“Do your Best”. Points to consider in the use of this phrase with children.

Adolescent Lying: One mother’s response.

A Good Mom and a Challenge for Dads.

I was in Walmart looking for the game, Mousetrap (A great game to help kids learn social rules like taking turns, working together, etc.).

I overheard and began watching a mother with her two sons…ages approximately 8 and 5.  I came to understand the boys had earned some money by doing extra work around the house and were in the process of spending it.  The mother was wonderful in facilitating this process.

She insisted they both had to agree what to buy.  They could divide their money but equally, buying two items or spend it together and buy one big item. She kept encouraging the younger (apparently a quiet child) to speak up, give his opinion even if it disagreed with the preferences of the older (a more verbal) boy. She gave them a specific time limit to look and decide (She was waiting for a third child to return from another part of the store.). She pointed out a variety of other items related to their interests (They seemed stuck in one section of an isle.) but assured them they could pick what they wanted.  She suggested they think about how they could play with different items once they had made some preliminary choices. She left them alone but stayed within ear-shot and watched as they worked to decide/select/discuss, stepping in only when one tried to demand their way. She helped the older boy once when he got upset struggling with the concept of sales tax.  She offered to give the boys a few extra dollars provided they work around the house that afternoon to work off her contribution (She made them agree, “Ok, we have an agreement then that if I contribute $10.00, you will work it off this afternoon?). She took time to do this…a good 10 minutes.  She stayed focused…the mother was always watching; at times she was in the mix with the boys; at other times, she steped away and let them struggle with making their own decisions.

I didn’t find Mousetrap (If any of you know where I could find it, I’d appreciate you letting me know.) but bought Chutes and Ladders and Operation.  As I passed her, I told her she was a very good mom. And she was/is!

She was firm…kept the boys focused on their problem…insisted they work together, agree to contingencies if they had to borrow from her, insisted on fairness, encouraged each to speak their opinions, provided some assistance (sales tax), focused them on the present and future (Can you play with this with your friends?, Will you want to play with this in a few weeks?, etc.

Boys need these circumstances created for them to help them develop basic social skills. This was tough for the boys, especially the older one.  He really struggled with trying to be fair and controlling a natural tendency to force the younger to go along with his wishes.

She did GOOD!

Here’s the challenge for Dads….do you do this with your sons? I challenge you to do this with your sons.

Why should I if my wife is?  First, parenting is a shared responsibility. Second, it helps the boys to see their father in a new/different light (We men tend to make decisions for others instead of setting up circumstances for others to make decisions, especially our own family/sons.). Third, it helps the sons see, possibly, where their father learned his skills. Fourth, it allows the boys to see their father be empathetic, firm, encouraging, concerned about the lives of their sons, and all at the same time.


More later….


A Mother Setting Boundaries with her Sons

Recently, a woman/mother who has been coming in for therapy came in rather upset.  She described that last evening, she had yelled at her sons and felt very guilty about this.  She explained the situation.

She had been at work all day and the boys were home alone…snow day.  The boys are 12 and 14. These are what I would call typical boys, capable of both, being incredibly sweet, loving and thoughtful and also smelly, dirty and selfish.  From the looks of the house, apparently, the boys had had a food-fight in the kitchen, ate in the living room, had invited other boys/friends over, they had a snowball fight in the front yard and had run in/out of the house (This was on one of the below-zero days.). They had taken baths and had left their dirty clothes in the bathroom, on the floor and had knocked over some boxes/papers which fell close to a space-heater and at one point at least they (the boxes) had begun smothering.

Upon arriving home and observing the state of the house, she was ANGRY…to say the least.  She yelled at them…”What were you thinking!”, “Look at this mess!”, etc.  She said/yelled she was going into her room and they had better clean the house up….that what they had done was disrespectful to her and showed a lack of respect they had for themselves, that over the weekend, they would be staying with their grandparents because she was sick of them and their disgusting ways, that they would be loosing all electronics until further notice and that presently, she didn’t care if they EVER got their phones/other electronics back, that they had better leave her alone because she would slap them and if they ever did such again, she would make they move out and in with their father, that she deserved better treatment from them at their age and that from hence forth, they would each be responsible for a variety of chores every week and that their electronics depended on how well they did such.

