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Self Acceptance As The First Step Towards Healing

Growing up I had a strong and very romantic image of myself as a Mother. That very quickly changed with the arrival of my first child. The magic of the pain and beauty in childbirth can never be anticipated or accurately talked about, it has to be experienced. In short, we can never be fully prepared. After this amazing event, I had to face the reality and challenges of being a practicing new Mom and keeping my professional career alive.

I quickly realized that there where two parts of me out of step with each other. Affectionately I’ll call them my “career girl” and the “new Mom”. It became obvious that these two discrete parts of me had their own rules, opinions and beliefs about how I should be managing my life. It also became clear that they developed, over time, huge judgment and antagonism towards one another. For example my natural stay-at-home Mom made it very clear from the beginning that I was a bad Mother to leave my child with a nanny and go back to work so soon. My career girl was simply saying come on don’t get trapped at home we have to get on in life.

This inner talk over time became louder and louder with other voices joining in. I had “the feminine woman” in me, who likes to feel healthy, beautiful and keep herself in a good shape speak up. She was upset she didn’t have the time to look after herself the way she would like and that I was always smelling of milk. She became depressed at always being tired and lacking quality sleep with dark eyes and real or imaginary new lines on her face. Then, was “the wife” who felt and knew she was missing in action. To make matters worse there was also “the dutiful daughter” listening to her own Jewish Mother and taking or ignoring advice how to be the best Mother possible!

You can imagine even the healer-meditator in me became overwhelmed with such noise and confusion. Somehow I managed with determination to work things through until the voice of all internal voices showed up– my “inner critic”. And wow mine was a killer!

The inner critical voice was constantly complaining that I was just not good enough at any of the above. I was not a good enough Mother or a healer or a wife or a daughter and certainly not looking or feeling beautiful enough. This super-critical voice was constantly focusing on what I should’ve, could’ve or ought to have done. She was the loudest of all inner voices.
For a time the critics tenacity took me by surprise, but like most challenging things in life this voice brought with it a huge gift and opportunity for growth. I had to update and strengthen the way I listened to my self. I had to really focus on and develop ways in being much kinder and caring towards myself. As a result I began to hear and experience the strengths, limitation, fears and vulnerabilities in all these individual inner-voices.

When I learned to stop fearing and criticizing my critic I could even listen to and use the very practical down to earth wisdom that this part of me was sharing in trying to keep me and my child protected and safe. In short, the most welcomed and unexpected outcome was the profound sense of awareness and peace that came from me simply listening with kindness and without judgment to all these different parts of myself. I realized the quest for “self acceptance” cannot and doesn’t happen without us accepting all of ourselves, even the parts that we truly do not like or want to accept or admit to. Self acceptance is the key that opens the door to taking better care of ourselves and our loved ones. Truly if we do not know how to Mother and take good care of ourselves how can we even begin to take care of others especially our precious little ones.

After practicing a very simple daily ritual of listening with self kindness and acceptance, judgment of ourselves and others becomes less and less. We become willing to open our hearts and make ourselves available for the first steps for healing to take place.

All You Need Is Love

Our children as babies are born very dependent on us, their parents.
New discoveries in neurobiology and psychology have lead doctors, scientists and psychologists to discover and establish that the healthy bonding with parents in the first two years of a child’s life is so important for the healthy development of our children.

Mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers have always known they have the most important, demanding and beautiful role to play in bringing up a child and now science is confirming to us the importance of loving nurture in the emotional, social and cognitive development of our children. The Beatles got it right with ” all you need is love”.

The way to develop and grow a strong bond with a baby and young child is not rocket science, it’s common sense. We can make it a lot easier if we take time to make ourselves present and available.

It’s hugging, gentle touching with skin to skin contact. It’s the soft voice of a mother singing and tender smiles at night. It’s the eye to eye contact when feeding and giggles during the day. It’s the playfulness at bath time. These all may seem simple and obvious, but it is now known these precious moments are building bonds and connections in making your child feel safe and at the same time building emotional strength and resilience.

