Archive for the ‘Parenting Preschoolers’ 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!
This is Quick. Don’t Praise Your Child.
I imagine you found that headline kind of odd. Isn’t conventional parenting wisdom all about being positive? Sure it is, but one thing sticks out with being positive. Sometimes we overdo the positives to the point that children can’t live their lives without looking to us for approval. And when we praise, we may fall into the comparison trap, creating kids who are anxious and perfectionistic all the time because they weren’t the BEST at art or baseball or swimming or gymnastics or reading.
We all know kids who give new things one small try and give up. It’s so frustrating as a parent, because we’re supposed to encourage new things! When they don’t even try, how are we supposed to do our job?
First, let go a little. Let your child experiment with success and failure. The best teacher is trying and not doing so well, so let her have that teacher. It’s not a reflection on you if she fails and tries again, but she won’t try again if you are monitoring her too closely. She deserves her space and autonomy in her learning world, so don’t stand in the way.
Second, understand that she may be 5, and may not have done her gym or dance routine perfectly, but that’s childhood. Allow it. Don’t comment on it. Just let it be. Don’t even say, “Did you have fun?” every single time. We are in danger of making “fun” a parental expectation, which takes the fun right out of it!
Third, an 11-year-old is not an 11-year-old is not an 11-year-old. They vary a LOT. So if you see others whose children are nimbly rock climbing at 11, absolutely resist the temptation to make sure yours does that, too. Instead appreciate who he actually is, and what he actually likes. He’s not on this planet to make your parenting persona look good. Sorry, he’s just not. You’ll be a lot happier with your child if you just observe his strengths and encourage, even admire, them.
Fourth, watch what you say within earshot. It’s vitally important to express any negative thoughts about your child where he doesn’t hear them, IF your thoughts are a signal that you need an attitude adjustment. Don’t include your child in that.
Fifth, instead of praise, which usually involves some type of comparison, offer heartfelt appreciation. “When you … I feel … because … ” is a relationship-builder, not a corrective action. Kids can definitely feel the difference. And voila! With heartfelt appreciation, they have room to grow into their true selves! Everyone wins!
If you would like coaching on this or any other parenting issue, click here.
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.
If you’d like help with this or any other parenting issue, please visit www.parentingmojo.com/parent-coaching for the answers to most of your questions. Have more questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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Three Common Mistakes Parents of Intense Children Make
We’ve all been there. Our kids do something that seems defiant and we immediately match their intensity with our own. We believe in our heart of hearts that when a child misbehaves, we must get stronger in our approach to their behavior in order to correct it. Here are the three things we do that only result in increased intensity.
1. We yell when our children act up. We say, “I said ‘stop it’ and I mean ‘Stop’. Now.” We let them know they are wrong, they made a bad choice, and they need to understand their errors in order to prevent this from ever happening again.
2. We use our bodies to communicate how upset we are. We stand tall over the kids, or we get in their faces to be sure they hear us. Our fingers wag, our brows furrow, and our shoulders tense up.
3. We convince ourselves that if we don’t correct the behaviors, they won’t get corrected, so we POUNCE on them and expect immediate compliance.
Are there ways to avoid these three common mistakes? Yes.
1. Yelling at kids only has effects we don’t want. It causes them to feel the need to defend themselves, and it also communicates unsafe conditions. Intense children have bigger-than-average responses to unsafe conditions, so you may want to consider never yelling again. (I’ve had parents try this, with remarkable results.)
2. Our bodies are like giants to our kids, even if they are pretty big and we’re not. A parent’s stature is more about being their PARENT than about size. When we use our bodies in a threatening way, we cause them to look at us with fear, and fearful kids act defiantly. The preferable way to approach an upset or out-of-control child is “low and slow.” Sit down, speak in a soft tone, and communicate calm. Yes, that’s hard when you’re steamed about the behavior, but I can guarantee you a better result in the long run. If you don’t like escalation, approach your child with calm.
3. Many parents take on a “manager” role. Demands come so fast and furiously that they just don’t have time to wait for children to comply. The pressure builds to the point that the manager in them goes ballistic, because there are 14 balls in the air at once, and they feel they can’t let one of them drop.
