Archive for the ‘Milder Middle School Moments’ 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!
The School Year is Wearing Thin Already
The school year is wearing thin already. We parent coaches usually see an up-tick in referrals from professionals and calls for help from parents at this time of year. Parents are distressed because homework struggles and/or behavior calls from school are increasing. The newness has worn off, and learning issues are coming to light. Children can’t do their math, they bother their friends, they seem testy and disrespectful, and they are emotionally wrecked by the end of the day. Gifted kids are disrupting the classroom because they are being under-challenged. kids with undiscovered reading disabilities are losing their hope. Those with ADHD are remembering that it’s more of the same every day … I can’t focus enough to do what the others do, and I don’t want to be different!
What can parents do to help in these situations? First, understand that if your child is losing interest in school this early in the year, it’s important to
- Listen closely to what he’s saying
- Avoid blaming him for being unmotivated.
If the issues persist week after week, asking the school for accommodations and/or testing is well within your rights and responsibility. If it’s math, reading, or writing that’s causing the issue, the evaluation team can try some strategies to help your child. Do not wait for a few more months to go by. If there’s a true learning issue, the sooner you discover it, the better. If the strategies (i.e., fewer problems or items assigned, moving to the front of the room, or more time allotted for tests) don’t seem to help, the team can decide that a formal learning evaluation should take place.This may involve:
1. the school psychologist (IQ/learning strengths and weaknesses testing)
2. the reading, writing or math specialist (grade level achievement testing)
3. the regular education classroom teacher
4. your input via surveys and conversation
5. music, gym, and art teachersIf your child shows that there’s a significant grade-level lag in his or her abilities, special education can be provided for the Specific Learning Disability in the form of an Individualized Educational Plan, or IEP. The child will have programming, often in the regular classroom with the special education teacher co-teaching as a resource for special needs students. Or the child may be in the special education resource room for math, reading, or writing. Each school handles this according to their staffing configuration. If no learning disability is discovered, the child may be eligible for regular education accommodations that can support him or her. Many schools have supplemental reading programs, in particular, that can be of great help to your child.
If the problems at school are more focused on behavior and emotions, a similar path can be followed by the school staff. After a request from parents or a teacher, a team meets to discuss the issues, and then accommodations (i.e., moving to the front of the room, more breaks between activities, and extra guidance at transition times) are made. If there’s not significant improvement, a special education evaluation can take place. The process involves classroom observation, questionnaires for parents, teachers and familiar adults in the community, and sometimes surveys completed by the child. The parents, the school psychologist, the regular classroom teacher, the social worker or counselor, and the Emotional-Behavioral Disability special ed teacher could all be involved. If the child is determined to be in need of special education in this area, the EBD teacher would write an IEP, and the parents would be invited to hear the details in a meeting. If the parents approve, the school can institute a regular program of support for the child, with contact with the EBD teacher, social worker, or counselor.
IEP’s follow children from year to year in school, and are reviewed annually. Parents are considered part of the IEP team, and are invited to all annual meetings to learn the results of the tests, and to hear of, and contribute to, changes in the plan. If a need for an early IEP meeting becomes apparent, parents are included in it, too. Every three years, the special education team re-evaluates the child’s learning disability to be certain that services are still required. Some children mature out of their need for extra support, so they can be “mainstreamed” fully in the regular education classroom.
Some other children have conditions that interfere with their learning, such as hearing or vision impairment, medical issues, or ADHD, that do not qualify them for special education, but require classroom accommodations. In this case, a 504 plan can be instituted. This is a regular education program by which the school team and parents make plans to assure success in school for children whose needs are not in the special education realm, but are still significant enough to require help. Read more about 504 plans here.
You may also hear your child talking about the classroom, lunchroom, bus, or gym being “too loud.” She may say that she cannot concentrate in class because of certain smells. You might hear that your child is struggling because the lights in the room seem to be flickering. He may say that he cannot stand wearing jeans to school, but can only wear wind pants or sweats. These all point to sensory processing issues (sensory avoidant), which can understandably interfere with learning. Some children have sensory seeking tendencies, wherein they are always touching a wall, other children, the floor, or furniture. They often bump into others and have difficulty keeping their bodies in their own space. For some children, sensory avoidant and sensory seeking are both part of their landscape. Click here for information on Sensory Processing Disorder. These issues can be helped by Occupational Therapy, which is usually delivered outside the school setting, but is no less important than school-based services. OT’s do provide services in school, but usually related to handwriting and other needs that are directly related to school performance. For more concentrated OT, ask your pediatrician for a recommendation, and start with requesting an evaluation from the OT.
