Archive for the ‘Easing the Elementary Years’ Category
When Child Behavior is Scary
We have all had those moments when child behavior has frightened us as parents. They sometimes have no impulse control and give us heart attacks with their unexpected aggression toward their siblings. Or they may jump off a way-too-high surface, and cause us to react with loud warnings. They may drive the car too far from home, or have a close call on the freeway, leading us to wonder where we went wrong.
On this Halloween, let’s acknowledge that being a parent can be scary for us at times. When my son was able to go into the world on a large scale, I found myself saying, “Don’t tell me when you’re about to climb that 17,000-foot mountain. Just tell me when you’re back down.” I felt like I had to protect my heart from his adventurousness.
Being afraid as a parent is normal. The world is so full of opportunities for our kids to “mess up” as my 4-year-old grandson says. Life is full of mistakes, and if we keep perspective, mistakes are seen as great teachers. Sometimes, yes, mistakes can have horrible outcomes, but if we stay focused there, we live a life of fear and anxiety. For some children, this fear gets absorbed, and they are more cautious and anxious than they need to be. Anxious children can act out, and become more scary to us as we worry over their next moves!
It’s a fine balance for a parent – enough warning vs. enough freedom to explore.
“How much freedom should my toddler/pre-schooler/ primary grade/middle schooler/ teen have?” is a frequently asked question in my work as a parent coach. Knowing what’s normal is not always natural, as we can have amnesia for being that age (and sometimes our normal was not so normal.)
Here are some tips for handling the typical fear that comes with parenting children:
- Practice mindfulness. Check in with your thoughts and ask yourself, “Is there really a danger here and now?” If so, act on it. If not, say to yourself, “There’s no present danger, so I will let my child explore.”
- Remind yourself that as much as you’d like to control their every move to keep them safe, children are their own persons. They have their natural, evolving urges as a normal part of child development, and you shouldn’t try to take that away.
- Read up on normal child development. It’s so important to know what’s appropriate at every age so you can be on track with your expectations. Click here, and bookmark this site.
- Take a break from parenting whenever it seems reasonable. Plan for time to yourself at least once a month, so you can rejuvenate and come back to parenting feeling refreshed.
- Call for coaching if you need help in determining what’s normal for your particular child, and how to respond. We’re here to help! Click here.
Have a safe and happy Halloween!
Being Vulnerable as a Parent
Tina Feigal, MS, Ed. Copyright © 2016 Center for the Challenging Child
Maybe the last thing you ever thought a parent coach would tell you is “be vulnerable with your child.” You’ve spent your whole adult life making sure your child knew who was boss, working hard to never let him take advantage of you. You thought if you did that, you would lose your authority and never get it back. Who wants to live with a child who thinks he’s the boss of his parents? Wouldn’t being vulnerable give him the wrong idea?
Dr. Brené Brown, a social work researcher, talks about “leaning into the discomfort” in her TED Talk on the power of vulnerability. She was NOT built to accept anything uncertain, and railed at the thought of it, as many of us would. You might ask, “What does leaning into the discomfort mean?”
Dr. Brown also talks about “connection” being the reason we’re all here. And she says that shame is the manifestation of disconnection. Underlying this is “excruciating vulnerability.” To truly connect we need to be vulnerable, she says.
After 6 years of listening to people’s stories on shame, she wrote a book and published a theory, realizing that the people who have a strong sense of belonging believe they’re worthy of it. Our fear that we’re not worthy of connection is what causes disconnection, which leads to shame.
Dr. Brown says that “wholehearted people” live from a deep sense of worthiness and had a “sense of courage” in common. This courage is made up of telling who you are with your whole heart, the courage to be imperfect, compassion for self and others, connection as a result of authenticity, and fully embracing vulnerability. These courageous wholehearteds believe that what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful. They say it’s necessary to do something where there are no guarantees, i.e. willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. In the words of my dear friend Artem Kuznetsov, this describes “beautiful uncertainty.”
To me there’s nothing more beautiful nor more uncertain than raising a child. Without guarantees of any kind, we rush headlong into the most compelling, uncertain, vulnerable experience of love, usually without a map or compass. And then the children we love so intensely defy us. They develop their own will, they want what they want, and we feel utterly broad-sided after pouring so much of our hearts into their being. Where’s the gratitude? Can’t they tell how much we’ve cared?
