27 Oct

Sugar Buzz or Sugar Bust — What To Do With Too Much Halloween Candy?

We face the same problem with Halloween candy every year.  I don’t know why it continues to surprise me . . .

Last year I was mortified by the two pillowcases full of candy that my tween brought home on Halloween eve.  And this was after the sugar-filled school parties earlier that same day.halloween-candy

 

I immediately began to panic . . . how could my children actually want that much candy?  Do they have an eating disorder?  Have I deprived my children of too much sugar, fueling their desperate craving for anything sweet?  Will they ever be able to moderate their sweet intake by themselves?  How have I failed as a mother?  And what about the dental bills?

All of this and more swirled through my head and I reacted the way I often do when I feel out of control . . . I grabbed for the very control I lacked.

“You CANNOT eat all of that candy.  No Way!  Give me that right now.”

I reached out for the pillowcases but (surprise, surprise) they did not land lovingly in my hands.

Instead, my daughter said, “I worked hard for this loot!  You can’t take it from me!”

And as a result, the old familiar power struggle ensued.

So this year, I’m going to get ahead of the pillowcases.

By making agreements.

Agreements are such a powerful Positive Discipline parenting tool.  They help us get in front of the problem moments, so that those moments are fewer and farther between, and pass with far less drama.

Here’s my plan:

  1. During a calm time (this is very important), I’ll invite my children to help make a plan about Trick-or-Treating.
  2. I’ll ask them to share their feelings about Halloween candy.  “I noticed that last year we had some conflict about the candy.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about what you’d like to do this year with your candy.”
  3. Then I will shut my mouth and listen to their thoughts, feelings, and perspective.  I’ll validate their feelings, “I hear you.  You don’t get a lot of candy and it is a once-a-year opportunity!”
  4. Then I’ll (succinctly) share my feelings:  “My concern is that too much candy is unhealthy.  How can we find a win/win this year?”
  5. Then we will brainstorm solutions — every idea, no matter how ridiculous, will get written down.
  6. Then we will select a solution we can all agree on.  I’ll let them cross out ideas they can’t live with.  Then I’ll cross out the ideas I can’t live with.  I’ll ask them to vote on the ideas that remain.

Before they head out in their League of Legends and Bat Cat costumes, I’ll ask them, “Hey guys, what was our agreement for trick or treating?”  When they play it back to me I’ll say, “Thanks for remembering.  I trust you to follow through later.”

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Making agreements in this way does so much more than just get in front of the problem.  It also teaches children how to solve problems:  how to listen, take another person’s perspective, empathize, brainstorm, compromise, and follow through.  Those are skills that will come in handy well beyond this holiday.

What are your ideas for managing the abundant sugar this Halloween?  I’d love to hear them!  Leave your comments below.

27 Jul

3 Easy Ways to “Connect Before Correct” in parenting

Connection Before Correction is one of my all-time favorite Parenting with Positive Discipline mantras. I believe these are words to live by both in the moment of dissatisfying behavior, and in the long run as a foundation for any relationship.

artwork by Lana Tillis

artwork by Lana Tillis; phrase from Jane Nelsen’s “Positive Discipline”

Several years ago I began to feel like a nag to my then 11 year-old son so I tracked the content of our interactions.  On one side of a paper, I tracked the “correction” interactions.  On the other, I tracked the “connection” interactions.    After only one day the corrections more than doubled the connections.  No wonder we were both annoyed with me!

When children feel strongly connected to you (they feel loved, valued, and understood), they are simply more open to your influence.

It’s true for adult relationships, too.  Think of someone who really likes or loves you, respects you, understands and listens to you.  How open are you to that person’s influence?  

On the other hand, how open are you to someone who’s frequently telling you what to do, how you’re wrong, and what you need to change?  

If you’re guilty of jumping to correct undesirable behavior without connecting first, it might be for one or more of the following reasons:

  • It’s faster and more efficient to get right to the point
  • You believe the other person values your candor
  • You’re busy and have more important things to do
  • You feel the behavior needs to be corrected immediately

Sometimes these reasons hold.  However, when we focus on correcting behavior all the time without investing in the relationship, at some point, the relationship degrades and the correction falls on deaf ears (or even worse, defiant ones.)

So if you’re a “get it done and move on” kind of person, I invite you to pay attention to your own tally, and try out these three easy ways to practice Connection Before Correction:

1. Give Hugs.  So simple and effective!  Hugs (and any form of physical affection) release oxytocin, a “feel good” neurochemical, into the brain which helps the child calm down and be more receptive.

Correction: “I’ve asked you five times to put away your toys.  Do it now!”

Connecting first with a hug:  “Oh, come here, buddy (Big Hug).  I see toys that need to be put away.  Do you need help or can you handle it alone?”

2.  Acknowledge Feelings / Empathize.   Acknowledging feelings can help children learn that feelings are always OK, but how we act on those feelings is not always OK.  Empathy also helps children feel understood, which again helps them feel more calm and receptive.

Correction:   “You cannot grab things without asking first!  Give that toy back to your brother!”

Connecting first by acknowledging feelings:  “I can tell that you really want to play with that toy, it’s really cool!  And, we have to ask first.  Let’s try again.”

3. Say, “I love you.”  Start with these three words (spoken in a warm, heartfelt way), and whatever comes next feels softer.  

Correction:  “No, you cannot have ice cream before dinner, so stop asking!”

Connecting first with I love you:  “I love you, and the answer is no.”  When delivered with compassion and kindness, the “no” doesn’t feel quite so bad.

These three examples all use Connection Before Correction in the moment of undesirable behavior.   However, this mantra is most powerful when connection defines the relationship long term, not just in moments where parents want compliance.  

You’ve probably heard the quote, “I don’t care what you know, until I know that you care.”  I don’t know who said it first, but it sure rings true in my experience as a parent (and as a partner and professional, too.)  

So make it a habit to play, laugh, listen, hug, empathize, and share your love with your child in good times and bad.  That strong, connected relationship will be the foundation for the future, when your child is a teen or young adult, and you pray that your influence still counts!

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24 Oct

When Kids Lie

The topic of lying came up in my parenting class last week. We were role-playing parents’ typical responses to a lying kid:

  • “Honey, did you just lie about that? Are you sure?” (When parent already knows the child is lying)
  • “Are you kidding me? You just lied straight to my face. How COULD you?”
  • “That’s it, no more (fill in the blank) for you!”

Never Tell A LieEveryone agreed that the typical responses above didn’t help the child learn to be honest, but they also wondered what the heck else to do!

Strangely, the very next night at bedtime, my own teen looked my husband straight in the eye and said he didn’t have his phone in his room (which is not allowed in our house.)

We scanned the downstairs charging area where the phones are supposed to “sleep” at night, and didn’t see the phone there. Or anywhere else. So I went back upstairs and knocked on my son’s door. He opened it and handed me his phone.

“I had a really important conversation that I needed to finish and I knew that Dad would not let me finish it. I’m done now so here you go,” he said.

I replied, “You know, if you had explained that to Dad, maybe he would have let you finish your conversation.”

“No chance,” my son replied.

“Well,” I said, “you didn’t give him a chance. He might have. And even if he didn’t, was the lie worth the loss of trust and relationship?”

“Good night, Mom.” Apparently, it was.

“Good Night, C. We can talk more about this in the morning. I love you.”

It’s an interesting question for parents to ponder: sometimes, to the child, the lie is worth the loss of trust and relationship. And sometimes, the lie is protecting trust and relationship (in their mind, anyway, because “If Mom found out that I actually did steal that candy bar, she would lose her trust in me and our relationship would suffer.”)

So what to do? How do we help our children to become honest, trustworthy, and develop integrity for doing the right thing?

“We may treasure honesty, but the research is clear.  Most classic strategies to promote truthfulness just encourage kids to be better liars.”   Po Bronson, Nurtureshock

Here are a few tips gathered from various experts on the subject.

  1. Just know that all kids lie. Home observation studies found that “four-year-olds will lie once every two hours, while a six-year-old will lie about once every hour . . . 96% of all kids offer up lies.” (Nurtureshock by Po Bronson) I used to feel completely betrayed when I discovered that my child lied to me. Now, I am less personally appalled, which means I can respond with less emotion, and increase the odds of productive learning in the aftermath.
  1. Avoid punishment. When children first begin lying, they do so to avoid punishment. The threat of punishment puts the child’s focus on self-preservation, rather than on the bigger issue of doing the right thing. “In studies, scholars find that kids who live in threat of consistent punishment don’t lie less. Instead, they become better liars, at an earlier age – learning to get caught less often.” (Nurturshock)
  1. Don’t trap your child in their lie. If you know your child has lied, don’t ask them if they have, which is an invitation to dig themselves even deeper into the lie. Instead of “Have you washed your hands?” when you know they haven’t, describe what you see: “I see dry hands,” and invite the next step: “would you like some help washing those germs away?” (Dr. Laura Markham, AhaParenting.com)
  1. When your child has lied to you, be honest yourself. Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott of Positive Discipline recommend you say, “That doesn’t sound like the truth to me. Most of us don’t tell the truth when we are feeling trapped, scared, or threatened in some way. I wonder how I might be making you feel that it isn’t safe to tell the truth? Why don’t we take some time off right now? Later I’ll be available if you would like to share with me what is going on for you.”
  1. Reward honesty with immunity and appreciation. This advice comes from Dr. Victoria Talwar, one of the world’s leading experts on children’s lying behavior. If you want the truth from your child, teach them the worth of honesty by telling the child, “If you are honest with me, I promise that I will not punish you and in fact, I will appreciate you even more for telling the truth.” Her research shows that offering immunity PLUS praise for honesty reduces lying by between 50-75%.
  1. Deal with the actual problem. Lying about having hit one’s brother is a problem, but the real problem is feeling the need to hit in the first place. So put the focus on the hitting and look for solutions to that problem, rather than on the lying. (Positive Discipline A-Z)
  1. Be aware of what you are modeling. Turns out, adults lie too, at a rate of about one per day, on average. (Nurtureshock) The vast majority of these are little white lies to avoid hurting feelings, protect ourselves from looking bad, or avoid engaging in something we’d rather not. When a telemarketer calls and asks if you are home, do you ever say, “I’m sorry, he/she’s not here right now”? Our kids are listening!

As for my own situation with my teen, the next day I told him, “Dad and I really value trust. And we also recognize that you might feel trapped – you both want our trust and you want to be connected to your friends at school, especially when there’s a lot going on like the Homecoming dance, homework, and the PSAT. We understand that. We try hard to be reasonable people and when you’re feeling pressure to conceal the truth from us, we hope that you will let us know so that we can look for a win-win.”

Will he lie less in the future? I don’t know. I can’t make him be honest. All I can do is my best to create an environment and a relationship that make honesty easier. And model it myself, of course.

I’ve decided to notice how often I lie today. Already caught one (I can’t believe it!  Dang!) More results later. ( ;

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