Pre-primary Workshop: Preparing Your Child for the Primary Classroom

tncs-preprimary-workshopOn Wednesday, October 11th, The New Century School welcomed a very special guest to host a workshop on a topic she knows well, both professionally and personally: Johns Hopkins Child Clinical and Developmental Psychologist Carisa Perry-Parrish. Dr. Perry-Parrish may already be known to many among the TNCS community, as she has presented on other topics over the past few years (see Mindful Parenting: A TNCS Workshop that Could Change the World) and has also hosted workshops for TNCS staff professional development days (see TNCS Teachers Get Mindful!). She also just happens to be a TNCS parent. On this occasion, her focus was on milestones that the 2- to 3-year-old child should be approaching, a topic that has special significance at TNCS because, at age 3, children are eligible to enter the primary classroom.

For those of you who were unable to attend (and those of you who want a refresher), Dr. Perry-Parrish generously shared her presentation and slides with Immersed, which are reproduced here.

About Carisa Parry-Parrish

Originally from Georgia, Dr. Perry-Parrish has been in Baltimore for the last 10 years. She introduced herself to the large group of pre-primary parents in attendance by explaining a bit about her professional expertise. “I have a lot of training with normal children, but also kids that have anxiety,” she said. “I do a lot of work with parents, mostly on behavioral challenges, with medical conditions, medical stress, and traumatic stress. On the developmental side, I have a lot of training on normal development. I lead [JHU’s] post-doctoral training program for child psychologists, so I have a lot of experience and interest in teaching and training new psychologists. I work with primary care physicians and collaborate with Hopkins pediatricians. I like training, I like kids, I like working with people who work with kids.”

Specifically, her titles are Licensed Psychologist; Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; Director of Behavior Medicine (Psychology) for the Pediatric Burn Program, Pediatric Dermatology, and the Center for Sweat Disorders; and Director of Training, Pediatric Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Her clinical service includes age ranges from birth through 20s, individual and parent therapy, behavioral medicine consultations, integration of behavioral health into primary care, and psychological testing.

She teaches psychology fellows and child psychiatry residents parent management training, mindfulness, and motivation enhancement.

Her current research areas include emotion regulation and psychosocial functioning across development, parental socialization of children’s emotional development, and parent and child adjustment to medical stress.

Milestones for the 2- to 3-Year Period

The changes that are happening in children at this stage are staggering in number and in scale. They are becoming people—becoming themselves—and a lot of work goes into that. This can be a difficult time for them and no less so for you, their parents. Therefore, you’ll be happy to hear that Dr. Perry-Parrish’s overriding message was that you have allies: your child’s teachers. Rather than viewing teachers as judges who determine if and when a child is ready to move up, or, worse, as the arbiter of a child’s entire scholastic career, she urges parents to embrace them as collaborators in a child’s development. They have the same goals as you do, that is, to guide children along their path, meeting milestones as they go. Although this makes perfect sense, until she said it, some of us had never thought of it in quite this way before. We’re in this together.

Dr. Perry-Parrish breaks milestones down into five categories; physical, cognitive, language, emotional, and social, as shown below, and they synergistically feed into each other. Her biggest priority, though, and the one she feels best serves children is emotional development:

There are a lot of things that are changing with kids. I feel as a parent, that once we’ve mastered one stage, they are on to another stage, so we’re always trying to keep up with them. Another interesting thing is that there are different aspects of development that influence the other ones. A big one for our kids at this age is language development. Language facilitates cognitive development, social development, and emotional development. They are all interwoven, so when you see new developments in one domain, they are anticipating development in another domain. One of the things I’m interested in my work is how parents socialize kids emotional development. I have a big interest in supporting kids’ social regulation and emotional regulation.

