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parenting as a practice

2014 April 3
by Rachel Turiel

c and r

We’re in the car, returning from celebrating the Jewish holiday, Purim, at Temple Har Shalom. We’ve had a fun night, including participating in the rowdy re-enactment of the Purim story and being served a lovely catered dinner. The sky darkens and the kids clutch new toys won at the Purim carnival.

“The one part I didn’t like?” announces Rose without provocation, “is that I didn’t get more cookies.”

A small, cramped place in my brain lights up in silent accusation: After all that fun you’re dwelling on the cookies you didn’t eat?

From the moment we arrived, a table of traditional Purim cookies, called Hamentashen, were available. We told our kids they could choose one cookie after dinner. There are things, as parents, that we’re loose and easy with; cookies before dinner are not one of them.

Dan speaks up. “That must’ve been hard to see kids grabbing cookies all night. All those cookies just sitting there! And you had to wait. That feels unfair!”

“Yeah,” Rosie replies with the buoyancy of a newly inflated balloon. She returns to wriggling the rubber worms won at the beanbag toss. Hamentashen cookies become the proverbial hatchet, buried.

Somewhere down the bumpy road of parenthood, we’ve been duped into believing we can manage our children’s difficult emotions by telling them how to feel. “Shhh, you’re okay,” we whisper when they’re howling after a fall. “You’re lucky you got one cookie!” we insist. “It’s not a big deal, you have hundreds more,” we say when a beloved pink bead rolls down the sewer grate.

Telling your child not to fret while fat tears sail down their cheeks is like speaking to them from behind a glass wall. The excellent and logical soliloquy on why cookies are special treats is lost on a child who’s gripped in disappointment.

The good news is that if you apply empathy (which is simply non-judgmental listening without problem-solving or lecturing) like a bandage to a wound, the child feels heard, understood, and not bullied into defending their position. (Trouble will escalate if your child becomes invested in  defending their feelings). You don’t have to believe or not believe that being denied unlimited cookies warrants disappointment. You simply acknowledge and allow your child’s feelings. And feelings don’t last forever. When your child eventually moves from the primitive brain of “emotional stuckness” back into executive function, she can consider a rational explanation regarding your position on sugar before dinner.

I’m just a little extremely excited that my friends and mentors, Natalie Christensen and Nathan McTague, are coming to Durango to offer their nationwide workshop, Building an Emotionally Safe Space. Here, you will learn the latest brain science to understand how emotional processing affects children. They say, “Everything we want for our children, students, and families hinges on healthy emotional processing and the development of optimal neuro-emotional habits.”

This means that although it feels like we want compliance now damnit! what we really want is children who choose to cooperate (at least the majority of the time) because a two-way street of respect has been forged that doesn’t rely on bribes, threats or rewards.

As I practice “peaceful parenting” I can feel my muscles of patience strengthen, and the space of my own pause before reacting, lengthen. (And sometimes Dan and I rescue each other in the nick of time). This prevents me from saying something I’ll regret, and helps me see my child as needing support and encouragement, rather than needing to be wrestled into submission. This truly is a practice, one which I appreciate the opportunity to deepen. See you at the workshop!


More info:

What: Building an Emotionally Safe Space

When: Saturday, April 19th, 2-4:30

Where: Rocky Mountain Retreat Center, 848 East 3rd Ave. Durango

Who: Natalie Christensen, certified Positive Discipline Teacher, and Nathan McTague, Certified Life Coach and Positive Discipline Teacher

To Sign Up: Call 970-903-0672 or e-mail: sanjuandrive(at)frontier(dot)net

$30/person; $40/parenting team

Limited childcare available ($10/child)

This workshop looks at the latest brain science to understand how emotional processing affects children. We dive into the “ins and outs” of empathy and how to use it effectively to help children manage emotional upheaval and move into their “upper brain” where faculties like reason, logic, critical thinking, self-awareness, cooperation, and eventually empathy itself become accessible. We also share strategies for creating a home or class environment that fosters children’s complete comfort in sharing and moving through feelings. Everything we want for our children, students, and families hinges on healthy emotional processing and the development of optimal neuro-emotional habits. This course will get you there!