Many children whose behaviors are found to be on the autism spectrum receive special education services in autism-specific programs. Evaluations at school and by medical professionals help to determine if autism is the issue. If you have a question about whether your child exhibits traits of autism, be sure to start the conversation early, as that will insure earlier intervention and more academic success for your child. Click here for the characteristics of autism in children.
It’s possible to have sensory issues on their own, and it’s also very common for children with autism to have sensory issues. If your child has sensory concerns, it’s not necessary to assume autism, but it certainly warrants an investigation if some of the other characteristics are also present.
Auditory processing may also be an issue for your child. This is different from the processing disorder above, where it’s hard for the child to receive auditory input. This auditory processing issue involves the inability to get the message from the teacher when he or she is speaking. If your child repeatedly says, “I just didn’t hear him,” or “I don’t remember what she said,” this may be your sign that auditory processing is the issue. For children with ADHD, who appear not to be “paying attention,” you can assume that auditory processing is low. Think about how much of school is delivered auditorily, and it’s no wonder kids with ADHD struggle.
It’s also possible to be gifted and have a learning disability. Your child could exhibit “enormous capacity for novelty” and constant curiosity about topics way beyond the interests of her peers, and still struggle with math, reading, or writing. Do not be lulled into thinking your child is not gifted if one of these areas is not up to grade level. Ask for an evaluation to find out if your child is Twice Exceptional, meaning she’s gifted and struggles with learning in one or more areas. Sometimes gifted children have autism characteristics, as well.
Giftedness is determined by IQ testing. If a child doesn’t make the IQ cut-off for giftedness, the school district may consider the overall creativity, verbal adeptness, interest in advanced subjects, or advanced musical or art abilities to include the child in gifted programming. Many parents are reluctant to say, “My child may be gifted.” Please, please respond if your child is showing signs of giftedness. These children often get overlooked and become discouraged in school, leading to behavior issues. They are vulnerable to depression and anxiety when their learning needs go unrecognized. School personnel who are not attuned to gifted characteristics may not recognize what is causing misbehavior or withdrawal, so it’s up to parents to call attention to this issue, and ask for testing. Again, this is your right and your responsibility.
This can be a dizzying collection of information if you’ve never had to deal with it before. Do not blame yourself if you feel you should have addressed these issues earlier. You could only do what you knew how to do!
If you need help sorting these topics out, parent coaching is the ideal way to get that help. Information on coaching is here. Please write email@example.com or call 651-453-0123 for an appointment.
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.”
For help with this or any other parenting issue, click here.
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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!
If you would like help with this or any other parenting issue, visit www.parentingmojo.com/parent-coaching for info on how coaching works. Isn’t it time you had a peaceful life with your children?
Happy Valentine’s Day!
How Can You Get More Love Out of Your Child?
Copyright © Tina Feigal 2015
If it does, you may wonder how you help a child who can be very nice in front of others, but when it comes to being home with your family, is able to wreak havoc at any moment. Luckily, there are some great ways to handle this.
1. Have a heart-to-heart talk, just the two of you. Say, “Honey, it seems like I see such a great girl out in public. Your teachers just love you, you get along with your friends, and you’re so polite to their parents. And then you come home, and it’s all so rough. I hear demanding, yelling, stomping, crying and slamming. Can you tell me what’s going on? Maybe you don’t want to tell me right now, but if you do, I want to listen. If not, I’ll get back to you when you’ve had time to think about it. How about tomorrow at 5?” This gives your daughter time to reflect on what is going on. Maybe she doesn’t even know what her triggers are, but you’ve now respectfully opened the door to her figuring them out.
2. Whether it’s now or later, allow an open-hearted time to just listen. Maybe she’s upset because something happened at school, but she was too embarrassed to talk about it. Maybe she’s mad at you because she feels like you never pay attention to her (even though it seems like that’s all you do!) Maybe she’s not feeling well, or worried about something. It could be one of these or myriad other reasons, but here’s your chance to get to the bottom of the feelings. When the feelings are heard, the upsetting behavior won’t be so necessary. When a child feels seen and heard, she loses the need to get your attention in negative ways.
