How to Experience a Baby’s World

baby choreography, body wisdom, infant body language,

CC by 2.0 sabianmaggy

I’ve never admitted this before because it sounds entirely weird, but it was such a powerful experience that I now look back at it as a sort of ceremony. In case you want to give baby choreography a try, I’ll explain.

First time motherhood confounded me in a way I could not, still cannot, put into words. The new life in my arms astonished me. I’d never before looked so many hours at one face, day after day. I’d certainly never been simultaneously exhausted, enthralled, and overwrought for weeks on end. All the ways I knew how to understand another human being were muddled, beyond what the heart knows and the eyes show. So I asked my body to teach me how brand new Benjamin perceived his world.

When just the two of us were alone, I set him on the carpet and lay down next to him. Then I imitated every single movement and sound my seven-week-old baby made.

  • Pursed lips.
  • Open lips.
  • Wrinkled brow.
  • Wide-eyed gaze.
  • Arms sweeping across the air.
  • Arms held tight to the body.
  • Feet and toes turning, flexing, flailing.
  • Arms and legs jerking.
  • Coos and bubbles.
  • Hands in fists.
  • Hands open, waving,
  • Side-to-side wiggles.
  • Long pauses of full-body stillness, with a wondrously calm facial expression.

I thought I’d indulge in this for only a minute or two, but I kept it up longer. Something about it transported me to my own bodily memory of infancy. I felt, from the inside, a sort of freedom from the physical template created by years of upright posture and socially acceptable facial expressions. I felt helpless, yes, but also expansively connected as if my body didn’t end at the boundaries of my skin.

In a sudden moment I recognized that his soul was at least as large as mine. Our bodies, mine older and his brand new, were our gifts to use. I got up from the floor humbled. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.

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Bedsharing Through the Good and the Bad


By Olivia Campbell for Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers

With a finally passed-out 17-month-old on your shoulder, you have to slither into bed as gingerly as you can: waddling on your knees like a penguin to the middle of your mattress, turning around and then laying back as slowly as possible—utilizing all the core muscles you have left after having two kids (sit-ups being absent in your recent memory) while sliding him carefully down your arm and onto his pillow—if you’re lucky, your arm won’t get stuck underneath him. Your precious 23-pound wrecking ball has already slept soundly on your shoulder while you peed and brushed your teeth with one hand, so you are feeling pretty confident about tonight’s sleep potential.

About 20 minutes after you both get all settled in (you know, long enough for you to be lulled into a false sense of sleep-security), it happens. At first it’s only rolling and writhing. You hope he will calm back down because it is dark and you are both under the covers. Exhausted after a day at the office and then chasing two wild boys around while your husband works late, you only have the energy left to offer a banal butt pat, served alongside a robotic “shhhhhh.”

He’s wiggling faster now, tossing and flailing as if his limbs are willing him to wake. He groggily requests “meh” as he pokes a finger into your chest. You quickly oblige, hoping the soothing act of nursing and resulting full belly of milk with lure him back to sleep, as it has so many nights before. No such luck. First he turns so his feet are underneath him, then straightens his legs and sticks his butt high into the air. Next, he side-steps closer to you and slides both legs up along your top arm, until finally his straight, stiff body is planking across you at an angle: feet on your shoulder, mouth on your boob, nursing away.

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Pelvic Pain in Pregnancy: Help for Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD)


I was 24 weeks pregnant with my oldest son (I’ll refer to this as PG1) when I woke up one morning and felt like someone had kicked me between my legs. I felt bruised from the inside and outside. It was painful to walk but also painful to lay down on my side. I made an appointment with my OB practice and I was diagnosed with diastasis of the pubic symphysis, a more extreme version of the symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD) that many women experience late in pregnancy.

Diastasis symphysis pubis (DSP) is such an extreme separation of pubic bones that they are considered dislocated.  For simplicity, I am going to refer to all of these as SPD in this post, but for the record: SPD can also be referred to as pelvic girdle pain (or PGP), pubic symphysis pain, and a few other names that may refer to the same specific issue or some broader ones, like pelvic instability, which may also refer to issues with the sacroiliac joint (naturally, when the front of your pelvis spreads the rear pelvic joint is impacted, too).

The pelvis naturally widens during pregnancy, especially in late pregnancy, to accommodate for delivery. This increased pelvic girth and flexibility is part of a woman’s amazing ability to birth a baby. But for me, it happened too much and too soon. The obstetrician (OB) I met with at the time told me that my diastasis was the most extreme case he’d seen in over twenty years of practice, but there was nothing to be done, save for taking pain medication and making some small comfort measures.

Getting a second OB opinion didn’t yield me any additional hope. From a physiological standpoint, the doctors were correct— the gap wasn’t going to close itself during pregnancy. But, there is more to health and healing than mainstream western medicine’s focus on medication, surgery, or bust. For my next pregnancy, where SPD became intensely painful at just 20 weeks, I knew better and utilized many strategies to make the pregnancy considerably healthier and happier. So, here’s what I know now through two pregnancies and four years* of pelvic instability.

Location of the pubic symphysis

Location of the pubic symphysis

*Something like 93% of people who have SP loosening during pregnancy heal quickly and easily after delivery. I am one of the 7% who didn’t.

DISCLAIMER: This post is based on my lay-person’s understanding and my personal experience. It should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult medical professionals about your particular course of action.

