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The Sci-Fi Parenting Plan

Happy parenting doesn’t have to be science fiction — though, the pathway to entering a new realm of motherly and fatherly serenity will require you to shift your understanding of the time-space continuum!

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For all its goodness, parenting can be a real shock to the system. “Many of us have been otherwise successful in the world, and have figured out strategies for work, and for our relationships. We have some control over our lives, and we like it that way,” says local educator and mindfulness innovator Andra Brill.

Then, you have kids. “Holy cow! Suddenly all of those strategies that allowed us to be successful in other sectors are no longer helpful,” Brill continues. Before you know it, many parents fall into familiar patterns of yelling at their kids and complaining about them. They feel disappointed — and discontent. “We beat ourselves up because the assumption is that if I’m feeling frustrated, I’m doing something wrong,” says Brill.

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Early in her career, Brill trained schoolteachers through the University of Denver’s Boettcher Teacher Residency Program. In that capacity, she saw the frustration first-hand, in the new teachers she worked with. And then Brill experienced it herself when she became a parent. “I think feelings of frustration are magnified when you’re a new parent dealing with your own kids,” says Brill.

When the expert’s adult-oriented conflict resolution strategies didn’t work on her daughter, Brill invented a whole new arsenal — one stocked with tricks capable of altering a parent’s entire outlook. The result was her Better than Science Fiction Solution to Parenting.

Time

When it comes to time, it’s no secret kids and parents experience it differently. “What you think will take five minutes will really take fifteen — or more,” Brill says, pointing to something she calls ‘take-up time.” The idea centers around giving your children more time to absorb whatever message you’re sending their way.

Let’s say it’s time to get ready to leave for ukulele practice. Parents are pretty good at schedules; they know how to be efficient when managing time. “If we need to be someplace at ten o”clock, we know exactly what time we need to walk out of the door,” says Brill. Five minutes before takeoff, you might ask your kid to put his shoes on, but you’re left dumbfounded when twenty minutes have passed, and you’re still at home. What went wrong

The problem, Brill explains, has to do with your child’s perception of time. “It isn’t the same as ours,” she says. “As adults, we have internalized a concept of time; kids don’t have it yet.” Brill calls this lapse ‘the difference between earth time and clock time. Grownups,” she explains, “are tuned into clock time, whereas kids are on earth time.” Quite simply, they”re busy experiencing the world as it unfolds naturally.

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Children—and even the occasional adult—who operate on earth time just need a little more warning. “Kids need to be well prepared for transitions,” Brill says. Give your child ample time to comply with time-related demands. “Leave way more time than you think is necessary,” advises Brill — at least twenty minutes when preparing for departures. You”ll be surprised by how far advanced notice gets you with your preschooler.

Another problem with time is that grown-ups tend to project present moments into the future. “This is one of those strategies that allowed us to be successful in the past, but it simply doesn’t work when applied to kids,” says Brill. Let’s say your daughter is whining about what to wear. “Don’t overreact and think she’s going to be a prima donna in twenty years,” Brill says. When you’re a 4-year-old, getting dressed can seem like a really big deal—and that doesn’t have any impact on how a child will react to the same situation once she has the outlook that comes with maturity. The same goes for picky eaters and boys who won’t wear underwear. As the adage goes, this too shall pass.

Space

The second part of Brill’s parental continuum is ‘so obvious,” she says. “But,” she adds, “it happens often.” You’re in the kitchen, your child is across the house in her bedroom — and the two of you are screaming back and forth. “We”re not mad at each other, we”re just yelling because of our spatial differentiation,” explains Brill. Telling your kiddo to pick up her toys while simultaneously starting the crockpot, folding laundry and wrapping up the next great American novel — that sounds like multitasking, doesn’t it

The problem with this sort of efficiency is that loud talking can quickly trigger a stress response in both adults and children. Before you know it, you’re mad at your kiddo because she isn’t listening, and your loud talking has escalated to agitated yelling. The solution is simple: “Walk across the house, get down to your kid’s eye level and ask her — in an inside voice — for whatever it is you need,” Brill says. Making eye contact is an easy way to create a connection; the same goes for closing physical space.

Focus

Brill’s bonus strategy involves mindfulness: “One thing at a time,” she counsels.

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“Stop kidding yourself. Think about what you’re modeling for your kids.” Forget multitasking! When it comes to running a family, pace allows parents to focus on what they”re doing. If you’re making dinner, and your child asks you to help find a doll, you shouldn’t feel bad about telling her to wait. “Then, when you’re done, you’re able to really focus on finding that doll, and that builds a better relationship,” Brill explains.

According to Brill, research shows that our brains don’t actually multitask. “We”re simply switching back and forth quickly between tasks — not doing them simultaneously,” she says. “From a purely biological point of view, you can’t really be making dinner and paying attention to your kid.” When a situation threatens to split your attention, be creative: Invite your children to help you cook, for example, or set them up with a game or stack of books.

Remember: happy kids raise happy parents. (Or is it the other way around?) “As parents, it’s our responsibility,” Brill says, ‘to set our kids up to be successful.”

Avoiding Your Parents’ Mistakes

Sometimes it’s good to follow in Mom’s footsteps; occasionally, though, it’s better to blaze a new trail.

Timeouts: When science showed corporal punishment didn’t work very well, many parents instituted a little something called timeout. You”ve probably tried the technique, too. According to Brill, timeouts might work at first — but then they fizz out. “The basis of relationships with our children is connection and belonging,” Brill explains. Timeout, then, can be devastating for a young child. “You’re basically saying, ‘You don’t belong here,” ” Brill says. She thinks a better message for kids is, “I want to be in connection with you, but in a way that works for all of us.” That’s why Brill advocates for redirection over exile.

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Telling as Teaching: Many parents try to tell kids what they need to know so kids won’t have to experience lessons the painful way. They remind—rather loudly, rather often—to walk instead of run, for example. Brill wants parents to go “way back to the pre-1950s parents, who let their kids make mistakes on their own.” It pays, Brill says, to let kids learn lessons the hard way. Of course, we”re talking about developmentally appropriate and safe risk-based learning. Parents shouldn’t let their children, say, run across a busy intersection; common sense is key to ascertaining which life lessons kids should be allowed to stumble through, and which must be avoided.

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