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Joyful Musings--a weekly blog

Joyful Parenting Coaching is focused on clarity, consistency, connection, being an effective parent, finding balance as a parent, and above all being a confident and joyous parent. Topics include communication, having difficult conversations, having constructive conversations, chores, routines, family meetings,  I teach parent education and parenting classes because parenting is a skill—not something we are born knowing. Get the parenting skills you need today!

Filtering by Tag: cooperation

Talking So Your Kids Feel Seen and Heard

Elisabeth Stitt

 

by Elisabeth Stitt

Communication Tips you may have learned in an office setting or couples workshop work great with your children, too.

Let's look at how active listening and I-Statements might play out with your kids.  Remember, the purpose of the skills is to open up space in the relationship, to establish good will, and to get and share information.  

Active Listening is a great one to use when your child is upset.  Imagine that your child is mad because you have asked her to clean up the puzzle she is working on before dinner.  You have given her a five minute warning, you have cheerfully given the command, clean up!  You have moved in to help her get started--and not just yelled from the other room.  In short, you have have done everything you can to set the transition to dinner up for success.

But still she is screaming at you!

It is time to move in with some active listening.  The conversation might go like this:

Mom:  Clean up!  Dinner in 5 minutes. [Mom moves into room and touches child lightly on the shoulder.]

Child:  [screaming] No, I'm not done yet.

Mom:  You're frustrated because you thought you would finish.

Child:  No, I'm mad at you Mommy.  I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom:  Mmmm... yes...  tell me more.

Child: It's not fair.  I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom:  It is really important to you to finish that puzzle.  

Child:  Yes, I have to finish it or it won't get done.

Mom:  You feel like you'll never get to finish it if you don't finish it now, is that right?

Child: Yes, that's it. I have to finish my puzzle now.  Let me do it! [screaming again and trying to put her hands on her puzzle].  

Mom:  [Low and soft and looking child in the eye] What's important to you about finishing the puzzle?

Child:  I know I can do it.  I can.  I can do it all by myself.  

Mom: You care a lot about showing you can do this puzzle on your own.  

Child:  Yes, I do Mommy.  I want to show you.  All by myself.  

Mom:  You are a capable girl and like doing things independently.  I can see that.  

At this point Mom has some choices.  She can still insist that the puzzle be picked up before dinner, but maybe she can offer to carefully break it into big chunks and put it in the box so it can be reassembled easily.  Perhaps she can leave the puzzle out until after dinner.  Perhaps she and her daughter can brainstorm where in the house it would be possible to start a puzzle and leave it out until the puzzle was done.  Maybe it is not possible to leave out the puzzle, and her daughter destroys all her work because she is is still so frustrated.  That is not the best outcome, but in terms of Mom's relationship with her daughter, she has taken the time to really hear her.  She has also been reminded of how much her daughter wants to do things on her own from start to finish.  This allows Mom to try to structure things in the future so that her daughter can get that need met.  Mom can also help daughter plan out for next time she gets out a puzzle by reminding her about last time:   She can ask, "How are you going to feel if you don't get a chance to finish the puzzle?  Is it worth it to you to start even if you have to pick it up for dinner?"  All this conversation ahead of time gives her daughter choices which gives her control (and we all like to have control over our lives).  

I-Statements with your Child. 

You can train children to solve problems peacefully just the way you train them to do anything else--by modeling and by scaffolding.

First, model I-Statements with your kids from your own point of view:

Mom:  Sweetie, when I have asked you nicely and you still do not pick up the puzzle, I get really frustrated because dinner is getting cold and I put a lot of effort into getting dinner ready. 

Child:  But Mommy, I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom:  I hear that you want to finish your puzzle, but when I have cooked dinner, and you don't come eat right away, I feel deflated like a big balloon that has popped because I tried hard to make a good dinner.  

Child:  You're not a balloon, Mommy!

Mom:  But that's what I feel like--a popped balloon with all the air out of me--when I have worked hard to cook dinner and it gets all cold.  

Notice how the child's attention has shifted away from her puzzle.  For the moment, in a small way, she is putting herself in her mother's shoes.  This is the beginning of teaching empathy.  The child may shift back to her obsession with the puzzle, but Mom has introduced the idea of an I-Statement.  (As a side note, although metaphors are a pretty abstract idea in some ways, I find they often work with kids because they engage kids' imaginations and shift the child to something visual which is more concrete than a feeling.)  

The next step is to help your child use an I-statement bit by bit (that's the scaffolding).  

This time when Mom comes in to transition to dinner, and her child gets upset, Mom might encourage her child to use an I-Statement.    

Mom:  Clean up!

Child:  No.  I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom: [Putting her hands over the puzzle and making eye contact]  You had your five minute warning; now it is time to clean up!

Child: [Screaming] No, No, Mommy.  I have to finish my puzzle!

Mom:  [Using I-Statement phrasing]  When I asked you to clean up, that made you really mad because you really want to finish this puzzle. 

