18 Aug

Two things that help kids WANT to cooperate

Your child’s behavior is not the problem. Really.

If your child’s behavior is not the problem, then what is?

Some parents reply, “I’m the problem!”  It’s true that you may be part of the problem but here’s the real answer . . .

The problem is the problem. There’s always something deeper that causes the behavior to show up. Always.

Behavior is only what we see . . . it’s on the tip of the iceberg.

But under the surface children have beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and abilities (or lack thereof based on developmental stage and physical or neurological differences) that are driving what we see.

When we get curious, and look under the surface, we begin to see that our kids want to do well, they want to please us and stay connected, but something is getting in their way. Our job is then to figure out what that is . . .

Sometimes what’s getting in the way is a basic feeling of hunger or fatigue. We’ve all seen how hunger and fatigue can affect our kids’ behavior, right?

Sometimes what’s getting in the way is abilities or rather, the lack thereof. When we expect our kids to do something that they’ve not yet developed the skills to do, that can also end up looking like “misbehavior.” For example, if you tell your 4YO child to color inside the lines, they might throw the crayon or scream out of frustration.

But there’s something else that gets in the way.

Alfred Adler, the pioneering psychiatrist whose philosophy underlies Positive Discipline, proposed that very often, what’s getting in the way of behaving well are feelings, thoughts or beliefs having to do with two things:  Belonging and Significance.

BelongingIm included, connected, loved

SignificanceI matter, Im capable, I’m worthy

At the heart of Positive Discipline is the Adlerian theory (it’s really more fact than theory now) that all children (and adults) have a strong and basic need for belonging and significance.

And when children feel, believe, or think that these basic needs are not getting met, they will try to get their needs met, in whatever way they can think of, which might be to whine, or have a tantrum, or sneak, or any number of “misbehaviors.”

For example, if you believe you’re not included, not connected or loved enough after a new baby sibling comes home from the hospital, you might be more clingy or whiny, or you might try to push the baby off the bed (exactly what my oldest did at age 3.)

These are feelings, beliefs, and thoughts that can get in the way of doing or behaving well.

Think of yourself for a moment. When you feel rejected, (for example, how you might feel when you don’t get invited to the neighborhood Mom’s night out) or humiliated (when your boss criticizes you in front of the whole team), do you behave differently?

Most adults will admit that it’s hard not to behave differently because things like rejection and humiliation hurt.

Thanks to brain scan research using FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), we now know that the place in the brain that registers social pain is the same place in the brain that registers physical pain. (Read more about this fascinating research in Matthew Lieberman’s book, “Social”)

To the brain, a threat to my belonging or significance feels just like a threat to my physical safety, and before I know it I’m ready to fight (with defiance or back talk for example), or flee (avoiding, lying, sneaking, etc.), or flop (accept my fate as a boring and useless member of society and give up.)

The opposite is also true:  when belonging and significance are strongly felt, many misbehaviors simply disappear.

There’s no need for back talk when I feel connected and respected. There’s no reason to push the baby off the bed when I know I’m loved, valued, and needed as much as ever.

As Jane Nelsen of Positive Discipline frequently notes, “kids do better when they feel better” and “where did we get the crazy idea that in order to make kids do better, we have to make them feel worse?”

The opposite is true, and it’s true for me, too:  when I’m well-fed, well-slept, and when I feel loved, appreciated, respected, and capable, I do better – as a Mom and person in general.

So how do we help our children perceive that strong sense of belonging and significance (without feeding a sense of entitlement)?

One very easy thing to do is put your smart phone away and really listen to your child with your eyes, your body, and your heart. Deep listening is one sure way to send the message that “you matter, and I care about you.” This tool is called a GEM, a Genuine Encounter Moment and I swear when I use it, my child naturally gets more cooperative.

Another is to give your children meaningful responsibilities in the home, so that they learn life skills and create the belief that “I matter, I’m needed, I’m capable.”

These are just two of many tools that you’ll learn about in the interactive, online class I’m facilitating, “Peaceful Parents, Cooperative Kids:  from conflict and chaos to cooperation and calm in 8 weeks.”

You’ll also learn (and practice):

  • My favorite 3-step ritual to stay cool, calm, and curious in the face of really irritating behavior
  • How to set loving limits that stick
  • Specific words you can use to foster resilience and a “Growth Mindset” in your child
  • How to leverage your family team (including your partner) in household responsibilities
  • Simple, tangible, and effective Positive Discipline tools to reduce defiance, tantrums, back talk and other challenging behaviors
  • The one principle that matters most in helping your kids to become responsible, respectful, resourceful, and happy adults (and how to put that principle into practice every day)

So, if you’d like to

  • yell less
  • have fewer power struggles
  • connect more
  • share the load more
  • feel more confident and peaceful in your parenting
  • and raise children who are respectful, resilient, and plain old happy,

then please join me for an 8-week adventure that you can participate in from the comfort of your own home or office using video conference.

I’ll be using Zoom Meetings which feels about as much like a physical classroom as you can get without actually being in a room together. All classes are recorded so if you miss a class, you can catch up.

Sign up by August 30 to get the Early Bird Pricing and immediate access to my parenting resource web page loaded with tip sheets, videos, podcasts, and articles to help you become the parent you want to be.

It is my mission to equip, empower, and support parents so that they can raise respectful, responsible, and resourceful children who are excited about life and motivated to contribute their talents to the world.

Join me!  Learn more about the virtual class here.

This virtual class gets 4.6 out of 5 stars from over 100 participants.  Here’s what some of them have to say.

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I always appreciate hearing from you. Leave a comment about this article below.

14 Jul

What to do when kids don’t follow through with agreements (over and over again) – part 2

But we had an agreement! Part II:  What to do when kids don’t follow through with agreements (over and over again.)

I regularly turned my head when I passed it to avoid the irritation bubbling in my chest. It’s not that it was smelly or even that gross (although sometimes it was both.) It was simply a daily reminder of what my child didn’t do . . . AGAIN.

Last month I wrote about a very important (and often ignored) step that helps children keep agreements.

This month, I acknowledge that even when this step is taken, even multiple times, children do not always follow through with agreements.

The clumpy, poop-filled litter box in our hallway was a case in point.

Let’s rewind the clock to about two years ago . . .

The girls begged for a cat for months. They meowed at me. They made promises to care for it. They put their commitments in writing, drew up schedules, and posted both in public view.

I knew better, but frankly, I like cats too.  

Enter Skylar, a four-month-old tortoiseshell, from the Dublin SPCA.

The girls did a great job divvying up responsibilities from the start. 12 year-old Jenna happily took the job of arranging veterinary visits and scooping the litter box. 8 year-old Cher took on daily feeding with joy.  

They followed through beautifully. For about two months.

After that, I had many opportunities to practice the Five Alternatives to Nagging referenced in last month’s newsletter. Simply pointing to an empty food bowl nudged Cher into action.

But the litter box? That was another story.

We brought the problem to a family meeting to get everyone’s help brainstorming solutions.

Our family brainstorming rules are well-known:  

  1. All ideas get written down no matter how bad they seem
  2. No evaluation whatsoever during brainstorm

We produced this list of ideas:

  • Have Jenna and Cher switch jobs
  • Put Jenna’s toothbrush in the litterbox
  • Dump litter box on Jenna’s floor if she doesn’t scoop it
  • Move Jenna’s toothbrush to the bathroom where the litterbox resides so that she sees it every time she brushes her teeth 
  • Put the litter box in Jenna’s room

As you can see, some ideas were in fact, very bad. During the evaluation phase (but not before!), we asked the family, “Are any of these ideas unreasonable or disrespectful?” Ideas like, “Put Jenna’s toothbrush in the litter box” and “Dump litter box on Jenna’s floor” are both unreasonable and disrespectful so they got crossed off. Then we voted on what was left (in our family, every person gets two votes to spread any way they want).

“Move Jenna’s toothbrush to the bathroom where the litterbox resides” won, so we decided to try it out.

Two weeks later, we follow-up with, “how’s it working?” I already knew that it wasn’t, but the question gave Jenna the opportunity to share why:  “the litter spills all over the floor and feels yucky on my bare feet while brushing my teeth.”

A reasonable complaint. And therefore, joint problem solving commenced anew. (She confirmed that scooping the box was a job she was willing to do.)

The results from Round 2:

  • Put reminder note on J’s toothbrush 
  • Put a schedule on Jenna’s wall
  • Put box in green bathroom
  • Set daily alarm on Jenna’s phone at 7am as reminder
  • Put all toothbrushes in the litterbox

Once again, we eliminated ideas that were disrespectful or unreasonable and this time the phone alarm idea won so Jenna created a repeating reminder on her phone.  

A month later, we followed up again to see how the solution was working.

Not well.

And thus, Round 3 of joint problem solving commenced! Not necessarily with smiles, mind you.  Both Jenna and the rest of the family were irritated to be talking about the topic again.  The irritation sped up the process, however!

Our Round 3 results:

    • Put litter box right outside Jenna’s bedroom door
    • Set phone alarm for 8:15pm, a better time for Jenna
    • Dump litter onto J’s floor when it gets messy
    • Block J’s door with box of litter when someone notices the need for scooping
    • Create an incentive system

At this point, we stopped voting and just asked Jenna what she thought would work for her.  She chose the 8:15pm alarm which worked better, but still not as consistently as I would have liked.  

Over the next few months we did one or two more problem-solving rounds; and while continually coming back to the same problem bugged the crap out of me, the kids did get really good at brainstorming! The family never ceases to amaze me with their creative ideas.  

Our current solution:  the litter box is right outside Jenna’s door, inside a big plastic storage bin, on top of a litter-catching mat, with the scoop and bags nearby for easy access. Jenna must pass the box before entering or after exiting her room.

When someone (usually me) notices that the box needs scooping, they put the litter shovel right outside her door. This solution, while not ideal for me because I still have to do something to trigger the scooping, works about 80% of the time. That’s about a 60 point improvement. I’ll take it. Just a simple unavoidable visual reminder usually does the trick.

Full disclosure: I still use the other Alternatives to Nagging, too.  

Now I don’t want you to think that your own child’s issues will require five problem solving sessions over the course of a year. Often, the first solution works beautifully, at least for a good while, and the family moves on.  Here’s an example of when it did.  

But sometimes finding a solution that really works does take multiple rounds of brainstorm -> follow-up -> brainstorm -> follow-up. Don’t be discouraged! This process is not just about finding a solution, it’s also about teaching and practicing problem-solving and communication skills that your children will need in many other situations long term.

Now, if you’ve tried multiple problem-solving rounds including follow-up, practiced the 5 alternatives to nagging, and your child is still not following through with the agreement, it’s time to get curious about what’s getting in the way.

Here are some common culprits:

1.  Relationship needs strengthening. When children feel unconditionally loved, valued, and connected to you, they are simply more open to your influence. So ask yourself:  “Does my relationship need strengthening? Do I regularly listen, play, and have fun with my child?” If not, this is a great place to start.

2.  Lagging or lacking skills. Sometimes the reason children don’t follow-through is simply because they can’t – they haven’t yet developed the skills required for success. So ask yourself:

  • Is the solution appropriate for my child’s developmental stage and abilities?
  • Do I need to take time to train or teach?
  • Do I need to break the task down into more manageable chunks so that my child can experience success?
  • Does my child have an undiagnosed (or diagnosed) limitation?

3.  The agreement was not mutual. Parents deceive themselves when they make edicts and call them agreements.

4.  A Mistaken Goal behind the behavior. When you understand what your child seeks with their behavior (Attention, Power, Revenge, or Avoidance/Competence), you can more easily find effective solutions. Learn more about the Mistaken Goals of Behavior here.

I always appreciate hearing from you; please leave your comments below. 

I’ll be sharing more on mistaken goals, agreements, and how to get short-term cooperation and teach long-term life skills (and much more) in an interactive, online class starting September 2017.

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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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