Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Happy, healthy families don't just happen. It takes time and effort to create and maintain a good, solid, healthy family.
Just because individuals live together under one roof doesn't mean that they are a well-functioning family unit.
So often we let the urgent crowd out the important. The doorbell, the phone and chores get our attention and the truly important gets forgotten.
Here are 3 suggestions for re-connecting with your loved ones.
1. Give your children the gift of your presence instead of presents. You are far more important to your child than expensive vacations, designer label clothing or the latest Wii game. Give them the gift of your time, rather than attempt to fill the gap in their hearts (created by your absence) with material things.
2. When you plan your daily routine, remember that most of the 'action' in families takes place during the following times:
* Dropping and picking kids up from school
* After school
* Dinner time
Leave these times free of other chores and obligations so that you can focus completely on your children's needs for time and attention.
3. If you work outside the home, speak to your boss about allowing you to leave in the event of an emergency with your child.
Your children and spouse need you. Carefully re-consider if the extra material goods you acquire from working is worth what you have to give up in order to get it.
I've never heard of a person on their deathbed who wished that they had spent more time at the office. Have you?
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
1.Keep young children within sight whenever the possibility exists for them to get into trouble.
2. Teach toddlers and pre-schoolers about the dangers associated with fires, stoves, electricity, knives, guns and so on. But don't let this make you lax. Keep an eye on them and keep them out of harms way until you know they can handle these dangerous elements safely.
3.Teach them road safety as soon as they are old enough to understand.
4. Make your children aware that all strangers are not friends and show them how to react in case a suspicious stranger wants to pick them up.
5. Teach your children that their body belongs to them and that nobody has a right to touch them in inappropriate ways. The following books are a great way to get this discussion started.
1. Teach your children about online safety. Two good books to do that are
2. Teach them to stand up for themselves and to resist peer pressure.
3. Speak to your teen about the risks of things like drugs, drunk driving, sex and so on.
4. Know your kids whereabouts at all times. If they are out with friends, be clear on the arrangements that are in place for them to get home.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Running Away Part II: "Mom, I Want to Come Home."
When Your Child is on the Streets
by James Lehman, MSW
In part two of this series on running away, James tells you how to handle it when your child is on the streets, and what to say when they come home—including giving them consequences for their actions.
For kids, running away is like taking a long, dangerous timeout. They may use it to avoid some difficulty at home, or to hide from something that’s embarrassing to them. You can also look at running away as a power struggle, because kids will often run instead of taking responsibility for their actions or complying with house rules. Above all, as a parent, what you don't want to do is give it power. That's the cardinal rule: do not give this behavior power.
The forces that drive your child to run are more powerful than the thought that he might get a consequence.
In the last article, I discussed what you can do before your child leaves, and how to create an atmosphere of acceptance at home. In part two, I’d like to talk about what you can do when your child is out on the streets, and how you should handle their re-entry back into home life.
WHAT TO DO WHILE YOUR CHILD IS ON THE STREET
Leave a Paper Trail
If your child has run away, you need to call the police, plain and simple. I understand that not all parents want to do this, but I think it’s imperative that you take this step. I can’t stress this enough: you want to have a written record that your child is not under your supervision, and that should be recorded at the police station. Also, if you call and report your child missing, know that your call will be recorded. I hate to say it, but one of the paradoxes for parents is that the authorities will often ask, “Why did you let your child run away?” when in fact, there's no way they can make them stay at home. Do your best to answer as honestly as you can, because it’s very important to document what’s happening. You should also call the Department of Human Services to create a paper trail there, too. They may very well tell you that they can’t give you any help, but the point is, you documented it. Be sure to write down the name of the case worker you talked to for future reference.
Should You Look for Your Child on the Streets?
I personally don’t believe in going and looking for your child on the streets if they are children who chronically run away. I don’t think you should give that kind of behavior a lot of power. The rules should be really clear in the family: “If you run away, you’ve got to make your way back here. I'm not going to come looking for you or call all your friends. If you're not home, I'll call the police.”
There are those parents who look for their kids to make sure they’re okay. I understand that impulse, but again, I don't think you want to give your child too much power or special status when they run away. If they get too much attention and too much power, you're just encouraging them to do it again the next time there's a problem. Unintentional reinforcement is something you have to be very careful about.
