Posts Tagged ‘parenting the issue’

Resolving to Get What You Want

January 4, 2012

Did you make a New Year’s resolution having to do with parenting?   Or, are you like me… a resolution-avoider?  Regardless,  I heard a great quote today.  Although it was used in the terms of healthy eating, it applies to much more, including parenting.  Here it is:

Don’t trade what you want most for what you want at this moment.

There is a lot to think about in that short little statement, but what first came to my mind was discipline.  Many of our courses talk about choosing discipline techniques that make sense in terms of brain development and building skills such as self-control, empathy, cause and effect thinking, ability to let go of control and impulse control.  While we get a lot of agreement that yes, pull close parenting types of discipline do manage the child’s behavior while building those skills, we find that for many of us (ourselves included at times!) what we want right now, in that moment, sometimes gets in the way.

Take the example of a younger child who is throwing a temper tantrum.  The science of brain development tells us that the ability to regulate one’s emotions is learned through someone else helping keep your emotions regulated.  We also know that we have to be present to help the child calm and regulate that mad feeling.  And yet, there is still a temptation to do something that makes them stop crying or throwing a fit right now!!!   …even if “making it all stop” works against what you really want… a child who will ultimately be able to handle their own angry feelings appropriately.

So, take a moment and ask yourself:

What are my goals for my child?
How do I get there?  Do I know how to get there?
What do I need to get there?

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Take the Elf OFF the Shelf!

November 28, 2011

Santa as a spy who has an obsession with behavior modification--ick!

I have a bone to pick with Santa.  As much as I love the big guy I am really tired of the part of him that is a parent-power-sucking-sponge.  The whole naughty or nice thing has several issues (um, are poor kids or kids in orphanages naughty?)  But the idea of Santa as a spy who is really into behavior modification has a lot of parents compounding the problem.

Santa must be sick of tattle tales!
For some folks who struggle with discipline, Santa is like a big fat permission slip to be wimpy parents.  When we attempt to secure desired behavior through the threat or promise of Santa instead of handling the problem ourselves, in essence we’re saying, “I can’t handle this, maybe you’ll behave for Santa.”  Or, sometimes it has the flavor of mom or dad tattletale-ing to Santa as in, “Do you want me to call Santa and tell him what you’re doing?”

The Elf on the Shelf sucks up money out of your wallet AND parental competency.

Shelve the elves!
Bad as all that is, merchandisers have come up with another way to suck up both our money and our parental competency!   The Elf on the Shelf.   The idea is that you buy a cute little elf to sit somewhere in you house.  During the day, he watches the children.  At night, he goes to the North Pole to report the children’s behavior to Santa and appears in a different spot the next morning, ready to spy on the children again.  In the meantime, parents are able to threaten their children with the elf and the possibility of no presents or an unhappy Santa.  Cute, huh?

Santa or the Elf on the Shelf may help bring a little “peace on earth” in the short term, but if parents rely on them during the holidays what happens on December 26th?  Not only is that parenting crutch tool gone, but they’ve been busy sending their child messages of incompetency for weeks and may have accidentally dug themselves into a hole that is not easy to get of.

Do you suffer from Santa or elf dependence?
How do you know if there’s a problem?  Well, some pretty good indicators are having to repeat directions several times, changing your directions to try to gain compliance, scolding, threatening, giving in or punishments or rewards that just don’t seem to make a lasting impact overall.  All this leaves an incredibly exhausted, frustrated and stressed out parent–not to mention a child who is ultimately not happy either.

Take back your parent power!
Fortunately, even if you’ve fallen into a trap where you’ve given your parenting power away to someone else, with some knowledge and a lot of determination you CAN get back to where you need to be.  It starts with taking back your parent power and learning how to manage power struggles.  One resource is our recorded course Discipline: Managing Your Child’s Bid for Power   But, at the very least, forget about using Santa as a means to control a child’s behavior and if you must put the elf on the shelf, just let him sit there and look cute–don’t make him spy for Santa!

From Our In-Box: Attachment and Biological Children

October 24, 2011

Hi Katie and Julie!

My husband and I just finished Because They Waited, plus the African Countries seminar, for training as we prepare to adopt from Ethiopia.  I wanted to say THANK YOU so much for all the excellent information. I have read a lot of parenting books and a lot of online parenting info, but your seminars were some of the most helpful, applicable content we’ve ever encountered.

We have two biological sons, ages 5 and 2, and as we went through Because They Waited, we really felt like a lot of it pertained to our older son.  He has always been a challenge, and we’ve experienced him as “strong-willed” ever since he was tiny. But since hearing from you about attachment, we are wondering whether he is actually showing signs of attachment strain (which is awful to think about, as he has been in our hopefully-“optimal” care all his life!).

A basic profile: He is smart as a whip — started reading and doing basic math before age 4. He is a collector with varied and sometimes comical passions … he has collected coins, rocks, newspapers, stamps, and plastic lids among other things. He loves to joke, loves playing and watching sports, and loves doing anything with his daddy. He is wonderful, sweet and very loving when things are going well.

However, here are some of his characteristics that cause us concern:

— He was never a “cuddly” baby or child — still very much resists being “confined”
— HIGH need for control of his environment. Always invents a third choice when given two. Can be frustratingly defiant.
— Aggressive and often competitive with his younger brother. Lacks empathy, patience or impulse control when it comes to having his way at home.
— Has not valued or sought friendships with peers outside of our family. He’s not withdrawn, but just doesn’t seem to really know how to engage with kids his own age. Prefers the company/stability of grownups.
— Self-regulates pretty well at preschool, but lets it all hang out at home. He is prone to anger and tantrums with hitting, kicking and screaming when he doesn’t get his way or perceives an injustice.

We have gone around and around searching for the magical method of discipline that will work for him. We’ve used time-out, consequences, behavior modification, and spanking. But after Because They Waited, we’re wondering whether we’ve been going about parenting this child ALL WRONG! We’ve thought of his challenges as springing from rebellion, but thinking of his behavior as springing from a lack of TRUST pretty much breaks my heart.

So, my questions are: Can biological children raised in (not-perfect, but) good and loving homes suffer from attachment strain?  Can you speak to whether there’s a difference between a child with attachment strain and a “strong-willed” but securely attached child?  And do you have any action steps you’d suggest for our specific situation? (we’ve started to apply time-in and general pull-close parenting, and it seems to be making a difference already.)

Thank you so much — we’ve really appreciated your excellent teaching!

–A Thinking Mom

Katie’s Response:

Thank you for sharing your experiences with Because They Waited.  I am so impressed with your willingness to be open to other ways of parenting and with the obvious thought and effort you are putting in to doing your best job as a mom.  These are the kind of stories that keep Julie and I going and the reason why Heart of the Matter Seminars exists!

Before I answer your questions, let me first say that I can only address your questions in a general manner since I don’t know you or your family.  I do think you’ve asked some excellent questions, though, and would be glad to try to answer them as best as I can:

First of all, yes, attachment strain can be present in biological children who have always lived with their parents. It does NOT mean that they are unattached, but circumstances may mean that they are struggling with trust.  For example, parents who are “wimpy” do not provide what the child needs to believe that they are trustworthy.  Or, a child who has had many, many ear infections early in life may have had so many Cycles of Unmet Need (episodes of pain and discomfort) that they struggle with trust.  Children who have not had emotionally sensitive enough and attuned enough parenting may also struggle with trust.

I believe some children are more sensitive than others.  In fact, one thing that stuck out to me was that your son sounds very bright and possibly even gifted.  These children are more aware and attuned to what is going on around them.  They often have a more keen sense of injustice and ability to reason that can really intensify the impact of parenting that is not attuning to their emotional needs. They often struggle with peer relationships and prefer adult company because their brains just work on a different plane than the typical child their age.

In terms of your question about whether there is a difference between attachment strain and a securely attached “strong willed” child….Yes and no… It depends on how you define strong willed.  I think that oftentimes in our society “strong willed” has become a nice way of saying “controlling” and in that sense, I would say that it’s the same thing…. a lack of trust.  On the other hand, I define my daughter (and myself, if truth be known!) as “strong willed” in the sense of strong opinions, focus and determination but able to allow others to call the shots sometimes–particularly a person in authority.

You asked about specifics on what to do… It sounds like you are already on the right track!  Lots of pull close parenting and Time In, but beyond that, I would suggest really honing your skills at managing his need to control.  This is tricky at times–especially with a smart kid!!!  I am not trying to sell you something for the sake of selling you something, but I really do think that our course “Discipline: Managing Your Child’s Bid for Power” would be very, very useful based on what you are describing.  Power struggles and bids for power all really stem from a lack of trust or an attempt to control and like I said, there are a lot of nuances there that it’s important to think through and understand how to address–both proactively and reactively.

Hope this helps answer some of your questions. Let me know how it goes!

Floors, Parenting and Procrastination

June 29, 2011

I just finished one of my least favorite jobs–cleaning floors.  I don’t mind doing laundry, dishes, gardening, even cleaning toilets!  But I really hate sweeping, mopping and vacuuming.  I put it off, am grateful for our hardwood floor that hides stuff and curse the older kitchen floor that shows everything.  When I finally make myself get started and just do it, I realize that it’s really not that bad and am glad to have clean floors when it’s over.

Today as I finished the hated kitchen floor, it occurred to me that this same phenomenon happens with parenting sometimes, especially parenting kids who have needs that go beyond the typical.  Here are a few examples:

Establishing a parent as the primary caregiver.  It’s hard to shuffle work schedules, put a career on hold, change jobs or start working from home.  It’s also hard to settle into change of pace and meet the new demands (and yes, sometimes boredom) of doing the hard work of daily parenting.  But, we know it’s so worth it to be there building those important foundational pieces of brain development and accompanying skills like trust, cause and effect thinking, impulse control, empathy, the ability to self-regulate emotions, etc….   I have never met a parent yet who regretted putting in the extra time with their child, just like I’ve never met anyone who regrets having clean floors.

Starting AND MAINTAINING Time In.  I’ve talked to many parents in the 13+ yearss since we first started presenting the idea of “Time In” in our live seminars.  Once folks understand why it makes sense and that it really does establish parenting authority, competency and boundaries, they are anxious to put it into use in their homes.  It’s not much fun to get started and it takes self-discipline and a commitment to see the job through, but it’s so worth it in the end.  Much like cleaning floors, only doing Time In halfway just highlights the mess.  

Utilizing professionals when necessary.  I don’t think any of us intend to avoid using professionals to help our families anymore than we intend to live in a pigsty and yet, when we put off actually making the appointment (or pulling out the broom!) in essence, that’s what happens.  Similarly, just as it’s not enough to pull the vacuum cleaner out and then not follow through actually vacuuming, it’s not enough to visit a professional and then not follow through *all the way* with a new parenting plan, therapy or other recommendations they have, provided they make sense given the research and what you know about your individual child.   

Being proactive.  This is the first piece of the parenting plan we highlight in Because They Waited.  It is so, so important!  Picture a small sticky spot on the floor.  If not cleaned up, it gets tracked around, dirt and gunk sticks to it and before long it’s just a bigger mess!   Same goes with issues that our kids have.  Most kids don’t come home severely impacted by their early months or years in less than optimal care–they come home with mild to moderate effects.  And yet, if we procrastinate parenting to those issues in a concerted manner, those issues usually just get bigger.  The look of them may change, but it’s often the same core issue just making a bigger mess.

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Stress, Re-Parenting and Pull Close Parenting

May 5, 2011

I just got off the phone with a dear friend of mine who told me a story that she is allowing me to now share with you.

She is the proud mommy to little 6-year-old C. who came home from China when she was about 2 years old or so. Their family was eating dinner the other night after a rough day and my friend could just see that C. was “in a mood” and really struggling to keep it together.  At some point during dinner, C. asked her mama, “Do you know how some people feed their babies like an airplane?”   (referring to zooming a spoonful of food toward the baby like it’s an airplane while feeding them)  C. went on to ask, “Do you think you could feed me like that?”  and dinner was finished with my friend feeding her big-little girl like an airplane.  My friend went on to tell me that  as she was feeding her daughter, she could just see the tension from the day melt out of C.

What a beautiful example of re-parenting and of a child who is learning to rely on their parent to help them regulate their emotions!  Imagine if my friend was less in tune with her daughter (or didn’t have the knowledge to know what C. was really asking for) and had instead told her to feed herself like a big girl.  They both would have missed out on a great opportunity to teach and learn trust, self-regulation and attunement.

How is your child asking for you to connect and parent them in a close, attuned manner?

Heart of the Matter Seminars

Thermometer or Thermostat?

April 18, 2011

Here’s a question:  In your home, are you a thermometer or a thermostat?

Think about times of emotional stress in your home:

Do you heat up in measure to the intensity of the behavior, emotion, situation?

Or, do you take stock of how "hot it is" and then actively do something to "lower the heat" in your home?

We all want to be thermostats!  Do you know how to be one?  We’d love to share some of our ideas with you through our courses and webinars.  We would love to hear back from you, too.

What is your best tip for being a thermostat instead of a thermometer?  Visit our Facebook page to share your best idea and to see what others are saying.

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Discipline: “We’re in this together!”

March 25, 2011

Katie’s “The Best Way to Struggle” post got me thinking about discipline responses and how the words we choose when interacting with our kids can help us to “struggle together” or “struggle against” our child.  I think responses that help us “struggle together”  towards success have some common elements.

  1. They are focused on the present and future.
  2. They are stated as positively as possible
  3. They include  some action (big or small) on the parent’s  part.

Here’s one example:

You never pick up your clothes!  Every day the pile gets higher!”  (Focuses on the past and = struggling against your child.)

Your room is a mess.”  (Focuses on the present and might be true, but isn’t very positive, doesn’t look to the future, and lacks action.)

Let’s get started on cleaning up your room.  We are both going to feel better when it is done.”  (Focuses on the present and future, and is positively stated.   This one for me = joining the struggle with my child to help them succeed.)

and another:

Isn’t your homework done yet?  What on earth have you been doing?”  (past and negative)

You are still working on your homework?!”  (present and negative)

You’re not as far along as I thought you’d be.  Let’s move to the  kitchen with that so I can help you get back on track while I make dinner.”  (This one is focused on present and future, is positively stated and includes an action.)

and one more…

“You have been whining all day!”  (past and negative)

“Stop whining!”  (present and negative—This one also sets  up a power struggle because we really can not make a child stop whining.)

“You are having a rough day!  Come walk close to me so I can help you. “ (present and future  focused, positive and includes action)

I’m trying this myself and have to say it’s a challenge (at least for me) to stay out of the past!  Give it a try yourself  during your parenting interactions today.  Listen to yourself as you interact with your child.  Do the words you choose help to create a spirit of “we’re in this together” or do they encourage more of a  “it’s me against you” feeling?

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When Mom is Mad: Thinking About Anger Management for Adoptive Parents

February 28, 2011

Every parent has been there at some point… that place where the sometimes stressful complications of family life suddenly get the best of you, and you momentarily change from a reasonable, functioning and nurturing mom or dad into a ball of fury, frustration or despair.    Let’s face it.  Parenting is not only rewarding and thrilling it is also demanding and difficult.   All parents can benefit from  learning about anger management and positive parenting.  It is even more crucial for adoptive parents (particularly those who are parenting children who started life in less than optimal circumstances) to explore these topics.

Katie and I have ended up in several conversations lately about “mad moms.”  We keep hearing from or about adoptive parents (in our examples moms but it could be either moms or dads) who are dealing with difficult behaviors in their adopted child and are responding to that child with anger.   While we certainly can identify with the difficulties facing these parents (having been there ourselves) my blog today is spurred from a larger concern.  I’m afraid that because these kiddos’ behaviors can be so challenging it often times leads adoptive parents to lose sight of the bigger picture and to visit that “ball of fury, frustration or despair” moment all too often.  And when that moment becomes the norm instead of the exception no one in the family benefits.  The child stays stuck where they are emotionally and developmentally or gets worse and the parent becomes even more distressed and challenged to make good parenting decisions.

Optimally we want parents focusing on meeting the child’s needs, moving them to a healthier place on the attachment continuum and building brain based skills like cause and effect thinking, impulse control, trust and empathy.  These are the things that ultimately will produce the desired behaviors in their children.  Punitive punishment and parent raging will likely only create more frustrating moments and build zero skills.   But that is easy to say and so very hard to do when you are in the parenting trenches with a child that has difficult behaviors.

So when is it ok to be mad at your child and what do you do about it?   OK wait a minute.  A feeling is a feeling.  Right?  I mean you can’t help it if you feel mad.  Can you?  It is not  a “right” or “wrong” kind of thing really.  Is it?  Well yes and no.  Katie has been known to quip, “You wouldn’t get mad a child with only one leg because he couldn’t win the three legged race,”  reminding us that if a child does not possess the skills and abilities necessary to behave in a certain way it doesn’t make sense to be mad at that child or respond in anger.

Anger management strategies suggest that when a parent stops in those difficult moments and asks themselves a few key questions it can have a major impact on what happens next.

Questions like:  Am I mad at my child, myself, someone else, or is this a case where there is really no one to be mad at?

The self reflection might go something like this:

I’m tired of my child’s temper tantrum and raging but mad doesn’t make sense since this child does not yet have impulse control and is struggling with attachment and unresolved trauma.  Of course she is having temper tantrums.  Maybe I’m not mad.  A more accurate word might be weary or defeated.  Maybe I’m even scared.  What if these tantrums don’t end?

Or this:

My child just purposefully wet her pants after refusing to use the bathroom before we left home.  It sure feels like I’m mad at my child.  But maybe there is actually no one to be mad at.  After all I know this child has control issues stemming from her years in care and challenges with attachment.  I also know that toileting issues are classic struggles for children with control issues.  It doesn’t make sense to be mad at her for this issue.  But I sure am tired of wet pants and frustrated with dealing with this problem.

It’s important that parents take time to reflect on their feelings before they act because people who are not skilled at correctly identifying their own feelings often choose counterproductive responses to their feelings.  For parents who routinely identify their feeling as “mad” this might look like:

Labeling their child…….”He’s hostile. ”   “She’s unmanageable.”  “He’s selfish.”

Commanding their child……. “Shut up!”  “Be quiet.”  “Sit!”  “Move!”

Name calling…….” You brat!”  “Don’t be a baby!”  “You’re a pain!”

Sarcasm…….”Well I can see we are going to have a wonderful day!” (response to tantrum)

If you see yourself in these responses take time to self reflect about the behaviors  that are prompting this response in you, what the root causes of those behaviors are, what your real feelings are relating to that behavior, and what a productive response to that behavior would be.

And beyond that make sure that you are getting your own needs met.  Do you have someone to talk to that understands the trials and joys of parenting the child who has waited?  If not seek that person out.  Taking care of yourself  is no longer a luxury.  Your child needs you to be healthy so that you can continue to meet their needs.

I’ll be blogging more about this in the coming weeks and Katie and I are tossing around the idea of a webinar that addresses this topic further, but for now we would love to hear your thoughts and the  strategies that you use to keep a calm head in the face of parenting storms.

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What’s In It For Me -itis: Problems with Rewards and Punishment

February 24, 2011

One of those times I just need to vent and because it is parenting related you all get the brunt of it! 🙂 I am so tired of our society incessantly rewarding children.

Clean your room for a week…. new toy! Read 10 books…. get a little pizza! Everyone in the class behaves for a month…. extra recess! Sell a certain number of magazines for a fundraiser… get a pile of crappy plastic toys! Honor society kids get together to do something for residents of a nursing home… go to a movie afterwards! Bring cans of food to school to donate to a food pantry… class who brings the most gets soda and popcorn on Friday! Get good grades… get $10 per “A” and $5 per “B”.

And it goes on and on and on…

The problem with it is that we’re teaching our kids things that we don’t mean to teach them. Things like:
1. What’s in it for me? vs. altruism
2. What’s in it for me? vs. doing it because it’s the right thing to do
3. What’s in it for me? vs. feeling proud of one’s accomplishments
4. What’s in it for me? vs. enjoying the activity itself
5. What’s in it for me? vs. working together
6.  What’s in it for me? vs. focus on the meaning of the activity

Just this week I heard a story about how rewarding children backfired.  A school psychologist took over lunch room duty for a school’s kindergarten lunch shift.  Previously, lunchroom aides set and maintained simple expectations (like take your tray to the kitchen when done, pick up your trash, stay in your seat, etc…)  Lunch was orderly, contained and a non-issue.  For whatever reason, the school psychologist added a reward system to reinforce the expectations.  The class who is the quietest gets a point.  If he sees someone pick up their trash, their team gets a point.  At the end of the week the team/class with the most points gets a treat.

Two things have been noted to happen.  First of all, children have started purposely leaving trash at their tables so that they can go back, pick it up and get a point.  Secondly, at the end of this past week, the winning class was heard to not only brag about how their team was the best, but to also make comments to children in the losing class like, “You are losers!”  or worse, “We hate you guys.”

And for what?  What is the benefit?  I can’t see one.

Finally, another pet peeve related to parenting or caregiving so focused on rewards and punishments…. When rewards/punishments are so commonly used, many children will start asking, “If I don’t do it, then what happens?”  because they are weighing the cost of misbehaving vs. behaving.  It can leave parental competency in shreds!

The parenting philosophies that incorporate rewards or punishments (ie, behavioral modification) are so deeply ingrained in our society that it really requires a paradigm shift to even think about another way.  If you’re interested in reading more, check out the book  Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn.   It’s not a new book, but makes some really important points that I think we at least need to consider.

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Two Stars and a Wish: Pull Close Parenting Recharges Parents Too

January 13, 2011

We talk a lot about how important pull close parenting is for our kids and many of you will remember my emphasis on pull close parenting for even teenagers in my recent blog post.  Today I’m thinking about how important pull close parenting is not just for our kids, but for us as parents as well.  It really  has the ability to  recharge our batteries just when we need it.   Yesterday I got my battery recharged.

My family has used a version of “Two Stars and a Wish” as a dinner time conversation and family relationship building tool for years.  When I (or another family member) suggests the activity everyone at the table thinks of two positives (stars) and one “wish” for every other family member.  A wish cannot be a put down but it can be a wish for more positive behavior.  (Example:  Sister wish to brother:  “I wish you would not go into my room without my permission.”)  Then we go around the table and share.  Sometimes the game inspires laughter and sometimes serious conversations.  We make it a commitment to try to be grateful for whatever stars we are offered and thoughtful (not angry) about whatever wishes are offered. (more…)


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