As you can see here, I recently made a brief appearance on “Good Morning America.” I was asked to share my opinions on whether or not to use a “leash” on a small child. Only a minute fraction of what I said ended up in the actual segment, so I wrote up my thoughts in an fuller article. You can read the whole article at Mom.me (where it’s already generating a great deal of discussion). Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
You see it at the mall, at the airport, at Disneyland. A small child wears a monkey backpack, and the monkey’s tail is a tether held by the child’s parent. A leash.
Lots of people react pretty strongly against leashes for children. I even hear the practice described as “inhumane.” When I asked a friend about it, his tongue-in-cheek response was, “That’s how you get them to sit and stay.”
In my opinion, a leash is like so many other parenting tools and techniques. It’s not inherently good or bad. What matters is how it’s used: how it’s presented to the child, how and when the parent uses it, what the child’s temperament is, and why the parent is using it.
For example, I can see why a mother of young triplets might use a leash when she takes them to a crowded store. Or why the dad of an impulsive 2-year-old who has a history of bolting might feel the need to use it in airport security because he’s also attending to a 4-year-old. In fact, I’m not sure that a leash in these cases is all that different from buckling kids into a stroller to keep them contained. And, further, it might be a better alternative to what I’ve seen in parking lots, where I sometimes see a parent yanking a child’s wrist in rough ways.
In other words, I understand that in certain situations, a parent may have tried everything and eventually decided that a leash is the best way to protect her child until the child has a little more capacity for thinking and controlling impulses. Some parents are truly afraid for their child’s safety, and that fear is legitimately based on the child’s past behavior. I’ve talked to many caring parents who decided to use some form of a leash when it became a basic safety issue for their overly impulsive child who was, say, 18- to 36-months-old. And some parents feel that this provides them with a basic security that allows them to be more engaged and playful with their child.
However, all that being said, I do have three main concerns about using a restraining device like a leash.
I have a new article up at Mom.me where I talk about what to do when you have trouble letting go after you’ve had conflict with your child. It starts like this:
It was a typical morning before school, and we were on schedule. Until things began unraveling when I told my 8-year-old son he was pouring too much salt on his eggs. (We’re not talking a sprinkle or a light dusting. He could’ve cured a ham.)
For whatever reason, my criticism pushed an ugly button with my son, and he stormed out of the room. For the rest of our time before school, he unleashed an increasingly mean-spirited verbal assault that eventually escalated to his saying, “Mom, you are so mean. If I should evencall you a mom.”
Looking back now, I can see the humor in this line. But after the barrage of attacks, I had a hard time letting go of my anger toward my son. When I picked him up from school that afternoon, he was happy and had forgotten about the whole thing. Clearly, he hadn’t been ruminating on our conflict all day. He said, in a cheerful voice, “Can we go get some ice cream?” But I didn’t feel like taking him to get an ice cream. I was still hurt and mad.
Can you identify? Your child rages, maybe throws some verbal missiles your way, deliberately trying to hurt your feelings. Then he calms down. Moves on. All seems well from his point of view. But what if you’re not ready to turn the page?
When you fight with your sister or your spouse, you often end the conflict with apologies, new insight and deeper understanding, and then feel ready to move on. But most kids don’t consistently do this without prompting, so we’re frequently left to do some internal repair work on our own.
How can we move on? How can we let it go?
Here are five tips to help you turn the page.
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 »