New science has established that by the age of three our child’s brain has reached 90% of its adult capacity. This highlights the need for us to give as much love and affection in these early developmental years as we possibly can. We all want to buy nice baby clothes and toys and decorate a new room, but it is the simple gift of our loving presence that is so important to our young children.

In my practice as an energetic healer I have so many clients coming to me with discomfort that we carefully trace back to early issues with a lack of childhood bonding. I work with many symptoms like anxiety, depression, addiction, perfectionism, feelings of abandonment and even low self-esteem, that can be rooted in the lack of bonding we receive as a child.

We started last week’s article on self-acceptance deliberately, for self acceptance opens us up to be fully present and understanding of our own needs which in turn opens us up to be fully present and aware of the needs of others, especially our little ones.

As mothers these days, we have so little time to prepare for motherhood. If we are fortunate, we still have a close and honest relationship with our own mothers, and if we are especially fortunate we also have a close relationship with a grandmother.

Sadly today, very few of us live or feel close to our families and communities of origin so the usual way we would learn as future mothers to mother is limited. It is therefore important not to isolate or try to do it all by yourself alone as we do in big cities. Bonding with a community of other mothers helps for sharing your experience early on and is very important for our own growth as a parent. It is important to share your feelings with others you trust. Some mothers experience mixed feelings in having a child. It’s good to share these and not judge yourself at such a time of hormonal imbalances.

Many mothers will at some stage go through the baby blues. This is normal and passes within a few days or weeks. Make sure you are gentle and tender with yourself at this stage. Don’t fight it. A simple mantra like ” this too shall pass” will remind you this is not forever. For me, it came after forty days with each child when the feelings of euphoria wear off and there is a realization that one’s life will never be the same again. Childbirth always has with it many strong feelings and mixed emotions and in most cases these feelings balance out over the first few months. Approximately 15% of woman in the USA will experience some form of postpartum depression or PPD which is more serious and these women should be encouraged to receive help. If left unattended, a mother can really suffer with PPD. So, moms there is no shame in asking for help and no honor in suffering silently.

I mentioned earlier in this article that it is our love and presence that our newborns needs for nourishment on so many different levels and if we have just one child we can often focus and do this well. However even with one child, our husbands or partners will feel the special exclusive bond we all have with a newborn child and we must be aware of this dynamic and make sure we do not drop the bond we have with our partners. Even the most loving partner will react when they see and feel the unconditional open intimate love a mother shares with her new baby . Many wish they too could experience such love and intimacy, so it is important to make time to be with your partner even if it’s for a short walk, warm hug or a meal out together. Our children feel safer when they experience and feel the close bond and love with their parents.

Often this can be as simple as including our partner and sharing the love we have so our partner can also give love to our child in their own way and be included. This may seem simple but we as mothers need to be aware of reaching out to partners in small ways even when we will not feel like doing so to stop our partners from feeling dropped or even abandoned.

Keeping bonding and connection with our partners is very important, but what about keeping the bond with our other children? Depending on the age of your other children they will feel the change in connection with their mother in different ways before and most definitely with the arrival and presence of a new child. As a rule it’s a good investment of time to include your child or children in the lead up to birth, to talk through the birth itself, sharing the birth experiences you had with them and caring for the new arrival in the family.

As much as possible, make it an inclusive experience that each child feels they have an important special part to play. Use story telling to get your points across and even though you will be tired, make sure you keep track of your other children’s reactions and make small adjustments as you go rather than wait for a huge emotional reaction from your other children. One way to help the process, is to remind everyone that we all are different and have unique gifts to share. As with our partners, our children will have mixed feelings about the new arrival. On one hand feelings of love, caring and excitement, and on the other hand, feelings of being displaced or overlooked or not acknowledged or even envy, jealousy and resentment. It’s important not to make the feelings of your younger children wrong, but to listen to them and get to understand their fears and vulnerabilities at such a time. We all know having a new baby is so time consuming and there will most likely be times when you are exhausted, but taking time out with your partner and other children will save so much time and heartbreak in the future and will help bring about self-healing with your own childhood experience.

