written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
One super amazing thing about my job is that I get to see and learn so much from the parents that I work with. Even before my own children reach a particular age or stage, I have acquired knowledge about the issues that come with a particular time in a child’s life. Over the years I have amassed a wonderful body of learning which has helped me enormously in my own practice as well as with my own children. I feel blessed to have found the job that I have and from time to time, I would like to share some of the tips and understandings that I have come to which have created happier moments for me as a parent and for the parents I have worked with.
Tip number 1 is:
Give your child room to take ownership of their own responsibilities and accomplishments.
Here is a situation I am sure many of us can relate to:
It is time for school. You steel yourself for the daily battle of shoes, coats, and getting to the bus on time. Won’t your children ever learn how to tell time? Don’t they understand that the bus waits for no child and that you have to get to work on time? Within the first month of school you find yourself in the daily cycle of first gently reminding your children of the next step in the morning routine, then, getting firmer with your voice and using your best “I’m serious” tone to get them closer to the door, until you finally get tired of the games the children are playing and either start yelling or start resentfully doing activities they are more than capable of doing had they just managed their time in the ways you suggested.
This is an example of you caring more about your child getting to school than they do. And, really, if you are going to do something and take pride in it, you have to care. As adults we can see this when we go to a store with poor customer service. It is clear that the employees do not take ownership or pride in the running of the store most likely because they have not taken on the understanding that the quality of customer services reflects on them as well as the owners.
Of course it is important to remember your child’s age and developmental stage. For the example of going to school on time a kindergartener, will need much more help than a freshman in high school to get out the door. Also, if asked to in a respectful way, I am all for parents helping children in the morning just as you would want them to help you if you were running late as long as it is not a daily expectation.To illustrate ways you can help your child become more self-motivated rather than allowing you to carry all of the responsibility, you could say any of the following statements that you think would work for your child in a loving way that may cause your child to pause, think and re-prioritize. In the following suggestions I am focusing on elementary school, but they can work well for middle and high school as well although you can expect some verbal push-back.
- I’m not going to work harder to get you to school than you do anymore. You know what time you need to leave. It is up to you to get to the bus on time.
- I wonder what else you have to do to get ready for school? (they know the routine already, they have just been allowing you to do all the thinking for them thus far).
- If we are late, I hope I’m not asked to write a note to excuse you because I won’t be able to do that without telling them why. (You can feel free to fill in the blanks here: Suzie didn’t feel like getting out of bed, taking her shower, etc.) If your child is late after you say this you cannot write an excuse note and you must allow for an unexcused tardy. Otherwise they will know you care more about it than they do.
- I have had several parents who absolutely needed to get kids on the bus on time for work reasons in the morning who told the school that they were going to send their child in pajamas if they refused to get ready in the morning. These parents would pack an outfit for the child to put on at school. (hint: do not pack your child’s favorite clothes)
- If you end up driving a child to school, you can have them pay you back for your time later by saying, “I had to use my time to fix your mistake this morning. You owe me the ten minutes it took me to take you to school. Now I need you to….”
- Don’t forget that when a child has gotten themselves out the door on time, you want to point it out and ask them if they are happy with themselves. Reinforce the good feeling your child has about being on time and point out that there was no yelling, arguing or fussing.
While I know that everything can not be turned so that you help your child find their own initiative for making good decisions (I find it difficult to get children to understand that it benefits them to go to bed on time, for example), there are many times that I see parents, and I include myself in this group, taking on the emotional work for children. Many responsibility issues that cause conflict in families can be eased into in this way, grades, chores, clean rooms, curfews. Sometimes in the process of making our child’s life easier by doing things for them, we can forget that we may also be depriving them of important lessons about taking responsibility for themselves, and learning to manage success and learning opportunities with dignity and a forgiving heart. By stepping back and remembering why we care in the first place, we can realign our own priorities as parents. Ultimately, we want our children to do the things we ask because we love them and we want to learn responsibility etc. so they can have a happier adult life. The best way to do this is to help children see the ways in which taking responsibility is helpful to them, rather than telling them it is important.
What is something you could use help getting your child to take more responsibility for?
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
Based on a question I had from my parent affirmation about breathing last week, and because I teach people the mechanics of breathing several times a week, I decided to take a moment to really break this breathing thing down for everyone. Breathing is the first step in getting connected to our bodies and what our body is telling us. Before you think that you already know how to breathe, take a moment to ask yourself whether there were any times in the last week where you noticed you had been hungry and meaning to eat for several hours but did not get around to it. Or, alternately, did you find yourself mindlessly eating away at your child’s leftovers as you were doing the dishes? Maybe you realized you needed to go to the bathroom and just did not give yourself the time to take a quick break. If you did any of those, that indicates is that you, like most everyone else, have learned the art of neglecting your body. You or your child may have especially mastered this art if either of you has a history of abuse or neglect. In order to survive ongoing childhood trauma, people tend to cope by overriding their body’s system for communicating in order to survive the abuse. Anyone with a history of neglect, never learned to listen to their body in the first place. After all, babies learn to continue voicing discomfort because when they do someone responds with caring and, typically, an explanation. It usually sounds like, “Awww, what’s the matter? Are you hungry? Is your diaper wet?” Even before we understand this, we get the message that what we feel matters and that listening to our bodies is important. The attachment disturbed children I see have unlearned this lesson to the point that most of them have an issue with bed or daytime wetting, or soiling. They have learned to take on the neglect that was dealt to them in early childhood. The first step to getting reconnected to your body is paying attention to your breath.
Even if you do not have a history of trauma or neglect, I would argue that the vast majority of us have seen the art of listening to our bodies become devalued over the course of our lives. We are encouraged to “push through” pain, to “get over” discomfort, and to wait or delay gratification. These values all have their place. I’m certain Olympic athletes, world leaders, and good parents are required to do all of these things to one degree or another. Still, taking time to check in with the body that supports your ability to selectively push through, delay gratification, etc. is only fair, and in that spirit, I would like to teach you the art of breathing, which you may have forgotten since infancy.
In a recent training I went to with Pat Ogden, a well-known expert in somatic (body) psychotherapy, she said that our bodies predict what our brains think is going to happen next. Think about that for a moment. What does a child standing like this think is going to happen next?
How about these children?
Our breath predicts what we think is going to happen next as well. In fact, it gives our body a message about preparing for the next step. To get connected to your breathing, take a moment, without trying to change anything, to pay attention to your breathing. Which part of your body moves when you breathe? Is it your chest? Your shoulders? Your tummy? Your ribs? Most of the traumatized children I see are breathing from their shoulders. Whether or not you were breathing from your shoulders, take a moment to try it. How does it feel? When I say breathing from your shoulders, I mean that when you take the breath in, your shoulders rise. Some might also say it is breathing into your chest. You feel your chest expand, and your shoulders rise. Try that for a moment and see what emotions come up.
Now try this. When you breathe in, think about breathing all the way to your belly. In fact, put one or both hands on your belly. When you breathe in, think of filling your belly with air, like a balloon. When you breathe out, think of letting the air out of the balloon. This may feel awkward and take a moment if you are not used to it. Breathe in, fill the balloon. Breathe out, let the air out of the balloon. You may also feel your ribs expand a bit when you breathe this way. How do you feel now?
Why does the way you breathe matter? Just as the way you hold your body predicts the future, so does the way you breathe. When people breathe from their shoulders, it sends a signal to your body much closer to a fight/flight or freeze reaction. Think of how you would take in a breath just before a car hits your car, or how you breathe when you just went for a strenuous run. You breathe to your chest or shoulders. Your body is working hard to protect you at those times. Now think of how you breathe just before you are going to drift off to sleep. Or, if you have one handy, watch a relaxed baby. You will notice the breaths are belly/ rib cage breaths as opposed to shoulder/chest breaths. This signals to your body that you are calm, and that there is nothing to fear.
The first step to training your body into understanding that it is not under siege is paying attention to your breath. I teach my clients to do it. I encourage you to do it. I encourage you to teach your children to do it if you see they are struggling. I find simply noticing that a child needs to try a new way of breathing can help to ease anxiety. I introduce it by saying something like, “Can we try something?”or “I’m curious about something. Can we do an experiment?” Then I ask them to play around with their breathing, the same way I asked you to. It often changes the feelings in the room from tense to more relaxed. If the mood goes back to tense, I simply notice it out loud, “Wow, look, as soon as we started talking about that your breathing went back to the old way. What happened?” It gives me the opportunity to help a child or adult explore the feelings that go with the breathing and to teach a way to disconnect from the old intensity of the emotion that goes along with whatever they are remembering or anticipating.
Have you tried this exercise? How has it worked for you?
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
I care more about my child (or husband/wife, etc) than I care about this conflict.
How often do we get into it with our kids over something little? Do you argue with your child about the right way to do something, or getting it done the way we want them to do it? This week, I am challenging you to pay attention to how much you do this and whether you may be able to pull back that behavior a little bit to allow your children (or your spouse) to do it their way.
A recent study came out that says that mothers who feel as though they are the most essential component of their child’s life (over fathers even) are more likely to feel overwhelmed and depressed. When we seek to control the actions of others (even our children), we are certain to get into a power struggle. Yes, common parent knowledge these days says that if you give an order, you must follow through. But how often are we demanding that things must be done only our way? There is a happy medium between the constant negotiations we know children are capable of and completely avoiding all conflict. Let’s try to find that for you with your children and with your adult relationships.
I distinctly remember when I realized my husband does some things better than I do with the children. Honestly, I was a little put off. My inner critic wanted to tell me I should know how to do everything better- being a child therapist and all, but, guess what? He is better at playing with them, joking them out of a funk and getting them into and out of the bath without argument among other things. This week, be open to the possibility that children and significant other adult relationships may do things differently in a way that might be just as good, or better than you expected.
- Raising Successful Children (nommimarlik.wordpress.com)
- Mother is Best? Why “Intensive Parenting” Makes Moms More Depressed (healthland.time.com)
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
In the past week I have had two quotes come to visit me several times. One has been a favorite of mine for a long time, Kahlil Gibran’s quote from his poem, On Children. “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” The other quote, I had never heard before last week, which is pretty surprising to me. It comes from Mark Twain, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born…and the day you find out why.” Each of these quotes reminds us that our children are more than just our children. We each, all of us, are put on this earth with special, unique skills and talents. Our children are not here to please us but to meet their own unique purpose and to believe that we control that purpose is to tell ourselves a fantastical lie. Many parents buy into this fantasy with disasterous results. To let go of the fantasy that we control the exact ways in which our children will form into adults is to free ourselves and our children from the inevitable feeling of failure that old attitude would bring. This weeks affirmation is:
I allow my child to explore his or her own unique talents and abilities. I work on finding mine as well.
This does not mean that I must drop everything and spend all of my time and money on getting my daughter to dance class. What it means is that I am accepting of her dreams and support her in the best way I can now. It also means that I model for her through my own openness to my unique talents and abilities.
- Parenting with Affirmations (help4yourfamily.com)
- Parent Affirmation Day 5/21/2012 (help4yourfamily.com)
- Parent Affirmation Day 5/14/2012 (help4yourfamily.com)
- Parent Affirmation Day 5/7/2012 (help4yourfamily.com)
- When Your Inner Critic Hurts Your Relationship With Your Children (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