As a parent coach, primarily working with parents of teens, I’ve found commonality in the issues parents want to address – especially wanting their kids to obey. NOW!
For the past 20 years, I’ve been doing some form of helping parents and I really enjoy it. I love the unique stories and challenges, and equipping families to find new insights and practical tools. I thought I’d heard everything – but one particular coaching session surprised even me!
When coaching with intense parents Heather and Steve*, the conversation turned to Steve’s tendency to get easily angered and frequently swear when challenged by his son Zach. It’s what Steve had learned in his home growing up. As soon as Zach’s behavior began to feel out of control, Steve would dominate, intimidate, and swear until Zach complied. Now that his little boy was equal height, close to equal weight and learning the same pattern, their relationship was deteriorating rapidly.
Do you have a teen or pre-teen that is tough to motivate regarding school? Perhaps this scene seems familiar: Your daughter is consistently behind with schoolwork and does the minimal amount to keep adults off her back. When she does complete assignments they are disorganized and sloppy. You do your best to encourage her and she snaps back, “I don’t care about school! It’s stupid and useless. If you’d just stop nagging me I’d be fine!’
So you prepare yourself for battle and hope for the best. Something inside of you knows there is a better way, but you’re just not sure how to get there. You desire for your child to ultimately take responsibility for her life and pray your relationship isn’t damaged by the conflict.
There is hope! As a parent coach, working primarily with parents of teens, I’ve seen many parents find success, and I’d like to help you find it too. It helps to understand the cycle that often happens:
As a recovering perfectionist and now a parent coach, I am all too familiar with how perfectionism chokes out the joy and connection in families. Perfectionism is like a measuring stick that grows taller the closer we stand to it. The taller it gets, the higher the standards. This leads to increasing discouragement and shame.
If this is our norm, then the morphing measuring stick multiplies into a measuring stick for each of our children. And, perhaps, even our spouse! A parent who feels they can never measure up almost always raises children who feel like they themselves can never measure up.
Perfectionism isn’t just an emotional issue, it’s a deeply spiritual issue. The Apostle Paul patiently corrected messed up, even immoral, believers. His angriest words, however, were to those in Galatia who were hooked on “getting it right” – attaining righteousness by perfectly following rules.
In our role as parent coaches and educators, we hear it all the time: “One of my kids just doesn’t seem to get it!” Parents go on to describe the child in their home who frequently resists and escapes chores and assigned tasks in spite of all the clear instructions. They then tell us that, in contrast, the other kids in their family seem to be mostly compliant.
Resentment builds as these kids become increasingly aware of the comparison between themselves and (what they perceive to be) their favored siblings. Discouragement settles in as distraction, resistance, and conflict grow.
What recent brain science is helping us understand more clearly is that often the kids who fit the above description are not naturally more rebellious, defiant, or disobedient. Rather, they naturally have lower levels of the neurotransmitter chemical called dopamine. This predisposes them to more intensely chase pleasurable distractions of all kinds. Their need for this chemical is what’s often behind their distraction, and when you call them back to routine chores they cry, “I don’t wanna do it!”. (Read more about dopamine’s role in ADHD)
WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
Did you know you may inadvertently be dealing “drugs” to your children?
Dopamine has been called the brain’s “pleasure chemical.” It is released when pleasure is experienced. It creates healthy motivation to pursue various life-giving pleasures such as accomplishing a goal, taking on a new challenge, or connecting with others in meaningful ways.
According to Amy Banks MD, in an ideal world dopamine bursts would happen primarily through pursuit of healthy, life-giving activities – particularly through nurturing human connection. Unfortunately, we live in a world that has many of us seeking dopamine in all the wrong places, like overeating and obesity, drug and alcohol abuse, and consumerism.
Related to dynamics with our kids, it starts out innocently enough. When you smile and give your child that thing they are SO excited about and you get a big hug – Shazam! a dopamine feast for both of you! It felt so good. Let’s do it again. And you do it again. And they do it again.
And pretty soon contentment becomes dependent on dopamine bursts.
Your kids are watching you. Constantly. All the subtle messages from the way you live life are being absorbed by their active little minds, even if neither you nor your child are aware of it. During the summer months, there are more chances for together time, as well as opportunities for you to show your kids the kinds of values you hope they will embrace. How you do vacations is no exception. Family vacations can be memorable and deepen relationships with one another. They can also be a wonderful opportunity to teach principles that will help your kids grow in wisdom. Before you plan your summer trip consider being thoughtful about the messages you are sending your child regarding how you vacation.
What is the purpose of your vacation?
In our hectic society, it is easy to either skip vacations because we can’t carve out the time, or collapse in an over-priced luxurious spot just to have rest and ready-made entertainment. But…
Entitlement. If we mention the “E-word” in one of our workshops there are audible groans and eye-rolling. Parents are overwhelmed by this complex problem which seems to be spiraling out of control.
Last year we surveyed parents about their top felt needs, and they were begging for help with the entitlement in their homes. Another indicator? Year after year, articles we’ve written about entitlement are consistently in the top five of highest page views.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed about how seemingly “entitled” your kids are, you are not alone!!
We responded to this need. As we were developing our newest online course on entitlement we surveyed our Insider’s Team. The results of this survey helped us identify the top causes for the growing problem of entitlement in homes and helped us shape our course.
Starting with number three….
3) Persistent kids that wear down parents with their demands.
“This is stupid! Why do I have so many chores! This is your job, Mom! And when can I get a phone? Everyone else in my grade has one. Why don’t I?” Sound familiar?
You don’t want entitled children, but you’re wondering how you got here and how to get out!
If helping your kids get past this sense of entitlement was a simple script or three easy steps, there would be far fewer entitled kids. We have found in our 20 plus years of working with parents that this is a rapidly growing problem – and it is not just a surface issue.
During our 30+ years of marriage we had occasionally heard of couples ending their marriage due to infidelity. But, for whatever reason, in 2015 Lynne and I heard story after story of marriages falling apart caused by affairs. It broke our hearts. And we knew it could have been us. So we talked and prayed and talked some more – and we decided to share our story.
It’s a story of how God’s grace intercepted what could have been much worse than it was, and the choices we both made to walk in grace towards each other. Our purpose in resharing this is twofold: to plant seeds that could prevent an affair, and to encourage you in your own marriage if you are currently in the midst of this struggle.
For the one confessing: How I avoided a full blown affair
For the one receiving the news: How I responded when my spouse confessed attraction for someone else.
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Eat your broccoli, or there’s no dessert!
Nooooooo! It’s yucky!!
Then no dessert for you!
But I want ice creeeeeeeeam!
You’ve heard dozens of times that an important key to family connection is enjoying meals together. But what happens when those mealtimes turn stressful, anxious and anything but connective because parents and kids disagree about what kids should be eating? The power struggles that ensue can ruin everyone’s appetite and decrease the likelihood your child will grow up to be a healthy eater. We appreciate what Ellyn Satter said in her classic book How to Get Your Kids to Eat, but Not Too Much:
Parents are responsible for what is presented and the way it is presented. Children are responsible for how much and even whether they eat!
We share three important principles with a variety of practical ideas in this article to help bring peace to your family mealtimes. These come out of my professional training with children’s eating difficulties and coaching dozens of families through these struggles. Try one or two this week and let us know how it goes!
1) Create an ENJOYABLE MEALTIME environment
- Ditch the label “picky eater” if that’s what is in your mind and comes out of your mouth. (It’s in our title because it’s a frequently searched phrase.) A shift in perspective will help you all relax. No labels, just think – my child is anxious about food, my good intentions may have made that worse, but we can all learn and grow together.
- Have regular sit-down family meals, with positive conversation and atmosphere, and no screens or distractions. We encourage everyone (including parents!) to surrender phones during meal times.
- Refuse to engage in power struggles related to what or how much your child chooses to eat. The dinner table is not the time to “win” the battle. In some families, kids do well with a “Let’s all try a bite of everything” approach, but if this becomes a power struggle it is counter-productive.
- Pass food. When capable, children should be encouraged to pass food and place servings on their own plates. Resist the urge to comment on how much or how little they take when the serving bowl or plate passes by them.
- Allow messiness and play. For younger children allow some messiness and playful exploration of food, especially at snacks. Exploring and playing with food is an important part of development in which children learn about food and also learn to enjoy it. How high can they stack their crackers?
- Talk about the characteristics of the food. Describe the food’s size, color, shape, texture, smell, and taste. In a relaxed way, talk about why you enjoy it, and how it is similar to a food which your child accepts.
- Include children in food preparation when developmentally appropriate. When kids have a chance to help plan, shop for, and make a meal they are more excited to eat it!