In remembering even when we are stressed out, exhausted, frustrated and tired, we all have available to us the ability to choose love and kindness knowing that this is what makes for a happy bonded child and family. This is an admirable aim and I know through first hand experience, at times we will all fall short of reaching such a goal. At times, this is going to seem or be impossible, but it’s so important even when we react from a place other than love we quickly remember to start over again and not to be so hard on ourselves and in such a moment demonstrate self-love, for our kids do what we do, not what we say….

Meditation Practice

After recent tragic events around the world and in New York City, I am often asked how do I manage to keep centered and focused on my work with so much drama and uncertainty going on? The simple answer, and often with such events, is not so simple at all, Meditation!
Through meditation, I have come to realize that life is indeed made from a series of tragic and magic moments that happen around me and to me, and most I have no control over whatsoever. What I do have control over, is how I respond to such events and use meditation as a tool or process. Meditation has helped me and my children no matter what has happened, and we have been through some very tough times together, to return to love and to maintain our innocence, that is trust in the mystery, magic and possibilities of life and creation.

With any tragic event that we are aware of and they sadly happen so often these days, we all consciously or unconsciously take a deep in breath, out of shock or disbelief, many forget to take the out breath and continue to breathe. Meditation allows us to breathe freely again and re-center.

It is so easy to get caught in the fears of the moment, especially with the speed and immediacy of news and multi-media. For me, meditating is a way to stay centered in being present in the moment despite whatever is happening around me. This practice helped me enormously when I was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer.

We cannot avoid the suffering that comes out of loss and death, which we cannot easily explain because it makes no sense to us. We can take care of ourselves and be tender to the fears and anxieties, anger and rage, or shear disbelief in how violent people can be to each other. We are living at a time of inexplicable and unpredictable violent unrest and danger that can happen to any of us at any moment as we go innocently about our daily lives.

Once I mention meditation the next question is oh that’s so difficult or so out there or how do you meditate, or how can I do that when I’m far too busy? I answer simply by saying if you can breathe and relax you can meditate.

Meditation is for me the fastest way to become centered and to be and stay present to what really matters in life and to realize in this moment I am safe and free from harm.

Clearly if I were in the middle of a violent or dangerous event my first instinct or advice to you would not be to meditate. But, I can tell you that meditating over time really helps in moments of high stress or danger to respond with what Buddhists call “ the spontaneity of right action!”

Once alone and safely back at home I believe and experience meditation is the best thing to do to return to my center and feel safe in my surrounding. It gets me out of being hijacked and stuck in my biological, animal and instinctual response to freeze, flee or fight and all the behavioral expressions of these that we experience as humans.

There are many ways to meditate and I would encourage you to explore. For me, these days life is a meditation, but for those who would love to develop a practice to begin to learn the principles and fundamentals of meditation below are some simple suggestions.

Being still and focusing on our breath is the place to start. With breath awareness, we return to the most essential thing human beings need and that is breathing. We can last days without water and some of us weeks without food but no one can last long without breathing.

As I focus on my breath, my body slows down as I control my breathing my body responds immediately and lets go and relaxes. This may take time for some but the investment of time and patients with oneself is well repaid through meditation.

Focusing on our breath we focus on our prana or “life force” and what we focus on expands, be it fears, anger, anxiety, happiness and love.

We all know the feeling of being in the zone and mostly we like or rather love the outcome of anything that comes out of this moment of being in the Zone.
All we do with a calm state of mind we seem to achieve better results more easily with better flow and more success with ease.

To understand the value and importance of a daily meditation practice is powerful for us as parents and for our little ones to benefit from and for the quality of life we all want to get in touch with but stressful events minor or major can distract and derail us from time to time.

Meditation is a great way to take a moment to reflect and to collect oneself to get back on track.

I even teach meditation to my kids who love to sit with me and share such precious moments of stillness, peace and energetic togetherness. It creates real energetic bonding, just try it.

Simply by connecting to your breath consciously will make a huge difference in your life in any situation. There are so many different techniques and kinds of meditation and research shows that meditation improves our quality of actions and decision making in many ways. There are also now many researchers proving that meditation has many health benefits and can improve the speed of recovery from illness and surgery by up to twenty percent.