Pursue Healing Help
Chiropractic care is something that entered my life only after PG1 when I didn’t get better. For whatever reason, I was afraid of chiropractic care, didn’t believe it could be beneficial, and couldn’t comprehend paying out-of-pocket for it. When I finally reaped the benefit of chiro care (post-partum PG1 and then throughout PG2), I shed many tears that I didn’t recognize as an option before things got so bad. I was very angry that the OBs I’d consulted hadn’t recommended this (or even an adjustment with a physical therapist). I was distraught to remember that I actually had booked a chiro visit late in PG1 out of desperation and then chickened out. I so wish that I’d been more open minded! Here’s what I now understand:

  • Chiropractic care from a practitioner who specializes in pregnancy is safe, gentle, and highly effective. Ask questions ahead of time to gauge how much experience a practitioner has with pregnancy-related care.
  • If the chiro is certified in the Webster Technique, that is a good sign that they have put in extra time in the area of pregnancy care (but you don’t have to rule out someone just because they don’t.)
  • A chiro can actually put things back in place. Even if the ligaments don’t hold for long, it provides some relief. I saw a chiro though all of PG2 and it made a HUGE difference. I would feel some relief right after the adjustment, then increased soreness (like how muscles feel after a good workout), and then 1.5 days after the adjustment I would feel amazing. Not all adjustments took. Sometimes my body was just too loose and one of my ilia would torque right away. But, it did work most visits. I went one time per month early in the PG and moved to one time per week at the end.
  • If you try one chiropractor and it isn’t a fit, try another. The first guy I went to was clueless about pregnancy and asked it was healthy for me to lose five pounds in a week at five weeks post-partum. That was my clue to cancel my follow-up appointment.
  • If your insurance doesn’t cover alternative treatments or doesn’t have a chiro who specializes in pregnancy, don’t rule out paying out-of-pocket. The cost may not actually be much higher than a copay. Budgets and costs vary, but if $50 meant the difference between pain and relief, wouldn’t that be worth skipping a dinner date or getting a used stroller instead of a new one to allow you to function for the next several weeks or months?
  • When it comes to professionals, get a second, third, even fourth opinion. Chronic pain can make you very angry. You have the right to be angry, sad, and depressed and you also have the right to a caregiver who can help you. Even if you’ve never done anything but mainstream Western medicine, give something else a try: chiropractic, acupuncture, working with herbs and vitamins to help your body (Vitamin D, magnesium, and fish oil are all helpful when facing inflammation). You have everything to gain!

For me, being active was good my overall body, health, weight, etc. It was tough to find the balance of gentle activity vs. pain, but every woman’s body will give her different cues on where the line falls.

  • In PG1, I lived in relentless chronic pain until delivery. Although every, single step was a challenge, I chose to walk, work, etc. until baby was born at 40+ weeks. Walking was painful, but sitting or laying for too long also caused pain. So, it was mentally healthier for me to keep moving around and stay busy.
  • In pelvic physical therapy (PT) between my pregnancies, I learned that though the pain can be intense with activity, it doesn’t cause damage to my body unless I over-spread my legs (like with getting in and out of the car or bed and climbing things taller than stairs). In pregnancy 1, I was afraid of hurting my body through too much movement. With pregnancy 2, I felt empowered to stay active—and even grow in strength— knowing that movement was only good for me.
  • Exercise comes into play with pelvic stability. Strong muscles in the thighs, stomach, and pelvis all help to hold the ligaments in place. Walking is nature’s perfect exercise. Hold your abs in (like a string in pulling your belly button in) as much as possible when walking to support the lower back, also, practice kegels while walking. This will help keep things strong down there.
  • Swimming and soaking in the tub also feel great. Swimming and water walking is not advisable for all people with this, so talk to a professional and listen to your body. The resistance of the water can be too much for some people. In that case, my PT suggested treading water using the arms and not the legs for exercise. The flip-side is that swimming is incredible for strengthening the body. In my second pregnancy swimming was like magic. I stuck to flutter kicks (versus froggy-legs which spread the legs) and water-walking and it made a huge difference.
  • The action of pushing, like with a stroller or heavy grocery cart, can make SPD pain intensify. If your children will be closely spaced, consider babywearing. I am an avid babywearer, so my muscles were strong enough to continue wearing my older son through PG2, which actually was easier on my body than holding him. I wore my older son until a few days before the birth, which served as weight-bearing exercise to keep me strong (and had other benefits).


  • PG1 I slept on my side with a pillow between my knees, per my doctor. I think the pillow was too wide, as knees should be more than hip-width apart.
  • For PG2 I used a thick blanket when I slept on my side, but I slept on my back as long as possible. My midwife for PG2 was a proponent of back sleeping until my body told me not to.

Support Garments

  • In PG1, I wore a Prenatal Cradle Plus V2. On desk work days I skipped it because it was uncomfortable to sit in. For days at work when I was on my feet a lot (and on unyielding flooring of carpet over concrete slab) the belt was helpful.
  • For PG2, I sometimes bound my hips with a woven wrap for babywearing (with or without the Prenatal Cradle under my clothes) because the wrap gets so much snugger and gives a custom fit.
  • Mostly I did not bind at all in PG2. I would have the chiro get me back into place and then I use my natural strength to cope. In pelvic physical therapy between PG1 and PG2 the PT also encouraged not relying on a belt to allow the muscles to do the work. Conversely, my chiro saw no harm in recommending an SI belt sometimes, namely at night. So, obviously opinions vary.
  • Your pain may vary based on flooring: the floors at my home are wood and springy and gentle on my body—especially when I wear shoes. At work, the concrete was unyielding and hard in me. Good shoes really help cushion things and keep the pain away for longer. I now exclusively wear Naot or Sanita shoes.

