Create the family you want to have

Taming the “Nasties” in Your Child- Part 2

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C


Child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3.  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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?

August 2, 2012 Posted by | child development, discipline, help for parents | Leave a comment

Taming the “Nasties” in Your Children- Part 1


Mid-Tantrum (Photo credit: LizaWasHere)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Any parent with a child old enough to speak has most likely experienced what I call “the nasties.”  The nasties are the times when your children say or do mean, nasty things to you or other caregivers.  Sometimes you can even see them fishing for something to be nasty and angry about.  When kids have a case of the nasties is when they say the most hurtful things they can think of to say such as, “I hate you.”  “I wish I had a different (fill in the blank, mom, dad, sister, brother)” and even,  “I wish you were dead.” These words hurt and even on the days when we are able to understand they do not mean it, it still hurts your heart to hear it.  Other days, when we are feeling more vulnerable as parents, we can begin to wonder if perhaps our children are saying what they really think about us, and/or whether we are doing right by our children, and we can begin to catastrophize about the ways our relationships with our children are going to turn out.  While we all know that the nasties are a pretty normal part of growing up and many of us work to control them, even as adults, it still feels pretty bad when they strike your children.

The first thing to do when the nasties are tearing through your house is to assess what is causing the nasty behavior.  I had a professor once that said the most important piece in addressing any behavior is to find out it’s cause, and while you may not be very curious about the root of the problem when your child is yelling at you, perhaps I can persuade you by pointing out that figuring out the root cause is way more pleasant for you than beating yourself up over having such a mean child.  Here are some ideas to take into consideration when you are trying to figure out what is going on:

1. The first thing I assess for children and adults of all ages who are experiencing a case of “the nasties” is whether they are hungry or tired.  I know, you may have read this before, but in many children this is the main culpret.  I know I get pretty nasty when I’m hungry  (or tired)- ask my husband, he sometimes figures it out before I do.  Our children are no different.

2.  Look at your child’s diet.  Did your child just have an ice cream cone?  Have they been eating junk all day?  If your child is pretty consistently nasty and it seems outside of developmental norms, the foods I have seen that have the greatest impact on mood in order of most to least common tend to contain: gluten, food coloring, caffeine, sugar, dairy, soy.  I also have had families who switched to a mainly organic diet who have had good results in mood stabilization.

3.  Is it possible your child has been trying any mood altering substances?  I have seen parents of teenagers who do not always consider this question, especially if they have a “good kid” most of the time, but even good kids can make poor choices.  It is not unusual for teens to experiment, you remember high school right?  Mood altering substances do not just alter your mood for a few hours, there is a kickback, like a hangover.  Remember, what goes up, must come down. Remember too that there are other substances besides alcohol and pot.  Middle and high schoolers can get access to all kinds of prescription medication and over the counter products, like cough medicine and whippets, that can alter moods, and kids may think that because they are so easy to get or because a doctor would prescribe them, they must be safe.  Ask your children about whether they are using substances or not and make it an ongoing conversation where you let them know your feelings about this issue.  Do not forget that caffeine is a mood altering substance.  Even though it is a mainstream substance, a child that has been drinking a lot of those highly caffinated drinks,  coffee, sodas, etc. can have major side effects.  We are all impacted differently by substances and children are more likely to have major side effects than adults.

4. For children with recurring cases of the nasties, ask a doctor to check for any underlying medical conditions that could be contributing such as a thyroid issues, diabeties, lymes disease, teething, bladder and ear infections.

5.  Is there something going on at home, school, camp or child care?  Is there another child bullying your child and you are unaware of it?  Have you been less available for one reason or another?  Are you moving, or is there another major change coming down the pike that your children are aware of, say their first year in middle school?

6.  Is it possible your child is suffering from a mental health issue?  Children show they are depressed differently than adults.  While adults may be depressed to the point that they cannot get out of bed, children are more likely to be irritable, angry and sullen.  If this happens more often than not for a period of two weeks or more, it is time to have your child evaluated for depression.  Similarly, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and anxiety disorders can be accompanied by nasty outbursts.

