Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

One Reason Why Grandparents Spoil Grandchildren.

bea and car

I was leaning on the car looking at my phone while I waited.  My grandson was strapped in his car seat, refusing to get out of the car.  He was tired and so was I.  I felt very tired.

It has already been a busy day.  I had agreed to hang out with my 5 ½ year old grandson during the day because it was Spring Break and both his parents were working.  I enjoyed doing it.  Today was a busier day than usual as my eldest son’s 40th birthday was coming up and his partner had planned a surprise birthday party tonight, which I agreed to host.

I picked up my grandson at 10:30 am and on the way to the tennis club I stopped to pick up the Tiramisu cake my daughter-in-law asked me to pick up.  My grandson and I went into the bakery.  He spotted some cookies that he like the look of and asked for one.  No problem.  He asked to buy one for his little friend who was going to join us for lunch with his grandmother.  He picked out one for him.

However, I couldn’t pick up the cake because they said they don’t make Tiramisu cake.  After texting my daughter-in-law, she remembered that it was at a different store.  We didn’t have time to get it then, so off we went to the tennis club.

I usually have a tennis lesson on Fridays from 12:00 – 1:00 pm.  So this Friday I shared it with my grandson.  He did very well for half an hour even though he got a blister.  I had the other half hour.  After the lesson we went down to the children’s area and played ping-pong while waiting for our friends.  Unfortunately they didn’t come.  My friend texted me to say that her grandson had gotten over-tired, had a meltdown and was napping.  So my grandson and I had lunch, played some more ping-pong and then headed to my home.

I still needed to pick up the cake.  On the way I pulled over and parked in front of the store.  My grandson refused to get out of the car.  I was tired and I knew he was tired, but I could not leave him in the car.  I told him I understood that he did not want to go into the store.  I told him I didn’t feel like going either, but I needed to get the cake.  The birthday party was tonight and if I didn’t get the cake now, I would not be able to get it.  He emphatically refused.

I did not want to fight with him.  I knew if I started to pressure him, he would resist more and things would go from bad to worse.  I didn’t want to go there.  I was in a bind.

I decided I would wait outside the car.  So here I am leaning against the car starting to look at emails on my cell phone.  I couldn’t help but think of all I had done for my grandson that day already, yet he was acting up.  I knew thinking that way would not lead to a good place for him or for me.  It didn’t take long before he cracked open the car door.  Relieved, I thought he was ready to co-operate.  I open the door more.  No such luck.  He still continued to say he was not going to go.  I told him (all this time I kept my voice in a reasonable straightforward tone) again that I needed to get the cake.  He continued to resist.  I thought about bribing him with a treat.  He’d already had a cookie earlier at the other bakery.  It was at this point I thought – this is why grandparents spoil their grandchildren – they don’t want to fight with them.  I certainly did not want to fight with him.  While I think there are times that bribing children is warranted, I did not want to bribe him either.  I love him too much to do that to him.

So, since I felt so tired, without telling him what I was going to do,  I decided I would sit in the driver’s seat and wait.  I closed his door and got into the driver’s seat.  As soon as I got into the car, he said to me in a calm voice, “Nana, I will go.”  I said, “Great!  Let’s get it over with so we can both get to my place.”

We happily went into the store.  I found the cake and got into the line up.  I remembered that I needed bananas so I asked him if he would go get me some.  He willingly did this, going by himself, picking out a bunch of bananas and joining me at the checkout.  Soon we were home at my place.  We were good with each other.

I felt good about how I handled the situation.  I did not yell at him, coerce him, call him names, complain about his behavior, bribe him, threaten him or fight with him. I did not give in to him.  If I had, I knew I would feel resentful and that would not be good for our relationship.  The time it took to wait  (less than a minute) was much shorter and easier than if I’d gotten into a battle with him.  It also strengthened our regard for each other.

The focus of the situation remained -I needed to do a task.  It did not evolve into an issue of who was boss and who had bratty behavior.

When children and adults are tired, behavior can often dissolve into power struggles.  Waiting calmly sometimes can avoid these struggles and take  shorter time and less energy than fighting.  Relationships are enhanced rather than damaged.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

 

 

 

 

 

Triangulation Part 3: Why Kids Fight.

triangulation 3

Children fight for many reasons.  One of the major reasons they fight is to engage parent(s).

Years ago I can remember being busy in the kitchen.  My two boys, around ages 3 and 5, were playing in the living room.  Then they started fighting. Without saying a word, I stopped what I was doing and went into the bathroom.  Within seconds, they had joined forces and were banging on the bathroom door trying to get me to come out.

Children like to have their parents involved with them. Before children start to misbehave or fight with each other, they usually ask parents to play with them, read to them, or just go for a walk or bike ride. Often they offer to help.  Lots of time children will play well together waiting for the parents to  finish their work. If none of these positive ways to get attention work, they will find negative ways.  Mostly, I don’t think children do it consciously.  I believe, for them, any kind of involvement is better than no involvement.  They need the adult contact.

Often parents are legitimately busy since there is so much to do.  Other times, parents just don’t want to engage for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they’ve already spent a good chunk of time with the children.  Maybe they are tired, sick or distracted with other things. If children keep getting put off, then they start to do things that will bug the parents until they get involved.

A parent will usually get involved in their children’s fighting by “rescuing” the more vulnerable child. Usually, it’s the youngest, but not always.  Some younger children are more vibrant and determined than their older siblings.  Some older siblings are passive.  Rescuing one sibling from the other can create a dynamic of VICTIM-BULLY-ARBITRATOR.  The weaker child learns he or she can get the parent’s attention  by being a victim. The stronger child learns that he or she  can get the parent’s attention by being a bully.  The parent feels needed as the rescuer/arbitrator. Children mistakenly think they have to have parents to settle disputes and parents, lacking faith in their children,  believe they are not able to get along.

Most of the time weaker children do need to be protected from stronger siblings.  HOW parents do that is a key to maintaining good relationships between the siblings and between the parent and each child.

When parents are aware of the dynamics of triangulation they have more options in handling it. In any case, without judging treat both children the same. 

