Ask, Don’t Tell

Ask, Don’t Tell 

Asking questions can help parents establish good communication with their children. Questions can help children develop life skills. But some questions may make a child reluctant to answer—or to answer truthfully. Here are some pointers for using questions effectively.

Questions can help a child to:

Think: “Why do you think the sky is blue?”

Be creative: “What would you make for dinner?”

Consider consequences: “What do you think will happen if you leave your ice cream on the floor?”

Problem solve: “You both want to mop the floor, but there is only one mop. How can you solve this problem?” (No kidding, my grandsons were fighting about this yesterday and solved it peacefully. Unfortunately, they later came to blows over the only tennis racquet before I asked a useful question.)

You can also use questions to help your child learn rules and routines:

“What is the rule about hitting?” “What do you do after you brush your teeth?”

Jean Illsley Clarke writes in Time In: When Time Out Doesn’t Work.

“First ask yourself, ‘What lesson does this child need to learn?’ Then ask yourself, ‘Is there a question that will help this child discover for herself what she needs to learn?’ ”

 Other hints for using questions effectively:

Include some detail in your questions that will guide your child in answering:

“What was first thing that you did in school today?” rather than “What did you do in school today?”

Offer a few acceptable options: “I can play Legos or Uno—which would you prefer?” You may be open to other suggestions, but offering specific ideas can make it easier for your child to come up with suggestions.

Be patient—some children need more time to consider their responses. Be prepared to listen.

Thank and praise children for honesty and telling you important things. This doesn’t mean that there will not be consequences for misdeeds.

Avoid:

Asking permission if you aren’t going to accept No for an answer. Ending a statement with “Okay?” implies that you are asking for the child’s approval. A clearer wording might be “Do you understand?”

Questions that imply a choice when there really isn’t one: “Are you ready to go to bed now?” Instead you can use a question to draw attention to what you want the child to focus on: “Are you going to wear your blue PJs tonight or your red PJs?”

Asking questions that are really threats or warnings: “Do you want me to stop the car?” Try stating a consequence: “If the fighting doesn’t stop, I am going to pull over.”

Asking too many questions at once. Be patient.

Interrogating or asking questions when you already know the answer (or think you do). Instead you can state your assumption about the situation and move ahead to problem solving and/or listening: “I see the window is broken, did anyone get hurt? We need to clean this up carefully and then talk about how to fix it.” “I’m concerned because you seem upset, do you want to talk about it?” As author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka puts it, you want to “Listen for understanding, not for weakness.”

When you need to know more:

There will be times when you need to get information to help you figure out how handle a problem or find out there is a problem. Honesty about the seriousness of the situation, expressions of your love for your child, and respectful questions will help. Then be patient and ready to listen. What you hear may be painful—but thank your child answering.

Don’t always tell your child things. Ask questions that show your love, your interest in the child’s opinions, and your respect for his or her intelligence.

Esther Schiedel 7/17/14

Originally published on ParentingSuccessNetwork

http://www.parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2014/07/

 

What Do You Want to Hear?

What do you want to hear?

 

In a recent talk with a group of parents I asked the question, “What do you want to hear from your children?” Answers were: “Thank you.” “Whatever you say, Mom.” “I’d love to clean my room.”

We all laughed. Then I rephrased the question to “What do we want our children to be able to tell us?”

Their answers included: Their real opinions. When they are in trouble. Their angst. When we are wrong about something. What they are excited about and passionate about. Their anxieties. Their relationships with others. When they feel unsafe. What they admire about us. Their reactions to body changes; their body images. Who they are or aren’t.

Some of these things we love to hear about. But many are things that are difficult and painful to hear. There may be information that worries us or frightens us; that makes us angry or sad. Information that makes us feel powerless. Those feelings can be hard for us to deal with in everyday situations. When confronted with them as parent interacting with a child, the challenge is even greater.

I (and I suspect most parents) secretly believed that if I did my job right, my children weren’t going to have problems that I couldn’t fix. I wanted to make things better. I wanted to kiss the sore spot and make the pain go away. It was hard to accept the truth that I couldn’t fix everything. (My children are adults now and it is still hard!)

Unfortunately, that hard truth and that feeling of powerlessness interfered with my ability to listen to those things I wanted my children to be able to tell me. It wasn’t easy, and I messed up a lot, but here are some things that helped me to listen then (and still help me now).

  •  Giving myself empathy—acknowledging how painful and difficult it is to hear some things.
  • Focusing my attention on listening and observing. Letting my child know I am listening—through touch, attentive silence, or short phrases like “I hear you” or “Oh.”
  • Accepting disappointment, sadness, fear, grief and other emotions as real, natural and legitimate feelings that don’t need to be brushed aside or gotten over right away.
  • Trusting that my child has many strengths, abilities, and resources to cope with challenges.
  • Knowing that I have access to resources—people I trust that I can talk to and professional help if needed.
  •  My religious faith is also a resource.
  • Trusting that really listening to someone is valuable.

I can’t fix everything—but I can listen.

Originally published March 5, 2014 on Parenting Success Network

 

 

What’s the Point of Punishment?

What’s the point of punishment?

Clarification: For this article, I define “punishment” as “penalty.” I’m talking about any consequence imposed by a parent on a child for misbehavior.

There are certainly many differences between different disciplinary techniques, but I believe parents usually use them for the same reasons:

“My child ran into the street, therefore he or she must be punished.” “My child disobeyed me, therefore he or she must go to time out.” “My child hit his or her sister, therefore he or she must experience consequences.”

But why? Why respond to misbehavior with a punishment or consequence? What do you hope to accomplish?

Here are some reasons parents have for using any form of discipline:

  • To stop a dangerous behavior
  • To teach that a behavior is not acceptable–ever or within a certain context. For example: It’s never okay to hit your little sister, or It’s not okay to scream at the dinner table.
  • To empathize the importance of what we are trying to teach. To show that we are serious about it.
  • To assert our authority as parents
  • To teach that there are consequences for behaviors
  • To prevent the behavior from reoccurring
  • To make amends for damages caused by the behavior

These are all legitimate goals. They are part your job as a parent. They are not, however, all the same goal. The same tactic may not work for every goal.

There are many ways to protect and teach, to show you are serious, to assert your authority, to help a child make amends. Punishment may help in some situations, but it is only one strategy.

I often hear from parents that the whole day has become one misbehavior followed by a punishment, another misbehavior followed by a punishment, another misbehavior followed by a punishment . . . and on and on.

When this happens—or before it happens—stop and think about what you are trying to accomplish. Identify the particular goal(s) you have in mind.

Instead of thinking: “I need to punish,” you can say to yourself “I need to protect” [or teach, or prevent, or assert, or whatever the goal is at that moment].

Meeting your goal(s) may require several different actions. You may need to discover more about why the behavior is happening; you may need to change the environment; you may need to involve your child in creating family rules—the list of problem-solving ideas is endless.

Identifying your goal(s) is the first step.

 

Originally published Parenting Success Network

Making Changes

In my years of parenting, I often acted and reacted to my children in ways that weren’t very effective and that sometimes made the situation worse. As I worked on making changes in my behavior I learned that changing behavior isn’t easy. Here are some ideas that have helped me—and continue to help me—I am still not a perfect parent or grandparent! These are research-based ideas, drawn from The Incredible Years, Nurturing Parenting and other parenting curriculums. They are also ones I have found helpful to me.

  1. Focus on one skill or change. Be as specific as possible: “I am going to spend 10 minutes playing with my preschooler every weekday at 9 am.” It’s fine to make other changes at the same time, but focus on one.
  1. Make it a positive action. You can’t do a don’t. Every relationship can benefit from you spending time focused on that person—playing, listening, doing something fun together, or working on something together. Relationship expert John Gottman recommends a ratio of at least 5 positive interactions to each negative interaction.

If you want to stop doing something—like yelling at your children—come up with a substitute action to do when you feel like yelling. Writing a note, doing jumping jacks, throwing ice cubes into the sink—you might want to brainstorm a list with a friend or with your children.

  1. Involve others. Explain your plan and ask for their help and support. Tell them what would be helpful to you as you make changes. Don’t waste time criticizing other’s approaches, but concentrate on your own efforts to change. Find or create a support group of others who are making changes—especially if those around you are not supportive. Parenting classes are a great place to get support and make friends.
  1. Expect resistance. Changes—even positive ones—can trigger negative responses from those around you. Family and friends may be skeptical or even outright hostile. Children may misbehave to get you to react the way you used to because that is what they know and expect from you. It can help to acknowledge their confusion while explaining your new approach and addressing any misbehavior calmly but firmly. “I know I usually yell at you. But I don’t enjoy doing that and I don’t think you like hearing me. You know how to listen to my quiet voice, too. The toys still need to be put away.”
  1. Use reminders: electronic or old-fashioned. Try notes, checklists, calendars, alarms, timers, friends, relatives, your children, etc. Create or request reminders that are polite and reaffirming.
  1. Track your progress. Praise and reward yourself for accomplishments—no matter how small. Star charts aren’t just for kids.
  1. Be nice to yourself. Keep your inner and outer self talk positive. When you mess up, you can admit it (and perhaps apologize) and say “_____ is hard to do but I am working on it.” When you are successful, celebrate that achievement.
  1. Learn from your mistakes and from the times that went well. What things interfere with and what things help your efforts to change? If you don’t seem to be able to make the change, step back and analyze the situation and the factors involved.
  1. Be patient. Real changes take time.
  1. Keep at it. According to researchers Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, in their book Changing for Good, real, lasting change usually takes a spiral pattern—up, level, dipping back down, then around and up a little more.

We often wish our children would change their behavior, but for that to happen, we usually have to change our behavior towards them. Moreover, being a parent means our behavior has to keep changing because our children keep growing and changing. Change isn’t easy, but it is possible. You can do it.

Published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 1.6.15

Esther  Schiedel 12/22/14

The Magic of Wishes

What happens when you make wishes with children? They believe that you understand their heart’s desire. In other words, that you have empathy for what they are feeling.

Having empathy for a child enhances your relationship and can make parenting easier. Having empathy for the adults in your life enhances those relationships as well. Having empathy for yourself helps you to be emotionally healthy and enables you to have empathy for others.

Empathy is the respectful understanding of what someone (yourself or another person) is feeling and experiencing. You accept that the feelings are real—not made up to annoy you, not a sign of a moral flaw. Don’t try to suppress or minimize the feeling(s), simply acknowledge them.

Empathy means you are able to see a situation from another person’s perspective. Empathy doesn’t mean that you always agree with the other person’s point of view, just that you acknowledge that it exists.

It can be extremely difficult at times to be empathetic. It can also be challenging to convey to the other person that you have empathy for them. In the classic book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, authors Faber and Mazlish suggest using wishes as an effective way to convey empathy. Listen and think about what that person (or you) would wish for: “You wish ___(the fish was still alive; Dad didn’t have to be gone for work; all the children were snug and quiet in their beds).” Listen and describe a fantasy that the person would want: “You wish you could wave a magic wand and make it all better.”

I have found that using wishes is particularly helpful when what the other person would wish for is NOT something that is feasible or that I would want to be part of or help to make happen. Using “wish” implies that the desire may not be gratified, but that I respect that the other person really wishes it could be.

Some guidelines for using wishes.

Respectful tone of voice. Most of us have used the phrase “You wish” in an extremely unempathetic tone. Say it sincerely.

Make it positive. Not “You wish your brother would disappear” but “You wish your brother would leave your toys alone.”

Exaggeration can help. “I wish we were already home. I wish that the car could transform into a helicopter and fly over the traffic and land in our driveway!” Exaggerated wishes provide distraction and help the person transition to another activity. Exaggerated wishes can transform whining into a game.

Originally published June 9, 2013 on ParentingSuccessNetwork

Feelings, nothing more than feelings…

 

Many parenting education programs talk about feelings—why the emphasis? Are they advocating that we let our feelings dictate everything we do? Or that we encourage our children to let their feelings be their only guide?

No.

Actually, by identifying feelings we help children learn to control their actions, and to behave in responsible and socially acceptable ways.

Here’s why it works: When we aren’t consciously aware of our feelings, or when we ignore them, feelings are more likely to influence our actions than when we identify them. We may act without thinking. Identifying feelings helps us calm down and think about how to act.

One useful way of looking at feelings comes from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication https://www.cnvc.org/

He writes, “Feelings are like indicator lights on a car’s dashboard.” Unfortunately, feelings are not usually as specific as the light that signals the gas tank is almost empty. That’s why most of us need guidance and practice in identifying our feelings. That’s why most parenting education programs spend time on identifying feelings.

It may help to think of our brains as our emotional brain and our problem-solving brain. We need both parts of our brains. Feelings are in our emotional brain—our basic survival brain. They turn on like a warning light when something is important to our survival. When we let ourselves be aware of a warning light, we can use the problem-solving parts of our brains to figure out why it’s on, what we need, and what we want to do to meet that need.

Wait a minute—survival? My child is throwing a fit because her brother knocked down the tower she was building. That’s hardly a threat to her survival. Actually, from the emotional brain’s point of view, it may be. We all have needs: oxygen, food, safety, and many others. In order to get those needs met we have to have some control over ourselves and our environment. Children are born with a drive to gain control because that’s something they’ll need in order to get their other needs met. Not having control over that tower is a threat to her need for control. Because she is a child, her emotions and reactions are more primitive (that’s why she needs parents). According to Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, co-authors of No-Drama Discipline and The Whole Brain Child, at certain stages of development, the emotional part of the brain is more dominant, thus children are more likely to get upset.

Other threats to survival (hunger, fatigue, fear) contribute to an emotional reaction. And some people are more intense than others. (I confess to having similar reactions to trivial issues at times as an adult.)

Identifying feelings helps us (and our children) in several ways:

  • It requires us to focus attention on the child (or ourselves). We can’t assume we know exactly what’s going on, and our response needs to be tentative, “sounds like you are really frustrated.” Just being attentive, without directing or demanding, helps us figure out what’s really going on and helps a child to calm down.
  • Giving the feeling a name conveys that we understand what the child is experiencing and that we and others have experienced that same sensation. Learning that also helps the child calm down.
  • Giving a name to an emotional sensation engages our child’s thinking brain. That helps the child calm down and be better able to think and choose how to act.

By acknowledging the emotion, by giving the feeling a name, you can help a child to learn to control his or her actions and behavior. According to research by Siegel and Bryson, when we help a child in identify feelings, we help that child’s brain develop.

Yes, sometimes we have to intervene immediately to protect children from hurting themselves or others—but, once everyone is safe, we can help identify feelings. We can calm down. We can use our problem-solving brains to figure out what needs to happen next.

Originally published on ParentingSuccessNetwork.org

Esther Schiedel

Look At Me!

Look at Me!

Children need attention as much as they need food–perhaps more so. At least there are times when it seems that way. As one mother put it, “My child is a bottomless well. I never seem able to fill him up with enough attention.” 

What is attention? Awareness, recognition, courtesy, consideration, concentration on one thing, affection, detailed care–the definitions of attention can help us to find effective ways to give it to our children—and to ourselves.

Attend to your own needs. If your child seems to be extra needy, don’t forget to look to your own needs. Children sense when their parents are distressed or preoccupied. When we are stressed we may be less attentive than usual, but our children may also crave more attention than usual. Some activities can help meet your needs while meeting those of your child.

Gary Chapman, counselor and author, theorizes that children (and adults) have different “love languages.” What makes one person feel loved and attended to may leave another person wanting something else. Chapman’s “languages” are physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service.

Physical touch: Mothers often feel “touched out.” My own experience as a mother with little ones was that receiving loving touch helped me to relax and recharge even when the idea of giving touch made me cringe.

* Carrying your baby or toddler in a cloth sling or wrap is a time-honored way to connect while meeting your own needs.

* Poor parent’s massage: you lie on your stomach and let kids crawl on you/pound on your back/drive toy cars over you…

* Teach your child the “weather report” back rub (using your fingers to mimic rain, thunder, wind . . .). Or how to massage your feet

* Hold a child in your lap or sit next to a child when reading, waiting, etc.

* Ask for a hug

 When your child need for touch is greater than yours, try briefer, less intense touches:

* Hello/Goodbye/Good Night/Comfort hugs and kisses

* Hugs/High Fives with “Thank You’s” and celebrations of accomplishments

* Tickling, wrestling, tag, Twister [done respectfully “No means No”]

* Holding hands, dancing, gymnastics

Using physical touch also provides opportunities to educate children about personal boundaries and respect for their bodies and for other people—including you.

Words of affirmation: “I love you,” specific, positive comments about your child, “you really enjoy playing with your train and you put all the tracks together yourself,” and acknowledgement of your child’s feelings, “it’s hard to share mom with the new baby.”

Child-focused playtime: As much as possible, let your child be in charge of the activity and tell you what to do. What a great opportunity to unwind! Even brief times when you truly focus on your child are valuable to both of you. The Incredible Years curriculum suggests describing what your child is doing—like a sport’s announcer giving a play-by-play description. That helps shift your thoughts away from whatever is stressing you, lets the child know you really are paying attention, and offers opportunities to expand your child’s vocabulary.

Setting a timer may help you be able to focus on your child. Have another positive activity planned for when playtime ends—like a snack for both of you. Or continue announcing what your child is doing as you start doing something else. Give your child a role in whatever activity you are doing. One dad gives his toddler one folded piece of clothing at a time for the child to put away. Just being in the same room together with occasional acknowledgements can also fill the need for quality time

Giving a child too many things or always doing things for a child, when he or she is capable of doing them, are not effective forms of attention. In fact, they indicate that you are not being aware of your child’s actual abilities and needs. However, thoughtful (affordable or free) gifts, given in a fun and celebratory way, can help your child feel valued. Appreciating a child’s gift—whether a dandelion or a macaroni necklace—is another way to show attention.

Finally, especially in times of stress, having someone lovingly do for you what you could do for yourself (act of service) is a wonderful form of attention.

Pay attention—everyone will benefit.

 

Originally published April 22, 2014 on ParentingSuccessNetwork

Driven to Distraction

Driven to Distraction

I was driven to distraction by my almost one-year-old grandson last year: I distracted him from the Christmas tree, the fireplace, my eyeglasses, the dog’s water dish, and so on. To distract him, I moved him to another part of the room, introduced other activities, and substituted interesting toys for the things I didn’t want him handling. My grandson and I both benefited from my use of distraction. I didn’t need to yell or say no to preserve my property (and sanity) and he was able to continue exploring and learning by focusing on objects that were safe for him.

Distraction is a valuable parenting tool—for all ages. With infants or toddlers, it is usually easy to direct their attention to something else by physically moving them to another location or substituting another object. With an older child or a teen, using distraction requires more thought and attention. This is a good sign, as it indicates the growing ability of the child to maintain focus on one thing. Distraction works best when parents involve the child in the process. By actively participating he or she will learn how to use deliberate distraction independently.

Deliberate distraction consists of helping a child to replace one behavior with another—playing with a toy instead of a dangerous object, for example. It can also help a child learn how to delay gratification by focusing on other activities while waiting for a desired activity, event, or object.

Partial distraction—having something else to focus on in addition what you are doing—is useful for:

*Making a boring or unpleasant task easier to do—setting a timer so getting dressed is a race against time;

*Staying on task to the finish —by using background music, taking frequent short breaks before returning to work;

*Getting through a difficult emotional experience—using physical activities such as going for a run and/or creative activities like drawing a picture or writing a letter.

Deliberate distraction is not about ignoring unpleasant feelings or situations. Instead, it can be a way to work through or cope with those feelings; or it can help calm emotions so that one can begin to problem-solve.

Before using distraction it’s helpful to identify and acknowledge what the child is currently focusing on and what the child may be feeling. You might describe the situation from the child’s point of view: “When Dad has to go to work you feel sad.” “You are having a lot of fun getting wet.” Ask your child what he or she is paying attention to. Or stay silent and wait beside your child for a while. Allowing time to acknowledge the situation shows respect and will help your child become aware that he or she is focusing on something—that awareness makes it easier to shift focus to something else.

Being able to redirect attention from one thing to another isn’t just a parenting tool. It is also a valuable lifelong ability. As adults we all encounter boring tasks, long waits, and challenging emotions. Deliberate, positive distraction can help us as well as our children.

Published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 2.13.13

http://parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2013/driven-to-distraction/