Child: Yes, yes, I want to finish it now!

Mom:  Can you use your words to tell me that?  Start by saying, "Mommy, when you asked me to clean up..."

Child: [doubtfully] "Mommy, when you asked me to clean up.."

Mom:  Say, "I felt mad..."

Child:  "I felt really, really mad!"

Mom: Say, "Because I wanted to finish this puzzle."

Child: "Because I wanted to finish this puzzle."  I have to finish this puzzle!

Mom:  Let's put it together.  You say it, and I will say it with you.

Child and Mom:  "When you asked me to clean up, I felt mad because I wanted to finish this puzzle."

Mom:  Thanks for telling me how you feel in a respectful way, Sweetie.  

By this time, Child has probably calmed down.  She knows she has been heard.  Plus the process of calmly expressing herself has given her over-wrought nervous system a chance to regulate.  

I had an exchange much like this one with a child I was baby-sitting.  After the I-statement, she took my cheeks in her hands and looked at me seriously and said, "I was really, really mad.  But now I'm sad."  Wow!  What a great job tuning into her feelings.  I was then able to ask her if a hug would make it better.  She agreed yes, and after a great big hug and a gentle raspberry, her mood was re-set, and she was able to let go of finishing the puzzle right then and there.  

The I-Statement might feel formulaic and awkward to you, but kids like structure.  It gives them something dependable to reach for.  Once you have modeled it and walked them through it a bunch of times, you will be able to require it by asking, "Can you please use an I-Statement to tell me how you're feeling?"  Knowing that she will be listened to and that she is going to get a chance to explain herself will help a child calm down.  Most parents are more willing to cooperate with a polite child so a positive feedback loop is quickly formed here.  

Once your children have gotten good at using I-Statements, you can ask them to use them with each other.  The next time your kid comes running to tattle on a sibling, you can say, "It sounds like you're really upset.  Did you use an I-statement with your brother?  No?  Well, why don't you practice with me, and then you can go tell him."  I have my own theory about I-Statements here.  Because it is a little bit tricky to make sure you have all three parts covered (When you... I feel.... because....), a child has to really slow down and think.  My guess is that the process itself is calming.  

You can teach the other child to use some active listening in response (All he has to do is repeat the I-Statement back: When I took the red pen, you got mad because you were about to use it.).  Now it is his turn to use an I-Statement.  He might say something like, "When you hogged all the pens, I felt hurt because I wanted you to share with me."  

At first your kids will need a lot (a lot!) of support with each of these steps.  What really works for the adult in this situation is that you are not in the middle in the sense that you are arbitrating or trying to decide who was right.  You are simply supporting their constructive expression of their emotions.  Once everyone has calmed down enough, you can help brainstorm solutions.  

Teaching our children to express their emotions and to get their needs met calmly is enormous.  Huge, in fact.  As a teacher I could always tell whose parents had taken the time to arm their kids with good communication skills.  Those were the kids who were ready to come to school and learn.  Of course they had conflicts with other kids, but they approached the conflicts with a certain amount of confidence that they could make it okay for every one.  

The trick to teaching kids these skills is to feel fluent in them yourselves, so make that your goal.  Really try to create the time and space to listen actively.  Even an exchange of 2-3 sentences where you are acknowledging feelings and asking for more information will make a difference over time.  

Give it a go, and then leave a comment here let us know on the Joyful Parenting Facebook Page

Why Can't My Child Just Obey Me the First Time?

Elisabeth Stitt

    My last two blogs were on how to handle it when a child starts to exercise his powers. This week, however, some parents let me know that they resent having to resort to “tricks” to get their kids to cooperate.  How about you?  Do you feel that your child is being deliberately manipulative?   That he is out to get you?  I know that feeling.  I certainly have had times that I wanted to scream because I felt like my kids was holding me hostage, keeping me from all the really important things I had to do (like crawl into bed exhausted!).    

     But try to stand in your child’s shoes for a while.  From the moment she wakes up, she is on your schedule.  She is eating the food you put in front of her.  She is putting on clothes you picked out at the store.  Very likely, she is going to child care or school because you need her to.  Most of us do not have the luxury of following our child around on her schedule while food and clean laundry magically appear.  Fair enough.  Real life does demand that we attend to our responsibilities, but at least as parents, we actually get a lot of choice.  Whether I take her to the park, build one more tower, read one more book—all that is ultimately up to me.  If I decide to wear my jeans one more day and put off laundry or serve plain pasta again, that is also up to me. 

     Personally, I hate being told what to do.   The idea of going on a group trip, for example, makes my skin prickle.  No way do I want to have to show up in the lobby of a hotel somewhere to be shepherded on to a bus to be told what to look at to be served a meal of someone else’s choosing.  Perhaps you do enjoy that kind of thing, but you still would have been the one to choose—historic homes or natural monuments?  You see, a group trip is pretty much what your child is on every day.  There may be delightful moments of activity or shared meals, but the choice of trip wasn’t theirs and it never ends!  No wonder children begin to exercise power wherever they can.