3. Listen without fixing or correcting. Just reflect. “You feel as if I never pay attention to you, and that makes you really mad.” Even if this is a preposterous thought, let it be. It will take some courage and big resolve not to correct her, but the return on investment of your time and attention will be tremendous. You are not seeking the absolute truth here. You are seeking her truth, whether it seems true to you or not.
4. Apologize if it feels right to you. If you have been too busy to give your daughter the attention she needs, say so. “I’m sorry, Honey. I have been so wrapped up in (work, your siblings’ sports, the house project, my parent’s illness) that I have not been able to talk to you the way I’d like. Let’s make a plan for some one-on-one time this weekend.”
5. If you don’t feel like an apology is warranted, that’s OK. Maybe you’ve given your daughter “the moon” but she still doesn’t seem satisfied. Just probe now, very matter-of-factly. “When I took you to practice last week, that felt like you didn’t have enough attention.” “When I gave you a ride to your friend’s house, you still felt like I wasn’t there for you.” “When I made spaghetti when you asked, it seemed like I still didn’t care.” “When I bought you that top on Saturday, it felt like it wasn’t enough.” Don’t defend your actions, just try to get her to think about reasonable expectations. She may say, “Yeah, you did all those things for me, but I still wanted that new video game.” Now just hang in there. “I hear you. When I didn’t go out and get the game, you felt as if I didn’t really care about you.” “Yeah.” Then just say, “Thank you for telling me how you’re feeling.” No lecture on gratitude, no defenses. What you’re doing here is letting your daughter hear the illogical way her mind is working. This is much more powerful than your telling her, so allow time for it to occur.
6. Just wait a few hours or days. When kids have been out of line, and you give them time to process it, they can “bubble to the surface” with their own insight and apology. Again, this is much more powerful than your mini-lecture on gratitude. The learning is coming from inside the child and her direct experience, which results in a much more effective lesson.
7. Give her heartfelt appreciation for her insight. “When you think about things and come up with your own ideas, I am really impressed! It shows how grown up you’re getting.”
You’ve just avoided a big scene, which may have turned into an even bigger one. You’ve equipped your daughter to think about her own actions without having to say, “Now think about your actions, Young Lady!” We all know how well that works. And you’ve engaged in a type of communication that sets the stage for more openness between you and your child. Win, win, win.
If you would like help with this or any other parenting issue, visit www.parentingmojo.com/parent-coaching, and feel free to call 651-453-0123 or write email@example.com for an appointment.
What About When He Gets to the Real World?
Tina Feigal, MS, Ed. © Copyright 2015
So often when I offer parents techniques such as speaking in softer tones, not getting upset, listening deeply, and showing respect to a child, they say, “Well that’s not how it will be in the ‘real world.’ What about when he gets a job and his boss tells him what to do, and he’s just supposed to do it?”
Stop. Wait. We left something out of this picture. It’s called “child development.” The point is that a child is not a “young man,” even though we often call him that. He’s a developing person, so our expectations need to match his developmental phase, or we will definitely have a fight on our hands. When parents make unreasonable demands of their children, they rebel. This is not unnatural, as the “organism child” knows what it’s capable of, and it knows what it’s not. This is more of an instinct on the child’s part than a willful decision. In other words, it’s not conscious.
Let’s take a look at expectations. Would we apply the same argument about the workplace to other areas? The man in this picture climbs to electrical wires 80 feet above the street to repair them. So should his parents have started teaching him to shop for clothes, buy tools, drive to work, climb into a cherry picker, and know what to do up there to avoid electrocution when he was 8? Probably not. But we often get caught in this trap of expectations when it comes to “controlling your behavior” and “showing respect” when we are equally off the mark regarding the child’s capabilities.
Here’s the 8-year-old. He’s not a developed man, as you can see. He has no facial hair, beard, or pronounced jaw. He has no job, no mortgage, and only a third grade education. He looks innocent, and he is. If he crosses his parents, it’s because he doesn’t see the big picture yet, nor does he have the brain development to stop his impulses all the time. If he’s had trauma, or a diagnosis like ADHD, Asperger’s, autism, or an attachment disorder, he’s a lot younger than 8. He could use some softer tones, calm demeanor, listening deeply, and yes some respect, until he gets to the point where he needs to answer to a boss.
In fact, all children need those things. And even adults do. There’s no hard and fast “world out there” that’s guaranteed to chew your son up if you’ve been gentle with him during childhood. But if he does encounter such a world, your gentleness has given him time and space to grow, mature, and become the kind of man who can take the inevitable knocks of life with grace and not anger. The children who can’t respond well to adversity are the ones who were asked to “grow up” too soon.
