Tag Archive for parenting

6 Questions You Didn’t Know Your Children Were Asking

Our children have questions that only we, their parents, can answer…and we need to answer them. They don’t ask these questions directly and they may not even realize they ask them at all. But they do. They ask these questions with their quiet presence and their disruptive presence. They ask them while waiting for us to notice and acknowledge them. They also ask these questions in the form of more subtle, seemingly benign questions like, “Do you like my new hair color?” or “Can we get dessert?” They even ask them with their misbehaviors. Let me share just 6 of the real questions our children are asking in these behaviors, 6 questions they need us to answer.

  1. Am I important? When our children know we value them, they feel valuable. We communicate how much we value our children by accepting them, listening to them, and taking time to learn about their world. We also express how much we value our children through gratitude. Become a student of your children. Spend time with them. Communicate how important they truly are to you.
  2. Am I good enough? In fact, am I enough? This question is a question of identity. Our children need to know we that know them and recognize their worth, even when they feel like they’ve failed. This requires us to give them space and assistance, support and encouragement, in exploring their strengths and interests. Our children also need to know they are good enough even when we discipline them. To communicate this message, we need to give them unconditional positive regard, even when we disagree with them or discipline them.
  3. Do I belong? As our children turn to teens, friends become increasingly important. Still, they need and want family. They need to have a sense of belonging in their family even while they explore and establish a sense of belonging among their peers. This is a tightrope for many families. Let your children try new things. Encourage then to recognize how various groups of people impact them and their behavior. Help them find the peer group in which they feel most comfortable, whether it be the theatre group, the music group, the sports group, the academic group, or some combination of them all. At the same time, always communicate that they will belong in your family no matter the peer group they choose.
  4. Am I romantic enough? I’m not sure this represents the best way to word this question. It’s a question delving into attraction, romance, and intimacy. Teach your children from an early age that romance entails mutual kindness and respect. Teach them that physical and emotional intimacy cannot be separated without resulting pain. Teach them that restraint and self-control are as important as sex; and, without self-control, sex leads to emotional hurt. “Ultimately, encourage them to wait and wait and then wait a little longer. Waiting for sex is based on good science” (From Raising Healthy Girls). (See Cheat Codes” for Dads: Your Daughter’s Beauty for more.)
  5. Do you trust me? The answer we give our children to this question begins much earlier than most of us imagine. It begins as early as those toddler years when our toddler says, “No” to our assistance and we step back, trusting them to work at completing the task. It extends into the school years when we put a reasonable structure in place and trust they will complete their schoolwork. They continue this question into adolescence when they ask us if they can “go to my friend’s party” or ” use the car tonight.”  Trusting demands a step of faith on our part. Take the step. Trust unless given a clear reason not to. Even then, leave the door open to reestablish trust by taking a step of faith. Remember, a child who feels their parent trusts them is more likely to act in a trustworthy manner.
  6. Am I strong enough to be my own person? The most difficult aspect of a parent’s job is to prepare their children to become independent adults, to let them leave home and become their own person. This goal is the end result of a process that evolves over their first two decades of life. It is the result of a parent teaching their child a task and then letting them do it independently, even if they want to do it differently than us. It is the result of letting go when they go to preschool, letting go when they go on their first dates, letting go when they drive to the mall on their own for the first time…all while remaining available in the background as a safety net, ready to respond to their call for help IF they need it.

Our children ask these questions every day. We answer them through our words, our actions, and our interactions. For your children’s sake, answer them wisely.

It’s Not All Bad…It’s a Wonderful Opportunity

So, you or your child have been diagnosed with ADHD. For many, this diagnosis carries a negative connotation. But did you know that people with ADHD often have skills that other people wish they had? Let me share a few.

  • Children with ADHD can often focus on a task they enjoy or find interesting for hours. They exhibit a “hyper-focus” in areas of interest and enjoyment. This level of focus leads to improved performance and efficiency. I have a friend who has amazing talent on the piano and as a magician because of this skill of “hyper-focus” on areas of interest. Of course, helping find your child’s interest allows them to enjoy this skill. As they experience improvement in their skill level, it will boost their confidence as well.
  • Children with ADHD have a high level of energy. As a result, they can often excel at sports or other physical activities, especially when combined with the focus described above. Another friend from my twenties noted that martial arts helped him manage his ADHD. His interest allowed him to focus in this area. His practice expended energy and helped him have periods of calm. And he quickly became exceptionally good.
  • Children with ADHD are often highly creative. They may approach tasks from a different perspective and solve problems in unique ways. As a result, consulting a person with ADHD can boost problem-solving options. One of my friends with ADHD is an excellent comedian and playwright. He can present important information for personal growth with a humorous flair and energy that really “sticks with” the audience.
  • Children with ADHD are often spontaneous and courageous. They enjoy unplanned moments, and those moments create wonderful memories. They can teach us to enjoy the moment as well.