Preparing for Birth
As you enter the late third trimester, be aware of baby’s position in the uterus. SPD is associated with non-optimal fetal positioning which leads to a higher chance of c-section. You also influence baby’s position, though. Spinning Babies has many tips for this.

Chiropractic adjustment (including that Webster technique I mentioned above) is helpful. Moxibustion (acupuncture) is also an option I tried. Some OBs will default to recommending a c-section for SPD, so ask many questions about your options because the other side of the camp is that unmedicated vaginal delivery is highly recommended for SPD. The unmedicated part is because you will remain aware of SP pain if spreading the legs and can adjust, and you preserve your ability to birth in a variety of ways (water birth, on all-fours, etc.). With an epidural, the typical birth position is flat on the back with feet in stirrups (or legs otherwise pulled apart) which can force over-spreading, and you can not feel the over-spreading which means you cannot adjust.

With PG2, an OB mentioned bedrest and a c-section because of SPD to me at just 7 weeks pregnant! Needless to say, I switched to a delightful, supportive professional midwifery practice and had a lovely delivery despite baby being occiput posterior (back of the head facing my back) well into pushing.

Encouragement & Resources
It is common in pregnancy to have pelvic loosening and feel it in the pubic symphysis or sacroiliac joints. It generally happens closer to delivery, but it happening earlier is not necessarily a sentence for bigger pain. It is very possible that the extent of discomfort that a woman feels earlier in pregnancy is as bad as it will get.  If you are looking for more information, Relieving Pelvic Pain During and After Pregnancy: How Women Can Heal Chronic Pelvic Instability is the go-to book on this.

Additionally, this website has wonderful tips on keeping legs together when getting in and out of the car and bed, sitting when putting on pants, etc. are little things that make a big difference.

This is a version of a post originally published on More Green for Less Green, which includes more about the author’s journey with this condition.

Top Image: Teza Harinaivo Ramiandrisoa

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Story Time from Space: Inspiring Our Future Innovators

by Jeffrey Bennett, Ph.D.

What you cannot imagine, you cannot do.
— Astronaut Alvin Drew (STS-118, STS-133)

Imagine astronauts on the International Space Station reading stories to the children of Earth as the world rotates below…

Imagine videos of the readings accessible via the web to everyone in the world, along with educational science demonstrations, lesson plans, and activities for teachers and families…

Imagine astronauts, educators, scientists, and artists all working together to make this dream a reality…

Now, imagine no more…it’s Story Time from Space!

I’m very honored that the first set of books chosen for this exciting new program happens to be my set of five children’s books. It’s quite amazing to realize that since their launch in January, these books have already logged some 10 million miles in orbit around orbit Earth. But what does this program mean for you as a parent?

In brief, I believe Story Time From Space will be a great benefit to parents everywhere because it ties together what I call the three tiers of successful education: education, perspective, and inspiration. The education piece is the specific content that we want students to learn. The perspective piece should show them how what they are learning will help them gain perspective on their own lives and on our place in the universe. The inspiration piece should make them care about what they learn, ideally in a way that makes them dream of how much better the world could be if they get an education and become part of the solution for the future.

Only by putting all three pieces together can we achieve educational success. The reason should be clear. If we supply on the education piece, meaning the content, children won’t see why they should care about it. They also need the perspective piece to show them how what they learn will affect them personally, and the inspiration piece to motivate them to make the study and effort required for true learning.

Story Time From Space encapsulates this education-perspective-inspiration approach better than any other education program I’ve ever seen — and it’s available to everyone, for free. I hope you’ll join us in becoming involved with this exciting new program:

Links and resources:

Dr. Jeffrey Bennett ( is the founder of Big Kid Science ( and the author of five children’s books. He also writes textbooks and books for adults—his most recent being On Teaching Science. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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20 Reasons You Should Hire a Doula

Courtney Alva, doula, doesn't leave moms side. Courtney is a doula in the Houston, TX area.

Courtney Alva, doula, doesn’t leave moms side. Courtney is a doula in the Houston, TX area.

When I first started teaching natural birth classes, years ago, I rarely mentioned doulas in my class. I personally had never had a doula at any of my births and so, while I was fine with them, I thought that a trained partner was good enough as a companion for mom. As time when on and as I talked more with other childbirth educators I realized that I was wrong. I had talked about a doula like she was great for “some women,” when the truth is that just about EVERY woman can benefit from a doula’s presence at her birth. Now when I teach new couples I encourage every one of them to hire a doula, even those birthing at home.

In our current obstetric culture women have lots of commentators on what they should or shouldn’t do, but few people who are just there to support them and their partner in their birth. Few who understand how to emotionally “be there” for the birth and preparation leading up to it. Few women have a strong circle of people lifting them up. This is why the doula is such an important (but oft neglected) part of the birth support team.

I asked a doula I respect, Maria Pokluda, to write up a quick post with 20 reasons you should hire a doula. Maria is the co-creator of Birth Boot Camp DOULA and and has served many women on their journey to motherhood. I love these fun (and serious) reasons why you should hire a doula! Enjoy!

20 Reasons You Should Hire a Doula

1. The research says you should.

2. Your partner will be able to eat, grab a cup of coffee and go to the bathroom knowing that he is not leaving you alone.

3. A doula won’t leave at shift change….even if your labor progresses through more than one shift change.

4. Doulas know the best for all things pregnancy. Be it in the search for the perfect care provider or the perfect maternity bra…doulas know and will share their knowledge.

5. Doulas give good foot rubs during labor.

6. Doulas give good backrubs during labor.

Houston area doula, Courtney Alva, with a client.

