Tag Archive for power struggle

Teach Your Child to NOT Take the Bait

You’ve seen it. Your teen and a friend get into a little squabble. They have a minor disagreement. Suddenly, your teen’s friend drops the bait—they make an outlandish accusation, they make some outlandish statement that will arouse unnecessary emotions, or they make an inappropriate and irritating gesture. You think to yourself, “Don’t take the bait….” But your teen takes the bait and they’re hooked. Their friend takes control of the argument while reeling in your teen. Your teen escalates to crush the bait but it’s too late. The hook is set. Self-control turns to thrashing and the whole interaction goes downhill. No one wants their children or teen to get caught in that situation. Instead, we want to teach our teens to avoid taking the bait.

Fortunately, the best way to teach our teens is by example; and, when it comes to NOT taking the bait, our teens will give us an unlimited supply of opportunities to teach them by example. What parent has not found themselves hooked by the bait their teen’s simple eyeroll, angsty accusation, or under the breath comment. Face it, our teens bait us. They try to hook us, take control of the argument, and reel us in to their net. If we take their bait, emotions escalate. Disagreements increase. We fight to maintain control. In the process, our communications decrease, our relationship suffers, and our teens learn nothing. So, teach your teen to NOT take the bait by setting a good example. Do NOT take their bait. Here are some tips to help.

  • Avoid the emotional bait. We love our teens. They will say things that arouse our fear, anger, helplessness, or sense of inadequacy. They seem skilled at it. Do NOT take the bait. Stay calm. Keep your emotions in check. Stay focused on what your teen is trying to communicate, their underlying message. If you feel yourself getting lost in the emotions your teen arouses in you, find the support of a spouse or friend to help resolve that emotional bait.
  • Avoid the bait of “taking it personal.” Our teens naturally pull away from us during their teen years. It’s normal and appropriate. In the process, they will think us “stupid” and “too old to understand.” They will roll their eyes at our “naïveté” and shrug their shoulders with an “I don’t care” attitude. They will respond with more angst and anger than they even intend. You will long for that loving, affection grade school child, but your teen is growing toward independence. Do NOT take it personal. It’s not about you. It’s part of their development. Do NOT take the bait of their teen angst and drama.
  • Avoid the “tit-for-tat” bait. Your teen may let some harsh statements fly. Do NOT take the bait. Do NOT return “tit-for-tat.” Remember, you are the stronger, more mature person. If you take this bait, you inadvertently send the message that their words are stronger than you. This creates a feeling of insecurity for them. So, don’t take it personal. Do NOT take the bait. Avoid “tit-for-tat.” Give them high regard, even when they sink to harsh statements. Show them kindness with firm boundaries, even when they say mean, irritating things. Show them how to NOT take the bait.
  • Avoid the bait of power. Our teens job is to assert their independence, their individual power to control their own lives. We still want to protect and teach, but they want to try out and learn. We want to help them solve their problem, but they want to learn to solve the problem on their own. When we take the power bait and try to teach or solve their problem for them, we often end up making a power play that pits us in a power struggle with out teen.  Do NOT get into the power struggle. Step back. Let them have age appropriate control. Ask them how they are going to solve the problem. Ask them what they want to do. Offer suggestions but let them have age appropriate power. Do NOT take the power bait.

As you can see, we get plenty of opportunities to teach our children how to NOT take the bait. Interestingly, they provide the bait for us to NOT take. So, practice well and teach them well. They’ll be glad you did.

Parents Be Careful What You Say (AKA, Don’t Give Your Power Away)

Have you ever had “one of those weeks”? I have. We all have. Then, you come home and everything your children do and say becomes a source of irritation. Later, you tell your friend (or maybe you even say it to your children), “They were really pushing my buttons.”  And there it is, a phrase that gives your parental authority away. “You’re pushing my buttons” gives all your parental power to the person pushing your buttons…your children.  It disempowers us and leaves us at the mercy of the “button-pusher.”

A similar phrase with similar results is, “You’re driving me crazy.” Just like “They’re pushing my buttons,” this phrase is often followed by the great “giving in.”  “You’re driving me crazy; just do what you want.” “You’re driving me crazy; go ahead and….” After all, no one likes the “drive to crazy.”  We all want to get off the road as soon as possible, hopefully in what’s left of our “little oasis of sanity.”  Unfortunately, we give away power every time we get to the place of “You’re driving me crazy” and blindly drive right by our desired “oasis of sanity.”  

“You’re pushing my buttons” and “you’re driving me crazy” both give away parental authority and place it squarely in the hands of our children. When we make these statements, we have neglected our own power to manage our “buttons” and our “drive.” We have given our power to our children. And, our children know how to use it. Once they know how to “push our buttons” and “drive us crazy” to get what they want, they will do it over and over again.

Instead of letting the little munchkins “push your buttons” and “drive you crazy,” step back and take a breath. Soothe your own emotions. Realize that your children are not in control of your emotions, you are. Take control of your emotions. Take a break and collect your emotions and get back on the road to sanity…take charge of your buttons.

After you take control of yourself and our emotions, get curious. Begin to wonder, “what is actually going on”? Give an objective description of the situation and what led up to it. Make sure you have an objective description of what your children are doing, what they are asking for, and how they are asking. And, get curious about why your children are approaching you in this manner. Have you taught them this type of interaction? Have you been feeling tired and so been a little distant lately? Are they tired? Are they going through a phase of demandingness? Get curious and get some answers.

Finally, seek a solution. Stay calm. Set a limit. Give a choice. Make a deal. Any number of options may prove a great solution to the particular situation in which you find yourself. Get curious, be creative, and seek a solution. As you take control of yourself, get curious, and seek a solution you’ll find your children “push your buttons” less often. They won’t be “driving you crazy” so much. You will have a greater parental authority allowing you to lovingly respond to crises, demands, and requests that arise.

Driving Children or Leading Children

I read that General Eisenhower would demonstrate the art of leadership with a piece of string. After laying the string on a table, he would say, “Notice what happens when I pull the string; it goes wherever I lead it. Now watch what happens when I push the string; it goes nowhere at all—that’s assault, not leadership.” What a great quote on leadership…and parenting! Many parents drive their children rather than lead their children. Consider just three differences.

 

military policeProdding them or inspiring them. Parents who drive their children push them, cajole them, and prod them to produce, accomplish, and succeed. They often express dissatisfaction with a less than stellar performance. Parents who lead do so by example. Leading implies going ahead of them to show the way. A parent’s leadership will inspire children to follow in their parent’s footsteps. If you want your children to eat a healthy diet and exercise, do so yourself. If you want your children to exhibit respect, be polite yourself. Say “please” and “thank you” to them and others. Let them hear you say polite words often. If you want your children to go to church, enjoy going yourself. You get the idea. When parents drive their children, they push them into the unknown alone. A parent who leads goes before their child into that unknown. A parent who guides goes with their child into that unknown. Both leading and guiding create a sense of safety for children. Our children learn from our example, not our constant prodding and pushing. So, quit prodding and inspire them instead…take the lead.

 

Laying down the law or studying the book. Parents who drive their children focus on the rules. They lay down the law and demand compliance. Rules keep us on the straight and narrow, away from the evil influences around us. But, an overabundance of rules and a focus on the rules will send a message of distrust in your children, their knowledge of right behavior, their desire to behave appropriately, and their ability to do so. A focus on rules may also force children to break the rules just to establish their own independence. Parents who lead focus on relationship. Sure they have rules but they focus on a relationship with their children. They have become a student of their children. They constantly learn about their children’s interests, friends, fears, vulnerabilities, dreams, etc. Parents who lead have an unquenchable thirst to know their children. Out of that knowledge, a parent can lead, motivate, and inspire their children to be their best.

 

Running away or running to. Parents who drive their children establish a strong authoritarian presence. Their children often respond to the authoritarian demands and expectations in one of two ways: rebellion or withdrawal. When children have parents who drive them, they shrink away from their parents’ voice. Demands and rules cause children to shrink away in fear.  Authoritarian expectations cause children to shrink into a shell, withdrawing for fear of failure and never being good enough to meet their parents’ expectations and so please them.  Children may also rebel in the face of the excessive demands and expectations of authoritarian parents. In order to “become their own person,” they have to rebel. Parents who lead establish a strong authority based on relationship. Their children rise up to their parents’ voice. They respond with confidence to the family expectation. They feel known and valued so they act more responsibly and respectfully.

 

We could go on, but let me ask you: do you drive your children or lead them? Do you push them into the unknown or lead them by example? Do you focus primarily on “laying down the law” or on “building a relationship” of mutual trust and respect…or both? Does your voice and presence cause your children to shrink or grow? Pull the string, don’t push it. Take the lead!

Who Should Win the Battle: Parent or Child?

It is inevitable. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true. No matter how wonderful your parenting skills, the time will come when you and your child have a disagreement. You will expect your child to complete a chore and they will not want to. You will want them home by curfew and they will want to stay out later. You will want them to smile and have fun; they will be miserable and cold. It’s going to happen…no doubt about it! The important factor at this moment of conflict becomes how you resolve the conflict. In fact, allowing a child to experience conflict and learn how to cope with it allows them to learn and grow. After all, they will experience conflict throughout life. Where better to learn the best way to resolve conflict than at home with someone who loves them? Unfortunately, many parents see this moment of conflict as an “either-or” scenario—either the parent must win or the child wins. Conflict becomes a win-lose scenario. Consider the outcome of these two extremes.

 

If the parent must win then the parent must announce the solution. The child’s input does not matter. The parent knows best; the parent determines the solution; and, the parent tells the child what to do. The child does not have to like it; he just has to do it! If the child does not like the solution, the parent will try to persuade them to do it. If that does not work, the parent simply asserts their power and authority to tell the child to do it. Unfortunately, the parent only has so much power. The child, who often lacks the motivation to actually invest in his parent’s solution, dooms it to failure. If he undermines the solution, the parent has to nag and persuade. And, the parent will find it difficult to enforce the decision in light of the child’s sabotaging efforts. Or, the child may simply comply out of fear of punishment and never internalizes the seed of true self-discipline. Perhaps most detrimental, the relationship is undermined and resentment begins to replace love and affection.

 

If the parent lets the child win they have given up any authority they might have. The child begins to lose respect for authority in general and just “does what he wants.” Young children learn to throw tantrums to get what they want, overpowering their parent’s will and energy with the intense emotion of the tantrum. As they grow older, they learn to use yelling, pouting, crying, or accusing to get their way…just like they did with tantrums as a child. A child in a permissive household may also learn to use guilt to persuade his parents to give in. Unfortunately, this child does not develop internal controls. He can become self-centered, selfish, and demanding. He will likely experience difficult peer relationships because he believes his needs are more important than the needs of others. At the same time, this child will often feel insecure about his parents love. Parents will find this child unmanageable and impulsive. They might become resentful, irritated, and angry toward the child. And, once again, the relationship is compromised.

So, if the parent winning does not work and the child winning does not work, what can a parent do? Good question. The answer requires a different paradigm of conflict resolution, power, and parenting, a paradigm different than the win-lose paradigm so often exalted in our society…but, I fear I have run out of time. So, I will explore a different paradigm in my next blog. Stay tuned to the “same bat station, same bat time”…well, you know what I mean. See you next week.

5 Tips to Improve Your Child’s Behavior

I loved working with John (name changed for privacy reasons), a seven-year-old boy who had a seizure disorder and was very active. I learned so much spending time with him and his family. Part of my job was to take John to the neurologist for his check-ups. One day, John and I sat in the patient room waiting for the neurologist to see us. John was bored and started to explore…well, explore may be an understatement. He began to spin around in the chair, climb onto the sink and then the shelves. He climbed onto the bed to see how high he could jump. He climbed into the window sill. He started to touch various medical instruments in the room. I tried to stop him but I was young, inexperienced…and obviously had no idea. I just followed him around asking him to stop, trying to redirect him. He simply moved to the next object and touched, climbed, jumped, threw, pushed buttons, flipped switches, and anything else he could. Then the doctor walked in. He looked around the room and realized I had nothing to offer. He smiled at me and quietly walked to the exam table and pulled out a little wind-up toy. He wound it up and set it down. It banged tiny cymbals and then did a backward flip before starting the process all over again. John immediately stopped running around the room and watched the toy. When it stopped, the doctor showed him how to wind it up. John wound it up and watched it go. The doctor left to continue his work, returning several minutes later to see John. I learned an important lesson that day. If you want to change a child’s behavior, change their environment. Here are some simple ways Thomas Gordon identified to change a child’s environment in order to improve behavior:


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Enrich the environment. Provide lots of stimulating and interesting things for your children to do. Children do best when they have interesting, challenging activities to hold their attention. Pick an area in which your children can play safely and fill it with age appropriate activities that will attract their attention.


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Impoverish the environment.  When we impoverish an environment, we reduce the stimulating, challenging activities available. I know it seems contradictory, but we can easily enrich some environments for our children and impoverish others. For instance, we may enrich the family room of your house but impoverish the bedroom. Impoverish the bedroom environment so your children have fewer stimuli to attract their attention when it is time to go to sleep. This may mean no TV, no video games, and no phones in the bedroom.


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Simplify the environment. Modify the environment so your children can do more things independently. For instance, put clothes where your children can get them and put them away independently. Keep a stool by the sink so they can wash their hands without your help. Put unbreakable cups within easy reach. Make the environment conducive for independent, age-appropriate activities.


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Prepare your children for changes in the environment. Children like consistency and predictability. When things happen unexpectedly, or when you have to do something that the children cannot predict, they become upset and act up in their stress. And, as you know, changes happen. Families encounter new or unexpected experiences. When this occurs, do your best to let your children know ahead of time. Discuss with them what will happen. Let them know what is expected from them. Encourage them and acknowledge their cooperation.


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Plan the environment for increasing responsibility and independence. As your children mature, they can become more independent. Plan ahead for this growing maturity. For instance, create a space for teen privacy. Purchase an alarm clock so children can start getting themselves up in the morning for school. Knock before entering your children’s room. Create a message center for sharing information when the schedules get busy. Discuss appropriate curfews and make sure family members have house keys.

You can change your children’s behavior by changing their environment in any of the ways mentioned above. Of course this won’t fix everything, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure…why wait until the misbehavior occurs when you can change the environment ahead of time and maybe even prevent it?  

Walking the Tightrope of Raising a Strong Daughter

Raising a daughter is a great joy and a great challenge…especially for a father. A father’s active involvement provides a key ingredient in helping his daughter grow into a woman of integrity, character, and confidence. Most fathers find active involvement in their daughter’s life comes with some challenges. Mark McMinn has identified 3 challenges every father will experience while parenting a daughter—three tightropes every father must navigate between “my little girl” and the mature woman she will become. These areas of tension provide fertile opportunities to grow a strong daughter.

 

First, fathers support their daughters and know when to let their daughters go. Our daughters desire an emotionally intimate relationship with us…and our daughters struggle for independence. Fathers walk the tightrope between both. On the one hand, we nurture an intimate relationship with our daughters by learning the language of emotions (something that does not come easily to men in our society). Rather than hiding behind our cultural training to “be tough,” we maintain our toughness to offer protection while developing our “softer side” of emotional expression. Doing so, we gain an emotionally open and intimate relationship with our daughter. We honor our daughters by spending time with them engaged in activities they enjoy. In a sense, we follow their lead as we participate with them in activities of their choosing. As we do, they often return the favor. On the other hand, we nurture independence by encouraging them to become involved in challenging activities. We lovingly step back and allow our daughters to take risks as they try new things and grow more independent of us. Any father who has dropped his daughter off at college has experienced the tension of letting go and encouraging her to take her next step in life while nurturing an intimate connection with her by expressing the complexity of emotions that accompany this event.

 

Second, fathers remain a loving authority in their daughter’s life while allowing her the “voice” to speak her mind. Fathers provide limits and boundaries to protect their daughters as they grow. As their daughters mature, fathers allow choices to replace directives. They allow their daughters to make choices and voice those choices. Wise fathers will even allow their daughters to experience the consequences of poor choices. A father may find his daughter saying “no” more often as she matures—not in a disrespectful way but in a growing independent way. She may say “no” to some of the father-daughter activities you enjoyed with her as a child. She may say “no” to an activity with you so she can enjoy an activity with her friends. Allowing her to say “no,” hearing and respecting the reason behind her “no,” and perhaps negotiation around the “no” helps her find her voice and learn to speak her mind respectfully. Discussing the reason behind her “no” encourages her to think for herself. Fathers also encourage independent thinking by listening to their daughters explain what interests them and what does not interest them.

 

Third, fathers tolerate the tension of disagreement with their daughters. If you have a child, you know that many opportunities will arise to disagree. Disagreement is good…frustrating, but good.  Disagreement allows our daughters to think for themselves. It provides us the opportunity to learn about our daughters by listening intently. Disagreement also provides the opportunity to teach respectful ways to voice our disagreement. A wise father will allow disagreement, even discuss the disagreement. During that discussion, a father can model respect. He can model how to disagree while keeping the relationship a priority.  One more thing…realize that some disagreements occur because of differences in maturity and experience. Do not expect your daughter to think like you—they lack the maturity and experience to do so. And, let’s face it, sometimes we are wrong and they are right. So, allow the disagreement. Allow them to think. Allow them to be right and accept it when you (the father) are wrong.

 

As you can see, walking the tightrope of raising a strong daughter provides a great challenge. But, we are men. We love a challenge. Step right up, enter the fray, and engage your daughter. Support her and let her grow up. Remain an authority in her life and allow her to speak her mind. Tolerate disagreements and even enter into the disagreement with her knowing she may teach you a thing or two. Most of all, love your daughter and show her the depth of your love every day!

KISS–Keep It Short & Simple

I had worked with Joe and his family for several months. During those months, I had watched the same scenario repeat itself over and over. Every time Joe did something, his mother lectured. It didn’t matter if he told his mother a lie or asked for help with a problem, she would respond the same way…with a lecture. Joe always responded the same way, too. As soon as she pointed her finger in his direction and said, “Joseph, you know…,” he tuned out. His eyes glazed over and he stared into space with a blank expression on his face. I know Joe’s mother had good intentions. She wanted Joe to learn from his mistakes. She wanted to share her wisdom. When he had a problem, she wanted to offer an instant solution. Unfortunately, lecturing did not accomplish any of her goals. Instead, Joe felt like she never listened. He felt disrespected and unheard. After a while, he simply tuned her out and quit listening.
 
I don’t know about you, but I get the same urge as Joe’s mother. I want to offer a wise solution, a quick answer to my child’s problem, or a quick and effective response to my child’s misbehavior. I hear myself beginning to lecture and see my child’s eyes glaze over. There has to be another way, a more effective way to get the point across. In fact, there is a better way. Here are three more effective ways to respond to your children’s request for help or misbehavior that needs correction.
     ·         Ask questions. If your children ask you to help them solve some problem, ask questions. Ask them to explain what they know. Ask them where they get stuck. Ask them if there are any other similar problems they have already completed. Sometimes they will figure the problem out as they explain it to you. If not, you might begin to ask “What if” questions. “What if you tried this?” or “what if you tried that?” When they misbehave, you might ask them, “Is that the way a young man/lady behaves?” or “Is that the behavior we expect in our home?” Doing so encourages them to slow down, think, and problem solve with you.

·         Allow them to experience the “consequences of their actions.” Most actions have a natural consequence. Some actions have enjoyable consequences, some have negative consequences. Either way, let your child enjoy the nice consequences of positive behavior and learn from the negative consequences of inappropriate behavior. If they waited until the last minute to do their homework and now struggle to understand the problem, let them struggle with that discomfort. Perhaps they will start earlier next time. If they consistently get up late for school, escort them into the building late. Inform the principal that your child is late due to not getting out of bed on time and explain you understand there will be consequences. Let your children see you support those consequences, the natural result of breaking reasonable limits. Yes, it is difficult to watch our children suffer consequences. However, by allowing them to suffer smaller consequences today, we teach them to avoid the harsher consequences of major misbehavior in the future.

·         When you do have to give more direct answers and suggestions, remember that children, and many stressed out teens, are concrete in their thinking. They cannot follow the abstract reasoning or rambling emotion making up a lecture. They need simple, short and sweet, statements. Throwing too much information at children will simply overwhelm them. They may get frustrated or angry as they see your emotion but still cannot understand the content of your speech. So, slow it down. Offer one piece of information at a time. Make sure they understand that information before you add more to it. You may even find it helpful to write down each point…or use something object to represent each point. This will allow your child to build their understanding of the problem and the solution, brick by brick.
 
Our lectures are really knee-jerk reactions to our fear. We do not want our children to suffer. We want what is best for them; and, when that seems threatened, we jump into a lecture. However, by using the three ideas above, you will find that you accomplish your goal more quickly and effectively. You will enjoy watching your children grow. And, you will enjoy missing out on the frustration of feeling unheard in the midst of a lecture.