written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Do you ever get tired of the constant routine of getting upset because your child has not done an agreed upon task or said something insulting to or about you, or bothered you while you were on the phone…again? It always seems to end in the child apologizing, you telling them why they shouldn’t do that, threatening with a consequence next time, only to find that they do it again when you are distracted and you just have a redo. Sorrys start to feel hollow when they are said about the same thing one hundred times.
Even though it’s my job to tell you that accepting what we would call a “repair,” (i.e.- I did something damaging to our relationship and now I am trying to fix it by saying ‘I’m sorry’) is best for your relationship with your child, I understand that this can feel more and more difficult to do as a parent when you feel stuck in a rut and like your children get to breeze by with a sorry and no real consequence.
If this sounds like a familiar routine in your house, might I recommend a little trick I like to call “quick jobs.” It’s a list of quick tasks a child can do around the house to help out when they have done something wrong. It’s not a “your grounded forever” kind of thing, it’s not something that has a child doing an extra 20 minutes of chores. These are for the day-to-day grievances, the ones kids say “sorry” for but you have to wonder after a while, “are they?”
Here is a quick list of tasks. You need the list, or this will just be another good idea that you will forget when the time comes (if you are anything like me). You can have fun making them up next time you are trying to straighten the house:
- Dust the bannister
- Clean all the door knobs in the house
- Take the laundry from the washer and put it in the dryer
- Help finish the dishes
- Clean off one surface in the house (the dining room table, the end table next to the sofa)
- Clean out the sink in the bathroom
- Wipe down the outside of the dishwasher, oven, or pantry
Quick jobs are for when you are irritated and need a little something extra. When you use them you can say, “I realize your sorry but I would really know it if you ________.” If a child decides not to do it, you can point out that perhaps they are not so sorry after all and that is a bigger discussion.
For today let’s just focus on a quick fix that helps set things right again and teaches children how to really “repair” when they have done something they wish they hadn’t.
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
The third aspect of the PLACE parenting attitude, which I have been highlighting in our weekly affirmations is accepting. This element of PLACE parenting refers to the idea of accepting all feelings that your child has. This is important for all children but especially for traumatized or attachment disordered children. When used as part of parenting, it also significantly reduces the number of fruitless discussions we have with our children about whether they should feel that way or not. All parents get caught in these battles, often with good intentions, however the result is still the same in that children end up feeling as though they are not being validated. It goes like this:
Child: I hate my picture.
Parent: What do you mean? That picture looks great! I love it. I really like the colors you used.
Child: I hate it. It’s awful! (buries head down)
While arguing with a child about how great their picture is (and, let’s be honest, sometimes there is room for improvement), understandable because we want our children to feel good about themselves, there is an alternative. Here is what acceptance looks like:
Child: I hate my picture.
Parent: What is it that you don’t like about it?
Child: All of it. I don’t like the way it turned out. I think it’s horrible.
Parent (empathic): It’s tough when pictures don’t work out the way you want them to.
While there is nothing wrong with encouraging your child to take a second look at a picture to help them see the parts that can be good, often this is best done and most accepted by children after their feelings have been listened to. Just think about the last argument you had with a significant other to see if you felt the issue was resolved without them seeing your side of things, whether they agreed or not. Over time, what happens with children who feel as though they are constantly being talked out of their own feelings, and begin to question whether the things they think are true or not. Fast forward to adulthood and you see adults in relationships that in their hearts they know are not good or healthy but which they continue to maintain, etc. because not listening to their inner voices has become routine. Additionally, by accepting that you child is questioning whether perhaps they could improve their picture, you are encouraging them to try harder to be satisfied for themselves. This encourages internal motivation to do and be better, rather than encourages complacency.
All this is what makes the acceptance of a child’s feelings so, so important. And, just to make you feel better, here is the second part of the conversation that you get to have after acceptance:
Parent: I wonder if there are any parts of the picture you do like.
Child: Only the color I used.
Parent: Hey, that’s what I was thinking I liked. That is a good color. What do you think you want to do next?
This conversation can go in many different directions from here, but all of them are good, right?
Here is our affirmation for this week:
I accept all feelings that I or the people I love have. All feelings are valid.
I would love to start a conversation about some of the feelings we parents find it harder to accept about how to get to the point of acceptance. Please feel free to share any struggles or achievements you have had with this issue.
Below, I have also linked to a post I read last week, “The Great Invalidator,” which speaks to the word “but” and the ways in which it invalidates a child’s feelings and thought processes, another article about acceptance, written in a different way.
- Parent Affirmation Monday- 10/29/2012- Love (help4yourfamily.com)
- Parent Affirmation Monday- playful- 10/22/2012 (help4yourfamily.com)
- PLACE Parenting for Children with Attachment Disturbance (help4yourfamily.com)
- The Great Invalidator Heard at a Recent Parent Weekend (horizonfamilysolutions.wordpress.com)
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
In last’s week’s post, I wrote about the underlying causes of children behaving in a nasty way toward adults. This week, I want to look at some ways I have found to address this behavior with children that can help them learn to change the way they speak to you and other adults. As I stated in my previous post, in order to know how to resolve an issue, knowing the origin of the issue is incredibly helpful. If, for example, the origin of your child’s nasty behavior has to do with being hungry or tired, then obviously, you get them some food (preferably one with protein, that regulates low blood sugar like a piece of fruit with plain greek yogurt, or veggies and dip), or make sure they get some rest. But what about when it is not a case of being hungry or tired? What if your child is in perfect health and they are just being rotten toward you? For young children, there is always distraction. Below are some other ideas to help you motivate your child to turn their behavior around. You may find one or a combination of several of them to be helpful. I cannot give you the answer because our children are not cookie cutter kids. Each child is different. Also, keep in mind that it is unrealistic to believe that you can always fix things for your child and sometimes, just like with adults, kids are just going to be in a bad mood, and the goal is not to put them into a good mood but to teach that when you are in a bad mood you want to do the least damage possible to relationships.
- Empathy. Empathy is when you let your child know you get how they feel. It’s when you remember a time you felt pretty rotten even if it didn’t make sense and you realize that if your child is feeling that way it is because they do not realize at that moment that they have another choice. Empathy does not mean telling a long story about when you felt the same way (a short one might work). It means having a moment where you genuinely connect with the way your child is feeling and express that you know they are having a hard time.
- Remind your child that they have a choice other than feeling spiteful and spreading the feeling out toward others. I detailed this technique in this post. Reminding your child they have another choice does not include lecturing them about how great they have it and how they should feel better than they do. When someone is stuck on the idea of feeling nasty, that lecture will have the opposite effect.
- If you believe there is a bigger, underlying issue that has them feeling mean, then later, when they have cooled down, try having a conversation about what happened and be curious about where the behavior came from. Think of saying something closer to, “Wow, I was worried about you earlier today when you said you hated me. You must have been so angry. Where did that come from?” A curious tone during this conversation will work better than a disciplinary one. This is especially true for children with attachment and trauma issues but it really works for all children. After all, if someone comes at you with a “what is your problem?” attitude, how likely are you to let them into your inner world where you may be feeling pretty vulnerable? I’m guessing someone expressing concern over your behavior is more likely to get, and keep, you talking than someone speaking to you in a judgmental tone. For this conversation, try questions or comments that start with, “I wonder what,” “I was confused by,” and “I’m curious about,” over questions that start with “Why did you.” This is a great conversation to have in the car alone with your child. Cars give children the ability to process with you while you are not looking directly at them. You can always pull the car over if the conversation turns into one that might be better off face to face.
- Teach your children how to treat you by modeling how you want to be treated when the nasties strike you- let’s not pretend that they don’t okay? Tell kids you need to walk away for a minute before you say something you are sorry about, apologize for poor behavior on your part, let children know your mood is not about them (if it is not), avoid blaming in the midst of anger. After your child has had a case of the nasties and you have debriefed them, tell them how you felt when they said or did what they said or did. Suggest things that could help you feel better, and allow children to make amends when you are ready- sometimes that won’t be right away.
- Be an active listener. What is your child really trying to say? Are they telling you that they need more time with you? Are they telling you that something is scary for them? State your belief to them, “I know you are so disappointed you can’t go to your friends party and you think I don’t understand how hard that is for you.” You might be amazed at what just saying something that shows you are listening can do. After all, if your child wants something and you ignored them, it would be a very rare occasion for them to just walk away without trying to repeat the request, usually at increasing volume until they feel heard. The older children get, the more they really want to be heard and you can show them you are listening by saying back what you heard. Sometimes you may find what you thought you heard was not what they were trying to say at all. Wonderful! By saying what you thought you heard and finding you were wrong, you get to know your child even better. Harvey Karp from “Happiest Toddler On the Block” suggests getting on your child’s level and matching their intensity with their voice and even their facial expression while you tell them what you are hearing. I have seen this snap a teenager out of a tantrum as well. After you have addressed the message, and your child has calmed down you can have the discussion about how they can tell you differently next time.
- Try to use the suggestions from my post Trash Your Behavioral Charts! by making a chart for yourself where you earn points by handling your child’s nasty behavior so you can go out and take care of yourself.
- Getting your child on a regular exercise routine doing something they enjoy and making sure they are eating a healthy diet are both wonderful overall approaches for avoiding the nasty behavior in the first place.
- Another approach could be to catch your child off guard. If you know your child is getting ready to throw a tantrum, calmly observe that you are expecting them to throw a tantrum. After all, if they are angry with you, they do not want you to be right about them, they may stop themselves just to spite you.
By making these suggestions, I want to be clear that my motive is to help you and your child get through the nasty behavior with the fewest regrets possible. I am not suggesting that the interventions I have recommended need to be the end of the discipline. In some cases they will be and others they will not depending on how far the behavior goes with your child and what your parental beliefs about discipline are. I also want to make sure you know that I believe whole-heartedly both as a clinician and a parent that we must be allowed to show negative emotion. My suggestion is not to thwart negative emotions, it is to suggest meaningful alternatives to behaviors that can be associated with anger, jealousy, frustration, irritation, etc. What are some ways you have ended the nasties?
- Taming the “Nasties” in Your Children- Part 1 (help4yourfamily.com)
- Making Peace With Your Inner Critic
- Happy Parent Tip #1
- Why Sexual Abuse is Never a Child’s Fault…Not Even a Teenager
- Naming Patterns Changes Patterns
- This is your brain on attachment
- Last Chance for Two Great Opportunities
- Mother’s Retreat Weekend- It’s Really Happening!
- Stopping the Parent Shame and Blame Game
- Making Peace With Your Inner Critic
- Putting together something fun for you!
- Quick Jobs for Kids
- Staying Strong as a Couple