Tag Archive for parenting

Take Time to Reflect

In her book Hunt, Gather, Parent, Michaeleen Doucleff, PHD, describes “three steps [a parent can use] to transmit any value they want to a child.” These three steps include modeling, acknowledging, and practicing. And it’s true. Parents use these three powerful actions to transmit values to their children whether they know it or not, even whether they intend to or not. If we don’t reflect on what we model, acknowledge, and practice, we may pass on values that we never wanted our children to learn. As an example, consider children and teen technology use.

Practice: Many parents give their children lots of practice in the unhealthy use of technology. For instance, we hand our toddlers our cell phone or iPad to keep them calm, busy, and out of our hair. We may also give children and teens technology to counter their boredom during a long drive. In other words, we encourage them to use technology to deal with frustrations or boredom and, in the process, discourage them from learning other methods of dealing with frustrations and boredom (like reading, playing a game, or conversing with other people). In fact, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry notes that we let 8-12-year-old children practice using technology 4-6 hours a day. Teens practice using technology up to 9 hours a day. Imagine if they practiced math, a sport, or an instrument that many hours a day.

Acknowledge: We acknowledge our children’s behavior by attending to it. Negative attention and positive attention both reinforce behavior.  The more energetic our attention (positive or negative), the greater the reinforcement. When we yell at our child to “get off the phone” we are providing energetic attention to a behavior we don’t like. When we constantly complaining about them playing video games, we are giving attention to a behavior we find frustrating. In both cases, our acknowledgment simply reinforces their continued technology usage. Sure, they may turn it off in the moment, but they will return to it the first chance they get. After all, our energetic acknowledgment has helped to build and reinforce their self-concept as someone who “always uses technology…” just like we told them. Instead of acknowledging their use of technology in energetic, frustrated tones, invest your energy in engaging them in more valued activities. Energetically acknowledge their involvement with friends, their progress in academics, their kindness to others, their active participation in sports, or other activities you want your children to learn to value. I’m sure your child has a much broader life than one of simple technology use. Acknowledge those other areas. Acknowledge when they use technology in appropriate ways and at appropriate times as well. This can help them learn the appropriate use of technology in their lives.

Model: Too often we—the parents—model the kind of technology usage we hate in our children. It’s true. Consider these statistics. Over 70% of married couples report cell phones frequently interfere with their relationships. In one study, 40 of the 55 parents observed with children in a fast-food restaurant used their cell phone. The more they used their cell phone the more their children either withdrew from them or engaged in limit testing behaviors to gain their attention. When we allow our technology use to interfere with our interactions with our children, we model a level of technology use we want our children to avoid. Unfortunately, our children learn to do what we model. They do as we do much more often than they do as we say.

Practicing, acknowledging, and modeling are powerful ways in which we teach our children and teens about behaviors we value. Unfortunately, if we don’t practice, acknowledge, and model thoughtfully, we may pass on values we don’t agree with and never wanted our children to learn. Take time to reflect. It may prove one of the most effective parenting tools we have. 

Book Review: Hunt, Gather, Parent

Michaeleen Doucleff, the author of Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans, was looking for guidance on raising her strong-willed, rambunctious 3-year-old. As any good investigative journalist would do, she began to research the “options.” And the most effective ideas and parenting guidance she discovered came from sources flung to the far ends of the world. With daughter in tow, she visited a variety of indigenous peoples—a Mayan village in Mexico, Inuit families in the Arctic Circle, and Hadzabe families in Tanzania—to gain some very useful parenting advice. And I loved it. Some of the reviews I read were critical of various aspects of this book. For instance, they accused her of a gender bias, espousing parenting techniques of indigenous peoples as though they have no counterparts in Western parenting guidance (in fact, they are similar to Montessori or RIE parenting), and “framing tribal parents as eternally happy, and Western parents…as miserable victims of circumstances.”

I don’t know about all that…but I do know our society gets so caught up in finding fault and criticizing where a work (in our opinion) falls short , where we think it won’t work, or simply what’s wrong with it…rather than looking at the good gifts the work offers for many situations and people. And Hunt, Gather, Parent offers many excellent gifts. It offers wonderful advice to parents about effective ways of raising their children, advice that both fathers and mothers can apply.