Having your unique needs met when you’re 2, 8, 16, etc., opens the path to all your educational, social, emotional and worldly maturation. There’s really no other way to get there.
If you would like help with this or any other parenting issue, visit www.parentingmojo.com/parent-coaching. Call 651-453-0123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment today.
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What About the NFL, and Other Professional Sports Organizations, that Turn a Blind Eye to Domestic Abuse?
I am sharing my thoughts here, and would love to hear yours, as well. Let’s make this an open conversation with the hope that more enlightened attitudes can emerge from it. I know I still have a lot to learn in life, and I trust you feel the same.
Somewhere in Eden Prairie, a 4-year-old boy is healing from the physical wounds his father inflicted on him with a switch (small tree branch) because he got into a disagreement with his brother over a video game. Lacerations on his hand and thighs, and bruises on his lower back and buttocks resulted in a felony child abuse charge in Texas. According to the Forbes.com article by Gregory McNeal, texts from Adrian Peterson to the boy’s mother included:
- “Got him in nuts once I noticed. But I felt so bad, n I’m all tearing that butt up when needed! I start putting them in timeout. N save the whooping for needed memories!”
- “Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.”The child said, “Daddy Peterson hit me on my face.”
- The child expressed worry that Peterson would punch him in the face if the child reported the incident to authorities.
- The child said that he had been hit by a belt and that “there are a lot of belts in Daddy’s closet.”
- The child said that Peterson put leaves in his mouth when he was being hit with the switch while his pants were down.
- The child told his mother that Peterson “likes belts and switches” and “has a whooping room.”
- Peterson, admitted to the police that he had “whooped” his son on the backside with a switch as a form of punishment.
- Peterson also admitted to the police that he administered two different “whoopings” to his son.So here we are, some of us loyal fans of professional sports, wondering if this constitutes child abuse and what to do about it. And we are also contemplating whether AP should ever be allowed back on the field. Will this be one of those “fans have short memories” incidents where all is forgotten within a few months when the hype dies down? Or should we all stand up and insist that a loud message be delivered on behalf of innocent four-year-olds? You probably know already what I’m going to say … that of course child abuse needs to be counteracted with stern and swift consequences.But there’s a deeper issue here. What gives the men of the NFL the mindset that because they are bigger and stronger than their children, they have the right to physically harm them as a form of discipline? I’ve read the “We are African American, and this is how we manage our children’s behavior” argument, as well. I also understand that police profiling of African Americans and other people of color is a real issue, and could lie beneath the parenting perspective that we need to keep our children “respectful and under control” to keep the police from harming them. But this argument doesn’t stand up, given that one in three young African American males is incarcerated in this country. Racial profiling is a real-world issue that still needs addressing by police departments in every U.S. city.According to J.E.B. Myers in his article “The History of Child Protection in America” the first recorded societal effort to rescue a child from parental abuse was by Etta Wheeler in 1874. U.S. governmental child protection policies and laws were created in 1962. Adrian Peterson was born in 1985. There has been plenty of time for Adrian Peterson and his professional sports counterparts to catch on to the fact that children are protected by law from physical and emotional abuse by adults. But of course, being a product of the enormous hype in professional sports can easily give one the idea that the law is for other people, not you.So what have we learned with the discussion around this incident? Have we learned that hurting children is never, ever, ever justified? I hope so. Have we learned not to revere our sports heroes so much that we consider them above the law? I hope so again. Because the children are watching to see who we consider our heroes, and they’re following our example. We need to be strong for them, and draw the line on child and spousal abuse. We need to make a big point to them that it’s never all right to harm another human for any reason, no matter how angry we get, no matter how much they provoke us, no matter what.
Here’s what I have learned: We have a long way to go in the field of coaching parents. We need to include all races and creeds in the mindset that there’s a much, much better way to get good behavior from your child than physical force. We need to assure that the hearts of children can make it through the formative years without abject fear of their parents’ undeserved wrath. Because when a child grows up in fear, as the 4-year-old son of Adrian Peterson has been forced to do, he sees the world as a scary place. His brain structure and function are indelibly altered by trauma. He defends himself, sometimes more than the situation calls for, and he lands in prison with all the other abused children of the world. This is a terrible waste of human potential and we know how to fix it. With this story so widely distributed in the media, my hope is that this is our chance for a huge step forward on healing adult-child relationships, so children can grow up and become healthy parents.
