Posts Tagged ‘power struggles’

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!

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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Adoptive Parents Beware: Dr. Phil Doesn’t Know Everything!

December 7, 2010

Since last Thursday I have been stewing about the Dr. Phil episode I happened to catch.  It appears that my  disappointment and concern about the show is  not going to just melt away so I guess it’s time to blog.

Just the title of the show, Brat Proof Your Child, had me angry before it began.  Truth be told I stopped watching Dr. Phil long ago because I think he gives one size fits all  (and sometimes scary) parenting advice.  But when I heard this title on the commercial teaser I responded like a highway accident gawker.  I knew I would be disappointed and inflamed but I just couldn’t look away. (more…)

“We don’t do that!” (Yes we do.) Word Choice in Parenting

June 14, 2010

So I’m in the library helping my daughter pick out books when a commotion breaks out in the next aisle.  The sound of little feet running and little voices squealing breaks into the normally quiet environment and  as I finish my selections and walk around the aisle I see a very tired looking mom grab her preschooler’s arm with one hand and a 7 or 8 year old’s arm with her other.  As she is hustling  them towards the door she leans down to whisper loudly to them,

“We don’t run and yell in the library!”

Now I did feel for this mom.  I’ve been there and done that (and I’m sure many of you have too.)  But I couldn’t help also sighing to myself at her comment.  So often I hear parents begin their discipline with “We don’t….” and end it with whatever the child is actually doing or just finished doing.

“We don’t talk with our mouth full.”

“We don’t hit.”

“We don’t leave toys on the floor.”

The problem is that whenever we say these things just as the child is doing them we really look a bit foolish and incompetent because clearly the child IS DOING these things.   Sending poor competency messages can be a minefield for any parent, but for those of us parenting children who began life in a less than optimal environment this can be an even bigger problem.

Why is this?  Those of you who have completed Because They Waited will remember the module about promoting attachment.  Children with attachment strain need even stronger competency messages from their parents in order to move to a healthier place on the attachment continuum.  Their early life experiences have often left them with reduced or lacking trust and when a child cannot trust they often have an increased need or urge to control their environment.   This means that our children are even MORE likely to engage in challenging behaviors, especially when we respond in ways that signal we are less than able to handle the situation.

Word choice seems like a little thing but it is really powerful in sending (or not sending) messages of competency.   The following statements still make the parental expectations clear without reducing parental competency:

When we run or shout in the library we have to leave.  (Parent then leaves with the children)

Talking with your mouthful is considered bad manners.

Stop!  Hitting hurts!  (Remove child from the person he or she is hitting.)

Someone might trip over toys left on the floor or your toys might end up broken.  (Help the child pick up the toys.)

These statements are only slightly altered and yet they send  much stronger messages of competency

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Quotable Quote

June 1, 2010

A friend just posted this as her Facebook status:

If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

I love this quote!  It reminds me so much of parenting.  How often do we find ourselves doing things that don’t work, but we keep on doing them?   In our recorded course, Managing Your  Child’s Bid for Power, we actually talk about how some parents dig themselves into a hole by engaging in power struggles with their children.  The problem?  The child starts seeing the parent as incompetent and the parent starts feeling incompetent!

(more…)

Attachment Strain and Control: My Epiphany

May 13, 2010

I was at mass this past Sunday listening to my priest’s homily when I decided that I myself might have attachment strain.  I’m not kidding.  Mind you I was raised in a beautifully loving family that met all my needs.  Remember also that I know a lot about attachment both from raising my own three children (one adopted at the age of 6 from a Russian orphanage) and also from researching the topic extensively in order to educate adoptive parents in the Because They Waited program. (more…)

What Not to Do (parenting)

April 27, 2010

Although in my profession I provide adoption education and information about what I believe to be overall good parenting, I truly try to turn off the work stuff when I’m not working.  This is tough given that I live what I work since I am parenting two kids.  It’s also tough because it’s not like you can get away from other people who are parenting–at least not in the places I am likely to frequent with my own child/ren in tow.

Anyway, I really do try to just live my life and not obsess on parenting technique but something happened in Target earlier this week that made me cringe, sigh and want to immediately provide a free, live seminar in the middle of the store!  LOL (more…)

Remind me! A Recap of our Power Struggles Discussion Group

March 10, 2010

It is challenging to manage any child’s bid for power, but for those of us dealing with a child who has limited trust and therefore a heightened need to control, that challenge can be exhausting.  

A few weeks ago a group of parents got together with us online to discuss power struggles and managing bids for power with kids who have a strong need to control.   We talked about positive parenting strategies for managing kids’ bids for power and even brainstormed ideas for specific issues our group was struggling with at the time.  

Our participants on that day shared with us some things they wanted to be reminded of a few weeks down the road.  I was looking over the list today and decided that most of us could use reminding about most of these things so I decided to share the list via blog so we could all benefit.     For those of you who participated I hope that seeing the list reminds you of what you’re working on and inspires you to make today a purposeful parenting day.  Thanks for all your great input!  

Remind me: 

  • to give clear directions instead of making requests when dealing with my control seeking child
  • to maintain my competency even if it means an issue might lasts a bit longer
  • to maintain a nurturing attitude and tone while managing my child’s bid for power
  • to be on top of my game (parenting with purpose and using what I know)
  • to use actions not words when dealing with a bid for power
  • not to banter because banter can turn a bid for power into a power struggle
  • to stay on top of positive parenting now to set my child up for success now and later
  • to parent from my feet not my seat
  • that what I am doing really can make a positive difference even as I struggle through

If you weren’t part of the group but want to learn more about managing your child’s bid for power check out our recorded course.

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