As we begin by simply focusing on our breath and breathing we relax and begin to experience quieting of our minds. Some minds don’t give in to being quiet so easily, so this may take time. I recommend at first to see thoughts as clouds simply moving through the sky. Some thoughts like clouds are light, others can be dark and heavy, but for those of us that have flown we know that above the clouds there are blue skies and in daytime the sun is always shining.

Quieting our minds brings a sense of inner peace a place from where we can begin to accept the world as it is and be free from the need to obsess about why things happen as they do if there is no logical answer or way of knowing. As the serenity prayer explains we begin to accept the things we cannot change and develop a courage to change the things we can. Most importantly, we gain insight to know the difference between the things we can and cannot change or control. Meditation is not about being passive! It is about gaining insights and skillful means to be proactive and not reactive, in responding to events and how we can use our resources and energy wisely to make a real difference in our world as we so choose.

I remind myself with a simple inner ritual to get to my heart center, that you can follow at first and then develop your own when you have experienced the benefits of meditation and gained confidence to explore and be playful. There are no rights or wrongs, just what works for you. Each stage I breathe slowly through until I feel at peace to continue with the next.

“I am breathing freely and I let go of tension in my body with a huge sigh.

My mind is now becoming quiet and I let go of my thoughts as they arise.

I accept the world as it is and not the way I believe it should be

I love and accept myself just as I am.

I love and accept others just as they are.

My Heart is open to expand and receive .

I choose now to be here in bliss as I feel my heart opening and expanding.

I breathe into this expansion and allow anything other than love in this moment to fall away” …. With meditation less is more.

Breath awareness, making the mind still, being open to accept the truth and loving and accepting myself and others as I am and they are, really opens my heart and brings great emotional awareness and healing.

As the Buddha said …. “Look within and be still. Free yourself from fears and attachment and then know the sweet joy of the way!”

Happiness Machine

I love New York. I have loved this city from the moment I first arrived and as my kids were born in the big apple. The first question asked by my mother, family and friends was, “is NYC a place to raise kids?”

And I would and still say “absolutely yes.”

Being a New Yorker means being exposed to so many different cultures and different languages, different points of view, and ways of living in our world. If we look back in time, New York was a major entry point into the U.S. with people arriving from around the world with their hopes and dreams for a better life. Even today we see the many “sides” of New York and their corresponding ethnic flavors, cuisines and businesses, art and architecture.

Central Park became our garden in the spring and summer and winter playground in fall and winter. As an upper east side family, my kids grew up with great museums and art galleries, wonderful restaurants and shopping. It was and still is an amazing city to live.

Over time, with my kids attending school I began to realize just how stressful life in New York could be. It’s also a city of doing, not being. A restless city of comparison and competition. It becomes so easy to get caught in the machine of “wants and desires”. The machine that promises happiness, but not now, sometime in the future. If only my kids get into the right school and then do well at school and then get into the right next school. The extra classes and activities they need to get on and do well. The holidays, the parties and bar/bat Mitzvah, to which they will or will not get invited, which are now about the size and glamour of the event as the origins and true meaning of this rite of passage are lost in the need to compare and compete. It’s all based on doing and having and more doing and having because one day we will all be happy.

With all these pressures to keep up, we must now add technology to the mix. The iPhones and iPads, the social media networks and the addictive tendencies these evoke in us and our kids. We now live in a city that never sleeps, where we definitely know what we desire and want but have lost sight of what we truly need.

I ask myself why is New York like this. It’s known and loved as a fast city. A city full of exuberance and new ideas. A “big” exciting city, a world class city. All of this is true, but we who live here have to learn to adapt to the new pressures and stresses of living and loving at such a fast pace.

We all know the feeling of being in the zone and mostly we like or rather love the outcome of anything that comes out of this moment of being in the Zone.
All we do with a calm state of mind we seem to achieve better results more easily with better flow and more success with ease.

To understand the value and importance of a daily meditation practice is powerful for us as parents and for our little ones to benefit from and for the quality of life we all want to get in touch with but stressful events minor or major can distract and derail us from time to time.

