This piece is written by Tyler Jacobson. I like having a dad’s perspective and find his wish for his daughter especially touching because I’m not sure men always articulate in their mind how much they want their daughters to have a voice. Tyler expresses it as, “ I wanted [my daughter] to be confident and comfortable in who she is, in spite of constant outside voices clamoring for her to conform and be someone else.” In this blog Tyler describes his own personal approach with reference to what the experts say about each step.Read More
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At the end of the day, family is about being together and feeling like a connected unit. With very little time in the week left over for parenting and family time, it is essential to be deliberate about the choices you make for your family--both by protecting the time you do have together and by making sure that time is quality time. Here are some tips on how to do that.Read More
With New Year’s here, I imagine that you are setting resolutions around your parenting. Among your resolutions, perhaps you have a goal of being more consistent. Great. I’d like to help with that. However, becoming a consistent parent is almost impossible if you leave to will power alone. It is much easier if you build for success step by step. I have a plan for doing exactly that.Read More
Let’s face it. Kids can control sleeping, eating and pottying, right? There’s nothing you can do to make a child go to sleep—you can’t force it. With eating you can threaten or cajole, but at the end of the day, the child can clench his teeth, spit the food out or choke on it. And as for pottying, nowhere else does the child have more control, for even if nature takes over and the child ends up pooping, it will be left to you to clean it up. Clearly, in these three areas, there will be many fewer battles if the parents really sit back and take their child’s lead. I know. I KNOW!! Do I really mean just sit back and let them take complete control?
Having a regular routine helps.
Not really. Of course there are steps you can take to encourage sleeping, eating and using the potty. Having regular routines around all these activities will help set a natural rhythm, and the child’s body will have the expectation of the routine even if the child himself is feeling obstinate. True, you might have a child who will give up naptime early. I did, but I kept to the routine; I just called it quiet rest time, instead, and my daughter would play in her crib for an hour. Often she would fall asleep, but lots of time she didn’t. That was okay. It was enough that she learned to play by herself in a safe place. It wasn’t a fight because I wasn’t “making” her go to sleep.
Provide healthy food at regular intervals and don't worry about the rest.
With eating, I also followed her lead. I provided healthy food regularly at regular times, but I didn’t fuss if she didn’t eat anything. Her natural rhythm was to eat a big meal around every third day and then eat what felt to me like next to nothing the other meals. Personally, I didn’t tie desert to finishing her meal. I just offered something sweet as part of it. To my amazement, she would usually take a few bites of cookie and then offer it back to me!)
Don't worry. You're child won't go to college in diapers!
My now-grown daughter likes to brag that she potty trained herself. We did the usual reading of potty books. We had a potty in the bathroom and explained how to use it many times without asking her to. Eventually, when I had to pee, she began peeing in her pot with some success. After we had had dry pull-ups for a while, I asked her if she would like to use underwear. She tried it for a few days, had some accidents, and asked to go back to pull-ups. Okay, I said. A month later she asked to try her underwear. And that was it. She wore it regularly. If she had accidents, I don’t remember them. Bottom line. She was in control. She dictated when it was going to happen.
In each of these areas, it behooves a parent to be exceedingly nonchalant. Food is here. If you want it, great. If you aren’t hungry, no problem. You can wait until the next meal to eat. Of course, it does require the parents to truly let go of their worry that their child will starve. He won’t. And he’ll potty train eventually. In the meantime, it might help to remember that developmentally children are learning physical regulation--the ability to learn the physical signs of hunger, having to potty and sleep. These are important qualities for our kids to learn, and they can't learn them if we don't follow their lead.
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Natural vs. Logical Consequences
Some people are confused by the difference between natural and logical consequences. Actually, it is not that hard. A natural consequence is what is going to happen anyway if no one takes any action. Leave the milk out all night? It will go bad. A logical consequence is the choice a parent can make to deal with that reality. If a child leaves the milk out all night and the milk goes sour, the parent can choose to let the natural consequence stand (You may drink no milk or sour milk.) or he can impose a logical consequence. The purpose of the logical consequence is not to punish. It is to improve an unpleasant situation, to make a wrong a right or to impress a lesson upon someone so she realizes the impact of her actions.
In the case of logical consequences, there are often a variety of choices that will serve the purpose. Sour milk likely affects the whole family. In that case, a parent may choose to not make the rest of the family suffer the natural consequence of sour milk and may find a way for the child to make it up to her family. To be effective, a logical consequence must be related to the situation. It does not make sense, for example, to take away t.v. privileges for forgetting to put the milk away. What does make sense is to get more milk. So, one logical consequence might be that you send your child to the store for more milk. If she is too young to go by herself, you could agree to drive her, but now her mistake is taking you extra energy (not to mention money). There are lots of ways she could make that up to you.
