5 Ways to Mindfully Approach and Manage Power Struggles

Picture the scene: Your child comes home from school, dumps his backpack on the ground and starts rummaging through it looking for the new Pokémon eraser his friend had given him in a trade. Books, papers, pencils go flying around as he looks for his beloved item. When he’s unable to find it, tempers go flying.

Child: “MOM, where is my eraser????!!!! Did you take it? I can’t find it anywhere! I NEED it!”

You (feeling a bit surprised and maybe a little annoyed that he’s so upset over such a little thing): “I’m sure it’s here somewhere. Now come pick up this mess!”

Child: “No! I have to find it! You don’t understand!!!” (As he storms off in a fit.)

Sound familiar?

powerstruggleboyThis is an example of a common scene I play out when I teach my workshop on power struggles. I ask the parents how they would typically respond to such behavior. After a “Oh, yes, I know that behavior well” chuckle from the group, they invariably say they would follow their child upstairs and insist they clean up the mess they made; that the behavior is “irresponsible” and/or “unacceptable.”

Upon further discussion, we get to the crux of the issue. Namely, these well-meaning, well-intentioned parents worry (and fear), among other things, that if they don’t “nip (the behavior) in the bud,” it will only get worse.

When I ask parents what they really want from their kids, the vast majority says, “I just want my kids to LISTEN!”

Can you relate?

In order to increase listening and cooperation, it first helps to understand what motivates our kids’ behavior in the first place. So much of what we know about childhood behavior and Positive Discipline, comes from the work of two prominent psychiatrists, Dr. Alfred Adler (father of Adlerian psychology) and Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs, author of the 1950’s seminal book, Children the Challenge.

Both believed that human behavior is driven by two fundamental needs: belonging (feeling connected) and significance (feeling valuable). We also know that kids have a need for attention as well as to feel a sense of control over their world. These are core, hardwired needs we ALL possess.

Kids are always looking for ways to get these needs met and will seek out attention in either appropriate ways or inappropriate ways, whatever works and in the manner in which we’ve trained them. Kids learn quickly and do what works for them. In addition, as far as our kids are concerned, attention is attention, whether it’s positive or negative.  And, when we’re engaged in a power struggle, guess what? They have our full attention!

In addition to these core needs, our kids also have big, intense feelings that underlie their behavior. What’s important to know is that they don’t yet have the cognitive development or experience to understand and process these emotions (that part of their brain is still developing). Therefore, they can become easily overwhelmed and what we see, as a result, is this “crazy-making” behavior!

So often, we focus solely on the behavior itself because, well, we just want it to stop! Yet, in doing so, we’re not getting to the root cause and it’s no wonder the behaviors and battles continue.

What’s important to know is that all behavior is a communication and misbehavior is the symptom of a deeper issue.  A child who isn’t listening or who is acting “defiantly” is simply telling us he needs our help in the only way he knows how!

As Drs. Adler and Dreikurs said, “A misbehaving child is a discouraged child.”

As a parent of two very strong-willed kids, I understand, first hand, what it feels like to be constantly negotiating and simply wishing my kids would just listen the first time I make a request!  This constant frustration over what my kids weren’t doing and how triggered I was becoming, led me to Positive Discipline as well as to the study and practice of mindfulness and mindful parenting.

According to Carla Naumburg, Ph.D., author of Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family, mindful parenting is about “making a choice to focus our attention on the present moment, with kindness and curiosity, so we can make a thoughtful choice about how to proceed rather than react out of frustration or confusion.”

Happy smiling kids doing yoga relaxation at home with their mother - focus on the little girl

In studying mindfulness, I came to understand how often we are worrying about the future or ruminating over the past. When thinking about the past or the future, we are simply not in the present moment. That worry, fear, anger, sadness and stress over past and future greatly impact our thoughts and behavior. When under stress, we lose the ability to think clearly and rationally; to see our child’s behavior as a cry for help versus manipulation. On top of that, we have our own histories of how we were raised or treated as children, which greatly influences our reactions as well! Oh my!