Frankly, they can’t. Because they’re children. And it’s completely understandable that parents start to want control, in order to protect themselves from the strong will of their child and the rejection of having your beloved, cherished offspring turn on you.
It’s normal. Almost every parent experiences it, especially those with strong-willed children. So where’s the redemption here? In vulnerability? Well, yes.
Children who attempt to run the show are often bright. They may be intellectually bright, interpersonally gifted, intrapersonally astute, highly creative and sensitive, or all of the above. And some average-ability children also attempt to run the show, depending on their own experiences as babies and toddlers. Whatever the reason, we feel the last thing we should do is become vulnerable with them. But really, it’s important to do this.
How does it look to be vulnerable to your child? It means stepping off the “perfect, all-knowing adult” platform and getting down to your heart with your child. When you do this, he starts to realize that you’re human, too, and a switch flips. He has less to resist when you become less rigid. Now the grace and light-heartedness for which most parents yearn can begin seeping into your relationship. Herein lies the benefit of “leaning in.”
What do the words look like? Instead of saying, “I’m your dad and I mean business” when a child is acting out (usually because of a fear), it’s more heart-centered to say, “I know. I had that fear when I was your age, too. Want me to tell you how I got past it? I used to pretend that the monsters under my bed had five eyes, so many that they couldn’t focus well enough to see me.” Here, the father has become a child again, this time for the purpose of connecting with his child. He’s remembering his child-like self, allowing a little vulnerability, and adding a dash of humor to bring intimacy to the conversation.
Dr. Brown’s mission to “control and predict” led her to the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability.
Letting go of the need to control and predict your child and building emotional intimacy is the hallmark of a strong relationship. You get there by being vulnerable, and you can’t get there without it.
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Happy New Year! Now Put That Down!
Comedian Louie Anderson answers the question: What made you laugh in 2015?
A. I made myself laugh the most this year thinking I was so smart or right about something. I can’t tell you how many times I searched for my glasses only to discover them right on my face, or thinking I’ve lost my iPhone or someone has stolen it only to discover that I was sitting on it or it was right there in my hand. Not to mention the keys in my hand, in the door lock or in the ignition of my car. “As plain as the nose on my face,” I can hear my mom say.
Parents, can you relate? I know I find myself laughing about this often. The thing that strikes me most lately is that I am holding something, totally unaware, while I’m holding six other things, and suddenly I’m spilling or making a mess because I failed to put something down.
So in the New Year, let’s all watch how much we’re holding at once. When we are bombarded from all sides by children’s requests, paying bills, doing laundry, buying food, making meals, going to the doctor, helping with homework, taking care of pets, cleaning the house (ha!) and attending to the needs of our work, ourselves and our mates, maybe we should think about putting something down, just for the moment. “Present Moment Parenting”, we call it. It involves taking something up, yes, but also putting something down. Maybe putting several things down.
I’m not just talking just about physical “things” or tasks here, but also thoughts, distractions, and mind-wanderings. Children sense when parents are not present, and they tend to exploit the situation, as you are well aware. They also learn distraction from us. So if you’ve been complaining about your child not being able to focus, try taking a quick inventory of the times he or she has seen you in a distracted state (using the tablet, phone, or computer.) Maybe you’ll see where distraction is being reinforced. And if you feel as if your child is demanding, again, take a look at how you interact with her, just to check whether she’s learning a demanding, hurry-up, right-now sense of urgency from you.
This sense of urgency seems SO necessary in today’s world, but it’s time to rein it in for our mental and physical well-being. We actually can slow our thoughts down to a normal speed, even though it doesn’t seem so. Consider this: at the end of the day, will it matter if you’ve had the average 50,000 thoughts or 20,000? Who will be counting? And what will you gain if you slow the thoughts down? Perhaps a bit of peace of mind, perhaps a slower, more connected relationship with your child or partner. Perhaps mindfulness and fewer health concerns.
