Some of you have seen my posts about common discipline mistakes even the best parents make. Mom.me has just posted a re-working of those ideas as a gallery with pictures. It begins like this:
Because we’re always parenting our children, it takes real effort to look at our discipline strategies objectively. Good intentions can become less-than-effective habits quickly, and that can leave us operating blindly, disciplining in ways we might not if we thought much about it. Here are some parenting mistakes made by even the best-intentioned, most well-informed moms, along with practical suggestions that might come in handy the next time you find yourself in one of these situations.
Yesterday I spent a fun hour with the delightful Richard Fidler on ABC Radio in Australia.
I know lots of loving parents who use time outs as their primary discipline technique. I’m not saying that time outs are completely unhelpful; more that I don’t think they’re the best alternative we have when it comes to discipline—the goal of which, remember, is to teach.
Reasons I’m Not a Fan of Time-Outs:
#1. What we know about the brain.
Because I know that brain connections are formed from repeated experiences, I don’t want my kids’ repeated experience to be isolation, which they may view as rejection, when they’ve made a mistake.
What I DO want them to repeatedly experience is doing things the right way. So, instead of a time out, I’ll often Continue Reading »
Discipline is a complex and complicated subject. I could write a whole book about it. In fact, I’ve already started working on one.
But when we talk about effective discipline and how parents can achieve the results they want when they interact with their kids, it can actually be it pretty simple. If it were a math formula, it would look like this:
WARMTH + AUTHORITY = EFFECTIVE DISCIPLINE
The research is really clear on this point. Kids who achieve the best outcomes in life – emotionally, educationally, and relationally – have parents who raise them with a high degree of warmth and nurturing, or what I like to call emotional responsiveness, as well as a high degree of authority, where clear boundaries are communicated and enforced. Their parents remain firm and consistent in their boundaries, while still interacting with them in a way that communicates love, respect, and compassion. Warmth and authority are the two sides of the effective-discipline coin.
The first side of the discipline coin: Warmth
When we nurture our children and attune to their internal world, we allow them to know and believe that they are seen, heard, loved, and approved of by their parents. Then they’ll interact with the world around them based on that belief, so that their brains are wired to expect that their needs will be met in intimate relationships. On the other hand, if a parent repeatedly Continue Reading »
[This is a revision of the second article in a two-part series. Click here to see the first four mistakes.]
Here are more discipline mistakes made by even the best-intending, most well-informed parents, along with practical suggestions that might come in handy the next time you find yourself in one of these situations.
Common Discipline Mistake #5: We get trapped in power struggles.
Everyone says to avoid power struggles. But no one seems to tell us what to do once we’ve gotten ourselves into an inevitable one. And when our kids feel backed into a corner, they instinctually fight back or totally shut down. So here are three ways to help you get out of those lose-lose power struggles you sometimes find yourself in.
A. Give your child an out or a choice that allows her to comply with your expectations, while still saving face: “Would you like to get a drink first, and then we’ll pick up the toys?” The phrase “It’s your choice” can be a powerful tool to wield, since it gives your child some amount of power, which can often diffuse stand-offs. So maybe you ask, “Would you like to get ready for bed now and read four bedtime stories tonight, or play 10 minutes longer and read two stories? It’s your choice.” (If she chooses fewer stories, it’s a good idea to remind her several times before story-time about her choice.)
B. Negotiate: “We’re not really getting anywhere here, are we? Let’s see if we can figure out a way for both of us to get what we need.” Obviously, there are some non-negotiable issues, but negotiation isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a Continue Reading »
There’s plenty of advice available on parenting, but there’s no one Parenting Rulebook that answers all parenting questions. In fact, it’s helpful to have a handful of different strategies and approaches, and to keep in mind that your approaches should evolve as you mature as a parent, and as you approach each new phase of childhood. It’s almost always problematic when parents rigidly adhere to any one philosopy.
My overall suggestion? Combine knowledge, instinct, and self-understanding.
Knowledge is definitely power, and parents usually find it useful to have a few strategies to help them parent their children. Simply by reading and talking to other parents, you can arm yourself with all kinds of tools and approaches to help you more easily teach your children and discover a philosophy of parenting you feel good about.
Knowledge is also powerful when it comes to dealing with developmental phases and challenges, from the early newborn days all the way through adolescence. When a new mother becomes frustrated because her six-week-old is nursing every hour all day long, a part of her may begin to resent the infant because of this loss of freedom. However, if she were to read a bit about newborns and their growth patterns, she’d discover that during a growth spurt, a baby will often “cluster feed” for a week or two. An understanding of this important phase in her son’s life can help the mother be much more patient and understanding, even if she continues to feel a bit frustrated about the amount of time she’s spending nursing.
The same would apply to a toddler. A father can address the tantrums of his two-year-old much more lovingly and effectively if he has an understanding of what this phase means for his daughter (that one of her most important jobs at this age is to discover and assert her own independent self). Again, his frustration (and even anger) may still be there, but the father can handle those emotions much better if he can understand that his daughter is in the process of claiming her own personhood and testing to what extent she is actually separating from her parents.
The basic idea is that knowledge can help you view parenting struggles as opportunities to know your children better and to help them through difficult times. It doesn’t mean that you won’t get frustrated; but good information can make all the difference in your perspective. The more we can understand our children and learn about their process of development, the better prepared we’ll be to guide them along their journey toward healthy adulthood.
Be wary of any parenting approaches that offer an “all or nothing” mentality or that seem extreme. Certain “parenting gurus” will present Continue Reading »
Several people have asked me recently about Shankar Vendantam’s post on NPR’s Health Blog, where he writes about a subject I’ve discussed a good bit: tantrums. In Vendantam’s article, he discusses a recent study that appeared in the journal Emotion, where scientists examined different toddler sounds that typify a tantrum.
I find the whole study – which analyzes the patterns of sound and action that usually accompany a tantrum – absolutely fascinating. And I’m grateful to any scientists (in this case Michael Potegal and James A. Green) who offer us new information that can help us better understand our children so we can be more loving and nurturing as we interact with them. I also want to mention Vendantam’s book The Hidden Brain. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my “get to” list, since I understand that it raises some really interesting questions regarding how much our brain drives who we are, even without our awareness.
Having said all that, a couple of objections kept nagging at me when I read Vendantam’s blog post about Green and Potegal’s science explaining “what’s behind a temper tantrum.” Specifically, I kept wanting to hear less about how parents can “get a tantrum to end as soon as possible” (though I totally understand this desire and have felt this way during many of my own children’s tantrums), and more about how parents can be emotionally responsive and present when their kids are upset.
In other words, I wanted a tantrum to be presented not only as an unpleasant experience that parents can learn to manage for their own benefit, but instead as another opportunity to make a child feel Continue Reading »
What we say to our kids is important, right? The words we choose play a big role as children construct their beliefs about themselves, establish a foundation for their values, and decide how they see the world. What we say matters.
That’s why we’re used to filtering what we say to or in front of our kids. Sometimes we have an internal dialogue that might include phrases like, “You’re driving me crazy, kid!” or “Are you EVER going to stop crying?” or “I can’t wait until you go to sleep!”; but we know not to say these things out loud to our kids. We’re also aware that we should avoid talking about inappropriate subjects in front of our kids, so we wait until they’re asleep before we tell our spouse about how our neighbor’s house was robbed or about the latest community scandal.
We pause and make a decision about what we say before we share things with our children. We do this because we know that what we say matters and has an impact on them.
But just as important as what we say is how we say it. Imagine that your three-year-old isn’t getting into her carseat. Here are a few different how’s for saying the exact same what:
If you’ve heard me speak before, you may have heard me talk about the upstairs brain and the downstairs brain. Or maybe you’re read about the concepts here, where I help you teach the basic information to your kids.
Right now I want to apply that information in a way that can help us deal with one of the most unpleasant parenting issues we all face: the dreaded tantrum.
The Downstairs Brain and the Upstairs Brain
The basic idea is that we can think about our brain as a house, with a downstairs and an upstairs. The downstairs brain includes the brain stem and the limbic region, which are located in the lower parts of the brain, from the top of your neck to about the bridge of your nose. Scientists talk about these lower areas as being more primitive because they’re responsible for basic functions (like breathing and blinking), for innate reactions and impulses (like fight and flight), and for strong emotions (like anger and fear).
Your upstairs brain, on the other hand, handles much more sophisticated thinking. It’s made up of the cerebral cortex and its various parts—particularly the ones directly behind your forehead, including what’s called the middle prefrontal cortex. In other words, it is literally the higher (and thus upstairs) part of your brain. This is where more complex mental processing takes place, like thinking, imagining, and planning. Whereas the downstairs brain is primitive, the upstairs brain is Continue Reading »
People talk a lot about the dangers of the over-scheduled child. Kids doing too many activities become tired and grumpy. They don’t have time to spend with their family. They get burned out and begin to dislike whatever activity the parent was hoping they would embrace. They don’t have time to just play and be kids.
Before I had my own children, all of this made sense to me. That’s why I decided that my kids would participate in only one activity at a time. If they wanted to take a dance class, that’s all they’d do until the class was over. If they wanted to play a sport, they wouldn’t be involved in anything else until the end of the season. I wasn’t going to have my kids dealing with all the problems facing over-scheduled children.
That was before I had kids of my own.
Then my first son came along, and I was giddy with all the opportunities available to him, and all of his many different interests, all of which increased with each passing year. Especially once he entered elementary school, I quickly came to see that my one-activity-at-a-time commitment was going to be tested. My husband and I wanted him to learn piano. He wanted to be involved in Cub Scouts with his friends from school. Plus, it was immediately apparent that his passion was athletics. He wanted to play every sport in season.
Piano. Scouts. Sports. Add in playdates, homework, family outings, and “unstructured play time,” and how were we supposed to fit all of that in? And he was just our first child! We now have three, all with their own opportunities and passions.
These days, as my oldest approaches adolescence, I still believe that over-scheduling kids really is a legitimate concern. Children can become anxious and pressured and miss out on the benefits of boredom, down time, and the freedom of childhood. But I no longer believe Continue Reading »