Becoming aware of this process (without judgment) is key – with awareness, comes choice and opportunity. Namely, the ability to choose an appropriate response and the opportunity to model the very behavior we want to instill in our kids as they grow. Almost 95% of what kids learn is modeled behavior. Those little eyes are always watching. As they say, let’s “be it to teach it.”

Taking all of this into account leads us to the million-dollar question…”So what do I DO the next time I’m faced with a power struggle??”

With the above in mind, here are 5 ways to more mindfully approach and manage power struggles:

1.) Stop, drop and roll – When you feel annoyance or anger arise, STOP what you are doing, even if you are mid-sentence. With compassion, recognize that you are lost in thoughts and emotions that are not constructive and that the only thing you have control over is yourself and your reactions. Take 3 deep, calming breaths.

Next, DROP into your body and the present moment – notice sensations in your body (tightness, shortness of breath, tension); notice and name the emotions you are feeling (“anger,” “annoyance,” “frustration”), continue breathing.

Lastly, using this intentional, compassionate awareness, ROLL out a more calm and connected response. Understand that what you’re feeling may also be what your child is experiencing.

2.) Acknowledge and validate feelings while limiting behavior (a.k.a. “Connect before you Correct/Redirect”) – Our kids are not out to get us, they are simply still learning appropriate ways in which to get their needs met and need our calm presence to guide them. What they are feeling is not good or bad, right or wrong. It just is! Without judgment, acknowledge what your child is feeling, limiting any inappropriate behaviors. For example, “I can see you’re having a really hard time right now. I love you and it’s not ok to hit me. Hitting hurts. It’s ok to feel angry, it’s never ok to hit. I’m here to help. What words can you use to tell me what you need?”

3.) Give in fantasy what your child wants in reality while offering limited choices – So often, power struggles occur when there’s a mismatch in parent-child agendas; we want one thing, they want another. We want them to take a bath; they want “5 more minutes” of playtime.  And so the “struggle” develops when we put our agenda ahead of theirs. Instead, realize that our child’s agenda is just as important to them as ours is to us.  Drop the desire to “win.” Focus on maintaining the connection to your child. For example, “I can see you are having SO much fun building your Legos. You would probably build your Legos all night if you could, huh? I see how much fun you’re having AND it’s bath time. Would you like to bring some Legos up to the bath with us or keep them here for when we’re done. It’s up to you, you decide.”

4.) Search for “win/win” solutions – When in the midst of a power struggle, take a step back. Check in. Realize that your child is most likely feeling powerless in the moment. Look for ways to join together to come up with a solution that can meet both of your needs. “Seems we have a dilemma here. I would like help setting the table for dinner and you really want to keep playing your game. Mmm, I’m wondering how we can make this work for both of us? What are your ideas?”

Keep in mind that involving your child in this process meets his/her need for belonging and significance, while also models respectful communication. This is also one of the best ways to build problem-solving and decision-making skills.

5.) Take care of YOU – Self-care is imperative to cultivating open, connected and loving relationships (with yourself as well as others) and is a crucial component when it comes to mindful parenting. Despite knowing this, many parents continue to put themselves at the very bottom of their “to do” list. They say, “yes” to everyone but themselves. The airline analogy is an important one, “Secure your own mask before that of your child.” The reality is, we can’t pour from an empty cup. Be mindful of how you’re feeling and what your own needs are. Make sure you are doing something kind, compassionate and soothing for yourself as often as possible, no matter how little it may seem.

There is no doubt that parenting is hard work and there is simply no such thing as a perfect parent. Be kind to yourself. You are learning right alongside your child. Just know that you’re not alone – we’re all on this miraculous journey together!

With warmth and gratitude,
Debbie

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10 Tips for Raising Happy, Connected and Emotionally Healthy Kids

“Emotional Intelligence” or EQ refers to the ability to know one’s own emotions as well as the emotions of others. It is the quality most employers look for in a potential candidate. Having EQ has also been shown to be a better predictor of “happiness and success” than IQ.
If you’re wondering how to cultivate this essential trait, while raising kids who feel a strong sense of identity, contentment and connection, consider these 10 vital suggestions…

1.) Focus on the relationship you have with your child above all else – Connected kids are happier kids.