I think yoga has enjoyed such popularity in the US and beyond in recent years because as humans, we realize the need to slow down is coming from our inner core. With all that goes on with a busy family, it’s very easy to get caught up in quick, impersonal, even commanding interactions that erode our sense of peace. Let’s learn to listen to our inner voices and say no to the constant “hurry up” of modern life. When we do, we give our children an enormous gift, for this present moment and beyond.
Happy New Year from all of us at the Center for the Challenging Child.
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Five Steps to Helping a Traumatized Child Regain Control
Tina Feigal Copyright © 2015
If you are parenting or teaching a child who has experienced trauma, you know that every day feels like a struggle. This article is written to give you insight into the behaviors that are a direct result of the trauma, and ways to handle those behaviors. There is a compassionate way to approach a traumatized child, just the way we treat animals with compassion when we adopt them, not knowing what they have experienced in the past. Let’s share this far and wide. Our children need our compassion. And they are all our children.
1. Understand that the cause of the behavior is often the effect of stored trauma, not the misbehavior of a cranky child. A traumatized child cannot regulate emotions by “making a better choice” any more than a caged lion can remain calm when someone comes at it with a spear. Having had trauma (neglect; emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse; hunger and inability to anticipate being fed; homelessness; loss of friends or family through separation, divorce, death, or incarceration; drug or alcohol abuse by a parent) changes the child’s brain. It stays in fight-or-flight mode, even when there’s no current threat. This is adaptive brain function, as the brain interprets it as assuring the child’s survival. It’s also difficult for adults who haven’t seen the trauma in action to believe that misbehavior comes from the brain’s over-responses to perceived threat. To help you remember, say to yourself, “This is trauma, not disrespect.”
2. Help the child regulate. If it’s safe to do so, give the child space; avoid approaching the child. After a period of quiet, ask “Would you like to keep crying (yelling) or would you like to calm down now?” Wait with a calm demeanor for the child to show signs of decreasing agitation. Model self-regulating techniques, such as sitting or lying down, breathing deeply, and using soothing self-talk. (I can calm my legs, I can calm my arms, I can calm my head, I can calm my hands, I can calm my feet.)
3. Identify true feelings. “If I guess how you’re feeling, will you tell me if I’m right or wrong? I imagine you are frustrated (angry, sad) because you wanted to do your own thing right now, and we are asking you to join the class.” Have the child draw the feelings on paper. This releases the child by helping the brain get the message, “I am seen. If I’m seen I will survive. I don’t need to act out to be seen, because she just let me know my feelings are real and they are OK.”
4. Provide opportunities for sensory calming or remove child from sensory overload. For example, apply deep pressure (weighted blanket, hugs, self-hugs, pressure on shoulders or legs) or other sensory calming techniques.
5. Check for hunger, thirst, fatigue and/or oncoming illness, and attend to these needs by providing food, drink, rest, or medical care.
Final note: It’s important to remember that consequences do not work for traumatized children. Children who have experienced trauma are in disequilibrium as they have not had their basic needs met. They are experiencing fear for their very survival, and thus cannot attend to the needs of the environment. Their brains are in fight-or-flight, so the reasoning part of the brain is turned off, and planning ahead based on previous consequences is just not possible in this state. Instead of trying to “teach him a lesson”, stick to the steps above. It will save time and frustration, and especially important, it will keep the situation from escalating, which only fuels the brain’s over-response to perceived threat.
For help with this or any other parenting issue, for children of all ages, click here.
My Kids Don’t Listen to My Advice
Maybe it’s that we as parents typically toss out directives without much thought about how they land on their children:
“You need to get off the video game. It’s not good to spend so much time playing. You’ll miss the rest of your life!”
“You need to clean this room. If there was a fire, you would trip on all this stuff trying to get out.”
“You should always pay attention to the assignments. The teacher gives you instructions, and you need to write them down.”
“You need to get your education. It’s more important than your interest in music. There are no good jobs in music. Use that as a hobby, but get a real job.”
“Listen to me. I’m your dad (mom). I know what it’s like to grow up and I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I (my brother, my dad, my mom, your sister) made.”
Sound familiar? If it does, stop and think with me for a minute. If, as an adult, someone gave you these directives, would it inspire you to follow their advice? Or would you tend to discount them, and do your own thing, grumbling under your breath, “Yeah, as if he knows what’s it’s like to be me.”
