Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I will never do it the way my parents did!

Child: You are the worst mom in the whole entire world!
Mom: If I had ever talked to my parents that way I would have no teeth left!

Have you ever found yourself uttering these words? We are raising our children in a very different world than we were raised. I remember what it felt like to hear the threat of getting “the belt”, so scary that my sisters and I would comply without ever actually seeing the belt. Sometimes, we were “shamed” into submission and humiliated to make us comply with the rules, at home and sometimes even at school.

Today, we are encouraged to listen to our kids and validate their feelings. We are more aware that it is not only about the discipline tools but how they are delivered that shape our kids. The lines between being open and allowing disrespect start to get a little bit blurry.
Do you ever wonder if you are doing it “right” when it comes to raising your own kids? I know deep down inside that I don’t want to parent the exact same way my parents did it. I want to take what I appreciated about their parenting and somehow mix it with this new version of parenting I am learning. But, is it realistic to expect the same instant compliance my parents got out of me, if the method I am using is totally different? It stands to reason that if the method is different the results would be too.

What I know so far is that my child knows without a doubt that she is always good and that her heart is good. That is the nature of who she is. She knows that she sometimes chooses to make poor choices that her dad and I don't approve of but she is ALWAYS intrinsically good. We disapprove of her behavior, not of her as a person. I know so far, she trusts her home as a safe place for her to completely fall apart when she has been holding it together all day at school. Do you ever hear people praise your kids for the way they behave at school and you wonder if they are talking about the same hooligans you see at home?

Don't get me wrong: we have rules in our home and there are natural consequences. My daughter knows how to push our buttons and while she does that, I am reminded that she may be pushing the buttons but she “didn’t install the system”. She knows that her anger is OK with me. It is my responsibility to teach her to use tools to deal with that anger which don't include hurting herself or hurting someone else. It is my job to help her figure out how to navigate those intense emotions and how to find a place for them.

In those moments when her emotions take over and she behaves short of the disturbed the child on the “Exorcist” I sometimes forget and take personal the things she may say in anger. I forget to ask myself; “what is she trying to communicate?”, “is she tired”? “Is she coming down with a cold”? “Is she feeling stressed out?” It all seems to happen so fast.

Have you had the pleasure yet to hear your child say things like “I hate you” or “you are the worst mommy in the world”? It can be a shock to your parenting “ego".In those emotionally charged moments I need to remember that she loves me and that she is a child figuring out the world around her. Yet it still hurts and the words do sting. I have discovered that not “reacting” but instead “responding” to her outburst works well for us. If I remain calm I make sure only one of us is having a melt-down!

Raising children in this new, more open, more balanced way is not easy. It requires a lot more work, patience, and more focus than pulling the “infamous belt” ever would. Do I hear some parents afraid of spoiling their kids or being too soft? Sure. Is this kinder, non-reactive, strength-based approach perfect? Not by a long shot. But I feel privileged for the opportunity to give it a try!

Monday, October 19, 2009

When your 8-year-old is going on 15 !!

It is always ironic to me, how my own experience raising my child always prepares me for my sessions with the parents I coach. Many of these parents have come to me lately for help when they are engaged in power struggles with their children. It has been a topic that has brought many a frustrated parent to question his or her own parenting skills. I had being able to recognize immediately when their children were asserting their own power and attempting to define the boundaries between them and their parents. This time it was my turn to experience that struggle for myself.

A few days ago, my 8-year-old daughter got in the car with me after a day at school. On the way home we talked about what she planned to do with the rest of the afternoon. I was quick to remind her that she was expected to do her homework and chores before she went out to play with our next-door neighbor. I found myself at a loss for words as I heard my daughter say, in no uncertain terms:” I am not doing chores and you can’t make me. “

In the interest of honesty and transparency here, I have to tell you that hearing my own daughter utter those words felt like a personal and professional failure on my part. One of the things that has made my work as a parent coach a powerful experience, has been my ability to relate to the struggles of parents just like me, trying to make the best of every situation while raising, healthy, well adjusted children. I was looking at my daughter through the rear-view mirror while fantasizing: Do I join her in the “hunt” for power or do I wait until we get home and ground her for life?

Fortunately for both of us, patience and calm prevailed that day. I forced myself to take a deep breath. As calmly as I could, I let her know that indeed she was correct: I couldn’t make her do anything. I shared with her that once she became her own person, with her own opinions and her own likes and dislikes, I hadn’t been able to make her do anything: I couldn’t make her eat, I couldn’t make her go to sleep, I couldn’t even make her stop talking without using some sort of illegal restraint! She looked back at me with a sense of triumph and repeated: “That’s right mommy, you can’t make me do anything”.

I could see she was waiting for me to make the next move. I have never been very good at playing poker but this was one of those times when I needed to keep a straight face and not let her see my “hand”. I needed to keep it together and call her “bluff”. I said: “honey, the wonderful thing about being responsible and making our own decisions is that we also get to experience the consequences of our choices. So, since I can’t make you do anything, my job is to guide you to make the best choices, but the choices are still yours to make.

I could almost hear the wheels turning in her head. We discussed her options and their consequences. Her response was immediate and I heard the “you can’t do that. That’s not fair. No, I will not do my chores OR my homework and you can’t’ make me.” I took another deep breath wondering if my approach was all but a failed attempt to remain calm when what I really wanted to do was scream and tell her how she was going to do whatever I darn well told her to do! Anyone else ever been there?

The ride home was silent and thankfully, short. We went in the house and I continued with my routine without saying another word to her. She sat on the couch, cross-legged and defiant. I told her I was going to give her 5 minutes to decide what she wanted to do. When the time was up, she got off the couch and acting as if nothing had happened asked:” How about I do my chores but put on the TV while I do it so I won’t be so bored?” I agreed quickly and she was surprised. I could tell she felt proud of her “negotiating” skills.

I could feel my face starting to cool off and my blood pressure returning to normal. The bottom line was clear: I had given her the choice to do the right thing but also had given some room for her to feel like she had some power and some true choice-making leverage. As tempting as it was in the moment, I realized that mirroring her unwanted behavior instead of modeling a healthier way to behave was setting up a long road of power struggles. We are not even in the teen years yet!!

One thing I know for sure: When it comes to preparing me to work with the parents I support, nothing prepares me better than the everyday challenges of raising a strong-willed 8 year old!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Honesty and your kids

The article below came to me today as I was questioning myself over how much to share with our 8 year-old about recently loosing my job. I was upset, hurt and dissapointed and there were a lot of tears!

In a clear, calm, age-appropriate way, we decided to explain to her what had happened and what that meant for us as a family. We were open and honest and answered all her questions. I have to be honest: I was worried that maybe I had "traumatized" my child in some way and that maybe I should have "shielded" her from the truth. Guilt is never too far from a mom's mind!!!

To my surprise, she was understanding and willing to do her part in our efforts to use our resources even more responsibly. Because we were calm, she was able to be calm too!

Modeling for our kids in developmentally-appropriate ways how to handle stressful situations helps them learn that their emotions are valid, real and important. What a great lesson for all of us!!

Scream Free Parenting Tip of the Day

by Hal Runkel, LMFT

Kids are remarkably perceptive creatures. Even infants pick up on parental cues and follow our lead, regardless of the emotion we emit. If you have something major going on with your career, marriage, finances, health – you name it – your children are picking up on it.

Your best course of action is honesty. Pretending like nothing is wrong does nothing but send mixed signals to your kids. It makes them question their own instincts and judgments – one of the cruelest things you can do to them. When your child approaches you with a tough question – especially one involving a perception they have – be simple, be direct, and be honest. You’ll actually be doing them a tremendous favor!

How have you handled life changing situations with your children? What worked for you?