Parenting may not come with a manual, but I sure have read a lot of the parenting books out there! One common message that I encountered in my reading was, in all that you do, “be consistent”.
This logic was all well and good, except when I was not in a good place to address the situation calmly because of what was going on inside of me – exasperation, frustration, or just plain being tired and worn out from a day. If one of my sons challenged me during these times, it was “game on”.
It typically would start with me giving a consequence just because I was mad. “If you do that one more time, you will lose (insert favorite item here) for one day.” Then, if there was any whining, it was, “OK, that’s two days!” Then after the pouty huffing, “OK, one week, do you want more?” Then after the slammed door, “OK, A MONTH!!!” And then, there I was — stuck in the consequences I had given, having to “be consistent” and follow through.
Few things get parents’ attention as quickly as kids’ potty talk! Recently I worked with a family whose two boys, Will and Logan (ages 5 and 3), were frequently finding hilarious entertainment in each other’s potty humor.
But parents John and Patti weren’t laughing – they were exasperated with their boys’ potty talk. When I checked in with them before our first coaching session, their goal was for the kids to “listen, obey, and have a healthy fear of us,” and John defined effective discipline as “hot sauce or soap in their mouths.” They only wanted to use this rather severe punishment after numerous warnings, but things were escalating out of control. The kids were spreading their potty talk around the neighborhood – eliciting giggles from their friends, frowns from those kids’ parents, and embarrassment for John and Patti.
As we problem-solved this issue during our first session, we talked about two important truths that were under the surface of this crazy situation:
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There’s a parenting pitfall that nearly all parents get stuck in at some point: “If my child behaves well, I am a good parent. If my child misbehaves, I am a bad parent.” Stated so bluntly, it’s obviously not true, but it is still a powerful and subtle belief for nearly all parents.
This belief can cause parents to change their perspective (and therefore their mood) quickly based on their children’s behavior. That inevitable wild outburst in a store becomes a great embarrassment because it’s about the parent’s failure. This drives the parent to overreact in order to get the child under control. The overreaction then leads the parent to make further conclusions about being a bad parent. Defining parenting by a child’s behavior puts tremendous pressure on the child to “get it right.” This usually has very negative results for the child and for the parent as they both ride an emotional roller coaster together, overreacting to the normal ups and downs of children’s behavior.
I had a good opportunity to test this in myself the day our youngest son Noah got caught lighting matches in the church.
Our kids misbehave. Then, we get angry. We raise our voice a bit to get our kids’ attention. We furrow our brow and perhaps put our hands on our hips (which makes us look even more imposing). We forcefully intervene to deal out discipline.
Meanwhile, our kids watch all this and their brains go into action. You see, God gave our little kiddos (and us too) these little learning machines called “mirror cells”. These mirror cells literally reflect what they see by way of both action and emotion. After all, kids are built to learn from the grown-ups who care for them. When mom or dad gets intense, the mirror cells stand at attention, ready to reflect what they see, and learn how to act.
I distinctly remember 11 years ago sitting in a pre-adoption class through our agency and silently scoffing when the presenter suggested during discipline situations to take a “time-in” with your child rather than send them to their room for a “time-out.” What kind of wimpy parenting was this?And so I tuned out the rest of that part of the class, thinking that I knew better than adoption specialists who had researched parent-child attachment for decades.
I thought I knew best, so off we went on our merry way… ready to parent based on formulas from best-selling Christian authors, and our own history of how we were parented.
Since I started out referencing adoption, you might be ready to stop reading if you have bio kids. But at Connected Families, we’ve found that adoption-related attachment struggles are often “the canary in the coal mine” of parenting. Kids with attachment struggles are oftentimes more vocal about their angst, which brings to light what many children could be feeling but don’t have the permission to verbalize.
With that said, I have a confession.
[Full disclosure: this next sentence is really hard for me to admit, but I know that there are others out there dancing the same dance with their “difficult” child. I’m writing this for you.]
The parent feels annoyed, even a bit angry and responds, “You can’t talk to me that way! You’re grounded for the rest of the day! You go to your room and think about what you said!”
Parents often deal with situations like this hoping to teach their children a lesson — but sometimes this typical sort of guidance can lead in the wrong direction. This sort of consequence may lead to more anger and disrespect down the line.
Here are three characteristics of unhelpful consequences that parents often give to their misbehaving or struggling kids.
Becky and her two daughters, six-year-old Brianna and four-year-old Maisie, were at a playdate. The girls were downstairs with an older girl who was bit of a mischievous spitfire. Maisie came up and Becky noticed immediately that her hair had been cut.
We can hardly believe it’s 2015 already! Before we dive into a year of new blog posts, we thought we’d dwell for just a moment on some of your favorites from 2014. Here are the ten most-clicked parenting tips of 2014.
P.S. If you know a friend or relative who might benefit from some Connected Families insights, this would be a GREAT post to share with them!
Sometimes it takes a while for parents to change in ways that lead to deeper respect from their kids. Sometimes it can happen fast. When Dan attended our weekend workshop he saw an immediate change by practicing what we call a “do-over.” Here’s his report:
An hour before we left for your seminar I was getting ready to go. Our 12-year-old son Will was sitting on the steps. He asked why we needed to go to the seminar. I explained that his mom and I were going so we could learn to control some of the chaos in our household. His reply was, “If you think that’s going to work, you’re retarded!”