Tuesday, March 27, 2012

From 12/11 An Attititude of Gratitude

I'm catching up on posting articles to the blog. They're all over my Facebook FanPage, Twitter and Everything Eagle, but somehow they aren't making it here.

An Attitude of Gratitude

In the spirit of the holiday season I’m going to derail a bit from the recent discussions about the misguided goals of behavior and talk a bit about gratitude. Bill Ayers is quoted as saying “Your kids require you most of all to love them for who they are, not to spend your whole time trying to correct them.” One of the greatest challenges of parenting is finding a way to raise your children which honor your values, beliefs, morals and to allow them to grow into the people they are rather than whom we mold them to be. Frequently we parent in ways that don’t fit our child’s personality or behavior style and often we squash the talents and gifts they bring to us just out of the need to get through daily life, without even knowing that’s what we’re doing.

A child’s presence is a gift. A parent’s unconditional love, acceptance and appreciation for their gifts support their growth and development and their sense of belonging and sense of self acceptance. Our need to feel acceptance and belonging is so great that having that need met somewhere is better than no where. Our emotional state in our interactions with our family is mirrored and experienced even when we think we’re doing a good job of covering it up. If we are feeling burdened and resentful or stressed about the tasks at hand we miss the opportunities to express or experience gratitude for what we do have. Often this happens when we have adult expectations of our kids, including teens. When we have these expectations and the child is not developmentally ready to handle them their self of security and acceptance is undermined.

Here’s an example:
You’re running late to get the kiddos out the door for school and know you aren’t going to make it to an appointment on time. Your child is telling jokes and slowing down the process of getting out of the house with their need to collect all of their things. Rather than escalating to “Come ON, let’s go NOW!” and any number of things that come with that you can use gratitude as a way to calm yourself and acknowledge your child’s gift of humor and independence / responsibility. “I really want to hear those jokes and I feel like I’m not giving you my full attention since we’re a little behind schedule. How about I grab your backpack and coat and you can tell me the joke in the car?” This is really just a little flag to have us look at changing even just one interaction at a time.

As a way of seeing what your child’s gifts are you can do a fun family activity and use it as gratitude chain around your Christmas tree or a household decoration or find a way to tie it in to your seasonal celebration. Each family member takes a piece of paper and with the help of the family writes their list of gifts that they bring to the family. Once the list is complete, take colored strips of paper and write one gift on each strip. Secure them in interlocking rings for a mantel display or to go on your tree, hang over your family room door way, etc

Give your gifts freely, no strings attached without the expectation of getting anything back, including a thank you.  With this others will freely give to you.

Do Bribes Work?

Do Bribes Work
Parents are always looking for ways to motivate their kids. A as an example, with school in full swing some parents use money as a motivator for grades. If you are one of these parents, chances are you do not offer up the funds at the beginning of the semester in anticipation of the good grades. You’re probably thinking “Of course not! I want the proof (grade) first.” True! That is the key difference between a bribe and a reward.

A bribe occurs before the expectation is met in hopes that it will be met. A reward occurs upon completion. A bribe does not increase the likelihood of the behavior occurring or repeating. The idea behind using any form of reinforcement to change behavior requires several key pieces:
1. Clearly outline the behavior you want to see, rather than focusing on what you don’t want to see.
2.  Define a clear time frame for this expectation to be.
3. How successfully this will be achieved is clear. 100% performance is not realistic.
4. The reward delivery is noted. (what and when)
5. Follow through and feedback at regular intervals to support the behavior you want to see.
6. The agreement is short term and time limited.

I am not condoning or condemning the reward of grades. It’s simply a concrete example of the difference between a bribe and a reward. You can reward a multitude of behaviors based on what you want to address or the behavior you want to shape. This includes anything from following through on responsibilities, using respectful language, sharing, etc

Rewards and goals that I speak with parents about increase independence, responsibility and respect. They are used to quickly move away from a crisis in order to address the bigger picture. Privileges to use t.v., video games, computer time, etc are earned (keyword) for completing responsibilities. Today, with access to so many “things”, parents often feel overwhelmed and stuck when their children act entitled or act out when they didn’t get what they wanted or didn’t get enough of what they wanted.

There is a system behind using rewards effectively as a short term parenting intervention and for reshaping un-desireable behavior. There is evidence supporting behavioral interventions as the most effective, long term and positive means of changing behavior. Once the behavior is addressed and parents can understand what the real goal of a child or teen’s behavior is they can modify their parenting strategies to raise respectful, independent kids, to avoid power struggles and have happier families.

Contact me if you want to know more about how to create change in your family and in as few as six weeks you can see dramatic change in your family, your kids and yourself.

Misguided Goals of Revenge

A new round of Positive Parenting classes began just a couple of weeks ago and has stimulated some great conversations. One of the things parents report that they really appreciate about the class is how everyone shares what their challenges are and that this gives them permission to not feel like they are “ruining  their kid’s lives”, that it’s “O.K. to make mistakes” and to “know that other parents struggle with some of the same things.

One of the first things that came up this round was about a child’s hitting behavior. One parent reported that another parenting class had instructed her to hit  or bite the child back, another parent reported reading in a book to put their child in a time out, another parent reported they were told to ignore the behavior. What was striking to me was that there was no discussion about addressing what was going on for the child. Connect before you correct.

Similarly, when a child says “I hate you” or a little guy says “You’re not my friend”, there is communication there. Many of you may have seen the recent viral video of the dad berating his daughter publicly regarding a Facebook post she wrote which was filled with very hurtful statements. This dad goes on to shoot her computer with a hand gun, ground her for some lengthy period of time and punish her in as many ways as he could conceive that were legal. This dad was praised and criticized in droves including everything from this dad is a hero to this dad is abusive. He even responds in writing about the incident and his response. At one point he clearly states his daughter doesn’t remember former and similar offenses or her punishment. This dad missed the mark by a long shot. He missed what his daughter was communicating. She was angry, hurting and really wanting attention. Without further conversations with this daughter or parent we cannot clearly determine what they were feeling. This is the key. Pay attention to how you are feeling in response to your child’s behavior. This will clue you in to the misguided goal of their behavior.

At some point and time our children engage in behavior that is steeped in the misguided goal of revenge. They want us to hurt as badly as they hurt. If you find yourself responding emotionally to your child in disbelief, hurt, disgust or disappointment this is information to act on. Often parents want to retaliate. They want their child to know they are not going to get away with treating them this badly. The child responds to this parental reaction in kind and escalates the behavior and may also retaliate again ensuing a cycle that will likely end at minimum with a damaged relationship. The child thinks “I don’t belong”, “I’ll get them back”, “I can’t be loved anyway”. How reinforcing is it for those thoughts and beliefs when a child acts out and is met with punishment and revenge for their actions?

Try this instead:
  • Talk to your child
  • Use reflective listening
  • Ask questions about what you notice or what might be going on behind that behavior
  • Avoid punishment and retaliation
  • Make amends
  • Encourage their strengths

After all you did not wake up in the morning deciding to be the worst parent you can be and your child certainly didn’t wake up choosing to be the worst version of themselves either. Think about a time you were punished. Were you sitting in your room thinking about what you would do differently next time? Most likely you were scheming how to not get caught next time, how to get back at them or deciding that you weren’t worthy of being treated with respect. You have the opportunity to be a different parent for your child and to be connected in a relationship that is based on mutual respect, independence and personal responsibility.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Undue Attention

Can you recall a time or times when you felt annoyed, irritated, worried or guilty based on your child’s behavior?
Here is an example; you’re on the computer trying to get something wrapped up, it may simply be an email or a last minute project or even just checking in on social media or news. Your child seems to be melting down, whining, picking on their sibling, calling your name repeatedly, climbing on you, getting into things you prefer they didn’t. You can feel the annoyance building and tell them “Just a minute, I need to finish this one thing.” Then it gradually escalates to snapping at them or yelling and some parents may resort to a physical reaction or punitive reaction because your child has become relentless and you can’t get one single thing done while they’re around. You’re angry, annoyed, overwhelmed and suddenly the purest joy of your child in your life feels like a burnder. Your child is crying and the behavior is quickly spinning out of control and your child ends up punished; in time out, no TV, toys taken away, special activities gone.

“How did I get here? This isn’t what I thought parenthood would be like. My kid’s behavior is just getting worse, I can’t handle this anymore.” These may be similar to the thoughts that go through your head when the fantasy of being the perfect parent is so far behind you and you’re facing the drudgery of parenthood. “Am I ruining my kids?”

In this instant your child is not feeling important or connected and neither are you. You may have tried multiple times to remind them that you need just a minute and to coax them to find ways to entertain themselves. They may have even stopped interrupting temporarily and start up again or try another disruptive attention getting behavior. They may stop when they get your one on one attention.

You and your child are thinking about the circumstance, reacting to feelings stirred up and deciding how to approach things in the future. As a parent you may decide you can’t get anything done while the kids are around, so why try. Your child may be deciding that the only way they can get you to pay attention is by demanding special service or attention “I’m keeping you busy with me. That’s how I know I’m important to you.”

Your child is asking to be noticed and involved. You can redirect your child and save so much time and frustration by doing one of two things. 1) If you think of it ahead of time speak with them about what you’re going to do, how much time it will take (set the timer), what you expect of them. 2) If they catch off guard and you haven’t had a proactive opportunity with them address them as soon as they approach you and redirect them to a useful task.

Susie, I have something I need to get done before we leave for our activity. It will take me 10 minutes. Come with me and we can set the timer together. While I’m doing this it is very important that I finish this uninterrupted. Do you want to read books or play in your room while I’m doing this?

Susie, I love you and I know you would like some attention right now. I am going to finish this in ten minutes. Can you please set the timer and I will come read a book with you when the timer goes off. Are you going to play in your room or outside until then? Then you follow through after saying it only once.

·        To prepare (read; train) yourself and your children for this new dynamic it takes repeating it on some level every day for at least one week. It could be something simple such as making a planned phone call, which somehow elicits everyone’s need for attention, to reading a book for ten minutes. (I highly recommend Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids).
·        Set up routines such as how you approach daily tasks, timing, and how you set boundaries / expectations around the completion of these tasks. Using the above example of explaining the expectation, the timing and using a planned distraction.
·        Use touch without words when you are caught up in the moment and are unable to dialogue with your child. A simple hand on the shoulder, top of the head, back or a side hug indicates that you see them, they are important to you and briefly you can address them.
·        Set up non-verbal signals that they can begin to rely on, a sly smile with a wink (I see you, I know you need my attention and I’ll be with you briefly, a finger to the lips (quiet) or a unique sign language sign that works for your family.
·        Communicate to your children “I love you and I want to spend time with you.” We need time and space to get through the stuff of daily life. In order to do this in the least stressful manner AND communicate the importance of our children and spouses we need to verbalize it and to structure time for both.

At first retraining your brain and behaviors may feel very robotic. Some people may say it takes too much time. I challenge you to choose one thing to differently and to report back the changes that you see in the level of stress, the attention seeking and intensity of the associated behaviors and the time it takes to integrate this. You should see a decrease in all of these and an increase in productivity, connection with your children and a more calm household.

Positive Discipline's Misguided Goals of Behavior

Often when our kids act in ways that we disapprove of we are quick to jump to punitive measures and miss the opportunity to understand what's going on for them to address it in a way that supports their long term learning rather than just making the behavior go away right now.
There is a saying in the world of parenting: "Be careful of what works now."

You can yell at your child, spank them, shame them, punish them, but this doesn't correct the behavior and it doesn't get at the root of why the behavior was there in the first place, it also causes long term negative effects on their sense of belonging and significance in the world. Somewhere parents got the idea that we have to treat kids in a punitive or shameful way in order for them to stop engaging in the behavior.

Have you noticed those behaviors keep showing their faces even though what you did worked in the moment?
So, let's start with four key concepts in understanding why the behavior is there to begin with. In  a later article we'll talk about how to address them.

Undue attention: When a child is acting out to get attention this is a based on them feeling like they are not important unless they have your undivided attention. Any attention is good attention and therefore even punitive interventions on the parents part reinforces for this child that this behavior gets them attention. The mistaken belief “I belong only if I have your attention”.

Misguided Control: Often a child will behave in ways that communicate that they feel out of control; feel equal to the adults around them or in efforts to gain control. Similar to undue attention, misguided control is an attempt at belonging. Parents often feel provoked, challenged or threatened and their response escalates the child’s behavior. The mistaken belief for the child is “I belong only when I’m the boss or in control or proving no one can boss me”.

Revenge: Has your child ever threatened to hurt you physically, actually attempted to hurt by hitting, kicking, etc? When this happens parents may feel hurt, angry, disappointed and respond by retaliating. The child’s mistaken believe is “I don’t think I belong so I’ll hurt you so you can hurt as much as I do. I can’t be like or loved”.

Assumed Inadequacy: Sometimes children are inadequate at things they have yet to learn or master. With this misguided goal of behavior they believe its better to give up and be left alone. “I don’t believe I can belong so I’ll convince others not to expect anything of me.” When a child has the skills and abilities but behaves in a way that indicates inadequacy the goal is to give up to be left alone. Sometimes this behavior may also actually be an attempt at undue attention and is a sneaky one to detect. Parents may find themselves respond by giving up or over helping and developing / fostering a child’s sense of inadequacy.

All behavior is purposeful and the primary goal of all is to feel a sense of belonging and significance. Children and adults often adopt one or more these four mistaken goals in efforts to get what they need.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Smart Start: School Transition Made Easy

I'll be writing monthly for Everything Eagle as well as my co-hort Lisa Johnson, LMFT.
You can find great information and articles for your family and local Idaho resources for your family on Everything Eagle.
View my article here on Everything Eagle about the Smart Start: School Transition Made Easy.

The school year is fast approaching. I hear most parents say, "I’m so ready for my kids to go back." But are you ready to start the school year off with ease? Most of us are not.

Here are some tips for transitioning back into routines and creating structure that keeps stress low.
" • At least one week prior to the start of school kick in the school routine of bed times and wake times. Your average elementary age child needs 10-12 hours of sleep a night while 12-18 year olds need 8-10. Without proper sleep the morning starts off rough, waking is difficult, moods take a dive and development / learning suffers. If you notice your child having difficulty waking, move bed time up by thirty minute increments until you hit the mark. Also take into consideration that it takes 30-50 minutes before older children actually fall asleep once in bed.

• Set the alarm and track and reward their success for getting up independently rather than parents harping, dragging and threatening children to get out of bed. With the alarm going off open curtains to bring in natural light, pull covers back, and open the door with a gentle verbal reminder that they are responsible for getting up within the next 10 minutes. Most folks don't pop right out of bed, so set the alarm ahead to give them wake up time.

• Establish evening routines that match your schedule for the school year taking into account activities, down time, family dinner and bed time routines. Keep bed times consistent and schedule backwards from that end goal.

Creating a successful startup to your school day means organization and preparation. Both keep stress down and set the kids up for maintaining independence and responsibility.

• Create a space to keep winter gear, backpacks and shoes. If you do not have a common space for the family, which I like to call the drop zone, create space in their room. A double coat hook on a wall next to their bedroom door for example can store coats and back packs. A basket on the floor or a seat with under storage space serves as a cubby for hat, gloves, and shoes for the next day. This is not the place to store them all, just the items for the next day.

• Homework and other related items are packed in the backpack the night before and organized with the other items noted above. Often having one binder with dividers for subjects and sheet protectors help keep homework in one place.

• Have children select and lay out their clothing the night before. This includes accessories and seasonal gear.

• Create space in a cupboard or pantry for snack storage and lunch items as well as their lunch sack. Most items for lunch can be put together by the kids the night before and sandwiches or other things that might get soggy made the morning of. Leave time in the morning routine to pull together the rest of the lunch.

Creating these transitions helps kids become more independent but doesn't mean parents are out of the picture. It simply means you put a little effort in setting expectations and supporting them with verbal guidance rather than power struggles.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Oh, I See...O I C

Meeting with a client this morning got my creative juices flowing. There's so much information out there and sometimes it is hard to remember tips / tricks unless you have an acronym. Sometimes when we have an 'aha' moment and something clicks for us we say "Oh...I see." so, between these two things I have a simply acronym to help you remember ways to engage with someone when there is conflict:

O (be objective)
(be inquisitive)
(be compassionate)

When there is conflict and we recognize how our body is responding we can then identify how we are feeling and completely change our response and the dynamic of the interaction. You know that feeling you get when someone confronts you or engages in a conflict? That tight throat, scowling brow, clenched teeth, tight shoulders, fast heart beat, etc... Those are physiological symptoms that tell you to prepare for 'battle' (fight or flight). If you can catch yourself when those visceral feelings kick in and divert yourself, you will minimize the conflict, come to a faster resolution and feel better about the interaction.

When you first feel those physiological indicators put a name to it. Anger, defensiveness, anxiety, fear, protectiveness, etc. By simply acknowledging this you are giving yourself a voice and it will help you with being compassionate. Being OBJECTIVE means stepping out of yourself on some level. How you become objective is by identifying your emotion.

At that point ask questions. Being INQUISITIVE helps you understand where the person is coming from and what they want. You can actually cut the interaction in half by asking "what do we want to get out of this in the end." You can ask or reflect it back when you find yourself feeling those physiological cues again because that may be a sign that the interaction is getting off track.

When you know what you're feeling, can identify it and can ask questions you are then able to be COMPASSIONATE. This means you can say things like; "You must be really frustrated.", "You seem really passionate about this.", "You seem really excited.", "You seem really angry." Often people will tell you "no, I feel...." or "yes!" Either way you have information to understand that this nasty conversation really isn't 'about you' even though you may play a part. Have compassion and reflecting the emotion you see or how you are feeling as if it is their feeling also minimizes the escalation.

Try it. It's important that when you commit to doing this that you recognize that you are retraining yourself and your thought processes so it won't be perfect. It takes time, I still have to correct myself.

Also, the other person may need to have that contention and may be really thrown off or feel like your attempts are just because you are acquiescing. The reality is, you've just learned a new way to be in conflict that doesn't feel so icky.