Monday, August 26, 2013

When Your Kid is the One with the Behavior Problem

One of the most stressful and isolating times for parents is when their kid has a behavior problem. Parents of younger kids may deal with tantrums and hitting while parents of older kids may deal with fighting, disrespectful language, or defiant behavior.  It is a maddening and scary time and you are desperate for answers yesterday.

I get it and I am with you in this.

First thing is first.  Take a deep breath. 


The first reaction that parents have when their kid begins to act out is panic. You become increasingly aware of the number of well-intentioned comments you are receiving about your child from friends.  Your child's teacher may have called you or sent an email inquiring about problems at home.  You notice that your child is becoming less popular as invites to playdates decrease. You might even be noticing that invites you are making are getting declined.

After panic, that darned parent guilt sets in and suddenly you are blaming yourself for why your kid is acting out.  You start to blame yourself for working too much, not giving them enough 1:1 time, not being perfect.

Adding your shame to your child's behavior problem is like adding fuel to a fire. Speaking the truth with awareness prevents sparks from turning into flames.

Take a deep breath.  You need to see this clearly. Guilt and panic won't help.

Here's the thing:  If you have a younger kid who struggles with sharing, biting, or hitting, it isn't a secret to anyone.  You see it at home, you see it on playdates, and you see it in public.  If your older one is becoming defiant, disrespectful, or treating his/her friends poorly, word gets out.  You hear about it.

It's not a secret that your kid is struggling so don't let embarrassment further isolate you or cause you to hide.

First, get a sense of what you think is going on with your child.  Why do you think this behavior is happening? What have you tried so far?  What is your intent in correcting the behavior?

Get really in tune to the answers to these questions, even if you don't know.

Newsflash: Include your kid in this process, too!

The nature of my business is that I often talk to parents about behavior problems their kids is having.  I cannot tell you how often, when I ask what the child has to say about everything, I hear "Well, we haven't told her.  We don't want her to feel bad that she isn't getting invitations".


Tell your kids what you want them to think.  Something like "Shelly, I know you like coming to the playground but have you noticed that you get in trouble a lot when you're here?  Why do you think that is?"  Talk to your kids about what you are noticing.  Ask questions.  Get information and come to an understanding.  Then, make a plan for how you're going to respond.  If it's in your nature to include your child in such a plan, go for it.  Otherwise, come up with one, yourself, and talk to your kids about it.

Your child should always know what new skills he or she is working on.  How else can progress be measured if they aren't included in the goal setting?

Next, rather than avoiding or hiding from the criticism you and your child might be receiving, face it head on. 

Tell the people coming to you, be it friends, family, or providers, what the deal is.  Try saying something like "I know Shelly has really been struggling when she is in groups of girls.  She keeps trying to make friends by putting herself in charge and bossing people about.  I know bossing other kids around is making her unpopular.  I assure you.  We're teaching her how to make friends in a more positive way.  We're aware of the problem".

I know.  That's a really vulnerable thing to do.  It's honest, though, and it's the truth.  It's so much more freeing to speak your truth than hide from embarrassment. Tell people coming to you with concerns what you want them to think.  No, you can't help it if they walk away with a different, more judgmental message but there is no shame in having a child who is struggling with something. 

A funny thing happens when you start being honest about a parenting struggle.  Suddenly, everyone is an expert!  You get tons of advice and feedback.  Any time your child does anything, you are likely to hear about it.  It can be overwhelming and add to the stress and strain you are already under.

Here's the good thing.  By "outing" yourself as a parent with a child that is struggling, you then can control how you get information and receive feedback.  You can say to a friend "I appreciate you caring about my daughter but I am trying to learn a lot right now.  While I appreciate your support, reading an article on "helping your kids make friends" just overwhelms me.  The best way you can be a friend to me is just listen to and support my struggle.  I know we've all been there and will be there again".

You can tell teachers and providers the same thing!  It's ok to ask for feedback and reports the way that you will best hear them and at the frequency with which you can manage them.  It sets you up for more productive communication with your providers.

Now, during this time while you are helping your struggling kid, go easy on yourself.

It's ok to keep to playdates with kids and families that are more supportive and understanding. It's ok to avoid kids and families that challenge you or your child more. It's ok, too,  to plan on more home days than going out days while new skills are being learned and tested.

This sets you, and your child, up for success.

You've got this and I am with you all the way.

Want my take on your child's problem behavior?  Consider giving me a call for a consult. I'm happy to help.

Hang in there.  You've got this.

Until next time,

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Accidental Parent Coach

I wasn't ever supposed to be a parent coach.

Truth be told, it wasn't that long ago when I mocked the term "parent coach". If someone told me then that my career would head in this direction, I would have laughed and told them they were crazy.


You see, I always prided myself on doing real work with kids. Starting in '97, for ten years, I worked in residential treatment working with the hardest to reach kids and their families.  The kids struggled emotionally and behaviorally.  They were the kids who couldn't be safely managed at home because they needed therapeutic services around the clock.

That's how I became the kid expert. 

I'm talking about the kids many would just give up on. They had acting out behaviors, trauma histories, eating disorders, drug addiction, and the list goes on. These kids were often depressed, anxious, or struggled with attachment.  Usually, they were managing some combination of all of these things.

My experience provided me with opportunities to really get to know kids, what makes them tick, and how to help them make better choices, too.  I've watched kids on the brink of juvenile delinquency get it together and return home.

I loved that work with a passion.  At times, honestly, it consumed me. 

I have often referred to leaving that job as my worst break-up. I left the work because having a work-life balance was becoming painfully difficult. While I loved working with kids and families, I also wanted the time and space to have my own life and I no longer wanted to engage in a constant fight for balance.  I wanted work that wouldn't force me to choose and so I built a counseling business.

Honestly, that's where I thought my professional story would end.  I am still pretty happy sitting in my office working with clients and helping them build the lives they want for themselves.

At the beginning of this year, though, I started to notice things.

At first I was troubled. 

Then, I got tuned in and once I was tuned in, I couldn't look away.

One mother was coming to me crying because she felt criticized by other moms for not breastfeeding her daughter.  A father was feeling guilty that he allowed one kid to watch TV while he helped the other son with his homework. Another parent was feeling isolated because her daughter was having behavior problems on playdates so she was avoiding moms groups.  This only served as a temporary fix because then she started worrying about her daughter's socialization.

Literally, it was one thing after another!!!! 

I was becoming increasingly aware of the toll that this helicopter parenting era is taking on parents today.

They are often trying to find the best way to do something while worrying that they are doing it wrong.

They are struggling with competing values.  They want their kids to be able to play independently while also learning to make friends and follow social rules.

They want their kids to eat healthy and exercise while worrying that they are setting the stage for their children to have body image concerns in the future.

Just sitting in my office listening to this made me tired for them.  I won't even mention the blogosphere of information that makes me cringe with their versions of perfect, mindful, calm parenting.


It's all enough to make me want to shout "Being a good parent doesn't have to be accompanied by a side of worry and guilt. Your way can be the right way!  It usually is!! "

Shouting at your clients isn't really good for business when you're a therapist.

So, instead, almost on automatic pilot, my kid knowledge comes spewing forth as I help clients sift through their parenting challenges and work toward solutions.

One day, a client came to me with a question her friend had for me about her kid. Like light dawning over Marblehead, I realized that my kid knowledge was mostly sitting wasted and ignored.  While parents are sitting riddled with worry and doubt, I was sitting with my experience and possible answers.
That same day, while literally sitting at a red light, I decided to start a judgment-free business where parents could have their parenting questions and struggles addressed with simple, straight-forward responses.

No therapy.  No processing.  Just questions about their kids that I could answer.
So, what the heck is parent coaching anyway? 

In bare bones form, it is a consultation service where I get to know your concerns and questions and offer ways of responding. 

For parents of toddlers and pre-schoolers, this may involve helping you figure out bedtime, meal time, tantrums, or other behavior concerns.  For older kids, it may involve helping you navigate your child's weight and fitness, peer interactions, school performance, or internet usage. 

Parents of teens often need to address these same topics while also being mindful of the teen's need to separate and gain independence. Additionally, kids and teens are exploring their sexuality and sexual identity and that can be a tricky place for parents to navigate.   It can be a scary balance to find and I help parents clear the path.

I love the phrase "it's not like I was ever pulled aside and told what to do when my kid pulls a nutty in a restaurant".  You see, because of my experience, I was pulled aside and taught about things like this.

Better yet, I don't believe it's your fault when your kid is having her meltdown at the table but I do have some tips and tricks that can prevent the meltdown and I know to calm the situation faster.

Simply put, I want to help you help your kids.

If I am really going to do this and do it right, I thought it important for you to get to know me better with a more personal entry. I hope this wandering from my usual form and topics helps with that.

If you have a question, I am sure I can help.  Check out my website and contact me.

Thanks for reading. 

Until next time,

Monday, August 12, 2013

Parent Guilt Is Limiting Your Parenting Potential

"I'm such a bad parent.  I let my kids watch two hours of television today."
"I feel selfish for getting a sitter and leaving the kids home."

"It's hard being home sometimes.  I always feel like I should be doing something".
"I like my job and feel bad about it."
"I don't like admitting that I didn't breastfeed my child."
"God help me.  I fed my kid blue yogurt and an alphabet shaped chicken finger."
Sound familiar?
This is parent guilt and I'm telling you, it is limiting your potential as a parent.
Look, I get it. 

Parenting is a big job and you always want to make sure you're doing it right. Your parents have opinions.  Your friends have opinions.   The blogosphere is filled with information, jargon, tips, and tricks. 

I know I contribute to that noise in this little blog of my own here.
They all seem to imply the same thing--there is a right way to parent and there is a wrong way and if you go against the cultural norm, whatever that happens to be at the moment, you're doing it wrong.
Take it down a notch

Reboot your perspective.

Use a different lens.

I don't say this so I can blow smoke up your behinds and get all kumbaya on you.  No, I say this because while you are focusing on your coulda, shoulda, wouldas as parents, you are likely missing out on what is right in front of you.

Guilt, on some level, implies a knowing or an unknowing intent to harm.  The idea is that your conscience is telling you that you did something wrong and that you are causing damage.

When you live in this feeling as a chronic state, you are losing out on the ability to be present and in tune to your child. You are so busy wondering what the right thing to do is that you are missing out on moments of connection, memories, and teaching.

Guilt has its place.  It tells us we made a mistake. It nudges us when we go against our values despite knowing better. 

It's our moral compass.    
It is a powerful instrument and when we use it as regularly as we use a smartphone or our cars, we forfeit its power and it just becomes a humming noise in the background that no longer gets attention. 

If you're busy making dinner and you put a screen in front of your kid for a while, you are setting both you and the child up for success.  You have peace and quiet during dinner and the meal does not start with your irritation and their frustration at being in trouble.

This is not a reason to feel guilty.  It's a realistic parenting decision given the task at hand.

If you're out with friends, working out, doing a hobby and taking a break from the kids, you are refreshing yourself so you can be more authentic in the moment with your kids.

This is not a reason to feel guilty. You can enjoy your time with them more authentically because you have tuned into your authentic self.

A constant pressure to be "doing something" is something I hear from parents all the time.  What a setup for kids and adults alike!  How do kids learn about balance, relaxation, and self-care if it isn't modeled for them?  What kind of message do we send if we're always supposed to be "doing something?"

Sometimes in these guilt-ridden moments we are hearing our own voices or the voices of our parents.  More often though, it is the voice of "What will people think of me?"

How unfortunate. 

We want kids to react differently to that question while we, ourselves, obsess about it.
Instead of tuning into what others think, I encourage you to tune into what you think: 
What is your value
What are your intentions
Are you moving toward them in your choices or away from them?

Look, we all have minds of our own and as such, we are going to have different values. 
That isn't personal and you don't have to take it personally.
Sure, people may judge and they may disagree.
Yes, that will hurt.  It may even be a deep hurt.
However, if you are tuning into your values and living close to them, there is nothing to feel guilty about.
The real harm would be living any other way.  Some day, your kid will come to you.  He or she will feel bad because they didn't do something the rest of the group wanted to do and they will be judged and made fun of.
Sad but true.
After you talk yourself off the ledge of wanting to pummel that kid who hurt your child's feelings, you will want your son or daughter to tune into what they think is right, even if no one else does.
How are you supposed to teach this to your kids if you don't live it yourself?
How are you supposed to be in tune and mindful of your kids if you are buzzing about what others think you should be doing?
Everyone wants to preach about mindful parenting while slathering on guilt for being anything but.
I just don't think that works.
It's a set up for parents to fail.
In order to be in tune and mindful with their kids, parents need to be in tune and mindful of themselves and their values.
It doesn't work any other way.
Because some day, despite best efforts, you are going to make a mistake
You're going to snap and yell. You might even swear.  You might forget and not listen.
You'll want your conscience to ping at you so you can tune in, make an adjustment, and make amends.
That can't work if your parent guilt is pinging you every ten seconds!!!  You won't be able to tell the difference and you'll lose your focus.
That's when you really risk getting off course.
So, check in with yourselves here.
What are your values?
Are you working toward them more often than not?
Are you more tuned into what you think is best for your kids or what others think is best for your kids?
  • If you're too busy yelling at yourself, you're missing out.
  • If you keep hearing others' voices in your head instead of your own, you're missing out.
  • Reboot.
  • Shift lenses.
  • Get in tune with yourself and your intent. 
  • You know your heart
  • You know your kid. 
  • Leave the guilt aside for the moment. 
  • Believe that you are doing the right things. 
  • Tune in.
Now, what do you see
What do you hear?
How does your view shift and the picture change when you let guilt stand aside for the time being?
I'd love to know about your experiences and welcome you to share.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Mad Parenting: Teen Talk

Talking about teens with anger.

This is where it gets tricky, doesn't it?

Angry teens scare us.  We don't know what to say and we fear saying the wrong thing.

Teens can feel unreachable.                                       

Parents of teens walk the tightrope of giving independence and offering support.

It's downright scary.  So scary that sometimes parents are tempted to look away.

The older kids get, the more parents seem to fear their anger and wish to avoid it.  There is a tendency to minimize teen upsets with cliché's like "It will look better tomorrow" or "That's nothing to worry about". 

Sound familiar?  Do you hear yourself sometimes saying those things?

I get what's scary about addressing your teen's anger and upset.

It's the intensity.

Teens can either become loud and inconsolable or moody and isolative.  You may hear them say "I'm fine.  Nothing's wrong"

You get stuck between wanting to reach out and fearing that you will only irritate them further by intruding.

The truth here is "I'm fine." can be code for a lot of things:
  • I feel stupid
  • What if you don't understand
  • I don't know how to talk about it
  • I'm embarrassed
  • It's not fair
Next time you get an "I'm fine" or an "I don't want to talk about it", try saying:
"I know you can handle things but you look stressed and your hands are clenched. You seem bothered. Let me know if you'd like to run something by me".

You can also try making a validating statement, if you think you know the cause of the upset: "It doesn't sound like your friend gave you a straight answer" or "You worked hard on that project.  It sucks not to get the grade you want when you put the effort in".

They key here is to validate without problem-solving. When they push you away, they are usually pushing away your problem-solving, not your support.

Teens are trying to figure things out for themselves and they need to.  You can always ask if they need help solving the problem but if not, just listen.

You'll want to work on tolerating their silence while maintaining an open door. Let them hide in their room but later on, see if they want to talk.  Like us grown-up kids, sometimes they need time to sort their thoughts and feelings out before being able to talk about what is upsetting them.

Often with school-aged kids, they are clamoring for your 1:1 attention.  They would love nothing more than to sit and talk and have you listen. 

It's different with teens.

Teens are trying to sort out and find their independence while still having a relationship with you.  It's dicey and complicated for them so sometimes they work through the ambivalence by pulling further away.

That's the hardest thing for parents of teens.  The silence from their teen.  Not being included.
I'll tell you a secret

They do want and need your support. 

They just struggle with acknowledging it so you might have to take the back door approach.  

Stop trying for a 1:1 talk across the kitchen table.

Instead, take advantage of car rides which offer the luxury of avoiding making eye contact.  This helps kids feel safer and less interrogated.

If you know something is on their mind but they aren't talking about it, send them a supportive text messageWhat they might not be able to say out loud, they may be able to send in a text.

Be old fashioned and take pen to paper.  Write your teen a note and let him or her know you are noticing that something is bothering them and you are there if they want to talk or if writing is easier, they can just write back.

Balance support with accountability.

Regardless if a teen is talking about their upset or not, make sure they are managing their feelings appropriatelySet consequences in the moment, if necessary.

If your teen is exhibiting anger that is out of control, he or she is likely feeling out of control Limits help kids regain a sense of control because they remind teens that an adult is in charge.

Parents don't always like to punish emotional reactions because they fear that they are telling their teen that their feelings aren't ok.

Not true. Setting consequences on outbursts tells the teen that their behavior isn't ok.

Try saying: "Look, I get that you're ticked off about something.  I get, too, that you're not up for talking about it.  That's fine.  However, you do not get to snap at me or be impatient with your brother.  If you can't be nice around us, go to your room and calm down. If you stay here and continue to be rude, plan on losing your phone for the night".

This approach validates the feeling but also teaches teens that their overwhelming feelings are no excuse for acting out or disrespectful behaviors.

Don't take it personally if your teen talks to an adult other than you. Sometimes, that is an easier way for them to save face or be vulnerable.  Just be glad they are talking to someone.

See your teen stuck in mad mode and unable to calm down?

Try suggesting:
  • A run
  • A shower
  • Punching a pillow
  • Screaming into a pillow
  • Playing a video game
  • Reading
  • Ripping up a phone book (remember those?) or thick newspaper/magazine
  • Writing a letter with all of their angry thoughts and words and then ripping it up
Teens are under so many stressors and sometimes, like any of us, their anger will run away from them.

The important thing to remember is that you want to:
  1. Validate the upset
  2. Hold accountability when necessary
  3. Offer and create opportunities to support
  4. Remember that this, too, shall pass!!!!