Choose to be a part of the triangle:

  • Remove from both children what they are fighting over, e.g. a game, activity or toy.
  • Help the children negotiate and brainstorm with each other. Make sure each child has a turn to speak.
  • Ignore the fighting and suggest that you all do an activity together – work or play.

Decline to be a part of the triangle:

  • Send both children to their rooms or to different parts of the home for a specified time.
  • Send both children outside. Children’s play usually improves when they are sent outside.
  • Express your faith in your children that they can work things out for themselves.
  • Remove yourself from the situation.

Of course, all of the above suggestions depend on the situation.  Some will work in some situations, but not in all.  Parents need to consider the circumstances and choose the best option.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Triangulation Part 2: That’s between the Two of You

triangulation 2

Shawna, a 30 year old woman and her father are enjoying dinner in a restaurant. Father’s cell phone rings and he answers it. It’s his wife. She angrily demands to know when he will be home. He gets flustered. He hands the cell phone to his daughter, saying he can’t hear his wife. Shawna gets exasperated with her mother for once again putting pressure on her father. Most of her life, Shawna has tried to protect her father from her mother’s domination. She grabs the phone, yells at her mother to leave her father alone and hangs up. Her father gets upset because he knows his wife will be furious with him when he gets home. He can no longer enjoy his time with his daughter. His daughter can no longer enjoy her time with her father.  The rest of their conversation is spent talking about Dad’s relationship with Mom. They focus so much on Mom, it’s like she’s there with them.

What happened is triangulation.

In this scenario there is ongoing tension between the mother and father.  Both father and mother triangulate the daughter – mother by phoning and interrupting the father-daughter time, and  father by giving his daughter the cell phone and telling her he can’t understand the mother. The daughter allows herself to be triangulated by taking the phone and getting angry at the mother.

A better approach (avoiding triangulation):

Possibility 1: Mother does an activity by herself or with someone else.  She does not call.

Possibility 2: Father turns off his cell phone, or lets it go to voice mail.

Possibility 3: Father answers the call and deals with it himself, does not involve their daughter.

Possibility 4:  Daughter does not accept the cell phone when father holds it out to her.  She refuses to be hooked in and reassures her father that he can handle it. She says, “This is between you and Mom.  I’m going to stay out of it. You can handle it.” Father deals with the call. Father and daughter continue their time together, not talking about mother.

Mother and Father will reorganize their relationship differently if they stop triangulating – or are unable to triangulate  their daughter.  That would be healthy for all concerned.

Be aware of triangulation in your relationships.   Once aware, you can choose to be involved or you can respectfully decline.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Triangulation Part 1: Understanding Family Dynamics

2 (640x426)

Gladys hear the familiar voices.  They were getting louder and Louder.  This was nothing new. It happened all the time.  “I wonder what it is about this time”, she asked herself.  She wandered towards the sounds making sure she wasn’t making any noise. Then she heard another familiar voice – her brother’s. As usual he was coming to his mother defense.  He’d been doing this for as long as she could remember.  She watched as they all argued.  There was no point in her doing anything because they never listened to her. She slipped away back to her room.  They didn’t even notice she had been there.

What happened is triangulation.

When there is tension between two family members, a third family member is often drawn into the issue. When one child gets involved, the other children often feel “off the hook”, and they remain passive or just ignore their parents.  The function of triangulation is to diffuse the tension between the two who are stressed with each other.  The downside is that the dynamics between family members can become unhealthy for all members of a family.

In healthy families parents avoid triangulating the children when they are stressed with each other.  They tell their child that the issue is between them, and they will take care of it. Parents would remove themselves from the children’s earshot, or they would tell the children to go to their rooms or go outside and stay out of it. They would work it out themselves if possible. By the parents keeping their differences between themselves, the family dynamic remains healthy. The parents are a unit and the children know it.

Sometimes triangulation happens between parent and child and the other parent is drawn in.

Example:

Arlie and her son were arguing about his playing rugby.  She didn’t want him to play because she was afraid he’d get injured.  Stan intervened on behalf of his son and all three argued. Mom felt unsupported and angry at dad. The issue shifted from playing rugby to who was going to have their way.

A better approach (avoiding triangulation):

Stan lets his wife and son have their conversation. Later, when they are alone, Stan discusses the issue with his wife. The issue remains about playing rugby and mom’s concerns about her son getting injured. It does not become about the dynamics of their relationship with each other.

When is it NOT triangulation?

Family members can have a discussion about an issue without triangulation if the discussion remains about the topic and does not become about the dynamics between them, such as who is right/who is wrong or who is allied with whom.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 7: Instant Replay

replay

When people have a negative interaction with each other, one or the other can ask for a replay of the interaction, during which they each alter their exchange in a positive way.

Example:

  • Let’s start over.
  • Let’s re-do this.
  • Let’s try this again.

Yesterday I saw a couple for the first time.  They are a feisty couple, very engaged with each other, but at this point in their relationship, not in a good way. In the session, I was able to get them to take responsibility for what each was doing that was not working for them.  I asked each to take responsibility for what they were doing in their interaction and work to change themselves rather than trying to change the other.  We discussed specific ways they could change. Both are strong-willed yet still open to change.  They were desperate for change and willing to try something different.

At the end of the session, while I was writing out the receipt, the couple had a small interaction that was their usual way of reacting to each other.  Each was assuming the negative about the other. They realized what they had just done and were smiling at catching themselves doing it. [This type of smile is called the recognition reflex]. Neither knew what to do next.

So I said to them, “Let’s back up and do this interaction again – only differently.”

The original interaction:

Joe was smiling because he felt good about how the session went.  He was looking at Amanda wondering how she was feeling about the session, but he did not say anything.  He was apprehensive that her reaction would be negative.

Amanda saw the look on Joe’s face and said to him, “When you crinkled your face up like that it makes me feel insecure about how the session went.”

The new interaction:

I said to Joe – Smile again at Amanda, and tell her how you were feeling about the session.

Smiling, Joe said to Amanda, “I feel good about how the session went.”

With a warm smile, Amanda readily responded, “So do I.”