2.) See situations from your child’s perspective and help him learn about his emotional world – It’s important to know that kids are always making decisions and forming beliefs based on what they perceive happening around them. This is part of what drives their behavior.  However, we need to keep in mind that because they still lack the cognitive development and experience, their perceptions are not always accurate and therefore their behavior will not always make sense.  Our ability to empathize with how they experience various situations helps them make sense of their world.  Helping them label the emotions they are likely feeling, provides comfort and security, while building emotional intelligence.

3.) Acknowledge and validate your child’s experience and emotions – Feelings are not good or bad; right or wrong.  They are simply what make us human. When kids feel acknowledged, accepted and understood, for the full range of their feelings, they develop self-awareness, self-confidence and a sense that they are capable of managing their emotions. In addition, they become less reactive and more receptive to any guidance and suggestions we have to offer.

Image of funny kids playing on the grass

4.) Consider brain development and have realistic expectations – The logical, rational part of a child’s brain is still developing (up until the age of 26!), so understand that they don’t always have “control” over their emotions and impulses in the way we would hope or expect. Furthermore, kids learn how to regulate their emotions by how we regulate ours. Have patience. Learn about each of their developmental stages.

5.) MODEL the very behavior that you want to see – So often, it’s not what we say, but what we DO that guides children’s actions. Pause before parenting. Those little eyes are always watching. Be it to teach it.

6.) Set limits with both kindness AND firmness – Kids need limits and boundaries. A too kind approach is permissive and a too firm approach is authoritarian. Being kind and firm AT THE SAME TIME is respectful to both child and parent.

7.) Focus on what IS going well – It can be so easy to focus on the negative (tantrums, back talk, defiance etc), yet, there’s actually a lot of “good stuff” happening, when we take the time to really look for it. Kids are natural pleasers.

8.) Be present – Tune in. Listen to your child with genuine interest. Drop any agenda you may have.

9.) Be playful – Play is the language of childhood.  Get silly, have fun – life is too short to be taken so seriously!

10.) Love your kids (and yourself!) unconditionally! – Life is messy, imperfect and full of ups and downs. We all make mistakes – it’s how we learn, grow and evolve. Show compassion for yourself and your kids – we’re learning “life lessons” right alongside each other.

All the best,
Debbie

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How to Take the Struggle out of Power Struggles…

At the crux of nearly every power struggle lies an AGENDA – our agenda and our child’s agenda.

We want them to take a bath; they want to continue building legos.
We want them to finish homework; they want to prolong snack time.
We want them to go to sleep, they need one more of EVERYTHING!

While these “battles” are frustrating and even annoying at times, it’s so important that we honor (yes honor!) and respect (yes respect!) that our children have needs, feelings and agendas of their very own. Whether we like it or not, their agendas are just as important to them as ours are to us.

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Strive to let go of the need to “win/gain the upper hand/show them who’s boss” – this mindset only invites the very resistance and defiance we’re wanting to avoid.

Instead, understand that there are deeper feelings and needs that underlie our child’s behavior (i.e. “defiance”) – feelings of powerlessness, disconnection, vulnerability and/or a need to be seen, heard and listened to.

Meet the needs and acknowledge the feelings and you’ll notice you’ll be battling less and enjoying each other more.

Wishing you all the best.
-Debbie

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The Bedtime Dance…

Of the many parenting issues that I work with in my coaching practice, one that seems to come up all too often is that of sleep.  More specifically, the “bedtime dance,” as I call it.

Perhaps you know the scene – you put your sweet child to bed only to have them come out of their room a thousand times for what feels like the most insignificant of reasons – “I need a glass of water.” “I need one more hug.” “I can’t sleep”  “It’s too hot/cold in my room.”  “I can’t sleep alone.” Sound familiar?

Bad Dreams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guess what? The same dance has been happening in my house as well and boy, is it not fun!

