Ask An Expert
Meet our Marriage and Family Therapist Expert: Michelle Barone, M.A., M.F.T.
Michelle Barone, M.A., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, teacher, parent educator, and retired La Leche League leader.
Michelle Barone received her B.A. in Human Development and her teaching credentials at Pacific Oaks College. She received her Masters at Azusa Pacific at the California Family Study Center.
She has worked with families and young children for over 28 years. She has been an infant-toddler, preschool, and parent educator, classroom teacher for severely emotionally disturbed children, and educator for emotionally disturbed adults.
For the last 20 years, Michelle has been a family therapist, primarily working with families who practice attachment parenting and who homeschool their children. Michelle's two children, 19 and 13, have been homeschooled their whole lives.
Michelle contributed to The Homeschool Book of Answers, edited by Linda Dobson, and is the author, along with homeschool advocate Mary Shannon, Exploring Your Family's Educational Journey.
Michelle is in private practice in Los Angeles, California. She conducts parent education workshops, parenting groups, and private consultations. For information about her services, visit www.michellebarone.net.
Michelle shares her philosophy of living and learning with young children, along with some tips and resources:
Living with young children is a special and fleeting time for families-challenging and frustrating, yes-but a time that is crucial to the development of young minds and souls.
As a family therapist, my goals are to help families create a nurturing, respectful, and fun environment for everyone, but one in which communication between all members is clear and loving. Building relationships based on unconditional love supports growth and learning in children. Because parents are their child's first teacher, the need to mirror a world of acceptance and curiosity is important in order for children to feel safe to explore their world. Children learn as much, if not more, by unspoken words and the emotional climate and attitudes expressed in their households.
Children need clear, loving communication. Clear communication supports an open mind and allows for full expression of thoughts and feelings without judgment or criticism. In my practice, I use a variety of materials and exercises to help parents and children discover the loving power of connecting to each other. Some of these materials can be found at:
- Quality Parenting, Ilene Val Essen, Phd.
- Unconditional Parenting, Alfie Kohn
- Nonviolent Communication
Here are some basic ideas for communicating with pre-school age children:
- Accept feelings without judgment. Model and teach feeling words.
- Give reasons for both yes and no answers. "No, we can't go to park right now because I am making dinner." "Yes, we can go for a walk now because we are done with lunch and it is fun to be outside."
- Give choices. "Would you like eggs, or cereal?" "Do you want to walk or ride your bike?"
- Do not offer a choice when there is really not a choice. "Do you want to go to the store?" is not a choice when you are going and they must go with you.
- Let children make decisions about those things that matter to them. The shirt they wear, the toy they bring to the park, and the amount of food they eat. Respect their choices even if they are not what you would have chosen.
To increase confidence in communication and avoid power struggles, I encourage parents to have a clear understanding of what to expect at each age and stage of a child's development.
Children's emotional and physical growth is quite rapid during the preschool years, and knowing what to expect and how to respond is very empowering for both parent and child. A home environment that supports learning, with lots of available, age-appropriate books and activities helps a child feel safe to explore and grow. Spend quantity time during the day with your child by including them in your daily chores and activities. This fosters cooperation and increases their self-care and independence skills.
The Gesell Institute Child Development Series are a good place to start your discovery of child development. These books are a result of direct observation of young children. Arnold Gesell, founder of the Gesell Institute, set forth some basic principles that are important for parents to understand, such as:
- All children proceed through the same sequence of development, but all vary in rates of development.
- There is an inner timetable, which determines the child's rate of development. Trying to teach activities ahead of that timetable will at best result in only minor, temporary growth.
- A favorable environment helps to insure the realization of a child's potential.
- Each child is unique in temperament and growth style. The culture should try to adjust to each child's uniqueness.
- It is important for parents to know and understand their own and their child's temperament.
How is it that children are so different? Temperament, personality and growth style are different for everyone! It is helpful to truly understand your child's temperament and how it matches or doesn't match with your style. Many battles or problems arise from not understanding temperament and growth style.
An easy, first introduction to temperament is:
Nurture by Nature: Understand Your Child's Personality Type - And Become a Better Parent -- by Paul D. Tieger, et al.
Healing our own childhood wounds.
We all bring to our relationships the good and the bad from our own upbringing. Children will always make us face any unfinished issues we may have from our own childhood. Much of the work I do with parents is helping them to unravel and heal their own childhood hurts so they can bring healthy patterns into their own family.
A good resource to begin your own healing journey is:
Growing Up Again - Second Edition: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children (Paperback) by Connie Dawson, Jean Illsley Clarke - Is a wonderful book that clearly outlines the tasks at each developmental stage and what we can do to heal ourselves while parenting our children in a healthy way.
You can learn to joyfully live and learn with young children through a simple basic prescription:
- Plan: Having a basic rhythm to each day can be very useful. Young children like predictability in their lives. Plan ahead for new experiences, long days, changes in routine. Try to give yourself extra time for tasks. Hurrying with young children is very stressful for all.
- Patience: It can be hard to wait for a child to dress herself, or pack his own bags. Children naturally want to finish playing before they have to leave. Be patient. Their world and experiences is as important as yours. Be respectful and use patience when helping to transition from one activity to the next.
- Play... Play... Play: Let them play. It is their work and how they integrate experiences in their world. Make things fun, sing songs, march to the car, make tasks fun and laugh! Then let them play some more.
This is a great book to help your parenting become more playful:
Playful Parenting (Paperback) by Lawrence J. Cohen
Preserve: Preserve their time as young children. Don't be in a hurry to rush them to grow up, to separate from you for long periods of time. Preserve the relationship by being on their side, by teaching them by example, by protecting them from unrealistic expectations. Preserve the biological need for parents and young children to be together and to honor that you are the most important person in your child's life.