Articles Archive

Modeling Good Manners

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An Excerpt from Parenting with Presence by Susan Stiffelman

“Me first!” “I want more!” “Those are mine!” are all the normal expressions of a child who hasn’t yet developed empathy or diplomacy. Children are naturally egocentric; if there’s only one piece of pie left, they’ll grab it. If your daughter is having fun on the swing set, she’s going to resent giving it up to another child waiting for a turn. That doesn’t mean she’s selfish; it just means she’s behaving like a child. A parent’s uncritical guidance helps young ones learn the basics of showing concern about the wishes and needs of others.

There is no better way to teach good manners than to demonstrate them day in and day out in the presence of your children. For instance, at mealtimes ensure that no one begins eating until everyone has been seated and served. If your kids forget, let them know that you understand that they’re hungry, while modeling patience as others dish up their food before you pick up your fork.

Help your children learn to share and take turns when they have a friend come over to play. Explain that you know it is hard to wait for a turn on the piano or to leave the bigger piece of cake for someone else, but that in your home, guests are treated with special care.

Teach your children how to introduce people. “Ms. Norris, I would like you to meet my cousin Joey” or “Grandpa, this is my friend Elsa.” Make friendly greeting rituals part of the way you welcome guests into your home. Show your children how to make eye contact while offering a handshake to an arriving guest — or a hug, if appropriate and comfortable for your child.

Part of having good manners is acknowledging another person’s feelings. When you show your children what it looks like to be accountable for an oversight or an inconsiderate remark, they will follow your lead. If you offend someone, let your kids hear you apologize, without justifying your behavior. Finally, make sure your youngsters know how to receive a compliment. “Thank you for that” is a simple, gracious way to take in someone’s kind words and is much healthier than deflecting them.

And don’t save good manners for when company is around or those times when you’re out in public. Children smell hypocrisy a mile away. Use those magic words — please and thank you — authentically when you speak with your loved ones. Peggy O’Mara, founder of Mothering magazine said, “Be careful how you speak to your children. One day, it will become their inner voice.”

Children develop civility, thoughtfulness, and a considerate nature when they grow up in the midst of caring and respectful behavior. Acknowledge when your children exhibit good manners, and gently correct them when they forget. Don’t expect them to behave perfectly, and make sure to factor in their developmental stage as you set expectations for their behavior.

And if you have a child with a developmental challenge or psychological issue, don’t succumb to the guilt and shame that often show up when you imagine that others are judging you for your children’s awkwardness or shortcomings. Get the loving support you need so that you know that your best is more than good enough, regardless of how your children behave.

Avoid creating power struggles about manners, especially with your teens. Trying to force a child to apologize or be polite will only backfire. With patience and loving guidance, your children will become the kind of people who make others comfortable. Ultimately, that’s what good manners are all about.


Susan Stiffelman, mft is the bestselling author of Parenting with Presence and Parenting without Power Struggles. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a credentialed teacher, and the Huffington Post’s weekly “Parent Coach” advice columnist. She lives in Malibu, California where she is an aspiring banjo player, determined tap-dancer, and an optimistic gardener. Visit her online at ParentingWithoutPowerStruggles.com.

Excerpted from the book Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids ©2015 by Susan Stiffelman.    Printed with permission of New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com

Dealing with Anger

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An Excerpt from Parenting with Presence by Susan Stiffelman

Parents often bring their children to me because of their problems with anger. Sometimes the child has a difficult time managing his outbursts because his capacity to manage big feelings is underdeveloped because of immaturity or impulsive tendencies. But often I discover that Mom or Dad also have big tempers.

All of us — children and adults alike — are subject to strong emotions that we cannot always control. Some people are easygoing, hardly ruffled when life doesn’t go their way. But others struggle to keep frustration and disappointment from wreaking emotional havoc. If the root cause of anger is not addressed, we sometimes end up doing or saying things we regret. Using threats or punishments to deter our children from acting out angrily can drive unresolved emotions underground, where they can show up as eating disorders, addiction, or depression. It can also stockpile the fuel for a bigger explosion of rage later on.

Instead of shaming ourselves when we lose our cool, we need to step back, determine what we’re thinking or feeling, and identify the underlying source of our rage. Anger can be the outward manifestation of unresolved grief, sadness, frustration, stress, hormonal imbalance, anxiety, or fatigue. Until we understand that it is a symptom of something that needs to be addressed rather than a voluntary behavior, we will not be able to diminish its impact on our lives.

When I am working with a family in which angry outbursts are commonplace, I find it helpful to facilitate conversations between the yeller and the yellee (the target of the rage) in a way that makes it safe for both to be heard. When both parties can lay down their defenses and step into the other’s shoes for a few moments, they become more willing to work on resolving whatever emotions are fueling their flare-ups.

I also tell the following story (author unknown):

A young boy had a very bad temper; he often lashed out in anger at those around him. One day his father gave him a bag of nails and told him that each time he lost his temper, he was to go hammer a nail into the fence.

The first few days, the boy had to hammer lots of nails into the fence. But as time went on, he gradually found that he could catch himself before he lost his temper. Knowing that he would have to find a nail and take it to the backyard to hammer it into the fence helped him manage his angry outbursts.

Finally, the boy came to a point where he was able to tell his father that he had learned how to stop himself from losing his temper. His father said that each time he was able to get through a day without hurting others with his anger, he could remove a nail from the fence.

