We get thrown as parents when our kids ask (demand!) something that they know we are going to say no to. Have we ever said yes to a popsicle for breakfast? No! So why would they even think to ask? Read to find out .Read More
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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: discipline
Parents often worry that their kids aren’t motivated to do anything beyond play video games or post on social media. The truth of the matter is is that there is a lot in kids’ daily lives that works to squash personal motivation. Here are some tips parents can use to rekindle their child’s natural eagerness to interact with the world and to take pride in what they do.Read More
When it comes to “spoiling,” this is when I see problems:
- Parents deny their children something only to give in in the face of whiny, petulant, disruptive behavior.
- Parents give their children everything always, so children never learn to handle disappointment.
- Parents give their children everything always, so children develop a warped sense of entitlement and fail to recognize the difference between needs and wants.
Read on to find out the solutions.Read More
Teasing out what are the effects of child care--especially long term--on children is no easy task and, yet, is understandably one that has an enormous effect not only on our own children but also on society as a whole. The truth is, researchers don't really know whether or how much childcare might be hurting us. Here are my ideas.Read More
Powerful Parenting Comes From Being Grounded in Your Core Values.
With every parent I work with, I start by having parents identify what it is they care most deeply about. What is their world view? Whom do they want their child to become? It is not enough, today, to look to our neighbor for answers on how to parent our child. Instead it is essential to get clear on your own values and beliefs and to prioritize them.Read More
Isn’t that the truth! Parenting gets so exponentially harder when we are in a hurry or are tired. That’s why I’m such a big believer in creating systems and routines for as much of the day as we can. When we have good systems and routines to fall back on, we can let habit lead us.Read More
This blog is in response to a letter a mom sent me about her son:
I am so angry and mortified. My 10-year-old got caught shop lifting, and I am afraid this is a sign of much worse things to come.
Upset and Worried in TulsaRead More
Tantrums are a natural stage in every child's development. While some parents with easy going children may have fewer of them to deal with, no parent avoids tantrums altogether. However, there are steps we can take to avoid and/or mitigate tantrums.Read More
So far, everything you have done to build your consistency muscle has focused on the positive--you have modeled correct behavior, praised correct behavior and trained for correct behavior. But still your child is using disrespectful behavior! 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.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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I get lots of questions from parents about their kids--parents who don't know how they got where they are and don't know where to go from here. The older your child gets, the more out of control you can feel as a parent.
QUESTION: My 12 year old got so mad at being told (repeatedly) to go to bed that when he slammed the door, it shattered. I am at my wits’ end.
ANSWER: Oh, wow. That must have been so upsetting for you.
Although your instinct might have you wanting to come down hard on him, he needs your love and understanding just as much as a four year old does. I get that that might be really hard for you. A broken door is a big deal and having a kid that wound up feels completely out of control. But here’s the truth: When you get into a physical power struggle with a teenager, chances are he is going to win—which means you lose, which means everyone loses. Even if he is not physically bigger than you are right now, he is smart and can think of a lot of ways to get around you or to infuriate you.
Besides, you don’t want to “win” over your child. You want your child to be happy and expending his energies in positive ways.
The older a child gets, the harder it is for us to be patient and empathetic (He ought to know better, we think). And yet a twelve year old is still a child—a child with hormones racing around inside until he feels he has to explode to feel normal again.
So start with empathy: “I am so sorry you are feeling so upset. It is really scary to feel so out of control. I am guessing that you wouldn’t have reacted so strongly if you felt that your needs were getting met. When you are feeling calmer, we need to brainstorm some solutions that might make everyone happier.”