Next week, I will address how it is that you can address these nasty behaviors in your children when they occur to try to change them.  Before I post that, do you have any behaviors that your children do that leave you scratching your head about how to address them?  Have you had children that had the nasties and you figured out the origin?  Please feel free to share with the rest of us.

July 26, 2012 Posted by | attachment disorder, discipline, help for parents | 5 Comments

You Never Have to Say “No” Again!

English: My dad took this picture on the day t...

English: My dad took this picture on the day that I was the child host of the Mayor Art Show. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you ever just get tired of saying that word over and over again? You know, that word…no.  Now, if you have a really little one, no works.  It’s short and sweet for your short, sweet kids.  I am talking about the older kids.  The negotiators.  For the people who see me at my practice, I am also talking about the children who are traumatized or attachment compromised, and for whom “no” is a trigger word.  The word “no” for those kids is like a magical word that can instantly build a wall (or tornado) up between you and your child that does not allow them to hear the love that parents intend behind the word “no.”

Before anyone gets all upset that I am suggesting that this word crushes fragile egos and all that nonsense, I want to make it clear that I am not advocating fear of the word “no” for parents, nor am I suggesting that children should never have to hear that word.  Let’s not pretend that “no” is never going to be a word they hear.  I am thinking you might just be tired of saying it, or you might want another option, or, like I said, for traumatized, attachment disturbed children, I’m giving you a new way to help them learn to love (trust me, “no” is a word they are familiar with anyway so no worries there).

Are you interested in knowing how this works?  Here are the conversations as they are now:

Child: Mom, can I go to the mall?

Mom: No

Child: Whhhyyyyeeee? (how do they make why into a three syllable word?)


Child: Dad, can I have a cookie?

Dad: No, not right now.  Dinner’s coming.

Child: Just one?

Dad: No.

Child: Please?  I promise I’ll eat my dinner!

Do I really need to write the rest of that conversation?  You already have it playing in your head at this point, right?

Here is an alternative.  I got it from the helpful folks who wrote the book Parenting with Love and Logic (find it in my recommended readings at the top right on this page)* and I am going to show you how it can work for anything.

Child: Mom, can I go to the mall?

Mom: Sure you can…on Saturday.

Child: Not today?

Mom: I think we’ll have more time to go on Saturday.


Child: Dad, can I have a cookie?

Dad: Sure, after dinner you can have two.

It’s that easy.  Here’s my favorite example because it takes this to the extreme and we can even laugh a little.

Teen:  Can I date a 30-year-old man with two kids?

Parents: Sure, you can date anyone you want when you’re 18.


Teen: Can I smoke crack?

Parent: Boy, that would make me really sad, but I guess when you are legally an adult you can make that choice.

I want to point out that I am not advocating that parents change their stance on an issue.  I am pointing out that if you are tired of saying that word over and over with the same result,  you can theoretically avoid “no” forever, and, because your child is not responding to the “no” you can sneak in a little loving too 🙂

Let me know what you think about this.  Does your child have an over the top reaction to “no,” or are you just tired of saying it?

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July 5, 2012 Posted by | child development, discipline, help for parents, Parenting | , , , | 6 Comments

Getting what they deserve

My first testimonial 🙂

Shannon Mackie

I’m a regular reader of Help 4 Your Family by therapist Kate Oliver and one of her posts from April has really stuck with me. In the post, she describes how to respond to a child’s demands. Here’s an excerpt from the post, titled “End the Hassle: Tell Kids what they Deserve“:

Kid: Mom, the other kids in my class don’t have to sit in a booster car seat any more! (feel free to imagine this as a whine)

Mom: You deserve to be as safe as possible and the booster keeps you safe.

