Monday, November 18, 2013

Parenting Through Your Fear and Sadness

There are a few parenting moments that can hit you like a sucker punch.        

One of the most air-sucking ones is when you hear your child say "I hate you". It usually comes right after you have told your child a consequence for not following a rule or a direction. The two of you are "in it" and your child has used heavy artillery with those three words.

Another moment might come when your child questions a death in the family, a divorce, or other tough time for your family.  You'll see your child hurting or struggling to adjust.

These moments are just awful..  They're heartbreaking. In these moments, your child forgets you only want what's best.  They are only thinking about privileges lost and being forced to deal with changes they didn't want and never asked for.

It's is crucial to push through and Be The Parent.

Hear me on the this. Yes, there are going to be times in parenting when you hear "I hate you". It will sting but you cannot let the moment hold you hostage. Yes, your family may go through something at some point and you will be tempted to "go easy" on your child because "things have been so hard". I get the thinking but it's not what your child really needs.

Kids really do need limits to feel safe. Rules, limits, and a consistent schedule tell your child that an adult is in charge and that you've got this. When their daily structure changes or rules are bent for them, kids sense this and it doesn't build security.  It increases anxiety and worry. 

For them, if things are changing, things must be really bad.  If they see a parent become easily disabled with a momentary outburst, they may initially feel victorious because it's what they think they want.  However, after, when things are calm, they start to wonder: "Who's really in charge here?"

I've written about this before and know I will again. Without limits, kids falter, either emotionally or behaviorally.

It's so important that you not fear your child's rebellion, aggression, or upset.  It feels overwhelming in the moment but it doesn't last.  If you tow the line and hold the boundary, you are giving your child room to settle and gain perspective.  Without that wall, without that limit, kids gets anxious and they start to become unraveled.  There's no way for a child to calm and gain perspective in that anxious state.  Instead, your child will up the ante and increase the acting out behavior until you are forced to respond. 

Setting limits won't compromise your relationship with your child but not setting them could cost you your child's respect.

Remind yourself that this bad mood, this "I hate you" moment is temporary.  It won't last.  Set the limit.  Enforce the rule.  Show your child who's in charge and then he or she can get back to the business of being a kid.

When families go through periods of change, everyone needs time to adjust.  When a grandparent dies, parents divorce or separate, or when there's a financial hardship, the family is forced out of the comfort of regular, everyday schedules.  Make room for this sadness.  Talk about it out loud.  Share your feelings and encourage everyone else to do the same.

You may schedule less things.  You might plan fewer social outings.  All of that is normal, expected, and encouraged.  However, this is NOT the time to back off of rules or expectations.  Homework still needs to get done.  Bedtimes still happen. Rules around TV and other electronics still need to exist.


Because when your world is falling apart and everything is changing, everyone--including us grown-up kids--will feel more comfortable in a predictable environment.  If you give your kids a pass on homework or let disrespectful language pass without acknowledgment, your child has no grounding--no foundation to rely on.  

"Getting back to normal" feels safe for kids.  It builds security and promotes healing.  If the schedule is changing and they don't know what's expected of them, kids will become anxious and as I said above, there is no healing in those moments--only worry.  In order for your kids to heal and find peace amidst the change, they need as much as possible to stay the same. They will crave what is familiar.  It's their grounding and where they will find comfort.

Look, I get it. Rules and limits don't sound warm and fuzzy.  They don't seem as nurturing as a free pass might.  Telling a child who is grieving a loss or missing a parent who lives somewhere else to go to bed might sound heartless.

 Limits can be nurturing and you can add nurturance to limits. 

You can stay in your child's room until he or she falls asleep. You can pass a loving note under the door of a child who is shut away in a bedroom and giving you the silent treatment.  Letting your child know that an adult is in charge makes it easier to go to sleep at night and to school in the morning.  Creating normalcy, or your new normal, will decrease anxiety and worry.  Your child will build resiliency and begin to thrive during a changing time.

Guess what?  As you've heard me say before, we're all just grown-up kids here and what's true for kids is true for us, too.  Schedules and structures help us feel safe, too.  Creating predictability during an unpredictable time will help you, too.

By helping your child heal, you are helping yourself.

This is how you get your parenting win amidst the hardest and most challenging of times.

Until next time,

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Just Listen" by Anonymous

Recently, I posted my blog entry on what to do when your child comes home crying.  The most important point that I wanted to stress was the importance of listening to your child without giving immediate advice.

In just a few days, I have heard from several parents just how hard it is to do. I never said it would be easy!  Yet, my conversations with parents have reminded me of one of my favorite poems called "Just Listen".  I have never been able to find out who wrote it.  The most popular mention is that it was written by an anonymous homeless person.

In any case, I share this with you...not to make sitting in the sadness easier to do but perhaps to make it easier to understand.

Just Listen
When I ask you to listen to me                                           
and you start giving me advice,
you have not done what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me
and you begin to tell me why
I shouldn’t feel that way,
you are trampling on my feelings.
When I ask you to listen to me
and you feel you have to do something
to solve my problem,
you have failed me,
strange as that may seem.
Listen! All I ask is that you listen.
Don’t talk or do – just hear me.
Advice is cheap; 20 cents will get
you both Dear Abby and Billy Graham
in the same newspaper.
And I can do for myself; I am not helpless.
Maybe discouraged and faltering,
but not helpless.
When you do something for me that I can
and need to do for myself,
you contribute to my fear and
But when you accept as a simple fact
that I feel what I feel,
no matter how irrational,
then I can stop trying to convince
you and get about this business
of understanding what’s behind
this irrational feeling.
And when that’s clear, the answers are
obvious and I don’t need advice.
Irrational feelings make sense when
we understand what’s behind them.
Perhaps that’s why prayer works, sometimes,
for some people – because God is mute,
and he doesn’t give advice or try
to fix things.
God just listens and lets you work
it out for yourself.
So please listen, and just hear me.
And if you want to talk, wait a minute
for your turn – and I will listen to you.
Author Unknown

Monday, November 11, 2013

When Your Child Comes Home Crying

Nothing can bring out your inner Mamma or Pappa Bear faster than when your child comes home crying.

You know what I am talking about--the time when your daughter is upset that no one wanted to play with her at recess or the time your son is upset because friends of his made plans without him.

It's hard for any kid to escape childhood without hearing "I don't want to be your friend anymore" or "Other kids will stop talking to me if I stay friends with you". You know the hurt your child is feeling. 

You've felt it. 

For the moment, your child's heart is broken and yours is, too.  

It's scary sitting in that moment.  You feel pressure to "say the right thing" or "have the right answer".  You're thinking to yourself "I've got one shot at this.  Don't let me screw it up".

You want your child's hurt to evaporate quickly and you want to be the one to make the hurt go away.

Of course you do.  You're the parent and that's exactly how you're supposed to feel! Your child is going through what one of my college professors used to call "a little trial of childhood".  Kids need these life lessons to understand relationships, to develop resiliency, and to learn how to cope when life doesn't go their way.

In these instances, I am not talking about bullying, abuse, or a pattern of your child being mistreated. Those situations require a different type of parent involvement.  I am talking about the kid hurts that come with every day living.

Let's face it.  As adults, we usually stink at "breaking up" with our friends.  If we don't want to hang out with a certain neighbor or go to coffee with the town gossip, we become masters at artful dodging and convenient excuses.

Kids don't have that level of "sophistication".  They haven't learned how to avoid conflict.  They call it like they see it and as a result, other kids often get hurt.  Sometimes, the hurt kid will be yours.

The challenge here is to not have an exaggerated reaction.  If your child is coming to you with hurt feelings, you are already doing something right.  You are already the safe place for your child to seek comfort so take comfort in that and try to avoid having a huge, emotional reaction.

Any large reaction on your part may inhibit your child from expressing him/herself

Kids don't want you to worry . They fear that you'll fly off the handle and do something crazy that will make the situation worse for them.  They are also measuring your response as a barometer for how they should be responding.  They'll decide if they are being "too sensitive" by how you react.

Stay calm.  Steady.  Use a calm voice and say something like "Aw, kids can be so mean sometimes.  I used to hate when I got my feelings hurt at school. I'd have to hold it in all day until I came home.  Tell me about it.  What happened?" 

Just listen and hear your child's story.  Don't problem solve. Ask questions and learn how your child is experiencing this.  As I said in a tip recently, it is best not to problem solve, especially in the moment. Just be there to comfort and soothe.  Validate.

Once your child has calmed down a bit, ask if they'd like some help figuring out what to do next. They may say no and that's ok.  What's important is that they know they can talk to you.  Try not to rush in and talk to other adults on behalf of your child.  This is your child's hurt and he/she needs the time and space to figure out how to deal. 

It shouldn't surprise you that kids are very much like us grown up kids.  They will want to avoid, brush the hurt under the table, and pretend it never happened.  I think that's ok.  Your child needs to find his/her own way. 

You can offer an alternative for consideration, though.  You can tell you child that you respect his choice while also suggesting something else that is more consistent with your point of view.  You can explain that it is really brave to confront people or situations that hurt our feelings.  Offer different ways you might have your child's back while still allowing him/her to determine the response.

This is also a good time for your child to learn about natural consequences.
Hang on.  I am not talking about consequencing your child. I am talking about creating a teachable moment out of the situation.  You can walk your child through how it might go if they just ignore the problem.  Likewise, you can play out how it might go if he/she were to confront it.  You might need to become the master of "Plan B". If your child has plans to attend a party with the person who was hurtful, going to that party presents new challenges and your child will need your ideas for how to approach it or may need your support in not going. 

Of course no parent wants their child to miss a party because some other kid was mean.  However, this may be your child's turn to learn a natural consequence.  By not facing the conflict head on, he/she has to miss a party.  A tough life lesson for any parent to witness but an important one for your child to have.

Hurts like these are so hard to navigate.  If you stay calm, validate, and offer possible solutions without forcing your answer, you will open the dialogue.  Your child will learn new ways of moving through hurt and your parent/child relationship will strengthen.

I get it.  Life is rarely this cut and dried.  If you are struggling with navigating this maze, let me help.

I can give you the tools necessary to help your child.

Until next time,

Monday, November 4, 2013

Why You Yell At Your Kids and Ways to Stop

No one wants to yell at their kids. No one wakes up in the morning and says "Great!  Another day, another opportunity to yell".      

Yelling at kids is about a release of tension...your tension.  You are having thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are causing frustration, self doubt, and maybe even anger.  These are normal feelings that come with regular, everyday parenting.  It is normal to feel frustrated when you have asked nicely three times and the little person you are talking to ignores you.  It makes sense that you are angry when you are watching one of your children hit the other.  Of course you are going to doubt yourself when you watch your child do the very thing you said not to.   

Those feelings matter. They count.

However, if you read anything about parenting these days, everything is so kid-centric.  It's like they forgot about the parents in the parenting discussions.  You rarely read that it's ok to be angry.  Instead you hear reminders about being grateful.  No one ever really gives you permission to dislike your kids every once in a while.  Instead, you are quickly reminded that you "dislike their behavior".  Instead of screaming, you are encouraged to be mindful.

This is all good advice but it exists without a context.  The underlying message that parents often receive, or hear, is that they shouldn't be frustrated.  They just need to understand their kids better.  They are told that being grateful can replace anger.  You are cajoled into thinking that sleep deprivation is the reason why you might be more impatient.

All of that is very kumbaya.  It's also incredibly unrealistic.

As parents, as people, as grown up kids, you feel things.  You think things.  Sometimes those thoughts and feelings aren't about light and gratitude.  Sometimes they are dark, scary, and vulnerable.  You have to give yourself permission to have and express those thoughts.  It's in the squashing them--in denying and ignoring them--that we create the perfect storm.  We deny angry, upset, and resentful feelings. We tell ourselves we shouldn't feel that way. After all, "they are just kids" or "this is what kids are supposed to do".  We pretend those thoughts and feelings aren't there.  We shove them down and out to the side.  They build and they build and they build.

Then, WHAM!  One child makes one mistake, doesn't listen, or just gets on your last nerve and suddenly you are yelling.  For you, it may feel like it has come out of nowhere but in reality, it has come from the storage chest of dark feelings.
The key to not yelling at your kids is to give yourself permission to matter.

Give your feelings time, space, and attention.  Release your thoughts and feelings from the storage chest at neutral times so that you are not ready to explode at the drop of the hat.  Whatever helps you counts...exercise, talking to friends, therapy,  hobbies, etc.  Making time for you to release those feelings in a planful way will quickly reduce the number of times you yell.  They will serve as tension reducers and you will have more patience because you will have made room for patience to enter the picture.    

Yelling at anyone is often about regaining control. We feel out of control of a situation and we yell as a misguided attempt to regain control.  What this means is that you haven't lost control when you're yelling.  You have a feeling of losing control that leads to yelling.  That is your window to do something catch yourself feeling the loss of control and again, allowing yourself to do something about it.    

If you are in a moment of frustration with your child and you are distracted by thoughts of what others are going to think of you, worries about being a "bad parent", or fears that are fatalistic in nature, you are thinking about the wrong things. These thoughts fuel the control monster that tells you that you have to win this argument, get your child to follow directions, etc. 

When it becomes more about your control than the child's behavior, you have already lost the battle. 

Yelling is what comes next as you impulsively seek to reduce your tension. Yelling is your fear talking.  Yelling is your worry about losing or compromising your influence in your child's life.  Yelling is about a "now or never" mentality where you irrationally see every moment as more crucial than it actually is.

The key here is to take it down a notch.  If it is literally life or death, yell first and ask questions later.

For everything else, allow yourself a second to think things through, to regroup.  Pace a few steps.  Take a few deep breaths.  Challenge yourself to slow down. Yes, cleaning the playroom is important and your child must learn to follow that direction. In the big picture, that room does not have to be cleaned right now, in this moment.  You can let it go for a second while you calm down and get yourself in a place to get back to it.

The sense of urgency--the need for it to be now--the fear of losing control. Those are thinking errors and those beliefs are why you are yelling more than you'd like.

If you give yourself the two seconds necessary to challenge that thinking and to make a plan for when you'll reduce that tension, you won't feel the need for yelling.

So much about coping better is planning better. 

Kids are 24 hour need machines. It's easy to scoff at the idea of taking time for yourself "to deal with your feelings" when you are surrounded by demanding needs and competing schedules.  However, if you do take the time to plan, to cope and deal, you will find that you do everything better.  You'll be more mindful. Gratefulness will find its way to you.  You'll have an easier time finding your breath and you won't feel driven to impulsively lose it by yelling.

See, parents, you need to parent. The only way you can do that without yelling is to take care of yourself. 
Taking care of the parent takes care of the kid.

Look, this stuff isn't easy and yes, it can be so much easier said than done but it is possible.  I have a lot of tools and tricks in my tool bag to help.  Getting help and fighting the notion that the "perfect parent would just know what to do" is a great way to take care of yourself and a great way to become a better parent. 

Give me a call or send me an email and let's get started.

Until next time,