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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: teaching

Why Does My Kid Behave Like That?

Elisabeth Stitt

Parents are often baffled by their children’s misbehavior.  Worse, they are often hurt by their children’s behavior.  I believe the hurt comes from reacting to the behavior as if the child were an adult and not keeping in mind that most children do not have the emotional maturity to get their needs met through effective communication.  Not being able to use language to communicate their needs, they use their behavior.

Fortunately, if you can interpret the misbehavior correctly, you have a good chance of meeting the child’s need.  According to the work of researchers and educators like Linda Albert, Don Dinkkmeyer (Sr. and Jr. and Rudolf Dreikurs, misbehavior often comes from one of these four needs:  Attention, Power, Revenge and Avoidance of Failure.  Let’s take a look at each. 

Attention

When a child is doing something to get attention, the adult often feels irritated or annoyed.  Quite likely the adult is busy or trying to get through something and resents being interrupted from his current task. 

Let’s say that you are making cookie dough, so your kids can decorate cookies.  You are busy measuring and mixing and paying attention to the recipe.  The more absorbed you become with your recipe, the more disconnected from you your child feels.  Because you are your child’s source of security, feeling disconnected from you is scarier than any other reaction you are likely to give. 

To get your attention, so he feels connected again, your child begins play with the flour in the jar, running it through his hands.  Seeing it, you scold him in an annoyed voice and remind him of his promise to be good.  He stops for a moment, but soon his need for connection grows bigger than his fear of your reaction, so he starts banging the wooden mixing spoon on the tabletop.  This time you bark at him a little more strongly until he stops.

By the time the dough is ready, you are feeling resentful that he hasn’t let you get on in peace and really don’t even want to make cookies with the kids.  He feels tense and even more disconnected.

What can you do? 

Ideally, when you get that annoyed or irritated feeling, you will see it as a sign of your child’s lack of connection and will strive to find a way to connect even as you continue with your task.  Perhaps you will just look at him and lovingly acknowledge that it is hard to wait.  Perhaps you will be willing to sacrifice a cup of flour and give him two small bowls so he can practice measuring a teaspoon from one bowl and dumping it in another.  If he is old enough to read, perhaps you will put him in charge of reading the ingredients to you. 

Power

It is natural for children to want to feel that they are in control of their own lives.  We all want to feel we have choice and can affect the outcome of things; children are not different.  Power can come out in the form of bossiness as in, “You have to let me measure the flour!” Or can come in the form of refusal as in, “No, I’m not going to measure the flour and you can’t make me!”  In both cases, the child just doesn’t want to be told what to do.  The passive child will simply ignore your requests (but make no mistake, the goal of the behavior is still a bid for power).  

To be thwarted threatens our own sense of control and—I am not sure why—being thwarted by our own children affects us more than when being controlled by almost anyone else.  We react either by being more combative back (“Don’t you dare talk to me that way!  There won’t be any cookies if I don’t get an apology”) or by giving in to whatever the child wants.  The latter might help the child feel better in the short run; in the long run, however, giving in to our kids all the time makes them feel insecure (because while they want some control, total control is way too much responsibility and is scary). 

What can you do?

Allow a child’s combative or resistant behavior to be a clue that she is feeling powerless.  Start looking for ways to give her some power.  One of the best ways to do this is to offer her some choice as in “Are you going to measure the flour using the half-cup measure or the full-cup measure?”  Using an option like this, you neatly sidestep the rude tone and redirect your child into some new thinking.  If you must hold the limit, can you offer something else instead as in “I cannot risk flour all over the kitchen, but would you like to grate the orange or count out 20 walnuts for chopping?”  By giving her a choice, you reestablish your child’s sense of self. 

Revenge

When we realize or suspect that a child’s misbehavior has been done in the spirit of revenge, we are often not only angry, we are also hurt.  We know that whatever we did to get the child mad, we did not do it to deliberately make him angry.  If we allow our hurt to get the better of us, we might even try to get revenge back.  Perhaps your child deliberately dropped the bag of flour.  You know it was deliberate and now you feel like wringing his neck.  Here you are taking your precious time to make cookies—and he repays you by being a jerk!  Perhaps you retaliate by calling him clumsy or by punishing him with total responsibility for kitchen clean up later. 

What can you do? 

Unfortunately, you do have to be the responsible one!!  Yes, I know it is hard not to get your own revenge back.  But revenge is a sign of a child’s anger and defensiveness.  It is behavior that says, “I am only okay if the score is even and I get my fair share.”  This is a child who is living with a belief of scarcity.  She is afraid that if she does not assure that she get her due by means fair or foul that she lacks importance or has less value.  Instead of punishing her, it is your job to assure her of your love.  You might say something like, “I know you wouldn’t have dropped the flour on purpose unless you had lots of angry feelings inside.  I am really sorry you are feeling that way.  What can I do to help you feel better?”  I know this might feel counter intuitive to you as a parent and like you are condoning taking revenge, but it is too easy for revenge to get in a vicious cycle.  You have to back off and meet anger with love.  Love and forgiveness are the most effective tool for disarming the downward spiral of revenge.  (Once the connection has been reestablished, then you can look at the flour and say briskly, "Now, what needs to happen here?"  If the child truly feels connected again, she will move to help clean up the flour.  

Avoidance of Failure

A frequent source of misbehavior is avoidance of failure.  In some ways these misbehaviors seem the least aggressive but frequently because of the lack of action they can draw on, the adult himself feels helpless and depressed by the child’s reaction.  These behaviors might have you banging your head against the wall.