Here are some tips on gaining your child’s cooperation, rather than demanding it (which never works in any lasting way.)
1. Think about how you’d like to be addressed, and use that much respect in your tone with your child.
2. Ask instead of command. “Let’s take a look at your time on the computer and decide together on a reasonable amount for each day.”
3. Use inquiry when talking about life interests. Hold your own anxiety back regarding your child’s future, and just interview him or her on what’s wonderful about their music, art, writing, sports, math … any interest they show. You are much better off supporting what comes from the child naturally, rather than trying to assign a future to him or her.
4. Remember that your child is developing, not fully formed. They make mistakes, and that’s how they learn. Allow for child development while you create your expectations. If you need some guidance on this for teens, click here.
5. For household tasks, express your heartfelt appreciation every time you see helpful behavior around the home. “When you take your dishes to the dishwasher, I feel very appreciative because it shows me that you care that we live in a healthy home.” “When you straighten your room, I love seeing how you arrange everything. You made it so pleasant in here.” “When you sweep without being asked, I feel so relaxed because it’s one less thing for me to do, and you do a very nice job.”
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Getting Kids to Comply
Tina Feigal Copyright © 2015
Here are five tips for helping them to comply, but without having to nag:
1. Assume kids want to do anything BUT what you’re asking. This is how they’re wired, to be focused on their own agenda, and not on yours. Once you realize this is normal, you won’t feel so frustrated when they’re only interested in their own things. This is more a brain wiring issue than “being self-centered.” It’s normal for them to be this way.
2. Talk to them with respect. Don’t shout your commands from another room. Take the time to go to them and make physical contact if they can tolerate it. A touch on the shoulder or back, just to be sure you’re connecting, is very useful in getting a child’s attention. This will save a lot of time as you lead them to the task. Also, touch is very affirming, which is powerful in helping children get out of themselves in order to relate to others’ needs.
3. Bring your children toward you by trusting them. Say, “I trust you to do your bedtime routine tonight. I’ll meet you in your room in 10 minutes with that book you picked out last night.”
4. Stay focused on them until the task is done. They have radar for your attention, so keep it honed for the period between when you ask and when the task is complete. Again, this saves so much time on the back end.
5. Give your heartfelt appreciation for effort and for completion. “When you respond to my request, I feel so respected and at peace, because you show me that you really are able to work together as a team. Thank you!” “When you finish what you’ve started, I feel quite impressed because you’re sticking with it until the very end, which is such a grown-up thing to do!”
Remember, giving your attention to the behaviors you want is the quickest way to grow those behaviors. It’s also a lot more rewarding for you, which will keep you “in the game.” Watch minutes get shaved off your normal routines, once cooperation is the norm!
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How to Parent Well When You Have Your Own Emotional “Stuff”
Parents often wonder if they can actually be good for their kids when they are carrying emotional baggage from their own childhoods. They think, “How do I parent this child well when I have my own emotional stuff?” It’s a legitimate question, and I’d like to answer it from the perspective of having coached a powerful man who conquered a hard upbringing to connect, and connect well, with his grandson.
Adam was raised in a situation where his own parents didn’t take care of him, and he needed to live with other adults. The understandable resentment for this was a part of the ongoing landscape of his emotional world. And (who knows how this happens?) during his first marriage he became the step-grandpa to a now-12-year-old boy, fully responsible for him after the tragic and untimely death of his wife. When I met this fabulous grandpa, he was remarried to an absolute saint, Gretchen, who had never had children. Together, they were raising a boy who has two living parents, neither of whom took responsibility for him. Anyone who knows kids understands that this is an extremely difficult situation for a child … having two ambivalently attached parents causes mountains of questions. Why don’t they live with me and care for me? What did I do wrong to cause them to reject me? Why don’t they make it better when it seems as if they could? Why do they keep messing up? And it also results in (again, understandable) acting out that would try even the most patient adult. Yelling, screaming, pounding, refusing, swearing, leaving the house … you name it. Adam and his beloved Gretchen fielded all of this from Graydon with Herculean grace (and yes, some rough arguments).
Adam repeatedly came to me with his own questions about how to make life better at home. And as he did this, he listened intently, even at times struggling with his own deep emotions, wanting to control the boy so he didn’t remind him so much of himself. But the boy would not be controlled by the typical, “Do as I say” approach. This led to a lot of conflict.
As our time together progressed, I watched as Adam learned to put his own emotions on the shelf, not always, but often effectively enough to build a strong bond between himself and Graydon. He set limits, which was often painful for both Adam and his grandson. He created and held healthy boundaries between Graydon and his non-custodial dad and mom. He spoke of respect, instilled values, and stayed the course. He skied with Graydon, threw the ball with him, and asked him about his homework. He limited video game use and access to the phone. He encouraged friendships and facilitated outings and sleep-overs with his middle school buddies. He took Graydon on trips to see unexplored parts of the country. He sat in the stands at his basketball and baseball games, and taught him about teamwork. When he heard the coach compliment Graydon, he was sure to let him know. He accompanied his grandson to therapy appointments to help him feel safe to talk about his feelings. On my advice, he even wrote notes to Graydon, expressing the positive things that were sometimes hard to say between “guys”, but were huge in their impact. He spent special time with him every evening before bed, connecting with Graydon on an emotional level, even if they’d had a bad day. All this, with his own wounded childhood, his own feelings of rejection and anger, lurking in the background. For his grandson’s sake, he dug deep regularly, and simply put Graydon first.
I found myself in awe, wondering where he got the inner strength to parent this often rebellious, oppositional child with such love. We hear about children’s resilience in the literature, but who ever talks about grandparents’ resilience? Who makes a big deal of someone like Adam who wrestled with his demons regularly and emerged the hero for Graydon, teaching him by example that he could be better the next time?
It’s an honor to share this story. I write it as I prepare to attend Adam’s utterly untimely memorial service. Yesterday he died at age 57 with much love left to give. Adam inspired me, and I will forever feel blessed, having known him at his finest, even in the hardest moments. Graydon got the message of love from Adam, not perfectly, not every minute, but he got it. And that’s what it takes for a child to grow up emotionally healthy – one truly caring adult who, through his love, frees you up to do, and be, your best.
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10 Ways to Help an Anxious Child at Holiday Time
Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.
Copyright © Tina Feigal 2014
Holiday season is here, and if you have a child whose anxiety increases at this time of year, you’ll be happy to know that there are some great ways to decrease the uncomfortable feelings and the predictable explosions that often result.
Yes, kids explode when they get overwhelmed by their own anxiety. It’s not conscious on their part, it’s not on purpose (though it sometimes seems like it) and it’s not disrespect. All they’re doing when they have a loud response to your request is attempting to lower their own anxiety, best defined as “fear where there’s no real threat.”
What causes anxiety in kids at holiday time? Several things:
– Being too bright for their age: they can conceptualize things way beyond their ability to
comfort themselves, simply because they are young and lack experience.
– Sensory input: they feel the impact of sound, taste, touch, smell, and/or sight much more intensely than average kids. They are anxious because they never know when a toilet flushing or the smell of a new food might overwhelm them. Holidays are particularly stimulating to the senses.
– Interpersonal sensitivity: they fear that someone they don’t know might be at Grandma’s house. (In their own homes, this is often not so intense.)
“Christopher” is just this type of child. He can do well at home where things are predictable, but in someone else’s home, he’s very wary of a stranger showing up. How do we help children with these anxiety issues?
First, Christopher’s parents realized that having power over sensory sensations is the antidote to anxiety. Give your child a specific job whenever you can. He loves heavy sensory input, so they say, “Could you be the one who carries all these groceries into the house?” And they’ll let him carry ALL the groceries. Or they might say, “Everyone’s coming to our house, so could you be the one who makes sure that the light’s not too bright?” Authentic helping is a true self-esteem builder.
Second, underplay all the holiday hype. Say to your sensitive child, “See all these decorations, bright colors, and signs for things? Hear how loud that TV ad for holiday stuff is? That’s just the store trying to get our attention so we spend our money, but we don’t have to pay attention. We can just walk by or turn off the TV.”
Third, a child such as Christopher needs a safe place to which he can retreat at a relative’s house. A nearby bedroom is ideal. Show him immediately upon arrival where he can go, and put some of his toys or art supplies in the room.
Fourth, do not demand that your “Christopher” greet unfamiliar people at holiday time. The only reason he doesn’t do this is because of interpersonal sensitivity. Forcing a greeting can add guilt to an already overwhelmed child, and is never a good idea. Acting out is his only defense. Offer positives to him whenever he does interact well with new people, but be assured this will not happen until he has been in their presence for quite a while. Here’s how to say it: “When you talked to Uncle Rob so nicely when he offered to play ping pong with you, I was really impressed! I can tell you had a great time.”
Fifth, Christopher’s mom answered all of his questions about what will occur during the holidays with short, but clear answers. “How many people will be there?” “I’d say about 15.” And she also thanked him for letting her know what was on his mind: “I really appreciate your questions, Honey. I want you to feel comfortable, so when I know what you’re wondering, it really helps.”
Sixth, if your children get into arguments with siblings or cousins, practice a good response to conflict in advance. “May I have that when you’re done?” and “Can we play this together?” are great phrases to try out. When Christopher came to his parents with news of what another child did to him, they said, “How will you handle that?” Of course, if there’s aggression or bullying, you’ll need to intervene.
Seventh, before shopping, Christopher’s parents pointed out that “in our family” we don’t get everything we see in a store that we may want. Mom and Dad even see things they want, but we don’t buy it all. This helps kids see they are not alone in the “wanting and not getting” world, and facilitates their acceptance.
Eighth, if your child makes strides in development, be sure to write a note acknowledging the progress. “Dear Christopher, I noticed how well you accepted that you weren’t able to visit your friend because we had plans to be with family. I am so proud of you.” This dramatically increases the likelihood that he’ll show more mature behavior in the future.
Ninth, when Christopher’s parents saw him progress, they then saw some regression in behavior. Please don’t consider this a failure, but a natural return to an earlier stage to “gather steam” for the next advance. This is how children evolve, three steps forward, one back. A good-natured response is always the best one.
Tenth, just like number one above, give your Christopher a real job! If company’s coming, you’ll want them to decide on the music, set the table, vacuum the living room, make phone calls for you, decide where the coats will go and put them there. Having a job takes the focus off anxious feelings and builds self-esteem. It also affords you the opportunity to share the load and deliver some really heartfelt appreciation … everyone wins!
Take time to really enjoy your children this holiday season. Unlike what they “got”, the memories of how they felt at the holidays will stay with them for a lifetime. You can make these memories powerfully positive with a little forethought, attunement to your anxious child’s needs, and implementation of the 10 tips above.
Happy Holidays to all!
Surviving Summer with Intense Children
Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal, Parent Coach and Parenting Speaker
Here are some helpful hints for keeping the fun alive by reducing the potential for meltdowns, sibling arguments, and non-compliance this summer.
1. Plan ahead WITH your kids, so they know what to expect. Intense kids do not respond well to surprises. Put a calendar next to their beds, so they know what tomorrow brings.
2. Remember, there is no substitute for sleep. If your child is cranky, lying down may be the only solution. Try to avoid sleep deprivation by keeping the kids on a sleep schedule, even when they are having fun. The payoffs will be enormous.
3. Take time for yourself. Do not let all the “pulls” of summer activities wear you down. Take a relaxing bath, sit outside with no media and listen to nature, read a novel, enjoy the present moment.
4. Whenever your typically inflexible child weathers a change with no storm, give him or her heartfelt appreciation: “When you realized our plans had changed, and you stayed so calm, I was really impressed! It shows me you are able to help yourself go with the flow!” This could be right before you see her start to wind up. Any opportunity to reward success will be golden!
5. Put the kids in charge of their sibling issues. Say in advance, “I know you have disagreements sometimes, and I trust you to work them out in nice language. If you really need help, I’m here, but mostly I think you can do this.” When an issue arises, simply say, “How do you want to handle that with Christina?”
6. To kids, summer feels like the time for relaxation and NOT taking orders. Be sure to acknowledge that your children need down time, and make a point to allow for it. Say, “This is your own afternoon off, and you can do whatever you want to with it.” When the need for self-direction gets met, the willingness to take direction from others can increase.
6. Taking a trip? Give your intense child a job. Count on him for something very important, such as photos, journaling, navigation or meal planning. You’ll see excellent behavior if you make him the expert!