If you do find your child, you can say, “Look, when you're ready to come home, we'll talk about it.” I'm personally very leery about parents who chase after their kids and beg and plead. If you do beg them to come home, when your child comes back, they will have more power and you have less. From then on, whenever they want something or don’t want to be held accountable for their actions, they’ll play the runaway card.
The Sad Truth: Lack of Community Support for Parents of Runaways
Remember, it's your child’s responsibility to stay at home since you legally have no way to keep them there. In fact, I know of kids who’ve actually left while the police were there. They just said, “I'm not taking this anymore,” and they walked out. And the cops said to the parents, “We can't do anything until he commits a crime.”
In the states where I've lived, if your child runs away and you call the police, by law they can't do anything. Part of the obstacle that parents face is a lack of community support. Amazingly, there's no statute that requires kids to live in a safe place. That really puts parents in a bad place because society won't make your child stay at home or even in a shelter. When I was a kid, if you ran away from home they would take you to court and put you on probation; you were simply not allowed to run the streets and be a delinquent. Unfortunately, that law has changed. Today, it’s estimated that there are between one to three million kids on the street in this country. You have to wait 24 hours before you file a Missing Persons report—and even if you file the report, the police might find your child living on the street but they can't make him come home. Now your child is no longer a missing person, and you have even less power in some ways. When that happens, you just have to wait until your child wants to come home.
COMING HOME: RE-ENTRY AND FAMILY RULES
If Your Child Says They are Ready to Come Home…
If your child has dropped out of school and is abusing substances and living on the streets, I don’t think they should be allowed to come home without certain conditions. And if it’s decided that they can return, their re-entry to home life should be very structured.
I know it’s hard, but I think that even if your child is crying on the phone, what you want to get clear is, “We love you very much and you can come back again, but the rules aren't changing.” I've seen parents with abusive kids tell them very simply, “You can't come home until we have a meeting and agree to some rules. And until then, stay with your friends.” It’s difficult for parents to do, but I support that.
Have a Frank Discussion: What to Say When Your Child is Back Home
One of the main things you want to talk to your returning child about is what they’re going to do differently this time. Ask, “What’s going to be different about the way you solve your problems, and what are you going to do the next time you want to run away?” I recommend that you have a frank discussion with them. Let them know that running away is a problem that simply complicates their lives and makes their other problems worse. Again, we want running away to be viewed as a problem your child has to learn to deal with. We know as adults that once you start running from something, you may run for the rest of your life. Running away is one of the ways kids solve problems, it’s just not an effective way to do so. And in fact, most solutions that depend upon power and control are ineffective.
The Consequences for Running Away:
If your child has run away to avoid consequences, he should do them when he comes back—immediately. That's what he ran away from, and that’s what he needs to face. Running away is a very dangerous and risky behavior, and I believe there should be a consequence for it, as well. The consequence doesn't have to be too punitive; keep it task-oriented. One of the problems with consequences is that if they're not lesson-oriented, then the concept you’re trying to teach is lost. I like a consequence that says, “Write out the whole story of how you ran away. What were you thinking, what were you trying to accomplish? And then tell me what you're going to do differently next time.” Sit down with your child and get them to process it with you, and then talk about what your child can do differently next time together. Always hold them accountable. For kids who run away chronically, if you send them to their room, they won't learn anything. But if you ground them from electronics until they write an essay, make amends, and tell you how they’re going to handle it differently, eventually the behavior will change.
Here’s the truth: nobody ever stopped running away because they were afraid of punishment. Nobody ever said, “I'm not going to run away because the consequences are too severe.” If you’re a parent of teen who is in danger of running away, realize that the forces that drive him to run are more powerful than the thought that he might get a consequence.
Use Repetition and Rehearsal to Change Behavior
If your child writes an essay about why they ran away and tells you they are sorry, whether they mean it or not really doesn't matter. The important thing is that the learning is going to change. Think of it this way: if you had a spelling test every day, whether you tried or not, you're going to learn to spell. It’s the same way for your child—he has to write those words out. One of the primary ways kids learn is through repetition and rehearsal. Part of that, by the way, is giving them task-oriented consequences, over and over again. It’s much better to have your child write an apology five times than to send them to their room for five hours. Eventually, that learning will sink in—I’ve seen it happen time and time again.