Houston area doula, Courtney Alva, with a birthing mother.

7. Your doula works for YOU.  Not the hospital and not your care provider.

8. When a couple has a doula, they have better breastfeeding success.

9. Labor hurts less when you have a doula.

10. Labor is often faster when you have a doula.

11. When you are approaching your due date, your doula will never ask you, “Have you had that baby yet???”

12. A doula has a rebozo and knows how to use it.

13. Your doula will tell you that you are beautiful even if you are wearing a hospital gown. She totally believes it too.

14. She will listen and relive all the details of your birth both in the moments right after delivery and in the weeks to follow. She will probably even still remember details years later.


Taylor Barnes, a doula practicing in Denton, TX, comforts a mom as she labors in the water. A laboring woman can never have too many supporters.

15. Woman who have doulas reduce their odds of having a cesarean delivery.

16. Doulas are great for babies too! A doula reduces NICU admission and hospital stays for mom and baby.

17. Doulas know your birth experience matters.

18. Doulas help your partner support you.

19. Your doula can talk you through your options at every step of the way. They won’t ever make decisions for you but they will help you ask the questions so that you can make the best choices for your birth.

20. Doulas will support you no matter what happens!

*Curious about some of these statements about doulas? Many are backed by research. Check out this Cochrane Review for more info.*

Mom (center) with her doula on the left and doula in training (Hailie Wolfe in Abilene, TX) on the right. Hailie is training with Birth Boot Camp DOULA.

Mom (center) with her doula on the left and doula in training (Hailie Wolfe in Abilene, TX) on the right. Hailie is training with Birth Boot Camp DOULA.

Maria Pokluda is a doula serving families in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. She got involved in birth through her own experience of researching infertility and then pregnancy and birth. She now has four children as well as a patient husband. Maria is the co-creator and trainer of Birth Boot Camp DOULA and owns

More about doulas:

Evidence Based Birth has a nice article here on the evidence and research associated with doula care.

Benefits of a doula talked about here.

Why you should take a birth class and hire a doula.

How a doula is different than an l&d nurse.

A special thanks to those who provided photographs of themselves in action. Love doulas! Pictures used with permission.

Courtney Alva in Houston, TX- Away We Go Baby, Taylor Barnes in Denton, TX- Doula and Childbirth Educator, Hailie Wolfe, Childbirth Educator and aspiring doula in Abilene, TX

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How Attachment Parenting Produces Independent Kids


By Zoe Claire, The Attached Family, reprinted with permission by Attachment Parenting International.

Children are in our care for a limited amount of time, generally spanning two decades. During that time, their needs change drastically yet gradually from year to year. I’ve always found it odd that the principles of Attachment Parenting are criticized as promoting dependence in children when, if you analyze the proper development of independence in childhood, the attachment style would be considered the ideal method for raising competent adults.

Attachment style parenting is based on Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting. These principles are designed to guide decision making with a focus on infancy. But the overwhelming theme of the attachment style is the sensitive responsiveness of the parent toward the child. This responsiveness is directed at meeting the child’s needs in a loving and respectful manner.

The meeting of needs is a critical concept.

The end result of meeting a child’s needs is varied yet always positive. A child whose needs are consistently met learns that his voice is heard, his communications are valued, his needs are worthy, he can rely on the world to be a safe and secure place, he can trust his parents both for comfort and guidance, and he is competent.

We are most effective leaders when we teach from a place of love and trust.

Think about a time when someone tried to change you or what you were doing. How did you feel? Now think about how you felt about that person. Did you believe the person had your best interests at heart? If you did, you probably felt positive about the experience, whether you accepted the advice or not. If you believed the person did not understand you, did not care about you, or was only trying to promote their own interests, then you probably felt bad about the experience and certainly rejected the advice. We can only create true change from a position of love and trust. This is a truth of humanity.

Why do so many people worry about Attachment Parenting leading to dependent kids?

Those who don’t understand API’s Eight Principles of Parenting can often confuse meeting a child’s needs with stifling independence. An infant is at the beginning of her experience as a human. She begins her life without the ability to help herself in any way. She is entirely dependent on her caretaker. One aspect of meeting her needs is understanding what her needs are. She has not reached the stage in her development yet where she is capable of independence or desirous of it. The securely attached parent recognizes this need and attends to her accordingly.

The result of this sensitive attendance to the child’s needs is a child who has a secure foundation to begin her journey toward independence.

How does Attachment Parenting foster independence?

The drive for independence is as natural to humans as breathing, sleeping and eating. The securely attached parent is able to recognize when the child needs and wants independence and not only allow him to stand on his own two feet, but encourage him as well.

Independence occurs gradually, throughout the two decades of childhood. We do not need to force it upon a child before she is ready and should not hold her back when she is.

Responsive parents can see when their 2-year-old is demanding to pour her own milk and allow her to so. This is meeting a need. It’s a new need, different from those in infancy, but a need nonetheless. So she is allowed to develop necessary skills as she is ready.

As soon as a child is capable of caring for himself, he should be allowed to do so.

Connected, responsive parents can observe when their child is ready for independence and are able to encourage him. He wants to dress himself? Allow him. It doesn’t matter what he wears. It matters that he is able to care for himself. If he still needs to be close to his parents when he sleeps at night, that’s okay, too. It’s about fostering the child’s desire for independence. It’s about meeting needs. His need for independence is as legitimate as his need for security. Both are met with sensitivity, predictability and love.

