Archive of ‘parenting’ category

How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids – An 8-Step Plan…

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!

You see, even though I’m a parent coach, I *still* find myself yelling from time to time, even when I know I “shouldn’t,” because, like all of us, I have triggers.
What I’ve learned over the many years of doing this work, is that managing our own emotions and responses takes practice and patience – lots of it!

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 more often than we’d like.

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, it’s helpful to 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 he/she just did that! How dare him/her!” “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!), go outside and notice something in nature, grab a piece of paper and write out your thoughts/feelings or just scribble! Whatever works best for you.

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 silent signal (peace sign, hand over their heart, finger on their lips) that 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.

I completely recognize this is not an easy habit to break! The good news? You don’t have to go through it alone. Please feel free to reach out if you’d like a little support from someone who’s been there! 😉

Wishing you all the best,
Debbie

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6 Parenting Tips to Start Off the New Year

Happy New Year! With the holiday hecticness behind us, now is a wonderful time to slow down and give yourself permission to take some time for you. How have you been feeling? Drained? Energized? Somewhere in between? What might you need to better nurture yourself? I recently read a quote which really touched me, “You matter because of who you are, not just who you parent. Let that sink in!

At the start of a new year (and daily!), I love to set intentions. Intentions are focused on how we want to live our lives; how we want to “be” in the world. Unlike a goal, which is about achieving or attaining something, intentions reflect our values and a sense of purpose. For me, intention setting typically involves asking myself “How do I want to “show up” – in my life and in my parenting?” I invite you to give it a try and see what comes up for you!

With this in mind, I wanted to offer 6 positive discipline parenting tips to support you as you ease into this new year:

1.) Know your “no” – The endless list of events, parties and volunteer requests is enough to drive any of us to the point of exhaustion! Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. Before saying “yes” to an invitation or request, take a moment to pause. Do an honest self check-in. Ask yourself if this “event” realistically fits into your busy schedule and if you’re attending or helping out of joy or obligation? Just know, it’s ok to say “no.” Remember, saying “no” to one thing creates space to say “yes” to yourself!

2.) Look for “yes” – On the flip side, when it comes to our children, “no” and “stop” are words that kids tend to hear all too often (“No hitting!” “Stop jumping on the bed!” “No, you can’t have a cookie.”) Hearing these words can easily trigger our child to break out their boxing gloves, ready for a fight – they instinctively raise anyone’s defenses! Instead, see if you can look for a “yes.” Some examples, “Yes, you can have a cookie after dinner.” “Yes, we can read stories as soon as your jammies are on.” “Yes, you can go to your friends as soon as your homework is done.” Save your “no’s” for when you *really* need them.

3.) Set realistic expectations AND make agreements ahead of time – Children thrive on structure and routine and do best when they are clear about what’s expected of them. Let your kids know what will be happening ahead of time and together make agreements about what behavior is expected. For example, “We’re going to be going over to grandma’s today. There will be a lot of people there who are very excited to see you and it’s kind to acknowledge them. How would you like to greet everyone? High fives? Hugs? Fist pumps?” The other most helpful question to ask your child/children is, “What do we need to remember about how we ______?” As in, “What do we need to remember about how we behave at grandma’s/a restaurant/our friends house?” Once decided, come up with things they can do to take care of themselves if they start to get tired, feel overwhelmed etc. Problem solving with your child models respect and increases the likelihood of cooperation.

4.) Ask more than you tell (and offer choices) – All day long, children are constantly being told what to do, when, how, where and why to do it. It’s no wonder they tune us out! Engage their critical thinking, decision making and problem solving skills by asking questions such as, “What do you need to bring with you so you won’t feel cold outside?” “Would you like to walk the dog or take out the trash?” “Would you like to hold my hand or have me carry you when we cross the street?” “What’s supposed to be happening now?”