      I guess my plea to you, when you are racing to see who can get to the car first or as you pretend to be an alligator brushing your many teeth carefully so you can gobble up children who aren’t in bed is to feel it from your child’s point of view.  It is hard to leave somewhere you are having fun. It is hard to stop an activity while you are in the middle of it.  But maybe if we waddle down the hall like ducks, quacking all the way, that will make up for the fact, child, that you are being forced to leave to accommodate mom’s schedule.

 

Don't worry about looking silly.  The more you do it the more natural it will feel.

Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 2: Build the Positive

Elisabeth Stitt

Building Consistency: Tip Two:  Build the Positive

The next trick in building the consistency muscle is to teach your children to trust you by following through on your promises for good things that you will enjoy, too—a trip to the park this afternoon, say, or a family movie night this weekend. 

Why is this a good next step?  One, it builds good will and family connection.  Our lives are so hurried these days that we actually spend very little time with our kids that is just for fun.  By the time you have gone to work and your child has gone to school, sports and other extra curricular activities, when is there time for play?  Pick something fun that you want, too; that way it will be easy for you to follow through on.  

What if it is time to go to the promised movie and your kids have been being complete monsters?  You still go to the movies.  You didn't promise them a trip to the movies for good behavior (not this time, at least), you just promised them.  You can tell them, I am upset about how much you have been fighting with each other--and we are going to talk about that--but right now I promised we would go to the movies, so let's go and have fun.  

With catching your kids being good, they didn't even know you were working on a new way of parenting, but this trip to the movie you announced out loud.  That means that when you keep your word, not only do your kids have fun, they learn that they can trust your word.  You have done what you said you will do. 

 CONNECTING YOUR PROMISES TO GOOD BEHAVIOR

Once you have gotten in the habit of promising fun times and delivering, you can provide the treat as a reward for catching them being good.  Let's say that dinner was a peaceful affair where kids ate without a fuss and there was pleasant conversation.  Certainly you can comment on it by telling them you noticed and appreciate their good behavior, but you can also go one step farther:  Say, "Dinner was such a pleasure tonight it makes me want to go out of my way for you.  Why don't I do the dishes later, and we can play a game for 30 minutes."  If this offer is met with any negativity or bargaining ("Mom, games are stupid.  Let's watch t.v."), just stay cheerfully firm and nonchalant: "Well, I thought a game would be fun--and you know the rule is no t.v. during the week--but if you don't want to play, I'll just do the dishes.  Then walk away and don't worry about it.  Even if they don't admit it, they will register that good things come when they behave. 

Later, you can offer a positive consequence as a reward (bribe?) for cooperative behavior.  For example, your kids might be wanting your attention when you are in the middle of something that you need to get done.  They want something from you!  Use this chance to ask for their help in return for what they want (your undivided attention).  For example, you might say, “If you guys helped and we got these leaves raked up in the next fifteen minutes, there would be enough time for us to play bananagrams before I have to make dinner.”  Again, the trick here is to really make happen what you have said will happen.  Don’t make the offer unless you are committed to bananagrams.  Of course, your children may choose to keep whining at you or to do cartwheels rather than help you.  That’s okay.  You don’t need to say anything as you go in to start making dinner.  You put out an offer for a treat, and you are prepared to follow through.  It’s a good bet that next time you propose a swap of your attention for their help, they’ll consider testing out your offer

On a good day, your children might even begin to help you without being asked.  Hurray!  That is the perfect time to reward the good behavior:  “You kids have been such a big help.  I’ve got an extra half hour.  Let’s put the timer on and see how many rounds of bananagrams we can fit in before I start dinner.”  Notice how in each of these cases there hasn’t been any lecturing—just identifying positive consequences for cooperative behavior.  You don’t need to connect the dots for your kids:  The positive reward will do that for you.  

One last thought.  At this point in your training, don't put your kids in “or else” situations.  As soon as you say “You kids need to help me pick up these leaves or else,” you have set yourself up in opposition to them when you are trying to build their cooperation.  By offering them a reward for cooperating, they get to choose to step up to the plate.  Or not.  Choice is a key way to build cooperation.  Don’t worry if they choose not to cooperate at first.  Eventually they will.  Just keep offering positive rewards with no guilt attached when they don’t take the bait.

At the end of the day, kids want to be cooperative, but they are only human:  They also want to feel that they are in control.  By offering them choice, they feel free to step up and contribute positively to the family.  

Do you want support in building your consistency muscle?  It's not too late to join the Winter Coaching Program and get the benefit of a community of parents as well as one-on-one coaching.

In the mean time, leave a comment below or on the Joyful Parenting Coaching Facebook Page about how your efforts are going.  

Be strong!

Elisabeth

www.elisabethstitt.com