What the child learns as she grows is that she is capable and secure. She learns that independence is a positive experience for her, as she masters each new skill. She learns that all of her needs will be met, regardless of what they are or how someone else feels about them.

As the child progresses through childhood, her need for independence will increase while her need for physical closeness to her parents will decrease. But the confidence she has in her parents is what links the two.

What does Attachment Parenting look like in the teen years?

I’ve seen articles proclaiming that parents must detach from their children during the teen years. I believe this is a misunderstanding of what attachment is. The attachment is the relationship, the sensitivity, the unconditional willingness to meet the child’s needs. A securely attached parent is able to recognize that the child’s needs during the teen years have changed and will continue to change to adulthood.

The securely attached teenager has experienced life with his parents knowing that when he speaks, he will be heard. He knows that his ideas, thoughts, opinions, and experiences are valued by them. He knows that he is competent. He knows that he can seek independence and he will be supported in his efforts. He knows that he can go to his parents for emotional support and they will be there for him. He knows that they know him well, they always have, and their primary goal is to support him. He knows this because that has been experience since the day he was born.

Think about this teen for a moment. This is what all parents want. This is a teen who knows when she has a problem, she can trust her parents as a resource. She will talk to them about it. She doesn’t rebel. She has nothing to rebel against. Her parents are allies in her life. They always have been. Nothing magically changes because of her age. They are still watching her, listening to her, anticipating what she needs from them and responding to her with sensitivity. She will take their advice more often than not. She knows that they want the best for her. They don’t disregard her, brush her aside or bully her. They never have. Sure, she might make mistakes. Everyone does and teens are more susceptible due to their inexperience and youth. But she has parents to guide and teach her. And she is still willing to accept their love and support.

We all want the same things for our children. We them to be happy, successful, independent, competent, kind, loving, empathic, responsible adults when they leave to go out into the world. We are not always so sure how to get there. While we all have to find our own way as parents, this I do believe: you can never go wrong meeting your child’s needs, no matter what the needs may be.

Image: Mateus Lunardi Dutra

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Talking to Children About Tragedy: How Temperaments Help

Talking to Children About TragedyWhen talking to children about tragic events, understanding individual temperament can be a great help. In Part I, I focused mainly on two important aspects for the parent:

    • the fundamental need for some measure of self-possession and calm amidst outer events
    • a level of honesty and clarity in speaking to the child about the events that is not the norm in our culture

Especially related to that second point — honesty and clarity for the child — I want to dive a bit deeper and look at the importance of knowing your individual child, and letting that understanding guide you with more specificity and nuance when navigating the delicate territory of tragedy with them.

One of the reasons that my book Parenting for Peace is based on principles (rather than rules, systems, or techniques) is that meaningful parenting guidance must allow for everyone’s uniqueness. What nurturance looks like to one child will feel like smothering to another; what presence feels like to one mother will feel like imprisonment to another.

A huge dimension of the parenting journey is to be led to ever deeper understandings and appreciation of just who your child is, apart from any other. While the possibilities of uniqueness are infinite, it is sometimes helpful to orient ourselves with the help of various mapping tools. Temperaments is one such tool.

What Are The Four Temperaments?

[This section features significant contributions from Bari Borsky, author of
Authentic Parenting: A Four Temperaments Guide to Understanding Your Child--And Yourself.]

The temperaments were first described by Hippocrates, the father of western medicine. He identified the fiery and willful choleric; the watery, laid back phlegmatic; the excitable, short-attention span sanguine; and the hypersensitive, inhibited melancholic. Hippocrates used these “humors” or temperaments as a way of explaining imbalance or illness in his patients.

In 18th century Europe, the “Age of Enlightenment” relegated the theory of the four temperaments to the realm of superstition. Thanks to the work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, new interest in understanding the human psyche and soul blossomed during the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1919, with the creation of the first Waldorf School, Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist and philosopher, instructed teachers in the use of the four temperaments as a tool for unlocking the mystery of each child’s personality. He taught them how an understanding of the four temperaments can help to develop harmony within the child. A great deal of what we know today about the four temperaments in children has come from careful observation by teachers in Waldorf schools.

Each of the temperaments is related to one of the four elements – earth, water, air and fire. Every child and every adult possesses all four temperaments, but in most cases only one or two will predominate. Understanding that childhood itself is a sanguine time of life, we should be mindful that some of its characteristics describe all children.

A child with a dominant melancholic temperament experiences inner suffering and senses loss and death more than the other three temperaments. This is the child whose feelings are always getting hurt, and whose body seems to lack energy. By recognizing and working with the melancholic temperament, parents and teachers can help this child to focus less on him/herself, and more on those around him/her, by consciously drawing the child’s attention to the pain and struggles of other people or animals. This will help the melancholic child to grow into a compassionate adult who is willing to help alleviate the suffering of others.

Children with phlegmatic as the dominant temperament have a tendency to be asleep to the outer world. They prefer to live in a feeling of inner comfort and don’t seem to exhibit much interest in the things or people around them. These children require special guidance so they can develop socially acceptable behavior, create friendships, and focus on tasks and projects beyond what is “comfortable and easy.” With proper attention, these children can grow into adults who find purpose in their ability to research deeply and carefully, and to think profoundly and strategically about any project they take on.

The sanguine temperament is social, chatty, and falls in love with every new interest that appears. These children need consistency and guidance in learning how to follow through and finish projects. They require a teacher or mentor who will instill in them the importance of loyalty and keeping one’s word. These children can grow into adults who can contribute to the world of fashion, design, the arts, sales and anything that requires interpersonal relationship skills.