5.) Create “special time” – It’s so easy to get caught up in the mad rush to get things done that we may not realize the effect this has on our children. What our kids want more than anything is to feel significant and connected. I like to think of our kids as having little “love tanks.” When these tanks are low, we’re more likely to see acting out. When they’re full, the day tends to go more smoothly. So, aim to spend dedicated, uninterrupted, device-free, 1:1 time with each child. Even 10-15 minutes can do wonders for your relationship. Life is hectic, so just do the best that you can. The message you’re sending is “I’m all yours!”

6.) Don’t sweat the small stuff – At the end of the day, it’s important to know and remind yourself that the way things are today won’t last forever. Our children are always growing, maturing and evolving, especially as we guide them in learning the skills they need to thrive in this big, complicated world. Ideally we’re evolving too! This too shall pass. ❤️

Wishing you and your family all the best!
With warmth and gratitude,
Debbie

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Tips for Managing (and Understanding) Challenging Behavior…

Looking back on your childhood, were your emotions acknowledged and accepted? Did you feel validated? Was it ok to feel what you were feeling or was there a different message you received?

Many of us certainly “turned out ok,” but looking back, imagine if your parents or caretakers would have handled your behavior/feelings/attitude differently? Perhaps with more patience, acceptance and understanding?

It’s been said that all behavior is a form of communication. “Misbehavior” often happens because a child is simply lacking the skills and resources he needs to get his needs met appropriately. Hard as it can be, we have to remember that our children haven’t been on this planet very long – they are doing the best they can with the (limited) skills they have. So are we!

What is your child’s behavior trying to tell you?

The thing is, children learn “right from wrong” and how to “be” in this world through loving, patient and calm guidance from the adults they trust most – us!  Limits do indeed need to be set, there’s no doubt about it. However, when limits are too strict or enforced without an understanding of where a child is developmentally, those limits only fall on deaf ears and the behaviors continue. Children then end up focused more on our anger, irritation or frustration (or what’s been taken away from them), rather than on the important lessons we’re trying to teach. Reminding ourselves “This too shall pass” and “My child is acting like a ___ year old because he/she IS a ___ year old” are truly sanity savers!

Contrary to popular belief, we are much more effective in improving behavior (and equipping our children with the skills they need) when we first focus on connecting with our child. This involves slowing down, empathizing, getting curious about the behavior(s) we see and responding thoughtfully, rather than just reacting out of anger, frustration or impatience. It’s about understanding that there are needs and emotions beneath the behavior.

Connection also involves acknowledging those needs and feelings and then focusing on teaching our child what to do instead of what not to do. In other words, we allow feelings, while limiting hurtful or destructive behavior. For example, “I know it made you angry when your brother grabbed your toy. It’s ok to feel angry, it’s never ok to hit/yell/throw. What words can you use to tell your brother how you feel and what you need?” Because kids are natural pleasers, they can more successfully follow our guidance when they are clear on what’s expected and when they feel connected. This of course all takes time, patience and lots of practice, which is why it’s so important that we have realistic expectations – of our child AND ourselves!

We know from neuroscience (notably mirror neurons within the brain) that children learn how to manage and regulate their emotions (and actions) by how we regulate and manage ours. We can’t expect our child to “behave appropriately” if we’re frequently in the throes of our own adult tantrums!

Here are some steps you can take the next time you’re being faced with challenging behavior…

1) Do your best to pause. Take a breath. Slow down and focus on connecting with your child.

2) Be mindful of your tone of voice, body language and non-verbal’s – I find it helpful to ask myself, “How am I showing up right now?” “What is the message I’m sending my child?” “Am I inviting cooperation or resistance?”

3) Be mindful of your self-talk. Telling yourself “What is the matter with her???” isn’t helpful. Instead, try telling yourself something more along the lines of, “My child is having a hard time and needs my help.” or “This isn’t an emergency, I can handle this.”

4) Get below your child’s eye level and acknowledge the need or feeling your child may be having. Author Dan Siegel refers to this as “name it to tame it.”

5) Ask for the behavior you want versus what you don’t want.

As Positive Discipline author Jane Nelsen says, “Children listen AFTER they feel listened to and DO better when they FEEL better.” We all do!

I’m convinced that parenting is the hardest job out there. Raising little humans isn’t easy – the struggle is real! Please know you are not alone on this journey and that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We’re all in this together!

With ❤️ and gratitude,
Debbie

Do you feel like you could use some support in navigating parenting? You’re not alone! Consider a 15 minute “exploratory call” to see if parent coaching is right for you! Email debbiezeichnerlcsw@gmail.com for more information.

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Tips for Managing (and Understanding) Challenging Behavior…

Looking back on your childhood, were your emotions acknowledged and accepted? Did you feel validated? Was it ok to feel what you were feeling or was there a different message you received?

Many of us certainly “turned out ok,” but looking back, imagine if your parents or caretakers would have handled your behavior/feelings/attitude differently? Perhaps with more patience, acceptance and understanding?

It’s been said that all behavior is a form of communication. “Misbehavior” often happens because a child is simply lacking the skills and resources he needs to get his needs met appropriately. Hard as it can be, we have to remember that our children haven’t been on this planet very long – they are doing the best they can with the (limited) skills they have. So are we!

What is your child’s behavior trying to tell you?

The thing is, children learn “right from wrong” and how to “be” in this world through loving, patient and calm guidance from the adults they trust most – us!  Limits do indeed need to be set, there’s no doubt about it. However, when limits are too strict or enforced without an understanding of where a child is developmentally, those limits only fall on deaf ears and the behaviors continue. Children then end up focused more on our anger, irritation or frustration (or what’s been taken away from them), rather than on the important lessons we’re trying to teach. Reminding ourselves “This too shall pass” and “My child is acting like a ___ year old because he/she IS a ___ year old” are truly sanity savers!

Contrary to popular belief, we are much more effective in improving behavior (and equipping our children with the skills they need) when we first focus on connecting with our child. This involves slowing down, empathizing, getting curious about the behavior(s) we see and responding thoughtfully, rather than just reacting out of anger, frustration or impatience. It’s about understanding that there are needs and emotions beneath the behavior.

Connection also involves acknowledging those needs and feelings and then focusing on teaching our child what to do instead of what not to do. In other words, we allow feelings, while limiting hurtful or destructive behavior. For example, “I know it made you angry when your brother grabbed your toy. It’s ok to feel angry, it’s never ok to hit/yell/throw. What words can you use to tell your brother how you feel and what you need?” Because kids are natural pleasers, they can more successfully follow our guidance when they are clear on what’s expected and when they feel connected. This of course all takes time, patience and lots of practice, which is why it’s so important that we have realistic expectations – of our child AND ourselves!

We know from neuroscience (notably mirror neurons within the brain) that children learn how to manage and regulate their emotions (and actions) by how we regulate and manage ours. We can’t expect our child to “behave appropriately” if we’re frequently in the throes of our own adult tantrums!

Here are some steps you can take the next time you’re being faced with challenging behavior…

1) Do your best to pause. Take a breath. Slow down and focus on connecting with your child.

2) Be mindful of your tone of voice, body language and non-verbal’s – I find it helpful to ask myself, “How am I showing up right now?” “What is the message I’m sending my child?” “Am I inviting cooperation or resistance?”

3) Be mindful of your self-talk. Telling yourself “What is the matter with her???” isn’t helpful. Instead, try telling yourself something more along the lines of, “My child is having a hard time and needs my help.” or “This isn’t an emergency, I can handle this.”

4) Get below your child’s eye level and acknowledge the need or feeling your child may be having. Author Dan Siegel refers to this as “name it to tame it.”

5) Ask for the behavior you want versus what you don’t want.

As Positive Discipline author Jane Nelsen says, “Children listen AFTER they feel listened to and DO better when they FEEL better.” We all do!