I am calling for the NFL, NBA, NHL and others to use this opportunity to support parents in the compassionate handling of their children. I propose a full-on anti-child-abuse effort, funded by major sports, to not only educate parents, but to provide ongoing services to them so that they can feel supported over time. We need to remember Maya Angelou’s words: “When we know better, we must do better.”
Parents, there’s a better way. Physical wounds heal in a few months, but emotional scars last for decades, and can have hugely damaging effects on children over their lifetimes. Please, for the sake of your children, find a parent coach to teach you the better way before we see another case like this in the news, before one more child is scarred for life by a parent who thought he or she was doing the right thing. Pick up the phone now.
Time to Get Off the Video Game!
Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.
Here are 10 tips for setting up a system that works to bring an end to the conflicts:
1. At a family meeting, explain to your kids that we now know that too much video game playing is not good for children’s brains, and in fact can damage them. (See the link to an article about this below.)
2. Talk about how when your child wasn’t even born yet, you took care of him in the best way you could. You ate well when you were pregnant, got good sleep, exercised, and went to prenatal visits and childbirth preparation class. When he was a baby you fed, clothed, held, and bathed him when he was completely dependent on you. When he started to walk, you made his environment safe so he wouldn’t get hurt. All along you’ve taught safe behaviors with traffic and strangers, shopped for and cooked good food, provided a home to live in, clothes to wear, and opportunities for fun. You are not about to stop caring for your child now by saying, “OK, spend all the time you want playing games. I’m fine with its effect on your brain, even though I know it’s damaging.” You just wouldn’t do that. Your child needs your perspective on this.
3. In light of the fact that you are doing your job as a parent, explain that overuse of video games is simply not an option. Video games are a privilege. Just like any other privilege, if it’s abused, it isn’t available. Give an example from your adult life that illustrates the same concept, e.g., if I abuse the privilege of driving my car, and do so recklessly, my license will no longer be mine. Kids need to know they aren’t the only ones with limits on their activities.
4. You may want to use an ice cream analogy: “I don’t allow you to eat a quart of ice cream every day because it wouldn’t be good for your body.” Same thing. “I don’t allow you to play unlimited video games because it wouldn’t be good for your brain, which is a very important part of your body.”
5. Come to an agreement on a reasonable amount of playing time, first inviting your child’s input on what he thinks is reasonable. You want to show collaboration here, so you don’t lose your child’s willingness to engage in the solution. From the adult perspective the time playing video games shouldn’t be much, as every minute spent on the game is a minute spent away from nature, people, and physical activity, all of which are known to be VERY good for children’s brains. Maybe ½ hour on weekdays and an hour per day on weekends. During the school year, if there’s homework, that gets done first, and then the privilege of playing video games is activated.
6. Give your child heartfelt appreciation for talking rationally about this, for interacting with you, for spending time in nature, and for engaging in physical activity. This is what you want to increase, and you know that noticing the positive behaviors will do just that.
7. Limit your own video game use. Children learn more from what we do than what we say. Get on your bike and explore the world together instead.
8. Decide together how the “stopping” will happen. When the time is up, does your child want one of these three options?
a. You tell him time is up (your least favorite, because he’s not accepting responsibility for ending the playing time, but keeping it on you, which leads to arguments.)
b. He has the computer timer or a kitchen timer that lets him know time is up.
c. He watches the time and ends play when it’s up (your favorite option, as you don’t have to get involved, and he’s learning self-control.)
9. Ending the video game time is something that’s hard when the brain is addicted, which happens much more readily in young brains than in adult brains. Kids need to learn to anticipate “finishing this level” when there’s time to finish it. So that means that a few minutes before the ending time, they start stopping.
10. Rehearse ending. Go to the computer together, have the child set the timer or show him how to watch the time. Have him play the game while he thinks about stopping (this is a new skill, one that he’s likely never thought about.) Help him anticipate the timer going off and finishing his level. And when time is up, it’s up. Help him sign off. This way he’ll have a map in his brain for stopping appropriately, and you can give him heartfelt appreciation for doing so.
Read what Victoria Dunckley, M.D. says about video game damage to child brains here: http://drdunckley.com/videogames/
Want help with this process? Parent coaching is available to you, no matter where you live. Click here for all the details. www.parentingmojo.com/parent-coaching
Copyright Center for the Challenging Child ©2013
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.