 

Physical Milestones

  • Climbs well
  • Runs easily
  • Pedals a tricycle (3-wheel bike)
  • Walks up and down stairs, one foot on each step 

Cognitive Milestones

  • Can work toys with buttons, levers, and moving parts
  • Plays make-believe with dolls, animals, and people
  • Does puzzles with three or four pieces
  • Understands what “two” means
  • Copies a circle with pencil or crayon
  • Turns book pages one at a time
  • Builds towers of more than six blocks
  • Screws and unscrews jar lids or turns door handle

Language Milestones

By 2 ½ years:

  • Understands a lot more than can articulate
  • Will attempt to use over 100 words but cannot produce all the sounds needed to pronounce words, so many of them will be unclear
  • Talks while plays
  • Relies more heavily on words, rather than gestures, to communicate

By 3 years:

  • Can follow multistep instructions
  • Can be understood by strangers most of the time when talking
  • Asks many questions in order to understand the world
  • Listens to stories and will have favorites that need reading regularly
  • Enjoys imaginative play and often has a running commentary during play

Emotional and Social Milestones

  • Expressive behavior
    • Limited differentiation…extensive specific affective states
  • Regulation/coping
    • Dyadic regulation….independent regulation
  • Relationship building
    • Primary attachment….multiple, varied, diverse relationships
  • Influence of socialization figures
  • Cognitive understanding

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Emotional Regulation

“Besides language immersion, another important aspect of coming to this school is facilitating your child’s emotional and social development,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish.

There is a shift from infancy to 2- to 3-years-old, moving from a dyadic regulation to more of an adult/independent regulation. Also, in the pre-primary level, the child is moving from the egocentric to now engaging in more of a social way. Their social world is expanding, which brings new opportunities for intimacy, friendship, and connections but also lots of opportunity for conflict, frustration, sadness, and jealousy.  So we’re trying to narrate that landscape for our kids to help it make sense. To me, this is one of the most important building blocks toward long-term development that we have. A popular book by Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, talks about children’s emotional regulation. It’s something that research suggests is predictive of long-term academic and social success.

For those of you who have never seen the Stanford marshmallow experiment, you’re in for a treat watching these children try to stave off their quite natural and intense desire to eat the apparently very fragrant marshmallow in favor of a potentially double reward.

Spoiler Alert: In general, fewer than half the kids “pass” the test. Most kids are unable to delay gratification and give into the marshmallow-y temptation. (Except, a recent study found, kids from the Nso tribe in Cameroon.) But this test has profound implications—researchers have followed the original participants for decades and discovered that those who did manage to wait were more likely to have better SAT scores and better jobs as adults.

Emotion Coaching Strategies

“There is so much that can be done right now, the shaping that you guys are doing right now is so critical and powerful and is going to shape the trajectory of your child in so many ways, in a good way,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish. But, for many parents in the room, the idea that their whirling dervish—that is, toddler—could self-regulate to the extent that he or she could pass up a marshmallow (let alone not throw tantrums, hit siblings, bite schoolmates, or refuse to dress) was sheer fantasy.

It might take a while and hundreds of repetitions, but they will begin to get it. Their reactions are completely natural and appropriate given all the enormous transformations that are going on within their bodies and minds. “We are sowing so many seeds right now that are going to yield a harvest of self-regulation and social successes,” Dr. Perry-Parrish assured the audience. That’s not to say that consequences of disruptive behavior are not warranted. The key there is to be consistent with your choice of limit-setting, whether that’s a time out or separation from a favorite toy or activity.

“When kids’ challenging behavior is most bothersome to us is often when it has an emotional intensity,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish; nevertheless, our job is to stay calm and help guide them through what they are experiencing. She next shared some specific emotion-coaching strategies as well as recommended reading John Gottman’s Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.

Rather than emotion dismissing, an all-too-common knee-jerk parental reaction (“there’s nothing to be afraid of”; “what are you crying for?”), it’s important to engage in emotion coaching.

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Different styles of emotion coaching/positive parenting exist, but the point is to validate what the child is feeling, by:

  1. Being aware of the child’s emotion
  2. Recognizing emotion as opportunity for intimacy and teaching
  3. Listening empathetically and validating the child’s feelings
  4. Helping the child verbally label emotions
  5. Setting limits while helping the child problem-solve
    1. Can include limit-setting around inappropriate behavior
    2. Setting limits on inappropriate behaviors associated with affect (hitting)

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Collaborating with Teachers to Support Development

Finally, Dr. Perry-Parrish brought the two threads of her discussion together by explaining how young children benefit from a collaborative, two-way parent–teacher partnership that includes robust information exchange. Again, teachers are your allies in the effort to turn out nice human beings, and your child is your shared priority.

