Author Archives: Allison Rees

An Adult Relationship

The time of parenting teens is one of intense change. In the earlier stages of raising adolescents we buckle up, expecting to go through a period of conflict or uncertainty. In those early years we are often intently focused on the act of parenting but, ideally, as our teens mature we begin to parent less, support more and start sharing a life with a neat young adult. We start to see that light at the end of the tunnel. We also begin to see space in soon-to-be empty bedrooms for the big screen TV, along with more freedom and less responsibility. Hmm. Sounds kind of delicious.

But there may be another thing you have to deal with your marriage. That is about to change too.

Once the kids walk out your front door, you may find yourself face-to-face with your partner and have absolutely nothing to say. If the kids have been a focal point in your relationship, it may be time to take a look across the dinner table and get to know that familiar face again. After all, in a few short years, that person might become your traveling partner. Wouldn’t it be nice if you actually enjoyed each other’s company?

Couples who have been married 25 years or longer have the second highest rate of divorce because staying together “for the sake of the kids” is no longer an issue. And, with the challenges of raising kids removed, the relationship may also feel a little dull, especially if you haven’t taken the time to connect in the past.

Hopefully, raising teens has given you some valuable lessons about relationships. Living with a teen has probably taught you a lot of humility and patience. You may have also developed some pretty great communication skills along the way, including how to listen, how to talk respectfully, and how to resolve differences without completely losing it. Hopefully, you have learned you aren’ perfect and you aren’t always right. Your teen would have taught you this during her stage of criticizing everything that came out of your mouth. Maybe her lessons have helped you move on to the next stage of your marriage.

Somewhere along the way you have likely learned other relationship lessons as well. Possibly the most important one is that you are responsible for your own happiness. Your partner can only be accountable for so much. In his book, How to be An Adult in Relationships, David Richo says, “Mature adults bring a modest expectation of need fulfillment to a partner. They seek only 25 percent of their need fulfillment from someone else, with the other 75 percent coming from self, family, friends, career, hobbies, spirituality/religion, and even pets.” Taking responsibility for your own happiness is also a wonderful departure gift for your kids, allowing them to separate from you without guilt or confusion.

A mature relationship accepts that there will be challenges and that the original romantic stage was really just a temporary state of insanity. Would you honestly want to go back to the time when the basis for falling in love may have been nothing more than liking how your partner smells?

It’s likely that neither you nor your partner knew what you were in for when you got together. How could you have? And even in its mature phase, there will still be times of conflict in any relationship. Most people who share a history experience phases of being unloving, even fantasizing that their partner will ride off into the sunset and forget their way home. Conflict is not only normal; it is a necessary component to any healthy relationship. Conflict allows us to be two separate human beings rather than one symbiotic blob. We have to be able to move through contention in order to rest comfortably in commitment.

Looking back, you may see that what you shared with your partner wasn’t just love, but also values and respect. You didn’t have to agree on everything and hopefully, over the years, you’ve learned to disagree with dignity. You may have learned that simply being right doesn’t really feel great if it shuts your partner down completely. Perhaps you’ve even found a place for the “yes, dear”, as you’ve learned to suck it up for the love of peace and harmony. And though some may find the only way to achieve peace and harmony is through separation, it’s nice to know you have tried your best.

If we’re lucky, at the end of the day we learn that the purpose of a relationship is to enjoy happiness rather than to endure pain. And as our adolescent kids begin to experience that insane, romantic kind of love, we might be there to show them the mature model. Yes, we might seem kind of old and boring in our polyester pants or high-waisted blue jeans; but we can show them enduring love, healthy boundaries, conscious choice and direct, respectful honesty.

Finding Financial Balance

Mom, I thought you said grapes were expensive, these are only $2.99! But that’s per pound dear, and the bunch you’re holding is about three pounds. If you can afford to renovate the kitchen why can’t you buy me a computer of my own?

While peering over your bifocals at your very bright teen, it is easy to assume he should know better. Yet, very little can replace life experience in figuring out how money works, so many teenagers have mistaken ideas about money.

But work like a dog, live paycheck-to-paycheck and soon those $150 running shoes don’t look so great. As parents, we need to find a balance between supporting our kids financially and supporting their learning how to manage money. This can create a tug of war on the parental purse strings so putting some thought into this complex subject makes “cents.”

When my kids were young they were given an allowance every two weeks. There was no expectation that they contribute some to charity or that they save a portion. It was their money; in order to learn, they needed the freedom to spend it all on dumb things. And they learned that when you spend it, it doesn’t magically reappear. They also learned to appreciate things more when they saved for them.

When they reached their pre-teens, their allowance increased in proportion to their needs. They were going out with friends more, renting movies and, in my son’s case, saving for ski trips and expensive equipment. Of course, we still bought their clothing and met them halfway with certain things, but we were releasing responsibility slowly.

At some point it seemed the IPods, MAC Makeup, cell phones and expensive clothing were appearing too often on the list of “have to haves.” My husband and I found this stuff hard to relate to, since our generation played with Etch-A-Sketch and tetherball sets. Yet, I remembered having to have the cool running shoes with three stripes (not two). In my young teenage insecurity, that extra stripe truly felt like a need. I couldn’t articulate then that my real need was to belong and feel comfortable within my peer group but now I can see that need in my kids. A big part of the teen years is finding a sense of belonging, and sometimes the perfect eye shadow or skateboard plays a part.

Of course, all families are different; even different children within a family may have different money issues. But regardless of these differences, a kid will not learn about money if her parent’s wallet is a bottomless pit or if the parent provides no money for her to learn to manage.

As parents, how can we support our kids without overindulging them? How can we alleviate power struggles over money? How can we help them learn the value of a buck? Is a part-time job the answer? What about schoolwork, time with friends and the need for sleep and down time? Kids who have “McJobs” often don’t have time for these important things.

When a child reaches his teens, he can benefit from a chance to manage money beyond his allowance. Parents who can afford to can give teens a “living allowance.” This is an amount of money that represents the average of what a parent might spend monthly on larger items. It is not something that parents begrudge and resent. It is a reasonable sum, both realistic and fair. Parents give the determined amount to the teen and explain that they will not be negotiating giving or lending more money or rescuing him when he overspends.

A living allowance is “earned” by displaying accountability, readiness and an ability to make decent choices. It doesn’t mean parents don’t allow for mistakes but that your child has an overall sense of responsibility. Every family can put their own twist to this. We expected my son to cook an extra meal every week so he could brush up his culinary skills beyond frozen pizza and spaghetti. My daughter was and continues to contribute to the community with volunteer work. We felt that was an extra, valuable responsibility.

A colleague gave his kids a living allowance but fined them $5.00 if they missed their night on dishes or continued to leave the bathroom in a mess. They rarely went back to the basic allowance; money seemed to motivate them.

A caution: think twice about taking your child’s basic allowance away. Teens need money and they can find very interesting ways of creating what they need.

My son just graduated from high school. He has had part time jobs since he was 14 and he bought some really special things with his money. We gave him a living allowance throughout his teen years regardless of his employment. Now we have a sense of sadness as we release our financial protection. He is moving into the next phase of life; while we are helping him with college fees he now relies on part time work for everything else. He won’t be buying too many expensive items. Eventually he will either move out or start paying rent when college ends. We see this stage of parenting as more than issues about money; it is about learning, gratitude, relationships and helping our kids take responsibility so they can stand on their own two beautiful feet.

responsibility

Pulling the Plug on Power Struggles

As our children go through the significant transition from child to teenager, most of them produce some interesting behaviours. Criticizing or shutting out parents, defiance, mouthiness, doing things to irritate you, the list goes on. It’s important for parents to understand what these behaviours really are rather than simply label them as disrespectful. In their move toward independence our kids are teaching us to treat them differently. This is individuation at work, teens are learning to handle life’s stress and pressure on their own and with their friends support rather than their family’s. A lot of needless power struggles can erupt when we take this behaviour personally.

When teens lose their heads or act poorly, they don’t need to deal with parental panic. They need parents who are strong enough to deal with their emotional struggles. Lectures on respect and moral values don’t usually go too far at this stage. Better to model self-control and remember to breathe deeply: in through the nose, out through the mouth.

When my daughter was 14, I expressed that I was feeling hurt by something she had said. Her response was, “I’m a teenager, Mom, I’m not supposed to be thinking of your feelings all the time. Just ignore me when I act like this. (Yes, she really said that.) Ignoring some of these typical behaviours is not being a neglectful parent. It is important to see them as part of a stage and not take them personally. This can require an incredible amount of self-discipline.

When behaviours cross so far over our boundaries that they can’t be ignored, we need to give ourselves time to think and cool down. When stress and anxiety are high and anger (ours or our teen’s) escalates to the point of no return, we only have one good choice: disengage. Get out instead of having to prove that we are right. Do not come up with consequences in the heat of the moment as this can devastate our teen and send him running out the door. Effective consequences are never born out of anger. Waiting until we feel calm will give us time to be effective and fair.

When it comes to teaching responsibility, a lot of great parenting is about what we don’t do. Not nagging and not rescuing kids from their responsibilities and the natural consequences of their choices is doing something powerful. In our children’s younger years we take time to teach them and give them feedback and guidance until they know how to do tasks comfortably. But once they have been taught, love means pulling back. In letting go of teen issues (such as hygiene, diet, bedrooms, laundry, homework, choice of friends, clothing and money) we give our teens a chance to experience real life learning, including small failures and how to recover from them.

When we back off from some behaviour and from issues that are our kids’ responsibility, we remove a lot of power struggles in the family. This gives us more room to maintain our own boundaries and deal with family issues: those behaviours that affect more than one family member, such as respect, contributing to family chores, keeping noises at a comfortable level for everyone, limiting phone use so others can receive calls, privacy, locking up at night, coming home when expected, safety, care of the family car, and using illegal drugs or smoking in the house.

Most family issues can be dealt with through communication. Use non-judgmental language and encourage respectful problem solving; these are powerful tools during the teen years. If we start by talking about feelings and needs rather than by criticizing our teen’s behaviour, we have a much better chance of having a respectful discussion. “I worry when you don’t come home on time. I need some reassurance and need to know that you are safe. Would you please call me and let me know you’re okay?” Some issues will need to be negotiated. Teens need to develop these skills to help them be accountable and to create choices for themselves. Communication can help parents relax and creates more freedom for teens.

Problem solving can work if everybody agrees they want to solve the problem. Family members need to agree to speak respectfully and not interrupt. Effective problem solving includes:

1) Identifying the issue and sticking to it. Avoid bringing in other issues or bringing up the past. Stick to the point.

2) Identifying everyone’s needs. Listen to your teen first. Make sure you understand exactly what she is saying and how she is feeling. Listen until you really understand your child. Once your teen has been heard, she will be much more receptive to hearing your concerns. Keep it brief and concentrate on your needs and feelings.

3) Brainstorming possible solutions. Have someone (you or your teen) write down all the ideas. Do not judge anything during this time. Just get creative, have some fun and bring in all kinds of ideas.

4) Looking at the pros and cons of each idea and choosing those everyone can live with. Compromise is the key.

5) Putting the plan into action and setting a time to follow up to see how things are working out. Two weeks is usually sufficient.

It might take some time to put all of this into place but the payoff will be well worth the effort. Teens need to know that they can be loved while they separate into their own, unique selves. Take time to enjoy and support your teens, and don’t miss any opportunities to give sincere, positive feedback. Even though he may not show it, your teen wants your acceptance, guidance and approval.

Saying "yes" to the Givens

Sometime during the past school year my fourteen-year-old daughter surprised everyone by announcing that she wanted to go on a family trip across Canada in our thirty year old motor home after all. A year before, when my husband had suggested the same thing, both my daughter and I had scowled at the thought of being stuck in a confined space as a family for weeks on end. Now I was the odd man out, the only one who didn’t want to go. My husband said it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. “Yeah” I thought, “I bet it would be.” An opportunity for what? To be kept awake by everybody snoring? To experience conflict with each other about every little thing? To get stranded in the middle of nowhere? But I was outnumbered and so, with my knees shaking I said “yes” to the trip while crying out “no” to the challenges.

Looking back I can say that everything that I was afraid of happened and more. People snored, we had conflict and the motor home broke down in the middle of nowhere. Wouldn’t you think that is just a given with four people driving 13,000 kilometers in a tired and aging RV? Yet something started to occur to me as we made our way across the country. I seemed to have a sense of entitlement that these things shouldn’t happen to me. Where did this come from? I realized that I had a lot of fear and yet I only had so much control. I couldn’t control the other drivers. I couldn’t control the weather conditions or the mechanical breakdowns. I couldn’t make my kids have a good time although I did give them heck if they didn’t look out the window enough. My inflated ego was insisting that things go a certain way and yet reality was about to teach me otherwise. What I really could control was my own level of resistance to life on a road trip and what it would throw at me. I could say, “yes” to the adventure and unearth the treasures that lay beneath.

When it came to sleep, there was a lot more than snoring disturbing me. At one point in Halifax, it rained so hard that our roof developed a major leak right over my daughter’s bed. At two in the morning she ended up having to crawl into my bed. We giggled as we watched the drops of water plunking into pots. Every time my husband reminded us he was trying to sleep, we laughed harder. Wrapped in each other’s arms everything was funny and in that moment there was nothing else. My son slept through it all and his snoring wasn’t an annoyance but a peaceful reminder of his steady nature. This was no tragedy; it was an unexpected moment of joy and closeness.

There were times of conflict yet the beauty of having nowhere to run meant that we either let things go or we talked. A lesson came to me during a state of agitation when I announced that I wouldn’t play mediator or peacekeeper and they would have to sort out their gripes themselves. My son patted me on the head and said, “Good for you mom, it’s about time.” What? I knew he was a foot taller than me but could he really see a part of me that I couldn’t see? So I let go and after that something wonderful happened: I discovered all my interference was really unnecessary. Okay, it was darn right annoying and stopped people from finding their own creative ways to solve problems. When I let go I freed myself from self-imposed suffering. When I could accept conflict it meant I could get on with life rather than getting caught up in how things played out. It was incredibly liberating, for all of us. I developed more faith in my family’s ability to work things out and they did so with humour, warmth and compassion. In this I found equality and a sense of trust within my family.

The lack of breakdowns began to feel like a miracle although we had some problems but nothing that couldn’t be solved with duct tape, twine or a coat hanger. We narrowly escaped tornadoes, were eaten alive by bugs and we even managed to get some airtime when a road came to an unexpected ending. At one point we were stranded in the middle of nowhere because we ran out of propane but rescued by kind hearted people who went out of their way to help us. We were left feeling grateful and humbled by people’s big hearts and willingness to help. There was a sense of connectedness that moved beyond our family and into the air we all breathe together.

We learned that we could make plans expecting to be in control of how the day unfolded but open to the fact that things didn’t always go according to plan. Our comfort began to lie not in what we thought we could control but our commitment to deal with what happened. This was complete freedom because we could be open to life’s challenges without feeling entitled or too weak to endure them. We were ready, and believe me when I say; we toughened up to the givens of a road trip but softened to the nature of being human. In this there was the peace of surrender; not the fear of defeat.

On that road trip I still had a physical and emotional place for myself even though four of us were confined for five weeks within that space. I could still look out the window and acknowledge this was a point in time that would come to an ending. It seemed like life was staring back at me with a reminder that everything changed and nothing lasts forever. I could always be there for myself and I could continue to commit to learning how to love without fear, control and conditions. With every “yes” I say to the challenge I receive more peace, joy and more space in my happy place.

So perhaps somewhat predictably I am saying the road trip was a reflection of the bigger picture. I know there will be “givens” in my life as a parent of teens. I will go through pain and discomfort. I might break down or be shocked by the unexpected. Perhaps if I can hang on to that sweet sense of surrender I can face anything that life has to offer me: not to fight, but to embrace the challenges that will lead me along the heroic journey of being a parent.

Picky Eater

I have some concerns about my pre-teen daughter’s eating habits. To say she is picky just doesn’t describe it any more. From baby food on, my daughter has never eaten meat… I am aware of her iron/protein intake as she approaches puberty. Usually she will have yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, carrots, peanut butter, or eggs for most meals. In recent years we have added rice, Kraft Dinner, naked spaghetti (no sauce, only cheese), cheese pizza and lettuce to her repertoire. …Her lunch is either a peanut butter sandwich, bagel with peanut butter on it or cheese & crackers. She will eat bananas, apples, oranges, grapes – basic fruits, etc. I have discussed this with my GP over the years and his comment was that she is getting a balanced diet so don’t force her… she will not starve. We haven’t forced her, and we’re getting a more resistive attitude these days – worse than before.

You are describing a healthy diet, even though it may be quite restricted. So he’s right that it’s not worth fighting about.

We are now dealing with an almost 11 year old who will grab the cottage cheese container and finish it off before dinner and state she is full.

A lot of children get hungry earlier than the time adults have dinner. When they’re growing fast, they need more frequent smaller meals. Our idea of the one big evening meal is actually a rather unhealthy way of eating.

What is now happening is that my husband is starting to threaten a timer and when the timer goes he will ‘help’ her finish. This is not going to help anything as far as I’m concerned only make Dad the bad guy and meal time ugly.

You’re absolutely right here! It will only create a power struggle, and make your daughter more invested in eating her own way.

I make a salad for dinner and she will only eat certain darker green pieces of salad and not the white part (closer to the center of the head) because the “white has too much water in it”. I have tried discussing this issue with her, I make things she likes most nights but on the nights I don’t I expect her to try a bit of everything. By “a bit” I mean that I give her 1 tbsp of potato, a one inch cube of meat and about the same in vegetables. This can take 45 min to get through with grimaces throughout the torture.

This is torture for everyone. Why do you need to do this? It isn’t going to make her like the foods you make her try. I think you need to stop expecting her to eat the food you prepare. You can still do lots of other parenting things for her.

Every time I read in parent books about not forcing a child to eat I look for some suggestions how to introduce new, or even keep with the old favourites which sometimes falls under the -“I don’t like today”

My biggest concern is that I believe this is becoming a control issue more than a food issue and we are entering a dangerous age to be dealing with this.

Absolutely. It is becoming a major power struggle. You need to opt out of it entirely and let your daughter’s diet be her own concern, I think. Take her shopping with you, or have her give you a shopping list, so that she can select foods which she will eat. Let her prepare her own meals at the time at which she wants to eat (making sure she isn’t in your way when you’re preparing the meal for the rest of the family). She can clean up her own dishes not necessarily wash them all (unless that is her job) but put them in the dishwasher or by the sink.

If she wants you to cook for her, she can negotiate with you to choose a meal which you think the rest of the family will eat too. Maybe this could happen once a week. The rest of the time, don’t bother expecting her to eat with you. Find other times and activities for being together with her, so you take the heat off the dinner hour.

There is no moral rule which says that dinner time is to be “family time.” It’s often a very difficult time for families. Eating disorders do indeed begin with power struggles with parents in the area of food consumption. It would help if you and your husband could let go of this area entirely, and just have a relaxed supportive relationship with your daughter where you let her be in charge of her own food intake.

What were you thinking?

I often joke with parents in my classes about the expression my face has grown accustomed to wearing around my teens. It’s a neutral look, free of judgment and negative emotion. With amazing self-control, it manages to stay there even when I am hearing something that makes me want to scream. That look is there for a really good reason: teens are quick to see or hear a putdown, sense judgment or feel deeply hurt from a lack of trust.

Trust gets complicated during this stage of development and the word seems to take on new meaning. Being completely honest with your parent isn’t always easy for a teen. “Hey mom, dad, I just thought I’d let you know that I’ve siphoned out the vodka bottle a few inches and replaced it with water.” “You want to know my plans? Well, we’ve been planning on MSN for about a week. About 20 of us are meeting at the park and we’re going to get buzzed.” How do you trust a teen when they are lying to you? Especially when you know they are lying? What does trust really mean?

I have concluded that trust has to assume a more philosophical meaning through these years. “Please trust that I want to live, I am planning on keeping myself safe and I know I am loved by my family.” When I am connected to my kids, I can trust them in this way because our relationship is the linchpin between their need for autonomy and my need for reassurance. In order to do this, I need to remember that our relationship comes first. That doesn’t mean that I’m trying to be their best friend but that they know I care, I support them and I have enough self-confidence to set reasonable limits with them. A good relationship also allows room for guidance and discussion.

I am well aware of how fragile this linchpin is. Scary behaviours can appear suddenly with new friends or acquaintances, a drug experience or any number of factors. Often a parent’s initial response to these behaviours is to try to control more, falling back on time-honoured strategies such as long groundings or a complete loss of privileges. But this kind of approach is rarely effective; it serves mainly to force the teen’s behaviour underground and to damage the parent/child relationship.

“What were you thinking?” we might ask a teen who has just done something reckless. Perhaps it’s time we face some scientific facts: adolescent brains are undergoing a huge amount of growth just like the rest of their bodies. It may not surprise you to know that changes in the brain’s frontal lobes: “the part that governs the ability to reason, control impulses, measure risk and practice second thoughts” are the last to mature. While this development may vary from child to child, in general this part of the brain doesn’t fully develop until the late teens or early twenties. Until this takes place, adolescents have more activity around the amygdala, the more primitive “fight or flight” part of the brain and less in the frontal cortex, that rational, logical part. This explains a lot in terms of a teen’s impulsiveness and why parents may (legitimately) feel so much anxiety during this time.

The world seems to be more complicated today but the developmental needs of teens haven’t changed. They need parents who love them, education and information to help with real life choices. They need respect and encouragement from the adults around them, including teachers, coaches and relatives. Don’t be fooled by a tough looking exterior or rolling eyes. Teens feel deeply hurt by thoughtless comments that come from adults. They are very sensitive to assumptions, putdowns and intrusive comments. Before you speak to a teen, ask yourself “Would I speak to an adult this way?”

When negative emotions pile up inside teens’ heads, it is very difficult for them to be articulate and represent themselves effectively. Most of the teens I counsel need a lot of help with assertiveness. They often bring me their own special look: the one that tends to push people away rather than bring them closer. Most of them need to learn that their needs are valid and that they aren’t horrible people for having them. They also need to develop skills and strategies to build “trust” in the relationship they have with their parents. And they need to hear that it is reasonable for a parent to ask for information and be given reassurance.

Adults also have their work cut out for them. First, we need to express concern from a position of having a need for the teen’s well-being. “I understand there will be alcohol at the party and I feel very concerned about your safety.” We also need to give them limits that are do-able but clear. “I’ll be picking you up at 11:00 and I want to hear from you if your plans change.â” We can also ask teens to tell us how they plan to keep themselves safe and convince us that they are ready for this kind of freedom. “Prove to me that you are ready for this kind of responsibility.” Of course, we may never feel fully convinced that they are ready but shutting down their honesty only puts them in danger. If we are reasonable they will often satisfy their curiosity and find balance between peers and family.

It is much easier for teens to be accountable if they actually experience the rewards that go with it. Teens are often hurt that nobody seems to notice the good stuff they do; be sure to praise your teens for the great decisions they do make. They are making choices all the time but the ones that seem to get our attention are the ones that scare us half to death. While this makes sense, it also means we have to work harder at noticing all the good stuff.

Teach teens that responsibility equals freedom and vice versa. If they come to the plate with respectful negotiation and a track record of accountability, present freedom like a prize. Let them know that representing themselves as truly reliable can only bring more flexibility on your part. Again, tell them if you feel scared or concerned but make sure you express it from a place of love rather than as a criticism or judgment of who they are.

Temper Tantrums

Many normal, wonderful preschoolers have intense and frightening temper tantrums as a way of dealing with frustration, anger and telling the adults in their lives that they aren’t the boss of them!

I remember when my son was about three, we were in a kid’s clothing store. Jarryd was playing on his own with some toys when another boy came up to join him. Jarryd freaked out and started screaming and throwing toys. I had to pick him up and carry him out of the store, my own mother trailed behind with my new baby, Lexy. Jarryd pulled on the skin of my neck so hard that he drew blood. My mother watched in disbelief as she felt completely helpless to do anything at that moment to help. When I look back, I can see that he was going through a phase that seemed to last for months. The intensity of the tantrums and their frequency did pass but if someone came up to me to tell me it was just a stage, I might have had my own temper tantrum. It was scary and I thought for sure that I was raising a “future criminal.”

Now I can look back and see the contributing factors. Jarryd has a cautious approach and he liked to play on his own or know somebody well before playing with them. We had a new baby and he was feeling the stress from that. Anytime he was tired or hungry he could easily be triggered into a very intense fit of anger. This really was a phase and there wasn’t much I could do to stop the tantrums other than protect him and give him space to cool down.

I am frequently asked what parents should to when their children are engaging in such behaviours as tantrums. My answer is that it is what you don’t do. When I look back at those experiences I am grateful that I didn’t hit him, scream at him or join him in a tantrum of my own. I avoided putting him down and making him feel like a bad person when the tantrums were over. I didn’t withhold my love or hold it against him. Sometimes I needed space to cool down so I could control my behaviour and avoid doing those things. Discipline meant, self-discipline and having to stay as calm as I could.

We may not be able to connect with our children in the heat of the moment but chances are that your ability to teach your child anything during those adrenaline peaks would simply backfire. You teach your children about emotions, and expressing them appropriately over time through your role modeling and through your connection with them. In that connection, you can identify what needs aren’t being met or where their stress might be. In that connection with you they can express more subtle feelings and start to build a feeling vocabulary that will be used more and more as they mature.

This takes time and when children are very young they have difficulty with feelings. My son couldn’t come up to me and say, “Hey mom, this kid is making me feel uncomfortable. By the way, I feel stressed about the new baby too.” Even being able to tell me he was hungry or tired would have been a tall order back then. So instead of articulating feelings, they feel them! They scream, pinch, kick, bite, and throw things.

Today, my son is coming up to his sixteenth birthday. He is a gentle, kind hearted person who wouldn’t dream of hurting anybody. He is still fairly intense and still feels more comfortable in familiar settings with familiar people. If somebody could have handed me a crystal ball and given me a peak, I would have relaxed and just gone about the business of loving him and helping him get his needs met. I may not have smiled through the tantrums but at least I would know that he was going to be just fine, not a criminal and not an aggressive, mean person.

What can you do?

* Make sure your child is safe and free from harm.
* Stay calm and stand firm if this is a reaction to not getting their way.
* Remind yourself that it is important for your child to learn that she can’t have everything she wants when she wants it.
* Praise positive behaviours with specific feedback.
* Explain limits and expectations when feelings are calm and people aren’t angry.
* Use time out as a cooling down period for either yourself or your child.
* Ignore the tantrum as much as you can.
* Teach your child about their feelings and how to handle anger as they mature.
* Be a good role model yourself.
* Look for triggers to behaviours; hunger, fatigue, time of day, place, events, temperament or how your behaviour affects your child.

Chores without the Struggle

My daughter who is just turning six has a difficult time helping around the house. I expect her to feed her rabbit every day, do her homework for kindergarten (reading a short book every day), sweep the kitchen twice a week and clean the rabbit cage once every three weeks. The feeding is okay because we use a chart but the cleaning of the cage is a struggle and sometimes she cries and complains for an hour! The sweeping goes okay though she spends a lot of time complaining about it, but reading her book is another struggle, and often we end up doing it just before bedtime. I use a chart and if the chores are done she gets her allowance and privileges like visiting friends or playing games on the computer. The rabbit cage cleaning is such a struggle that I am considering getting rid of the rabbit. My daughter has agreed to this but I feel sad about it because we all enjoy the animal. I wonder if I should take care of it myself, or would that teach her to simply drop the animal after getting bored with it?

You daughter is just turning six and being that age is demanding in itself, yet I respect your need to teach her responsibility. You are on the right track in teaching that responsibility equals freedom, but your expectations are a little high considering her age.

At six, children need lots of time to play, as play is where they work out their problems and try out new creative things. They need to play with friends to develop their social skills. They also need lots of rest, and “recovery time” after school.

The best way to teach responsibility to our children is to include them in our daily routines, taking the time to let them help us in areas that interest them. This strengthens the parent/child relationship and teaches children the spirit of being responsible. The natural experience of enjoying a pancake that we made together or being in a clean home that we all enjoy is the true teacher.

It’s reasonable to expect your daughter to be responsible for her self-help routines such as getting ready in the morning, but even there you need to offer support where she may need it. Slowly as she matures she can help a little around the house. Having “five minute tidies” where everybody runs around and picks up things can actually be fun. Change the jobs so they don’t get boring and she keeps learning new things. Let her have some choice in which jobs she does and when she does them.

Paying children to do regular household tasks tells them that it isn’t really their responsibility and teaches them that work should always be rewarded rather than being a contribution to the family. Perhaps you could rethink the allowance and detach it from her chores. Your daughter also needs to have an allowance on a regular basis so that she can learn how to manage money. Removing the allowance when chores are not done takes away that opportunity for learning.

At six your daughter needs to play with her friends because that is where she will learn a very important responsibility – how to interact with other people. It is fine to say, “When we finish our five minute tidy, then you can go.” At her age “when – then” is very effective and the reward of gaining that freedom is immediate. This hands the responsibility over to her in a much more positive way.

My daughter at eleven has a pet too, and I appreciate how quickly they become a part of the family. Who would ever think you could bond with a rodent? Cleaning the cage is tough work for her, and sometimes it just feels like too much, so I often help and it becomes a time of enjoying our little pet together. Having flexibility with responsibility issues such as this won’t teach your daughter to be irresponsible. When you can be flexible and help her, she will also be flexible with you in other areas. The frustrating arguments about chores take away from learning about responsibility. Make the cage cleaning something you do together, knowing that your daughter is still young and really at a level where she just needs to be helping you rather than taking total responsibility.

With regard to homework, why not make reading her story of the day a part of your mother-daughter time together just before the bedtime routine or after school while eating a snack? A child in kindergarten needs parental involvement with her homework, and you need to teach her how to organize her time around these demands as they increase throughout the years.

Slowly hand responsibility over to your daughter and she will embrace it. Support her and include her in your routines so she feels she contributes to the family in a meaningful way. Have the consequence of freedom immediately follow taking responsibility.