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To Praise or Not to Praise

How often do you stop and notice something positive that your child is doing? Take note of the number of times you give your child negative feedback about his behaviour during the course of a day.  If you find yourself correcting, nagging and criticizing, jot down the areas that you focus on.  Now ask yourself how you can turn things around so that you minimize the negative exchanges and increase the positive comments. Catch your child doing something positive in one of these areas.   

Limit using evaluative, gushy praise, “Oh you are such a good boy.”  or “What a wonderful job you have done here, this is fantastic!”   

Use and Misuse of Praise

 Describe what you see: “I notice you sharing your favourite toy.” or “You got dressed and grabbed your knapsack without being asked this morning.” or “You cleaned up after yourself in the kitchen.”  You don’t have to sound like a robot.

Notice effort rather than result: Children feel encouraged when you notice their positive effort, and that encourages the process of learning rather than the focus on results.

State the impact: “ I feel relieved to walk into a tidy kitchen.” or “John looked grateful that you shared your toy with him.”

Ask children how they feel about their work or ask them to tell you about it.  “I see red and blue clouds and a tree in your painting.”  Tell me about it.  Or, “What made you think of writing about this subject?”

This works well in other relationships too.  How often do you express sincere appreciation to your partner, your colleague or somebody who has provided a service?  Specific feedback gives people information about what they are doing that is working.  We all benefit from a positive approach.  What positive action have you noticed today?  Have you said something?

Say it Sooner

Many parents feel horrible about the number of times they lose their temper.  One reason the blow-ups happen is because parents deny their own frustrations and don’t express themselves at times when feelings are manageable.  You know, those moments when you are actually capable of expressing yourself like an adult!  We owe this to our kids because they don’t always pick up on our body language, facial expression and tone of voice.  Our subtle feelings like frustration or annoyance, fly under their radar.  Teenagers will also misread emotions and see anger instead of feelings like worry, concern or overwhelmed.   Body language can be misinterpreted by adults too as we tend to see or hear what we fear, especially during times of conflict.  To make matters just a little more confusing, we often don’t even notice our subtle feelings and that’s when we find ourselves slamming cupboard doors or going on the attack.  Then, we wonder why our kids don’t listen to us!  If you are stuck in this pattern, change it!

Mom Rage

When we say people are acting childish, we usually mean that their feelings are driving their behaviour.  Think of the last time you “lost it” with your child.  Maybe you were trying to get out of the house. Perhaps it was at arsenic hour, just as you were making dinner.  What feelings came up before you lost it?  Did you express yourself?  How are other people, especially kids, supposed to know how you feel?   I-statements are not nicey-nicey ways of tiptoeing around issues. 

Using them is a very mature thing to do.  You will feel more like your child’s parent than their sibling when you pull this off.  It’s okay, even beneficial if you say things like, “I’m feeling grumpy; I need a moment to myself.”  Or “I feel so annoyed that you aren’t ready to go. I want to be on time!”  Your body language will be understood if you use your words. This isn’t a tool to control others but it is an effective way to deal with the daily challenges of life.  This can also eliminate needless punishments.  After all, would you remove your partner’s car keys if he or she came home late?  No, you would express how worried you were and how upset you feel.    You might be surprised at how much kids will “respect” you when you practice this. 

Growling and Snarling

It is difficult when we see our child experiencing isolation because he either can’t stand up for himself or because he lashes out with too much aggression.   

Angry Aggressive Child

When a child is acting aggressive, he is often just protecting his personal boundaries.  Animals set their interpersonal boundaries through growls and snarls.  An animal is vicious if it actually bites, not if it just growls a warning.  Yet we expect our children not to give these warnings.  Shouldn’t children feel free to growl and snarl a little?  They need permission to be able to tell other kids to back off and leave them alone.  

Real aggression often comes out when a child is angry and doesn’t know how to express it and to set a boundary with another child.  For example, one child may “bug” and provoke another until the other child lashes out.  It’s important to teach your child to use words to express what he feels or wants:   “Don’t touch my stuff,”  “Don’t make faces at me,” and so on.   We need to coach our children on how to express themselves verbally so that they don’t need to resort to physical threats and violence.  

It isn’t enough for a child who is being provoked to make wimpy statements like “Please don’t do that,” or “That hurts my feelings.”  These just invite further bugging or bullying.  A child needs to be able to give the verbal equivalent of a growl or a snarl.  This can be done without damaging anyone’s self-esteem.

What’s not okay?  Physically assaulting another child when he hasn’t attacked you physically.  Remember that physical assaults like kicking, biting, pinching and hitting often happen when the child has overwhelming feelings and doesn’t know what to say.  Giving your child some strong words to use can make a physical attack quite unnecessary. Strong words aren’t put-downs of the other child but are focused on a clear message that represent your child’s boundaries.  They are spoken assertively, not with too much aggression or with an injured tone.

Do a little practice at home:

  • Ask your child to show you confident body language,
  • Come up with a few brief statements that your child can use.
  • Learn snappy comebacks that have some humour.
  • Take turns practicing different roles.

Role-playing helps a child respond during stressful interactions.  The rehearsing of strategies provides them with a structure to hang onto.  

Too Sorry!

Sometimes as a parent, you might say or do something to your child that just doesn’t fit within your vision of healthy parenting.  You might even end up apologizing to your child and that’s just great.  If, however, your apology is all about how badly you feel, it isn’t an apology!

Child Conflict Resolution

Kids can handle hearing this kind of thing for about ONE minute!  Any longer than that, and it ends up feeling yucky to your child.  Don’t put your child in a position of forgiving you or understanding you to make you feel better!   For the most part, kids are allergic to their parent’s feelings and needs when it comes to parental guilt. Why?  Because it is an adult issue. To add this, parents often go on and on about how they were raised and how badly they want to do things differently.  Yes, it makes sense, but does your child need to listen to all of this?  

If you apologize, do so with the intention of understanding how your behaviour impacted your child.  It might sound like, “I’m feeling upset with myself for calling you a spoiled brat this morning.  That was unkind and untrue.  I bet you felt pretty hurt by this.”  Then get curious about how this experience affected him.  Listen to your child talk about his feelings and remember you don’t have to agree with how he see things in order to do this.  He may not see his behaviour or accurately read the situation, but that’s okay.   The issue that led you to lose your temper is a separate issue.  If you bring this into the mix during what is meant to be, a heartfelt apology, you are kyboshing your efforts.  Talk about that later.

The other thing, if you find yourself often apologizing about the same thing it might be an invitation to look a little deeper at your triggers.  

What seems to get you off track with your parenting? 

What are you reacting to?

What could you do instead?

What has worked before?

What does your child need?

What is triggering him?

Parenting is intense, and all families have times when they argue or say something they regret.  Life is messy, relationships are messy and people are messy. Sometimes a look of apology and a heartfelt hug says it all.

Mealtime Blues

Do you have battles with your children over how much they eat?   Do you bribe them with dessert to have one more bite?  Do you praise them for finishing their food? 

Child Eating Struggle

Plenty of research shows that when parents take control of how much food their kids eat, many of those kids end up with food issues.  They lose their inner guidance!  Countless adults are trying to learn to eat when they are hungry and stop eating when they are full.  The unconscious stuffing of food into their bodies is the result of a disconnect that started in childhood.  It is intrusive to get overinvolved with your child’s consumption.

Get creative with your approach and yes, with young children, they can be picky eaters or have food fads, but this passes.  The point is, don’t make it an issue or a power struggle; it is none of your business how much they eat.  Your job is to provide healthy food and a pleasant atmosphere for your child to feel relaxed enough to enjoy her food.  

 If you are stuck in a power struggle, try this:

  • Let your child choose how much food he wants, and if he is old enough, he can serve himself.
  • Do not praise your child for eating or criticize her for not eating; keep your eyes to yourself!
  • If you serve dessert, make it a separate issue rather than being a reward for eating.  
  • Make last call to the kitchen the beginning of the bedtime routine so that hunger can’t be an excuse to get out of bed and so they can eat if they are hungry.
  • Make it easy for your child to help herself by having healthy food easily accessible.  
  • Create a pleasant atmosphere by engaging children in discussions at the table.
  • Have an expectation that your child sit at the table for a reasonable time, timers can help.

Think about what you are afraid of when it comes to your child’s food intake?  What relationship to food do you have?  What were the messages when you were a child?  Being in charge of your own body is part of establishing healthy boundaries that relate to issues beyond food.   Your child will have much more resistance to peer pressure if you give permission to be the boss of herself in this department.  Think about it.  Your child isn’t a fool; he can tell if he is hungry or not.  See what happens if you take your eyes of your child’s plate for an entire week.

Temperament and Dysregulation

Children have problems with their feelings. Some, a little more than others. Although immaturity is a factor, a lot has to do with temperament, which is why a younger child can appear more flexible, calmer, and easier to handle. We come into the world with a genetic blueprint of nine traits. Is your child high in any of the following?

  • Active children often use their bodies to learn and to express themselves, so it isn’t unusual for this child to come out swinging when they are dysregulated. Yes, even past the preschool years.
  • Perceptive children can quickly absorb other people’s stress; they see it, they feel it, they act it out.
  • Persistent children have difficulty letting go of their agenda. They grieve the loss of their ideas. 
  • Cautious children experience strong, overwhelming emotions when they are faced with a new situation or person.
  • Children who aren’t adaptable like things to be fair, and of course, life rarely is.
  • Very regular children like routine and can easily be triggered by hunger and fatigue.
  • Sensory sensitive children often feel overwhelmed by their environment. This leads to depletion and an empty reserve of patience.
  • Intense children feel things in a big way and have difficulty keeping their reactions to a dull roar. Remember, adults have temperament too.
  • Some children come into the world with a more serious mood. 

What to do:

  • Stop seeing a child’s eruptions as a problem to be fixed. Time will take care of this if handled well.
  • Regulate yourself. Focus on your breath and your inner dialogue. “My child isn’t giving me a hard time; they are having a hard time”. (Dr. Ross Greene) 
  • Keep everyone safe and stand by without words, lectures, threats, or lessons. Breathe. 
  • Be present if you can, and if you can’t, say you will be back and that you love them.
  • Your task is to protect your children from getting stuck in the bad kid role. It does not make sense to punish a child for dysregulation.  Remember this is simple immaturity plus temperament. It’s normal.
  • Children need to know you can handle their big feelings. If they see fear or helplessness in you, they will believe that there is something wrong with them. This will lead to more dysregulated episodes and low self-esteem.
  • Remember to translate I HATE YOU, into HELP, I’M STRUGGLING.
  • When it’s over, just connect. You don’t have to talk it out but show that you get it and you’ve got their back. 

Beyond Reflective Listening

When a child feels upset and possibly angry with something you have done, reflective listening may not be enough. You want to attempt to understand the false, self-limiting beliefs that create the feelings. When you are listening reflectively and notice that your child remains defensive and upset, it might be time to ask some questions.

Upset Child

Children have mistaken ideas about the world, especially about relationships. They can misread social ques, think you love their sibling more than you love them, and believe that they are being treated unfairly because they don’t fully understand the circumstances. 

You can ask such things as, “Does it seem like I’m judging you or making you wrong?” “What are some of the things I have done or said that make you feel upset?” This can only work if the parent’s true intent is to be open to learning about what is going on for their child.  It is the loving nature of the parent during exploration that helps a child move out of a protective state. Protective states keep all of us stuck into being closed to solving issues or learning something that we can’t see in that moment.

For everyone, if emotions are strong, it might require time before going into exploration, this requires some patience. The essence of this process opens up deep pain and fear allowing those feelings to be healed.  If we want our children to be loving, caring human beings, we need to be there for them when they are in pain. Being present in this way allows negative emotions to move on rather than staying stored and unresolved. It is also important to know that you can listen to a child’s feelings without agreeing with their perceptions.  

If thoughts aren’t corrected or if situations aren’t fully understood, the negative feelings will persist. What to do:

  • Start by listening to your child’s feelings, naming them and allowing your child to express them.
  • When you see that your child can’t move forward you can give it time or you can move into asking questions.
  • Repeat the child’s perceptions so that he or she knows you understand them.
  • Respectfully, hold up a more realistic, neutral or loving explanation.

Now give the child time to digest and ask questions of his or her own.

Couple with Young Kids

Dear Couple with Young Kids,

You are in one of the most difficult times of marriage.  Sure, you have those moments when your kids are so adorable that you could both burst with joy, but typically, those are moments amidst the daily grind of life.  You might notice that you parent very differently from each other.  Often one parent believes that the other is too lenient and should just lay down the law!  Or, you may see your partner as too strict and insensitive.  There will be times when you may even wonder if you like each other; this is normal.  Feelings can change moment by moment but the need for love is shared by both of you all the time.

Couple With Kids

When you don’t have time to be creative, rest or be alone, it is natural to feel resentful.  You might look at your partner and think they have it easier than you as they walk out the door to work with adults in an organized environment.  Or maybe you wish you could have time at home to hang out with the kids all day.   The truth is, you are both working hard, it just looks different.  Try to avoid feeling competitive about time, soon enough you will have time, this is just a phase.  How many people tell you to enjoy it while you can because kids grow up so fast!    Doesn’t your sleep-deprived body just want to kick them?  But…it’s true.  Acceptance of where you are at with the wisdom to know it will change soon enough can bring about a sense of peace.

You might find that you don’t talk to each other much anymore.  When this happens the glue of the relationship can dry up.  You need that glue to stick!  Your children will benefit if you take some of the focus off of them and direct it back to each other.  How do you stay connected? If it’s too complicated, it won’t happen.  Keep it simple, but do it!  If you feel so resentful that you aren’t sure that you want to connect, remember that distancing never helps, it just creates more misunderstandings.  If there are important issues to deal with, deal with them!  Get help if you need to.   

There are three legs to the milking stool:  Self Care, Couple Care and Child Care.  How are you finding balance?

Determined to Win

Who are you parenting?  Has your child ever been described as stubborn, strong-willed or determined?  While persistence is a wonderful trait it can also play into a negative pattern of behaviour.  You say “no,” and your child pushes harder.  You might find yourself giving in, “Fine then, get the tattoo you little six-year-old!”  Or, you might get locked into power struggles that escalate.  The good news is that you can turn this around.  

Stubborn Child

First, if you are going to give in, give in right away!  Don’t engage in a debate; this only trains your child to argue every time they hear no.  If you aren’t sure about your answer, ask for a moment to think about it. Use this time to do a control check.  Am I sweating the small stuff?  Is he needing more freedom or independence?  Am I being stubborn?  Is this a limit that matters?

If there is a negative pattern or an ongoing issue, work it out with your child at a neutral time, not in the heat of the moment. Persistent kids are great at going along with a plan if they are a part of it.  Explain your desire to be fair and considerate and why having time to think about your answer is important. What could this look like? You can also explain that you are likely to say “no” if there is a demand.  This isn’t being over-controlling; it is teaching a boundary that applies to all relationships.  It is respectful to give people time to think about things and hear a no. When there is a reasonable no, state the reason for the limit and give your child empathy.  Persistent kids grieve the loss of their ideas.  They feel the disappointment strongly.  Let them know you understand they are disappointed and why they feel that way.  This can help your child change gears.  You also need to know when to end the conversation.  Continuing with explanations too long or getting wrapped up in the negative emotions doesn’t give your child the chance to move on.  At this point, you may lovingly disengage, perhaps a good time to use the washroom?  Now your persistent child might try to follow you so explain your need for privacy.  Once you are in there, turn on the taps, breathe and congratulate yourself as you look in the mirror.  “That was a reasonable NO!  Good job!”

Don’t Rush Me!

Growing up is scary business and many of us would like to go back to a time when we were cared for and had no responsibility.  Taking a step back with our independence is part of the process of maturing.  Kids take two forward by trying to have more independence, but they also take one step back.  They whine and cry and say they can’t do something they’ve been able to do for a while. They act babyish or become self-critical. 

Building Confidence

The relationship with our kids takes place in the daily routines of getting ready as we slowly teach them how to care for themselves.  While it is frustrating to see your child take this step back, understanding it will help you respond rather than react with anger.  If you relax and let them fall back a little, they will quickly move forward again.  How far back you ask?  Enough to help them feel calm and not so much that you distort your life.   You will see this behaviour throughout childhood into the teen years. Teens might go back to reading old books from their past, hang around you are acting annoying or even sitting on your knee as they tower above you! 

The following symptoms indicate that although your child is growing into new independence, she is also afraid of the responsibilities that go with it:

  • needing parents at night 
  • crying when parents leave
  • whining “you do it for me
  • self-criticism
  • touchiness
  • babyish behaviour
  • going back to old activities
  • negative attention-getting

Seek out connection with your child several times a day and focus on being fully present, even just for a few minutes. Watch what happens.