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.