She said she went to her room and slammed to door.  She said she watched TV the rest of the evening and heard muffled conversations and noises that she assumed were her boys cleaning the house.  They went to bed on time that night and after such, she emerged from her room to find a well cleaned house. Their phones and electronics were on the kitchen table.  She said nothing to them the next morning and they, nothing to her. After work, back at home, she arranged their visits to their grandparents that weekend.  At supper, she complimented them on their work, informed them of their future weekly chores and affirmed they were staying with their grandparents over the weekend.  Nothing more was said about it.

And in my office she sat, feeling guilty.

My response…”You’re a good mom!”

She didn’t belittle, criticize or endlessly shame them of what they had done.  She affirmed such behavior disrespected her and themselves. She set clear and effective consequences; she followed through with them; she made sure they had to correct/clean up their mess; she clearly identified how disgusting they had been and how conscientious they were and she clearly identified future consequences she would impose if they did such again.  Yes, she did yell at them but honestly, as a member of their group, the group of men, I believe we need that, especially from women, at times, to get our attention or emphasize an important point (I worked with a woman once that said, when her husband was being selfish and inconsiderate, she would say to him, “I don’t want to be around you.” and walk away.  This was quite effective on the husband…because he wanted her to be with him and didn’t want to be a selfish/inconsiderate man.  And, the large majority of the time, he would immediately change his behavior.).

You’re a good mom….even if, ON OCCASION, you yell at your sons.

More later….

When Teenagers Lie…

Recently, I received a request for thoughts on adolescent lying.  The following article, “When Teenagers Lie”, by Lisa Medoff, is from the online magazine, education.com.  As before, I don’t know of this author or journal but the article made a lot of sense to me.

“All teens lie, and that is because all people lie.  We often do it in the service of sparing the feelings of others but sometimes we lie for selfish reasons, such as making ourselves look good in the eyes of others.  Teens are no different.  As with many other adolescent behaviors that can be frustrating to parents, such as arguing, teens do not necessarily lie more…they just get better at it!

“Many teens leave out information, rather than explicitly lie, as they become increasingly protective of their privacy and learn what will upset parents and cause conflict.  Just as in all other relationships, where we all feel the need to present our best selves, to avoid conflict and protect privacy, the occasional lie can be either ignored or briefly addressed, and there is usually no cause for concern.

“However, some teens may engage in lying on a more constant basis, which can damage familial relations.  It’s important to try to understand and correct the underlying issues that can lead to lying, as lying is often a symptom of a larger problem.  Such underlying issues can include jealously, frustration, anger, and concern about letting a parent down.  Reasons for lying can also be more practical, such as to gain attention, escape punishment or impress others.

“The teenage years are a time when children push for independence and separation from parents, which may include a drop in both spending time with parents and in sharing thoughts and feelings with them.  Teens tend to prefer to spend more time with their friends, and in doing so, may engage in activities that they feel they have to hide from parents, especially if they feel that their parents may see those behaviors as risky or inappropriate.

“Due to development in their brains, teens are able to think about abstract issues, such as morality and responsibilitiy, and in musing upon such concepts, they may begin to believe that their parents’ conceptions of these ideas are quite different from their own, which leads to questioning of parental authority.  Also due to developments in the brain, teens become much better at anticipating what others will be thinking and as a result, are better able to come up with a response or in some cases, a plausible lie.

“Some ideas for dealing with teenagers who lie include:

“1. Take a moment to calm down and think about what option suits the individual situation, as well as what you would like your child to learn.  For example, if your child is lying to get attention, you may want to teach her that she will not get this attention by ignoring the lie.  If you hear your child lying to her friends, you may want to address it directly, such as saying, “When I hear you telling lies to your friends, it makes me worry that you’ll be embarrassed when they find out what you said isn’t true.  Have you thought about what you’ll do then?” If you child is lying to you to get out of being punished, show him that not only are the consequences more severe for lying than for the original misdeed but that he is breaking down your trust in him.

