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Over the years I have spoken with hundreds of parents from varying socio-economic and educational backgrounds. Without a doubt, all parents want the very same thing: children who listen and a peaceful home life.

We don’t want to yell or get angry with our children. We carry our frustration and upset from conflicts at home to work and everywhere we go. This burden often leaves us internally distracted and detracts from our ability to focus. Ultimately many of us feel inadequate as parents and riddled with self-doubt. For some these feelings are like a dirty little secret that we are ashamed to admit, while others find themselves talking about their mistakes and disappointment to anyone who will listen. We may buy parenting book after parenting book, but have little time to read when the kids are playing tag in the living room near the breakable stuff and dinner is burning on the stove.

There are numerous helpful strategies, and some will work for one family and not for another. However, it has been my experience that the single most transformative habit with respect to achieving a chaos-free home, is keeping a gratitude journal. This one habit has entirely shifted my perception of the events in my own life, and it has turned out to be a helpful parenting tool as well. Most of us tend to focus on the bad things that happen every day. We love to recount our trials and tribulations, ignoring our many daily blessings. Some of us enjoy sharing our suffering with our friends and family, relishing the intense attention our misery attracts and, when pressed, initially have trouble identifying even one positive event in our entire day!

Maintaining a gratitude journal shifts our mind set completely. We suddenly recognize the blessings in our lives. We identify positive events for what they are, and either make a mental note to record them later or jot them on an index card so we can record them in our journal later on. Suddenly, we become more peaceful, and, as we change our home life and family change as well. We actually train our brain to focus on the positive.

I believe that the most important time to write in your gratitude journal is when you are feeling down, perhaps when you think that there is nothing positive to say. For example, I am writing this from a hospital bed where I have been on and off since February. The doctor just told me that I will be here for at least another week, and I just wanted to cry. Instead, I pulled out my gratitude journal, determined to identify and record the hidden gifts of my health condition. I suddenly felt extremely grateful for the opportunity my condition will provide to write more articles, and to get my book off the ground. In terms of my family, my children have become much closer as siblings. Last night, when my youngest son was sad because I wasn’t home to read him a story and sing him to sleep, my eldest daughter, read to him, sang to him, and waited at the corner of his bed for him to fall asleep. This one event triggered at least five entries in my gratitude journal! I felt so grateful that my daughter had the chance to really be present for her brother, and that my son learned that he can count on his sister for help. As I recorded these events I could feel my whole body relax. I was able to get back to my center, feeling so fortunate and hopeful. .

There is actual scientific research backing up the impact of gratitude. In their article entitled “Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness, co-authors Robert Emmons of University of California and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami tried to measure the effect of keeping a gratitude journal on mood, achievement, and other aspects of life on adults and children. Here is a link to their findings: http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/labs/emmons/.

They found that those who maintained gratitude journals:
• Reported feeling better physically, happier with their lives as a whole, and more optimistic about the future.
• Were more likely to have progressed toward achieving their personal goals.
• Helped other people or offered others emotional support.
And….
• Among children, those who kept gratitude journals made positive thinking a habit and had better attitudes towards school and family life.

To get started, make a commitment to yourself that you will try this new habit for thirty days. Research suggests that an action requires between twenty-one and thirty days to become a habit. Treat yourself to a journal that you will enjoy writing in, and a good pen that feels comfortable in your hand. Carve out a peaceful time for yourself to write in your journal and make the ritual special. For example, I like to drink my chamomile tea and write in my journal before bed so that I can record every single positive event and go to sleep happy. I recommend writing each entry as a list, but you can also use a diary format. Because I write fifty items every night, the list method works much better for me.

As you write, please resist the urge to edit. Grammar and spelling do not count. You are not being graded. The goal is simply to make a running list of positive events that occur in your daily life. At first you may find yourself staring at an empty page, but keep at it. Try writing simple items, such as the gift of waking up healthy, the chance to eat breakfast with your child, the kindness of a friend’s email, or the fact that you arrived home safely from work. Not everyone who went to work today made it back home, and there are parents all over the world who would do anything for the opportunity to eat breakfast with their child. Get creative. Appreciate the scent of the spring air and the wind blowing gently though your hair, or your child’s willingness to set the table without complaining.

Start out with one or two items and one more each day until you get to five or ten. Continue to increase the number of entries as you become more aware of the daily occurrences for which you are grateful. If this habit really works for you, consider sharing it with your child. You might enjoy writing in your journals together as part of your bedtime routine. If your child is too young to write, have them draw pictures about the happy parts of their day.

Every once in a while sit with each of your children and read them the entries that you wrote about them. Your children will burst with pride as they recognize how deeply grateful you are when they do the right thing. While sincere praise in the moment is an effective behavior modification technique, I find that sharing items from my gratitude journal with my children has a profound impact on our relationship. I believe they feel truly appreciated on a deep level when they see that their good deeds have been recorded. At the very least, they know that I am focusing much more attention on what they are do right than on what they do wrong.

If you are interested in learning more parenting tools and strategies, consider joining Elizabeth’s upcoming Parenting Teleseminar Series, which begins this Thursday at 12:30 and 8:30 p.m. To register, simply click on this link to her website www.aaaparentcoach.com. Topics will include Authentic Parenting, Power Parenting, Peaceful Parenting, Anger Management and Harmonious Living.

The John Parker Compton Memorial Tennis Tournament is in its 64th year, open to all Westchester junior tennis players. The “Comptons” is a USTA level 2 sponsored event. It is held at the Fox Meadow Tennis Club in Scarsdale, as well as the Scarsdale High School, beginning on Monday, June 7th, with the earliest matches starting at 3:30PM. If you are interested in participating in the tournament, you must register online on the USTA website at www.usta.com/tennislink. To register, click “Enter Now” under Tournaments; type in Tournament # 100516610 in the Quick Search box. The entry deadline date is Tuesday, June 1st at 9am. If you have any questions regarding the tournament, you may call either Dan Walczewski at 722-1160 or Dorothy Yewer at 723-3540.

A rainy start on Saturday May 8th sent carnival planners scrambling at all five Scarsdale elementary schools, but by noon the sun was out, lighting up a wonderful day of fun.

Carnival planning always brings out parents creativity and this year was no exception. At Greenacres, the theme was Camp, Heathcote was “Out of this World” and Fox Meadow featured a Space Odyssey. Over at Quaker Ridge, the theme was Television and Edgewood Rocked. All of the carnivals featured inflatables, games, activities, music, prizes and fun.

Take a look at photos from all five schools:
 

Our children learn so much more from our actions than from our words. They do as we do, not as we say. The most effective way to teach our children to live according to our core values is to lead by example. I consider this to be Authentic Parenting because it is based on our true beliefs and choices. When we parent authentically there is real power in our words and actions. Consistency is natural when we know what we want to teach our children and have taken the time to decide how we intend to do so.

Think about your own core beliefs and values. What are the three most important values that you wish to pass on to future generations of your family? How can you manifest these values in your day to day life? How can you best teach them to your children?

Consider your children. Forget about the most recent parenting book that have read, and what your friends, neighbors, or people in the grocery store may think. Who is your child? What are his or her strengths, needs, and interests? How is your child wired? You know your child best. Project your family ten years into the future and consider the kind of life you hope your child will be living. Who does your child need you to be so that he can become his best self? What changes do you have to make to become that person?

Take back your true power. As parents we are the heads of our households and we have the obligation to teach our children well. Anger, frustration, and anxiety are obstacles to a peaceful family life, and they make the job of discipline unnecessarily difficult and unpleasant. Here are a few simple tools to use as you parent authentically, to help your children to recognize that you mean business while allowing you to express your love and acceptance:

Give commands to your child or children once and only once. Touch your child on the shoulder or bend down to make eye contact. Communicate with your tone that you know your child is absolutely capable of doing as told. Speak in a light, upbeat, and direct manner. Instructions are not punishment. When the task is completed successfully, thank your child sincerely, just as you might an assistant or a friend. Let your child know how happy you are with his or her behavior. State your command in the affirmative. You are not asking a question. For example, instead of saying “would you like to feed the cat, sweetheart?” say “I’d like you to please feed the cat now, sweetheart. He is really hungry.” If you face refusal, try collaborative problem solving. If the refusal continues, impose natural and fair consequences that you can confidently enforce.

Give warnings to help your children cope with transitions. Consider using a timer and set it for ten minutes before the activity will need to change. Let your child keep the timer and help them to reset it for a five minute warning. Instead of giving the warning yourself, simply let the timer do all the work. This will cut down on conflicts in your home and help your child to budget his or her time and function independently.

Clean-up is important and it is not our job to clean up after our children. Really!!! Three year-olds in pre-school clean up their toys before moving on to a new activity, and they can and should do some at home. Clean-up before transitioning on to a new activity should be non-negotiable but can still be fun. You can sing the clean-up song, set a timer and play “beat the clock.” You can help out if you like, but do not clean up for your child without his or her participation. This is an important activity on many levels. Good Luck!

One of the best ways to elicit good behavior choices in our children is to recognize it and praise our children for it specifically and sincerely as often as we can.

See the best in your child. This really works! If you are having a hard time with a particular child, take a few minutes to write down a list of what they are doing that is bothering you. Then write another list of all of their strengths and everything you love about them. If you are really angry you might not be able to come up with anything for a few minutes, but stay focused and suddenly you will be flooded with images of love and appreciation for your child. Now when you interact with your child again, keep their strengths in perspective and simply focus on calmly changing their behavior while loving and appreciating them as they are. You might even show your child the list you have made to let them know both how wonderful they are and to discuss the changes you would like to see them make.

Resist the urge to keep your children happy or satisfied all the time. Our children have the right to learn and grow through experience. For example, if you let your son win whenever you play board games because he doesn’t like to lose, your child may be denied the opportunity to learn good sportsmanship. While we have the best of intentions, we may actually prevent our own child from developing the necessary social skills for successful play dates or team sports experiences. In essence, we can create a sore loser, and set our child up for potentially painful social struggles simply because we didn’t allow him or her to experience disappointment when playing with us.

Remember who you want to be so that you can teach your child the life lessons that will lead him to become the person you want him to be in the future. We must respect ourselves and cannot allow people or situations to diminish our self-respect. Our children need to learn to respect us, which they will only do if we respect ourselves and our choices. Once we have our child’s respect, discipline becomes natural and easy. In addition, the ability to respect us allows our children to enjoy healthy relationships with authority figures for the rest of their lives. We can only command this respect if we truly believe we are deserving of it. Try to surround yourself with people who appreciate your strengths and who you truly enjoy being with. Take a good look at your life. Identify the people, activities, or situations that may be negatively impacting your self-confidence. Consider making changes accordingly. If you are really struggling, keep a daily log of your successes, using the definition of success as “accomplishing an intended task.” You will be amazed at how much you do in a day.

The key to changing our children’s behavior is to change our own attitude. Remain calm. Keep your emotions in check and stay true to your values and beliefs. Remember that you can be disappointed by your children’s actions but still love and accept them as people. Go slowly. Try not to put pressure on yourself or your child to be perfect. We don’t need to be perfect. We simply need to be our true selves.

Elizabeth Pflaum lives with her husband and four children in Westchester, New York and provides individual parent coaching to clients and their families. She offers parenting classes and workshops throughout the tri-state area, is a frequent guest parenting expert on WABC’s Eyewitness News and other television shows and writes articles about all topics relating to parenting and childhood. For more information, visit her website at: http://www.aaapparentcoach.com

Hoff-Barthelson Music School invites parents of three and four year-olds who are interested in having their children speak Chinese in Music Classes to attend an Open House for its 2010-2011 Mandarin Chinese Music and Movement classes on Wednesday, May 26, 1:15 – 2:30 pm at the Music School, 25 School Lane, Scarsdale. There will be a demonstration class and a discussion period. This is an excellent opportunity to meet with Hoff-Barthelson’s extraordinary Mandarin Chinese Music Class teacher, Mimi Hsu, and to watch her conduct her current music class in Chinese. Participation in the Mandarin Chinese classes is designed for three-year-olds with a parent or caregiver in attendance. Four’s attend a drop-off class.

Hoff-Barthelson has added classes in Mandarin and Spanish to its extensive roster of early childhood group music classes in response to local cultural communities and their enthusiasm for music classes led in family languages.  In any language, The Journey of Musical Growth begins at an early age at the Music School, a premier community music school that has been one of Westchester’s most cherished cultural resources since 1944.  The faculty strives to instill a life-long love of music in their young students. HBMS preschoolers acquire a diversity of skills through music: the ability to focus and concentrate, to listen and observe keenly, and to become interested in watching and taking turns with their peers. Nurturing teachers develop their skills in music-making and help children to learn to love and appreciate music.

The HBMS preschool classes are designed to introduce young children to the elements of music in preparation for more formal study. In addition to the classes in Mandarin and Spanish, the School’s other preschool offerings include classes ranging from parent or caregiver in child classes for infants, toddlers, and two or three year olds to Getting to Know You: Exploring the Instruments for kindergarteners and recorder, as well as Suzuki lessons and classes for 5-6 year olds.

For more information about the Mandarin Chinese Open House and our Preschool Programs; Jocelyn Kenner, 914-723-1169 and jkenner@hbms.org

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