My first grader, BE, has a “friend” who doesn’t always treat her very well. The two of them recently got in trouble at school and BE told me all about it (not voluntarily) when she got home. I explained to her that she deserves to have nice friends that don’t encourage her to do…

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May 27, 2012 Posted by | blog awards and recognition, discipline, help for parents | Leave a comment

Do you like how you are feeling?

Angry cat

Angry cat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is another tip for your parenting tool kit.  It consists of asking a simple question to your children…Do you like how you are feeling?

I ask my children this when they are grumbling at me about a perceived injustice or when they are frustrated or angry about something.  This may seem counter-intuitive.  After all, it is pretty clear how they are feeling, and really, who would chose to feel that way?  Also, I believe that many parents have been taught that we are responsible for the feelings of our children.  We are responsible to be kind to our children.  We are responsible for educating our children.  We are responsible for keeping them safe.  But to say that we are responsible for their feelings when we are being kind and keeping them safe is to pretend that we have control over something we do not.  In the moment that our children get angry over harsh words from a friend, or frustrated over homework, then begin to lash out at us, many parents begin to feel as though it is our job to make it all better for them.   We tell them the friend was wrong to say that and go about getting angry at the friend (even if, upon reflection, the friend had a point), or we show them how to do the math problem even though they are too frustrated to learn it.  Many times this way of doing things can leave us angry because we have taken on the feelings of our child and they do not even appear to be grateful for our help!  How irritating.

I have another idea I would like to suggest.  Ask your child, “Do you like how you are feeling?”  Often times this gives a child a moment to pause and think.  They will, in most cases, pause to take in what you are asking, because this is different from your normal response to their behavior.  When they respond that they do not, you can gently suggest that they try to change that.  It goes like this:

Child: I hate Math, the stupid teacher gave us work we’ve never done in class!  (child continues to grumble).

Parent: Do you like how you are feeling right now?

Child: Huh? (Don’t worry- they are thinking about it)… No!

Parent:  Why don’t you change that?

Child: I can’t change it!  This stupid teacher gave us the worst homework ever!  I hate her!

Parent: Yes, and you are choosing to feel very angry about it.  I can see that.  Would you like to make a different choice?

This conversation often ends in a child huffing at you and grumbling some more.  You really do not need to say anything else, unless your child asks you for suggestions to change their mood (then give them some).  Stay curious in your tone, avoid sounding critical.  The goal of this conversation is not to end all bad feelings.  That is not a realistic dream anyway.  Sometimes math is just hard!  However, what you do accomplish with this conversation is a lesson about each of us being responsible for our own feelings.  I have used this conversation with my own daughters since they were three and it has worked quite well.  While they do have some times when they are grouchy, often times, after I ask this question, they end up wandering off to their rooms to reflect for a few minutes and come back to the family with a better attitude.  For younger children, you may want to talk them through it a bit, but I would strongly suggest that you wait until they ask you for help instead of jumping in to give it right away since when they come to you with a question, they are much more likely to listen to the answer.

The unintended consequence of this conversation is good as well.  Now that I use this intervention consistently as part of my parenting tool kit, I also find myself asking the same question internally when I am in a bad mood.  I hear myself grumbling at the children, then I hear my own voice in my head asking if I like how I am feeling right now, then suggesting that I change it.  This is why you want to make extra sure that you say these words to your children with as much love as possible, because soon, they will be echoing in your own ears.

Please feel free to share other ways you teach children to be responsible for their own feelings.  Have you tried this way?  How did it work for you?

May 11, 2012 Posted by | discipline, help for parents | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

End the Hassle! Tell kids what they deserve.

Hey Dad..!