Should You Ever Tell Your Child to Leave?
Sometimes kids come home and start falling into their old patterns of behavior. I know parents who have told their kids to go to a shelter or to go couch surf for a week. I am sympathetic to this approach, but I think there’s a very high risk involved; each family has to make decisions like these very seriously. If you're going to tell an under-age person to go couch surf, you have to think that through carefully. This is not because you’re going to be held criminally responsible or go to jail, but because bad things can happen—and you're going to have to live with the consequences, no matter what. Parents of girls often worry more because of the simple fact that it’s riskier for girls to run than for boys—more harm can come to them. Remember, each family has to live with its own decisions when it comes to safety—and there's no joking about that.
The Key to Dealing with Kids Who Run Away
In my opinion, the key to dealing with kids who run away both chronically and episodically is teaching them problem-solving skills, and identifying the triggers that lead to risky decisions. Kids have to learn coping skills that help them manage their responsibilities in the here and now, so they don't have anything to run away from in the future. That means doing their homework and chores, being honest and not lying about responsibilities and schoolwork, getting clean and sober if they have a substance abuse problem, and being able to face the music when they’ve done something wrong or publicly embarrassing. The bottom line is that kids need to learn how to take responsibility, be accountable, and not run away from consequences. Kids are not told enough that life is what you make it—and that means now, not when you're 25.
Running Away Part II: "Mom, I Want to Come Home." When Your Child is on the Streets reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit www.empoweringparents.com
James Lehman is a behavioral therapist and the creator of The Total Transformation Program for parents. He has worked with troubled teens and children for three decades. James holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University. For more information, visit www.thetotaltransformation.com.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Running Away Part I: Why Kids Do It and How to Stop Them
by James Lehman, MSW
Whether or not your child has run away or threatened to do so—or you fear that she might—it’s vital that you read this article. James Lehman has worked with runaway teens for many years, and in this new EP series he explains why kids run away, ways you can stop them, and how to handle their behavior when they come home.
"Kids who threaten to run away are using it for power."
Many kids run away because of drug and alcohol abuse. When teens and pre-teens get involved in substance abuse, they may leave home to hide it so their parents don’t find out. These kids are often using a lot more than their parents know; they want to use more freely and openly, so they run away.
I think it’s very important to distinguish between kids who run away episodically, and those who are chronic runners. The reasons behind the actions are quite different, and it’s crucial to know what they are.
- Episodic Running Away: When your child runs away after something has happened, it can be viewed as episodic running away. It’s not a consistent pattern, and your child is not using it as a problem-solving strategy all the time. It's also not something they use to gain power. Rather, they might be trying to avoid some consequence, humiliation or embarrassment. I’ve known kids to leave home because they were caught cheating in school or because they became pregnant and were afraid of their parents’ disapproval.
- Chronic Running Away: Kids who consistently use running away to gain power in the family have a chronic problem. Realize that chronic running away is just another form of power struggle, manipulation, or acting out; it's just very high risk acting out. They may threaten their parents by saying, “If you make me do that, I'll run away.” They know parents worry; for many, it’s one of their greatest fears. Some parents may engage in bargaining and over-negotiating with their kids over this when they shouldn't because they're afraid. But you need to understand that kids who threaten to run away are using it for power. This not only gives them power over themselves, but power over their parents and their families as well. When a parent gives in to this threat, their child starts using it to train them. For example, a parent in this situation will learn to stop sending their child to their room if he or she threatens to run away each time it happens. I want to be clear here: kids who chronically threaten to run away are not running away to solve one problem. They're running away because that is their main problem-solving skill. They’re trying to avoid any type of accountability.
Unfortunately, there are no real hard-and-fast signs that indicate your child is about to run away. Certainly, you can look for secretive behavior, the hoarding of money, and things of value disappearing around the house. If you ever notice this happening, don’t turn a blind eye: trust your gut. You probably already know that something is up, whether it’s substance abuse or your child’s desire to leave home.
- Teach Problem-Solving Skills
The most important thing you can do is teach your children problem solving skills. Ask them, “What can you do differently about this problem? What are some ways we can deal with this problem?” Always approach something as a problem that needs to be solved, and reward your child when they are able to do it successfully. Be sure to say things like, “I liked the way you solved that problem, Josh. The teacher was upset, but you went up and apologized. That took guts. And now she has a better opinion of you. I’m really proud of you.” As much as possible, praise your child when he does something positive.
- Create an Atmosphere of Acceptance
Unconditional love is an idea that is used a lot in parenting, but different people mean different things by it. Some people say “unconditional love” but what they mean is “co-dependency.” When I say unconditional love, I mean “I can't love you any less if you do poorly and I won't love you love anymore if you do well. If you get an A I won't love you any more. If you get a D I won't love you any less. I love you.” I think it's important for parents to have that kind of atmosphere in their house and to reinforce it with their kids. It's also good for parents to say, “It's okay to make mistakes around here.” Make it clear to your child that “the way we handle mistakes in our home is by facing up to them and dealing with them.”
- Check in with Your Child
All parents should have a system where they check in with their kids frequently. Just stop and ask, “How's it going? Anything you want help with?” You can say this two or three times in one day; go by their room and knock on the door. That way you're constantly giving your child hypodermic interest and affection. You’re saying, “I'm interested in you, I care.” This is a skill that parents can build; it doesn't always come naturally. I understand that parents who have worked all day come home and they're tired. My wife and I were both social workers and when we came home, the last thing we wanted to do was talk some more. But we trained ourselves to do that so our son would know we were interested and that we cared. You never lose when you show that to a child.
- Talk to Your Child if You Think He’s at Risk of Running
If you think your child is at risk of running away or you know that his friends have done so, you want to sit down and talk with him. Always temper your comments about other kids’ behavior by what your child might be thinking. They hear you when you say, “Oh, that little hoodlum, if my kid ran away, he'd never come home.” As a parent, you need to be careful about who's listening. What you really want to say to your child is, “If you screw up and run away, don't hesitate to come back and we'll talk about it.” And if your child says, “Talk about what?” I would say, “Talk about how to solve the problem differently.”
- Responding to Threats
When your child threatens to run away, I think you should respond by saying, “Running away is not going to solve your problems. You're going to have to take responsibility for this. And by the way, if you do run away, you're still going to have to face this problem when you come home.” And then tell them what will solve their problems: “These are the family rules and learning to deal with the family rules is going to solve your problems. Not running away from them.”
I think you can give warnings, as well. You might say, “Listen, if you run away, I can't stop you, but it's dangerous out there. I won't be able to protect you. So not only will you not solve your problems, you'll also be putting yourself at risk. Bad things happen to kids and that's the risk you're taking. I don't think it's worth it, Jenna.” As I mentioned before, you can also try to get them to take a time-out by saying, “Why don't you just calm down for five minutes and then let’s talk about it.”
Many families I've worked with wound up dealing with constant threats by saying, “Look, if you run, you run. But these are still our family rules.” At some point, they stopped giving in because they realized it wasn’t effective or healthy for their families or their child.
- Try to Get Them to Calm Down
Try to get your child to calm down for five minutes. You can say, “Why don’t you sit right here in the living room and take a timeout. I’ll be back in five minutes.” I wouldn't tell your child to go to his room; have him stay right there in the living room or kitchen. It’s not a good idea to send him to his bedroom. This is because if he goes there and gets the impulse, he's going to climb out the window.
- Ask “What’s Going on?” Not “How are You Feeling?”
When you talk to your child, don't ask him how he's feeling; ask him what's going on. All kids want to argue about how they're feeling—or they want to deny that they’re feeling anything at all. Often parents get stuck there. So instead of, “Why are you so upset?” try asking, “What’s going on? What did you see that made you want to leave?”
- Use Persuasive Language
A really good question to ask your child is, “So what's so bad about this that you can't handle it?” After he or she tells you, you can say, “You've handled stuff like this before. Kids your age deal with this all the time and I know you can do it. So you screwed up, it's not the end of the world. Face what you’ve got to face and then let's get on with life.” That kind of reasoning is called “persuasive talking.” As a parent, you're not giving in, but you're trying to persuade your child that they're okay. I used this approach successfully in my practice with kids all the time; I found that many teens yield to that type of persuasion.
Running Away Part I: Why Kids Do It and How to Stop Them reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit www.empoweringparents.com
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
You need to realize that perfection is an impossible and unrealistic goal. Blaming yourself and feeling guilty when things don't turn out as you anticipated is unhealthy and counterproductive.
Here are 5 simple truths you need to embrace in order to break the chains of blame and guilt.
1. Your children WILL have their share of challenges and problems, just like all kids do. They'll get hurt, fall ill, fight with their friends and have trouble at school. This is all part and parcel of childhood, and no matter how good a mom you are, there's very little you can do to prevent it.
2. From time to time, you will do things that will make your child angry, hurt or upset. It's all part of being human and your child will learn that life isn't always perfect.
3. Your child may have problems that you fail to recognize at the time.
4. There will be times when you get angry, irritated upset and exhausted, no matter how much you love your children.
5. You may have discovered later on that you've created serious problems for your child without meaning to. While you may regret this, beating yourself up over it is a senseless waste of time.
If you feel that you've caused your child pain and inadvertantly harmed her in some way, then ask your child for forgiveness and do what you can to make amends. And most importantly, forgive yourself.
Realize that you were doing your best with what you knew and now that you know better you can do better.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Acting Out in School: When Your Child is the Class Troublemaker
by James Lehman, MSW
"It's your job to get along with your teacher, not your teacher's job to get along with you."
- How to Handle a Functional Problem
- How to Handle a Relational Problem
Acting Out in School: When Your Child is the Class Troublemaker reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit www.empoweringparents.com
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Eating together bonds a family together like nothing else. Strive to make mealtimes a positive experience, where family members can laugh, talk, and share what's important to them. The family meal is the perfect time to reconnect with one another. for teaching kids good table manners and the basics of good, nutritious eating habits.
2. BECOME A BOREDOM BUSTING MOM.
Are you tired of constantly hearing your kids whine and complain " I'm bored." As the old saying goes "An idle mind is the devils workshop." Fill your children's time with fun activities so that they don't get a chance to be bored.
3. HAVE A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING AND EVERYTHING IN IT'S PLACE.
An organized, smoothly run home is a happy home. Eliminate arguments and tension by having a place for everything and everything in it's place. It's especially important to get the day off to a good start because the first few minutes of the day sets the tone for the rest of the day. The key to getting each day off to a good start is to prepare as much as possible the night before. Prepare a basket for each child and then either you or your child can place in it everything that is needed for school the next day - signed permission slips, completed homework and so on. This simple step eliminates lost items and makes getting ready in the morning a breeze.
4. SHOW YOUR KIDS YOU LOVE THEM.
Don't just assume that your kids know that you love them. Show them and tell them just how much they mean to you and how special they are.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
This article is an excerpt from Cash Stretching 101
Here are some ways to save money on food without having to sacrifice quality, nutrition or taste.
"1.Grow your own. Most people can set up at least a couple of tubs for some herbs and vegetables that will help to enhance and stretch the vegetables that you buy at stores and markets.
2. If there are just a couple of you, try to cook larger quantities of food that you both like and freeze the left-overs. That's much better value and probably more nutritious than packaged frozen meals.
3. Make your own soup, using fresh ingredients as much as possible.
4. Make reasonable quantities and freeze them. It’s much nicer than canned soup, so very few people leave home-made soup in the freezer very long.
5. Prepare your Food Yourself.
I'm not good at cutting up, say, a quarter of lamb. So, I'll get the meat pre-cut. But, I can carve a cauliflower, carrot or even a potato.
Buying salads and other vegetables that have been cut up and mixed will cost you extra money and really save very little time. Some people feel the convenience of frozen vegetables is worth the extra cost.
That's for you to decide.
If you like a tasty cheddar but have a cheese slice budget, buy some cheap block cheese and refrigerate it for a few weeks. Okay, it probably won't be as tasty as the best, hand-crafted cheddar but it will improve with just that little bit of time to mature.
6.Get a small vegetable steamer. Steamed vegetables and fish taste great and get high marks for nutritional value. Vegetables that are steamed in an electric steamer are claimed to retain more food value than vegetables that are steamed in a microwave oven."
This article is an excerpt from Cash Stretching 101 by Jerry McColl
Cash Stretching 101 is filled with dozens of practical, painless, and quick tactics to get you better value when you have to spend money, and to help you save more money without affecting your lifestyle.
If you’d like to find out how to live a rich, comfortable and happy life regardless of the size of your paycheck please visit http://www.moneystretchingtips.com
Free money stretching tips delivered straight to your inbox. Find out how to get the most out of every dollar you spend on everything from food to insurance, education, travel and more.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Are You Afraid of Your Acting Out Child?
Part II: 7 Ways to Get Back Parental Authority
by James Lehman, MSW
In part two of this series, James gives you 7 ways to get back parental control and stop living in fear of your child’s acting-out behavior.
Most people aren’t afraid of their children; rather, they’re afraid of their child’s behavior. It’s important to understand that this fear undermines your authority as a parent because it’s hard to set limits successfully when you’re afraid. You lose more of your authority each time you give in after your child has acted out. And as soon as he realizes that, you’ll only have the authority he gives you. You may get him to bed on time, he may eat his dinner and get ready for school, but those will be the things he’s allowed you to have authority over.
These kids tend to gravitate toward a “no accountability” way of life, where “no accountability” equals “no authority.” And in order for your child’s system to work for him, he has to keep all the authorities around him in check. Soon this becomes one of his primary goals in life.
You may get him to bed on time, he may eat his dinner and get ready for school, but those will be the things he’s allowed you to have authority over.
In my opinion, even though you might have fears about your child’s acting-out behavior, you need to learn how to deal with those thoughts and feelings so they don't have power over you—that they don't dictate your behavior. So while you may be afraid your child is going to throw a tantrum, don't let that fear derail your decision to be firm. Remember, it's not what you're afraid of, it's how much power you give that fear. I don’t know if people truly ever “master their fears,” but I think that over time, the fear of your child acting out will have less power over you if you stick to a game plan of setting limits and holding your child accountable.
By the way, when you decide that you're going to start dealing with your child’s pattern of acting out behavior differently, first of all, get ready for a struggle. Your child is not going to believe it; in fact, he's going to think that if he just tantrums a little harder or a little more, you'll give in. That’s because you've given in for so long; you've trained him how to treat you. Some of us train our kids to treat us respectfully. Others of us, through no fault of our own, train our kids to act out more in order to get their way.
Here are some of the important rules I taught parents who were afraid of setting off their child:
- Come up with a Game Plan
The first thing I recommend is to come up with a game plan of what you're going to do when your child starts to escalate. This will give you something concrete to guide you. Decide how you're going to handle tantrums and acting out in the future. Ask yourself, “What am I going to do about this now? What's going to be different in my behavior, my response?” Write an "Instead" list for yourself. It might include things like, “I won’t back down when my child starts screaming, instead I’ll leave the store. I will give my child consequences and set limits.”
And then get ready for some long tantrums, especially at home. Make no mistake, there will be a fierce battle for a while. Things will get better, but be prepared for your child to test you and test you and test you. Sometimes the tantrums and acting out will increase in intensity and frequency. That’s because your child is thinking, “If I just do this a little more, maybe she'll give in.” You've inadvertently trained him to do that and now you're going to have to do some work to undo it. In the end, the behavior often changes—it may re-emerge at different times, but you just need to handle it the same way.
- Explain How Things Are Going to Change
When things are going well, tell your child what you’re going to do when he acts out or throws a tantrum. Say “Hey, I just wanted to talk to you for a minute. I've been thinking that you’re really too old to throw tantrums now. So from now on, when you do that, this is what I'm going to do.” And you tell them what consequences they will get. You can also say, “When you're in a tantrum or acting out, I'm not going to give in, I'm going to let you go through your tantrum. When you're done, then we can resume what we were doing. That means you're not going to get that toy or that candy bar just because you yell and scream and kick your feet.” Or for older kids, “I’m not going to give in to you just because you punch a hole in the wall or scream at me.” And I think that parents should articulate that information to their kids no matter how old they are. If your child is very young, he might not understand at first, but it will help you as a parent to focus. If your child does understand it, then he knows what to expect. When parents consistently tell their young kids what will happen, the tantrums often diminish in frequency and intensity as the child grows older. With older kids, talking to them in this way lets them know that you’re the boss now—and that you’re not going to give in to their acting out anymore.
- Let Them Know the Process
Let your child know the process ahead of time. You can say, “Hey, when you tantrum in the store, I'm just going to move about five feet away and I'm just going to watch you tantrum until you're done. I’m going to bring a book with me and if you throw a tantrum I'm going to read it. I'm not going to talk to you or argue with you.” And by the way, bringing a book is really a good thing to do because it shows your child that you won’t be moved by their behavior. It’s like you’re saying, “Hey, have a ball, pal. Dance around on the floor all you want, I'm just going to read my magazine.” It takes the power away from your child’s inappropriate behavior, and that’s exactly what you want to do.
- After Your Child Has Acted Out
After your child has had a tantrum or behavioral episode, it’s a good time to have a little talk with him about what he's going to do differently next time. If your child is old enough, ask him what he was trying to accomplish, and how he will handle it differently next time. These are the most important questions you can ask because they lead to your child learning how to develop other options. Remember, problem solving is based on coming up with other options to deal with the issue at hand. So don't ask “How did you feel?” or even “Why did you do that?” The only real thing you want to get out of it is for your child to come up with some other ways of handling his anger or frustration. In this way, your child also has his own little game plan to fall back on. When you help your child develop another response to that situation, he will learn problem-solving skills he can use for the rest of his life.
- Don’t Let Fear of Assumed Judgment Control You
Dont' be a mind reader. Most parents have fears that other people are judging them when their child acts out, so they do things to appease their kids so they’ll behave. I think that’s a mistake. Realize this: people are going to judge you; people judge each other about all kinds of things all day long. But here’s the deal: you're trying to raise your child so he can learn the life skills he needs to be successful. If you let your fear of criticism and judgment control you, you're not going to be able to accomplish your task of raising your child effectively.
- Don’t Give in When Your Child Says, “I Hate You!”
Fear that your child won’t love you if you set limits on him is something many parents have a hard time with, especially when their child is old enough to say, “I don't love you—I hate you!” But, again, if you give that behavior power, it's not going to change. If you don't give it power and instead understand that it's just a stage kids go through, you won’t be influenced to back down. Kids love their parents; it’s instinctual. (Unfortunately, even kids even love parents who hurt or abuse them.) So if your child says they don’t love you, instead of getting upset, try saying, “Maybe you don’t love me right now. But you still have to do your homework.”
- Get Outside Help
I recommend that you get some outside help when dealing with this issue. The simple truth is that you can't trust your willpower alone to get you through. Willpower is fine when it works—but as we all know, it doesn't always work. Try to get a support system in place, whether that's training, effective parenting classes, books you read, programs in your home, counseling, or a support group. You should have some outside support. It’s good to make the commitment to change, but in my opinion it's much more important to get the tools from outside and then try to use them one day at a time. And give yourself a break: realize that some days are going to be easier than others.
- Appeal to the Authorities
If your child is behaving criminally, the sooner you can get him into the juvenile justice system, the better. Although the wheels of justice turn slowly, your child will eventually get a probation officer who will then have the power to hold him more accountable than you can. So when your child doesn't go to school, he will have to answer to his probation officer as well as you. If he misses school enough times, hopefully the probation officer will take some action. I worked with some parents who had a probation officer behind them who supported them. The probation officer would lock their child up in the youth center for a weekend if he or she violated the rules. I saw changes take place in those families. The kids started going to school; they stopped hurting others and damaging property. Their behavior changed because there was an accountability system in place that didn't let them slide.
I always tell parents to understand that there is no quick solution to this problem, especially as the child grows older. Rather, you have to learn how to manage your child’s behavior in a way that diminishes the power of their acting out. The end goal is that your child will learn other ways to solve problems besides using power or intimidation. Just remember, kids don't surrender power easily; neither do adults. Nobody likes to give up power, so it’s not going to happen over night.
In the thirty years I worked with kids, I saw families make progress all the time. They stopped letting their children box them in with their acting-out behavior; these parents instead worked toward the goal of helping their kids learn new skills. Remember that no family is perfect. People make progress, fall back, make more progress, and even fall back again. But in the long run, families changed and these kids learned other coping skills.
Some people say that the parents are the problem, but I don’t think that’s right. I think parents are the solution, and they need training and support.
Are You Afraid of Your Acting Out Child?
Part II: 7 Ways to Get Back Parental Authority reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit www.empoweringparents.com
James Lehman is a behavioral therapist and the creator of The Total Transformation Program for parents. He has worked with troubled teens and children for three decades. James holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University. For more information, visit www.thetotaltransformation.com.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Are You Afraid of Your Acting-Out Child? Part I: Why Giving in is a Dead End
by James Lehman, MSW
"Now you’re negotiating on your child’s terms; your fear that he's going to act out is going to dictate how much you give in."
When a child is two or three, he learns to respond by saying “no” all the time. He starts resisting and asserting his individuality from his mother and father and often manages his anger and frustration by throwing temper tantrums. Some parents learn that you just have to wait those tantrums through, but others begin to worry that they're not able to manage their child or that they are not in control. Others worry that if they don’t give in—if they say “no” to their child—their child won’t love them anymore. In effect, these parents become afraid of their child’s acting-out behavior and are held hostage by it. They get worn down and often begin caving in to inappropriate demands as they try to appease their child instead of remaining firm and waiting the tantrum out.
If a child has successfully used inappropriate behavior at home, you will often see them trying it out at school. After all, if their strategy works on their parents, why shouldn’t it work on their teachers, too? In kindergarten and first grade if they don't get their way they may escalate. They may tantrum, call people names, throw things on the floor and walk around in the classroom when they’re supposed to be sitting down. It's important to note that for a significant number of children, the classroom structure that teachers utilize will be sufficient to change some of these behaviors.
Realize that if you have one child who controls the house with inappropriate behavior, this is not just your problem: it's also a problem for your other children. Make no mistake, dealing with an acting-out sibling can have a great and long-lasting influence on your other kids’ personalities. When siblings don’t know when, how or why their brother or sister is going to explode, it’s overwhelming and scary because they can’t control it. What often happens in these cases is that kids develop their own sub-type of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They will learn not to show their feelings. They may hide out in their rooms and submerge their emotions. That's because in their world, it's not safe for them to do so. It's not safe to show your feelings; it's not safe to say how you feel. After all, their sibling could explode and take it out on them at any given moment. So these kids wind up very flat emotionally; there seems to be no joy in their lives. There are things parents can do to correct these destructive patterns, but nonetheless, it's hard on everybody. [Editor’s note: for more on this topic, read James Lehman’s article, ”The Lost Children: When Behavior Problems Traumatize Siblings”.]
When parents used to come to me with this problem, I’d say, “We’re going to come up with a plan to change what’s happening in your house. Let's figure out some things for you to do when things get tough so you can empower and support yourself.” I think it’s nearly impossible for people to try to rely on willpower alone to change their parenting style. Here’s the truth: their child’s behavior wasn't going to change unless the parents’ behavior changed. I believe if you work at it, things will change; and if you don't, things will stay bad or get worse. The kid who's throwing a tantrum today is going to be throwing your chair across the room in ten years. And that's how he ups the ante as he gets older. Most kids escalate; it's a natural progression. They have to be more intimidating. When you're 13, it's very awkward to lie on the floor and throw a tantrum. It's much easier to throw something across the room and hit the wall. You see these kids punch holes in walls all the time; that is the evolution of their tantrum. Certainly as they get older, the intimidation becomes more real. There are kids who hit and push their parents. There are kids who intentionally break and damage things around the house. There are kids who hit their siblings or hurt them emotionally by calling them foul names. And make no mistake, this becomes a very real problem.
Are You Afraid of Your Acting-Out Child? Part I: Why Giving in is a Dead End reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit www.empoweringparents.com