Both smiled even more.  The positive emotional connection between them was clearly evident.

I thought,   “This couple is fun to work with.”

Couples, and others, can learn to shift their interactions from negative to positive by backing up, redoing them differently.  They just need to learn what to say that would work.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 6: Turn your questions into statements.

question mark

People often ask questions when they are really making statements.

Sometimes this is intentional, but mostly people don’t even realize they are communicating in this way. At face value a question is a request for information or clarification. A statement disguised as a question is about the dynamics between the sender and the receiver.

Examples:

  • a) Do you feel like seeing a movie tonight?

May actually mean:

I want to see a movie tonight, and I want someone to go with me.

Or

I want to do something, but I’m reluctant to ask you directly because you might reject me.

  • b) Are you leaving now?

May actually mean:

I don’t want you to leave now, but I am shy about saying so.

  • c) Don’t you have to be somewhere at 8:00?

May actually mean:

I want you to leave now so I can get back to what I was doing.

  • d) Did you take out the garbage?

May actually mean:

I want you to take out the garbage.

  • e) Are you coming to bed soon?

May actually mean:

I’m feeling randy, and I’m hoping I can entice you into making love.

  • f) Have you done your homework?

May actually mean:

If you have not done your homework, you’re going to be in trouble, because I need you to do well in school.

  • g) What are you doing?

Usually means:

I don’t like what you’re doing!

But depending on the tone, it could mean:

I really like what you are doing!

Usually the person being asked this kind of question takes it at face value, as a request for information, and answers accordingly.  This may develop into an argument that neither want to have on a topic that is not the real issue.

If a husband asks his wife “Do you have to go out tonight?” she may explain that she has made a commitment and needs to keep it. “I promised Janie I’d have coffee with her.” or “ I need to get groceries.” The conversation may escalate into an argument about whether or not she really has to go or that she is going out too much. Perhaps the husband feels neglected and perhaps she feels he’s trying to control her.

What the husband is may be saying is “We’ve both been really busy lately, and I would like to spend some time with you.”  If he had made this statement, his wife would know what is really going on with him and be able to respond to the real issue.  She could generate options. She could set up a time to be together soon.  She could come home early.  She could put off what she was going to do to another time.  Depending on the situation, she could invite him to go with her.  Now the couple is communicating clearly with each other.  Each feels cared about rather than frustrated.

 

All too often the person asking the questions already knows the answer.

  • a)   Did you eat a cookie? (In a harsh tone to a child with cookie crumbs on her face.)

The child, sensing the parent is angry, denies it. This sets the child up to lie. Now the issue shifts from cookie eating to lying – harmful to the relationship.

It is better to make a statement:  I see cookie crumbs on your face.  This sets children up to tell the truth and maintain good relations between adult and child.

 

  • b)   Were you in my workshop? (In an accusing tone knowing spouse had rearranged things.)

A question asked this way means: The workshop is my domain, and I do not want you to do anything to it.

Better to make a clear statement: You cleaned up my workshop.  I appreciate the intent, but I want you to leave that to me.  I like to organize it the way that I want.

 

Usually a question is just a question – a request for information. But many questions are really disguised statements with the sender’s real message hidden within them. When that happens people can feel interrogated, manipulated, attacked or put on the spot. When questions are disguised statements a person can feel set up and get defensive. These kinds of questions create resentment which leads to lots of arguments and poor communication. After awhile others become wary of any questions. Before long relationships deteriorate.

By making statements instead of asking questions communication remains clear. The real issues are more likely to get addressed in a friendly, respectful and even caring manner.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 5: Talk with Me not at Me

talk at me

Dialogues, in which the conversation flows back and forth, create connection between people.

As I was packing up my gear from my tennis lesson today the fellow who had next session came into the court. We’d met before. To be friendly and make a bid for connection, I said to him, “It’s sure great weather for tennis.” He started talking at me about how he had solved the weather question. He kept going on and on about why people should not even bother commenting about the weather. I continued to put my tennis racquet away, thinking to myself – I was just being friendly. I grabbed my jacket and towel, found a moment when he took a breath, then remarked, “That’s how people make bids for connection” (I couldn’t resist even though I didn’t think he would get it.)  He continued to go on mentioning that the French had figured it out. By this time, I no longer knew what he was talking about, nor did I care, because I had tuned him out. It was not the first time that he greeted me with a monologue on a topic that I did not relate to. I thanked my tennis instructor, waved good-bye and left. I thought to myself, I have no interest in connecting to him if he is going to talk AT me.

Earlier, during my tennis lesson, my instructor and I had had a very engaging talk about the rivalry between, Federer and Nadal, the top two men in tennis. Federer had just beaten Nadal in Madrid, and the French Open was just about to start. We were both interested in the topic and what each other thought about it. The conversation went back and forth as we responded to each other and expressed our thoughts. It was an engaging conversation. What a different experience!

Talking AT is a monologue. It is a one-way conversation, even if there is an exchange with others.

When people are talking AT you they are telling you about their opinions, their points of view, what they think you should do or not do, their knowledge and expertise. They want you to hear and believe them. They want to influence you to do, or not do, what they want. They do not want your input – they only want you to ask them about what they think.

How can you tell if someone is talking AT you?

You tend to experience boredom, annoyance or restlessness. You tend to tune out the talker and think your own thoughts about what’s going on. You feel separate and detached from the talker. You easily get distracted. You might want to find an excuse to exit. You might also feel disrespected and put down.

Talking WITH is a dialogue. It is a shared conversational exchange about a topic or situation.

When people are talking WITH you they are sharing a conversation with you. They are open to your response(s) and want your input. They are engaged with you, and the conversation is mutually satisfactory or relevant. This holds true even if the dialogue is difficult.

How do you tell if someone is talking WITH you?

You experience involvement with the other person. You feel a connection to them. You feel paid attention to. You are usually interested in and focused on the topic or situation. You feel your input is wanted and welcomed. You feel respected and valued no matter what age you are.

Do you talk AT people or WITH them?