Parent coaching info is available at www.parentingmojo.com/parent-coaching.
Don’t Solve the Behavior Problem.
Solve the Real Problem.
Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.
Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal
Every day parents call me about their children’s behavior: “He bit the teacher at daycare.” “She won’t go to bed without manipulating every possible angle to stay up.” “He’s trying to get me to buy a cell phone and I think he’s too young. But wow, does he know how to wear me down!”
Of course, this is what I hear … I am, after all, a parent coach! I actually WANT people to tell me what’s happening with their kids, so I can help them resolve it.
But what I find interesting is that we as adults focus on the behavior, not the underlying cause. The behavior is always just the tip of the proverbial ice berg, just an indicator of something big going on underneath. When parents and teachers focus on the ice berg tip, they feel as if they have good reasons: “He’s being so disrespectful and it has to stop.” “I can’t let him just get away with talking to me (or hitting me or biting someone) like that.” The desire to stop the behavior, and stop it now for once and for all, seems overwhelmingly urgent because parents and teachers feel judged if the child in their care misbehaves. They want to get along, not fight with their kids. And they feel responsible for fixing it immediately.
Here’s where we get into trouble: we cannot make someone stop their behavior … a harsh reality, but it’s really true. From the smallest child to the oldest adult, the internal urge to behave, however badly, usually overrides the desire of someone else who wants them to stop it. So the only answer is to dig underneath to the huge slab of ice below the water and see what’s causing the tip.
It takes some time and development of skills to “read” a child to determine what underlying causes of behavior are being expressed. Mostly we’re in too much of a hurry to take this time, but when the pain gets bad enough, I find parents are very willing to spend it on finding true solutions. I am always impressed by how willing they are!
Here are a few tips on figuring out the underlying cause of behavior, so you can resolve it instead of the behavior itself:
1. “He bit the teacher.” This is a child who does not respond well to being touched when the teacher wants him “over here.” She inadvertently sparks a big response when she takes his shoulders to reposition him. Ice berg tip: He bit the teacher. Underlying cause: extreme sensitivity to touch by people who are not well-known to the child. Solution: respect his need to be told verbally what’s expected, and refrain from moving him physically. End of “bad behavior.”
2. “She won’t go to bed without manipulating every possible angle to stay up.” Ice berg tip: She delays bedtime so late that she’s missing sleep and frustrating the whole family. Underlying cause: originally, it was fear of scary things in the dark created by her very active imagination. Now it’s more of a game to see how much energy match her brain can get from her parents (although this is unconscious, it’s true. She shouldn’t be blamed, just redirected.) Solution: engage her in a conversation when it’s not bedtime, so she can hear you. Have her create a chart of the bedtime routine made of photos of herself doing each task. Rehearse bedtime so she gets a map in her brain for how it can look to go to bed without delays, arguments, nagging, and tears. Break the habit of the brain’s energy match by refusing to give emotional energy to her bedtime. Have her consult her chart, complete the tasks, and express how you are looking forward to reading a book when she’s all ready.
3. “He’s trying to get me to buy a cell phone and I think he’s too young. But wow, does he know how to wear me down!” Talk about this at a family meeting, not when your child is begging for a phone (no energy match for arguing about having one.) Give your child the benefit of trust and ask his good reasons for wanting a phone. Listen completely. Say, “Thank you for telling me those good points! Now, if you will allow me a bit to talk about it, I’d like to share how I feel.” After being respectfully heard, he’s willing to listen to you, too. Talk about the responsibility of having a phone: you pay money, you use it at appropriate times, you make sure people you don’t know have no access to your number, and you use it appropriately (repeated for emphasis.) That means you only call close friends and family, you only use it until 8 p.m., you never use it at school, you keep track of it so it doesn’t get lost, and you keep your calls to 15 minutes or less. No gabbing for hours, as each minute costs money. Ask, “Are you able to pay for the phone at this time?” And then go through each point, asking respectful questions. At the end of the discussion, if he’s not able to fulfill the requirements, assure your child that when he is old enough to pay for and manage the phone, he can certainly have one.
All of this takes thoughtful consideration on the part of parents, which means time and effort. It’s time SO well spent, as your certainty about limits and respectful approach pay off in lack of melt-downs and upset in the future. If you’d like help, let me know. Phone, Skype and In-person coaching are all options for learning these ways of approaching kids’ “ice berg tips” that are creating chaos in your home or school. To learn more about coaching, click here.
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