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3 Tools for Communicating with Children (and people acting like children)

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I listened to the Dial a Discipline MP3’s and already started implementing some techniques last night. WOW – what a difference it made in my three year old. All of a sudden I had a child that not only did what was asked of her (brush your teeth, say goodnight to dad, etc.), but enjoyed doing it and was positive!

Nicole Maritz

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Six year old Dasha doesn't stay at the table until she's done eating. After the class on loving guidance, Mom decided to try it. When Dasha got up during dinner, mom silently walked over, rubbed her back and smiled, glancing back towards the dinner table. Mom was surprised that it worked! Dasha came back willingly to the table, without Mom having to say a word! Mom and Dad noticed that she began to stay for longer periods of time at the table as well. Mom and Dad tried the same thing at bedtime. When Dasha started playing instead of getting ready for bed, they would rub her back and look her in the eye with a smile. As soon as she made eye contact with Mom or Dad, she would go willingly to her bed. Mom thinks a combination of things have improved Dasha's behavior. Using prevention by giving her lots of attention and encouragement when she does what she is supposed to do, and not over reacting when she misbehaves have both worked well towards a calmer home. Great job Mom & Dad! Donna and Jim, Ventura" ["post_title"]=> string(39) "Loving Guidance Helps Dinner Struggles!" 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Understanding Power Struggles

By Deborah Godfrey

“HOORAY!  I’m in a power struggle with my child!” 

From which planet is the parent who said that!  Seriously, consider the impact on our attitude towards parenting if we celebrated each time we entered a power struggle with our child.  Think of what a difference it would make.  In reality, this is nearly impossible, unless we have the understanding about the developmental importance of a power struggle (for both the parent and the child) and the tools redirect the associated misbehavior. A feeling of power is important to us all as a basic emotional need.  When this need develops, how it develops and what a child learns regarding his power in the world is directly or indirectly taught by the parent.  Yes, I am the one who taught my child to oppose me in this way! During the first two years of life, the child learns to oppose the parent. By age three, the child usually has the skill developed to such an extent that a parent can feel overwhelmed, overpowered, overrun and quite angry and determined to get this child to behave better.  Unfortunately, most well intentioned attempts by parents to over power children that are being defiant fail, causing the parent to feel guilty, inept and incompetent.  The child typically feels angry, more defiant and continues to misbehave.

Why Do Children Power Struggle?

A sense of power is a basic social and emotional need.  Until about the age of two, a child has very little sense of self. The child and parent are “one” in the child’s world.  Somewhere in the second year, the child begins to develop a concept of self as separate from the parent.  This discovery coincides with the recognition that behavior by the child can create a resultant emotion or behavior by the parent!  So a child is learning by observation what causes mom or dad to react, and this reaction creates a sense of power in the child (as the one who causes the reaction).

What Did I Do To Cause My Child to Power Struggle With Me?!

As crazy as it sounds, we do in fact accidentally “cause” our children to power struggle with us!  Some of you may object to this idea and for that I just ask you to stay with me a moment.  By taking responsibility for causation, you will actually get your parental power back.  If you caused it, then you can un-cause it.  The most powerless position you can take is to blame your child for their behavior because this leaves you in a hopeless position.  If you are power struggling with your child and you did nothing to cause it then you probably cannot change it either.  Alternatively, if you see the way in which you helped your child come to the belief that it is fun or fulfills their need to feel powerful by opposing you, you can choose to stop doing that discipline response. So what is it that we do to cause a child to power struggle with us?  Very simply out, we escalate our emotional response.  What does this mean?  Let’s take an example of a child of about six months old.  I’ll use my daughter Michelle as an example.  She learned to crawl over to the entertainment center, pull herself up, and pop open the glass doors. The glass would become gooey with her fingerprints; she would slam them, bang on them and otherwise frustrate me completely!  So the first time I responded (this was before I had parenting classes, please keep in mind, this is not how I would respond today!) by telling her no and taking her away from the cabinet. The next time she did it, I told her no in a louder voice and with more frustration and aggravation, and the third time and the fourth, each time I became louder and more upset, until I began to slap her hands, give her “that look” and otherwise frantically attempt to control her overt defiance of me.  She only became more defiant and was having more fun watching the show that mom was putting on for her.  If I remember correctly, the doors eventually lost their ability to “pop” open, remained covered with fingerprints and she eventually outgrew or became bored with her behavior.  I don’t recall ever succeeding in teaching her to leave them alone.  I do think that she learned how fun it was to defy me, and was very interested in finding endless other ways in which to see mom lose control.  I do not think she consciously said, “I’m out to get mom”, but she learned unconsciously that by defying me, she would feel very powerful.

Please Tell Me! How Can I Un-Cause This Pattern?

So glad you asked!  It’s really very simple.  Every time your child misbehaves in a specific way, you need to decide how to respond, and use that exact same response every single time your child misbehaves in that same way.  In the example above, I would look at my child and decide to myself, “Hmmm…what is the best response for this age, stage, and behavior?  At six months old, she is really too young for lectures or explanations.  The best discipline for little ones is distraction or repetition.  So what I will do is pick her up gently, and murmur, “Michelle will learn to stay away from the glass if she wants to play in the living room” while walking her calmly out of the room”. I have to respond that way every single time she goes to the glass.  I cannot raise my voice, say it louder, hold her firmer, or in any way escalate my emotional response, or I lose my parental power.  I must respond like a broken record over and over again.  At six months old, I may need to repeat 20, 30, 50 times before she learns, but she eventually will learn.  The best thing about this response is that she won’t learn to have the power to “cause” me to lose control (where she thinks she won).  You may think I am not sane, however this is true and this works.  You can begin this idea at any age and stage to get your power (I.e. influence) back as the parent.  Once you have learned how to stop causing the connection between their misbehavior making them feel powerful, then you can be much more successful in redirecting power struggles. Deborah has been teaching parents how to understand and redirect power struggles for over 20 years.  This article was developed as a result of listening to hundreds of parents with their children and developing the best possible way to understand and redirect power struggles." ["post_title"]=> string(29) "Understanding Power Struggles" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["ping_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(29) "understanding-power-struggles" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(59) " http://positiveparenting.com/dealing-with-power-struggles/" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2013-08-30 03:16:44" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2013-08-30 03:16:44" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(47) "http://positiveparenting.com/BePositive/?p=1029" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "1" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } [2]=> object(WP_Post)#402 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(1048) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "1" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2013-06-19 22:27:17" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2013-06-19 22:27:17" ["post_content"]=> string(5904) "

Parenting Forgetful Behavior

By Deborah Godfrey “Dad, where’s my backpack?”   “Mom!  I forgot my lunch! You have to bring it now!” “Where’d you put my sweatshirt?” Do any of these statements sound vaguely familiar?  At Positive Parenting, we have a saying:

“A child who always forgets has a parent who always remembers!”

Many of the complaints I hear from parents have to do with children’s irresponsible and forgetful behavior.  It usually begins early, around 4 or 5 years old, and peaks when a child hits junior high.  What happened between us happily picking up our screaming toddler’s bottle that rolled under the couch and giving it to her and the preteen screaming at us that she can’t find her favorite jeans and us snapping at her that if she didn’t keep her room such a mess, then maybe she could find the clothes she wants? First, parents often don’t realize how much young children can do.  Many toddlers are very capable of understanding our words and body language, even when they cannot communicate that verbally.  So in the example above, when a child is distressed, we often “rescue” the child. This is a natural, normal response!  The “saving” of a small child from their distresses is the way in which bonding occurs between parents and children.  When a child cries because he is hungry, we “save” him by feeding him.  When a child cries because she is wet, we “save” her when we change her diaper.  This mechanism occurs instinctively under normal circumstances, and bonding between parent and child is established.  The problem occurs when we “save” a child from an activity that she is capable of completing herself.  So when her bottle rolls under the couch, you do not need to “save” her from starving right now.  Now is the time to help her problem solve.  You could play a game, “Where do you think your bottle went?”  And start looking under things and behind things and help her to find the bottle.  This way, she begins to learn self-sufficiency with your loving guidance.

Think of something that you are doing for your child that she could be doing for herself. Give this to your child as a new responsibility.  In this way, you build her self-esteem and are teaching self-reliance.

The next complication occurs around the time that children start school.  They forget their lunch, homework, sweaters, backpacks, library books…and on and on!  They forget, and we nag, yell, complain, threaten and punish.  Nothing seems to work!  Here are 3 rules to teach children responsibility:
  • Stop remembering for them
  • Don’t say “I told you so!”
  • Don’t tell them what will happen, let the consequences do the talking for you
So the first thing parents need to do is stop reminding!  When parents remind children, they rely on the reminders and become incapable of remembering for themselves.  We parents cannot understand why they don’t remember since we tell them over and over!  But it’s the telling them over and over that creates the irresponsibility!  The second thing we need to do is STOP saying “I told you so!” or “See what happens when you forget?”  In this case the child is focused on how mean we are or how stupid they are, and not on learning to be responsible.  And finally, stop telling them how the world works, let the world and the natural consequences in it teach your child.  When you tell them, then they will focus on you as the teacher and not learn from the way the world works.  What I love most about this parental response is that I can make myself be the safe haven when that big bad world is teaching my children.  For example, when Michael, my son, would forget his lunch, I would have a sandwich and food ready when he got home.  “Wow, you must be starving!  Here, have a sandwich!”  If he tried to blame me, saying “Why didn’t you bring me my lunch!” I would just say, “You must have been really hungry from forgetting your lunch, you need another snack?” And he would see it was his responsibility and not mine, and I was actually soothing him. Finally, over time you can help your children be more responsible by teaching them how to think.  When you tell them what to do, they don’t learn.  When you ask questions, in a loving way, they learn to use their brains.

When you find yourself telling your child to do something, phrase it in a question instead.

For example, instead of saying, “It’s time for school”, say “What time do you need to leave in order to be on time?” Instead of saying, “Remember to turn in your library book” say “How are you going to remind yourself to turn your library book in on time?” Instead of saying, “Do your homework” say “How much time to you need to do homework this evening?” More than anything else, this style of communicating will create kids that learn to remember, be responsible and accountable for their actions. You have so much to do with how your children learn to think, how they react and how they communicate.  By asking questions, you become a master teacher of the very communication you want your children to learn to be successful in school and their lives. Thank you, Kathy, for sharing this great photo of Aly with me! Deborah has been teaching parenting classes for over 20 years.  Her kids are 28, 23 & 22 and wonderfully self-sufficient!

Did you find something useful you can use in this article?  Please share it with your friends below.  Do you have questions or comments?  I want to hear from you, please submit them below.

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Understanding Power Struggles Read more

Understanding Power Struggles

Understanding Power Struggles By Deborah Godfrey “HOORAY!  I’m in a power struggle with my child!”  From which planet is the parent who said that!  Seriously, consider the impact on our attitude towards...

Parenting Forgetful Behavior Read more

Parenting Forgetful Behavior

Parenting Forgetful Behavior By Deborah Godfrey “Dad, where’s my backpack?”   “Mom!  I forgot my lunch! You have to bring it now!” “Where’d you put my sweatshirt?” Do any of these statements sound vaguely familiar? ...