My 6 year old daughter has always been a great sleeper.  Well, actually, I take that back.  As an infant, she did anything and everything she could to fight sleep.  You could literally see her about to close her eyes and something would wake her.  It’s as though she didn’t want to miss anything, yet she was miserable and exhausted!  So were we!

Eventually that phase ended and she would go to bed like a champ.  Until recently.  The last several nights, we have witnessed our daughter come out of her room many times, as mentioned above, for one more hug, drinks of water, to use the restroom etc.  The other night, however, was a bit different.  She was truly upset and crying – not the “I’m stalling” cry, but the genuine, “I’m having a hard time” cry.

On this particular evening when I went in to see her, she said, “Mommy, I’m so sad.  I am soooo tired and I can’t sleep. It’s so hard.  My eyes want to close but they keep staying open.  I want to sleep Mama, but I don’t want to be here alone.  Please sleep here with me.” She was hysterical and it broke my heart.  My little girl was really struggling and for the last several days, all I kept thinking was, “Oh my goodness, why can’t she just go to sleep already?!?”

For a moment, I was at a parenting crossroads.  One road might lead to a long night of annoyance, frustration and irritation if I chose to focus on how she was impacting my time and my evening and would most likely mean many more trips up and down the stairs returning her to bed. The other road might lead to a night of connection, patience and empathy. In the end, I chose the latter.  Here’s how it went down:

I took a few moments to center myself.  I had to acknowledge the frustration inside of me, as I really did have a lot of work to do and was looking forward to having “me-time.”  I took several deep breaths and told myself, “This isn’t about me; I can handle this.”  With those breaths, I found my frustration slowly turning into empathy.  I chose to attempt to better understand her experience by connecting with her; especially the part of her that really wanted to fall asleep.

I calmly and softly said to her, “It must be really hard to feel sooo tired and not be able to sleep.”  Her cries softened and she nodded.  “Yeah, that happens to me sometimes too,” I said.  “It does?” she said, “What do you do when that happens?”  “Well,” I said, “What helps me the most is taking my calming breaths (something we practice often).” “I can’t do it.” She said.  The crying started up again. “I know it feels hard, especially right now” I said, “but I also know how capable you are and how much it’s helped you at other times. Would you like me to do it with you?” “Yes,” she said.

I suggested that she put her hand over her heart and I put my hand on top of hers. I then closed my eyes and began taking long, slow, deep breaths.  She followed my lead.  We did this for several minutes.  I opened my eyes expecting her to be asleep (or at least that was my hope), but her eyes were wide open and she smiled.  “Can we do more breathing?” she asked.  “Of course.” I replied. She yawned.  I could see it was helping.  It was actually helping both of us. I needed those breaths as much as she did.

After another minute of breathing together, she asked if she could use the restroom. I wasn’t sure if that was legit, but she quickly came back and said, “I think I’m ready to sleep now, Mommy.”  “Me too.” I said.  We did three big hugs and kisses and said goodnight. Off to bed she went and slept the entire evening.

Success!

Some nights aren’t always this easy, but I truly know that when I’m able to set aside my own agenda in order to focus on her needs, magic happens.  She feels connected and is much more open to my guidance.

If sleep has been a challenge in your home, here are seven other suggestions to try:

1.) Teach, model and practice relaxation/mindfulness exercises – Kids aren’t born knowing how to “calm down” or regulate their emotions. It’s a learned skill. Kids learn what they see. Model what calm looks like by regulating your own emotions and teach your kids how they can calm themselves using mindfulness, meditation and/or relaxation exercises.  In so doing, you are giving them a life-long skill and a precious gift! There are many wonderful resources available.  Two of my favorites are: http://www.mindfulschools.org/resources/materials/ and http://kidsrelaxation.com/?cat=17

2.) Establish a bedtime routine and start the routine earlier than you think – For more on how to establish a routine, click here.

3.) Encourage your child to journal or draw (especially before bedtime) – Adding this to your child’s bedtime routine can be very helpful.  Help your child see journaling as a special time where she can write about her day, her feelings, and/or anything that may be bothering her. For younger kids, support them in drawing or using art as a way of expressing any pent up emotions they may be having around nighttime.