You can help your child make the most of these skills by involving them in activities that capitalize on the skills they possess. That may mean involving them in sports, creative activities like music, dance, or drama, or research-oriented clubs that encourage creative problem-solving.

Overall, raising a child with ADHD can demand a great deal of energy. However, when we recognize the skills they have, and capitalize on those skills, we can enjoy watching them grow more confident and talented in life. After all, people with ADHD have a great deal to offer the world, a tremendous amount of emotional, intellectual, and physical resources we desperately need. As parents, we can help prepare them to share their emotional, intellectual, and physical skills with the family, the community and even the world.

Do Not Steal Your Child’s Passion

Unbelievable. Well, sort of….  I guess it really does make sense when you think about it. Let me explain and you decide what you think.

The researchers chose only preschool age children who showed an interest in drawing to participate in this study. Then, they divided the preschool children into three groups. One group was told they would get a reward, a certificate with a gold seal and a ribbon, after participating in a drawing activity.

The second group received the same reward, but it came as a surprise. They were never told about the reward and knew nothing about it until they received it after the activity was completed. During the activity, they simply enjoyed the drawing activity with no expectation of reward.

The third group participated in the drawing activity but did not receive a reward and no reward was ever talked about. They simply enjoyed the drawing activity with no expectation of reward and no reward to enjoy after the activity.

The most important part of the observation occurred after the drawing activity (which was only six minutes long by the way). After the activity, the research team observed the children through one-way mirrors for several days. They wanted to see how much the children drew on their own. What did the researchers find?

The children who were told they would receive a reward for the drawing activity drew less (50% less!) after the activity than they had drawn prior to the activity. The other two groups drew the same amount before and after the activity. The expectation of reward changed the child’s behavior…but not in a way one might think. In fact, the expectation of an external reward robbed the children of their internal motivation and resulted in less drawing. After experiencing the expectation of reward for drawing, the children seemed more interested in drawing for the expected reward, not just the intrinsic joy and interest they once had for drawing. They associated drawing with an expectation of reward rather than satisfaction and joy. They lost the intrinsic reward associated with drawing. Unbelievable…but other studies support these results.  For instance, based on the results of 128 studies, researchers concluded that “intangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation.”

Does this mean we should never reward our children? Not exactly. Rewards have their place. Rewards are helpful when a child has to do something they have never enjoyed. Rewards may also prove beneficial when they come as an unexpected surprise. So, go ahead and use rewards, but…and these are significant but’s…

  • Do not tie an expectation of reward to something your child already enjoys. Pay attention to what your child enjoys and simply let them enjoy it. Remember, most children enjoy helping (Children Help Without Nagging? How Can It Be?).  Let them help for the intrinsic joy it provides.
  • Do not create an expectation of reward for learning or school. You may undermine any intrinsic motivation your child has to do well, learn, and achieve in school. Instead, enjoy some spontaneous, unexpected celebrations for completing a project or, better yet, for the effort your child invested in their schoolwork.
  • Helping others for no reward is often intrinsically rewarding. Look for opportunities in which your child (and/or you) can engage in helping others. For instance, if your child enjoys math or English, they could tutor another child. (Learn more in Give It Away for Family Fun.)

Nurture your child’s intrinsic motivation. Don’t steal their passions and interests by indiscriminately building an expectation of reward for activities they already enjoy. Wisely choose what areas an external reward may prove helpful. But  simply encourage activities in which your children already enjoy and have intrinsic motivation.

The Grace of a Parent Who Disciplines

We often think a show of grace means giving someone a special favor or showing them kindness even when they don’t deserve it. This is true, but grace goes even further. Grace sacrifices. Grace gives of itself, even gives up the self, to pave the way for another person to become healthier and more mature. As any parent discovers, becoming a parent is a practice in the grace of giving up their selves for their children, sometimes in subtle & often in difficult ways. For instance, discipline is an act of grace. No one likes to see their child uncomfortable. But in grace a parent gives up their own comfort and allows their child to sit in the discomfort of their poor choice. In a way, parents give up their own comfort to sit in discomfort like their child for the sake of their child’s long-term growth.

Sometimes a parent has to actively set a limit or enforce a rule. In anger, their child may look at them with hatred. They may even say, “I hate you.” When this happens, a parent gives up their desire to be understood and loved so their child can grow more mature. They have shown grace in an effort to help their child become a more mature person.

Other similarly gracious moments arise every day, moments of giving “hard grace” by giving up the desire to be liked 100% of the time, understood and appreciated for difficult decisions, and free to observe our children’s joy at all times. These “little moments” of grace occur daily in limits like:

  • “Save your snack for after dinner so you don’t ruin your appetite.”
  • “Leave your phone in the kitchen to charge overnight. That way it will get a full charge and you can get a good night’s sleep.”
  • “Please use polite, respectful language…even when you’re angry.”
  • “Finish your homework, then you can meet your friends.”
  • “Be kind to that kid at school, even if everyone else is mean to him/her. If you were in his/her place, wouldn’t you want a friend?”

The list goes on. Grace, giving ourselves up for our children’s maturity, may be one of the most difficult aspects of parenting. But the long-term dividends are amazing—an adult child who is kind, loving, compassionate…and full of grace themselves.

Parents: A United Front or A Strong Foundation?

I often hear people say that parents need to present a united front when disciplining their children. I agree…in a way, sort of. True, it is detrimental for children to see their parents constantly argue about the rules or methods of discipline. It interferes with effective discipline when children see one parent consistently step in to correct the other parent during discipline. In fact, the child who sees that will learn to use one parent against the other. Worse, they will feel less secure and, as a result, have less energy to invest in growing and maturing. So yes, parents need to be on the same page when it comes to discipline.

On the other hand, parents are people, and no two people are exactly the same, not even parents. They have different personalities and different experiences that may lead to differences in what they consider an appropriate limit or an effective style of discipline.  Besides, the term “united front” makes me think of allies uniting on the front line to wage battle against a common enemy. But our child is not the enemy, they are family. Rather than a united front, I think parents need a strong foundation from which to parent effectively.

Developing a strong parental foundation takes some work that begins even before any discipline is needed. Here are three ways to begin building a strong parental foundation that will help you effectively discipline your children as a team.

First, before any disciplinary issues arise, sit down with your child’s other parent to discuss discipline (3 Simple Steps to Discipline Children). Here are just a few questions to consider:

  • What behaviors do you want to encourage? How will you encourage those behaviors?
  • What behaviors will you absolutely not tolerate? How will you consequence those behaviors?
  • How will you teach and model the behaviors you want your children to do more often? 
  • You may discover you and your child’s other parent have some differences of opinion. That’s OK. Now is the time to talk about those differences. That discussion will include talking about how your childhood experiences shape your ideas about discipline. What experiences did you have as an adult and as a child that influenced your ideas about discipline?

Overall, this discussion begins to develop a foundation for how you will discipline together. Develop an agreed upon approach to your discipline style as a couple. This may require some compromise along the way. (Learn more in Compromise: My Way or the Highway.)

Second, address issues that arise during discipline…but not in the moment. No matter how much you prepare ahead of time, you will experiment moments in which you disagree with your spouse about a boundary or a method used to discipline. In the immediate moment, do your best to support your spouse and their intent to raise a healthy mature person. Because you have taken time to agree on basic parenting goals and discipline style (the first step above), you can support your spouse and their intent in this moment.

Then, talk to your spouse in private about your concern. Begin the private discussion by acknowledging your spouse as a good parent who loves your children and wants the best for them. Ask them to help you understand their thoughts and feelings around the situation. As they do, you may find you have greater agreement than you initially thought. Finally, discuss your concerns. Then you can work together to develop a plan for future incidents, a plan you are both comfortable with.

Third, at all times (except in cases of abuse) support your child’s other parent. One way to do this involves promoting mutual respect within the family. Moments to do so arise throughout the day as well as during times of discipline. For instance, “Please turn the TV down while your father is resting” encourages your children to consider how their actions impact others.

Don’t be surprised though if your child says, “Please turn the TV down while I’m studying.” After all, we are seeking mutual respect and teaching our child to politely speak up for their needs.

These ideas are not exhaustive. They merely help you begin a process of building a strong foundation…a process that will continue throughout your time of raising children. And, most important, these ideas will help you and your spouse enjoy parenting your child together.

Who Am I Parenting Anyway?

Becoming a parent taught me a lot. It revealed areas of immaturity and prompted (dare I say compelled) me to grow up. Areas in which I didn’t practice what I preached made themselves known. I had to learn to “walk the talk” and live a life that modeled what I wanted my children to learn. Let me share a few examples you might relate to (at least, I hope I’m not the only one!). These examples come by way of statements parents say to their children, statements we need to practice ourselves.

  • “Don’t yell at me.” Have you ever said that to your child? If you have, there’s a good chance you said it in anger, with a raised voice. I remember my children arguing with one another, yelling at one another. In frustration I yelled, “We don’t yell in this house!” Yes, I’m embarrassed to say I yelled at them to stop yelling. I yelled, “We don’t yell in this house.”  Fortunately, I heard myself and decided to make a change, to grow up. I decided to learn to express my frustrations in a more mature manner, not like an impetuous child yelling.
  • “Be patient;” or “You need to be more patient.”  It’s true. Children need to learn patience. It doesn’t seem to be a skill we’re born with. But I fear many of us don’t outgrow our childhood impatience. When we sit in traffic and impatiently growl about the driver in front of us, are we modeling adult patience for our children?  When we impatiently accuse our children of taking too long to get ready or of eating too slowly at a restaurant, is it them or us who need to develop a more mature level of patience? I know I need to grow in patience so that my children will have a patient parent to emulate. Perhaps I need to heed my parental statement, “Be patient.”
  • “You can’t always get your way” and “The world doesn’t revolve around you!” Ouch, that hurts.  Children will learn this best when we model it, when we do not pout because our spouse asked us to help clean the kitchen (consider how you show The Full Extent of Love to your family)… or moan and complain as we watch a show our spouse likes… or grumble about go to a restaurant our spouse chooses. Time to grow up and model for our children how to graciously accept that the world doesn’t revolve around us either.
  • “Don’t you get angry with me.” That’s easy to say…but do your children ever see you get angry with your parent (their grandparent) or your spouse (their other parent)? In fact, there’s nothing wrong with your children getting angry with you. After all, effective parents place healthy limits and demands on their children and their children don’t always like them. In addition, we have all misunderstood our children at times. I know I get upset, even angry, when I feel misunderstood. What we really mean to say is, “It hurts me (and maybe even makes me angry) when you get angry with me.” So, rather than make a childish demand like, “Don’t be mean to me by being angry with me,” take the role of an adult who is not overwhelmed by a child’s anger. Respond with healthy empathy and love. Let them see that no matter how mad they get with you, you still love them enough to listen AND maintain healthy limits and expectations.

Sometimes in the midst of listening to myself parent I have to wonder, “Who am I really parenting?” Who am I encouraging to grow more mature? Sure, I want my child to grow more mature. But sometimes I think I’m talking to myself and encouraging myself to mature, to become a better parent, to become the kind of person I want my children to emulate.

Children Help Without Nagging? How Can It Be?

Can you imagine your child helping with the household tasks without even being asked? It can happen. But getting children to help without being asked is a process, a challenging process that many parents choose to forego or don’t want to accept.

This process begins when we, as parents, recognize and acknowledge our children’s desire to help. In fact, children do love to help their parents. Their desire to help may come at the most inopportune moments, like when we’re in a hurry or doing a more complex task. As a result, we are reluctant to acknowledge their desire to help and even more reluctant to invite them to participate in the task. But, if we want children who help without being asked, that is exactly what we need to do—recognize their desire to help and invite them to become involved in the task. If the task is too complex, let them work on an aspect of the task they can manage. Or, even better, do the task together, hand over hand, teaching them while giving give them a sense of involvement.

Yes, this may mean the task takes longer to accomplish. It may also mean a little more “mess” to clean up…but you can clean up together (AKA—spend more time together). Involving your child may require modifying tools and even the process of the task as well (You’ll find some great tips on modifications at How We Montessori.)

It will require some extra effort on your part, but involving your children is an investment in your children’s future and the future of your home.

  • They will remember the time they spent with you “getting things done,” adding to their sense of agency and their fond memories of family.
  • Your relationship will be strengthened by accomplishing tasks together and the conversations you share while doing so.
  • Moreover, as they practice the task, they will learn to do it more independently. They will master the task, giving them a sense of industry as well.
  • Involving your children in tasks also teaches them. It teaches them to identify themselves as a “helper” rather than an “entitled recipient.” It teaches them that they have a valued and significant role in keeping the household running smoothly. They are part of the family team.

When all is said and done, if you want your children to complete tasks around the house independently, you must answer a question and accept a challenge. 

  • The question: Are you willing to acknowledge your children’s desire to help and even involve them in household tasks even though it will initially slow you down and make more work?
  • The Challenge: How will you live out the answer to that question? How you choose to live out the answer to that question on a daily basis will ultimately determine how much your children help to complete household chores without even being asked.

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.)

« Older Entries Recent Entries »