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

How early experience shape one’s relationship with one’s self.

hand on head

 

Children need their parents’ love, attention, acceptance, and guidance as a plant needs water.  If they do not get it growing up, as adult they may spend their whole lives trying to get it from their parents.  They may also try to get it from bosses, friends, teachers, coaches,and neighbours as well.

Children tend to treat themselves how they are treated by their parents.  If both parents treated them well, children are likely to internalized this style, and treat themselves well.  This is also true if their parents treated them badly; they are likely to internalize that style and treat themselves badly.  Children’s self-esteem is also affected by how their parents treat each other.

It’s not that simple though.  Families are complicated.  There are so many factors influencing children’s self-esteem as they grow:  birth order, extended family, religious affiliations, talents, energy level, school and others.  Sometimes parents and grandparents (even other family members and teachers) prefer one gender to another.  Perhaps one parent prefers boys and the other prefers girls.  How people treat each gender impacts the children’s self-esteem positively or negatively.  Witnessing one’s siblings being favored or unflavored also influences his or her own self-esteem.

My father was the eldest of 10.  I don’t know why, but he did not like boys.  Growing up I was unaware of this, so I did not notice how he treated my brothers.  Perhaps it was because my father had 7 brothers and 2 sisters.  I was lucky.  I was born a girl in this family.  I felt adored by my father and I enjoyed his attention.  I liked being a girl.

It is common knowledge that parents, who treat their children badly, harm their children’s self-esteem.  It is also possible to harm a child’s self-esteem by excessive and undeserved praise.

Scenario

From the time Cercy was born, she was praised excessively by both parents, but mostly her mother.  Her self-esteem was extremely high.  She thought she was marvellous in every way.  When she went to school, she got a reality check.  She was not nearly as competent and capable as she had been led to believe.  It shook her confidence to the core.  She began to doubt herself.  She would dismiss praise or any positive feedback she received.

At the core of self-esteem is one’s relationship to one’s self.  What a child experiences in their family of origin, extended family, the neighbourhood, school, and other childhood experiences, heavily influences how a child treats himself.

This pattern, established in childhood, goes into the subconscious and operates out of awareness.  When the relationship with self is positive, no problem is created so it may work well for a lifetime.  If it’s not, it needs to be revised.  But how?

Next post will discuss how.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can I Please have Another Helping of Self-Esteem? Understanding Self-Estseem and How it Develops

self-esteem mirroe

 

People tend to think of self-esteem almost as if it is a product you can buy. Perhaps it is because of all the advertising which shows people smiling and feeling good when they use the products. Or, they think of it as a condition, like needing more iron in their diet or getting more rest.

Self-esteem is the result or outcome of one’s relationship with one’s self.  It is a by-product of how a person treats him or herself.

 

How do people develop a relationship with self?

Children are not born having a relationship with self.  It starts with their relationship with others.  Parents do things to them and with them.  Babies and toddlers respond and react to the ways in which they are handled and cared for.  Over time they develop a relationship with self from how they are treated by others. The quality of those interactions is a major factor in determining the quality of relationship a child develops with himself.

Children are not born loving themselves.  They learn they are loveable (or not) by the experiences of being loved by those that look after them.  At first, love comes externally. If they feel loveable, over time children internalize the love they experience and in this way they learn to love themselves.

 How do children determine whether they are loved and valued or not?

Scenario:

Billy knew he was loved.  As a baby, his mother’s eyes lit-up when she saw him.  She talked to him a lot.  She was always affectionate with him and took very good care of him.

His father smiled at him frequently.  He spent time with him: playing roughhousing, sports and games.  He taught him many things about the world and the way it worked.  If Billy had any questions or problems, he knew he could always go to either parent. They stood up for him whenever they thought he needed support and gave him constant guidance. His parents did not have much money, yet they created a safe fun environment.

Billy felt loved, valued, understood, protected, and accepted.  He felt cherished, just because he existed. He felt he belonged in his family. He felt good about himself, confident in himself and his abilities.  To him, the world was an amazing place.

Scenario 2

Sammy was not sure if he was loved or not.  He had a sad mother. She took care of him, but she rarely smiled at him. She often did not look at him directly as she cared for him.  She was impatient, yelling a lot. She was seldom affectionate, and she seemed to resent the time she spent with him.  She read a lot.  Sometimes she was okay, even telling him she loved him. But Sammy did not feel loved.

Dad was away half the time, and when he was home he was tired and distracted.  He did not have time or energy for Sammy.  When he heard his parents arguing, it was always about him.  He felt like it was his fault, that he was bad, but he wasn’t sure how. The family had money, and it seemed to Sammy that money is what mattered, not him.

Sammy did not feel loved or valued. He felt he was a burden on his mother and father.  He tried to be as good as he could to please his parents, but it rarely worked.  He didn’t really feel he belonged to this family, more like he was visiting and it would soon end.  He did not feel good about himself.   He was unsure of how to be and how to act.  The world was a scary place that he had to figure out on his own.

Each child comes to conclusions about themselves from their experiences of interactions with parents and others in their childhood. These conclusions may be accurate or inaccurate. Children do not even realize they come to conclusions; they are just living their lives. Some adults report specific memories of decisions they deliberately made as a young child. But most of the time, these conclusions are made without realizing it, get buried in the subconscious and operate out of awareness.

When a child has felt loved, valued and connected to the significant people in his life, he is more likely to love and value himself, that is, he is more likely to have high self- esteem. Conversely, when a child experiences lack of love and belonging, he is less likely to love and value himself, that is, he is more likely to have low self-esteem.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Safety First: How to Reduce Kids Fighting when Driving in the Car.

driving

 

Safety is first and foremost when driving a vehicle.

Fighting and goofing around are distracting to the driver.  It is also dangerous for the drivers to be upset and yelling at their passengers.  The best thing to do is develop a strategy for safe driving.

When my kids were young, we spent a lot of time driving from one activity to another.  We lived several miles from most activities so there was lots of time spent in the car.  When they would fight or noisily goof around, I found it distracting.  Yelling didn’t work, and besides I hated yelling and nagging at them.