4.) Make sure you are getting plenty of 1:1/”special time” with your child – Often, when kids have been separated from parents all day, they may use bedtime as their time to re-connect and will do whatever is necessary to prolong their time with you. Having regularly scheduled time, where your child will get 100% of your full, undivided attention can do wonders for these bedtime battles.  In addition to cuddles and quiet time, make sure to also add some fun, playful time that gets you and your child giggling – this is one way in which to help your child release any pent up anxieties he may be experiencing.

5.) Use stuffed animals to role play the bedtime scene – Let your child be the “parent” and you be the child.  As the “child,” act out the usual scene (child refusing to go to sleep) and watch how the “parent” handles it. This is a wonderful way to gain some insight as to how your child might be perceiving you and/or evening time in general.  First, playfully resist bedtime and then, eventually, cooperate with the “parents” request.  After, switch roles.  Let your child be the “child/baby” and you be the parent.  Role-model a calm parent who patiently assists her “baby” in going to sleep.  Repeat this as often as needed.

6.) At a calm time, during the day, brainstorm solutions to the “problem” of not sleeping – Explain to your child that at nighttime, it’s her job to sleep in her bed and that mommy/daddy sleep in their own bed.  Next, discuss how difficult it’s been and ask if she has any solutions that might be helpful. Often, kids come up with some pretty interesting and useful suggestions when we take the time to engage them in the problem-solving process.

7.) Remain calm/keep your own emotions in check – Kids pick up on our anxiety, frustration, annoyance etc. and take on those very emotions (thanks to the specialized mirror neurons in our brains). We can’t expect our kids to “calm down” if we’re not demonstrating what calm looks and feels like.  Take 5.  Pause before responding and breathe through the frustration. Remind yourself that although irritating, “This is not an emergency.”

Ultimately, taking care of ourselves is key to being able to support our kids through their challenges.  Kids learn what we model and there will be many parenting crossroads on our journey.  When in doubt, choose the road leading to connection.  The learning will follow.

It starts with us.

All the best,
Debbie

 

 

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If Ya Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em!

Tonight was one of those nights. My husband and I were both exhausted from a long day and our kids were bouncing off the walls – playing, laughing, having fun. They were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing. They’re kids, after all.

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Typically, on nights like these, when our kids are so wrapped up in their own fun, it feels like quite the chore to get them interested in doing what’s needed to get to bed on time (teeth, potty, pj’s etc). More specifically, they don’t seem to listen the first time they’re asked. Sound familiar? These are the very times parents are prone to yell, bribe, threaten etc.

My husband and I were upstairs and the kids were downstairs having their fun. It was getting late and we knew “the process” (the term we use for what it takes to get our kids ready for bed) was going to take longer than usual. He told me he was dreading it. I understood…I was sort of dreading it too. We were wiped out!

It was in that moment that I said to him, “Ya know what honey? In this moment, we have a choice. We can choose to go down there and start demanding that the kids head up the moment we say or we can choose to join them where they are, connect and make “the process” fun.” He said, “Ok, I’m in!”

So down the stairs we went. We saw they were playing a game. We sat down beside them and said, “You guys look like you are having so much fun! What are you playing?” They each told us with so much excitement. After a few questions about their game, I continued with, “I love that you guys are having so much fun and it’s time to get ready for bed. I see some game pieces on the floor that need to be picked up (there happened to be 4 colored pieces total). I’m going to pick up the blue pieces. Daddy, what color do you want?” We each chose our colors. I then continued, “Who wants to pick up the red pieces and who wants to pick up the gray pieces?” It was amazing how quickly they each jumped in to help. I then said, “Look at what an awesome team we make – we’re getting so much done! Way to go guys! Thanks for all of your help.”

Ok, game ended, game pieces picked up. Two items checked off the list and several more to go. Next, was getting them up the stairs. In that moment, I pictured a rocket ship and went with that analogy. “Ok, guys, I have a rocket ship here, who’s jumping on to blast us up the stairs?” My husband was the first to join, followed by my son and then my daughter. Next thing I knew, we were all “flying” up the stairs, laughing the whole way. Check.

