[Two weeks from today (Oct 4), my new book with Dan Siegel, The Whole-Brain Child, comes out! Below you’ll find the third in a four-part series where I post excerpts from the book. I hope you enjoy it.]
You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.
–John Kabit Zinn
Here’s a conversation I recently had with my 7-year-old when he wasn’t at his logical best.
My son: I can’t go to sleep. I’m mad that you never leave me a note in the middle of the night.
Me: I didn’t know you wanted me to.
My son: You never do anything nice for me, you do things at night for Luke, and I’m mad because my birthday isn’t for ten more months, and I hate homework.
Sound familiar? An encounter like this can be frustrating, especially when you’re beginning to feel that your child is finally old enough to actually be reasonable and discuss things logically. All of a sudden, though, you’re interacting with a being who becomes over-the-top upset about something completely ridiculous and illogical, and it seems that absolutely no amount of reasoning on your part will help.
This is one of those times when knowing a little bit about the brain can help us parent in more effective (and more empathic) ways.
You probably already know that your brain is divided into two hemispheres. The left side of your brain is logical and verbal, while the right side is emotional and nonverbal. That means that if we were ruled only by the left side of our brain, it would be as if we were living in an emotional drought, not paying attention to our feelings at all. Or, in contrast, if we were completely “right-brained,” we’d be all about emotion and ignore the logical parts of ourselves. Instead of an emotional drought, we’d be drowning in an emotional tsunami.
Clearly, we function best when the two hemispheres of our brain work together, so that our logic and our emotions are both valued as important parts of ourselves and we are emotionally balanced. Then we can give words to our emotional experiences, and make sense of them logically.
Now, let’s apply that information to the interaction above. My son was experiencing an emotional tidal wave. When this occurs, one of the worst things I can do is jump right in trying to defend myself (“I do nice things for you!”), or to argue with him about his faulty logic (“That’s just not true, and your birthday is actually only nine months away”). My verbal, logical response hits an unreceptive brick wall and creates a gulf between us: he feels like I’m dismissing his feelings and that I don’t understand; I feel frustrated that he’s being so ridiculous and impossible. It’s a lose-lose approach.
So I have to come to an important recognition: Logic will do no good in a case like this until a child’s right brain is responded to.
How do we do that? I suggest that we use the “Connect and Redirect” method. Continue Reading »
There’s no question about it: consistency is crucial when it comes to raising and disciplining our children. Many parents I see in my office realize that they need to work on being more consistent – with bedtimes, limiting junk food, or just in general – when they interact with their kids. But there are others who have placed such a high priority on consistency that it’s moved into a rigidity that’s not good for their kids, themselves, or their relationship.
Let’s begin by getting clear on the difference between the two terms. Consistency means working from a reliable and coherent philosophy so that our kids know what we expect of them, and what they should expect from us. Rigidity, on the other hand, means maintaining an unswerving devotion to rules we’ve set up, sometimes without having even thought them through. As parents, we want to be consistent, but not rigid.
Kids definitely need consistency from their parents. They need to know what the rules are, and how we will respond if they break (or even bend) those rules. Your reliability teaches them about cause and effect, and about what to expect in their world. More than that, it helps them feel safe; they know they can count on you to be constant and steady, even when their internal or external worlds are chaotic. In this way, we provide them with safe containment when they’re exploding because they want an extra scoop of ice cream.
So how do we maintain consistency without crossing over to rigidity? Well, let’s start by acknowledging that there are some non-negotiables. For instance, under no circumstances can you Continue Reading »
Q: My almost-five-year-old son is starting to lie. I’m worried that this is starting a terrible pattern, and I don’t know how to handle the situation. I’m just really upset because I’ve always stressed how important it is to tell the truth.
A: First, take a deep breath. This isn’t anything to worry about. Most kids tell fibs at this age. In fact, lying is developmentally normal and is actually evidence of a developing conscience and moral code. He knows what he’s done is wrong, so he lies to avoid being bad or to avoid getting in trouble or losing your approval.
So now, let’s talk about how to respond. When I know my son is lying, I try not to say ,“I don’t believe you.” Instead, I say, “Why don’t you take a minute and think about what really happened and then tell me again.” Sometimes I also say, “It’s really important that you tell me the truth and tell me what really happened so I can believe you when you tell me things.” For smaller children, it’s even OK to sometimes simply say Continue Reading »
Last week Dr. Drew Pinsky asked me to come on his show “Life Changers” to discuss spanking as a discipline approach. I ended up getting to say only a minute fraction of what I wanted to say about this polarizing discipline strategy, so I decided to share some of my thoughts here.
The parents I’ve talked to about spanking are almost always very strong in their position, but they avoid talking about it with other parents, and when the discussion begins, it’s almost never a respectful, open conversation among people who really are willing to listen to the other side.
I feel compelled to really have those conversations, so I’ll be doing more of this in the coming months, both informally at the park and on the ballfield, and also publicly in various formats. In order to get the ball rolling, what you’ll see below are my answers to the questions Dr. Drew’s producer asked me in our pre-show correspondence.
WHERE DO YOU STAND ON THE DEBATE OF TO SPANK OR NOT TO SPANK?
Anyone who’s heard me speak knows that I am really big on boundaries and on parents being authority figures. And still, I am against spanking. I think that using physical force, particularly against a child, is wrong. The idea of inflicting physical (even minor) pain on a child is unsettling to me. Beyond that, I firmly believe that when you understand how the brain works, you see that spanking is often counter-productive when it comes to teaching our kids the lessons we want them to learn.
However, that being said, it’s not really all that simple. Two particular points make the whole question about spanking a complex one in my mind. The first is that there are really good, loving parents who spank. I have friends who spank calmly and with nurturing conversations with their children regarding their discipline. They are intentional about how and WHY they do it. I know these parents well, and I’ve seen how great their kids are turning out, and how loved those kids feel. So those of us who don’t spank need to avoid the temptation to caricature parents who use corporal punishment, seeing them as out-of-control child abusers whose kids will turn out to be violent monsters.
The second point that complicates matters is that there are plenty of non-spanking discipline approaches that can be more damaging than spanking. I know that I myself have been guilty of Continue Reading »
Resist the temptation to rescue your children every time they struggle. Struggling a little bit, and having to learn to deal with difficult situations and emotions, is great for kids. When they’re NOT given many opportunities to deal with disappointment about not getting their way, and not given opportunities to have to be flexible and figure out how to solve a problem, they’ll have trouble developing these skills. It’s important that they practice giving in and being flexible to the needs of others in the family as well. And as they get older, they should be given more and more chances to do this.
Allowing our children to feel sadness, disappointment, resentment, and other tough feelings, allows them to develop empathy as they mature. The next time they have a friend or sibling experience one of these emotions, they’ll have a much better feeling what it feels like.
Another reason not to rescue too much or solve too quickly is that when we do, we are communicating with our actions that we don’t believe our kids can do it, or that Continue Reading »