Hey Dad..! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s parenting tip that I have for you is so simple but it could change so many of the more frustrating conversations you have with your children.  Are you ready?  When your children are hounding you about doing something you don’t think is a good idea, instead of saying no and negotiating back and forth about when they can, how much, why not, etc. try framing the issue in terms of what they deserve.  You know how this usually goes. You tell your child they can’t do something or they have to do something and they start to argue and negotiate.  Why can’t I?  All the other kids do!  You’re mean! Until you wonder if it was really important in the first place, or their arguments become so darned sophisticated that they have convinced you to go against your better judgement in regard to their health and safety.  Telling your kids what they deserve can end some of that and help you to keep focused on the main goal, the health and safety of your children.  It looks like this:

Example 1:

Kid: Mom, the other kids in my class don’t have to sit in a booster car seat any more! (feel free to imagine this as a whine)

Mom: You deserve to be as safe as possible and the booster keeps you safe.

Example 2:

Kid: Why can’t I have another cookie?  I only had a few!

Mom: You deserve to be healthy, let’s give your body the food it deserves.

Example 3:

Kid: Hey Dad, can I go to Joe’s party this weekend?

Dad: Will there be adults present?

Kid: But Dad!  You don’t trust me?!  I never get to do anything!

Dad: You deserve to be safe.

Framing your decisions this way will not save you from eye-rolls, huffing and puffing, or pouting all together.  Nothing saves you from those things completely, but it may shorten some of the duration.  It also saves some of the mental gymnastics for you.  For every arguement they come up with about the same issue, you can stop and ponder for a moment, then repeat how much you feel as though they really deserve to be safe, healthy, free from hurtful relationship or friendships, etc.  After all, it is difficult to argue back with someone telling you how important you are over and over.  Also, remember that our internal self talk is shaped by the way we were spoken to by our parents. Wouldn’t you prefer that your child’s self talk as they grow be “I deserve to eat healthy foods” over “don’t eat that, it’s bad for you?”

April 30, 2012 Posted by | discipline, help for parents | , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Perils of Perfectionism in Parenting

Photo taken by me as an example of a stay at h...

Photo taken by me as an example of a stay at home dad and kids. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Quite a few recent books have alluded to just how fed up parents are with people expecting them to be the perfect parent.  Scary Mommy, by Jill Smokler, was just released this week and details confessions of real parents who feel all the feelings that go along with parenting that we often do not talk about such as, anger, isolation, depression, fear, and embarrassment.  In this age where so much of what we do is recorded and we see so many recorded images of parents on reality television, it also seems like everyone is judging everyone else’s performance all the time.  When we do this, we can wind up in a seemingly endless cycle of judging others and ourselves constantly without any relief in sight.   In fact, there are several studies that have come out in the past few years stating that parents are significantly less happy than non-parents.  I believe part of this is our unrealistic, perfectionistic tendencies during which the thought patterns can begin to get quite vicious.

My profession has not been much help in making parents feel much better either, I’m sorry to say.  Not only do most of our books focus on what you can do for your children, rather than how to help you feel better so that you can be a better parent, we are constantly telling you how to improve communication with your child, have educationally enriching activities, spend quality time with your children and encouraging you to take constant care of their emotional needs.  While all that stuff is nice and worthwhile in many ways, I think too much of it also takes away the important quality of being genuine with our children, you know, like the genuine feelings expressed in the popular picture book for adults “Go the F@$k to Sleep,” by Adam Mansbach.  If you don’t know that book, take a moment to look it up on youtube and you can listen to Lawrence Fishburne read it to you- when your kids are not in the room.  Really, isn’t that how most of us feel when our children are coming down six and seven times to say goodnight and asking to be tucked in even though we already tucked them in?

Here is what I think many parents are wanting and it is something we hear all the time about everything but being perfect parents… everything in moderation!  Yes, even lovey, touchy stuff.  It’s actually good for the kids to understand that their parents feel- gasp!- genuine emotions.  If you are fakey, fakey all the time and pretend things are nice, they know it’s BS anyway and later they call you on it- I’ve seen it too many times to have any doubt about this.  And you know, many times when our kids call us on stuff they are right.  Has your child ever said anything to you like my daughter when she said, “Mom, that’s what you say when you’re not really listening?”  She was right.  I had no idea what she just said.  That’s the daughter my husband and I joke that someone must have told her in the end she will get paid per spoken word because she sure does act like it.  You bet I zone out the chatter sometimes and maybe even miss important things.  As one of my favorite professors in my Master’s program said, one of the great thing about people is that if you miss something important they said the first time around, they are pretty certain to repeat it.  I know this is true for my daughter too.  Now, don’t get me wrong, remember- everything in moderation, so it is also important to take time to turn on our listening ears for our children every day, but I also want to be realistic that it feels quite impossible to be in the moment and listening to one child while the other is asking you to make them a peanut butter sandwich.

Another reason genuine = good with our children is that they, like us, are humans too!  They are often not perfect and they need a good example of how to recover from imperfection.  I give my kids lots of opportunities to witness imperfection without even trying that hard.  I’m a real natural 🙂  I burn things, forget stuff, and plan poorly sometimes.  Most parents do.  It’s the ones that admit it and give children an example of how to recover via apology, forgiveness of self and others, humor, etc. that have happy, not entitled (another by-product of over-perfect parenting), healthy children with a good sense of who they are and who their parents are.

Dare to be perfectly imperfect!  Your kids will thank you for it.

April 12, 2012 Posted by | discipline, help for parents, resources/ book reviews | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Discipline vs. punishment

FCC program offers child care, career - FMWRC ...

FCC program offers child care, career – FMWRC – US Army – 100916 (Photo credit: familymwr)

written by Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

People might wonder why it is that I would wish to make a distinction between discipline and punishment since we often use the terms interchangeably.  However, I believe there is an important distintion to make.

Discipline is a word that originates from the word “disciple” which means one who accepts and teaches the learnings of another.  If you think about that word, and it’s origins, we can narrow it down to discipline being about teaching.

Punishment is different and mainly refers to inflicting consequences on another.

Deutsch: Historische Federzeichnung einer schu...

Deutsch: Historische Federzeichnung einer schulischen Körperstrafe. Handschriftlicher Begleittext in Original: Tyranis di Magistrum (Tyrannei des Lehrers). Randzeichnung im Buch Lob der Torheit von Erasmus von Rotterdam English: Schoolboy receiving bare bottom birching, from a medieval source (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a quote we use in attachment to teach parents about how children learn to see themselves in the world.  It is by Thomas Cooley, “I am who I think you think I am.”  This is the truth for children.  The full quote from Cooley is actually, “I am not who I think I am; I am not who you think I am; I am who I think you think I am.”  I find this to be so true for every child I have ever seen with the “I” being the child and the “you” being their parents.  Think about your own childhood.  Did you come to know yourself as a child by virtue of what you thought your parents thought of you?  Have you ever struggled with finding out who you are as you moved away from what your parents think of you and who you are, to be who you truely are?  The same is and will be true for your children.  They believe they are who you believe them to be.  What does this have to do with punishment vs. discipline?  It gives us a framework for making decisions about what to do when our children display behaviors we find undesireable (or desireable too).  In many ways, we are Gods to them.  They are your desciples.  What will you teach them?  Or, alternately, will you punish them for things you do not like?

In case you have not figured it out, I am all for discipline, not so much for punishment.  As you will see in the other posts I have written and will keep writing, I do not believe that to teach children new behaviors we mush punish them.  In fact, I think punishment tends to do the opposite by taking the focus off of the behavior and onto their relatonship with you and the conflict you are experiencing with each other.

So, what is the big deal and how will it look different day to day?  Well, in the end, it may not look that different, the discipline framework I am referring to is more a question of the intent of you as a parent.  When we come to our children as loving teachers, the same intervention can have a different feel to the child.  For example, both a disciplinarian and a punisher might decide not to allow their child to go out the weekend after they break a curfew.  However, the disciplinarian would say something like, “Sure, you can go out until 11pm after I have learned to trust you to come in by 10 reliably.  Guess we’ll have to see whether you can do that next week.  Tonight, I want you with me so I don’t have to worry about your safety like last time.”  A punisher says something more like, “You were late last week.  You know the rules, if you break curfew you’re in for a week.”  The tone of discipline is on loving the child and expecting them to do their best for them and for you while punishment is more about, “I’m in charge and you’re in trouble.”

Lots of times discipline looks more forgiving and tolerant of a child’s choices and people can make the mistake that it is overly permissive.  Please let me clarify that discipline allows more for natural consequences with the understanding that children can learn best by age appropriate experiences.  An example of this would be allowing for a bad grade then remarking about how difficult it must be for your child to see themselves earn a grade that is beneath them.  You could also remark on how you are surprised by the grade since you know they are a good student (I am who I think you think I am).  Not only is discipline easier for us as parents (let’s face it- when your kids are punished so are you), in my view of it, we are teaching our children to love themselves and expecting that they will love and respect us in return.  By expecting and giving love and respect as part of our ongoing give and take relationship with our children, we teach them that who they are is important and worthwhile while building the foundations of positive self-esteem that will last a lifetime.

April 9, 2012 Posted by | discipline, help for parents | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Trash Your Behavior Charts!

Kids (film)

Kids (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a pet peeve as both a parent and as a clinician about behavior charts.  You know, those charts where kids get stickers for doing things they are supposed to be doing anyway, and then they get a treat or prize for doing it enough times?  I am aware this opinion may be upsetting to some clinicians and especially school professionals where behavior charts are relied upon so heavily.  As a parent, I just think they are annoying and hard to follow for me.  As a clinician, I believe they set up a tit for tat system in a family where everyone starts measuring who did what when.  For my parents with children with attachment disorder they are especially frustrating because by the time a child has earned the prize, you might feel as though you are so angry about all the work it took for you to get them to do the chore/ desired behavior that you don’t really feel like giving them anything.  Sometimes kids make you sorry you gave the prize after the fact by deciding now that they earned the prize they don’t need to do anything for a while.  What a pain.

I have a much better alternative to traditional behavior charts.  It’s the only one that works and it requires little effort from you!  This will take all of two minutes of your life.  Here’s how it works:

  1.  Take a piece of paper and write down one or two (I would only do a couple at a time because it’s easier to keep track of) things your child does that bug the heck out of you i.e. lying, “forgetting” to do their chores, sassing back.  Pick something that is realistic for their developmental level.
  2. Think of a few prizes you might like to earn that involve self-care: a massage, getting a cup of tea with a friend, take a long bath, etc.
  3. Let your child know that you are now giving yourself a behavior chart.  When you are able to successfully handle this behavior from your child in a manner you feel is appropriate (without you yelling, whining, engaging in a back and forth battle), you get a point!  Decide how many points you need to earn to get a prize.   Tell your child that when they engage in that behavior from now on you (not they) will earn a point.
  4. When they do engage in the behavior, calmly remark on what an opportunity this is for you to earn points so you can take care of yourself.  It’s important for parents to take care of themselves when kids are giving them a hard time.  You can wonder aloud how long it’s going to take to get your prize.
  5. This is the most important step.  Follow through!  When you earn your points, do the thing you said you would do to take care of yourself, even if you don’t feel like it.  Remember you picked things you like to do so perhaps they can help you now.

I have successfully used this “behavior chart” with many parents now and I have used it myself.  It works like a charm.  I used it with my own daughters who kept coming in at night to have me take them back to bed when they had their normal cycle of lighter sleep.  I modified it so that if one kid came in, she earned her sister a point!  Guess who sleeps without interruption for weeks at a time?  This lady, right here does! J  It’s really a win-win either way since even if you don’t get the desired behavior right away (and you will because kids get annoyed at the idea of earning you a prize) you at least get some self-care.

April 5, 2012 Posted by | attachment, discipline, help for parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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