The child who has choleric as the dominant temperament is fiery and will-filled. He needs adults who know how to work with his blazing energy without suppressing it. These children require someone to teach them how to control themselves, self-reflect, and be sensitive to the feelings of other people. Choleric children often grow into visionary business or political leaders, whose disciplined will forces are capable of guiding a company of soldiers or a company of business executives.

The most whimsical portraiture of the four temperaments is found in Winnie the Pooh’s four main characters: Pooh, the phlegmatic; Eeyore, the melancholic; Tigger, the choleric; and Piglet, the sanguine. If the four of them came to a boulder blocking the path, melancholic Eeyore, pulled earthbound with the ongoing search for the meaning of life, would sigh deeply: “That’s the story of my life.” The organized, consistency-loving phlegmatic Pooh would complain that “This isn’t supposed to be here — this isn’t how it should be,” and the airily light-hearted sanguine Piglet would cartwheel right over it: “This is fun!” The determined, fiery choleric Tigger would kick it out of the way so they could all get on with it.

As a parent as well as a counselor of parents, I’ve found the temperaments of great help because they illuminate fundamental needs (and the flip-side of needs, stressors), which is essential parental information. You can imagine, for example, how knowing a phlegmatic child cannot stand being hurried, while a choleric child thrives on quick results, is a boon for the ease of daily life!

Let Temperament Help You Know What To Say in Hard Times

Writes Bari Borsky, “To effectively address your child’s fear, consider speaking to their temperament”:

Sanguine children especially absorb the fears of their playmates, classmates or other family members. Be a warm, loving, and most important, calm authority figure for them. “Something bad happened out there, but we are together, we are safe, and I love you.”

Choleric children never want to show they are afraid and may respond to fear by acting out in anger. Wait until the temper calms down before talking to him or her about the cause of their outburst. In times of stress or crisis give the choleric child something constructive and meaningful to do. This is a healthy outlet for their abundant energy.

Phlegmatic children are quiet introverts who dislike having their routine changed. Calmly explain enough facts of the situation to assure them that they are safe, and make every effort to keep their routine as normal as possible – regular meal times and bed times allow the phlegmatic child to feel secure. Let them know that someone is taking care of them.

Melancholic children are also introverts, are extremely sensitive, and can become withdrawn when frightened. These youngsters will feel like their world is collapsing around them during a family crisis, and because they take everything so personally, they think it is their fault (unless it’s an event distant from their lives, in which case they’re more inclined to remain remote from it). Validate your child’s feelings (“if this happened to me, I would feel the same way you do”), and explain just enough facts so they understand they didn’t cause the situation.

Reflecting on 9/11 Thirteen Years Later

Part 1 of this post began with my story of our daughter Eve and how on her very first day of waking up by her self with a clock radio, it wasn’t classical music but early 9/11 coverage that she woke to. While writing the post I called Eve to discuss her recollections of 9/11, something we hadn’t discussed in the years since.

I discovered an astonishing thing: She did not remember the entire clock radio incident! Neither does she remember her father talking briefly — with directness and clarity but in general terms without much detail — to her about it that evening. Eve’s memory of her ten-year-old impressions of 9/11 is of “this devastating thing that happened” and how it made everyone really sad as they thought about it and talked about it. She also recalls it seeming “so big yet so removed, kind of like it was a movie, that happened ‘over there in New York,’ and it was very unconnected to me.”

What I didn’t realize back then was, as a melancholic child, she had a tendency to carry the weight of the world on her small shoulders, and maybe this was just too heavy — the direct intrusion of the sounds of tragedy into her own bedroom, her own sleep. Perhaps these moments went somewhere deep inside and “hid.”

“I think from a psychological point of view you are correct,” points out temperaments specialist Bari Borsky, “about the whole thing being too big for her ten year old soul. But I would also argue — and this is the whole point of your prior post — that you and John didn’t carry ‘drama’ and ‘scary’ energy for Eve to pick up, and therefore the whole incident would naturally be experienced, and remembered, as remote.”

“Melancholics don’t like change because it means something is ending (a metaphoric death). Obviously you made her feel safe enough that she didn’t believe something in her life was about to change, and essentially her life didn’t change because of the incident, so she doesn’t remember the details.”

Eve does rather vividly remember going to school that morning and watching as one of her (choleric) classmates was “really riled up” as she kept talking about it. Eve’s impression was that this classmate was getting a kind of energy from the drama of it all: “Did ya hear what happened?? Did ya hear what happened?? It’s so horrible! The Twin Towers got blown up and they fell down and they’re never getting back up again…”

This was surely the child whom the teacher asked to clap the dust out of the erasers. And on life went…


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Ulrica (@Ullie)
deb roby

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Raising Secure Children in a Scary World: Talking About Terror

Secure Children in an Insecure World | Marcy Axness, PhDThirteen years since 9/11.

Thirteen years ago last night, our daughter Eve — then ten years old — was so excited that the next morning she was going to wake up by herself for the very first time, using the radio alarm clock we had given her for the occasion. It would be her first day back to school. She chose the station carefully (classical was it? maybe soft pop?).

But when the radio clicked on at six a.m. in her Los Angeles bedroom it wasn’t music that woke her up. The second plane had just hit its target. Nobody yet had clarity on what was happening, let alone the news media. A fragmented noise skein of unfathomable facts, disbelief, sorrow, and fear came out of the radio that morning.

Eve’s experience is a bit of a metaphor for what we all went through: we woke up that day to a very different world than was familiar, and we didn’t have a mental framework for it, let alone words. In a further topsy-turvy turnabout of how things would have normally been, it was she who first alerted us to the fact that something very big and very bad had happened.