“Hey guys, the inside of the rocket needs to be cleaned, guess what we need to use to clean it? Toothbrushes! Let’s get those insides (teeth) as clean as we possibly can. Do you want to put the toothpaste on or should I?” “You? Ok, great, thank you.” Check.

Fortunately, the kids were already in their pj’s and bathed, so the final item on the list was getting into bed. So, once again, the “rocket” gave each a ride to their room. Hugs, kisses and a “good night” for everyone!

What “tools” helped us accomplish such a smooth evening? Acknowledgement of the fun they were having with interest in what they were playing, asking vs. telling, limited choices and a good, old fashioned sense of humor 🙂

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Did this take more time and creativity? Yes, absolutely. Will I always be able to muster up that much time and creativeness? Probably not. However, I know that the choice is always there and it’s up to us. We can choose to have things done on our terms, “because we said so.” Or, we can choose to take a deep breath and join our kids exactly where they are – realizing their main language is playfulness and joy. Tonight we spoke their language and chose to connect. The rest took care of itself.

It starts with us.

All the best,
-Debbie

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How to Stop Yelling at your Kids…

Yelling, for many parents, has become their “go-to” reaction. Many well-meaning, well-intentioned parents feel that yelling is the only way they can get their kids to listen or take them seriously. Been there? Yep, me too!
Although yelling may feel like the answer in the moment, it’s important we consider the longer-term effects this behavior has on our kids…especially when it’s happening day in and day out.

Cute little boy, holding his hands over ears not to hear, making sweet funny face

Consider, for a moment, what it feels like to be yelled at. Yelling signals the brain that a threat is looming. When the brain senses a threat, it moves into fight/flight/freeze mode. This is when you may see, for example, defensiveness/back talk/yelling back (fight), running into another room (flight) or blank stares (freeze). Unfortunately, by this point, kids have already tuned out. They’re more focused on self-preservation and will do whatever their temperament dictates as a way of “protecting” themselves. The original message gets lost and the relationship enters shaky ground.

Many parents turn to yelling as a way to exert control, but have you ever noticed that you may resort to yelling when you’re actually feeling OUT of control?? We can’t expect our kids to control their behavior if we’re unable to control our own.

So, to reduce (and ideally eliminate) yelling, begin by coming up with a plan for yourself.

Here are 8 steps to help you yell less and connect more:

1.) Think about the situations that trigger you the most. Maybe it’s when your child ignores you after you make a request. Or maybe it’s when they talk back to you. Or maybe it’s when they throw that wonderful meal you spent hours preparing across the room?

2.) Notice the feelings that come up. Anger? Irritation? Frustration? Powerlessness? Defeat?

3.) Pay attention to the thoughts that arise. “I can’t believe h/she just did that! How dare he/she!” “I need to get a handle on this or he’s going to turn into a delinquent!” “She sounds like such a spoiled brat!”

4.) Challenge and replace those thoughts – “My child is still learning.” “My child is not out to get me.” “I can help him/her learn a kinder way of speaking to me.” “I can handle this calmly and respectfully.” “I need to focus on connecting before correcting.”

5.) Commit to PAUSING when you notice any of the above and do something to TAKE CARE of yourself. For example, BREATHE (slowly and deeply), walk out of the room, count to 10, close your eyes, give yourself a hug (yes, a hug!), grab a piece of paper and write out your thoughts/feelings or just scribble!