Here’s a bit of reality for you: kid time is slower than adult time. If you want things done by 8:30, start much earlier than 8:25. Yes, adults could get it done in 5 minutes, but kids are not adults. Start at 8:00 and allow for some side-winding. It’s in the nature of children to be less organized in their motions that adults, but that’s OK. If you accept it, and encourage the true nature of the child, you’ll actually get to 8:30 much more calmly with a lot more done. Remind yourself you are managing small people. You’ll be a lot happier with your expectations aligned with their nature rather than trying to fit them into adult molds.
One more thing: trusting children to learn and grow in their abilities is a much more peaceful approach than expecting the worst all the time. Notice how well she’s taken responsibility for her toys, or he’s being gentler with his little brother. Sometimes kids are making strides right in front of us, but we fail to notice. If we do notice, we reinforce the growth, and can just sit back and marvel at the natural development of the human being known as “my child.”
If you need help with implementing these ideas, don’t hesitate to call 651-453-0123 or visit www.parentingmojo.com/parent-coaching for all the details.
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.
Telling Your Child Your Story
Maybe you’ve already thought of this, but in case you haven’t, it’s SO important to tell your child your life story. More often than not, when I meet with parents for coaching sessions, they’ll tell me interesting stories about their early struggles and how they overcame them. When I ask, “Did you tell Isabelle that story?” the answer is always a bemused, “No, I never did.” Maybe it’s because I’m the type of person who readily shares my life story with others that I feel a sense of surprise when parents say they don’t share their childhood with their kids. It’s not a criticism, just an observation of different styles. But what an intimacy builder it can be! When your child has a window on your early experiences, she just plain feels more connected to you. When you make yourself human in your child’s eyes, your vulnerability draws her toward you. That’s how good behavior and strong relationships form!
Here are some tips for telling your childhood story to your child.
1. Watch for struggles your child is having, and be grateful for the opportunity to share the story about when you had a similar issue. Say she’s having trouble deciding on a major.
“I never knew what career I wanted. The family story was that I’d become an architect, following in my dad’s and brothers’ footsteps. But I really didn’t enjoy architecture school. Then I got a job in architecture, and I just couldn’t stand it! I had to look at my own interests, and I discovered I was an engineer. I hope you don’t have to spend time in the wrong field because of someone else’s expectations, and can just start right out with something that feels like a fit for you.”
2. If your child is having friendship problems, tell the story of when you were in 8th grade and everyone seemed to reject you.
“I remember Maddie being the type of girl who would start making fun of someone, and then get everyone else to do it, too. I was the object of her jokes in 8th grade, and it really made me feel bad. Maddie seemed to have a lot of power, and I just couldn’t see how to get past it. Eventually I did, though, and 9th grade, with all the new kids in high school was a lot better. Maddie didn’t seem so powerful then.”
3. If your child is unmotivated for schoolwork, tell your story of homework woes.
“When I was in fourth grade, I remember the work getting a lot harder than in third. I felt buried in homework, and it was really hard on me. My mom helped by teaching me to take it in tiny bites. So I did that, and many nights before I knew it, all the work was done and I had time to play!”
You get the idea. More often than not, your child just needs to be heard, and sharing your story communicates “I hear you.”
If you’d like help with this or any other parenting issue, visit www.parentingmojo.com/parent-coaching or call 651-453-0123. We’ll be happy to get right back to you!
Saying No to One Thing Means Saying Yes to Another
As we Minnesotans watch an April snowstorm blanket the landscape with eight new inches of “pretty stuff”, it’s hard to accept “no” from Mother Nature when we yearn for Spring RIGHT NOW. We desperately want warm sun on our faces, robins and daffodils, not boots, gloves, and snow shovels!
Isn’t it interesting to note how as adults, we have experiences that thwart our desires, just the way our kids do? Last night, my son texted me an interesting thought to ponder. “When we say no to something, we’re saying yes to something else.” Then he typed, in his adorably thought-provoking way, “Opposition.”