  • Parents help teachers learn about their child (e.g., temperament, preferences, expectations)
  • Teachers help parents learn about their child in a new social setting
  • Teachers and parents can support each other in their interactions with children
    • Sharing important information about your child
    • Receiving information about school and social behavior
    • Exchange strategies that work well in each setting

What can you specifically do to support preprimary teachers?

  • Learn about the routines at school
  • Observe your child in class—volunteer!
  • Identify shared goals of school and home
  • Attend parent–teacher conferences
  • Share concerns with teachers to support your child
  • Invite teachers to share observations to inform your understanding of your child at school

Guest Blog: Alicia Danyali on Mindset

Alicia DanyaliContinuing to bring you thoughtful commentary from a variety of sources, Immersed presents the second annual guest blog post from The New Century School‘s Head of School Alicia Danyali.

This summer, I came across a book that spoke to me personally and professionally.  In fact, I loved the messages it shared on every page so much, I found myself carrying the book around in my purse and sharing the title and its contents with anyone who would listen.  Although the subject matter was not a new idea to me nor was the information presented unfamiliar in any way, in reflection, the message was a reminder of how I want to live my life to its full potential and share these sentiments with everyone I come in contact with, and hope they “jump on my bandwagon.”

The book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (How We Can Learn To Fulfill Our Potential), by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. is not a new concept or theme among humans, but instead, a much needed reminder as we all tend to get “caught up” in the hectic, overstimulating world in which we live to take the necessary time to think through how our words shape potential and the messages we send, starting with ourselves.

As TNCS Head of School, and someone who has dedicated the majority of my working years to education, this paragraph from Mindset spoke to me more than any other:

As parents, teachers, and coaches, we are entrusted with people’s lives. They are our responsibility and our legacy. We now know that the growth mindset had a key role to play in helping us fulfill our mission and in helping them fulfill their potential.

Believing strongly in these ideas, I am continually finding ways to integrate them into the curriculum. Thus, during our next Professional Growth and Development Day on October 21st, the elementary and middle school teachers will have the wonderful opportunity to participate in a Mindset Workshop directed by Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish.  The growth mindset directly relates to TNCS’s Core Values and our mission of embracing and celebrating a healthy belief in self in the classroom and life.

I encourage the TNCS community to view Dr. Dweck’s TED Talk and peruse the Mindset Works website to gain a deeper perspective on this topic. Visit Cultivating a Growth Mindset at TNCS for an earlier Immersed post on Growth Mindset and Dr. Dweck.

 

TNCS Teachers Get Mindful!

Last week Immersed featured guest blogger Carisa Perry-Parrish writing about her presentation to The New Century School staff on how to bring mindfulness principles into the classroom in Stop and Smell the Roses. This week, we’ll hear from some of the TNCS attendees about what they took away from the presentation.

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Courtesy of Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish

TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali organized this staff development initiative after hearing from several staff members that Dr. Perry-Parrish’s mindfulness workshop for parents inspired them to want to learn more about the topic and how to use it to help them better relate to their students. This meshed very well with Mrs. Danyali’s own overall approach. “My mom always reminds me that when you are on an airplane and the oxygen masks drop, you are instructed to care for self before assisting others. What this translates to for me personally is, the more we take care of self, incorporate deliberate choices to model appropriate behaviors when it comes to support, the more others around us benefit,” she said. Thus, for Mrs. Danyali, practicing mindfulness is an important part of personal and social health.

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Courtesy of Carisa Perry-Parrish.