So what do we say to our children about such horrific happenings? Do we follow our natural instinct to protect them, and say as little as possible, couching what we do say in bubble-wrapped terms?

A friend who at that time was wiser than me (she still is, for the most part) said something along these lines to her (then 12-year-old) daughter after she woke her up that morning: “There’s been a big incident in New York. Two airplanes crashed into the Twin Towers.” As Laura explains to me now, “I only transmitted the facts and some sadness, but not a big amount of alarm.”

Be The Security You Wish For Your Child

And here is where everything hinges: our children take all their cues, download most of their own response, from our own self-possession. Whether amidst the daily hassles of our personal family life, or more extreme, challenging events of our larger, complicated world, how do we (or do we) remain moored and centered?

This is one of the reasons that one of the first tools I suggest new or expectant parents take up is the practice of meditation and/or mindfulness. These cultivate the capacity for presence (which is the first of seven principles on which Parenting for Peace is based), and one of the most important kinds of presence a parent needs is the ability to be present for him- or herself. To be able to gather fully within that bodymind space and feel the gravitas of being all there.

An all there parent is already, by virtue of this grounded beingness, a huge comfort to a child in the face of something that has rocked his world — either far away or close to home. An all there parent is less likely to be swept up in the mass emotional tsunami that is so common at times like 9/11.

In her book Authentic Parenting: A Four Temperaments Guide to Understanding Your Child–And Yourself, Bari Borsky affirms the value of this parental centering: “Young children are like sponges in that they absorb the atmospheric energy around them without discernment or self-protection, especially if their parents are holding a lot of fear. To help your child feel safe during times of stress, surround him or her with an aura of confidence and calm that says ‘I am here for you and I will take care of you.’ ”

What Do We Say In the Wake of the Unsayable?

Here again is where we confront our own relationship with some of the most fundamental mysteries of Life. This is where the rubber hits the road in terms of how we believe the world, the cosmos, works — and its relationship to human events. When we have tended to our own inner life, and to cultivating a philosophy of life, these challenging moments are usually navigated more smoothly.

Either which way, what DO we say? The following guidelines are informed by esoteric and transpersonal psychology, and fly in the face of convention as well as our natural impulse:

For most children, who are usually very curious to know, it is best to spell out what happened, precisely and exactly, though of course not overburdened with sensational detail. Always begin with a general statement, but one that is very true and not “prettied up”: “A sad event happened. Some people wanted to show how much they disagreed with the people who run our country. And so they stole some airplanes and crashed them into important buildings.” This can be said to a five-year-old, a twelve-year-old. Even a three-year-old (but only if they ask, which would happen only if they’ve heard someone talking about it).

From there add correct details if asked for more, such as, “There were many people who were hurt and many people who died.” “They are putting new rules in place at airports so it isn’t easy for anyone to do this again.” And it is always alright to answer “I don’t know” if you really don’t. We’re not masquerading reality; we consider the child worthy of our trust and intellectual companionship, even at the age of three.

It may sound shocking that we would not protect children from such a harsh and violent reality, but we all have an etheric dimension to ourselves (which includes our “energetic” perceptions — which is what children primarily register), and a child already knows at some level that something terrible happened.

And then of course there’s what they see, whether it’s a bit of television coverage (though hopefully this is kept to a minimum, both for the child’s wellbeing and for your own). If it’s something that has happened closer to home, there is the reality of what is going on around the house — the tears, the whispers, the uniforms, etc. And again, it’s all about the emotional “load” you put on it, because that will be the most potent piece of information for your child. Your inner calm fosters their security.

And remember: it is possible to feel sadness while remaining more or less calm.

How To Protect Their Wellbeing

When we shield them from the facts, that attempted “protection” conveys to them that we don’t trust them with the truth. This idea that they would be unworthy of knowing the truth is a huge blow to self-esteem; they lose trust in us and in the world, because they don’t feel trusted. By contrast, few people are as strong and centered as those who have been trusted in this way during a crisis. Even a child.

Security only grows in the healthy soil of truth, trust and clarity. Any malevolent force, once it’s described or named, loses the insidious power to unsettle us that it derives from staying in the shadows. Whatever I keep from my child acquires the quality of a ghost — something that can haunt them in a way they’re unable to name. I wonder how many hours and dollars people have spent in therapists’ offices merely to sift through the well-intentioned mischaracterizations they grew up with, so they can finally — and with relief — get at what really happened. No matter how bad it might have been, it is only in knowing what really happened to us that we can be sane.

And secure.


I discovered an astonishing thing when I spoke with Eve to discuss her recollections of 9/11: She did not remember the entire clock radio incident! What I didn’t realize then was, as a melancholic child, she most likely…

Pt. II: Talking to Children About Tragedy: The Help of Temperaments


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About Marcy Axness

I’m the author of “Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers,” and also the adoption expert on Mothering’s expert panel. I write and speak around the world on prenatal, child and parent development, and I have a private practice coaching parents-in-progress. I raised two humans, earned a doctorate, and lived to report back. On the wings of my new book I’m delighted to be speaking at many wonderful conferences all over the world in the coming months, and I’m happy to be sharing dispatches and inside glimpses with you here on! As a special gift to Mothering readers I’m offering “A Unique 7-Step Parenting Tool.”

Posted by: Marcy Axness
Last revised by: Marcy Axness on September 13, 2012.