Let’s say that you ask your child to cream the butter and sugar.  Because the butter is a little cold still, the child finds herself struggling.  Afraid she is not going to succeed to your liking, your child puts her head on the table and says, “I can’t do it. It’s too hard.”  At first you encourage her brightly, “Sure you can!  You can do it,” but she still maintains that she can’t and instead of lifting her head, sighs gustily.  She is waiting for you to come in and rescue her.  “Here,” you say as you pick up the spoon, “It’s not so hard.  You do it like this.”  And before you know it, you have done the whole task.

This kind of learned helplessness drains energy from both of you.   

What can you do?

Avoidance of failure comes from a fear of disappointing one’s parents and of damaging one’s sense of being capable.  There is a lot you can do to combat it.  The primary action you can take is to help your child develop a growth mindset.  Make mistakes okay by modeling making mistakes yourself and learning from them.  Reassure your child that while getting the task “right” might affect the outcome of the cookies, it will not affect your love for her.  Assure her that there will be other chances to make cookies and to get it right;  Not everything has to be learned today.  Finally, You can also help her problem solve about how to work around obstacles.  Even a two year old might know that if the butter is too cold to blend right now, waiting 10 minutes might make all the difference.  A three year old might suggest her parent get the task started by cutting the cube of butter into small chunks first.  Given the chance for critical thinking, most kids can find a way of getting to a working solution that can allow them to be successful.

In Conclusion

It is my firm belief that children are not inherently mean.  Every child wants to feel loved, connected and like he is a good, worthwhile person.  As he is growing and learning, however, his sense of self is vulnerable and easily hurt.  When that happens, he feels alone, cast out in the world.  At that point, a pleasing child will go overboard to win your approval.  Most children, however, will work through their angry, hurt, scared feelings through some kind of misbehavior.  Our job as parents is to be detectives and to try to understand the feeling and the source behind the behavior.  That way we are most able to get the child’s needs met so that he can be his best self again. 

If you are struggling

It really can be hard not to take our children's behavior personally.  We are doing our best to provide them what they need, often bending over backwards to give them a nice time or to create magical birthdays or holidays, and when they reward us with hostility, anger, whining, or arguing, strong feelings surge up in us.  It does not feel fair.  It feels like a slap in the face after all our efforts.  

If you are swamped with resentment, frustration or hopelessness, let's talk.  Working through those feelings and learning concrete steps you can take is exactly what coaching addresses.  CONTACT ME today for a complimentary Harmony at Home Assessment session.  

What Is the Best Resource to Teach Kids Phonics?

Elisabeth Stitt

You. You are your child’s best resource.

The more you engage with your child, the more language she will learn. When you sing songs and chants, especially nursery rhymes, you are training her ear to hear differences and similarities in language. When you exaggerate the “buh” of bat and compare it to the “puh” of pat, you are teaching phonics in an organic way. Of course, you can also name the letter. Point out to your child she needs to p-p-p-pat the cat. That’s the letter P! You can even make a joke. You can say, “Don’t b-b-b-bat the cat with a B! Cats like p-p-p-pats with a P!”

Phonics is simply teaching the sound or sounds associated with a letter, combination of letters (like “sh”) or syllables.

Teach phonics awareness by connecting words to his how life.

Start with words that are the most meaningful to your child: his own name, Mom, Dad, the names of his siblings and pets. If he has a dolly or stuffy he is attached to, teach that. If he has a name like Thomas, teach “Th” as a unit and point out that sometimes it says “t” but mostly it says “th” as in Thank You.

Encourage your child to write. First this will be scribble. Just ask him what he has written. If he has written something about someone in the family, you can say, “Let’s write Mary’s name again.” Ask, “What sound do you hear in Mary?” He will probably pick out the “m.” Write a capital M. Then ask, “What other sounds do you hear?” He will probably identify the “r” or maybe the “e” sound from the Y. Leave the spaces for whatever sound he doesn’t hear and write down the sounds he does here. Then just tell him, “Mary also has an “a” here and and a “y” at the end.

As he gets more sophisticated he will begin to write words with the main sound. It might look like this: I lv mi dg rky. You will see he has written I love my dog Rocky. Pick out just one word (probably Rocky) to write out fully for him. Identify the “ck” combination as one of the ways we write the “kuh” sound.

Read, Read, Read

In addition to talking and singing lots, read lots. Lots. If you have a wiggler who can’t sit still, ask her to sit with you for the first story or the first few pages or the first chapter but then let her engage her hands with a puzzle or blocks or drawing. Even as she plays, you can stop your reading from time to time to highlight words or letters. Say things like, “The boy in this story is named Robby! Look. Robby starts with R and ends with y just like Rocky does. Can you tell me what the sound in the middle of Robbby is?”

The trick is to incorporate awareness of sounds and letters as you go throughout the day with your child, NOT to think, Oh, we have to drill phonics for 10 minutes a day! Leave the formal lessons to the teachers. You can do the fun lessons at home. As you are making cookies, ask your child to get you the flour container. He will probably be able to pick out the jar marked flour as compared to the jar marked sugar. (Don’t ask him for the jar marked sugar to begin with since the spelling of the “sh” sound as an “s” is not very common and is confusing. Of course, if he asks, just point out, “Mostly the letter S makes the “s” sound, but sometimes it makes the “sh” sound. Pretty sneaky, uh?”). If you print out the ingredients list in big print, he can help you read the ingredients. Adding pictures will help. In this way, he will see the purpose of reading in action. Reading = cookies!

Learning can happen anywhere.  

When you go outside, help him write letters and words in the dirt, in the sand, formed out with pebbles or sticks. In the bath, write letters with soap bubbles on the tiles. Finger paint is another awesome place for kids to practice letters.

Above all, don’t get carried away with teaching. As soon as it is no longer fun, you are being counter productive. Children naturally want to communicate. They see that letters and words are communicating all kinds of important information to adults all the time, and they want to be a part of that—if they are not pressured unduly.