This advice is founded, in part, on a parent’s perspective of children. Are children simply miniature adults that we can expect to behave appropriately? Or are they children who need to learn how to behave, manage emotions, and do tasks we call chores? Hadzabe parents offered Ms. Doucleff an excellent answer. In addition to this, Michaeleen Doucleff learned practical ways to remain calm when her child engages in tantrum behavior, how to encourage cooperation rather than control, and how to meet personalized needs rather than expect developmental milestones. She also talks with a variety of experts along the way to learn more about what she was witnessing and putting into practice.

All in all, this book is filled with gifts for every parent—great ideas and practical takeaways every parent will find helpful, all wrapped in a warm storytelling style. Use what you can, and you will not only find your children’s behavior improving, but your relationship with your children improving as well. And isn’t that what we all want?

If I Had Only Known Then…

I wish I had written this blog about 10 years ago. I could have used the information. But I suppose late is better than never. And, if you have children or teens in your home right now, you’ll find this information very helpful. I remember my daughter coming home angry from school or coming home upset after an outing with friends. Not every time… but several times. Has that happened to you? If it hasn’t and you have children, it probably will. Anyway, I hate to see my daughters upset so I tried to fix the problem and make them feel better. Impossible. Didn’t help.  I tried using humor a few times, but it usually ended up with them directing their anger at me. Apparently, using dad humor when your children are upset is a bad idea. I reasoned with them. No good. Only made it worse. Eventually, I just threw up my hands in defeat and let them stew in their frustration and anger.

If only I had known what this study out of Ohio State University reveals. It could have saved me a lot of heartache. This study consisted of three experiments that included a total of 307 participants. Each participant spent five minutes writing about an incident that made them “intensely angry.” Then, they verbally described the incident to a researcher. As you can imagine, their anger grew as they completed this exercise.

After listening to the participant describe their anger-provoking incident, the researcher either validated or invalidated their angry feelings. They either responded with validating comments like, “Of course, you’d be angry about that” and “I can understand getting angry about that” or invalidating comments like, “That doesn’t sound like anger,” or “Why would you get angry about that?”

Not surprisingly, participants who heard validating comments recovered their positive emotional states. Those who heard invalidating comments did not. In fact, the “recovered positive mood” of the validated participants either matched or exceeded their positive mood prior to recalling the anger-provoking incident.

If only I had known that 10 years ago. I could have responded to my daughter’s anger about school incidents or conflict with friends with validating comments. You know:

  • “I can understand how that would make you angry.”
  • “Wow, that would really make someone angry.”
  • “I’d be angry about that, too.”

Simple, validating comments that could have helped my daughters regain their positive mood. Validating comments that could have enabled us to have a more enjoyable evening. Oh, but I do have a secret about this idea of validating though. It works with adults, too—adults like my spouse and my adult children. And, it has already saved a few evenings of heartache.  Give it a try. Validate the angry feelings and enjoy an evening of positive moods. (Validating will also help you use the power of empathy in connecting with your family.)

4 Great “BUT’s” of Parenting

We love to see our children happy BUT we don’t want to spoil them to keep them happy. We want to provide a nice home and plenty of healthy opportunities for our children to grow BUT we don’t want to feel guilty about spending too much time away from our children earning the money to make those opportunities a possibility. We want, dare I say need, adult time with friends BUT we don’t want our children to feel unloved or abandoned.

Yes, parenting is a bit of a balancing act BUT the 4 “BUTS” below can help you find the proper balance.

  1. Children benefit from the opportunity to express their emotions, including anger; BUT they can remain polite and kind as they do. I met one mother who allowed her 6-year-old son to smack her repeatedly when he was angry. She felt he needed to express his anger.  In reality, children benefit from learning to manage their anger and other emotions, not express it through violence. Part of learning to manage our emotions is learning to utilize the energy of an emotion to meet the need that contributes to that emotion…and doing so in a positive manner.
  2. There is an appropriate time for a parent to apologize; BUT simply because your child is disappointed is not one of those times. Sure, a parent needs to apologize if they lose their cool for no good reason or accidentally say something that hurts their child’s feelings. BUT there is no need to apologize because your child is simply disappointed for not getting everything they want when they want it. In fact, it’s healthy to learn that sometimes we can’t have everything we want because it’s too expensive, too time consuming, or we already have more than we need.
  3. No parent likes to see their child engage in tantrum behavior; BUT “giving in” to their tantrum behavior only increases the chances that they’ll tantrum again. “Giving in” to tantrum behavior empowers your child. It teaches them that tantrum behavior works, it gets them just what they want when they want it. If it works, it’s powerful. And who doesn’t repeat what works? Rather than “giving in” to their tantrum behavior, ignore it. If they tantrum in public, calmly escort your child to a more private place and wait for them to stop.  Once they calm down, talk about what may have led to the tantrum. They may have a genuine concern to address. If so, address it. And talk about healthier ways to communicate their needs and their emotions.
  4. Children have a right to be disappointed with a limit or rule; BUT you don’t have to argue to justify the rule. It is alright for children to get disappointed. It’s a part of life. And it’s alright for children to want to know the reason behind a limit or rule.  Simply state the rule and the intent of the rule, then refuse to argue about it. Make sure the rule is appropriate and actually accomplishes what you intend, then stick with it. If there is wiggle room, you might discuss it (not argue about it) with your children. Let them give the reasons they believe the rule might be changed. Then tell them you will think about it and get back to them. Perhaps you’ll change it and explain why you. Perhaps you will not change it and you’ll simply explain why you chose not to change it. No arguing. Just stating it once. (Read Help, My Child ALWAYS Argues With Me for ideas on what to do instead of arguing.)

These four great “buts” of parenting can help bring balance and clarity to your parenting goals.

Teen Empathy or Delinquency…And YOU

Parents want their teens to engage in acts of empathy, not acts of delinquency. Right? Of course. A study using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian children analyzed the data gathered on 3,865 children (ages 12-years-old to 17-years-old) over a period of 4 years to explain a great way to teach children empathy. This study found that children who perceived their parents as giving empathic support were less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors like drawing graffiti, destroying property, and using threats or force to take money from another person. Material support and mere presence did not have as great an impact on reducing these delinquent behaviors as did empathic support. It seemed that empathic support from parents modeled empathy for the teens, nurturing the development of empathy in their lives.

What does this mean for us as parents? It means that we need to practice empathy if we want our teens to practice empathy. As you develop, nurture, and practice empathy in your life, your children are more likely to as well. They will develop the ability to acknowledge and understand the feelings of others and act accordingly as they witness you doing the same. In other words, nurture empathy in your life and you nurture empathy in your children’s lives. So, how can you nurture and model empathy in your life?

  • Avoid jumping to conclusions or making snap judgments.  In general, things are not as simple as they appear. Rather than making assumptions, consider what factors may contribute to other people’s behaviors and actions. Think about what their deeper intent might be. Things are generally not as simple as they appear.
  • Learn from other people, especially those different than you. Listen to people who come from different backgrounds and even have different beliefs than you. You don’t have to agree. Simply listen and seek to understand. Learn how they “came to their conclusions.” Learn to communicate your ideas and beliefs in a manner that invites dialogue rather than sounding judgmental.
  • Look for commonalities with other people, even those who are different than you. I believe you will find most people come together when we consider our common vulnerability to suffering, our common desire for connection and love, and our pursuit of security and belonging. Consider how you might connect with people in these (and other) common aspects of our humanity.
  • Learn from stories and films. As you read a story or watch a movie, “get inside” the character’s mind. Seek to understand their motives and their actions based on what you learn of them through the story.
  • Broaden your range of experiences. Meet people from different cultures and economic levels. Develop relationships and learn from each other.
  • Perform random acts of kindness. No explanation needed. Show kindness every chance you get.
  • Practice each of the tips above toward your family members in a responsive, warm, and nurturing way. Rather than jumping to conclusions when something happens, think and listen. Take time to learn from your spouse, your parents, and even your children. Look for commonalities with each of your family members, especially when you hit upon topics and themes of disagreement. Show kindness to your family every day.
  • Build an emotional vocabulary. The broader a person’s vocabulary for speaking about emotions, the more aware they can become of their own emotions and the better able they are to empathize with another’s emotion.

As you practice these tips toward your family and in view of your family, your children will more likely grow in empathy…not delinquency.

5 Surprising Ways Children Learn Self-Control

Self-control is a skill that will serve our children well for a lifetime. In fact, the classic “Marshmallow Experiment” suggested that preschoolers who had enough self-control to delay gratification and wait for a bigger reward had higher SAT scores as late teens. They were also more likely to be described as positive, self-motivated, self-confident, and persistent at the end of high school. We all want that for our children, right?  So how can we teach our children self-control? There are many ways to teach our children self-control, but I want to share five somewhat surprising ways to promote self-control in our children.

  • Model self-control. I know that doesn’t sound so surprising. In fact, it’s rather obvious. It’s so obvious we probably need a little motivation to do it…AND that brings me to the surprising part of modeling self-control. A study that followed almost 1,000 people from the age of 3-years to 45-years found that children who exhibited a higher level of self-control walked faster, had younger looking faces, and had healthier bodies when they became adults! In other words, practicing self-control not only teaches our children a great life skill, it also helps us look and feel younger. Want to look and feel younger? Practice self-control and model it for our children.
  • Encourage your child to talk to themselves. One study found that saying the name of an object while looking for it made the person better able to find the object than simply thinking about it. (I have tested this one and it works for me.) Another study suggested that talking to oneself about a task increases that person’s ability to restrain impulses (AKA, practice self-control). Encouraging your child to talk to themselves as they engage in an activity can also help them restrain impulses and remain focused. This also means that yelling at our children may interfere with their self-control. Why? Because our yelling will compete with their own self talk. Our loud words will silence their self-talk and interfere with their self-control, leaving them open to more impulsive behaviors. Stop yelling at your children and encourage them to talk to themselves.
  • Give your children time to play with their father. According to a review of 78 studies, children who played with their fathers had more self-control as they matured. Fathers tend to engage in “rough and tumble play” which helped their children learn to better regulate their feelings and behaviors. Overall, children who played more with their fathers exhibited better emotional and behavioral regulations as well a lower risk of hyperactivity. Dads, teach your children self-control. Play with them.
  • Teach your child to practice gratitude every day.  Research suggest that daily gratitude increases self-control and reduces impulsive behaviors.
  • Keep your promises and prove yourself reliable. A study published in 2013 repeated the marshmallow study with a variation. In this study, the children either experienced an adult who followed through on his promise or one who did not. Then the children were presented with the opportunity to wait with one marshmallow to get a second one or simple eat the one marshmallow. Those who had previously experienced a reliable adult practiced more self-control. They were better able to wait for the second marshmallow. Keeping your promises to your children helps them learn and practice self-control.

Practicing these five surprising tips will help your children develop self-control. And that self-control will benefit them for a lifetime. Isn’t that a great gift to give your children?

Self-Control, Smartphones, Rewards, & Success

Researchers from Freie Universitat in Berlin Germany published some interesting findings about smartphones, self-control, and rewards. Specifically, their research revealed that participants who “had a greater total amount of screen time (spent more time on their phones and tablets) were more likely to prefer small, immediate rewards to larger, more delayed rewards,” especially when screen time was spent on gaming and social media.

In addition, participants with greater self-control spent less time on their phones while those with lower levels of self-control spent more time on their phone. Altogether, more time on smartphones, especially in combination with lower levels of self-control and a preference for gaming and social media, was associated with a preference for smaller, more immediate goals. Limited self-control and a preference for smaller, more immediate goals sounds like a formula to impede success, doesn’t it? After all, success generally implies a level of self-control that enables a person to persist through struggles and setbacks, delaying the immediate, easy reward, so they can achieve the larger more challenging goal.

The authors were not saying smartphones caused or led to less self-control and a preference for smaller, more immediate goals. In fact, I tend to think that people who struggle with self-control are likely drawn to the gaming and social media apps because they offer smaller, more immediate rewards. It satisfies their need for reward without having to manage the frustration of persisting through the greater struggles necessary for a long-term reward. The gaming and social media apps may simply reinforce those tendencies. So, the question is not whether a person should have a smartphone or engage in gaming or social media—our children will do that just like we do. No, the question is: how do we teach our children self-control?

  1. Model self-control. Children emulate what they see. Practice self-control when in traffic, when in disagreements. The more children see you practice self-control, the more likely they will practice self-control as well.
  2. Build a trusting relationship with your child. The more reliable you are, the easier it is for your children to practice self-control. Follow through on your word. Do what you promise. Build a reputation as trustworthy and your children will likely grow in self-control.
  3. Give your children the opportunity to wait—it’s a gift. Receiving everything immediately will hamper your children’s development of self-control. Learning that “good things come to those who wait” and “effort over time contributes to success” can promote the development of self-control. Teach your child the art of waiting.
  4. Encourage self-control practices. When you see your children getting upset, present them with ideas that promote self-control. For instance, you could encourage them to soothe themselves: “Take a moment to pull yourself together and we can talk about it then,” Or “Take a deep breath and calm down so you can manage this better.” “I wonder how your friend feels about this?” can offer them the opportunity to take a different person’s perspective, which will help them develop self-control. On the other hand, “How does this decision fit into your goals?” encourages them to keep their priorities and goals in mind as they move through the world. This, too, will help them develop self-control. Each time you encourage your children to soothe themselves, consider another person’s perspective, practice self-awareness, or keep goals and values in mind you help them grow in self-control. (For more ideas, read Teach Your Child Self-Control.)

Try Saying This Instead of That

Sometimes I like a simple cheat sheet. It gives me great ideas and primes my mind to come up with some more ideas. With that in mind, here is a cheat sheet for parenting phrases we can use instead of the one that immediately comes to mind when our children do something…eh…crazy. So…

Instead of saying: “What were you thinking?”

Say: “Let me help you with this. I think we can find a better way together.”

Instead of saying: “Stop talking to me like that! You’re embarrassing everyone.”

Say: “Let’s go to a more private place to talk about this.”

Instead of saying: “That’s a good boy.”

Say: “Thank you for being so thoughtful.”

Instead of saying: “I can’t believe you did that. Don’t be stupid.”

Say: “Let’s talk about how you came up with that idea and what happened. Then we can think about another way to respond.”

Instead of saying: “How many times do I have to tell you?”

Say: “We’ve talked about this. What did I tell you before?”

Instead of saying: “Do it again and you’ll lose your Xbox.”

Say: “I see you’re really tempted to do that. Let’s go get a drink and talk about what you need to resist that temptation.”

Instead of saying: “Don’t yell at me!”

Say: “I see this is really important to you and I want to hear what you have to say. Can we talk about it nicely or should we take a break to calm down first?”

What are some other helpful phrases you use that are helpful?

Using Repetition to Help Your Child

Remember those movies your children wanted to watch over and over again? They watched them so many times that they quoted the lines as they watched the show…and kept quoting them after the show ended…and when asking to watch the show again. If you were like me, the movie became boring. But our children never seem to tire of watching the same thing over again. They watched it each time with the same zeal as the last time.

In fact, children love repetition. It provides them with a sense of predictability that anchors them in the safety of something they know in the midst of a complex world they are navigating for the first time. When parents establish rituals that assure predictability in a child’s world, their children flourish. Children experience an increased sense of security within the repetitive pattern of a ritual. They grow more confident within the safety of daily (AKA: repetitive) rituals. They also gain mastery over their environment and develop a greater sense of agency as a result. Even better, rituals are simple, everyday practices you can establish. (Read Add Meaning to Life by Building Routines for more.) For instance, here are a few rituals you can easily establish with your children.

  • Give your children a hug every night at bedtime.
  • Read to your child at bedtime.
  • Eat breakfast at the same every Saturday morning with your child.
  • Send your child a text every morning.
  • Schedule a regular outing with your child every week. (This is the best advice for dads…ever!)

These simple habits become repetitive rituals that reap huge dividends, like a stronger relationship with your child, a growing sense of agency and confidence in your child, and a greater tendency for your child to listen to you.

You can also establish rituals that build their sense of ability and family involvement. For instance, children love to work with their parent. Let them do so.

  • When you “work” to get dinner on the table, let them be involved. They can put the silverware on the table, cut the vegetables, or put ice in the glasses.
  • When you “work” to do the laundry, let them help throw clothes into the washer or dryer. Let them fold the socks.
  • As you clean the house, let them dust the end table or empty the dustpan into the
    trash.
  • See What is Scaffolding in Montessori and How We Can Apply It At Home for more ideas.

As your child matures, their tasks may become more complex. Still, they will be “working” with you. That’s the ritual: working side by side with mom and dad to complete meaningful tasks around our home.

The repetition of ritual is a beautiful thing for you and your child. They will help your family “run smoothly.” They will allow you to know one another better. They will build a stronger, more loving family. Get started today.

The Dangers of Strict Parenting?

Most parents want their children to grow into healthy, responsible adults. They don’t want defiant teens or lazy young adults as the fruit of their parenting labors. The parental fear that our children might become defiant or lazy can lead to a strict, controlling style of parenting that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let me explain. Strict parents respond to their fears with rules and more rules. They focus so much on the rules that they neglect the relationship with their child. Their children come to believe that rules are more important to their parent than they are. They learn that performance, achievement, and living up to strict standards are necessary ingredients for acceptance. Strict parents punish their child any time they break a rule or falls short of a standard… And standards are generally high and rigid. Obedience is expected at all times…at all ages…without question or discussion. Discipline often includes harsh words, guilt inducing
statements, and shame.  They make comments like:

  • “I won’t let my kid walk all over me.”
  • “My children better behave.”
  • “I’m tough on them because I don’t want them to end up on drugs or in jail.”
  • “Kids need a parent, not a friend.”
  • “Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

Unfortunately, strict parents come off as unresponsive, cold, and unsupportive. You can imagine that this type of strict parenting has a negative impact of children, a self-fulfilling prophecy leading to the very things the parent fears. (Learn more about parental assumptions and how they impact discipline in Parental Assumptions & the Cycle of Discipline.) In fact, research suggests that children raised with this type of parenting:

  • tend to exhibit more rebellion, anger, aggression, and delinquency,
  • lie more often,
  • are more likely to be unhappy and suffer from depression,
  • develop extrinsic motivation and show less initiative and perseverance as a result,
  • lack self-esteem and confidence in decision-making,
  • tend to have greater peer rejection and relationship problems, especially in romantic
    relationships,

All that being said, our children do need structure, limits, and rules, don’t they? Don’t parents need to enforce those rules and limits? Good questions… and the answer is “yes.” Not all strict parenting is dangerous. Some is beneficial. It all depends on at least two things.

  1. What motivates the parent to be strict. Strict rules and limits become dangerous
    when parental fear motivates their creation and enforcement. They become even more dangerous when that fear leads to parental attempts to control. However, rules and limits motivated by a sincere desire to teach accountability and responsibility, to instill self-discipline and an awareness of others, and to encourage healthy self-reliance can lead to a positive outcome…especially when combined with #2 below.
  2. The type of relationship the parent builds with their child. When a parent builds a responsive, nurturing relationship with their child, they know what structure and limits will most benefit their child at their current maturity level. Their child will also respond better to the limits when they feel their parent listens and is responsive to their needs. Building a warm, caring relationship contributes to a child who desires to please their parent by obeying rules and limits appropriate to their maturity level. All-in-all, the stronger the parent-child relationship, the less likely the rules feel strict. Instead, they become an expression of love and a much-desired safety net. (Learn more in What “Master” Parents Do.)

Perhaps we can sum this up with two familiar formulas:

  • Rules without Relationships contributes to Rebellion in the parent-child relationship.
  • Relationships with Rules contributes to Resilient children in the parent-child relationship.
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