When everyone is calm, consider having a family meeting. Be ready to do a lot—a lot—of listening. (Click HERE for access to my free ebook on The Family Meeting.) Children who really feel seen and heard calm down enough emotionally to access their prefrontal cortex (where their most creative thinking goes on). Be prepared to make some compromises. Remember, your child is not behaving badly to spite you. He does not want to feel disconnected from you. If he could get what he needs peacefully, he would. It is not too late to work on nonviolent communication. Keep at it, and eventually he will be able to tell you what is so important to him. In the meanwhile, based on my many years of working with middle school kids, here are some things you might guess he needs:
•more responsibility outside of school (chores, being trusted with some money, making decisions about things like where/how to hang the Christmas lights)
•reassurance that you believe in him
•reassurance that you will love him no matter what (even if he breaks the door)
•reassurance that adolescence is a phase; it will get easier and he won’t always feel like this
•recognition that he is a work in progress; you don’t expect him to be perfect
•help reframing his so-called weaknesses into strengths
•understanding that messing up is a chance for learning next time
•lots of praise for what he does well
•appreciation for his contributions outside of his school performance
Use family meetings to engage his critical thinking skills. Present issues as problems that you would like him to help solve. For example, you might say, “Doctors recommend that 12 year olds get 9 to 11 hours of sleep. How are you going to arrange your schedule so that you get enough sleep?” By having him come up with a plan, he is more likely to follow it. If getting to bed on time is an issue, offer a lot of empathy and press for more ideas: “I can see how tempting it is to read one more chapter of your book, and at the same time, a teenager with two hours less sleep than he needs is functioning at the same level as someone who has had two beers. I worry that the rest of your day tomorrow is just going to be that much harder and I want you to have lots of energy. How could we rearrange your day so you have enough time to enjoy reading your book?"
Once your child is calm, brainstorm ways for him to calm down before he gets that out of control (deep breathing, stepping outside for a moment, excusing himself to the bathroom for a few minutes).
It is also time to brainstorm ways to make sure the door gets fixed. Does he have the money to pay for it? If not, how can he earn it? Does he get an allowance? Can it come out of that? When things fall apart and so much damage is done, it is going to take a while to make things right. Through it all, offering your child empathy and your steadfast belief that he has learned from the experience is what will allow him to forgive himself and move on.
Let's go back to how to avoid having a broken door in the first place. When kids get that out of control, chances are something has been building up for some time. I love the family meeting as a structure, because it guarantees that on a weekly basis each family member gets to share three good things. This keeps everyone focusing on the positive. If your child is struggling to find three good things, it is a red flag that that child probably has issues that are overwhelming him. The agenda portion of the family meeting allows each family member to bring up concerns and to brainstorm them together. In this case, Mom might have backed off in the short run, knowing that she could talk about bed time and listening at the family meeting.
My FREE ebook, THE FAMILY MEETING: GET 4 POWERFUL STEPS TO HARMONY AND CALM IN YOUR HOUSE, will guide you through how to optimize the meeting not only for logistics, but more importantly as a tool that helps you honor each child as an individual, giving them time and space to feel seen and heard.
There can be lots of reasons why your child is out of control. What you should do depends on why he is out of control. (For the purpose of simplicity, I am going to address this with the masculine gender, though it could just as easily be a girl who is out of control.)
Is this his first experience with school? These days, Kindergarten can be a real shock for kids who have had not gone to childcare or preschool up until now in their lives. It could just be that he is totally unused to having restrictions placed on him. Other children may have already learned “school” skills like lining up quietly, taking turns, sitting still, listening to the teacher’s directions. If your son has not, start by reassuring him that he will learn these skills and it will get easier and easier to control himself.
If he is not out of control at home, is it because you always accommodate him? Perhaps he has never had to throw a fit to get what he wants, because it has always been easy to give him whatever he wants. Again, sometimes with an only child, a parent does not even realize how often he is giving into his child’s demands because there is no other child making counter demands. If that is the case, although it might make life at home harder in the short run, you can lovingly teach him about limits by beginning to set some expectations. Perhaps you are going to ask him to sit at the grown-up table and turn off the tv during dinner. If he has always eaten in front of the tv, this could be a big battle. That’s okay. Right now, you are trying to teach him that life will not always be arranged just as he would like it to be. Just offer him lots of sympathy that it is hard when expectations change but assure him that you are looking forward to having him at the table so that there can be pleasant conversation at dinner. If he has a tantrum, stay with him, empathize that change is hard and keep repeating that it will get easier. The day will come when he will sit happily at the table and share in the dinner conversation. Learning to do this at home will help him to learn to do it at school.