  • easy comprehensible steps

  • thorough, take-home outline and resources

  • 3 comprehensive charts for quick and easy reference

  • research that supports the information

  • helpful, clear graphics

  • real-life scenarios

  • question and answer time


  • “tantrums”

  • manners

  • sibling quarrels

  • unwanted “behaviors”

  • bedtime battles

  • the after-school meltdown/reconnecting after school


13 Responses leave one →
  1. Sara permalink
    April 3, 2014

    Every time I read about using empathy and listening to deal with disappointment, sadness, or other hard feelings, people talk about how the emotions just melt away. Occasionally that happens, but more often the melting is something like the snow going away in March. It happens incrementally at best, glacially slow, and just when you think you’re seeing movement in the right direction, it snows again. And I resort to “You’re lucky that” or something similar. How do you stick with it when you’re really thinking, “It’s not that big a deal?” or “I told you not to do that.”

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      April 3, 2014

      Yes. Sometimes the howling seems to last an entire season while you’re empathizing your freaking brains out.
      I think on some level, you fake it till you make it. I mean truly I did feel annoyed that Rose could possibly STILL BE HARPING ON MISSED COOKIES when the entire night was so kid-oriented and fun.

      But I do notice that empathy is best sustained if I can really tap into the little (or big) person who is hurting. If I can remember, for example, that Rose loves sweets and tends to notice what other kids are doing/getting and how hard that must have been for her to comply with our decision when everywhere kids were snarfing cookies, I can feel her disappointment with her. It’s an outrage, really, when your six!

      I know some of my own disappointments and difficult feelings have been long and slow to fade, which can be annoying for the people around me. But I also know the only way out of them is through them. So I practice giving myself heaps of empathy and internal space to let the feelings be. “Hmmm. Jealousy feels like a tight place in my chest. I don’t like it.” And miraculously, slowly, I get bored with feeling crappy and turn to something more interesting.

      Maybe your child needs an extra long time to move through emotion. Maybe your child is still learning to trust the process of receiving empathy. Maybe you can deliver heaps of empathy to yourself as you’re moving through the hard process of waiting out an emotional storm.

      Natalie or Nathan, thoughts?

      • April 7, 2014

        you stick with it because you choose to believe it is how humans of any age should be treated, not because of the results you are or are not experiencing. you learn to not be as results-oriented, more values-oriented. you stick with it by having a much wider angle lens on your picture than the current tantrum. you stick with it because you are committed to investing in the much longer term results of grown up children who experienced empathy and know how to extend it to others thanks to your example. and YES self-empathy is maybe the biggest secret to sticking with it. your feelings of “omg it’s just a flipping cookie” are completely valid, though they don’t have to influence how you act in the moment towards your child, whose feelings are also completely valid. you can act with higher integrity because you have the capacity to validate your own feelings while simultaneously validating your child’s.

  2. Andrea permalink
    April 3, 2014

    practice takes practice.

    also, i assume that you do not have a dog. but love that a dog always seems to end up in the photos.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      April 3, 2014

      life is better with dogs that aren’t actually yours.

  3. April 3, 2014

    That is in fact the best lesson I learned from my psychologist dad when he came and visit me in the Yukon when the girls were only 18 months and I assured on of them “she was OK, it’s no big deal” when she was crying about something I can’t remember. “No, he said, she is not OK, it is a big deal to her. Recognize that, Cat.” It’s like a lightbulb went on and I never forgot to acknowledge my kids very real feelings and never (ahem… most often) did not try to put a band aid on them by dumbing them down. Of course, we do that unconsciously most of the time, but isn’t it freeing, even as adults, when someone gives us empathy for our “silly feelings”?

  4. April 4, 2014

    I know this post was about chilluns, but I am going to do my best to apply this to myself. I often rage against my own disappointment instead of simply allowing it to be. Dan’s comment made me feel better! Oh, Rose. I get it. I do. Cookies are the best.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      April 5, 2014

      Totally adult-sized too, Aldra.

  5. April 19, 2014

    Wow, this article is nice, my younger sister is analyzing these things,
    therefore I am going to inform her.

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