Meditation is a great way to take a moment to reflect and to collect oneself to get back on track.

I even teach meditation to my kids who love to sit with me and share such precious moments of stillness, peace and energetic togetherness. It creates real energetic bonding, just try it.

Simply by connecting to your breath consciously will make a huge difference in your life in any situation. There are so many different techniques and kinds of meditation and research shows that meditation improves our quality of actions and decision making in many ways. There are also now many researchers proving that meditation has many health benefits and can improve the speed of recovery from illness and surgery by up to twenty percent.

As we begin by simply focusing on our breath and breathing we relax and begin to experience quieting of our minds. Some minds don’t give in to being quiet so easily, so this may take time. I recommend at first to see thoughts as clouds simply moving through the sky. Some thoughts like clouds are light, others can be dark and heavy, but for those of us that have flown we know that above the clouds there are blue skies and in daytime the sun is always shining.

Quieting our minds brings a sense of inner peace a place from where we can begin to accept the world as it is and be free from the need to obsess about why things happen as they do if there is no logical answer or way of knowing. As the serenity prayer explains we begin to accept the things we cannot change and develop a courage to change the things we can. Most importantly, we gain insight to know the difference between the things we can and cannot change or control. Meditation is not about being passive! It is about gaining insights and skillful means to be proactive and not reactive, in responding to events and how we can use our resources and energy wisely to make a real difference in our world as we so choose.

I remind myself with a simple inner ritual to get to my heart center, that you can follow at first and then develop your own when you have experienced the benefits of meditation and gained confidence to explore and be playful. There are no rights or wrongs, just what works for you. Each stage I breathe slowly through until I feel at peace to continue with the next.

“I am breathing freely and I let go of tension in my body with a huge sigh.

My mind is now becoming quiet and I let go of my thoughts as they arise.

I accept the world as it is and not the way I believe it should be

I love and accept myself just as I am.

I love and accept others just as they are.

My Heart is open to expand and receive .

I choose now to be here in bliss as I feel my heart opening and expanding.

I breathe into this expansion and allow anything other than love in this moment to fall away” …. With meditation less is more.

Breath awareness, making the mind still, being open to accept the truth and loving and accepting myself and others as I am and they are, really opens my heart and brings great emotional awareness and healing.

As the Buddha said …. “Look within and be still. Free yourself from fears and attachment and then know the sweet joy of the way!”

Bullying

We all, at some stage in our lives have experienced or have seen others experience bullying.  If there is one thing that can destroy a young child’s confidence and quality of life at school or even with friends out of school or in the family home, it’s bullying. It is a big deal and needs to be dealt with quickly once uncovered.

Bullies form their patterns of behavior early in life, starting around two years of age. It usually occurs when the aggression that comes out of what is known as the “terrible twos” is not handled well and corrected by parents or primary caregivers.

Bullies are not born, they are made. A lot of research into bullying now suggests that bullies suffer deep down with anxiety issues, do not fully understand their own feelings or the feelings of others and usually have strained relationships with parents and peers.

In our age of computers, cell phones, and group chats, electronic bullying has now become a real issue for our kids growing up. With the anonymity afforded through the internet and cell phones with 24/7 access to those victimized by bullies, online bullying is a real problem and can hurt our children deeply.

Bullying is so devastating for the bullied because it triggers the three core wounds of human beings: abandonment, betrayal and shame. This must be understood if we are to support our children or others that have been or are being bullied because these wounds are archetypal and run deep.

For example, feelings of abandonment create an experience of fear, loss and rejection for the victim. No amount of saying “you have to stand up to the bully and be strong and tough” will heal this if the fear a child is feeling is not understood and addressed first.

Betrayal triggers and creates feelings of anger, frustration and lack of trust and shame, which in turn create feelings of hopelessness and the idea that the bullied feels they are bad or not worthy especially if they judge themselves as cowards or weak in not standing up for themselves.

If we address them and face these painful issues and do not deny or pretend they are not happening, they can generate such huge gifts for us, our children and our family in facing them and growing together. When handled well, often the bully and theirs parents can benefit even if we do not have much sympathy or compassion for them in the difficult moments. We can have a hand in stopping this behavior so our own children and others do not suffer at the hands of a bully or group of bullies.

Many of my clients come to me with difficulties and discomfort that can be traced back to being bullied at some stage in their lives. It is important to remember that bullying just doesn’t happen at school or to kids. Many women come to me with real health issues having tolerated bullying from their husbands or partners and other family members and even mothers that are bullied by their kids.

The intense emotional build-up that comes from living with bullies or tolerating bad abusive behavior of others over time turns into pathology and illness if left unaddressed.

As a mother, I have had to address my son being bullied around age eight. Luckily, we have worked on developing a strong bond of trust over time, and that payed off since he came to me as soon as it happened. Most children suffer by themselves for long periods of time and do not tell others what is happening.

I went to inform his teacher the next day to observe what was happening, and she confirmed that a particular child with emotional issues was focusing on my boy. We agreed on a plan of intervention from the teacher. I worked with my son to face his natural fears of answering back and challenging someone with his tendency to avoid conflict. After teaching him how to set boundaries with love and not fear or aggression of his own, it was wonderful when he returned home triumphantly having faced his fears and worked things through. It took several days and attempts, but my son pulled through working with myself and his teacher to put an end to the bullying.

With my daughter around age nine, we had to face a different type of drama within a group of her girlfriends. When we noticed her more withdrawn and not so happy to go to school as usual, we finally got to the root of the problem and realized our daughter was in fact provoking the other girls. They would, in turn, be mean to her back. We had to work with our daughter, so she could understand it was her behavior causing some of the reactions in other girls. Once she understood and accepted this, she changed her behavior and dropped several of the girls as friends.

If bullying is addressed quickly in partnership with our children, teachers, and others directly, it can be stopped. There is nothing worse for a bully than to be discovered and exposed. Bullies tend to want to operate secretly for maximum effect.

I’ll share with you some tips I have learned and adapted to address bullying from the work of clinical psychologist Dr. Mario Martinez. She created remedies or healing experiences for relationships with ourselves, our children and loved ones regarding abandonment, betrayal and shame.

The remedy or healing quality for abandonment is commitment. Commit to telling yourself and children each day that you and they are loved and lovable. Become your own and child’s best friend and confirm to yourself that you will not abandon any part of you today. If you do, you will quickly recommit to being there for yourself and loved ones. Keep your word to yourself and your children, commit to your own development and growth. Commit to listening more attentively to your children and being more aware of what is happening in your family. Commit to dealing with issues yourself and your loved ones face a priority.

With children that have been or may be bullied, apologize for not having noticed sooner and re-commit to being there for them. Promise to honor your commitments to them fully and to make dealing with bullying a priority. Be very honest with them and trust them to commit to resolving issues for themselves in helping them to believe that they can do it with help and guidance. Help them love and believe in themselves and that they are lovable.

The remedy or healing quality of betrayal is loyalty. Be loyal to your values and who you are as a woman. Stand up for yourself and your children. Make appropriate boundaries as needed out of love not fear. Focus and be loyal to developing your own strengths and talents as a woman, a mother and wife. Acknowledge yourself for what you do well and share this confidence with your children in dealing with the bully.

With our children and loved ones who are being bullied, tell them honestly from your heart how important they are to you. Acknowledge them for their uniqueness and what they do well. Put your emphasis on their strengths and talents and link that to them having the abilities to deal with the bully or a difficult situation. Listen to them without judgement or being “hooked” by what they are saying. Acknowledge their loyalty to you and the family and how important that is to you. Express how important it is for them to be loyal to themselves their beliefs and values and that they must be fearless in setting healthy boundaries to protect and keep themselves from harm.

The remedy or healing quality for shame is honor. Shame is such an easy emotion for ourselves as mothers and wives and our kids to feel. With shame, realize it’s a feeling and not a fact. With shame, we or our children believe we are wrong or bad. It’s different from feeling guilty and accepting we have just made a mistake. With shame our children believe they are the mistake.

Honor yourself and children by putting them first when they are going through difficulties. Stop sacrificing yourself for others. Develop an inner-voice that speaks to you and your children’s wounds, vulnerabilities, and mistakes with love and tenderness . Stand up for yourself and your loved ones and become more aware of what you and they need rather than what you and they want!

Make neutral boundaries as needed. These are not extreme boundaries that take time and energy to maintain. If a boundary is costing you or others it’s not coming out of love. Honor the creative free spirit in yourself and your children free from your own fears and concerns.

Shame is a big feeling to overcome for our children that have been bullied when deep down they believe they are cowards or weak in not standing up for themselves. Take time to describe and honor the true eternal beauty you see in your child that is outside the drama they are experiencing. Listen deeply to how they feel and especially to how they are making sense of what has been happening to them. Educate them as to what may be going on for the bully and not to take it so personally whilst at the same time honoring their pain and feelings they are experiencing. Be present with them and ask them how they would like you to respond in dealing with their issues with being bullied. Most children will try to avoid dealing with the situation. Let it be known that as a parent you cannot allow this to continue so how can you work with them to resolve things.  Honor the brilliance in them in what they do and talk things through to give them the confidence to step up and deal with things.  Ask them to imagine how they will feel having dealt with what is happening with honor and dignity.

Bullying is a real challenge to deal with, especially if the bully or bullies do not respond initially or our children avoid dealing with the issue and pretend all is ok.  Once the family pulls together and commits to resolving it with teachers or others involved, it can be dealt with effectively.

Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is natural, even biblical in nature, meaning it has been happening ever since families existed and lived together.

Families with more than one child will, at some stage, have to deal with rivalry, competition, power struggles, envy, jealousy and aggressive or passive aggressive fighting between siblings.

There are many causes that can trigger or create rivalry between siblings. The quality and maturity of parenting in educating children to live happily with others is vital in helping children to learn how to understand and voice their emotional states and to form healthy boundaries and partnerships. Also, it’s important to understand that all unresolved issues between parents and primary caregivers will be “worked out” in the family through our children. So if there is mistrust or power struggles with parents, the children will pick up on this and act it out between themselves overtly or covertly. Sibling rivalry really focuses the shadow aspects of our families and that is why it is so rewarding to face, address and resolve.

Birth order and age gap between children  can also contribute, for example as a rule rivalry is more intense the narrower the age gap and with same gender children. When one child is particularly gifted that also can create problems with siblings. Other causes are favoritism and making comparisons  from parents or other family members or when children fight for attention and compete to demonstrate to parents who’s the most special or unique and more worthy of their love .

Rivalry is co-created by favoritism and typecasting of our children that can produce competition, jealousy and envy. For example when we say he’s the sporty one in the family or she’s the smart or sharp one out of her brothers and sister, this can create a huge emotional charge for the other children.  When we make what seems like innocent comments, when heard through a child’s sensitive ears of rivalry they can become triggers to spark emotions and insecurities that our children do not know how to express and communicate. It is these emotions and feelings when left unaddressed that turn into rivalry.

Rivalry can take on the form of victim, victimizer, domination, control, humiliation, embarrassment, shaming and blaming, telling tales and sabotaging by omission or commission.

It is important for us as parents to know the difference between healthy constructive debate and unhealthy rivalry. It is important to identify when our children are dealing with natural tensions and differences in learning how to express themselves with others and when to step in to handle unhealthy rivalry that can be very destructive and erode over time the happiness and wellbeing of our children and families .

It is also easy to fall into the trap of taking sides or protecting the underdog or younger child, especially when we witness inequalities of strength, emotional maturity, eloquence of speech or manipulations from our older children. Younger children can also be guilty of all of the above depending on their age and competitive smarts in defending themselves or attacking others.

I have two children, a boy aged 13 years and a girl aged 11 years, so you can imagine I’ve had to deal with sibling rivalry from the moment my son realized after two weeks of his sister being home that his kingdom had changed. It was telling when at aged two, he started to ask when I was taking her back to the hospital? What is often missed with sibling rivalry is that it’s a journey for our children between the extreme emotions of “love and hate!”

I began including my boy in the process of taking care of his sister. He began to enjoy this enormously. He felt more responsible for her, and over time developed an emotional bond with her that would generate good feelings for him and make him feel special at the same time. I also had to learn to create space for each child individually and to acknowledge each child as being different with their own unique qualities and needs.  Needless to say, it is still a work in progress with days where we come together as a real team and others where we have to face challenges and work through them. I found it helpful to address issues as they arise rather than let them grow over time into fixed habits that will ultimately take longer and be more difficult to deal with.

I’d like to share with you some of the ways I’ve worked through the rivalry of my own kids. We take time out to voice differences and to get in touch with the underlying emotions causing fights or difficulties. I ask and teach each child how to identify and give voice to their own feelings talking through their underlying fears and concerns. When all hell breaks loose, as it can from time to time, I remind them that they are both uncomfortable right now and what is going on between them to cause the discomfort and how can we work it out together. I also remind them that it is not all bad and that they see eye to eye and play well together with many things. I take time out to calm intense emotions and then ask each to explain what is not working for them and what they feel needs changing. We then all agree how best to change things or do things differently that will hopefully bring about a different result. Mostly this works as I discovered a lot of rivalry and bickering is over the same things. Usually, my kids do not have the foresight, motivation or willingness to name what the real issue is and unhappily stay stuck complaining or arguing over and over about the same issues which gives them each an excuse not to show up and move on. It’s so easy to blame someone else for our troubles, so that over time the sibling becomes the default excuse when things don’t go the way they want or expect.

It is very important for parents to take time out and teach their children how to be in touch and give a voice to their emotions. It is also vitally important that if children risk voicing and sharing their emotions and feelings that we do not make them wrong or take sides unfairly.

The big emotions usually at the heart of sibling rivalry are anger, fear, jealousy, envy, hurt and sadness. Most of these emotions are triggered by the fear of our children not getting what they want or fearing losing what they have. Often children without the ability to articulate their feelings, to a parent or primary caregiver, will divert and project their feelings and hurt onto a sibling. It is impossible to deal with children whose flight or fight response has been triggered by a sibling as their biological defense mechanism is in play. Calming children down first may take time, but it will produce better results over time. In dealing with anger, understand a child is trying to protect something he or she feels is at risk and needs protection. With fears, a child is triggered into feeling they need to take some sort of action or say or do something based on what their fearful imagination is telling them. So when a child is angry ask first what or who are they angry at, you may have to push them to go deeper into an answer, and then ask what are they afraid of or are trying to protect or fear losing. Ask them to describe what their fearful imagination is telling them will happen.

Parents must make time and care to build trust with each child so they learn to trust opening up to their parents with their true feelings and emotional moods. If this doesn’t happen children will learn to repress their emotions only for them to build up inside our child to explode later with greater intensity and less parental control and influence.

Jealousy and envy are also strong emotions involved with sibling rivalry. These emotions are intense as they usually have anger fears and sadness at the heart. As these are considered by most negative emotions, they are not easy to talk about and our children can even feel a sense of shame for having them. Again it pays well to sit down with each child as I say “off line,”  that is not when they are fighting with each other or in a bad mood and talk through their emotions, not making them right or wrong, but trying to understand what lies at the root of a child’s emotional behavior and moods. Usually, I find with my kids that they either need recognition and acknowledgement over their own achievements, perceive something is unfair or unjust or they mistakenly believe that there is not enough love to go around.

In dealing with sibling rivalry it’s best to address it as it arises over time and not allow things to fester and build up. This will take an investment of your time and it is painful to deal with issues regarding our children whom we love dearly. But as I remind myself and our children, “do we want short term pain and long term gain” in addressing rivalry as it arises or “short term gain and long term pain” in avoiding dealing with sibling rivalry and passively tolerating and putting up with it day in day out?

I’ve witnessed with my own children the benefits that come from working together to solve issues arising from rivalry. Like all of life’s best lessons if we face our challenges together as a family we can only grow from them and the same is true when we dealing with sibling rivalry.

© 2018 Louise Amar. All Rights Reserved