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The Dignity of Motherhood: Why We Need to Stop Judging Each Other

momsI recently wrote a blog post that quite a few people absolutely hated.  And I mean they really hated it, and they seemed to hate me by extension.  Some of them were short with words, “bleh” or “hated this,” but others were quite prolific in detailing their qualms.  And the number one thing people were criticizing me for was that I said that being a stay-at-home mom is hard.  I was told I couldn’t complain because I have the luxury of staying home.  I was told I couldn’t complain because my three kids are healthy.  I was told by any number of people that I don’t understand what hard is because their situations are so much more difficult.

This was about a week ago, and I’m still a little bit shaken.  Yes, as a writer I expect such comments.  It’s part of the game.  But as a mother, I took those criticisms to heart.  They stung.  And to be honest, they made me question myself.

See, I’ve never been one to feel wholly confident in my decisions.  I make them and I stick by them, but I constantly question them.  I do this more as a mom than I ever actually did pre-motherhood.  Constantly I’m wondering if I’m being too strict or too lenient.  I question if they have too much or too little structure.  I question myself on bed sharing or bunk beds, breastfeeding or bottle feeding, time outs versus natural consequences.  And those are just a few.  Like I’m sure all mothers do, I question myself because I want what is best for my children.

Perhaps it’s that questioning that the mommy wars spring from.  After all, it’s natural to be defensive about that which we question, and as mothers we question quite a few things.

But I’ve been thinking lately about what that does to motherhood as an institution.

When working mothers throw barbs at stay-at-home moms, and stay-at -home moms hurl them right back just as viciously…

When homeschoolers look down on public school parents and when school parents scoff in return…

When we are told not only that breast is best but that it is the only way and then when mothers with bottles shame breastfeeders into hiding in closets…

And when we judge the success of this endeavor called motherhood by the decisions we make rather than by the role that we play.

We are so quick to label ourselves and others, but what exactly do these labels do besides put motherhood in a box and say there is one way to do it correctly and a million ways to do it wrong?

I think back to the moments my babies were first placed in my arms.  I remember the rush of love and the silent promises I made — to be there for them, to love them, to protect them, to always be on their side.  Those promises to them were sacred, born in that transcendent moment when a mother’s eyes first reach her child’s.  The promises were about who I wanted to be for them, not about specific acts I would do for them.


And to me, that’s what true mothering is.  It’s not about what we do, but rather it’s about who we are.  It’s about being the calm in the storm.  It’s about being a home for another soul.  It’s about sacrifice.  It’s about teaching love.  It’s about guidance.  It’s about something much greater than ourselves.

See to me, the true dignity of motherhood is that it transcends what we do and it touches who we are.  It’s a calling to be a singular voice for another being in this world that is so very large and so very lonely at times.

A couple of weeks after my eldest daughter was born, my husband went back to work.  I didn’t quite know how to fill up my days, so I did what I heard others say they did.  I took her to the mall.  Once we were there, I didn’t quite know what to do with her.  I wasn’t in the mood for browsing, and she was surely too young for the play gym.

Eventually she got hungry, so I took her to this set of couches by the elevator, and I started to feed her.  I looked around, and I saw hundreds of people walking in all different directions with different purposes.  And then I looked down at her.  And I realized that in that big old, sterile place, amid all of those people, we two belonged to each other.  She was my priority.  More than any other person in there.  And I was her comfort.  In a world where hustle is prized and we can easily get lost in a sea of faces, to be a mother means to belong to someone.

Everywhere we go, we will find people who disagree with us.  We will find people who will try to put us into boxes based upon the mothering decisions that we make.  We will be judged.  Perhaps we will judge.

But for me, when I find myself in those situations in the future, I hope I will have learned something from all of those judgments.  I hope I will have learned that if I partake in those labels and if I partake in the judging, then I am denigrating the very nature of the role I so willingly play.  I hope I am able to find the strength to rise above and to commend the others on the vital and dignified role they play as mothers.

It’s a sacred calling.  It’s a holy calling.  And if we are able to rise up and see that sacredness in each other, then perhaps we will finally be able to place motherhood on its rightful pedestal.

Top Image: Garry Knight

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Wanting Female Superheroes For Our Sons


By Aubrey Hirsch for Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers

Sony recently confirmed that they’re going ahead with a female-led superhero movie, the first since Elektra flopped back in 2005. It will hit the big screen in 2017, fully 12 years after the last one. When asked about Marvel’s plans, studio president Kevin Feige simply couldn’t say when, if ever, Marvel will respond by producing its own superhero film with a woman in the leading role.

Obviously this is bad news for our daughters, who would surely gain from seeing a woman save the world for a change, but I want to make the often-overlooked point that this is also bad news for our sons.

My son is just getting to the age where he’s starting to sort things into categories in his mind: these things are blue, these are animals, these are for eating, these make loud sounds. I am hyper aware of the messages he’s being sent about girls and boys. In his Sesame Street book, the girls go to dance class and the boys rollerblade. His singing pink teapot has a woman’s voice; his blue motorcycle, a man’s. I have to keep myself from defaulting to “he” when referring to his stuffed puppy with the brown stripes.

For now he’s fairly insulated from popular culture, but that time is nearing its end. Soon he’ll be interested in TV shows and action figures. He’ll want t-shirts and lunchboxes with licensed characters screen-printed onto them. He’ll want to watch the same movies over and over and over again.

And what will those movies teach him? That the job of a man is to be physically strong, fight aggressively, save the world? Will he notice that when there are women in these movies, it’s usually their job to look pretty, get into trouble and then reward the hero with a passionate kiss? I certainly don’t believe these things, and I don’t want him to either.

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