Kids can also lose control at school because they are overstimulated. Again, if he has not been in a group setting before, the shear number of kids could be overloading his system. Or the noise. Or the lights of the classroom. Or the many transitions. Talk to your son. Say, “You seem to be having a hard time controlling yourself at school. Why is that?” If he has a clear answer, go to the solution phase. Talk with his teacher and get her input on ways to give your son some relief. Ideas might include permission to go to a quiet corner, to step outside, or to find a desk that is away from everyone else (or at least is together with quieter students). Some teachers might allow him to wear ear plugs or ear buds (that aren’t attached to anything) if noise is an issue. If light is an issue, maybe he can work underneath his desk. Keep trying different solutions until you find one that allows him to remain in class without over loading.
Does your child lean towards anxiety? This could be another reason he is out of control at school. If this is the case, yelling and running around may be an effort to calm his nervous system. He can learn to replace out-of-control outbursts with other calming, anxiety reducing techniques like deep breathing, closing his eyes, squeezing a ball or stuffed animal. At home you can help him by training him to be able to imagine a calm, safe space so that he can call that image up in his mind when he gets stressed at school.
If none of these possible reasons for his out of control behavior feel right, see if you can get permission from the teacher to observe him at school some day. Just sit in the back of the room and take notes. Write down the time and what you see in language that is neutral as possible (ie, what any objective observer would, not what his loving mother would intuit). Share these observation notes with the teacher and principal of your son’s school. They are experienced professionals and this data will help them make recommendations tailored to your son.
by Elisabeth Stitt
YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!
Has your child said that to you? Did it make your blood boil? It can be really hard when a pint-sized person pits every cell in his body against you and down right scary when he is taller and outweighs you. Of course, all you want is what is best for him--clean teeth or the benefit of kale or the sleep that will restore her brain--and there he is, hands clenched, opposing you strenuously, demanding his due as a person with his own wants, needs and desires. You might be tempted to wring his neck.
But did you ever ask yourself what you are doing to contribute to your child's bad attitude?
MISTAKE #1: Treating your children rudely.
Not being rude does not mean we don't get to tell our kids what to do. We do. What it really means is that we need to show our children the same consideration we would show a work colleague, a neighbor or spouse in asking them to do something. We wouldn't dream of just demanding that a neighbor do something. No way! We are polite. We say please and thank you. We use softening phrases like "I would really like it if..." or "It would be very much appreciated if..." and then we make our request. I hope you would never march up to a neighbor and demand compliance instantly. And yet we do it with our kids all the time.
Now, that being said. With strong willed children, less is often more. Using too many words will allow for loopholes and ambiguity. You will command--not demand. What's the difference? The tone and the attitude. A command is clear, firm and confident: Coats on hooks, please! The tone is not harsh, strident or critical. The attitude is not I-am-your-mother-so-you-better-listen-to-me-or-else. No. Your cheerful reminder needs to connote we are a family and this is our routine.
Some people say you shouldn't thank children for tasks you expect them to do anyway. I disagree. I am big in favor of thank you. My husband is the hunter and gatherer in our house. He pretty much always takes responsibility for ordering and picking up take out. Just because it is the pattern in our house that that is his regular job--to the point where I expect that he will do it without having to ask him--does that mean I am not going to thank him? Of course, not. I am very grateful to be fed. I am always going to say thank you. In the same way, when my kids set or clear the table or take out the garbage, I show my appreciation. I certainly have trained them to say thank you to me for the things I do to make our house run more smoothly.