“2. Help your child think about why lying is wrong while fostering thinking skills , such as perspective taking, and empathy for others, by asking questions such as, “Why do you think I am upset that you lied to me?”, “How do you feel when you are lied to?” and “How could your lie have hurt someone?”

“3. Discussions about the concepts of honesty and trust need to be ongoing throughout adolescence.  Say to your child, “When you lie, I can’t trust you to be on your own, and I am responsible for keeping you safe.  I can’t do that if I don’t have all the information that I need.”  Talk about the importance of honesty and trust in other relationships, not just in your own.

“4. Enforce clear limits and rules, but keep them reasonable so that you are not setting up unrealistic expectations. Be willing to negotiate on matters that are important to your teen so that he knows you are extending your trust to him.  You do not necessarily have to alter the rules after a discussion with your teen but listen to his arguments with an open mind.

“5. Give your teen the benefit of the doubt.  Do not set up an adversarial relationship where you are constantly trying to catch your child in a lie.  Unless you have reasons to be concerned, such as major changes in school performance or social life or evidence of lying to cover up dangerous behaviors. Accept what your child says at face value until you have reason to be suspicious or worried.

“6. Try to understand the underlying issues behind why your teen is lying, and address those issues.  Start by thinking about when the lying started, what seems to trigger lying, what your teen tends to lie about and to whom.

“7. Make it safe to tell the truth in your house.  Constantly let your child know that there is nothing that she could do that would make you stop loving her and that it is never too late to ask for your help with a  problem.  If your teen comes clean about a misbehavior, calmly and respectfully make it clear that you are unhappy with the behavior but appreciate the truth. Do not let the original behavior go without consequences but consider lessening them slightly for telling the truth.

More later…

Discipline in the Schools

I recently spoke with a parent about her child.  The child had been suspended (in-school) for not walking away from a fight on the playground.  The thought struck me…”Do we (parents) actually teach our children how to walk away from a fight with another child?”.  I don’t believe we do.  I know I didn’t teach my daughters to walk away from a fight when they were in grade school.

Consider further…think back…Could you have walked away from a fight on the playground?  I don’t think I could have.  I didn’t get into a lot of fights as a kid but of the few that I was involved in…I clearly remember how excited I was at the time and don’t believe I could have walked away.

Another thought…I was listening to the radio this morning and I heard a fireman explain how important it was for the family to practice a fire drill in the home.  You know, the one where you have an agreed upon place the family will meet if there is a fire, for example, at night.  Then, you practice coming to the place as if there were a fire.  We teach our children that but not how to walk away from a fight on the playground.  I don’t know but I bet the odds of a child confronting a situation where they could walk away from a fight are A LOT higher than the odds of them having to evacuate their home at night due to a fire.

So…what is my point?  Practice with your child, walking away from a fight on the playground.  This is a critical point if you consider the recent changes  in the QPS school system’s policy on fighting/violence in school.  Zero Tolerance!  It is also a critical issue if you have a son.  News Flash: Boys are more prone to fighting than girls, in general.

Ok…so some tips on how to do this:

1. Have you child identify one or two bullies they would be most like to be confronted by on the playground.  Further, have them describe the situation they (your child and the bully) may be in at the time you child must walk away.  Finally, have your child describe how the bully/bullies would act at the time of the fight…what would they say, do, etc.

2. Discuss with your child: when they should walk away, how they should walk away, where they could go, what they should do when they get there, what to do if the bully follows them, etc.  Ask your child this before you make suggestions.  I’d bet you’d be surprised how much they know about these areas…and if they don’t know about these areas, well, that is what you are there for. Also, identify particular moments or actions that would be an indicator to the child they definitely need to leave; i.e., if the bully threatens your child, if the bully pushes your child, etc.

3. Role-play.  You be the bully.  Your child is him/herself.  Role-play it and then stop and discuss what your child did well and not so well.  Ask your child how they felt he/she did in the role-play…did they feel good about how they handled the situation, did they feel out of control, what could they do differently next time.  Then…role-play it again.  Same thing, what did they do well, not so well, did they feel more in control of themselves in the situation, etc. Then…role play again.  Keep role-playing until your child feels they feel confident in what they are doing.

