Tag Archive for boundaries

Parenting the Curious Explorer

Children…curiosity…exploration…constant questioning. These words seem almost synonymous, don’t they? In fact, children love to explore. They have an incessant curiosity that leads them to actively investigate everything around them. They explore things with their eyes, ears, hands, and even mouth. Like miniature scientists they study the world around them to discover “how” and “why” things happen the way they do.
In the midst of all this curiosity and exploration, do you know what interests children most? You do! They want to know everything about you, their parent–what interests you, what holds your attention, what arouses your emotions. That’s why your infant wants to play with the cell phone you spend so much time looking at or the pots and pans you spend the hour before dinner using. A child’s curiosity also leads him to ask you unending questioning–“What are you doing?” “What’s that?” “How’s that work?” “What’s that do?” “Why?” Sometimes this curious desire to know leads them to engage in somewhat irritating behaviors like flipping the light switch on and off to learn about cause and effect, or, throwing their spoon on the ground to see how much they can get you to do. As they get older, their curiosity encourages them to chase after ants with a magnifying glass to look at their magnified image and learn about nature. Even a teen’s curiosity leads to behavior we sometimes questions, like “doing donuts” in a snowy parking lot or setting a firecracker off in a model car. They want to know about everything…especially those things that interest you. This incessant desire to learn about the world may even lead to behavior you don’t particularly like. I remember learning how to make a “washtub bass guitar.” I loved music and the excitement of making my own instrument overwhelmed me. Curiosity and excitement led me to drill a hole in the bottom of my parents’ only washtub basin, cut off the whisk-end of the broom, and connect them with a string. The resulting music sounded good to me…my parents disagreed. I ended up playing the blues in my room for a time.
All kidding aside, curiosity helps children learn. More importantly, a child finds the most pleasure in exploring when they can share that exploration with a parent. As a parent responds with supportive comments and shared excitement, their child gains pleasure, finds that learning is fun, and grows more confident in their ability to meet and conquer challenges. I love this table developed by Dr. Bruce Duncan Perry, MD, PhD, that shows curiosity ultimately leads to greater confidence and more exploration. Limit their curiosity and you ultimately limit their mastery, confidence, and even sense of security.
results in
results in
results in
results in
results in
results in
New Skills
New Skills
results in
results in
Self Esteem
Self Esteem
results in
Sense of Security
results in
More Exploration
Children are curious, but they are also immature and inexperienced. As family shepherds, we have to watch them and protect them while encouraging appropriate exploration. That demands that we accept their curiosity and their immaturity as natural. We need not yell and scream at them for immaturity. No, immaturity calls us to teach them. Their immaturity invites us to be present with them in their curiosity, invest our time in their exploration, and share in the excitement of their discovery. By remaining present with them in their curiosity, we can address any concerns that might arise. When they become disruptive, our presence will teach them how to explore in a more appropriate manner. Investing our time in their exploration allows us to help channel that exploration in appropriate venues. We can teach them that the library is not the place to explore sound, but the music room is…late at night is not the best time to practice rock riffs on the electric guitar, but early evening is…the house is not the best place to explore the properties of flying water, but the yard is. By sharing in their excitement we teach them that exploration is valuable, learning is fun, and discovery is good. A parent who shares in the excitement of their child’s discovery will find ways to promote exploration and curiosity rather than saying “don’t touch,” “don’t climb,” “don’t take that apart,” “don’t get dirty.” That may mean setting some boundaries around the curiosity. For instance, letting your child know that playing in the mud may be fun, but they have to change clothes before stomping through the living room…playing with the condensation on the window is interesting, but they will need to help clean the fingerprints off the window when all is said and done. And, while they help you clean up, you have the opportunity to talk about the exciting discoveries made during play.
Enjoy your children’s curiosity. Nurture and participate in their exploration. Celebrate their discoveries. They will grow in wisdom and confidence. Most importantly, you will both enjoy a deeper and more intimate connection as you explore your child’s curiosity together.

Help! My Teen Lies to Me!

Yes, it is true. Teens lie. Teens argue. Teens often want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be given the freedom of independence while relying on their parents’ supportive cash for gas money and money to go out with friends. It is a very confusing time—for teens and parents. As parents, we want what is best for our teens. We hope they will accept the wisdom of our experience as they navigate the transition into adulthood. Unfortunately, they do not always heed our words…at least not to our faces. So, when it comes to dealing with teens, here are a couple helpful ideas.
The most common reason teens give for not telling the truth or for withholding the truth from parents is to “protect my relationship with my parents.” In other words, they fear that the truth will cause distance in the parent-child relationship. They do not want to hurt us. Some parents believe that being more permissive will result in more truth-telling. It does not. Teens who have permissive parents actually lie more! They believe that their permissive parent really does not care if they engage in various behaviors and will not do anything in response anyway, so why tell? Why hurt their feelings? Just don’t mention it…or, if forced to, lie.
Families with the least amount of deception, on the other hand, have clear, concise rules accompanied by reasonable and consistent consequences. Teens in these families know the rules and the consequences. Families that experience the least deception also have one more ingredient: parents who listen and make sure their teen feels heard before offering small concessions and compromises. “Wait…what? Did you say concessions and compromises? But I am the parent…my rules go in this house!” Remember, our teens are becoming adults. They have to learn how to manage their own behavior. As we honor them with our listening ears and show them the grace of small compromises and concessions, they grow in their ability to recognize potential consequences and make wise decisions independently. A little bit of flexibility will go a long way in decreasing teen deception and increasing teen maturity. So, teens who lie the least have parents who set clear rules, consistently enforce those rules, and also find opportunities to make some compromises with their maturing teen.
Using this style of parenting does have some side effects (stated in the soothing voice of one announcing medication side effects on various TV commercials). Having clear rules that are consistently enforced may result in increased arguing and complaining. In fact, those families with the least amount of deception often had a higher rate of arguing and complaining. That is great! No really, it is great. A moderate amount of arguing between parent and teens (emphasize the word moderate) results in better adjustment than no arguing or frequent arguing. Arguing allows the teen to see their parent in a new light, to hear the argument for the rules clearly articulated and “reasoned out.” In the teens’ effort to become independent and take on “their own values,” they can listen to their parents articulate the rules they have grown up with before internalizing them as their own. In a sense, the teen who complains and argues is saying, “I know you have always kept this rule; but now I want to know why. Do you really believe it? What makes it such a good rule?” In the midst of this argument, teens assert their growing independence while exploring the values they have grown up with.
One last secret (don’t tell your teens). I often meet with parents who are at their wit’s end because they feel like their teen is not listening. I listen as they tell me what they have told their teen. I empathize with their frustration as they explain that their teen does not take their words of wisdom into account. Then I meet with the teen. In the midst of our discussion, their teen will often tell me exactly what their parents have said…and they say it as though it is their own idea. They have heard it. They even believe it; and, they are in the process of making it their own. They just can’t tell their parents about this and carve out their own independence at the same time. So, keep on listening. Keep on patiently enforcing the rules. Keep on discussing the rational of the rules and struggling to make appropriate concessions. Trust that your teen hears you. They are listening. And, hold on for the ride of your life on the teenage roller coaster. Your work will pay off…when the ride ends and your teen becomes an adult!

3 Signs You Are A Helicopter Parent

Are you protective of your children? Perhaps even a helicopter parent? Children need a parent to protect and guide them, no doubt. They need parents who will teach them right from wrong and hold them accountable to those standards. They benefit from parents that will support them and advocate for them when necessary. However, in our child-centered culture, some parents have become what many lovingly refer to as “the helicopter parent.” You know who they are…perhaps you have even played the role of a helicopter parent yourself. Unfortunately, playing the helicopter parent carries a cost for you and your children. So, are you a helicopter parent? If so, what are the costs of hovering over our children?
     ·         If you are a helicopter parent, you may find yourself structuring your children’s every waking moment. You may include yourself in their every activity. You will look for reasons to talk with them every waking moment. If they have sport’s practice or music practice, you are there to watch and encourage…every time. If they attend youth groups, you become the sponsor. If they go on a school trip, you become one of the adult chaperones. A helicopter parent’s life revolves around their children and their children’s activities. Where there child goes, the helicopter parent is sure to hover near.
       o    Children benefit from time in which they have nothing to do but play with other children—that means unstructured, unsupervised, no adults involved, creative fun. Given time for this type of play, children develop creative problem-solving skills, resilience, confidence, and the ability to manage their own time. With time away from parents, children grow more independent. They learn how to accept the support and assistance of other trustworthy adults. They build their own support group. They become better decision-makers. Interestingly, children who are provided opportunities to engage in unsupervised play even become more active than those children constantly supervised.

·         If you are a helicopter parent, you may find yourself “stepping in” to save your children from any struggle or potential disappointment. Helicopter parents, not wanting their children to make any mistakes or get a single problem wrong, step in to cajole, explain, and even make corrections saving their children from “suffering” the disappointment of a less than perfect homework assignment. If their children forget an assignment, the helicopter parent dutifully rushes it to the school. If their children begin to experience discomfort with some task, the helicopter parent swoops in to ease the pain and complete the task. No failure allowed…they reason, “It might hinder my children’s self-esteem.”
     o    Children benefit from some struggle, disappointment, and even failure. They learn how to “bounce back.” They discover their own strengths and weaknesses. They learn that momentary failure or disappointment is not the end of the world, but an opportunity to learn, grow, and persist. This leads to greater resilience and strength, persistence and fortitude. A little failure never hurt anyone…some might even say that learning to manage setbacks actually “makes the man.” Like Einstein, Edison, or Lincoln, a child who experiences momentary setbacks can achieve more than their peers who were rescued from setbacks and, as a result, never learned to persist. 

·         If you are a helicopter parent, you may want to be your child’s BFF (Best Friend Forever). Unfortunately, helicopter parents as BFF’s are governed and constrained by fear. They fear that a child’s anger will mean the friendship is broken…so they give in or argue. They try to convince their child to engage in certain behaviors, but fear to push too much and “threaten” the BFF relationship. To compensate, helicopter parents may praise their child incessantly, raving about any success, large or small. Parental BFF’s find themselves subservient to their children’s emotions.
    o    Children benefit from a BFF…but that BFF is not their parent. Children need a parent who they can “look up to” rather than see as an equal. They benefit from a parent who presents a loving, but strong authority figure they can respect…a loving authority that even produces a healthy fear of doing the wrong thing and receiving the “just penalty” for that action, whether that be a disappointed look or some stronger consequence. Of course, that relationship changes as our child grows. However, even as adult children, we respect and submit to our parent’s will out of a respect that was nurtured and taught during childhood.

Are you a helicopter parent? If you are, I’m sure you are acting out of love for your child. Take a moment to consider the truth that setting the helicopter down and parenting from a different perspective actually reveals your love in a deeper and more enduring manner. I invite you to steer over to the landing pad and park the helicopter. Pick up a few shepherding tools and begin to lead your child with the parental authority that will guide them into healthy adulthood.

Parents, Do You Bail, Pounce, or Let ’em Suffer

I reread the story of the Prodigal Son the other day. You might recall the story…a son asks his father for his inheritance. This loving father gives his son his inheritance, no questions asked. The son leaves home and blows the whole thing on wasteful living. He ends up broke, without friends, and working one of the lowliest, dirtiest jobs possible. Of course, he eventually “comes to his senses” and returns home expecting to become a servant in his father’s house. Instead, he finds a compassionate, gracious father who restores his status and position in the family. I have always loved contemplating the father’s loving response when the prodigal returns home. However, this time I was captivated by the father’s actions during the prodigal son’s time away. Think about it. The prodigal son’s father may have known how his son wasted his money. He likely knew that his son was lonely, broke, working in a pig pen, and longing to eat the pig’s food.
At that point, the father had a choice. He could have sent his son some money. I’m sure he hated to see his son suffer. Like most parents, he probably hated knowing that his son suffer from an extreme need that he had the resources to relieve. In response, the father of the prodigal son could have sent his son a sum of money with a note attached—”Son, I know that times are hard so I sent you some money to help make ends meet. You are always welcome home.” What do you think the son would have done if he had received money from his father? Most likely, he would have wasted that money on “crazy living,” just like he did with the inheritance.  The father’s bail out would have robbed his son of the opportunity to learn from his mistakes. This temporary relief would have led to more long-term suffering. On a lesser note, the father would have lost more money. More significantly, the father would have to watch his son continue to spiral out of control and suffer the consequences of bad choices.
Of course, the father could have simply put up with his son’s situation. He could have endured his son’s misbehavior and grumbled to himself about how agitated he was by his son’s behavior. He might have become more and more frustrated as his son continued to waste money and spiral into bankruptcy. He could have allowed his bitterness to grow as he contemplated how his son had “taken advantage” of his kindness and generosity. When his son finally did return home, he could have waited at the top of the driveway—arms folded, tapping his foot; and, when his son confessed his wrong-doing and apologized, the father could have pounced.  He could have released all that pent up anger and frustration, unleashing a torrent of “I told you so’s” on his son. He would be justified in yelling, lecturing…and maybe even calling out a few names. Unfortunately, his son would have quit listening. Once again, the father would have robbed his son of any opportunity to learn from his mistakes. His son would turn his focus onto his father’s behavior…”This is why I left in the first place;” “all he ever does is yell at me;” “I can never satisfy him;” “I don’t know why I ever came back I the first place.” In the midst of all this, the son would never consider his own inappropriate misbehavior. By redirecting the son’s focus from his own misbehavior to the father’s emotional pouncing, the father would have successfully robbed his son of the opportunity to learn. His son may have even turned around and returned to the pig pen while the father continued to lecture and yell.
This father, on the other hand, allowed his son to suffer the consequences of his misbehavior. This father showed great wisdom. He allowed his son to suffer for his misbehavior. He did not step in to save the son from painful consequences. He did not lecture, yell, and scold. He simply witnessed the consequences, allowed the suffering, and waited for his son to realize the pain of his misbehavior. He may have empathized with that suffering, but he did not bail him out. He held onto the faith that his son would learn from his mistakes and the consequences of that mistake. He trusted his son to learn…and allowed him the time to do so. As a result, this son learned a valuable lesson about choices and consequences. He learned even more about the strength of his father’s love and acceptance.
We face similar choices with our children every day. Sometimes it is best to let our children experience the pain and discomfort of their bad choices, even when our heart aches to watch them suffer. If we bail ’em out, they will never learn. If we pounce on them with yelling, lecturing, and scolding, they will never learn. But, if we let ’em suffer now and again, they will learn a valuable lesson about behavior, love, acceptance, and obedience.  

How Grace-full Is Your Family

Grace plays a huge role in a healthy, loving family. In fact, how a family responds to grace and shares grace will ultimately shape their family. Grace balances the two ends of the see-saw: relationship and rules, love and limits. Unfortunately, not all families practice a healthy expression of grace. Not all families share grace with one another or treat one another from a foundation of grace. As a result, not all families balance relationships and structure in a way that promotes healthy families. Let me briefly describe four ways families respond to grace.
     ·         Some families reject grace. Instead of giving one another unconditional acceptance, they base acceptance on performance and achievement. They react to misbehavior with embarrassment and harsh words, believing that misbehavior ruins the family image. As a result, grace rejecting families become critical and sarcastic. They withhold love until a person meets the standard of achievement and proper behavior that “keeps us looking good.” In this family, people start to think of themselves as failures if they do not meet the expected standard of performance. Family members can begin to feel isolated and alone if they fall short of that standard and find themselves criticized and ignored for missing the mark.

·         Other families crush grace. They believe that a good set of rules to live by will make everything turn out right…and they use a hammer to enforce those rules. Relationships are neglected and made secondary to rules. Personal image becomes defined by my ability to obey the rules. Family members become arrogant as they comply with the rules or overwhelmed with shame when they fall short. The whole family may adopt a “holier-than-thou” attitude as they present the perfect family, structure in place, and outward behavior complying with that structure. When someone breaks a rule, shame-based, guilt inducing discipline helps bring them back into line. Fear-based discipline motivates them to avoid punishment. Unfortunately, family members often become resentful of this, feel inadequate, and may eventually rebel against those rules.

·         Today we see many families who manipulate grace. They believe that simple love and acceptance will produce self-control and character. They also hate to see people suffer. So, relationships remain strong but very few, if any, rules are put in place. This family has strong relationships with little to no structure. They give no consequence for misbehavior. Many times, family members will even bail the misbehaving person out of the consequence. Some family members will even suffer for the lazy or misbehaving person. For instance, the parent who stays up late to complete their child’s project while the child watches TV or goes to bed. In grace-manipulating families, people learn that anger is stronger than love and comfort more important than character. Unfortunately, the family becomes enslaved to the one who is most willing to manipulate grace.

·         Healthy families strive to become grace receivers. Grace receiving families nurture healthy, loving relationships while providing a clear, consistent structure to promote positive behavior. They see misbehavior as an opportunity to grow more mature. Discipline provides the opportunity to learn more appropriate behavior and, in the long run, promote deeper intimacy within the family. Family members find acceptance even when they miss the mark and suffer the consequences of inappropriate behavior. With unconditional acceptance and loving relationships supporting a consistent structure, family members learn from their mistakes, gain wisdom, and grow more self-controlled.
These families differ in how they balance loving relationships with consistent structure. Ironically, grace provides the perfect balance between relationship and expectation, love and structure. Where does your family fall into the descriptions above? Are you most often a grace-rejecter, grace-crusher, grace-manipulator, or grace-receiver? How does that impact your family? If you are not a grace-receiver, what will you do this week to become more of a grace receiver? After all, the health of your family is at stake.

How to Train Your Children

How to Train Your Dragon (oops, I mean) Children

Maybe,” [Old Wrinkly] said, “you can train a dragon better by talking to it than by yelling at it.”

“That’s sweet,” said Hiccup, “and a very touching thought. However…from what I know about dragons…I should say that yelling was a pretty good method.”
“But it has its limitations, doesn’t it?” Old Wrinkly pointed out.
–From How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell
Indeed it does; yelling does have its limitations. Yelling at children simply “scrambles their brain.” Young children cannot think clearly while being yelled at. If they cannot think clearly, they cannot learn the positive behaviors we desire. Teens, on the other hand, simply shut the yeller out. Their focus quickly shifts to “how unjust” it is to be yelled at, how “they always yell at me,” or “they expect me to control my temper but…” The teen becomes more focused on our yelling behavior than the misbehavior that led to the yelling. They focus on the behavior of the one yelling and totally disregard their own inappropriate behavior. No, simply yelling at a child “does not an effective parent make.” Yelling definitely has its limitations. How then do we impress on our children the importance of positive behavior? When they have engaged in the same inappropriate behavior time and time again, how do we make them understand the need to change? When we really want to impress our children with the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, “actions speak louder than words.” Quit yelling…and let them suffer the consequences of their behavior.
     ·         Don’t yell at them for waiting until the last minute to do their school project. Instead, let them struggle through the process of completing it, even if they have to miss out on a favorite TV show or a desired activity. Let them suffer the poor grade if they do not complete it on time.

·         Stop yelling about taking the garbage out. Simply ask them to take it out. If they do not take it out, watch it grow until they ask you for something. Then, remind them that they did not do what you asked of them. Calmly ask them how they think you should respond to their request after they disrespected your request. Ask them, again, to take out the garbage and let them endure the consequence of taking out an overflowing garbage can.

·         No need to yell because your children did not do their one or two basic chores around the house. Instead, let them know that they cannot go out with friends…or watch TV…or play their video games, until they have finished their chores. Then stand firm on that statement until the job is done.
You get the idea. Children need to learn that misbehavior makes their life more uncomfortable than appropriate behavior. Yelling will not get that message across. Yelling distracts from that message. Allowing children to experience the consequences of their behavior will impress that lesson on them. Unfortunately, this means that we, as parents, have to step back and allow our children to endure the consequences of their behavior. We hate to see our child get a “F” (or even a “C”) because they waited until the last minute…or struggle and complain while picking up the overflowing garbage…or miss an opportunity they might enjoy because they have to finish a boring (even tedious) chore around the house. We hate to see our children suffer. It can be painful to watch, painful for the moment; but, the long-term learning for our children will prove priceless. They will learn that appropriate behavior results in a better life and mature decision-making produces greater happiness.
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