Note that this entire situation can be dealt with in a matter-of-fact tone. The parental script might go something like this:
Yuck, the milk has gone sour. Ana, I think you were the last one to have milk last night. What needs to happen now?
I don’t know.
Well, I guess we can do without milk until shopping day, but that doesn’t seem fair to everyone else.
But, Dad, I didn’t mean to.
I can hear that you feel bad about it, Darling, but we still need to make this right. What can be done to fix this situation?
You could go to the store and get some more.
That’s true, but I need to sort the laundry and get it started right now.
What if I sort the laundry for you, Daddy? I know how to pick out the white laundry and how to start the machine.
That sounds like a good solution. What about the cost of the milk?
I guess I should pay for it. I have two dollars left from my allowance. Is that enough?
Well, it is not enough to pay for a new gallon container, but the container that went sour was more than half used already, so I think two dollars will cover it.
Thanks, Dad! I really appreciate you going to the store for me. I’m sure going to remember to put the milk away next time.
You’re welcome, Ana. [Hug, kiss]
Here are some of the lessons Ana might get from this exchange:
•People make mistakes, and it is not the end of the world
•When someone makes a mistake, it is okay to empathize with her without rescuing her.
•When we make mistakes, the decent response is to try to make the situation right.
•If we need help making the situation right, we can ask others for help and then offer to do something for them to make their life easier.
•Mistakes and making up for them do not change the love and affection families feel for each other.
Here are the principals to keep in mind with logical consequences:
•They are not punishments; they should not shame the child.
•The are similar to what an adult would need to do in a comparable situation.
•As much as possible, the child should find a solution for making it right (keeping
in mind that a younger child might need ideas for appropriate solutions).
•The consequence must be reasonable and age appropriate. Clearly, it is not reasonable to ask a four year old to pay the total cost of replacing a window, but she could pay a portion of her allowance and then offer to do some extra chores. (Yes, I know that supervising extra chores is extra work for you; the pay back will be the lesson your child has learned.)
•Your child is learning. She is going to make lots of mistakes and lots of poor choices as she grows. What you are doing is helping her learn how to recover as much as possible when her actions have had negative effects.
One additional note: Wherever possible, try to help your child anticipate what the natural consequence of their actions is going to be. The natural consequence of not locking up your bike, for example, is its getting stolen. A child may be able to see that far, but he may not see the consequences of not having a bike: You might have to get up earlier so you can catch the bus to school; you might have to do extra chores to pay for the bus tickets; you might have to give up soccer so that you have time on Saturday to do the extra chores. The more you have helped kids think these situations through, a) the more likely they are going to think about the importance of, say, locking their bikes and b) the more likely they are going to handle the consequences with less drama. Making a mistake and suffering the consequence gives a child a marvelous opportunity to take responsibility and show how capable he can be. But I remind you again, this is a learning process! It might takes a lot of iterations before the lesson is fully absorbed.
(Catching this series in the middle? No problem. Scroll down and start with Tip 1. Feeling overwhelmed or unsuccessful? That is also no problem. Go back and work on Tips 1 and 2 until they feel really solid.)
So, Prepare Physically for Battle. Do I really mean go to the gym and work out? Well, only sort of. But we all know that we never do our best parenting when we are feeling tired and worn out. So, set yourself up for success by being well rested. Develop a meditation practice or find some simple yoga practices on YouTube. Plan on taking a walk on your lunch hour at work. At home with the kids all day? Nap when they nap. Worried that your new meal time expectations are going to increase the tension for a while? You might even want to sneak in a high protein afternoon snack so that even if your meal is upset, you will have energy to sustain you. Really need a break? Get yourself a babysitter one night and forget to mention the new dinner table policy! Maybe plan a meal in an alternate setting where the rule just won’t come up. A picnic with all finger food would make it mighty hard to hold a phone! Put whatever structure in place you need to sustain your determination to see the new policy through until it becomes a habit. If you are not absolutely convinced this is a rule you want, don’t even start. To build success, you need to start with something you care deeply about. (That is what makes the values clarification piece so important.)
On a slightly different note, some of you have asked about how to create appropriate consequences--that you are ready to enforce them; you just don't know which ones to use. Yes! I admit, I glossed right over that as it is a big topic. Stay tuned, however. I promise that as soon as we are done with the Building Consistency series, I will break down Effective Consequences step by step.