The day arrived when the boy went to his father to tell him that all the nails were now gone.

The father led his son to the fence and said, “You have learned something very important, son. But I want you to look at the holes in the wood. This fence will never be the same as it was before the nails were hammered into it. In the same way, when you say things in anger — even if you apologize — your words and actions leave a scar like these holes in the fence.”

We need to help our children learn to lengthen the gap between having an impulse to say or do something and acting on that impulse. To err is human and to forgive, divine. But as children deepen their understanding that, like nails in the fence, our actions have irreversible consequences and can harm important relationships, we can help them take steps toward slowing down when they are upset, taking responsibility for their actions, and making amends when needed.

The damage done by cruel words and hurtful behaviors cannot be undone. Whenever we argue with others, we need to pause and consider the effects our words might have on them.

Susan Stiffelman, mft is the bestselling author of Parenting with Presence and Parenting without Power Struggles. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a credentialed teacher, and the Huffington Post’s weekly “Parent Coach” advice columnist. She lives in Malibu, California where she is an aspiring banjo player, determined tap-dancer, and an optimistic gardener. Visit her online at ParentingWithoutPowerStruggles.com.

Excerpted from the book Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids ©2015 by Susan Stiffelman. Printed with permission of New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com

Authentic Expressions 
of a Wild Woman

Young woman sleeping on a green grass

An Excerpt from Wild Women, Wild Voices
by Judy Reeves

The call to create is a calling like no other, a voice within that howls for expression, shadow longing to merge with light. — Jan Phillips

Several years ago I was asked to give a talk about women in the arts in celebration of International Women’s Day. Whew! I thought, Where do I start? And then I thought, Where do I end? Women and art have existed from the beginning of time and, as long as there is time and there are women, they always will.

When I asked the host how long I had to speak, she said about twenty minutes, “and that includes questions and answers.”

Wow! I thought this time. Twenty minutes to talk about the history of the world from the perspective of women in the arts. I could just stand at the podium and say the names of women artists and fill the afternoon. I could fill the day, right on up to dinner. I could lose my voice just saying the names of women in the arts. We could have a filibuster, a marathon, a name-saying, celebration-making, piece of art itself, just naming the women we know who have created — who are creating — art.

And what about the women the world doesn’t know? The ones maybe like you and me, like my mother and your mother, and our aunts and sisters and daughters and nieces, our grandmothers — women who go through their days making art with nobody knowing our names. Wild Women, all of us. I like what Virginia Woolf said: “I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.”

Claiming Ourselves as Artist/Creator
I recently came across a quote in Courage to Change about the silkworm, which is not a beautiful creature. The quote I read described the silkworm as “fat and greedy.” But, the piece said, “out of their own substance, they create something beautiful. They have no choice in the matter. They were born to express this beauty.”

We Wild Women are like the silkworm, not the “fat and greedy” part but the fact that we can’t help but make art.

“Creativity is the work of the heart, unrelated to the economy of our ordinary lives,” said Jan Phillips in her inspiring book Marry Your Muse. “It is not about ego, not about money or success or failure. It is a calling from the spirit.”

And yet through the years, until at least the revolutionary sixties, when we began to make some serious noise about it, women were not encouraged to make art or to celebrate and express their creativity — at least not much past the age of seven or eight, when they took away our finger paints and crayon boxes and told us it was time to get serious.

“Take typing,” my mother advised, “then you’ll always have something to fall back on.” What she meant, of course, was that if my marriage didn’t work out, I could always be someone’s secretary. I’m not sure what advice mothers give their daughters these days, but I bet it’s not, “Take art, darling. You’ll be adding beauty to the world and expressing your wild, creative nature.”

You may have heard something like my mother’s counsel, too. Practical, yes, but what a shame that for many of us the practicality wasn’t balanced with the encouragement to express our authentic creativity. Instead we heard, “Stay in the lines” or “Polar bears can’t live in the jungle.” And little by little our wild, intuitive voice was tempered as we learned the rules. “Quit daydreaming,” we were told, when daydreaming is the very thing creative minds need.

Claiming ourselves as artist/creator is the same as claiming ourselves as Wild Women. To be wild is to be responsive; to be responsive is to be creative. Though we may hesitate to call ourselves artists, we can’t deny we are creative. Creativity is a natural part of all human beings, like love and hope, and even though we may turn away or try to shut it down or deny it, it remains steadfastly within us. We should all be like Janie Crawford in Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, who “had found a jewel down inside herself and she had wanted to walk where people could see her and gleam it around.”

But whether or not we acknowledge ourselves as artists, our creativity leaks out in some manner. For some of us it’s the way we prepare and serve meals; for others it’s the way we remodel our kitchens. Throw a party, paint a wall, knit a scarf. Open a business, write a proposal, write a poem. Take a photo, take a trip, give a handmade gift.

“There are many expressions of creativity; most are not recognized as art and yet they are. In each of us there is a poet or artist who takes pleasure in making something beautiful or expresses something that is truly us,” writes Jean Shinoda Bolen.

This is what I know about creativity: the more you live it, the more whole you feel. The less you judge it, the more pleasure you derive. Creativity brings a wild playfulness to our lives that is often sorely lacking.

From the book Wild Women, Wild Voices. © Copyright 2015 by Judy Reeves. Printed with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.