4. Take the role-playing to a playground…the playground of their school ideally…playing the games they would be playing at the time this would happen, in the area of the playground they play in.

5.  Consider involving some of your child’s friends in the role playing, if possible.  There are a lot of varieties if friends are involved.  The friends could be supportive bystanders; they could be the bully, they could be the bullied person, they could be a person that intervenes during the incident on behalf of your child, etc.

More later…

Parenting the Difficult Child

The following article is from Michael Grose.  Check out his latest book: Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It.

“I hadn’t been to one in years – a kids’ birthday party, that is . Recently, I was invited by a relative to a 1st birthday party of her daughter, where I got a first hand lesson in some great parenting.  The birthday girl’s mom organized party games, catering for toddlers through early primary school kids.

“The kids were great.  The older children gave way to the younger kids, who weren’t exactly into sharing.  They were mindful that the younger ones needed some leeway.  Well, all except for one very lively four year old, who just about needed a rope and tether to hold him back.  He took charge and wanted to boss the other kids around….

“BUT his mother was brilliant!  She stood by him as he played, patiently reminding him to “wait your turn”, “talk nicely, share”, “put that back”, “think of others”…  You get the picture.

“This mom had THE difficult child.  She had the child that every parent was thanking their lucky stars they didn’t have.  Her son was lovely, but lively…a very high maintenance child.  I could sense that this mom was embarrassed by her son’s behavior.  That somehow people were equating her son’s boisterous and at times, overbearing behavior with poor parenting.  BUT there was nothing further from the truth.

“This mom worked hard at the party to make sure her son developed a sense of “others”.  She constantly reminded him that he didn’t live in a bubble and that his behavior impacted others.  The other parents may have been watching on, but this mom was definitely hands on!  She was persistent, repeating her core messages, using different words in different situations. She had a job on her hands!

“Parenting is easy…when you have an easy kid.  Anyone can raise the placid child, the one who likes to please….the easy-to-get-along-with child.  BUT, it takes different parenting to raise robust, act-before-they-think kid.  If you are the parent of a high maintenance child, then persistence and consistency are your best allies.

“Dr. Sal Severe, author of “How to behave so your child will too!” maintains that consistency is the most important element in a parent’s relationship with their child, particularly when he or she is challenging.  Kids like consistency from their parents.  They like to predict their parent’s reactions.  It makes them feel in control.  And they need to have important messages reinforced so they can sink in.  That takes persistence.

“Here are three practical ideas to consider if you have a high maintenance child or simply a child who can be challenging from time to time:

“1. Use the proximity principle when you direct them. Get up close and personal when you are guiding your child’s behavior. Stand close by, even touch them, to make sure they hear and feel you.  This is not about intimidation, but teaching.

“2. Tell, show, practice.  Create lots of chances for kids to practice social behaviors at home.  Play games, share meals and pack away toys together so kids learn to go slow at home.  It’s easier to teach sociable behaviors at home than in public places and spaces.

“3. Be willing to go home when kids don’t cooperate.  At some point you may have to “bite the bullet” when in public and go home.  In the case of the mom and the boisterous boy I am describing, it was best for her to stay as her son was responding to her reminders.  He was being mindful of others, he just needed to be reminded.  If he had ignored his mom and continued to dominate party proceedings it may have been best for her to take him home.  but in many ways, being at the party was a good learning experience for him.  It was however, wearing for his mom.

“There is a strident lesson to take from his party scenario – we need to avoid at all costs making judgements about the parenting of others, based on the behavior of their children.  Some kids are higher maintenance than others and require their parents to work really hard to develop a sense of “others” in their kids.

“Rather than being harshly judged because their kids are behaving poorly, these parents need to be admired for their vigilance and persistence and given a thoughtful, helping hand along the way because “….there but for the grace of God…”

Helping Children Overcome Perfectionism

This article is taken from writing by Michael Grose

Fear of making mistakes holds back more children and is a greater impediment to children reaching their full potential than any school funding issue that makes front-page news.  It is not lack of ability, opportunity or even laziness that holds many kids back.  Rather, it is a deep-seated unwillingness to expose themselves as temporary failures that really holds kids back and stops them really achieving their full potential.  This fear of failure is strongest amongst first born children.

There are three broad strategies parents and teachers can use when they deal with perfectionists. But first, you need to take them seriously.  Perfectionism is painful…the painful desire to ALWAYS be right.   If you are first born yourself, you probably understand the issue. If you are one of the younger children in your family,  you maybe thinking, “Why don’t this kid just loosen up?”  Read on.

The first strategy is to adopt a realistic attitude to mistakes.  In a way, it is about releasing pressure to perform to the highest standard all the time.  We should encourage our kids to make more errors, spell more words incorrectly, get some more sums wrong, make a mess sometimes when they write, break a dish or two as they unpack the dishwasher, set the table with the knife and fork upside down, leave marks on the floor when they wipe up the mess or forget to feed the cat once in a while.  This can be some parents’ worst nightmare for those who believe children should ALWAYS do their best.  Children benefit from being released from the pressure of not making mistakes.  WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME TO TRIED TO DO YOUR BEST ALL DAY LONG. When children learn that mistakes and “less than perfect jobs” are quite acceptable then they relax and are more likely to stretch themselves and try new areas of endeavor or use their own initiative.

The second strategy is to develop the “courage to be imperfect” in children.  The great psychologist Rudolph Dreikurs talked about this concept in his brilliant book: Happy Children.  He believed that people are motivated by either two forces: the desire to be superior or better than others or the desire to contribute or be useful.  Those motivated by the first force are never content because there will always be someone who can do a better job than them.  Those motivated by the latter find contentment and fulfillment not only because their contributions usually assist others but also because doing a perfect or terrific job does not obsess them.  Their satisfaction comes from helping not from achievement.

Dreikurs said: “We have to … realize that we are good enough as we are  because we never will be better regardless of how much we may know, how much more skill we may acquire, how much more status or money or what-have-you.  If we can’t make peace with ourselves as we are, we never will be able to make peace with ourselves.  And this requires the courage to be imperfect: requires the realization that I am no angel, that I am no superhuman, that I make mistakes, that I have faults: but I am pretty good because I don’t have to be better than others.  Which is a tremendous relief.  If you accept just being yourself, the devil of vanity, the golden calf of “my superiority” will vanish.  If we learn to function, to do our best regardless of what it is; out of the enjoyment of the functioning we can grow just as well, even better than if we would drive ourselves to be perfect-which we can’t be.  We have to learn to live with ourselves and the relationships of natural limitations and the full awareness of our strengths.

The third and most tangible strategy is to reduce the use of praise and increase the use of encouragement when working with children.  Praise focuses on the results of what children do.  It focuses on good marks in school, clean bedrooms, winning more in sports and the like.  Encouragement focuses more on improving, effort, contribution, confidence and enjoyment gained from doing an activity.  In effect, encouragement sends the following message that “I as an adult, am not fussed about the results of whatever you do, your contributions and activity is more important.” The amazing thing about encouragement is that if you focus on the process of what kids do the results will inevitably come.

Here’s the rub.  Perfectionists want praise.  They want to know how they measure up in the eyes of the significant adults in their lives.  However, they need encouragement.  So if you have a perfectionist in your life, they will nag you to praise them.  They will feel a little ripped off by the subtle shift to encouragement by hang in there. Any change in behavior takes some time for it to sink in and also to have the desired affect.

Children and Lying

“When your toddler looks you in the eye and says “Mommy, my doll broke it!”, your’re torn between laughing out loud and worrying she’ll become a mini Bernie Madoff.  But research from the University of Toronto says that lying not only is a normal part of childhood but also might mean your kid is an extra-clever cookie.  Researchers asked kids ages 3-8 to avoid peeking at a covered toy, then left the room for a few minutes.  Virtually all the kids looked, but more than half denied it.  “The best liars were the ones with the most highly developed executive function-they had the ability to plan and carry out actions.” says study author Kang Lee, Ph.D. So the next time your kid drops a whopper, respect her smarts, then use the opening for a talk about why it’s important to tell the truth. ”

This article is from Parents Magazine (Sorry, I didn’t record the edition!).  But it illustrates a couple important concepts.  For toddlers, lying does reflect creativity and for the sake of the child’s self esteem, that should be noted.  Also, when you point out that you expect them to always tell the truth or that lying is bad, if you have first complimented them on their creativity, that will help them swallow the “be good…lying is bad” message.

Secondly, lying is a learned skill.  It is tough to be honest, especially if you know if/when you tell the truth, there is a good chance that you will get in trouble.  Think about it, how often do you lie during your day…avoid telling the truth, sugar-coat it, change the subject, etc.  And we expect toddlers to have the same courage we at times fail to have!

Now, to be fair, what I am discussing above is different from the child/adolescent that is lying on a regular basis and/or the situation above is different from how to respond to the child/adolescent who is lying.  The above article is addressing lying in children who are 5-ish and under.

More later.

Why does cyber-bullying happen and what can parents do?

This blog/the information contained herein is taken from a workshop I recently attended on Cyber-bullying, presented by Janice Gabe, LCSW. LCAC, of New Perspectives of Indiana, Inc.

Why does Cyber-bullying happen?

1. Adult don’t check what their children are doing/writing on line and/or they are locked out or lack the knowledge to fully navigate the web to monitor what their children are saying on websites.

2. Teens say and do things online that they would never do to someone face-to-face.  When bullying someone online, teens are removed from the emotional impact their behavior has on others. Therefore, they do not have an opportunity to develop an emphatic response to their victim.  And when teens are not help accountable, their behavior, particularly in large groups, as in a chat room or facebook website, quickly escalates.

3. Technology at their finger tips feeds off the impulsive nature of teens.  They get caught up in the moment and do not have/take time to cool down or reflect,  investigate or think about the situation before responding.

4. There are no boundaries on the internet.  Children do not function well without boundaries.

5. We have not “taught” teens about appropriate internet behavior.  Teens do not generalize information well between like situations and certainly do not generalize rules about social behavior to a very different medium, the internet.

6. The internet can be a vortex with too many irresistible options and most teens (and adults for that matter!) lack the self regulation skills to manage these temptations.

What can adults do…

1. INSIST your children grant you full access (aka, passwords, etc) to their sights, make them show you around their pages, look (aka, snoop) around on their pages when they are not around.  How do I insist?  You pay for their service don’t you?  This is their lifeline!  Don’t be hesitant to pull the plug unless they grant you access.

2. After you read dialogues they have participated in on line, role-play out these dialogues with them.  This will help your teen to realize the impact of what they are saying to the other person…this teaches your teen to have empathy, shows them how the internet blinds them to the impact of their words, helps them to stop and think before they type, etc.  They will resist participating in this role-play (and you may feel uncomfortable also!) but insist.

3. Share with them when you have acted impulsively over the internet and what you said, what happened.  Kids love to hear stories from their parents, about their parents and they do listen, especially when you admit mistakes and describe the consequences you have lived with as a result.  This teaches, indirectly, self restraint…something teens need.

4. Sit and think about appropriate rules when having a conversation/dialog over the internet. Then, have a conversation with your teen about what are some rules to keep in mind when on the net.  Ask them what they think are some rules to operate by.  Then share your rules.  Pose situations that you think your teen would struggle with and discuss how they and how you would respond to it and why.  Teens learn best from being put into such situations and more easily transfer the learning from such to situations they encounter on their own.

5. Limit “screen-time” and hover when your teen is on-line.  Put their or the family computer in a central area in the house (versus in the teens room).

6. Establish limits…i.e., no phone after 9 pm, no computer after 9 pm.

7. Follow-up…check their phone, check their facebook pages, etc.

8. Stop being on the internet/your phone so much!  If you limit their time/activities on the net but are constantly on it/them yourself, you are sending a double message.

9. Network…call the parents of your closest teens to see what they know about the teens recent internet activities.  The same with the teens’ school counselor. Often, the school population will know what is going on on the net and that quickly works it’s way back to the counselors/teachers/secretaries, etc.

10. Talk to your kids.  Talk about what is going on on-line, conversations/dialogues they have had recently.  Ask them about what they thought during the dialogue and what they said and share what your reactions are to this…respectfully.

More later…