Although practicing mindfulness is arguably beneficial everywhere, all the time, for educators it has a particular resonance. A central tenet of mindfulness is regulation of emotion, the ability to make a considered response rather than reflexively react, as Dr. Perry-Parrish’s slide at right illustrates. This idea reverberates in many ways inside the classroom, where teachers continuously interact with children who are still in varying stages of development. Teachers must find ways to bridge the cognitive, emotional, and social gaps this interaction entails as well as model for their students the right way to handle various challenges.

Says Mrs. Danyali: “The role teachers play in a student’s life is defined in part by cultural expectations, social norms, and organizational rules that usually operate outside the classroom. Mindfulness is one more ‘tool’ in a teacher’s toolbox to help their students think things through for themselves, take accountability, and make choices that tune into their emotional needs. On the social aspects of teaching, mindful practices encourage students to feel important and cared about, as well as gain confidence in their own abilities. To acquire a personal sense of respect and responsibility for themselves and others is the focus.”
tncs-mindfulness-classroom

Courtesy of Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish

This seminar was a very natural fit for the primary teachers, who implement a classic Montessori curriculum in their classrooms. Maria Montessori was a proponent of what would evolve as what we know today as mindfulness practice. Let’s hear from a TNCS teachers who asked for, attended, and learned from this seminar.

TNCS primary teacher Maria Mosby: “It was great to get a more in-depth understanding of mindfulness and its many benefits for adults and children alike. Several teachers that I talked to were excited to read and learn more, and begin incorporating mindfulness into their lives and classrooms. I would definitely like to begin a practice of mindfulness meditation before each school day begins, to help prepare myself for being more present with the children and other teachers. It was interesting to learn how the practice has helped so many others in many different professions and walks of life. Though we occasionally do a group meditation in class (such as the flower and candle breathing exercise), I think it would be a great way to begin every day, as opposed to the typical circle time. When the children are sitting in the peace corner alone or as a group sitting on the rug, you can see them begin to try to quiet their bodies and minds and prepare for the day. It’s a practice we can all benefit from- tugging at the leash, and getting the easily distracted little puppy dog in our minds to focus on the path in front of us. Everyone needs time to breathe between tasks and have a moment to themselves.

The children who have a teacher who is present and is calm, not reacting based on his or her instinctive thoughts in a given situation, are likely to learn better coping and social skills themselves. They will also have more focus and joy in the classroom environment. Integrating mindfulness into any classroom can help everyone to become more focused on each individual task, and improve student-teacher and student-student relations, thus enhancing the experience for the entire class.”

Other non-Montessori TNCS teachers also benefited in multiple and sometimes surprising ways, as well. The elementary teachers, for example, face daily challenges that are different from what teachers of 3 to 5-year-olds might face, but these challenges are no less real and no less vital to handle in the best way for the child.

TNCS upper elementary STEM teacher Dan McGonigal: “My take-away from this presentation was really simple but something I need to remind myself of is that our students are not adults and they aren’t going to behave that way. After this presentation I have tried to take a step back and just teach in the moment and be present for that moment and not think about past or future difficulties. I try to remind myself of what was important to me when I was 7–11 years’ old. This has helped me better relate to some of the decisions students make on a daily basis. I try to better appreciate the student’s perspective of things, especially those that may have a learning disability or behavioral challenges. Teaching can be difficult because you are constantly looking for progress and, at times times, their progress may appear invisible. But students often need time, numerous examples, and development to start making progress.”
That’s a clear benefit of employing mindfulness as a teacher, and here is another perspective on the importance of teaching mindfulness.
TNCS upper elementary Language Arts and Global Studies teacher Kiley Stasch: “I thoroughly enjoyed the mindfulness presentation, not only from the perspective of a teacher but also for myself. As a teacher, it has helped me to take a step back and understand that teaching these skills explicitly is important and essential to do. We often assume these students have learned how to best manage their own emotions, but even older students have not necessarily had someone to help them through the steps they should be taking. Breaking it down for the students and helping them to understand where their emotions are stemming from helps them to reduce a poor reaction at that moment as well as in similar instances that will come up in the future.”
As for future staff mindfulness initiatives, Mrs. Danyali says, “The hopes are that this training was a nice reminder or a validation of current approaches, but also encouragement for implementing new strategies that will not only benefit one or two students, but the class as a whole.” Dr. Perry-Parrish also provided three models for continued development in this arena: CARE, SMART, and MWBE, detailed in the slides below.

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These final words from Ms. Mosby might best encapsulate the experience for TNCS teachers and perhaps all teachers, worldwide: “Mindfulness is an experience we all can and should offer our students each day. It’s easy to become so focused on the specific learning goals and daily tasks of teaching that one doesn’t always stop to slow down and truly listen, observe, and enjoy the children. There are so many wonderful moments that we miss out on this way.”

Anyone reading this post has already hit pause on the day to stop and be in a moment. We recognize that, and we thank you. The kids around you will thank you, too, both for knowing how to be truly present with them now and for showing them how to grow up to be adults who embody this critical awareness in their future lives.

Guest Blog: Stop and Smell the Roses!

This Immersed post comes to you from guest blogger Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish, who recently presented a workshop on mindfulness practices to The New Century School staff and writes about this experience. Dr. Perry-Parrish is Director of Training, Child Clinical & Pediatric Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowship and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins as well as a TNCS parent. As part of Johns Hopkins Expert Team in Pediatric Medical Psychology, “[she] specializes in improving emotion regulation in children and adolescents. Her clinical interests emphasize practicing and promoting evidence-based care, including parent management training for childhood noncompliance and ADHD, cognitive-behavioral therapy for youth anxiety/depression, and acceptance and mindfulness-based interventions to improve self-regulation.”

Stop and Smell the Roses!

Last spring, I was asked to give a parent workshop on mindfulness in parenting. A great group of parents attended and it was a good experience. Several teachers were interested in the topic as well, and this year I was invited back to provide a teacher workshop on mindfulness. Our teachers and staff were another lovely group, very engaged in learning about meditation and mindfulness.

It was Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, so I shared one of my favorite pictures of Dr. King and Thich Nhat Hanh (mindfulness author and monk), engaged at a conference back in the 1960s. Gauging from how many recognized this favorite author of mine, it was clear that several in the group were already engaged in mindfulness in various forms. So what is mindfulness?

tncs-mindfulness-in-the-classroom

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and Thich Nhat Hanh.

Mindfulness has been described as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). As L.A. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson put it, “when [basketball] players practice what is known as mindfulness…not only do they play better and win more, they also become more attuned to each other.” In essence, mindfulness is the complete awareness in what is happening right now. Therefore, mindfulness instruction is intended to enhance an individual’s innate ability to be aware.

Formal mindfulness instruction entails a range of techniques that help foster an intentional focusing of attention on one’s present-moment experience while letting go of negative, self-critical judgments. As detailed explicitly in many mindfulness programs, this type of training aims to help individuals accept unpleasant and painful experiences without reactively attempting to change the experience. However, as most of us would prefer to reduce or eliminate pain and discomfort as much as possible, some mindfulness-based programs additionally adopt a dialectical position of balancing desire for change alongside intentional acceptance of the inevitability of suffering. As moment-to-moment awareness through the day is the ultimate goal of mindfulness programs, there is also instruction of informal techniques that can be used at any time.

The recent teacher workshop provided an introduction to mindfulness and some suggestions for how to weave contemplative practices to support our children’s development of focused attention. Given the range of daily hassles and life stress we all experience, activities that foster our children’s focused attention are theorized to help them regulate their emotional reactions.

For those of you who have observed in our children’s classrooms, you have probably seen several teachers engage in mindfulness activities—whether or not the teacher had identified the activity as such. You have likely witnessed your own child become absorbed in a favorite activity, whether it was engineering a LEGO construction, collecting wildflowers, or watching the clouds pass by. Awareness training is quite complementary to a central tenet of Montessori philosophy, which is to develop the innate ability to become absorbed in learning. As Maria Montessori stated, “The first essential for the child’s development is concentration” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 202).

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Mind full, or mindful?

Portions excerpted from Perry-Parrish, C., & Sibinga, E.M.S. (2014). Mindfulness meditation. Functional Symptoms in Pediatrics (ed. R. Anbar). Springer.

—Carisa Perry-Parrish

. . . And stay tuned, readers, for teacher reactions to the workshop as well as some of Dr. Perry-Parrish’s very helpful, evidence-based tips on how to (and why we should) mindfully interact with children, whether at home or in the classroom.

Mindful Parenting: A TNCS Workshop that Could Change the World

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Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish, a developmental clinical psychologist and faculty member at Johns Hopkins Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, specializes in emotional regulation strategies for children and adolescents.

Last month, The New Century School hosted the latest workshop in Head of School Alicia Danyali’s parent enrichment series. This helpful, enlightening presentation on Mindful Parenting was given by Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish, a developmental clinical psychologist and faculty member at Johns Hopkins Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry—and a TNCS mom herself! The workshop was very well attended, but many who expressed interest were unable to be there. This synopsis of the event includes lots of Dr. Perry-Parrish’s published research, with her permission.

“Dr. Perry-Parrish specializes in improving emotion regulation in children and adolescents. Her clinical interests emphasize practicing and promoting evidence-based care, including acceptance and mindfulness-based interventions to improve self-regulation, parent management training for childhood noncompliance and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and cognitive-behavioral therapy for youth anxiety/depression.” For this particular presentation, she shared mindfulness practices to help children and parents alike cope with life stressors and improve their interactions, thereby decreasing the stress in the whole family’s life. Although she does focus clinically on emotional disorders, these positive parenting techniques are applicable and promise enormous benefits to everyone along the continuum of emotional experience.

For a bit of background, “mindfulness training is becoming increasingly popular in the United States as a way to reduce stress, improve attention, and cope with challenges,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish. “This form of awareness training is being taught to adults, parents, and youth with promising results.”

So let’s get to it, right?

Emotions

The presentation began with an eye-opener right off the bat, which is that emotions are not simply arbitrary reactions to catalysts or reflections of our inner states but serve real functions. We evolved to be emotional beings, after all. So when our kids display emotion, they really are telling us something about their current needs. In a nutshell, we consciously and unconsciously use our emotions to fulfill particular goals. Emotions are social cues. Kids face a lot of stress—academically, socially, recreationally—but that stress, and the emotions it elicits, can be positive in some ways. “Every day is full of emotional challenges and opportunities for emotional growth,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish. Here she drew a parallel between TNCS’s emphasis on child self-advocacy and independence, noting that mindfulness is certainly a very complementary practice.

Slide09When emotions are not regulated, or cognitive disruptions lead to intense emotional states, these disorders not only present tremendous challenges for the child, but the parent also, who is, for example, trying to get the child out the door to school on time.

Even in the absence of a so-called “problem,” parenting is stressful for any number of reasons, including that on-time-to-school bugbear. Dr. Perry-Parrish next described three parenting styles we commonly adopt in such situations: Dismissive (“Get over it!”), Disapproving (“You shouldn’t feel that way.”), and Laissez-Faire (“Anything goes.”). The message implicit in the first two examples is that the child’s feelings are not valid; however, recall that emotions serve very important functions. What underlies the emotion is what is important here (for example, “I don’t want to do what you’re asking me to do.”). In the third approach, no limits are set for misbehavior, which does not help the child sort out his or her feelings.

A fourth style, called “Emotion Coaching,” validates and accepts kids’ feelings while balancing the need for limits. This philosophy is backed up by decades of research and testing by psychologist John Gottman (among others), who found that children who were emotion coached were more successful as adults in peer friendships, gainful employment, and academic performance than were children parented in ways that focused on misbehavior without taking the emotions and why they were happening into account. A parent using emotion coaching is empathetic without condoning negative behavior.

Inherent in the concept of emotion coaching, as the word “coaching” gives away, is that regulating our emotions is a skill we can be guided in and cultivate. Heard of Walter Mischel’s Marshmallow Study? In it, kids who were able to delay the gratification of eating a gooey, delicious marshmallow for a period of 14 minutes, grew up to be socially and professionally well adjusted, have a lower body mass index and greater psychological well-being, and be less likely to misuse substances.

Dr-Carisa-Perry-Parrish-TNCS“Children were most successful when they tried to occupy their attention with something else—make up a song, say, or turn their back on the marshmallow—or transformed the object of desire in their mind, perhaps by imagining it as a piece of cotton or pretending it was smelly or dirty. How children were paying attention could mean the difference between an automatic response and a delayed response reflecting self-regulation,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish. “We each have different capacities, but I think there’s a way to optimize what we’re naturally endowed with . . . And that’s where I think mindfulness can play a nice role,” she said.

 Mindfulness

Mindfulness is, basically, practicing awareness/paying attention with three key components: it’s moment-by-moment, it’s non-judgmental, and it’s intentional. It is in sharp contrast to the mindlessness of automatic responses and assumptions, which is a waste of our already limited resources and energy. To illustrate, she walked us through a brief mindfulness exercise—noticing all of the sensations involved in eating a raisin very slowly and using all of our senses to experience it. This not only helped us see how much of the experience of eating a lowly raisin we were probably usually missing, but also demonstrated how challenging paying attention can be when we are so used to our brains spinning like hamster wheels during the waking hours. “But specific exercises give us opportunities to practice noticing without judging,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish, who was emphatic about not liking raisins or dried fruit in general.

She proceeded to explain a much broader application for this exercise. “There are things I look forward to in my day and things I don’t look forward to, like diaper-changing. Starting to notice that I’m pulled to want to do some things and pulled toward not wanting to do others is very helpful on a primitive level. But if I look at it through the lens of parenting, if I’m overly focusing on how much I don’t want to do x, how does that change the dynamic between me and my child—does it help me to be more effective? Or . . . not?”

Slide28“When we are not fully present in the moment, we miss opportunities to discover what works,” she continued, followed by providing the list of mindfulness qualities shown at right, that we can try to cultivate. “Beginner’s mind” is akin to looking at something with “fresh eyes,” but the other terms are self-explanatory (albeit not all that easy to practice regularly!).

From there, she led us to motivation. When we like what we are doing, it’s easy to put forth the effort, but it’s hard to find the motivation when it’s a task we perceive as boring or unpleasant. The same goes for kids, naturally, so how we pay attention to them is the trick—notice and appreciate their efforts while acknowledging that some tasks are just difficult is going to increase their desire to keep trying. But, let’s face it, sometimes we are caught up in our own problems or can’t get off the hamster wheel, and we resort to a more reactionary response, what Dr. Perry-Parrish calls “parenting traps”:

  • Repeating commands (How many times do I have to tell you to…!)
  • Focusing more on negative behavior than positive
  • Praising and punishing the same behavior (Well, it’s about time you cleaned your room!)
  • Lack of consistency
  • Empty threats
  • Arguing
  • Unfair or delayed consequences
  • Letting stress dictate parenting style

Mindfulness in Parenting

Dr-Perry-Parrish-TNCSAnd here’s where it all comes together: interrupting our habitual reactions to stress to communicate in a chosen and more effective mode. “Stress hijacks the moment and cuts us off from our internal sources of wisdom,” she said. “Mindfulness is going to be the best supporting actor for what we already know how to do as parents.” She used yelling as an example. We already know that yelling isn’t effective, so why do we do it? Mindfulness can give us the reset to handle the situation calmly and attentively.

Dr. Perry-Parrish gave some very useful techniques to begin cultivating your mindfulness skills, including starting a “meditation diet,” pausing to attend to your child with all of your senses, putting yourself in your child’s shoes, deep breathing, having 10–15 minutes every day of one-on-one time with your child, and doing yoga together.

She also provided this very helpful reading list:

  • Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Everyday Blessings, Myla & Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children, Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and their parents), Eline Snel
  • Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman
  • Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: Heart of Parenting, John Gottman

Immersed also offers several mindfulness websites and articles under the Resources and Links tab. When parents engage in healthy human interactions, children reap those benefits and then pay it forward. The implications for society are huge. . . and quite wonderful.

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