I’m convinced that parenting is the hardest job out there. Raising little humans isn’t easy – the struggle is real! Please know you are not alone on this journey and that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We’re all in this together!

With ❤️ and gratitude,
Debbie

Do you feel like you could use some support in navigating parenting? You’re not alone! Consider a 15 minute “exploratory call” to see if parent coaching is right for you! Email debbiezeichnerlcsw@gmail.com for more information.

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Gratitude: What it’s all about and 3 Simple Ways to Practice it Daily…

Since November is typically the month we focus on giving thanks and expressing gratitude, I thought I would join in on the fun 😊 For me, practicing gratitude involves intentionally looking out for and noticing things, whether big or small, that I appreciate, and I must say, it’s been a game changer!

Several years ago, I took part in my first day-long silent retreat, which was part of an 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion course. Unsure of what to expect, I decided to go in with my eyes and mind wide open. This meant letting go of any judgments, comparisons or evaluations that typically come with new experiences. Part of this day was spent outdoors, exploring our surroundings (which, ironically, included a large parking lot along with some incredible eucalyptus trees!)

The instructions were simple – just notice what you see, hear and feel. Keep in mind this was a *silent* retreat, so we weren’t sharing our observations with others; instead, we could “be alone with our experience.” I will never forget the moment I stood and really noticed the beauty of the trees around me. They were magnificent – I was completely in awe!

The setting felt like a beautiful forest with leaves everywhere, a minty smell in the air and colorful tree trunks that seemed to go on for miles. It was in that very moment, I burst into tears. I found myself overwhelmed with thoughts about how much I had missed over the years; so much beauty (among other things) that I had taken for granted, mainly because I was “too busy.”

That day, I decided it was time for me to slow down and show up better. Like many of us, I was living my life on auto-pilot – hurrying from one thing to the next, completely stressing in the process, trying to do it all and get it all ” just right,” (some might even say “perfect”). What I didn’t realize at the time was the effect my frantic attitude of, “Sorry I don’t have time for that, hurry up, are you kidding me?, we need to go NOW,” was having on those around me, especially, my two kids!

The thing is, slowing down, even just 5%, makes us better parents, friends, spouses, co-workers…you name it. I could go on and on about the incredible benefits of mindfulness, but for now, I will just say that slowing down and becoming mindful helps us become more grateful. The more open and aware we are to what is around us, the more we find to be grateful for! The best part? Research shows that practicing and expressing gratitude actually makes us happier! Sign me up!

With this “attitude of gratitude” in mind, I wanted to offer 3 simple ways to make gratitude a daily practice:

1. Keep a gratitude journal – Aim to record 3-5 things, little or big, you are grateful for daily. The simple act of writing it down has been shown to dramatically improve our physical and emotional well-being.

2. Take time to express your gratitude to others, especially to those who help and support you – Go beyond “thank you” by letting the person know what they did or do that you are grateful for, acknowledge the effort it took on their part and specifically how it was helpful to you.

3. Understand that gratitude is a choice – No matter how difficult things may be, there is always something to be grateful for. Choose to be on the lookout.

Do you have a gratitude practice that works for you? I’d love to hear about it!
With ❤️ and appreciation,
Debbie

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Words all Parents Need to Hear…

As parents doing one of the hardest jobs on the planet, sometimes we just need to feel (and hear) that we’re not alone. For example, maybe you…

-lost your temper and/or yelled at your child
-let your child spend way more time on an electronic device than you planned
-haven’t showered today
-locked yourself in the bathroom for what you hoped would be 1 minute of peace (and screamed, cried or threw a fit)
-cut your child’s sandwich in rectangles instead of triangles (and suffered the consequences)
-endured the full.blown.meltdown in a store (maybe even on several occasions)
-turned your back for one second and an accident happened
-heard “I hate you” from your child
-feel fear, anger, worry, shame, guilt, doubt, insecurity…

The truth is, we’ve ALL been there! We’ve all felt and feel these feelings – more often than we let on. If only we could give ourselves a BREAK. If only we could show ourselves the same kindness, compassion and support we give to so many others. If only we could stop being so hard on ourselves and *let go* of trying to be the “perfect” parent, spouse/partner, friend, daughter/son, co-worker, volunteer, PTA president – because the thing is, it doesn’t exist.

 

Our children (and others in our lives) don’t need us to be perfect. They need us to be as fully present, engaged and attuned as we can. They need to feel that we are doing our best to understand them and what they are experiencing without judgment and with a sense of openness. They need to know we are capable of caring for ourselves.
Imagine how much more relaxed, patient and peaceful we could be if we took all of this pressure off ourselves to always get it right or have it all together or do it all or make everyone happy all of the time. It’s exhausting!

If you are feeling isolated, I hope that you will reach out in whatever way feels comfortable for you. Asking for help and support is not a sign of weakness, in fact, it’s just the opposite. It takes great courage and strength to acknowledge (and ask for) what you need (and deserve!).

Sweet parents, you are not alone. We are all on this crazy journey called parenthood together, doing the very best we can with what we have. Let’s do all that we can to really notice and be there for each other each step of the way 

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Perfectly Imperfect!

“Strive for progress, not perfection” is a common saying that I am constantly reminding myself of, especially when it comes to parenting. You see, there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We may hear this from time to time, but what if we could really accept it? What if we could simply allow ourselves to make mistakes (we are human, after all) and not always have it “together?”

I came into this work because I felt like I had *NO CLUE* what I was doing as a new mom. My years of psychology training hadn’t prepared me for the long, sleepless nights, the “how come I don’t know why he’s crying (and when will it stop)!?!?” moments, the endless bombardment of baby gadgets all guaranteed to make my baby “happier, smarter, stronger,” the conflicting feelings that ranged from the joy of having a new, beautiful and precious child to the sadness and grief over feeling like my freedom was being taken away and life as I had always known it would never be the same.

I wanted so desperately to “do it right” and be the “best mom” I could and put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself. I had so many questions, not so many answers. Eventually, once I started to get the hang of things, I dove head first into the field of parenting and mindfulness to find some answers and support. Knowing I wasn’t the only one feeling flustered, anxious and overwhelmed was transformative.

Parenthood is no joke. The responsibility we have in raising little humans can, at times, feel completely overwhelming. Yet, somehow, we do it. We persevere. We get up each and every day and do the very best we can and that, my friends, is something to be celebrated.

Please know you are not alone – we’re all on this crazy, bumpy and exhilarating ride together. And, as I’m so glad I learned, it’s OK to not have it all together. I do this for a living and *still* don’t always have it together. No one does! The vulnerabilities we *all* have and share are what allow us to feel connected…and that’s a beautiful thing.

The thing is, our kids don’t need us to be perfect – we need to let that idea go. They need us to show up, have patience as they learn, see them for who they are (not who we want or need them to be), seek to understand what they’re experiencing and fully, unconditionally accept them AND OURSELVES – messiness and all!

Here’s to enjoying the journey together ❤️

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A Mindful Way to Deal with your Child’s Challenging Emotions

Watching our kids experience anger, sadness, fear, disappointment or any challenging emotion isn’t easy. It’s so natural to want to shut it all down or fix the issue at hand. It’s uncomfortable. It’s “messy.” It pushes our buttons.

Ever felt this way? You’re not alone!

While there aren’t easy answers, there are some helpful suggestions…

When in these moments, frequent as they may be and as hard as it is, the most valuable thing you can “do” is PAUSE and s-l-o-w things down. Take a breath. Several actually. Walk away if you need to. Imagine pressing an actual pause button. Mindfully and compassionately, tune into what you’re feeling. Become aware of what buttons are being pushed by the emotions your child is experiencing. Whether or not we like to admit it, these buttons are very often about our past and/or they’re related to current life stressors we are facing, such as work, health issues, financial concerns or relationship difficulties. It is in these mindful moments that we can choose to remind ourselves, “These are my buttons, they have nothing to do with my child!”

The biggest gift we can give our children is our presence. Our non-judgmental, non-evaluative, non-critical presence. The time for learning isn’t when we and our children are in an emotional state – the time for learning is when everyone is calm.

girltalkingwithdaddy The path to that calm begins with us. It begins with a mindful awareness and compassionate acknowledgement that the intensity of our reaction often has more to do with our own histories and circumstances than it does with the child in front of us. It begins with an understanding that the only way our child will learn to “calm down” and regulate his emotions is when we can model what that calming down looks and feels like. In this way, we help our child learn to calm himself and accept the full range of his emotions – messy as they may be.

So, the next time you’re face-to-face with challenging emotions, PAUSE. Take care of yourself. Resist the urge to fix, dismiss or punish and instead, recognize whether you’re being triggered. Breathe. Focus on staying present and connected to your child. Become curious. Listen for the feelings beneath any behavior you see. Understand that what your child is feeling isn’t good or bad; right or wrong. It’s her experience. Set limits on hurtful actions. Allow feelings. Model respect while reminding yourself that your child is still learning how to “be” in this big, complicated world. She is doing the very best she can with the skills she currently has and needs your peaceful guidance.

Our ability to stay calm, present and aware of when our own “stuff” is getting in the way, is what builds the trust, openness and connection needed to raise confident, emotionally healthy children who thrive.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”

All the best,
Debbie

 

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One Question to Ask your Kids for Better Behavior

Have you ever taken your children somewhere, let’s say to a restaurant, a park or a friend’s house, you think all is well and then suddenly, you are blindsided by rambunctious, “out-of-control” and/or uncooperative behavior? The kind of behavior that seems to come out of nowhere? The behavior that leaves you feeling at a total loss for what to do and how to handle it, especially when all eyes are on YOU? The kind that makes you want to run away and hide?

Yep, I’ve been there too!

When I reflect on the times I’ve been in situations like these, I realize there’s typically a missing link – either an unmet need within my child such as hunger, exhaustion, boredom, overstimulation, or an unmet need within myself – I’m hungry, overtired, rushing around taking care of everyone but myself! With all this going on and without a mindful thought, I end up reacting to my child and my child then reacts to me. I get upset at his reaction, the behavior escalates and, next thing I know, we’re in a downward spiral of what feels like the point of no return. Ugh!

Sound familiar?

Aside from these overlooked, unmet needs, I realize there’s often another piece of the puzzle I forgot to include – establishing expectations for behavior.

Now, I know some of you may be thinking, “But my kids should know by now what I expect.” I get it, I really do, I often think the very same thing! Yet, what’s important to remember is that our children’s brains are still developing the ability to regulate emotions, manage impulses, plan and problem-solve. We also have to remember that our agenda of what we want/need to happen, rarely matches our child’s agenda of what they want/need.

What’s a parent to do??

Because children thrive on structure, routine and repetition and because they have a hardwired need to feel a sense of belonging (connection) and significance (that they matter/have something meaningful to contribute), I’ve found one simple question, which I always ask when we are going out in public or doing something new, that has helped us achieve better, more cooperative behavior from our kids. This question is…

“What do we need to remember before/when we _________?”

When used consistently in the way described below, it works like a charm.

Let me give you an example of what this looks and sounds like in action.

Recently, we took our 2 kids to Legoland to celebrate the last few days of summer before school begins.  We knew the kids were excited as our car ride was full of singing, laughter, jokes, obnoxious noises etc. As we were getting closer, their restlessness was in full force and we started to hear things like, “Stop it!” “MOOOOOM, she’s singing too loudly!” “Daaaad, he won’t stop looking at me!” “ARE WE THERE YET?”

I felt myself becoming irritated, frustrated and worried that this day we all looked forward to wasn’t heading in the direction I had anticipated. Feeling this avalanche of negativity, I took some deep breaths and reminded myself I had a choice. I could choose to act on these negative thoughts and feelings by threatening to turn the car around, yelling, getting impatient, telling them how lucky they are to go to such a fabulous place OR I could mindfully choose to put myself in their shoes, see it from their perspective and tell myself something more realistic. Essentially, they were excited and simply having trouble containing their emotions and impulses. They weren’t “spoiled,” “bratty,” or “bad” and they weren’t trying to ruin our family day. They were just kids ecstatic about where we were going, tired of being in the car, wanting to be there NOW!

“Deep breaths,” I reminded myself.

With all this in mind, here’s what came next:

Me (in upbeat tone): “Hey guys, I can hear how excited you are for Legoland today!”

Kids: “Yes, are we there yet? We can’t wait anymore!”

With the intention of validating their feelings and engaging their interests, I responded…

Me: “I know, it’s sooo hard to wait when you’re really excited to be going to one of your favorite places. I totally get it! What are you looking forward to the most?”

Daughter: “I want to see the Lego 4-D movie. Madeline saw it and said it was so good! And, I want to drive those fun cars and get my drivers license!”
Son: “I want to do the new Ninjago ride…you get to shoot stuff…And I want to go on that twisty roller coaster!”

Me: “That sounds super fun! I’m excited to do all those things too! You know what? Daddy and I could really use your help. We all want to have a fun day, right? (Both kids agreed). To make our day extra fun, where everyone gets along, what do we need to remember about how we behave at Legoland?

Son: “We have to be good listeners.”

Me (laughing, as he knows me well :)): “Yes, and what does that mean? What does being a good listener look like?”

Son: “It means that when you ask us to do something or stop doing something we do what’s being asked the first time and that we have respectful behavior.” (Respect is something we talk about often).

Me: “Yes, thank you. What else will make our day fun and super easy?”

Daughter: “That we take turns with rides and are kind to each other.”

Me: “Yes, love it, anything else?”

Son: “Keeping our hands to ourselves.”

Me: “These are some awesome ideas guys, thank you for helping us come up with them. What happens if we start to get a little tired or hot or bored and we forget some of these ideas? Should we come up with a special code (a word or signal) that can remind us to get back on track?”

Daughter: “Yes, FBN!”

Me: “Mmmm, I haven’t heard that one. What does it stand for?”

Daughter: “Friends Be Nice.”

Son: “Or K and R for Kindness and Respect.” (This is a phrase we commonly refer to when behavior gets wild :)).

Me: “I love these! Ok, you guys said that to have a fun, easy day, we all need to remember to listen to what’s being asked and follow directions the first time, be respectful of each other, take turns with rides, keep our hands to ourselves and be kind to each other. Did I forget anything? (Both said no). If Daddy or I see you’re getting off track or if one of us gets off track, we can say “FBN!” or “K and R!” to remind us about our agreement. How does that sound?”

Both kids: “Great!”

The beauty of this lies in the ‘asking versus telling’ and discussing it all ahead of time. And, guess what? It only took a few minutes!  You may be wondering, “Why not just tell them what you expect?” Whenever I’ve done that in the past, I’ve found it falls on deaf ears and only creates a disconnect between me and the kids (not to mention some resentment.) Plus, who likes being told what to do all the time?

So, instead, I choose to express faith in my kids ability to make good choices by coming up with “rules,” or more respectfully, “agreements,” that will benefit all of us. Engaging them in this way meets their need for belonging and significance, while fostering the essential life skills of decision-making and problem-solving. This simple question also allows them to feel part of the solution, rather than the problem. It’s a true “win-win.”

Give it a try and let me know how it works for you. Expect a little push back the first few times. It’s a new skill, which, like everything else, takes time, patience and lots of practice!

All the best,
Debbie 🙂

20160824_113133A successful day at Legoland!

Posted in parenting | Comments Off on One Question to Ask your Kids for Better Behavior

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