MISTAKE #2: Demanding instant compliance my way or the highway
Clearly, we are not going to stop making demands on our children. We expect them to do their homework, to eat their dinner and to take the family dog for a walk. On the other hand, we need to recognize how hard it is for a strong, independent soul to be told when, how and where to do something--especially without any explanation. I don't know if you feel this way, but I find it very annoying to have to put down something I am doing to jump up to do someone else's bidding. I still remember cringing at the sound of my mother's heals coming briskly through the house. I never knew when she was going to swoop in with some proclamation of What-needs-to-be-done-right-now! It wasn't that I didn't want to be helpful. I just wanted some advance warning, so I wouldn't get caught in the middle of an especially good chapter of Nancy Drew.
The trick to finding the balance between your child as an individual with wants and needs and the needs of the big picture is choice. Keeping within the guidelines of what will work for your family, look to where you can offer choice, starting with questions like do you want peas or squash and moving on to choices like would you like to do your homework before snack or after? There are lots of ways to give your child some options without giving up the expectation that something is going to be a certain way. If you find it difficult, think through your child's day and write down the choices you might offer. Here are some examples to help guide you:
With little kids:
Would you like to fly to the car or be a choochoo train?
Am I brushing alligator teeth tonight or polar bear?
Are we washing your face first or brushing teeth?
Are you going to brush your teeth and have me inspect or am I going to
brush your teeth and have you inspect?
Do you want your dinosaur coat or your penguin sweater?
Is your coat Elsa's cape or an invisibility cloak?
With elementary school kids
Are you going to do math first or reading?
Would you like to chop the veggies now or be in charge of stirring the soup later?
Do you want to take a walk or shoot some baskets?
Are you taking your bath before dinner or after?
Do you want to work here or in the kitchen?
With middle school and high school kids
Would you like to walk the dog this morning or this afternoon?
Would you like to walk the dog or clean out the fish tank?
When cleaning the garage are you going to clear the heavy things or the light things first?
Are you wearing a dress or nice slacks to the theater?
We are having dinner at Grandma's tonight. Will you drive with us or meet us there?
If your child chooses to put off the task until later, you can double check that he has agreed to do the task at the time with no further argument. If your child won't choose either, you can offer another choice: Propose an option that will work for me, or I will choose for you. A child who is unused to being given choices and is just blindly rebelling against being told what to do will push the limits for a while to see if you really mean it. Just stand firm; she will come around eventually.
MISTAKE #3 Telling your kids to do the same thing twice
When I learned to train my dog, the dog learned what he needed to learn in around six weeks. It took me six months. The hardest part for me to learn was to give the command once and then use my focus and body to see that he followed through. When we call out commands from the other room or as we are busy adding salt to the soup, we cannot expect to be taken seriously. Think about it. How responsive are you? Do you leap the first time your child makes a request for something? I bet not. Usually we keep doing whatever task we are involved with and wait either until a natural break in the task or until the child ups the ante in his insistence. Likewise, your kids will not follow your wishes when requests are made in such a haphazard way.
Here's what to do If you want your child to do something the first time you ask: Stop what you are doing. Go to the child, get his attention and make the request (cheerfully, firmly, confidently). Now, I am assuming that you have already corrected Mistake #2 and have given your child some choice about when or how to do the chore, so now you are really giving a reminder. Stay present until your child transitions to the requested task. Make eye contact. You may need to put your hand on whatever it is the child is doing. Let your eye contact and perhaps a hand on the shoulder do the work here. You don't need to repeat yourself, just be quietly, calmly unyielding. Most children will shift to the agreed upon task. Some will need to have a tantrum before they do it. The tantrum is likely totally unrelated to the request at hand. That's okay. Let him have the tantrum anyway. We he has had a good cry, he will be ready to follow through on the task. Obviously, the more you have done this with your kids when they are young, the more they will know that you are not moving until they move.
MISTAKE #4Treating your kid as an unthinking child rather than as a reasonable human being
You want your kids' cooperation--not just today but over time. Short term compliance is easy to get with yelling and intimidation. You get it at the cost of the long term relationship, however. Your goal needs to be to include your children in a way that honors who they are at their core.
In his work The Prophet. Kalhil Gibran, the 19th century philosopher, writes
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
What this really means is that we have to be very careful about telling our children what to do and how to be. That authoritarian approach appears to work with mild children who just want to make everyone happy, but it is at a very high cost. Telling your child what to do all the time can end in one of two ways: rebellion (and that makes life miserable for everyone) or submission, which appears to be the better option but results in children who are not only afraid to express their own views but who may cease to have opinions all together. If every time you open your mouth to express a desire or interest, you are redirected or immediately shut down, you very quickly learn not to express your preferences.
Even well intentioned parents fall into this trap. It is time to pick next year's classes, and a parent gushes about how beautiful French is and why would anyone want to learn a language as guttural as German. This parent may well think she has left the choice to her child. But such a comment will feel like a proclamation to a mild mannered child. The mild-mannered child would never risk falling into the group of people his mother has contempt for (ie, those who want to learn guttural languages); he will certainly take French rather than risk her disapproval or disappointment. The rebellious child may well choose German just for satisfaction of thwarting his mother. Neither child has chosen out of true interest.
So, how do we find the balance? Of course it is your job to keep your child safe, and it is also your job to raise an adult who treats others kindly and behaves with consideration for the wider community. At the same time, it is not respectful to constantly tell your child what to do, how to behave and certainly not to suggest that they may or may not like something. This is a slippery slope. Think how often we tell our young children to try something to eat. You'll like it! we say in a bright cheery voice. I remember I told my mother once that I didn't want to go to the beach, and she said to me, "Of course, you want to go to the beach. You love the beach!" And that is true. I do love the beach. But that day I didn't feel like going to the beach. How presumptuous of her discount my opinion and brush it aside. Similar events happened often enough that I found it was much easier to just not care very much--about where we went or what we ate or what we did when we got there. A rebellious child, on the other hand, who is not given some space to assert herself will not shut down. No, she will push back harder and harder until every request becomes a battle.
The way to give your child space to assert herself is by using open ended questions that require her to think and plan. More open ended questions might look like this:
What kind of help do you anticipate needing with your homework this week?
Here is a list of activities that will work with our schedule this fall. Which do you want?
Of everything that we do over the Christmas season, what is most important to you?
It is important to me that we go to the Christmas Eve service. I know you don't
like going to the evening service. Can you think of anything that will make
it easier to go?
If you get cold in that outfit how are you going to deal with it in a way that doesn't
impact the rest of the family negatively?
The pediatrician is concerned that you are not getting the protein you need. Here is list of good protein sources. Please rank them from the one you are most willing to try to least willing to try.
Wet towels left on the floor get moldy and stink up the place. Please come up with a plan to make sure that doesn't happen.
These questions acknowledge that your child is a person and can be part of the solution. Your expectations are still clear. Homework will get done, kids will sign up for activities and protein will be eaten. If the child feels her views are heard and considered, she will be more willing to go along even when your answer is no and even when it is not something she really wants to do.
Perhaps you grew up in a household where you just did what your parents told you to do. You didn't talk back. You didn't question it. Those kinds of households are increasingly rare, however. Society has shifted such that we no longer blindly accept authority--not that of our police keeping forces, not that of our bosses, not that of our teachers, and by extension not that of our parents. For this reason, cooperation has to be earned and won. And actually, that is fine with me. Treating kids respectfully teaches and models for them how to treat others respectfully. We want our kids to be thinkers. We want them to come up with solutions that will work for the whole family.
Correct these four mistakes that often have your kids talking back to you, and you will be on your way to having a more harmonious home.
Is talking back a big problem in your family? Let's do a complimentary 20-minute strategy session. I'd love to help you fix these issues with your particular child. Sign up HERE.
Please leave a comment. What techniques have worked for you when it comes to backtalk? My post Set Your Kids Free: 10 Things They Need to Be Able to Do on Their Own by Middle School generated a lot of interest. Engaging your kids in a positive way about cooperation in your household is another of those skills that your kids should have mastered by middle school. It is all a part of taking responsibility for your own actions within the context of the greater community (in this case the family community).
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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.
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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