Welcome to lesson four! I hope you are learning a lot along the way, judging from all the emails and messages I’ve been getting about this series, it seems that you are! That’s great, that’s why I started writing it.
Lesson four focuses first some ‘not so perfect parent tips’, a review of what we have gone over so far and then onto encouragement, making the connection between the challenges and life skills from lesson one and finally, routine charts. I am going over all but the routine charts in this post and addressing them separately. There are so many ways to go about them and they are really so important, so they get their own post. I will try to have it up mid-week.
The first part of encouragement deals with us! These are the ‘not so perfect parent tips that do not imply perfection’:
1. Model – This is all about striving to (really, honestly trying in this very moment) to be the kind of person you legitimately hope your children will become. This is an example from a good friend that does not read my blog. If you’re reading this and recognize this story, I know you still love me. She was always, always telling her son that he had to put shoes on to go outside, but she had no issues running out to her car with no shoes or socks on and of course he saw her doing this regularly. Once when we were over visiting, he came outside barefoot and she said the mother’s mantra ‘how many times have I told him…’ and I couldn’ help but say ‘yeah, but look…’ and I pointed a her own bare feet. I choose this example because she is an amazing mother. She is devoted and puts the time and effort into really being the best mother she can be – and she didn’t realize how much more of an impact her silent actions had on her son’s behavior than her carefully chosen words.
2. Make Mistakes – If you magically never make mistakes, go ahead and make one! Show your children that every mistake made is a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow. Generally, we all spill stuff, break stuff, forget stuff…and each time we do we can either meet the moment with a ‘whoops, I probably shouldn’t have tried to close the door with my foot while carrying all these bags,next time I will make two trips’, or ‘ack, I overfilled the cup because I was focusing on talking to your brother instead of what I was doing, next time I will stop and pour the drink so I can pay full attention to it.’ Making a mistake makes you human. Sometimes our mistakes happen when our children can’t see them, like when they are brushing their teeth in the morning and I burn the toast. I could just toss the toast, put in more bread and ignore it. Instead, when they arrive in the kitchen, I tell them I burnt the toast because I got caught up in texting with my dad. Not only does showing your human mistakes help kids to see them all as opportunities to learn, it helps them connect to you as a normal person.
3. Be accountable – A lot of parents tell their children that it is safe and the right thing to do, to be open and honest, but then when their children are honest, they are punished for whatever the infraction is that they confessed to. This is obviously not a productive way to teach children to be accountable, so borrowing from #1 (modeling), you need to be accountable as well. When you overreact to something, which of course you will from time to time (being human and all), admit it. Apologize. ‘Sorry, I totally overreacted earlier when you told me you broke (insert important thing here), I should have been a lot more level headed about it and I am proud of you for telling me and not trying to hide it.’ Or you’re late bringing your child somewhere, or you forgot to do something you said you’d do – whatever it is, own up to your part of it.
4. Self-control – Arguably the most important one to remember! You can’t model positive behaviour, be open about your mistakes and be accountable without self control. Just as you are teaching your children what they need to do in order to maintain self control, you need to find what you need to do to maintain yours. Some people need an afternoon out without their kids, some need a bubble bath alone at night, some need a Skype date with their friends. Whatever it is that helps you, make sure you make it a regular part of your life. Create your own little time-in space, a corner of your room maybe where you can just take some deep breaths and regain your calm. For me, it’s a little nook in my walk in closet that helps me refocus. I also go out with my husband on a kid-free date once a week.
This is the part of the book where you are asked to review the concept of asking vs telling. It is amazing the difference this makes in pretty much any family. When you go from being this untouchable boss-lady who barks demands at the children, to a relatable loving parent who asks her children with respect, you have a much different reaction from the children and over time, a much different relationship with them. I first touch on asking vs telling in lesson one, hop on over there to read that if you haven’t yet (or to refamiliarize yourself with it).
This recap goes on to review the challenges and future characteristics you wrote about in the first lesson and gives a couple more tips. Tone of voice and curiosity.
The tone of your voice affects every conversation you have – with everyone you speak to! Most adults try to be mindful of the tone of their voice when speaking with their spouses, their neighbors, and the random people they come across in a day be it the cashier at the grocery store or the person taking their lunch order because they know it will contribute to how they are received. They know if their tone of voice causes them to appear rude or bossy, they will not have a pleasant experience. Yet when it comes to their children, many people pay no mind to how they sound to them. It is all about having their children listen and conform to them, not about having a two-way conversation with them. This relates back to asking and telling because asking children curiosity questions in a rude or condescending tone is not going to get them to open up, it will have just the opposite effect.
Curiosity, real honestly, actual curiosity about your children’s feelings and opinions is necessary for curiosity questions to have any real meaning. This is an issue I have seen with parents when they start this system, or when they get into it as a way to create change in their children only and not as a lifestyle for their family. If you are asking your children all the ‘right’ questions, but you are just waiting for them to give you the answers you want or are expecting, there really is no point in asking the questions. It’s not a useless, mindless exercise in speaking. This has so much more to do with fostering a positive relationship with your children. So when you are asking a curiosity question, either something as simple as ‘what can happen when you jump on the couch?’ or something as in depth as ‘what made you feel like it was ok to hit your sister?’, it is important to not have a response in mind. You’re asking your child a question and you are legitimately curious about their response. This is the best way to get an honest response from our child and then from there, build a course of action together with them, to help them solve their problem.
This lesson goes onto review the concepts of mistaken goals from lesson three. It then delves into how we are all making choices that began in our own childhoods that influence our behavior as well. There is a suggested exercise, where you recall something that your parents did that made you feel encouraged and something they did that made you feel discouraged. How did these events affect your life positively or negatively? We need to look very closely in our own lives to try to find the difference between praise and encouragement because praise is not as good for you as encouragement.
I still believe in praising my children, but I will admit that I am far more mindful of the words I use when I do it! The major differences are really just about positive judgement vs pointing out something positive. So to use a classic example of a child getting a good grade, saying ‘good girl’ or ‘I like the way you did that’ are actually judgements. They are positive judgements, but really no judgement is good for our kids. Instead, saying something like ‘you really worked as hard as you could’, or better yet asking them ‘how does getting this grade make you feel?’, are encouraging statements. For some, this is a silly distinction however, when you really look at it, it makes good sense. If you’re telling your child that you like that she got an A on an assignment, you’re inadvertently telling her that you will not like it if she gets a B or a C. Happily telling your child that you can tell they did their very best tells them that if they do their very best and get an A you will feel the same way about them as if they did their very best and got a C. Does that make sense?
The image used in Positive Discipline to help show the difference in an iceberg. Icebergs seem large above the water, but they are much larger under the water. The top part of the iceberg, the part you can see is the praise, while the much larger part of the iceberg, the part under water, is the foundation of it all – that is the encouragement.
Praise is like candy and should be used sparingly.
Encouragement helps children develop a deep belief in themselves.
So now that we have recapped the first few lessons and learned a little more about encouragement, it’s time to make the connection between the challenges and life skills we started off with in lesson one. It’s not surprise that the challenge example they use in this book is ‘back talk’, since it is something many parents struggle with. Many other parenting challenges stem from the same place back talk comes from, so it is a great example for us to jump off from. Really, it’s about self control, right? We want our children to have the self control to not snap at us (or anyone else, really) when they are upset or do not agree. However, when a 5 year old or a 10 year old or even a 15 year old loses their cool and back talks, what are we teaching them about self control when we ‘back talk back’? Snapping at your child for snapping at you is about as counterproductive as hitting a child for hitting someone else! It’s kind of crazy, really!
A lot of the ‘back talking back’ that comes from parents escalates the situation far beyond where it should be. I experienced this quite a bit as a child. If I did something that upset my mother, I’d often be told I was grounded for the rest of the school year – even if this infraction happened in February or March, for example. First of all, it takes having a civil conversation out of the equation and it escalates something minor into a major issue. The other end of this situation of course is that eventually she’d realize that it was an inappropriate punishment but instead of coming to me and telling me she recognized her mistake, something that would allow both of us to learn from it, she’d ignore it. Come April, I’d ask to go somewhere or have someone over and she’d allow it with no mention at all about being previously grounded for months.
So instead of escalating the situation, we need to connect with out children more in those vulnerable moments than ever.
Escalating / Counterproductive
*Don’t talk to me that way!
*Go to your room and don’t come out until you can behave!
*You’re grounded for a month.
*How can you talk to me like that after all I do for you?
*You just lost all of your privileges.
*Maybe boarding school will teach you some respect!
*How far do you think you will go with that smart mouth?
*You will be respectful, even if I have to beat it into you!
Connecting / Productive
*Hmm. I wonder what I did that upset you so much.
*Wow! You are really angry / sad / upset.
*I need to take a moment to myself so I can talk to you respectfully.
*I need a hug after that, please come find me when you are ready.
*What do you think would help us right now? Should we put this on the family meeting agenda? Would you like some time alone or a quiet activity together?
*I can tell you are very upset. Do you want to tell me more?
*Listen without speaking, say ‘hmmm’ when you feel the need to speak while they are talking.
*Do you know that I really love you right now?
The second part of this lesson is routine charts! Routines are very important not just for young children but really for everyone. They are especially important for children because as a child learns their routines they are able to do more for themselves and that builds wonderful confidence! I am aiming to have the second part of this post all about routine charts up on the blog mid-week!