6.) Let your kids know about your plan and the commitment you are making to reduce your yelling. Invite them to help you come up with a signal (peace sign, hand over their heart, finger on their lips) they can do when they sense you’re hitting your boiling point. Tell them it will serve as your reminder to pause and choose another tone. The discussion may sound something like, “I know I’ve been yelling a lot. I’m sure it doesn’t feel good to you and it certainly doesn’t feel good to me either. I love you and, it’s not ok for me to yell at you. I want to let you know that I’ve come up with a plan for what I can do instead of yelling. You may see me taking lots of deep breaths, or you may see me walking away. You may even see me give myself a hug! I yell when I’m angry/ frustrated (etc) and it’s my job to take charge of my feelings and reactions and speak to you with respect. I may need some support and would love your help in coming up with a signal you can use when you see I’m starting to lose my patience (ask what they like best).  That signal can help me get back on track.  If you forget, that’s ok.  I’m working on remembering myself.  Please know how much I love you and care about our relationship.”

7.) If you end up yelling, do you best to recognize it, take responsibility by apologizing, let your child know what you will do differently next time and focus on reconnecting. For example, “I yelled at you and that wasn’t ok.  I apologize.  It’s not ok for me to speak to you that way.  Next time, I will walk into the other room and take deep breaths like this (show them). I’m sorry.  I don’t know about you, but I could sure use a hug!”

8.)  Practice, practice, practice and be kind to yourself – you’re learning new skills right alongside your kids!

Wishing you all the best,
Debbie

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Why Punishment Doesn’t Help Kids “Listen” and What Does…

Upset little girl covering her ears while her mother screaming at home in the kitchen

Many parents (myself included) want their kids to listen.  We want to make a request and hear something along the lines of, “Sure, Ok Mom/Dad. No problem.”  Sounds blissful, doesn’t it? It’s certainly an attainable goal and there are many ways to help our kids want to cooperate (please see previous posts on the topic of cooperation). So what gets in the way? Why does it seem so hard to gain our kids cooperation?

In addition to it being a kids job to test limits and boundaries, the reality is that often, quite often, our agendas and our kids agendas simply don’t match up.  They want one thing, we want another.  Rather than see it for what it commonly is – a mismatch in itineraries, we may feel defeated, challenged, threatened etc. That’s when our self-talk kicks in – “Did he really just “disobey” me?”  “How did I get such a “defiant” child?” “What’s WRONG with her?”

As discussed in a previous post, that inner chatter sets in motion all kinds of emotions as well as mistaken beliefs about why our child is behaving the way he is. We begin to feel out of control.  And what is a natural reaction to feeling out of control?  You guessed it, try to GAIN control.  Often, this is when parents turn to punishment.

Parents I work with in my coaching practice come to me when what they have tried just isn’t working or has stopped working….the reward charts, the time-outs, the spanking, the yelling, nagging and lecturing, the removal of privileges and so on.  These amazing parents want to know why – why their punishment isn’t working and they are eager to gain the insight into how they can create a more calm, less chaotic relationship and home environment.  

To help parents understand why punishment doesn’t work, we often begin by discussing the brain science of it all.  Thanks to the incredible field of neuroscience, including “whole-brain” experts such as Dan Siegel, MD and Tina Bryson, Ph.D, we have empirically based research that supports the answers to these very important questions.  Here’s what we know:

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The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for impulse control, emotional regulation, self-awareness, logical reasoning, decision making, planning, along with other higher order functions. This part of the brain is not said to be fully developed until early adulthood. In fact, some have documented not until the age of 25!  So, it’s no wonder that kids have a difficult time “controlling themselves,” as the part of their brain responsible for sound decision making and impulse control, for example, is still “under construction.”

Punishment, by nature, involves blame, shame and/or pain. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines punishment as, “suffering, pain or loss that serves as retribution.”

When a child experiences punishment, in the form of yelling, threats, “consequences,” and the like, the brain perceives these behaviors as a threat and goes into survival mode, otherwise know as fight, flight or freeze. Behaviorally, this often takes the form of tantrums or back talk, running away or eyeball rolling, retreat or withdrawal, to name a few.  When the brain is in this mode, no true learning (of appropriate behavior) can take place. The child’s defenses are activated and the brain becomes enraged vs. engaged.

Punishment may have the illusion of working, as it may stop the (mis)behavior in the moment, but it’s at a cost (the relationship often suffers and the sense of trust is shaken) and does not get to the core of why the behavior is happening in the first place. As a result, we find that children may “listen” more out of fear, rather than out of true respect for and connection to their parents.  Furthermore, the behaviors and the negative cycle continues.

Knowing the brain science behind why punishment doesn’t work affords us the opportunity to try a different approach – an approach which is focused more on connecting instead of controlling.  In Positive Discipline, we refer to this as “Connection Before Correction.”  When misbehavior happens, focusing on connection is one way in which we help our child’s brain move from a reactive state to one which is more open to and accepting of the loving guidance we have and choose to offer. When we connect, through empathy, acceptance of all emotions (not just the positive ones) and mindful presence, our child can be guided in developing the life skills he needs to learn from his mistakes and choose more appropriate behavior in the future.  As Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline says, “Kids don’t need to suffer in order to learn.” 

Choose connection, which builds trust and a sense of security.  The “listening” will follow.

It starts with us.

All the best,
Debbie

 

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One Simple Tip to Help Prevent a Power Struggle…

Imagine that you finally get some time to yourself. Perhaps you get to read that book that’s been sitting on your shelf or take that extra long bubble bath. Then imagine someone comes into your space ordering you to stop what you are doing to do what THEY need/want you to do.

How likely are you to stop in that moment and how do you feel?

My guess is:
1.) Not likely
2.) Your feelings may range from annoyance to rage!

Guess what? That same likelihood and those feelings also apply to our kids and yet we seem to have no problem rushing in, barking orders, making demands and/or expecting our kids to get onto OUR agendas and OUR timeframes!

The truth is, kids have agendas of their own and deserve the same respect we also hope to receive.

SO, the next time your child is engaged in an activity and you need them to move onto something else, begin by ACKNOWLEDGING the fun they’re having or what they’re in the middle of (with some fantasy and choices thrown in) before making your request.

momlisteningtochild

For example, “Look how much fun you are having playing with your toys! I bet you would play ALL DAY if you could! You might even stay up all night! I know you’re having fun AND it’s time for dinner. I could really use your help…Would you like to put out the napkins or the silverware?”

Remember, kids listen AFTER they feel listened to and the best way to gain respect (and cooperation) is to model what respect looks and feels like!

Wishing you all the best,
Debbie

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What To Do With All That “Self-Talk”…

Did you know that so much of our behavior, including how we react to others (i.e. our kids, spouse/partner), is directed not only by our emotions, but by what we are telling ourselves in those moments?
In my work with parents, I often ask if they’re aware of what they may be telling themselves during stressful interactions with their kids. After some thought, they often tell me that their “self-talk,” as we call it, typically sounds something like, “I can’t believe this is happening AGAIN!” “Why can’t h/she just LISTEN already?” “I can’t take this anymore!” “Seriously?!?” “What’s WRONG with you?”

Sound familiar?

Portrait of beautiful red hair girl drinking coffee on winter background. Blank cloud balloon with her thoughts flying around her

What if I told you that changing your thoughts could change your behavior and your reactions? I invite you to try it.

Next time you are faced with a stressful or heated interaction with your kids, PAUSE. Check in with what you may be telling yourself in that moment. Challenge and/or replace the thought(s).

Some examples:
“It seems my child hasn’t learned how to ____ YET.”
“I can handle this.”
“This isn’t an emergency.”
“Focus on connecting instead of correcting.”
“Calm begets calm.”
“This too shall pass.”

Wishing you a day filled with more calm and less chaos.
-Debbie

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“It’s Not You, It’s Me!”

It’s amazing what our kids bring out in us – the good, the bad and the “where did THAT reaction come from?!?” Our kids certainly know how to push our buttons and what’s important to know is that those are OUR buttons…our kids did not install them!
Sooo, next time you find your buttons being pushed, pause and remind yourself that your kids behavior isn’t about you. It’s not personal. It’s about the inner struggle your child is having in that (or those) moment(s). It’s up to us to face our own “unfinished business.”
Our kids can be our biggest teachers if we take the time to listen. Listening for what their behavior is trying to tell us, without an agenda, is how we instill compassion, kindness, empathy and respect.

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