I decided to stop trying to make them stop.  I developing a strategy.  I told them it was not safe for me to drive when there is fighting going on.  I told them I would pull over to the side of the road as soon as it was safe to do so and wait until they stopped.  They didn’t believe me, but I knew they wouldn’t until I followed through on what I had said I’d do.

So I began to do it.  At first it happened quite a lot.  I kept my word – I pulled over as soon as it was safe to do so and waited until they quieted down.  In the beginning it seemed like a game to them.  I was careful to keep my body language neutral and matter-of-fact, no eye rolling, no heavy sighs, no tense clipped speech.  One time, they took a particularly long time to quiet down.  So instead of “losing it” I stepped out of the vehicle and stood beside it.  I never left the boys alone in the vehicle.  When they finally quieted down, I got back in the car and without saying a word, started driving again.  They didn’t like just sitting in the car and not getting where they were going whether it was school, soccer or home.  So they started quieting down sooner.  Eventually, when they realized I was slowing down to pull off to the side of the road, they would quickly quiet down.  Without saying a word, I would pull back onto the road and speed up.

Somewhere along the way, it became a non-issue, without anyone discussing it.  Being noisy in the car just seemed to hardly happen at all.

This was accomplished without me yelling, getting upset, reasoning, pleading, nagging, threatening, guilt-tripping, being impatient or getting angry.  Having a strategy really helped me remain calm.  I felt in control of the situation in a way that was positive for the boys.

NOTE:

Consistency when carrying out a strategy is imperative to its success.

It may take some time for the plan to take effect so be prepared to be patient.  The plan may even have to be tweaked a bit.

The attitude used to implement the strategy is also key to a successful outcome.

The same strategy used with an angry negative delivery could turn into a power struggle.  This could make the dynamics between all persons involved worse.

 

“I feel like I don’t live anywhere.” The Problem with 50-50 Custody.

Recently one of my clients talked about the confusion and distress her teenage son was experiencing at going back and forth between his mom’s home and his dad’s home.   She said her heart went out to him when he said to her, “I feel like I don’t live anywhere.”  She responded to his plight by telling him that he could live with her and that he could visit his father anytime he wanted.  Fortunately, for the adolescent, the parents worked well around custody and access.  The mother discussed with her ex-husband their son’s distress and he agreed that the son could live full time with his mother.  She said her son’s confusions and distress lessened once he  settle down full time at her place. He continued to see his father a lot.

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The Pun[ch] Game. All fun No Tears for Toddler Impulses.

One day recently my two year old grandson punched me.  I handled it in the same way I handled my own children when they bit or hit me at that age.

I said, “Oh, you want to play the Punching Game.”  He said,  “Yes.”  We started swinging,  pretending to punch each other.  We did not hit each other. At first, I would just touch (not hit)  him occasionally with my fist until I realize that he was not touching me at all.  So I stopped touching him.

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How to Talk about the Past in a Way that Brings Family Together

When someone in your family tells you a memory, pay close attention. They are sharing their modus operandi for life with you. If there are unhealed traumas from the past, talking about painful memories can help your family member heal.

Memories are blue prints for how to do life.

Children have millions of experiences by the time they are around five to six years old but they only remember a few of them. Why do they remember only a few and why those particular ones? When children are born into this world they quickly have to figure out how to survive, emotionally and physically. It is the emotion surrounding an event that determines meaning. With their limited knowledge and experience of life they come to conclusions about self, others and life. Then they live their life according to the conclusions they’ve come to, whether those conclusions are conscious or unconscious. Memories after the age of 6 are important as well; they tend to confirm or disconfirm previous conclusions.

How to talk about memories.

1.       Listen to the memories without interrupting. Your parent, spouse, child, sibling, cousin or other relative is telling you something important about themselves. Paying attention to them shows them you are interested in them and care about them.

2.       Memories can be happy, neutral or unhappy/painful. Enjoy the happy ones, be curious about the neutral ones and be empathetic with the painful ones. Often, healing can occur through the expression of feelings alone. It is possible for a child and an adult to heal emotionally from talking to a caring person about an experience they had as a child or young adult.

3.       Validate their experiences and the meaning they make of them. Do not argue about whether the events happened or not.  Just because you don’t remember an event does not mean it did not happen.  Or, if you remember the same event differently, it means you made different meaning out of it. Do not be concerned about the truth or facts of the memory. It may or may not be accurate. It is not about the facts; it is about the meaning the person made of their experience and the facts.

4.       Do not assume you know what their memory means. Ask “What do you make of that?” Say, “Tell me more about that.” Invite your family member to say more by being curious about it.

5.       Validate the feelings generated in the memory, positive and/or negative.

6.       If you want to share memories of your own, wait until they are finished.

Note:  Memories are not static.  As a person ages and their circumstances change, their memories may change, or even be forgotten completely.

Reminiscing is healthy if family members are open to listening to each other.

The above holds true of people who are non-family members as well.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Good News and Bad News about Fighting in the Family

What is considered fighting?

Joey comes into the kitchen wanting a cookie.  It’s just before dinner and the smell of dinner is adding to Joey’s hunger.  Dad is cooking dinner and knows if he gives Joey a cookie it will take the edge off his appetite for dinner.  They argue about whether or not Joey can have a cookie.  Would you consider this a fight?

What is fighting for some people is not fighting for others.  Raised voices –  yelling  – hitting – which of these is your definition of fighting?

When asked for their definition of fighting, parents of preschoolers responded with answers such as – conflicted communication, not listening, not hearing, arguing, punching, hitting, yelling,  arguing in a strong way beyond reason and logic, walking away from the issue, misunderstandings, disagreements, raised blood pressure, lots of anger and frustration, loss of rational thought,  high stress and more.

In this post fighting is considered any conflict, from a minor squabble to a physical battle.

What is good about fighting in a family?

Fighting prepares children for conflict in life, both at home in the family and in the world at large.  Children who grow up in families where there never is any fighting, or parents hide fighting from the children or fighting is not allowed, are not prepared to deal with conflict whether it be with family members or with other people outside the family.  Children need to experience fighting to learn how to handle it.  Then they can better protect themselves and those they care about through life.

Because there will always be conflicts in families, it is not a question of if but how members of a family fight.  There are different ways to fight and it is really beneficial for children to learn to fight in a healthy constructive ways.

What is unhealthy fighting?

In unhealthy fighting parents and children try to get what they want from each other and do not care if they hurt, inconvenience or harm each other. They argue and yell, but they never get to a better place.  After the fight is over there are just bad feelings and a sense of frustration. No resolution. No positive change.

I call these the merry-go-round fights.  It’s like getting on a merry-go-round, going round and round, and when you get off you’re no further ahead than before you got on.  At first you’re willing to get on the merry-go-round, that is, you’re willing to engage in a fight, but after awhile you realize that there is no point in spending the time and energy because you will be in the same place, maybe even worse, after it’s over.  So you stop engaging in fighting.  You withdraw. You disengage from whoever it is you’re fighting with – maybe others as well.

Fighting that is loud, excessive, violent or out of control is terrifying for children.  Yelling terrifies children and makes their bodies cringe in distress. They can get so traumatized from it that they avoid conflict at all costs or become bullies themselves.  They often grow up to be fearful adults or bullies and are emotionally handicapped.

What is healthy fighting?

In healthy fighting parents and children stand up for themselves and consider each other as they are do so.  They try to find win/win outcomes. The fight gets resolved and the relationship improves.  Everyone feels good about the outcome.  The fight is worthwhile.

It’s really helpful for children to watch their parent have a fight with each other and resolve the fight in a productive way.  They learn from this that fighting, even though it may be distressful, is normal and can be constructive.  They learn how a marriage and couple relationship works – that there will be fighting and that it can be resolved.

Healthy fighting prepares children for life.  They experience it and learn to tolerate it.  They learn to take part and work toward constructive outcomes.  They learn, through experience and modeling of their parents that fighting can make for better relationships and a better life.

To learn to handle differences and resolve problems see the protocol: Sooner Better than Later. It is designed for couples but is appropriate for family members too.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

 

Sibling Rivalry:How Parents (and Others) can Make it Better or Make it Worse.

Others can be relatives, teachers, religious leaders, coaches and neighbors, etc.

Rivalry is healthy.

It is normal and natural for siblings to compete with each other. The competition prepares them for the world at large. Healthy individuals are able to compete with others and attain what they want and need. Living in a family and learning how to compete is valuable and productive.  Competing, per se, is not a problem. How family members compete with each other is the key factor.  It’s the style of competition that is healthy or unhealthy. Children learn about competition in the family in several ways. Mostly importantly, how each parent models competition in his or her own life has a big impact on children. Whether or not parents compete with each other and, if so, how they do that, impacts upon their children. How parents handle competition influences how their children will handle it. Children may engage in competition in the same way as their parents, or differently. If it is not fun, they may opt out of competition altogether.

Sibling rivalry is about competing for parental resources.

The first-born never has to compete with a sibling(s) for parental resources; they just have them. When the second child is born he or she begins life competing for parental resources while the first-born has to start competing. The first two children in any family are the most different whether there are two or ten children. The reason for this is because they need different ways to compete for parental resources.  The more children there are in a family the fewer parental resources for each of the children. Children can get more parental resources by being unique, such as gifted, talented, handicapped, troubled, etc.  Children who are unable to compete tend to get lost in the family and feel like they don’t matter.

Parents can promote healthy competition by:

  • Modeling competing in healthy way.
  • Modeling losing in healthy ways.
  • Helping their children compete productively and effectively with each other.
  • Not taking sides between siblings.
  • Expressing confidence that their children can work out their differences.
  • Having clear fair rules/boundaries that they follow through on consistently.
  • Comforting and consoling their children when they lose.
  • Discouraging their children from disparaging and making fun of each other.

For more in depth on Sibling Rivalry see Article: How Parents Can Make it Better or Worse.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Channel your Anger.What Everyone Should Know about Anger.Pt.3

Anger is energy.

It is healthy to channel your anger in constructive and productive ways.

Anger expressed positively can convince a lover or a child that he or she is loved. It can help you get a job done when you’re tired.  It can be motivating. Tiger Woods, one of the top golfers, says, “I sometimes lose my temper on purpose to fire myself up.”

Anger expressed negatively can devastate a child of any age, but especially when they are tiny. Anger can destroy relationships and ruin things of value. People often hurt themselves when they get angry.

There are times when it is appropriate and productive to get angry. But often getting angry can be dangerous, even embarrassing. It is helpful to know the difference and have the impulse control to carry out the choice. Most important of all is how a person acts when angry.

Scenario:

Lesley pulled into her garage after a long hectic day at work. As she got out of her car she heard glass breaking. She went around the corner of her home and saw the shattered living room window. Her son and his friends stood on the street frozen. One of the boys had hit the baseball through the window. Lesley was enraged! Last time it was the neighbor’s bedroom window. She’d told them many times to practice in the school yard nearby.She wanted to scream at them and slap them silly, every one of them!

Lesley knew that she was too angry to deal with the boys right then and she told them so. She sent her son to his room and his friends home. She changed into her jeans and a T-shirt, went out into the back yard and chopped some wood. As she chopped, her rage dissipated. She was still angry but not enraged. She then got her son to help her put some plywood over the broken window. Later that evening she and her husband sat down with their son to deal with the problem.

Lesley did not blow up, nor did she block her anger. She allowed her muscles to do what they needed to do – attack. But she did not attack her son or his friends, she attacked the wood. She actually destroyed something and created something simultaneously.

When people get angry, their bodies pump adrenalin into the bloodstream, preparing their muscles for fight or flight. Their muscles are primed to act and as they do the adrenalin is processed. However, if the anger is blocked then the muscles do not do what they naturally do. The adrenalin stays in the muscles often causing side effects, such as shakiness, until it is eventually processed. Blocked or unexpressed anger builds up over time. The brain and the body need to deal with it in some way. Some people blow up because they can no longer tolerate the tension. Others suppress and repress their anger which can lead to physical and emotional illnesses. Depression is often the symptom of repressed anger. Neither is healthy and both can cause a lot of harm.

It is not very easy to find wood to chop but there are lots of other ways to express anger constructively and productively.

Next blog post – Ideas for channeling anger.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

The Secret. What Everyone Should Know about Anger? Part 1

Scenario: James watched as his son, a talented goalie, let in a goal that lost the game. Exasperated he let out a cry of disgust. As James and his son walked away from the hockey rink James berated him for not trying hard enough. His discouraged son emphatically tried to convince him that he had tried as hard as he could – to no avail. Both felt badly.

Anger is usually a secondary feeling.

Underlying the anger there is another feeling – a vulnerable feeling – that acts like an engine fueling the anger and driving the behavior. Any vulnerable feeling can fuel anger. Some people get angry when they feel hurt.  Some people get angry when they feel threatened. Anyone can get angry when they feel out of control. Some people get angry when they feel pressured. Most people get irritable when they are hungry or tired.  There are many vulnerable feelings: abandoned, put down, shamed, embarrassed, exposed, challenged, disappointed, hopeless, controlled, rejected, blocked, misunderstood, and more.
In James’ case, underneath his anger was disappointed. When his son did well he felt proud and important, almost as if he’d achieved it himself. He enjoyed the compliments from coaches and other parents. When his son did not do well he felt like a failure. He hated feeling like a failure so he shifted into anger and got on his son’s case.
Vulnerable feelings can range from slight to extreme. No one likes to feel vulnerable so most people behave in ways that attempt to avoid or deflect from the feeling. They may get busy talking about something else, they may focus on a task, they may worry about aches or pains they have or they may get angry.
Why get angry? When people shift into anger they stop feeling the vulnerable feeling. It does not go away; it just goes into the background. Feeling angry is better than feeling humiliated, rejected or some other vulnerable feeling. When people feel angry they feel powerful, not vulnerable. With anger it may be possible to change what is going on.

Anger has a purpose.

When people get angry it helps them make happen what they want to happen or to prevent or stop happening what they do not want to happen.
James needed his son to do well so that he felt good about himself. He got angry at his son to pressure him into trying harder. Most children feel uncomfortable when their parents are angry so they try to do whatever it is that will stop the anger, whether it is good for them or not. They become more focused on what their parents are feeling than on the activity. That makes it harder for them to do well.
What could James do to achieve his goals? First of all, James needs to be aware that he feels disappointed. He probably shifts into anger so quickly that he does not even realize it. Secondly, he needs to realize that his disappointed is about himself, not his son; he is trying to get his needs met vicariously through his son’s efforts and abilities. Once he is aware, he can 1) do things in his own life to achieve a sense of accomplishment and importance 2) give his son positive feedback about what he is doing well so his son stays focused on the sport. Then his son is more likely to enjoy the activity and perform at his best. Result? Both feel good – his son about himself, James about himself and his parenting.
When parents figure out the engine (vulnerable feeling) driving their anger they have more choices. They may continue to handle situations in the same way or they may find more effective ways, without getting angry, that are positive for everyone concerned.

Explore the feelings underlying your anger.  What did you feel just before you got angry?

What is the purpose of your anger?  Is there a better way to achieve it than getting angry?

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

How Parents (and others) Can Avoid Power Struggles with Children

Parents and children get into power struggles all the time.  Parents want to feel in control of their children and children like autonomy.  When kids get too feisty and parents start to feel out of control they start to fight with their kids in order to regain control.  Kids rebel when parents get too controlling.  When kids rebel, parents feel they are losing control and come down harder on the kids.  The kids react by acting out and misbehaving. The more the kids act out the more the parents feel out of control and come down on the kids.  The more they come down on the kids the more the kids act out. This is a vicious cycle which can escalate to dangerous levels.

It takes two to fight.  Wise parents withdraw from the fight but do not abdicate their authority.  They switch to strategies carried out with a matter-of-fact attitude.  The key to success is the matter-of-fact attitude. The goal – everyone’s best interests are at heart.  Here are a couple of examples of everyday events handled using strategies.

NOTE:  If you really want to dominate and control your children do not switch to strategies.  When parents interact with their children using an attitude of I’m-the-boss-you-better-do-what-I-say-or-else, strategies do not work, they backfire.  Your power struggles with your children will only get worse.

Scenario 1: Having to go when the child does want to.

Janice needed to go grocery shopping with her two preschoolers, Joey age 4 and Lesley age 2.  Joey did not want to go shopping; he wanted to stay home and play but there was on one to stay home with. As they were getting ready to go out the door Joey refused to put on his shoes and jacket.  Not wanting to fight with him, Janice told him he did not have to wear them if he did not want to.  Without anger, Janice picked up a bag and put Joey’s shoes and jacket in the bag to take with them.  She told Joey that if he wanted them they were in the bag.   When Joey realized he was going to have to go, he put on his jacket and shoes.

Scenario 2:  Tidying up at bedtime.

At the end of every day George’s children left their toys, books, sports gear all over the place.  In a friendly way, George encouraged them to put their stuff away.  That did not work.  George’s voice got louder and he ordered the kids to put their stuff away.  That did not work.  Then George started barking at his kids. He angrily shouted threats at them if they didn’t put their stuff away.  The kids cried, complained and put their stuff away.  Everyone was miserable.  Going to bed became a nightly battle.

George did not like what was happening between him and the kids.  What he was doing was not working for him or for the kids.  So he decided to change.  He told the kids that he was tired of yelling at them to put their stuff away at night and he was not going to yell any more.  He said anything that was left out after the kids were in bed would be put away for 2 days and then they could have it back.  The kids listened to him and enjoyed not having dad yell at them when bedtime came.  After the kids were in bed George quickly picked up everything and put it away.  When the kids got up in the morning they looked for their stuff but they could not find it.  They asked their dad for it.  Without anger (or I-told-you-so-attitude) he told them that, since what they wanted had been left out, he had put it away.  He told them they could have their stuff in 2 days.  The kids begged, whined, cried and stomped for their stuff.  George was firm but not mean about it.  He repeated that they could have it back in 2 days.

That night when bedtime came George did not remind, nag, shout or make threats about putting stuff away.  Again, after the kids were in bed he picked up everything left out.  It did not take him long and it was a lot less stressful than making them do it.  Again in the morning the kids wanted their stuff.  George told them they could have it in 2 days.  The third evening when bedtime came, George did not remind.  He noticed that without being told, the kids were picking up some of their stuff and putting it away.  After they were in bed he picked up the rest.  The next morning he gave back to them the stuff that had been put away after the first night.  He did not say anything to them about putting it away the next time.  The kids were happy to have their stuff back.

Once the new routine had been in place for a week the kids quickly learned to pick up and put away anything that was important to them.  They just left the stuff they did not care about.  This was fine for George.  The kids were sorting out what was value to them and what was not.  George gave away or threw out the stuff that the kids had outgrown and did not want anymore.  One time George found a bag of stuff that had been put away many months ago.  On a rainy day he gave it to the kids. For them it was like new stuff and they enjoyed it for awhile.  George now enjoyed bedtime and his improved relationship with his kids.

Take any problematic situation that is ongoing and develop a strategy for it.  You may have to tweak it a bit to get it to work well.  Be consistant in carrying it out.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

What to Say and Do if your Child Threatens to Run Away.

On Friday, November 14, I was watching the news report on the tragic death of a teenage boy who ran away from home after fighting with his parents about his over-use of a video game.  He’d been missing for many days. He apparently died from a fall from a tree.

Fighting between parents and kids happens all the time. There are some unfortunate children for whom home is truly a horrible place to be and when they are old enough they take their chances on the street.

But in most cases the homes are safe and the families are loving.  When children passionately want to do (or not do) something and they run up against parents who pressure or block them, they often think of running away.  Some threaten to run away.  Few act on it.

This news story was one of those ordinary family struggles that turned extraordinary when the boy accidentally died.  The parents and the boy got into a power struggle about his video game behavior.  He threatened to leave home and his father helped him pack his knapsack.

When children actually run away, they usually realize, in a relatively short time, that not living at home is uncomfortable and scary.  They come back with a new respect and appreciation of home.  The parents are relieved their child is home safe.  Each is changed by the experience. They figure things out.  In this family’s case, the outcome was tragic.  The family never got the chance to reconcile.

Realistically, parents cannot stop their children from running away. Yes, parents can confine them to their rooms, but not forever.  When children are determined to run away, they will figure out how and when to do it. They are usually hurt and angry. They feel unloved. They feel powerless to influence their parents.  In an attempt to regain power,  they run away.

Some children will put themselves at risk to prove a point.

What to say and do if your child threatens to run away.

1.  Take seriously repeated threats to runaway.  Ignore frivolous threats.

2.  Parents need to extricate themselves from the power struggle. It takes two to fight.  When children are passionate about what is going on, most are unable to stop fighting. Parents are the ones that need to make the shift.  They need to stop fighting without abdicating their authority.  Not easy to do. Then children are less likely to actually leave.

3.  As best you can, let go of your anger.  If you are unable to, then talk about it.  Children need to know they are cared for and it is difficult for them to feel loved when parents are angry.

4. Tell your children in words that you do not want them to go.  They need to hear it.

5. Acknowledge that you cannot stop them from going.  By acknowledging your child’s power they do not have to push so hard to prove to you they have it. This means they no longer need to fight.  They can now choose to stay.

6. NEVER CALL A CHILD’S BLUFF.  Doing this escalates the power struggle and backs the child into a corner.  They are more likely to leave even though they do not want to.  They are more likely to do   something that puts them at risk.  NEVER HELP THEM PACK or do anything that makes them feel unwanted. It makes it harder for a child to come back home and save face when they do.

Examples:

Parent(s), “I don’t want you to go.  I want you to stay and work this out with me (us). I really care about you and I worry about your safety and well-being if you go.”

Parent(s), “I wish you would not go.  I do not like your decision, but I respect it.”

Parent(s), “I know I’m angry.  It’s because you are really important to me.  If I didn’t care about you I would not be angry.”

Parent(s), “I will be really sad if you go.”

Parent(s), “If you want to stay with your friend Jimmy or your grandmother for awhile, let’s arrange it.

Parent(s), “No matter what happens, you are always welcome to come back.”

Parent(s), “When you come back we will work things out so we can live together in a way that works for all of us.”

Parent(s), “I’m glad you’re back. Let’s just enjoy today and talk about things tomorrow.”

Parenting is not easy.  Few parents are prepared to handle situations like this.  As children get older, the stakes get higher.  My hope is that parents learn to handle power struggles in a healthy way and fewer tragedies happen.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Can Truth Come From a Child’s Humiliation?

On Thursday, I was watching television as I ate my breakfast.

There was a clip about a boy aged about 10 or 11 years old. He was standing by the side of the road holding a yellow placard. On the placard in large letters were the words, “I can’t stop lying. I think my mother is stupid but I keep getting caught.”. (Not the exact words but that was the message.)

The boy was interviewed. He said his mother was trying to teach him a lesson. The mother was interviewed. She wanted to embarrass him into telling the truth.

I felt really sad to see this negative relationship pattern between parents and children. I find parents try to teach their children not to lie by focusing on ‘lying’ behavior. They catch their children in lies and then punish them. However, if the child admits to doing something wrong, that is, tell the truth, then they also get punished. It’s a no-win situation for the child.

When parents focus on lying rather than truth-telling they tend to get into power struggles with their children that create a vicious cycle in which everyone is a loser. The parents catch their children in lies and punish them. The children are frightened of being punished so they lie. Frightened children tend to lie or go mute. The more children lie, the more their parents catch them in lies, and punish them. Children become afraid of their parents. The parents become suspicious of the children.  Both become angry with each other.  It’s a bad outcome for everyone involved.

Punishment and humiliation can easily backfire damaging any relationship. The relief children experience when they are not caught is reinforcing -tempting them to lie again.  From this cycle, what children actually learn from their parents is “It’s OK to lie, just don’t get CAUGHT lying”.

Parents would do better to focus on their children’s truth-telling behavior. How to do that? See the handout for parents in our Articles section.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay