what does it mean to model the behavior you want to see in your children? Of course it means saying "Please, Thank you, Excuse me, I'm Sorry." I don't believe in making children say any of these things because it doesn't encourage authenticity (see this post byVickie at Demand Euphoria). Besides, children learn these phrases simply by hearing us use them. But there's more to what we model than social niceties because there is so much more to life than being polite. So modeling the behavior we want to see in our children also means modeling those very behaviors we are so quick  to demand from our children. And listening and cooperation seem to be pretty high on the list of complaints from parents.

"My child ignores me."
"My child won't listen."
"My child refuses to cooperate."
"Listen to me when I'm talking to you."

Here's an example of how we fail to practice what we preach:
It's time for Natalia to get dressed, so her mom asks her to pick out some clothes. She responds with, "can you come with me?" Her mom is busy cleaning breakfast dishes, so she says, "no, you can do it yourself." And for the next 25 minutes while she's cleaning up she's also engaged in a power struggle with her child over picking out clothes because she chose not to listen to her child's needs or cooperate with her request.
Now imagine if she chose to listen and cooperate instead:
Natalia asks, "can you come with me?" and her mom responds, "sure! Give me 5 minutes to clean these dishes. Could you bring me your cup and dish?" Together they finish the clean up and head to the bedroom, where Natalia's mom now has the opportunity to guide Natlaia through the dressing process in a playful manner, "hmmm, where can we find those clothes?" The simple choice to listen and cooperate just transformed a 25 minute power struggle into 15 minutes of connection with her child, plus it modeled the prosocial behaviors of listening and cooperating, while also building a sense of capability within Natalia, who now feels heard, engaged, and honored.

Listening and Cooperation
If we don't listen to our children when they're talking to us, they learn not to hear us us when we're talking to them.
If we don't cooperate with our children when they request our help or our presence, they will not cooperate with our requests.

What are we really modeling?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Alternatives to "No"

As parents it's difficult to change our expectations for our children until we first understand their developmental abilities. And one area where we grossly misunderstand our children is in the use of the word "no."
"No" is such an easy word to use, especially with a toddler; it's short and to the point:

"No hitting"
"No playing with food"
"No splashing"

It seems like such a simple sentence to understand, but it turns out it's not that simple at all. In fact, kids really don't understand the word "no" the way we think they do. John Piaget studied cognitive development in children and found that their ability to perceive, interpret, and comprehend events are far different from an adults' ability. And because of this difference they are unable to learn appropriate behaviors from the command "no."

Here are some wonderful alternatives to "no" that model the respectful behavior we want them to develop:
  • Rethink "no" - is this something you can actually say YES! to? Like splashing in the tub or pool, stirring the oatmeal on the table, throwing soft objects in the air? Many things children do are simply their developmentally appropriate way of learning about the world.
  • Tell them what you want them to do instead (example: instead of saying "no hitting" you can say, "use gentle touch" then show them what it means to use gentle touch)
  • Offer choices (example: do you want green or yellow shorts, do you want an orange or pink cup, do you want to bathe first or brush your teeth first, do you want strawberries or blueberries, etc.)
Besides, I think most of us can agree that when we "no" them all day they eventually stop paying attention to us, and then they start saying "NO" back to us! And wow is that fun. Once we're able to stop "no"-ing them we find ourselves connecting more with them and actually knowing them (sorry, I couldn't resist!).

Here is some more helpful information to keep in mind about our children and the word "no."

The word "no" is forever to a small child. When they ask for a cookie and you say "no" they think they will never get a cookie again - ever. Wow. And while it may be incredibly tiring to empathize and give an explanation for everything, the longterm benefits are immeasurable. When you take the time to empathize and explain, you're building trust; they learn that you follow through and mean what you say, and they learn to self-regulate. Plus you prevent the emotional upheaval that goes along with a child who thinks she'll never get another cookie!

Here's how this might sound:
"Mommy, cookie?"
"I know you would really like a cookie, huh? I understand. They sure are tasty. Yes, you may have a cookie after dinner."
(child cries)
"You are very sad because you really want a cookie now. It's so hard to wait. You may have one after dinner."

Finally, here's a personal story:
Today my child wanted to wear flip flops on his hands and walk, "like a dog" (on his hands and feet) in home depot. I told him "sure!" Then he said, "Daddy says I can't do that at home depot." So we talked to Daddy together to figure out why Daddy said that. We asked, "Are we hurting anyone? Are we hurting ourselves? Are we damaging anything?" Soon Daddy realized his automatic "no" was just a knee jerk reaction, and he apologized to our son for not thinking it through. So we took our "puppy" to home depot. It can be hard to be mindful. But it's worth every moment!

YES - you may wear flip flops on your hands and pretend to be a dog at Home Depot


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Throwing and Playing with Food

My 11 month old son throws his food when in his highchair and screams. We have been practicing sign language for months and no matter what we do he still throws his food and screams. I would love some suggestions.

Sign language is a wonderful tool for helping young children communicate their needs. I remember using both verbal and sign language to communicate my daily activities to my daughter and being so excited when she started using it on her own to communicate with me. Keep it up - before long he"ll likely be communicating with you in the ways you model communicating to him.

Let's talk about developmentally appropriate behaviors. It may be a relief to know that kids throw, spill, taste, swirl, flick and otherwise "play" with food and other objects as a means to understanding their world. Think of it as an experiment in science, physics, art, psychology, etc. all wrapped up in a single meal (and maybe in every meal and snack from birth to age 4)! Through sensory exploration children begin to learn the laws of physics (there goes the water out of the cup), emotional intelligence (mom sure looked over here quickly when I did that) and color hues (oh! green puree plus orange puree makes brown puree) simply from exploring their food. So, while I'm not saying you can't guide him toward more socially acceptable behaviors, it may help to know that these behaviors are a normal part of your child's learning process and not meant to be a direct assault against your sense of cleanliness or manners.

So, how do we guide them toward more appropriate behaviors? First, children need to be able to explore their environment in sensory-stimulating ways in order to get their need for stimulating learning experiences met (check out Play At Home Mom for more ideas on fun and creative sensory exploration).  Once children have a regular outlet for sensory exploration they then become free to learn other uses for food (as adults we call this use of food "nourishment" and we use "manners" - sometimes I laugh at our ability to take the fun out of everything). This isn't to say your son won't still explore his food at the table, but he may be more likely to eat his food and perform more sensory explorations at other times - just keep in mind he's still going to eat in developmentally appropriate ways, which aren't as neat as most adults eat! LOL

Once you're meeting his need to learn about his environment you can guide him toward the socially appropriate behaviors at the table. So when he throws his food off the table you can say in a kind tone, "you want to throw the peas, but peas are for eating. You can eat the food with your fingers or use a spoon" or "I know it's fun to throw the carrots, but carrots are for eating. When you're done we can go throw a ball (or fill in your own activity)." He'll need a number of gentle and consistent reminders throughout the course of the meal, and for several weeks...even months. Expect him to play with his food; encourage him to keep it on the table. I know a lot of parents embrace the throwing and then have their child help clean up. This is a great option because he is learning cause and effect while also having some time to connect with you and help, which builds a sense of capability.

This brings us to the the third part of your dilemma, so let's talk about behaviors that are driven by unmet needs. Rudolph Dreikers says, "there's no such thing as a misbehaving child, only a discouraged child." Together, with Alfred Adler, he often discussed the meaning behind children's behaviors, which they called "Mistaken Goals of Misbehavior." Jane Nelson and Lynn Lott developed an approach to these behaviors called "Positive Discipline," in which they help parents identify the 4 Mistaken Goal of Misbehavior." Once parents understand the goal of their children's misbehavior they are then able to help children learn appropriate behaviors by first meeting their children's unmet needs, then helping them learn to meet their needs in more socially appropriate ways.

My guess is that he is either screaming to get your attention, screaming because he is excited about the science experiment of eating, or it's possible he's screaming because he really hates the high chair and would be more content in your lap. We'll address the former because the latter will take care of itself when he has a chance to do those science experiments in other settings, as we discussed earlier. So here are some things you can try to help guide your child's behavior. When he screams you can offer him your company or give him some alternative ways to get your attention:
  • "Oh, you'd like to get out of your highchair and sit on my lap. You can say "lap." Then let him sit on your lap and eat.
  • "Oh, you'd like for me to sit with you and eat," then join him.
  • "You'd like my attention. You can get it by calling my name "mama." Then join him at the table.

I know my daughter loves to sit and eat as a family. In fact, when I feed her by herself she is less likely to participate in the meal in ways that meet MY needs (sit quietly, eat neatly, finish you food). So I try to remember her needs when she spills her water, drops her strawberries and scrambles down to play tag with the dog.

Discover the meaning behind your child's behavior, the need that is driving them to scream, cry, whine, hit, run, etc. Once you understand your child's needs you will be more equipped to address the behavior and begin to guide them toward expressing those needs in positive ways instead.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Let Your Songbird Free

Maya Angelou wrote a beautiful poem about the caged song bird. I initially thought about all the children "caged" by all the childist rules plaguing them (read about childism here and here, buy Young-Bruehl's book here). But then I began to realize just how "caged" we can feel as parents. And I began to wonder what we can do to free ourselves from these cages so we can more freely enjoy our daily lives with our children.
Parenthood is a challenge, without a doubt. Children need us in ways beyond our own pre-parenthood notions and often for longer periods of time than we expected. But there's more challenges to parenthood than children. For many of us, the biggest challenge we face in parenthood isn't actually our own children so much as it is our own childhood. In fact, I would posit that it is our very own childhood experiences that dominate the stress we experience as parents (some call this our "inner child" or our own "childhood wounds").

For example, do you ever wonder why you say "no" to something?

No running in the house
No throwing balls in the house
No standing at the dinner table
No jumping off furniture
No jumping on the furniture
No blowing bubbles in your milk
No eating with your fingers
No loud voices inside anywhere
No burping
No potty talk
No crying
No whining
No playing in the creek
No splashing in the puddles
No running on the concrete
No running on the sidewalk
No running in the grass

Have you ever really, REALLY thought about it? I believe most of our "No..." Rules are immediate gut reactions to something our child does; I also believe these gut reactions are reverberations from our own childhoods when we were told not to run through the house, not to cry, and other mostly arbitrary rules. Now, if you're feeling defensive about your rules, don't (ha! if only it was so simple, right?). My purpose isn't to attack rules, it's to encourage us as parents to engage in thoughtful reflection on our rules. So please, tell your mind to let go of those defensive feelings and keep going on this journey for a bit longer.

So now I'm going to ask you to do something. Go visit yourself as a child. Remember back to how you felt when your mom or dad or grandparent told you "no running down the street." (Your mind will be tempted to justify it with thoughts like, "they were trying to keep me safe." Yes, safety is important. Try to push those thoughts away and just feel.) What's the first "No..." rule memory that comes to mind? How did you feel?

Were you disappointed?
Were you Angry?
Did you feel ashamed?
Did you feel they should have more confidence in you?
Did you try to give your point of view?
Did your opinion get shut down?
Did it make you feel closer to your parents?
Did it make you feel you and your parents were too different?

Now come back to your present-day adult self. What part of those experiences stuck with you?

The feelings of infairness?
The feelings of being over-controlled?
Feeling misunderstood?
The feelings of having no input? 
The feeling that they had no confidence in your abilities?
Oftentimes we feel angry while trying to enforce a rule because of our own apathy about the rules - we hate them in our childselves and love them in our powerful adultselves. Meanwhile, our children are experiencing the same feelings our childselves felt...dishonored, misunderstood, untrustworthy, angry, resentful....

And finally ask yourself these questions:

How do we want our kids to feel?
How can we have rules without the negative feelings?
How can our children feel heard, trusted, and contributing?

It's not that we don't want boundaries in our homes, for ourselves, or for our children. Boundaries play an important role in life and an equaly important role in helping our children stay safe and grow in their sense of capabilities and self-worth, and can even help children feel closer to us. But the arbitrary establishment of rules can also have the opposite effect: it can create feelings of anger and resentment, it can create an atmosphere of lies and deceipt, and it can create feelings of disempowerment and dependency. And oftentimes it is the rules of our own childhoods that remain unexamined and create dissonance in our homes. 
I hope you free yourselves and your families from the cages of unexamined rules...that you find a way to let your inner songbird free.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou

The free bird leaps on the back of the wind
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wings in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with fearful trill
of the things unknown but longed for still
and is tune is heard on the distant hill

for the caged bird sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings with fearful trill
of the things unknown but longed for still
and is tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom