My Kid Is Lying

lyingLet’s talk about something that worries parents like few other behaviors. Let’s talk about lying, why kids lie, what to do about it and how to prevent it.

Humans of all ages lie. We lie to protect others and ourselves. We lie to bypass or get out of trouble. We lie to save face, appear more interesting, improve social standing or improve relationships.

Since kids often have poor impulse control and are unable to connect current behavior to future consequences, lying often becomes a quick way to problem solve. A parent’s job is to show a child that lying doesn’t pay off and that it is damaging to everyone involved—most of all to the one doing the lying.

Prevention

How do you raise honest kids?

1. Do your best to create an atmosphere where telling the truth is valued no matter what that truth sounds like. Try your best to stay calm when your child brings you negative news.  By showing a child that you’re more focused on problem solving than on shaming and lecturing, you create an environment where the ugly truth has greater value than the prettiest lies. Will you always manage to remain in control? Maybe not but by striving to create an overall atmosphere of emotional safety, you can prevent behaviors such as these from becoming bad habits.

2. Look at your own behavior. What do you do when you feel cornered? Share experiences with your child as you go through them. Talk about a situation during the day where you were tempted to lie but didn’t. Talk about what you said or what you wish you would have said in a specific situation. Sharing words of wisdom is great. Sharing the struggles that lead to the wisdom is even greater.

 

Your child lied to you. Now what?

Try not to freak out. Kids test boundaries and lying often becomes a part of seeing what works.

1, You don’t want to ignore this behavior. If you catch a child in a lie, stop what you’re doing and focus on what was said. Leave the interrogation techniques to Perry Mason and don’t shame or moralize. Remain factual and calm. You want your child to stop in her tracks, back up and try again. This will give her a chance to do things over instead of adding yet more lies to cover up the first one.

2. If your child is unwilling to confess, and you know for certain that she is lying, discuss what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a lie. How would your child like it if you promised her a trip to Disneyland, and as you are all happily moving down the road towards a fun filled day of wonder, you instead head to the dentist? Ask her to remember a time when someone lied to her. How did that make her feel? Being lied to doesn’t feel good, makes you sad and makes you lose trust and can lead to a loss of friends, a loss of privileges and lowered self -esteem.

 

What do you do if you at first believe your child, only to find out later that she lied?

1. Sit down, opposite your child, and tell her you need to discuss something important. Make sure to tell her up front that it’s really important that she tells you the truth, and that there might be consequences if she chooses not to do so. Pause to let your words sink in before you go on to tell her what you know.

2. If you’re sure that your child lied to you, don’t start out by asking her if she lied. (You already know the answer, so that part is not up for discussion). Instead, ask her why she chose to do so. Her answers will give you insight into her thinking and even better…it will give her insight to why she chose to lie.

3. Discuss how she might have done things differently. Practice the mantra “options come before actions”. By asking a child to stop and consider her options before choosing to lie, this will hopefully become her go-to solution when feeling trapped.

4. If she is forthcoming, acknowledge that it’s hard to do the right thing and tell her she made a good decision when she decided to be truthful. Don’t organize a celebratory parade in her honor. After all, this is more about her developing character from within than her performing satisfactory according to your standards.

5. Ask her how she plans to remedy the situation. Let her come up with solutions. Does she need to apologize, write a letter, draw a picture or pay for a broken or stolen item? By doing this, she will be held accountable for her actions and she will also alleviate some of the shame. Rectifying mistakes is a brave thing to do and it builds self-esteem.

When it comes to lying, I try not to over react when it comes to isolated incidents. A pattern of lying, on the other hand, sometimes need to be dealt with differently. So if your child repeatedly lies to see what she can get away with, you might have to resort to grounding her as a way to reboot her system. Being grounded from all electronics and all activities outside of school leads to boredom which often leads to a child having to stop and evaluate her behavior. Is there a pattern to when your child decides to lie? Is she reacting out of fear to disappoint you?  Has she become overly dependent on your praise and have you become the gauge she uses to measure her own worth? Does she lie to friends in order to gain social standing? Having her come up with a list of her positive traits and finding a way to build and expand these traits will often help an insecure child grow more confident which often leads to a decrease in lying.

 

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How I Created Picky Eaters in a Few Easy Steps

PickyEater_300xDo you want to hear about one of my biggest parenting mistakes? I raised picky eaters. It didn’t start out that way. When my children were young, they ate basically everything (except the time my then two year old was served Swedish meatballs for the first time, and threw them on the floor, convinced they were cat poop).

Then my husband started working late. So what did I do? I let the kids eat ahead of us. I made my children mac and cheese, hot dogs, or fish sticks but felt my husband and I needed salmon, soup or salads to go with that occasional glass of wine.

At first it was nice to spend an hour or more cooking after the kids were in bed. Spending my day surrounded by plastic hamburgers, a yellow plastic kitchen and an Easy Bake Oven, I felt all grown up experimenting with mature sounding ingredients. To me, cooking was kind of like adult arts and crafts. It was nice to sit down to dinner and an adult conversation towards the end of the day. There we were, the two of us. He, still wearing his dress shirt and nice pants and I was in my mom jeans and crafty looking, color coordinated top. It was like we were on a date sort of (minus the nervous laughter and the anticipation of what would happen next).

It didn’t take long before my husband and kids grew accustomed to the diner method of eating. Our family dinners were now ruined since all of us together at the table became a symbol for yucky food to at least one person in the group. My husband looked disappointed each time he had to chase his peas around the plate while dodging the mashed potatoes. If I served salmon, my middle child did the fake eating thing, my baby arched his back, threw his arms up in the air and cried. And my oldest child looked like I served her cat poop– again.

So, I continued cooking two dinners. I knew all along that I wasn’t doing my children any favors by catering to their under developed taste buds but I was too tired to deal with the consequences. My joy of cooking decreased as the dirty dishes increased and my resentment grew. I wanted things to get back on track.

After one dirty frying pan too many,  I finally came to my senses and stopped the meal madness. For hundreds, even thousands of years, parents managed to feed their children without making things so complicated, I told myself. Catering to my kids was just lazy. I began  to cook meals that all of us could at least tolerate. That meant fish sticks and peas one night, salmon another night, and a lot of chicken in between. The nights the kids didn’t like their dinner, they were welcome to make themselves a sandwich or have cereal once dinner was over.

When the horrid looks, the fake eating and the loud protests were going on, I did my best to focus on the dinner conversations and not the food. Most of the time I did okay. Sometimes I lost it, left the table and wondered how I let such an important part of parenting slip through my fingers.

I read somewhere that it takes an average of thirteen times for a child to accept and actually enjoy a new food. I also remember reading a recent study that showed children did better at eating new foods if parents remained neutral during dinner time and kept food related lectures off the table. Had I a chance to start over I would have kept these facts in mind.

Our kids are now adults. To my amazement, my daughters have become quite aware of what they put in their bodies, sticking to organic vegetables and fruits whenever possible and eating mostly vegetarian meals. The 19 year old is still up to his knees in fast food. I have hope and faith that he will graduate from kids’ meals in time for his wedding reception.

My husband and I are back where we started. Free to choose our dinners, we sit at the table that just yesterday it seemed, held enough dishes to cover the entire surface. The worn pine table has part of our family’s history engraved in the soft wood. Traces of spelling words and marks left by a son who grew impatient listening to sister topics are now visible on the empty surface.

I can hardly remember what we had for dinner last night. I think it was sole. Today we miss the fish sticks and tartar sauce–not because those dinners nourished our bodies. The company nourished our souls.

 

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Drug Prevention and Drug Use

 

drugsIf you read this because you want to prepare yourself for the possibility that your child might one day get caught using drugs, good for you. If you read this because you suspect that your child is already using, you are not alone. I hope some of these tips will help you as you navigate these rough waters.

Why Do Kids Use Drugs?

Genetic factors, self-esteem issues, poor impulse control, and weak parental attachments are all ingredients that often play a part in whether or not a child will experiment with drugs. Mix a few of these factors together and the probability that your child will develop an addiction (and doing so at a faster rate) increases. To some kids who struggle on multiple levels, the pros outweighs the cons when it comes to using.  Other kids have plenty of reasons to stay clean and still feel drawn to it.

Prevention

1. Speak to your child about drug use—and start early. Voice your opinion without lecturing (if possible). Ask your child what she knows and how she feels about the subject. By having an open dialogue with your child, and letting her speak freely, you give her a chance to formulate and organize her thoughts, worries and strategies as she talks.

2. Get to know her friends. Who does she look up to in school and why? Kids search for role models. The friends your child is drawn to say a lot about the person she wishes to become.

3. Help your child find her passion. Growing an interest increases self-esteem.

4. You might consider giving your child an incentive not to use. In general I’m against bribing but can see making exceptions when trying to prevent drug use. A bribe kept me from smoking cigarettes during the 1970’s. That bribe gave me  enough courage, a reason and an excuse to withstand peer pressure. The decision not to smoke when smoking was the norm taught me that it was possible to swim against the tide and  win. It gave me a reference point and experience in saying no.

Signs Your Child Might Be Using

Some signs of drug use are obvious (like her clothes or room smelling like pot). Other clues to look for are:

1. Changes in sleeping or grooming habits.

2. School related concerns such as declining grades and frequent tardies and truancies.

3. Behavioral changes (usually for the worse although a few kids become overly helpful and almost too good in order to cover up the fact that they are using).

4. Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities.

5. Dropping long-time friends seemingly over night.

6. Instant lack of money or a need to sell belongings for cash.

7. Items, clothing or money missing from siblings or parents.

8. Blood-shot eyes or bottles of eye drops in your child’s room or backpack.

Your first instinct might be to ask your child if she is using. However, users lie. Users with a tight parent-child bond lie too. Parents who have a close relationship with their kid might actually be more inclined to trust their child which works in the child’s favor.

When it comes to keeping your kid safe, her privacy becomes secondary. This can be tough on a parent as you are forced to go from being the parent you want to be to the parent you have to be.

You can start by searching your child’s room, her clothing, her car etc. You can take apart dressers, containers, search inside shoes, inside lighting fixtures, behind paintings and posters, search diaries and social networking accounts.

You could also buy fairly inexpensive test kits online, ask her to pee in a cup and within minutes you will have your answer. Users can be very crafty when it comes to faking test results, so if you are fairly sure that your child is using, you have to actually watch her perform the test (especially after the initial test when she is aware that she is being monitored). Make sure to test randomly with shorter and longer intervals between testing. You probably feel terrible having to do this but many children secretly welcome being tested. It gives them a reason to say no when offered drugs. Besides, for many long-term users, using is no longer a choice. They no longer have the ability to quit and they need for you to intervene.

Positive? Now What?

Do your best to keep lines of communications open. While going through this, your child needs her home base to remain as stable as possible. This means expressing that love you feel for your child in different and expanded ways by being calm yet firm and not giving in or getting involved in discussions that you know are non-productive and destructive.

If your child uses infrequently or if you caught it early, you might get by with counseling, frequent testing and a complete change of friends.

If your child is a frequent pot smoker and still tests positive after more than six weeks (which indicates fairly heavy regular or continued use) a treatment program might be the best solution. As long as your child is under the age of eighteen, you have time to research and find the best program possible for your child. A good place to start is calling your school counselor, a parent support group or your child’s doctor.

However, if your child is over eighteen, she is old enough to refuse treatment. Signing a no-use contract that includes rules regarding testing or voluntary treatment with a four month warning to move out should she fail to comply with your rules, is one option available.

Nobody prepares you for the day when you might have to take drastic actions and give your child an ultimatum. The stress is enough to tear the most solid family unit apart. During times like these, it’s often necessary for professionals to take over, leaving you with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Please don’t beat yourself up.  If a parent’s love and care were enough to keep a child drug free, there would be very little drug use in this world.

 

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When Your Two Year Old Throws a Tantrum or Two

imagesThe terrible twos may start when your child reaches the age of two but they might also begin at the age of three (which would make them the terrible threes I guess). It can be a tough time. A trying time. A time when everything seems to change overnight. And it’s tough on the parent as well.

Some kids seem to be quite determined from birth. They enter this world knowing what they want. These children go into their second year of life still determined with more words and ideas to make themselves heard. Other kids are easy-going. Then one day they might surprise you with some new moves. The screaming and the kicking come out of nowhere it seems.

Why Do Kids Have Tantrums?

As children move from babyhood into toddlerhood, their thinking process and their physical mobility improve rapidly. Verbal skills are just starting to develop however. Their brains are not adequately prepared for all the challenges coming their way. This can be quite frustrating for a young child, resulting in melt downs.

Children at that age also have a difficult time with delayed gratification. Their now-or-never thinking makes it difficult to accept the demands of a parent who might sometimes forget that this very capable little person has a lot of maturing to do.

Transitioning from one activity to another is often a challenge. Especially if it happens without warning. Imagine yourself watching a great movie. You are so into the movie that you forget space and time. Then suddenly your spouse appears out of nowhere and switches to The Weather Channel without warning. Annoying, right?

Younger children get over-stimulated, over-tired, and hungry which are all concepts and conditions that many times are too big to identify and verbalize for a two year old. Many older kids (three and a half and above) on the other hand, use tantrums as a tool to get what they want. It worked at the age of two, so why not continue? To them tantrums are the vehicle that will get them to a destination. Two year olds, on the other hand, often use an object as the vehicle to show that something else is bothering them.

So What Do You Do When Your Child Has a Tantrum?

Prevention is key. If your child seems to have a lot of meltdowns, figure out if there is a pattern. Are they more likely to occur when she is over- tired, over-stimulated or hungry?

If your child is a bit older, and you know what the usual triggers are, discuss your expectations before returning to those trigger spots: “Last time you had a hard time leaving the park. I will let you know five minutes before we have to leave but you need to listen to me once I say it’s time to go. If you do, we can go back to the park lots of times. If you don’t listen, we have to go somewhere else for a while.”

If tantrums happen during times of transition, it is  a good idea to prepare your child ahead of time whenever possible. A few minutes prior to making a transition, ask your child what she would like to have for lunch for instance.  Then tell her it’s almost time to leave. This redirects her thoughts as she begins to plan a new activity, and by doing so she will find it a bit easier to stop what she is doing.

Once you have decided that it’s time to leave, stick to your plan, and don’t give in. Your child has to be able to trust you. Losing faith in a parent is not worth an extra thirty minutes in the park even to a two year old.

Tantrums in Public

Few things are more embarrassing than your child throwing a tantrum in public. As a parent you feel judged and inadequate as you stand there with a screaming child on your hands. Try to remember that  this is between you and your child. Not between you and the rest of the world.

If the child falls apart in a public place, collect your stuff, take your child by the hand (or pick up your child if he refuses to walk) and move towards the car or towards home. Acknowledge that having to leave is tough and that you too wish you could stay longer. Arguing and reprimanding a child under the age of four, on the other hand, is less effective. The less power and energy you give the situation, the less likely she is to behave the same way next time.

Tantrums at Home

If the tantrums happen at home, acknowledge your child’s feelings. Sit down, stroke her back and say: “I know you’re upset. I hope you feel better soon.” After that, walk away. This is a good time to vacuum, dust, pay bills, or fold laundry. You’re in the vicinity but you’re not making a huge deal over the fact that she is upset.

If your child doesn’t stop, carry her to her room or to a specific spot in the house. Simply explain that she is making a bit too much noise. Act like it’s no big deal. Just tell her to come out when she is done. Leave, but leave the door ajar to show her that she’s not abandoned.

After a Tantrum

As your child becomes quiet, sit down next to her and talk about what happened. Helping her label feelings with specific words will add to her emotional vocabulary, which will lessen future tantrums. Discuss what it’s like to feel disappointed, sad, hurt, hungry,tired  Discuss options, and alternative endings and solutions. Discuss your expectations but don’t shame or embarrass your child.

When to Seek Help

If your child seems to have frequent tantrums while interacting with one specific person, see if there is a way to improve the relationship. I have seen adults provoke young children into full tantrums. The children are then reprimanded for acting up. If this scenario sounds even a tiny bit familiar, please seek help through books, a parenting expert or a therapist specializing in family dynamics.

Also, if your child reaches the age of five and is still having frequent tantrums, it might be time to seek professional help, starting with your pediatrician.

For most kids, this stage will pass by the time they turn four years old. As suddenly as the tantrums appeared, they will be gone and a verbal, loving little person will appear in front of you. It’s your child. Enjoy her company and her wisdom.

 

 

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How Do I Get My Kids to Clean Up?

floorTo some parents, a nightly clean-up ritual is essential. I envy you. I wasn’t the greatest enforcer when it came to making sure my children kept their rooms clean. Looking back, I think I should have made a greater effort at teaching my kids the virtues of order and how tidy surroundings can calm your senses.

It’s not like we never cleaned. We did but not often enough to turn it in to a do or die habit. Too many times I opened the door to my daughters’ playroom, with the intention of cleaning, and having them clean along with me. Then I took a closer look. I saw a perfect little world in there: Barbie and The Beast in a plastic convertible on their way to the park. Belle caring for The Littlest Pet Shop critters, Lego houses lined up perfectly in a row, the three legged cow at the rehab farm, and stuffed animals occupying the doll house. Asking them to clean up would be like asking me (or should I say my husband) to stop painting a wall only to start all over the next day.

A few days could go by. I watched the playroom set-up evolve, and then turn into a mess. That’s when I knew that the process was complete and it was time to clean.

Were I to do it over again, I think I would have been a bit more insistent that my kids clean up each night before bed time. It would have been a nice habit to get in to and to pass on. It would have given us a chance to spend some time talking as we cleaned. It would have minimized the mess and the time it took to clean once or twice a week.

Clean-Up Tips

If clean-up has become a struggle, here are some tips that might help make it easier. (Since I didn’t care all that much, how do I know that these tips work, you ask? The answer is, I used them when caring for other kids and when having what my family called a clean-up party.)

1.   Show the child how to clean. Break up the task into smaller segments by dividing the room into sections or the task into smaller chores. Turn it into a game by setting a timer and see how many toys can be picked up in two minutes, or compete to see who can pick up the most toys before the timer goes off.

2.   Figure out what the best time is to clean up. If your child is too tired to clean before bedtime, maybe he can do it earlier in the evening?

3.    If the task seems overwhelming, divide the toys into school day toys and weekend toys. Let him play with all toys on days when there is more time to clean up. Let’s face it, today’s children have a ton of stuff, and it’s easy to get carried away while playing, not realizing the complete mess that’s left behind.

4.   Some parents also follow the typical school rule of only playing with one item at a time and cleaning up that toy before bringing out the next one.  This works with puzzles and board games, but doesn’t work as well during fantasy play where the story evolves and more stuff is needed to support the play.

 What If Your Child Refuses to Clean Up?

If your child refuses to clean, here are a few ways to deal with it:

1.   If it happens only once in a while, this is a good time to show and teach compassion and either help the child or do it for him. If you have more than one child, you might suggest that siblings help as well. This is a wonderful way for a brother or sister to make a difference and feel helpful. Just make sure it doesn’t become an expected thing or a way out.

2.   The natural consequence of regularly refusing to clean a room might be to have a majority of the toys removed, only to gradually return them as your child realizes that cleaning up is worth it and that you mean business. Don’t think that this is a onetime cure however. Repeat as needed, and don’t return toys until the child shows a pattern of cleaning up.

3.   You could also add cleaning to a list of daily priorities. The list has to be completed before electronic devices are returned for instance.

4.  Another way is for a parent to set a deadline, and if the room has not been cleaned, the child (usually a teen with more freedom) will be charged a substantial cleaning fee. If this happens, the child also runs the risk of losing things he deems to be treasures but you see as trash. Make sure to warn the child ahead of time if you decide to take this approach.

5.  Some parents even take a hands-off approach, where an older child has to live in his own filth until he sees the light. Bless you, oh patient parent. I couldn’t do this.

A clean room might never become a high priority in your child’s life. If it’s a priority to you, make sure you remain consistent.  At the same time, remember that timing is everything. That is, if you knock on your child’s door with the intention to see how he is doing in general, please don’t enter only to start complaining about the mess in there. Ignore the mess, even if it means having to make a pathway to get to, and sit down on his bed. Instead, discuss the messy room at a different time, in a different (neutral) place. By doing this, you show your child that your relationship comes before a clean room. There is a time to parent and a time to just let your child know you’re happy to see him.

 

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About Spanking

 

signs1I couldn’t write about discipline without bringing up the subject of spanking. Since I believe discipline is something we teach our children, not do to our children, I bet you can guess that I’m against the concept.

At the same time I feel for parents who try to do their best, and sometimes get frustrated. Although I find spanking to be unnecessary, I understand the parent who feels there are no other options.

Raising kids, after all, is a learned behavior. Many of us utilize the same parenting techniques used by our own parents. To do things differently might be seen as a way to dishonor the generation that came before us.  Making changes can be especially tough for someone who is still seeking parental approval. So, we continue where our parents left off. After all, the old  techniques worked for our generation and the ones before that.

Raising children today is different however.  Of course we still want our children to behave but we also want the next generation to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate through life. In addition, we expect and demand more from ourselves as parents. This calls for an expanded parental tool box.

Having cared for children for more than thirty years, I can usually tell which children are spanked on a regular basis. No, children that are spanked are not better behaved. Often these children don’t know how to listen properly. Why not? Because words are not highly valued  and isn’t the ultimate currency used in their homes.

Today, most reputable dog trainers agree that hitting a dog is wrong. Most teachers can keep a classroom filled with five year olds in check without using physical force. Many spouses who slap their mates end up in jail. Employee abuse is no longer tolerated, yet productivity and corporate profits are high. Could it be that society is evolving, and child rearing techniques will follow?

Many parents use spanking because it works. It stops a behavior. That’s where the effectiveness ends. Will it strengthen the parent-child bond and add to a child’s sense of trust? No, and if a parent is looking to model great problem solving skills (so necessary in today’s world) spanking will not do it. Then there is the questions regarding how hard to spank and when to stop spanking. There are no correct ways to spank a child. Some ways are more tolerable than others maybe, but is it possible to do things differently and still get the desired result? Answering no to that question would be to short  change parental power.

Let’s say you would like to change, where do you start? Begin by thinking about what kind of parent you would like to be. Read, ask questions, study others and search for role models from your past and in your present.

As you try out your new approach, be patient with yourself and your child. Don’t become alarmed if your child’s behavior worsens in the beginning. It’s his way to test new boundaries and to see if you mean business. More is now expected in terms of self control and self discipline (from both you and your child). It takes time to master new tasks.

It takes courage to change. It takes courage to seek new ways that better align with the parent you wish to be, and better align with the relationship you seek to have with your child. A child deserves boundaries and perimeters. He deserves to learn right from wrong. He deserves to learn how to behave. All this creates security and self-confidence. He also deserves to be treated with dignity.

To read more about my approach to discipline, click here.

If you need specific help, contact me.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Approach to Discipline

Love-Heart-02If you just became a parent you might not have given much thought to how you will discipline your child, yet it is the aspect of parenting that will have the most impact on your child from day one until adulthood.

My view is that effective discipline is created not as a reaction to an undesirable behavior, but as a way to instill self-discipline in your child. If you think it sounds like I’m one of those parents who let my kids run free and learn on their own, keep reading.

Where Do You Start?

Discipline doesn’t start when your kid messes up. It starts the day your child is born. And it starts with you, not your child.

1. You begin by building trust. Kids are more willing to listen to people they trust.

2. You gain trust by being consistent.

3. Let your expectations be known ahead of time.

4. Decide ahead of time what your magic word or action should be—the one that will stop a behavior. Some parents count to three.Some use a special tone of voice. Others, feel the need to use physical punishment as their way to show a child that they mean business (for more on this, please click here). Yet other parents only has to say no and say it once, and the child will listen.

5. To get to the point where the spoken word is and remains powerful, try this: Use the word no sparingly and only when you mean it and when you’re ready to enforce it. Children base their current behavior on past experiences. If you want the word to stop a behavior, it has to become your red light word that stops the child in her tracks. If you fail to follow through right away, it turns into a yellow light word, meaning your child will continue her behavior. (The only difference is, she will do it faster.) And if you use the word no with zero follow- through what so ever, it turns into a word you use only to cover your own parental butt. (That way you can say “I told you so” if something goes wrong.)

If you find yourself over-using the word no, you might want to add a few phrases to your disciplinary list and save the word for when you’re ready to enforce it. For instance: “maybe some other time”, “let me think about it”, ”ask me when we get home” or  “not now” are all effective for those times when you’re not ready or in the mood to give a definite answer.

6.. When trying to teach a child right from wrong, it can be very difficult to stay calm. You might notice that your child is tuning you out, so you begin to speak faster and louder. Before you know it, desperation sets in and you become an unrecognizable erupting volcano of words and feelings, worries and threats. It’s not pretty–and it’s not effective.I speak from experience.

Next time, you might want to try to do the opposite. That is, the more important your message, the fewer the words and the lower your volume ought to be. Just think about it, anything valuable we tend to use sparingly and carefully. Treat your message like it has value.

What If Your Child Doesn’t Obey?

So what are the consequences for not listening to a parent? It depends on the age of the child. During the first few years, it’s best to divert your child’s attention when you want to discourage a certain behavior.  Remove a child from a situation, replace an inappropriate item with a better suited one, or turn your back away from a child who uses bad behavior to gain attention.

As your child gets older, there will be times when she will decide to disobey or misbehave. That’s when it’s necessary to apply the brakes teaching your child that her actions and decisions have consequences.

The use of natural consequences is an effective approach to teaching self-discipline. A natural consequence is one that mimics the kind your child will encounter as an adult. For instance:

An older child who doesn’t clean her room might need extra training with added cleaning chores for a week.

A six year old who repeatedly behaves poorly in public might have to stay home the next time you go out for some fun activity.

A child who has a hard time getting ready for school might have to go to bed earlier at night to get some extra rest.

A child who doesn’t complete homework will get bad grades, missed playtime, supervised homework time or all of the above.

When to Ground Your Child

In my opinion, grounding is used way too often and becomes ineffective when used regularly and for too long a time. However, if a child repeats the same behavior time and time again, it might be necessary to ground her in order for her to get a chance to reset her own system.

Does this sound complicated? It might take some practice but it’s all common sense.  I promise, it will not be long until your child develops her own inner, self-regulating scale. How long depends a lot on how persistent you are as a parent. When it works, don’t stop. It works because you keep doing it.

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A Letter To the Parent of a Teen

thank-you-letterHow are you? Is your teenage child driving you crazy with worry? Do you feel like a failure? Do you lay awake at night wondering what happened to you and your child as you seem to move further apart? Will things ever return to the way they used to be?

The answer to my last question is, probably not. Have you ever seen a magician place an object in a hat, wave a wand and something totally different will appear? That’s what happens to a parent-child relationship during these years. It enters looking like one thing and reappears looking totally different.  It takes a lot of waiting and wand waving to get there. It takes a ton of work for your child to transform.

Between the ages of twelve and twenty four (give or take a few years) you will wave your wand until you’re exhausted. Each time you reach into the hat, you might pull out something unrecognizable. Place it back in the hat and continue your work.

One day you’ll see something you recognize. It’s different but it is precious. You didn’t give up. But don’t take credit for all of the work. Your child transformed. In a very dark, at times very scary place he transformed. He did the work. Most of the time with your help. Sometimes in spite of your help.

As a parent, you want to mold. You want to steer in the right direction. Who wouldn’t want your words of wisdom? Your child, that’s who. With each cautionary tale, inspirational anecdote, and well meaning lecture he hears your need to control his way of thinking and being. Your suggestions tell him that his way is not good enough. What he does needs improvement.

He wants to create his own trail and create his own map.  He doesn’t want you to walk in front of him to clear the way. Walk behind him. Catch him if he falls. If he doesn’t learn from his mistakes, step to the side and walk next to him. Say nothing. Do nothing. Just be. One day he will look up, notice you and ask you a question. You know, the kind with a question mark at the end. The kind you made room for when you quietly stood by and watch him transform. Your answer will be careful. Less of a lecture. More suggestive in nature.  Then you know that the transformation is taking place.

Your new relationship will slowly take form. You let go. You find out that the person you raised has lessons to teach you.  You realize that you don’t belong to each other. You belong with each other.

 

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A Letter to a Teenager

letter writing envelopeHow are you? I hope you’re doing well. If not, most things will get better. Whatever problems you have might not go away, but as you get older, you will gain more tools to deal with the stuff that stinks. This means that even the worst stuff is likely to become tolerable and manageable.

How are things between you and your parents? By now you have probably figured out that your parents are human beings with faults and flaws. When you were little, they probably had all (or many) of the answers. If you were fortunate, they fulfilled most of your needs. Now your needs have changed.

Do you feel like your parents don’t get you? Do you find their long speeches and their answers to your dilemmas irrelevant, annoying or even suffocating? Do you feel like they overreact?

You might be right. They don’t get some or much of what you do. So they react out of love and fear. A parent’s first instinct is to protect. Sometimes that instinct kicks in too often or too soon.

Sometimes they react because they see dangers ahead. Even unrealistic dangers often seem real to a parent. Love can do that to a person. Other times they mess up and react for no reason. Fear can have that effect on you. Who has to pay the price for this? You do.

You see, to them, your life seems like a roller coaster. Imagine standing on the ground watching you on that ride with very little control of the outcome.  Do you hear your mom yelling as you zoom by? It’s her way of giving herself a good grade as a parent. She feels she is doing something for you. You probably feel she is doing something to you.

To a parent, advice is the magic dust needed to protect you in life. Each time you run out the door, you get a booster dusting to help protect you from evil and danger. Each time parents manage to hit you with the stuff their worry meters go down.

If you find yourself growing angrier the more your parents lecture, here’s how you can minimize nagging: Prove to them that you absorbed and remembered what they told you. Write down what they say. Post the piece of paper where they can see it. Next time they repeat themselves, point to the piece of paper to let them know that you did retain the information. You don’t have to say much. You don’t have to fully agree with them. They need to know that their message reached you.  Once they know this, both your lives will be so much easier.

Slowly, as you move towards adulthood, your parents will become accustomed to the idea of letting go. You can help them letting go by showing them that you’re treating yourself with dignity.

Your brain is not fully developed until you’re in your mid twenties, so be patient with yourself. Show your parents that you love yourself enough to want what is best for you. Only you know exactly what this entails. It’s easier for a parent to let go of a child who knows what it means to value oneself.

People always say to treat others the way you like to be treated. I suggest that you treat yourself the way you want others to treat you as well. You deserve it. It’s easy to become overly self critical at your age. Not only do you feel like you have to live up to your own expectations. You probably hear your parents’ voices in your head too each time you make a mistake.

If you’re lucky, one day you might feel like your parents get you. One day they might feel like you finally captured the magic dust they constantly tossed in spades your way. You are probably both right.

 

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Bedtime Problems

imagesDuring the last thirty years, I’ve seen a change in how families deal with bedtime rituals.  As most parents work outside the home, time spent together has become limited. It therefore makes sense that many parents choose to share their bed with their children. The sleeping hours are used as a way to connect.However, this only works if all family members are okay with the arrangement and everyone get the sleep they need.

If you started out sharing a bed with your child or staying in bed with your child until she falls asleep, and you want to make a change, I’m here to give your permission to do so. Don’t feel guilty. If you feel sleep deprived, imagine how your child feels. Each time she wakes you up at night, her sleep gets interrupted as well.

How to Tell If Your Child Gets Enough Sleep

How can you tell if your child gets enough sleep? If she wakes up on her own without any prompting (by you, alarm clocks or outside noise) she usually had enough rest. If not, it’s your job as a parent to make sure she gets the rest that she needs at night  in order to fully function, learn and enjoy the next day .

Does It Take a Long Time For Your Child to Fall Asleep?

Is it difficult for your child to fall asleep? If so, you might have to make some adjustments to her daily schedule.

1. Every child needs outdoor physical activity each day. If your child gets less than one hour of vigorous outdoor activity per day, chances are that she isn’t physically tired. We often underestimate this important part of a child’s life.

2. Also, refrain from serving any sort of junk food at least three hours before bedtime.

3. If it takes your child more than twenty minutes to go to sleep at night, it might be a good idea to eliminate the naptime and instead let the child go to bed a few minutes earlier to get the sleep she needs.

4. Create a calm bedtime ritual. Start with a bath—keep things low key if possible. Read a story in a place where you can dim the lights and play some soothing music (preferably the same music each night). By following this ritual, your child’s brain will begin to automatically prepare for sleep when she hears the music. My oldest child was so accustomed to the ritual that all I had to do was to hum her night time music and she would fall asleep. (This was great for long plane rides!)

Does Your Child Have Problems Falling Asleep On Her Own?

What might have started as a nice way to bond has now become a dreaded night time procedure, and you’re ready to make a change. Here are a few suggestions for when you’re ready to take this step:

1. If your child is old enough to reason with, explain to her a few days ahead of time that you will start a new bedtime ritual. Explain without excuses or any sense of guilt that children need more sleep than adults, and that she’s old enough to fall asleep on her own. Don’t over sell it. You don’t pour perfume on manure and expect her to agree that it smells great. Respect her opinion (that this is an unnecessary, stupid idea).  It is what it is. If your child is old enough to know the days of the week, you might modify the all or nothing approach by picking one day a week as a sleep over day. This only works for children with a concept of time. A younger child would only become confused and insecure if you were to allow her in bed sometimes and not others.

2. If you want your child to learn how to sleep in her own bed, I suggest a gradual method. Lay on the floor next to the bed. Each night, move a bit further away, until you are outside the room. This usually doesn’t take more than three nights.

3. You can also place her own bed or mattress next to yours and gradually get her used to the idea of sleeping on her own.

4. If you want your child to learn how to fall asleep on her own, shorten the time you spend in bed by a few minutes each night so that she will gradually get used to falling asleep on her own.

5. When your child gets up or tries to engage you in conversation, just repeat the same phrase: “It’s your bedtime and it’s time to sleep” as you walk her or carry her back to bed. The first night, this might happen twenty times (or more if your child is particularly persistent). With each night, it will become easier.

6. When she sleeps through the night in her own bed, celebrate. Just like potty training or the first day of pre-school, this is a big step for a child—and a huge step for you.

What If You Cannot Go Through With It?

During this process, your child most likely will cry and call out for you. At this moment you’ll feel like a terrible parent. You’ll curse yourself for wanting to make this change. You’ll curse your spouse for wanting a change before you’re ready. You’ll curse me for writing this blog and yourself for reading it.

As much as your current sleeping arrangement bothers you, you probably feel as though you’re not ready to give it up at that very moment. It feels nice to be needed and to know that you have the ability to sooth your child just by laying next to her. Your child is trying to restore things to her normal. She only knows what she is used to. She can’t read your road map. This is one of many times that your child will have to put her faith in you as her parent. This is one of many times you’ll have to have faith in your child’s ability to handle change.

A child doesn’t want to be a burden. So if you do give up and decide to try again when she is older, don’t blame the child’s inability to sleep on her own. Instead take responsibility for the fact that making this change was just too much for you to handle at the moment. But don’t beat yourself up. It’s not the end of the world.

Of course it’s better for your child if you follow through at all times. But parents are human. If you realize that sharing a bed with your child is easier than going through this three day process, that’s okay. Now you know what the process is like. You know what to expect next time. You can try and not succeed one time but you can’t try a second time. The second time you have to follow through or it becomes a useless exercise and a  power struggle that the child knows she can win.

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