When our children are oppositional, they are saying “no” to one thing, such as “brush your teeth”, “get off the computer”, “time for bed”, or “finish your homework.” What’s the thing they are saying “yes” to at that moment? Of course, you might answer, more freedom to play video games, more freedom to stay up late, more freedom to watch a movie instead of finish homework. But there’s more to it than that.
When children oppose their parents, they’re also saying “yes” to their own sense of who they are. As young as 12 months, they’re wired to start opposing their parents’ requests because they are exercising their newfound will. Is this a disrespectful aspect to all children? Some may argue yes. But it’s really more helpful and less conflict producing to see it as a natural developmental phase. As adults, this is our job and we even benefit from celebrating that our kids with big wills are on the right path. We do better to support their will, rather than try to fight it.
So, you might say to me, “How do we get the bath taken in time for bed, when all they want to do is play?” The answer lies in recognizing the emerging will as a vital part of the child’s growth as a person. Acknowledging how much they want to continue to watch their favorite show, play their favorite video game, or finish up their art project, will go a long way toward gaining cooperation. Say, “You’re really into this game, I can see! I notice that you’re gaining a lot of new skills by playing it. Finish this one game and I’ll meet you in your room, ready for bed in 10 minutes.”
This approach acknowledges the child’s will to play the game and also encourages, rather than forces, the letting go. (We all know how well it turns out when we try to force a child to do something.)
Here are the 5 steps:
1. Establish a routine bedtime with your children’s input during a family meeting.
2. Tell your child exactly how you will let him or her know it’s bedtime. Have him sit in front of the computer and rehearse this aspect. Place your hand on his back if he can tolerate it, and say in a respectful tone, “See what time it is? I’ll meet you in your room in 10 minutes.” That’s all. He knows when bedtime is.
3. Just wait respectfully for him to comply. If it takes longer than you thought, rehearse again tomorrow, but don’t lecture now.
4. Give heartfelt appreciation for coming when he does. Even if it’s a few minutes late, you want to let him know he’s been successful in coming to the room. Reward what you want, and you will see more of it.
5. Have a peaceful, appreciative end to the day.
If you need coaching help with these steps, or any other parenting challenge, click here.
That’s NOT FAIR!!!
You’ve heard your kids claim this “truth” a million times. How do you get them to stop throwing fairness up as their inalienable right? It’s annoying, it feels like pressure for you as a parent, and you have no idea how to deal with it.
Here are five tips for dealing with kids who feel life is unfair:
1. This may seem a little harsh, but tell the kids, “We don’t do fair.” It’s not a realistic expectation to think that life for every child will be equal and fair, so why hold it up as a family value?
2. Listen deeply to the feelings underlying the claim of unfairness. “I imagine you are saying that because you feel your brother gets more attention than you do. Is that right?” Being comfortable with the tough feeling a child is expressing tends to neutralize it.
3. Remind the child that each person in the family is having his or her needs met to the best of your ability. We all have clothes, food, a roof over our heads, enough rules, hot water for baths, and lots of love.
4. Comparing “who gets what is a dead-end” conversation. Let the kids know that their legitimate need for material things will be met, and so will their siblings’, and it won’t always be the same or at the same time. Give examples of when the oldest got a bike first because the younger ones weren’t big enough to ride yet; the musically interested one got piano lessons, while the hockey player got skates and ice time; the dancer got ballet lessons and the one who loved Karate had lessons, too. It wasn’t the same (which kids sometimes think is “fair.”)
5. Show your kids how adults don’t live in the world of fairness, either. Every time mom buys a new pair of jeans, dad doesn’t run out and get something of equal value. You both know you’ll be able to get the clothes you need, but not at the same time, and not necessarily items that cost the same.
Part of this exercise is releasing your own thinking that everything in your child’s world should be fair. It’s an easy trap to fall into when you have more than one child. But it’s also fairly easy to correct. Just say, “We don’t do fair, but we do provide for and love each of you.”
If you’d like more information about parent coaching on this or any child-rearing topic, click here for all the details.
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.