(SCROLL DOWN TO READ TIPS 1-4 BEFORE READING TIP 5)
If there has not been a rule in place around an issue—or there has been a rule but it has never had any teeth—expect things to get worse before they get better. Face it. None of us really like policy change unless the previous policy was so bad that we are desperate for any change at all. If dinner has been a free for all with each family member doing what he wants, no one is going to want to put down his video game or book in favor of polite family conversation. Things WILL get worse before they get better, so before you make a big announcement, spend a lot of time thinking through your responses to as many unexpected situations as possible.
How can you structure things so that no distractions even come to the table? What are your consequences going to be for texting under the table? What is your consequence going to be for yelling, crying or talking back when you take the phone away? What consequences will you be able to absolutely follow through on consistently? What if your children sit tight lipped and stony faced every night for a week?
Role play if you need to practice staying calm: Have one spouse be the recalcitrant child and the other be the enforcer. You know your partner’s week points: Will Dad give in if his little girl starts to cry? Is Mom so uncomfortable with swearing that she will just lose her temper completely? Practice, practice, practice. This is a new part you are playing. It will not feel automatic. It will be uncomfortable. Support each other in whatever way you need to.
Let's review the first three steps to becoming a more consistent parent:
1. Find the Positive: Start noticing your kids and pointing out behavior you are liking.
2. Follow Through on Your Promises: Teach your kids your word is good.
3. Pick Your Battles: Being consistent is hard, so stick to the values you really care about.
So far, everything you have done to build your consistency muscle has been in stealth mode--your kids haven't known that you've been doing all this hard work. Now is when it get's real, when you are going to set an expectation and then hold the limit. This will probably mean that you need to have a consequence ready--one that you can absolutely follow through on.
The hardest part of following through with children when you it is something is knowing in the moment what your next step is going to be. Let’s say you and your partner have come to agreement that a particular expectation is important to you. Perhaps you really want family members to speak respectfully to each other. You are committed to calling your children on it every time. So, the first time one child puts his sibling down, what are you going to do about it?
The exact next step is not so important as long as you both agree on the step, and as a general rule the reaction needs to get a little stronger each time. When thinking about consequences, it has to be something you are willing to carry out, or there is no point in putting it on the list. Go do half an hour research on line and you will find lots of strong opinions on consequences.
Here are mine: Consequences should be as light as possible to get the job done. With some children, their desire to please you is so great, it is enough to state your strong expectation that In this family we speak respectfully to each other. For another child, the threat of a consequence will be enough: The next time you speak disrespectfully, you will write a paragraph on how it feels to be disrespected. Some children will actually have to write the paragraph for the lesson to sink in. Some children will have to write the paragraph and even choose something nice they can do for their sibling, as well. With some children, they will need your help writing the paragraph. That's okay! Remember, the purpose of the consequence is not punishment. It is learning. Sitting down with you to organize a paragraph on respect is a great chance to open up the conversation about what makes, say, the relationship with a sibling hard.
Do not take it personally when one child needs more opportunities to learn the lesson. Stay calm, and have the next consequence ready when the child chooses to ignore the rule. Quite possibly the child is really trying. Encourage them to keep trying. Tell them, Next time I know you will choose to think before you speak. Tell them, don’t worry; it will get easier with practice. (Keep reminding yourself how hard it is for you to be consistent with your rules! It is likely at least as hard for your child to learn to be consistently respectful.)
Once you have stated the rule and the consequence, it is essential for you to follow through. That does not mean, however, that you cannot or should not have taken time to hear the child’s side of the story. What is he feeling? Why is he having such a hard time being respectful towards his sibling? What does he need from his sibling? How could he express his feelings and his needs in a way that is respectful? Have these conversations early and often. Again, always keep in mind, discipline is about teaching and training a way of being: It is not about punishment.
One final note: If the rule is In this family, we speak respectfully towards each other, that includes you! If you or your partner uses sarcasm or insults or a disrespectful approach with children or adults, you need to follow the same stream of consequences. If it is really hard for you to curb your language, get some help. Find a coach, see a counselor. Do whatever it takes to figure out what the block is. In the meantime, be prepared to model taking your consequence with good graces!
Okay. It is time for you to give this a try. You have the pieces all lined up. Give it a go, and then leave comment about how it went. Don't forget: This is a skill. It takes time and practice. Don't get discouraged if your kids throw you for a loop. The good news? You'll get lots of chances to practice!
More questions? Feel free to contact me directly for a Complementary Strategy Session.
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