7. Re: the photo accompanying this article, get comfortable with dirt. It’s summer, and dirt is a sure sign your kids are engaging with nature and enjoying themselves!
Need help with your intense child? Call 651-453-0123 for professional parent coaching via phone, Skype or in person. Click here for all the details on coaching.
Copyright Tina Feigal 2011
Ask a Question
Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal
We so often have to tell our kids what to do. We run from home to school, from school to the store, from the store back home. After a hurried dinner, the older siblings have events, to which we need to “drag” the younger ones. Then bedtime carries another whole set of requests. By the time our intense kids are done with the day, they’ve been asked to do 100 things they don’t want to do. Not exactly a formula for a smooth family life!
Many of you have heard me say, instead of issuing an edict: “Time to get ready to go!” or “I said it’s time for dinner, and now I expect you to come,” ask a question instead. To gain cooperation, acknowledge that the child already KNOWS it’s time for dinner. Stating it keeps you in a managerial position that you really don’t want. It prevents the child from learning to “read the family routine” and respond to it for herself.
So instead of saying,”Time for dinner. Everyone wash hands and come to the table!” say, “Did you notice what was going on in the kitchen the past 1/2 hour? Smell anything good?” and pause. Let the kids “wake up” to your family’s process, figure out that dinner is ready, and come on their own. How do you get them there? By sitting down to dinner and waiting.
Some bright kids are insulted by your stating the obvious: “Time to get up and get your clothes on. Come on, find your jeans and shirt. Let’s go. Time for breakfast. When you’re done, get your backpack.” If someone did that to me, I’d be oppositional, too!
So if your child needs a chart for the daily routine, make a chart and watch him follow it. But talk about something else so you don’t become the negative stimulus his brain wakes up to every morning, and goes to bed to every night.
Si nce you’re not recounting the routine any more, you may just have time to talk about something truly meaningful. Share your plans for the day, say what you’re looking forward to, or ask a specific question about your child’s day with sincere curiosity. That’s the way to avoid triggering opposition. And by the way, it builds your relationship, too.
Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal
To Change the Behavior, Change the Child’s
Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal
Children of all ages are motivated by their internal urges (hunger, fatigue, mood, preference) which are influenced by outside forces (time constraints, siblings, friends, parents, grandparents, and teachers.) We forget that the internal urges and outside forces are frequently out of sync. To gain the best cooperation possible, our own instincts tell us that we should deliver the expectation, and the child should comply, and if compliance doesn’t occur, we should use anger to make it occur. As we fail to consider the child’s inner urges, and only consider our own perspective, we keep running the same script over and over with no improvements. A simple request turns into a major tantrum or disrespectful scene, and behavioral storm clouds start to gather. Harsh language, slamming doors, threats, and physical attacks follow what parents thought was a reasonable request. What happened here?
To know the answer to this question, we need to study the child for signs of what’s motivating him or her, in other words, what are his current internal urges? Often some internal negative message, such as “I’m not a good kid, so why should I act like one?” or “I only want my way, and I don’t care what anyone else thinks,” make a child behave the way he does. When a child feels this down, compliance is just not in the offing.
Considering the motivation for behavior is a much better way to actually get the results we want. Now some people think this might be coddling the child. I would argue that with all human beings, listening to internal motivation results in better performance, so why not use this in parenting difficult children? The real “magic” here is to lift the child up so that he feels seen.
Children with ADHD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Attachment Disorder, Giftedness, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and a variety of just plain hard behavior need to be regarded as having their own internal agenda, based on the messages from children’s bodies. If we fail to see them as having these internal urges, we will be in non-stop combat mode.
So the next time you have a request, consider the child’s internal urges before you deliver it, and include an acknowledgement of the child’s inner state in your words. It can look like this: “I realize you hate to be rushed, so I am going to allow extra time for us to get out the door in the morning. You can take your time getting up and dressed, so you can feel more relaxed. We can leave at 7:30 without having to hurry.” The child’s ability to comply is directly related to the amount of sensitivity to his internal urges. The outside force of the need to be on time for school, camp, or practice now seems less foreboding, and he is free to cooperate. You feel better, too, knowing you have a technique to use that’s compassionate and gets positive results.
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Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal