Parenting Tips

Parent Power!

By Sylvia Johnson

Dr. Alan Kazdin of Yale University Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic offers 10 tips for dealing with defiant children.

All of the following tips are based on this simple principle: Attention to bad behavior increases bad behavior (yelling, lecturing, scolding, spanking and punishing are all forms of negative attention), while attention to good behavior increases good behavior.

1) Notice good behavior and give attention to it. Anything you see that you want to happen more often — let the child know you like it. Say, “You guys are doing so well playing together today! That’s great!” Then go over and touch the child affectionately or give a high five. This will help make it happen more often.

2) Positive attention to good behavior can be a smile, a touch or praise — or all three — but do it right away and be specific about what it was the child did right every time. “Great job taking your dishes to the sink!” works better than “Great job!”

3) Instead of saying “stop” or “don’t” when you see bad behavior, find the “positive opposite”: Figure out what you do want the child to do instead. So “Don’t leave your socks on the floor” becomes “Please put your socks in the hamper.” If they comply, remember to praise them! “Wow, you did what I asked! You put your socks in the hamper!” You will have to say “stop” and “don’t” once in a while — that’s normal — but you will have to say it much less if you are praising the positive opposite.

4) Enthusiasm counts. Let them see how thrilled you are with their good behavior!

5) Start a reward system for a child who rarely does what you ask, but make a game of it. When you are both calm, tell him it is a game and practice giving a pretend request like “Please go to bed.” Then give him praise and a point when he goes the first time you ask him to. If he doesn’t do what you ask the first time, say, “I can see you’re not ready to do it right now, you don’t earn a point right now, but we’ll try again later.” And they don’t earn a point. If the child then turns around after you’ve said that and does what you asked, then praise her effusively, but don’t give her a point. You want to get the child used to doing what you ask on the first try. The key is practice and role play. Give him a reward point for doing a successful pretend. Show him the rewards he can earn by doing what you ask right away without complaint. Rewards can be anything a child really wants, and don’t always cost money. Maybe they get an extra story at bedtime or get to go shopping with mom.

6) Give an instruction only once. Don’t foster greater disobedience by giving it a lot of attention. If you focus on their defiance, it will actually increase.

7) Learn to ignore — or actually walk away — from annoying behavior. When you stop giving attention to annoying behavior, there’s nothing in it for the child. When you first start doing it, your child may actually throw even more tantrums — because they’re upset that their usual way of getting what they want isn’t working. Eventually they will see that it doesn’t work anymore.

8) Your goal in a tantrum is to get past it. Stay calm yourself and your child will calm down faster.

9) When you must punish, make it a brief and don’t delay it. Don’t add punishment if the child complains. If they can’t or won’t do time out, take away a toy or privilege for a specified time. Longer and harsher punishment doesn’t make it more effective.

10) Above all, put tip No. 1 into practice. Ideally, you should be praising your child’s behavior 90 percent of the time and punishing only 10 percent of the time. Notice your child’s good behavior and give it positive attention. They will do more of it. Change your behavior and your child will change theirs!

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By Kenny Myers

In a culture that seems to glorify violence in everything from music to video games and television shows, the idea of enrolling your child in martial arts training classes doesn’t always seem like a good one. While martial arts-centered action films seem to be filled to the brim with violent behavior and gory injuries, you may be surprised to learn that martial arts’ training is actually very beneficial to kids. Like so many other things that Hollywood doesn’t always get right, martial arts isn’t quite the brutal, vicious pastime that it seems. In fact, these are 10 of the reasons why you may want to consider martial arts training for your kids.

  1. Fostering Self-Discipline – One of the central tenets of all forms of the martial arts is an absolute focus on self-discipline. Today’s kids are so accustomed to receiving instant gratification that lessons in self-restraint and discipline aren’t always easy to come by. Kids with a martial arts background, however, are continually reminded of how essential self-discipline is.
  2. Boosting Socialization Skills – Kids who don’t always thrive in highly social environments may find it easier to get to know people and make new friends when they’re in a room filled with peers who share a common interest. The kids on the playground may not always have much common ground, but devotees to the martial arts are able to get to know one another through shared pursuits. Partner-driven forms like jiu jitsu can also foster camaraderie, as they force kids to pair off and build their skills together.
  3. Encouraging Physical Activity – Limiting screen time is a great idea when it comes to getting kids off the couch and encouraging them to be more active, but it only goes so far. Enrolling an inactive child in such a physically demanding pastime not only discourages the sedentary lifestyle she’s used to, but also gives her an enjoyable activity that inspires her to keep moving.
  4. Learning to Set and Achieve Goals – Most forms of martial arts are based around an accomplishment system of colored belts that signify the wearer’s degree of skill. When your child strives toward each new belt, he’s learning valuable lessons about setting and reaching his goals.
  5. Increased Self-Esteem – Confidence comes with achievement, so your child’s self-esteem level will get a boost with every new move he masters and every belt he earns. Kids who struggle with a low sense of self-worth usually become more confident as time progresses while they’re enrolled in a martial arts class.
  6. Instilling a Sense of Respect – Learning any martial arts style will require your child to show her instructor unflinching respect. Today’s kid culture doesn’t always include respect for authority, adults or those in advanced positions. When she goes to her karate or tae kwon do class, though, your child will be learning lessons in respect along with new moves.
  7. Encouraging Non-Violent Conflict Resolution – Thinking that martial arts instruction promotes violent behavior is justified if your only experience with the activity comes from television or movies. In fact, many defensive styles teach kids peaceful, non-violent conflict resolution skills and emphasize the importance of avoiding a physical altercation.
  8. Improving Listening Skills – In order to master the skills she’s being taught and advance through the belt ranks, your child will have to exercise superior listening skills. Kids who aren’t always adept when it comes to paying attention to what they’re told can benefit from the verbal instruction and one-on-one work in her dojo.
  9. Developing Teamwork Skills – Whether he’s breaking boards to get a new belt or sparring in a practice setting to master a new maneuver, there are few things that your child does in his martial arts classes that will be done on his own. Working together to learn new things and accomplish goals is an important life lesson for kids to learn, and instruction in the martial arts can help your child learn that lesson.
  10. Improvement in Other Areas of Life – The benefits of martial arts training don’t end in the dojo. The boost in confidence, increased fitness level and new cooperation skills will also help your child navigate the academic and social aspects of school, affect his behavior at home and have an all-around good influence on him as he develops into an adult.

If you’re still concerned about encouraging violent tendencies or teaching your child to fight, it may be helpful to visit a few dojos/gyms in your area. Speak with the instructors, administrators and other parents to get an idea of how things operate, and hold off on forming a negative opinion of the martial arts until you’ve done a bit of exploratory research. You may even find that training is the perfect activity for your entire family to do together!

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By Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. in Compassion Matters

So much of the information out there about how to be a better parent focuses on techniques for modifying your child’s behavior. But it is missing the mark. Research has shown that the one thing a person can do to be a better parent is to focus on developing him or herself. This is where a person has to start in order to be a nurturing, attuned mother or father. When it comes to parenting, there are many reasons for us to look inward and understand ourselves as people if our goal is to become a better parent.

Children stir up buried and unresolved feelings from our own childhood.

Our children often reawaken painful feelings that we long ago blocked from our awareness. The innocence, liveliness, and spontaneity of a child can stir up the hurts in our own childhoods and threaten to reactivate them. Our avoidance of these old feelings can cause us to pull away from relating closely with our children. At times when there is an emotional connection, we may be uncomfortable and even feel anger or resentment toward our child. If we stay defended against the feelings that are being stirred up in us, we will be cut off from our children and misattuned to what they are feeling and experiencing.

In the preface to Compassionate Childrearing, R.D. Laing described this:

Those outstretched arms open up a well of loneliness [in the adult]. But in these feelings, mixed up in them at once physical smells new and stale of ghosts of awakened sensations in oneself, are evoked, by that dead me, that me that was me, I see in the baby. The baby is still appealing to me with the language of the heart, the language I have learned to forget, and to mistrust with all my ‘heart.’

Instead of continuing to defend ourselves against feelings we suppressed in childhood, we can face them and make sense of any traumas that have been unresolved. Once we understand what happened in our own childhoods, we can be more effective parents and develop more secure attachments with our children. In Parenting from the Inside Out, Dan Siegel states, “The integration of our own self-knowledge facilitates our being open to the process of becoming emotionally connected with our children. Coherent self-knowledge and interpersonal joining go hand in hand.”

We project our critical feelings about ourselves on to our children.

The ambivalent attitudes we have toward our children are simply a reflection of the ambivalent attitudes we have toward ourselves. All people are divided in the sense that they have feelings of warm self-regard as well as feelings of self-hatred and self-depreciation. Therefore, it is not surprising that parents would extend these same contradictory attitudes toward their offspring. Parents’ attitudes toward their children are a by-product of their fundamental conflicts and ambivalence toward themselves.

It is not uncommon for parents to disown their self-critical attitudes and negative self-image by projecting them onto their child. When they do this, they are then overly critical of these projected qualities and traits in the youngster. As a result, children begin to see themselves through a negative filter, which will stay with them throughout their lives.

But when we look into ourselves and understand where our self-critical attitudes and self-attacks come from, we will have more compassion for ourselves and our children. Dan Siegel says,

Children are particularly vulnerable to becoming the target of the projection of our nonconscious emotions and unresolved issues. Our defensive adaptations from earlier in life can restrict our ability to be receptive and empathic to our children’s internal experience. Without our own reflective self-understanding process engaged, such defensive parental patterns of response can produce distortions in a child’s experience of relating and reality.

We act in ways with our children that our parents did with us.

Every parent has the experience, most often when reprimanding a child, of suddenly hearing the same critical statement that your parent said to you coming out of your mouth. You are horrified; you can’t believe you are acting that way with your child. The reality is that, in spite of parents’ best intentions, they will most likely reenact how they were parented. Some parents experience this when their child passes through a stage of development that was particularly painful or traumatic in their childhood. During these phases, parents often treat the child as they were treated at that age or as if their child was experiencing what they experienced.

This transmission of parents’ negative traits through the generations involves three phases:

(1) To varying degrees, all of us suffered rejection, deprivation, hostility, and trauma in our formative years. At those times that our parents were out of control, either emotionally or physically, we took on the punishing parent’s feelings, thoughts, and attitudes toward us in the form of a critical inner voice. In other words, we assumed the identity of our parents as they were at their worst, not as they usually were in their everyday lives.

(2) We retained this destructive inner voice within us throughout our lives, restricting, limiting, and punishing ourselves as well as soothing ourselves as we were treated, essentially parenting ourselves as we were parented.

(3) When we become parents, we feel almost compelled to act out similar patterns of mistreatment on our children.

In order to stop this reenactment of the past, parents have to face the painful feelings they experienced as a result of the treatment they received. If they revisit the early traumas, they can identify the destructive attitudes that they internalized and begin to regain themselves. They will then be able to offer the warmth, affection, love, and sensitive guidance necessary for their children’s well-being.

You are a role model.

In this month’s The Mind by Scientific American, Robert Epstein presents the results of a research study of 2,000 parents about what makes a good parent. In his list of the 10 most important parenting competencies, just 5 of them were about the parent/child relationship; the other 5 related only to the parent. And 3 of those mention “modeling:” Relationship skills (having a healthy relationship with your partner models relationship skills), Education and learning (having a good education models learning and educational opportunities) and  Health (eating healthy and being active models a healthy lifestyle).

Psychologists have found that children really “do as parents do, not as they say.” Being a positive role model for good behavior is far more powerful than specific training or disciplinary measures in raising children. These processes of identification and imitation overshadow any statements, rules, and prescriptions for good behavior. Children develop behaviors through observing their parents in day-to-day life. Every behavior that a parent engages in should be worthy of imitating because children will imitate it.

Bruno Bettelheim’s observed, “While most parents are ready to teach their children discipline and know that they are the ones to do so, they are less ready to accept the idea that they can teach only by example.” Parents who are congenial, non-defensive, nonintrusive, consistent, and generous have a positive impact on their child’s personality.

The fact that our children are looking to us to see how to be is enough of a reason for us to focus on our development as a person. Only if we have developed integrity in the way we live our own lives will we be able to provide our offspring with the necessary model for mature, adult functioning.  Our honesty and maturity are far more important in determining the healthy development of our children than any techniques prescribed by child-rearing experts.

Live your own life

We can best help our children not by sacrificing ourselves for them, but by trying to fulfill our own lives. When we are involved in an honest pursuit of our goals, we serve as positive examples for our children. To teach our children how to live “the good life,” we have to genuinely value ourselves, accept all of our feelings, wants, and priorities, and actively participate in our own lives. To the extent that we retain our capacity for feeling and a willingness to invest fully in our lives, we will have a profound positive effect on the personal development of our children and on their future. Bruno Bettelheim said, “We need not make any claim to be perfect. But if we strive as best we can to live good lives ourselves, our children, impressed by the merits of living good lives, will one day wish to do the same.”

Instead of living their own lives, many parents live through their children. Rather than offering to their children, they are taking from them. These parents are in fact acting out emotional hunger, an unsatisfied longing for love and care caused by deprivation in their own childhood. They confuse intense feelings of need and with feelings of genuine love. Sustained contact with an emotionally hungry parent leaves a child feeling drained and empty.

Rather than striving to fulfill the role of a “perfect” parent or even a “good” parent, mothers and fathers can offer their children much more by being real with them; by admitting their shortcomings and weaknesses, sharing with them the history of their own formative years, revealing their personal struggles as well as their successes, and in general relating to them as honestly as possible.  Ultimately, parents’ humanity and compassion for themselves are the most significant attributes for compassionate child-rearing.

Let your children love you

Parents who have grown up with an image of themselves as unlovable are often resistant to having close, tender moments with their children or to having their child look at them with love. When parents cannot bear to feel their children loving them, they respond negatively to them. Books on child-rearing fail to give this phenomenon the importance it deserves. In Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice I wrote:

Our children need to be able to feel their loving feelings for us, for the people we really are behind our roles as parents. If we deny this opportunity to our children, they will suffer emotionally. We need to learn to be receptive to our children’s spontaneous expressions of affection and love toward us. This seems obvious, yet it may be the most difficult task faced by us as parents.

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By Kathy Caprino

While I spend my professional time now as a career success coach, writer, and leadership trainer, I was a marriage and family therapist in my past, and worked for several years with couples, families, and children. Through that experience, I witnessed a very wide array of both functional and dysfunctional parenting behaviors. As a parent myself, I’ve learned that all the wisdom and love in the world doesn’t necessarily protect you from parenting in ways that hold your children back from thriving, gaining independence and becoming the leaders they have the potential to be.

I was intrigued, then, to catch up with leadership expert Dr. Tim Elmore and learn more about how we as parents are failing our children today — coddling and crippling them — and keeping them from becoming leaders they are destined to be. Tim is a best-selling author of more than 25 books, including Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenges of Becoming Authentic Adults, and the Habitudes® series. He is Founder and President of Growing Leaders, an organization dedicated to mentoring today’s young people to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Tim had this to share about the 7 damaging parenting behaviors that keep children from becoming leaders – of their own lives and of the world’s enterprises:

1. We don’t let our children experience risk

We live in a world that warns us of danger at every turn. The “safety first” preoccupation enforces our fear of losing our kids, so we do everything we can to protect them. It’s our job after all, but we have insulated them from healthy risk-taking behavior and it’s had an adverse effect. Psychologists in Europe have discovered that if a child doesn’t play outside and is never allowed to experience a skinned knee, they frequently have phobias as adults. Kids need to fall a few times to learn it’s normal; teens likely need to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend to appreciate the emotional maturity that lasting relationships require. If parents remove risk from children’s lives, we will likely experience high arrogance and low self-esteem in our growing leaders.

2. We rescue too quickly

Today’s generation of young people has not developed some of the life skills kids did 30 years ago because adults swoop in and take care of problems for them. When we rescue too quickly and over-indulge our children with “assistance,” we remove the need for them to navigate hardships and solve problems on their own. It’s parenting for the short-term and it sorely misses the point of leadership—to equip our young people to do it without help. Sooner or later, kids get used to someone rescuing them: “If I fail or fall short, an adult will smooth things over and remove any consequences for my misconduct.” When in reality, this isn’t even remotely close to how the world works, and therefore it disables our kids from becoming competent adults.

3. We rave too easily

The self-esteem movement has been around since Baby Boomers were kids, but it took root in our school systems in the 1980s. Attend a little league baseball game and you’ll see that everyone is a winner. This “everyone gets a trophy” mentality might make our kids feel special, but research is now indicating this method has unintended consequences. Kids eventually observe that Mom and Dad are the only ones who think they’re awesome when no one else is saying it. They begin to doubt the objectivity of their parents; it feels good in the moment, but it’s not connected to reality. When we rave too easily and disregard poor behavior, children eventually learn to cheat, exaggerate and lie and to avoid difficult reality. They have not been conditioned to face it.

4. We let guilt get in the way of leading well

Your child does not have to love you every minute. Your kids will get over the disappointment, but they won’t get over the effects of being spoiled. So tell them “no” or “not now,” and let them fight for what they really value and need. As parents, we tend to give them what they want when rewarding our children, especially with multiple kids. When one does well in something, we feel it’s unfair to praise and reward that one and not the other. This is unrealistic and misses an opportunity to enforce the point to our kids that success is dependent upon our own actions and good deeds. Be careful not to teach them a good grade is rewarded by a trip to the mall. If your relationship is based on material rewards, kids will experience neither intrinsic motivation nor unconditional love.

5. We don’t share our past mistakes

Healthy teens are going to want to spread their wings and they’ll need to try things on their own. We as adults must let them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help them navigate these waters. Share with them the relevant mistakes you made when you were their age in a way that helps them learn to make good choices. (Avoid negative “lessons learned” having to do with smoking, alcohol, illegal drugs, etc.) Also, kids must prepare to encounter slip-ups and face the consequences of their decisions. Share how you felt when you faced a similar experience, what drove your actions, and the resulting lessons learned. Because we’re not the only influence on our kids, we must be the best influence.

6. We mistake intelligence, giftedness and influence for maturity

Intelligence is often used as a measurement of a child’s maturity, and as a result parents assume an intelligent child is ready for the world. That’s not the case. Some professional athletes and Hollywood starlets, for example, possess unimaginable talent, but still get caught in a public scandal. Just because giftedness is present in one aspect of a child’s life, don’t assume it pervades all areas. There is no magic “age of responsibility” or a proven guide as to when a child should be given specific freedoms, but a good rule of thumb is to observe other children the same age as yours. If you notice that they are doing more themselves than your child does, you may be delaying your child’s independence.

7. We don’t practice what we preach

As parents, it is our responsibility to model the life we want our children to live. To help them lead a life of character and become dependable and accountable for their words and actions. As the leaders of our homes, we can start by only speaking honest words – white lies will surface and slowly erode character. Watch yourself in the little ethical choices that others might notice, because your kids will notice too. If you don’t cut corners, for example, they will know it’s not acceptable for them to either. Show your kids what it means to give selflessly and joyfully by volunteering for a service project or with a community group. Leave people and places better than you found them, and your kids will take note and do the same.

Why do parents engage in these behaviors (what are they afraid of if they don’t)? Do these behaviors come from fear or from poor understanding of what strong parenting (with good boundaries) is?

Tim shares:

“I think both fear and lack of understanding play a role here, but it leads with the fact that each generation of parents is usually compensating for something the previous generation did. The primary adults in kids’ lives today have focused on now rather than later. It’s about their happiness today not their readiness tomorrow. I suspect it’s a reaction. Many parents today had Moms and Dads who were all about getting ready for tomorrow: saving money, not spending it, and getting ready for retirement. In response, many of us bought into the message: embrace the moment. You deserve it. Enjoy today. And we did. For many, it resulted in credit card debt and the inability to delay gratification. This may be the crux of our challenge. The truth is, parents who are able to focus on tomorrow, not just today, produce better results.”

How can parents move away from these negative behaviors (without having to hire a family therapist to help)?

Tim says: “It’s important for parents to become exceedingly self-aware of their words and actions when interacting with their children, or with others when their children are nearby. Care enough to train them, not merely treat them to a good life. Coach them, more than coddle. “

Here’s a start:

1. Talk over the issues you wish you would’ve known about adulthood.
2. Allow them to attempt things that stretch them and even let them fail.
3. Discuss future consequences if they fail to master certain disciplines.
4. Aid them in matching their strengths to real-world problems.
5. Furnish projects that require patience, so they learn to delay gratification.
6. Teach them that life is about choices and trade-offs; they can’t do everything.
7. Initiate (or simulate) adult tasks like paying bills or making business deals.
8. Introduce them to potential mentors from your network.
9. Help them envision a fulfilling future, and then discuss the steps to get there.
10. Celebrate progress they make toward autonomy and responsibility.

How are you parenting your children? Are you sacrificing their long-term growth for short-term comfort?

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By Mayo Clinic Staff

Life can be frustrating for toddlers. Though often eager to show their independence, toddlers may not be able to move as swiftly as they’d like or effectively communicate their needs. This combination can easily lead to tantrums and misbehavior. But you can teach your toddler to behave well by providing love, attention, praise, encouragement and a degree of routine. Consider these practical parenting tips.

Show your love

Positive attention tops the list of parenting tips for toddlers. Make sure your displays of affection for your child outnumber any consequences or punishments. Hugs, kisses and good-natured roughhousing reassure your child of your love. Frequent praise and attention also can motivate your toddler to follow the rules.

Accept your child

As your child grows, he or she will display certain personality traits. Some of these are learned, others genetic. Respect your child’s developing individuality and don’t expect him or her to be just like you. While you’re likely to notice certain features of your child’s temperament, avoid labeling these features — which can encourage bad behavior. Instead, nurture your child’s personality by finding ways to help him or her feel confident. A strong-willed child, for instance, has perseverance. Build on your child’s strength by encouraging him or her to play with a challenging toy.

Minimize rules

Rather than overloading your child with rules from the outset — which may frustrate him or her — prioritize those geared toward safety first and then gradually add rules to your list over time. Help your toddler follow the rules by childproofing your home and eliminating as many temptations as possible.

Prevent tantrums

It’s normal for a toddler to have temper tantrums. But you may be able to reduce the frequency, duration or intensity of your child’s tantrums by following these parenting tips:

  • Know your child’s limits. Your child may misbehave because he or she doesn’t understand or can’t do what you’re asking.
  • Explain how to follow the rules. Instead of saying, “Stop hitting,” offer suggestions for how to make play go more smoothly, such as “Why don’t you two take turns?”
  • Take ‘no’ in stride. Don’t overreact when your toddler says no. Instead, calmly repeat your request.
  • Pick your battles. Only say no when it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Offer choices, when possible. Encourage your child’s independence by letting him or her pick out a pair of pajamas or a bedtime story.
  • Avoid situations that may trigger frustration or tantrums. If your child always seems to have tantrums at the grocery store, hire a sitter the next time you go shopping. Also know that children are more likely to act out when they’re tired, hungry, sick or in an unfamiliar setting.
  • Make it fun. Distract your child or make a game out of good behavior. Your child will be more likely to do what you want if you make an activity fun.
  • Stick to the schedule. Keep a daily routine as much as possible so that your child will know what to expect.
  • Encourage good communication. Remind your child to use words to express his or her feelings. If your child isn’t speaking yet, consider teaching him or her baby sign language.

If your child has a tantrum, remain calm and distract him or her. Ignore minor displays of anger, such as crying — but if your child hits, kicks or screams for a prolonged period, remove him or her from the situation. Hold your child or give him or her time alone to cool down.

Enforce consequences

Despite your best efforts, at some point your toddler will break the rules. Consider using these parenting tips to encourage your child to cooperate:

  • Natural consequences. Let your child see the consequences of his or her actions — as long as they’re not dangerous. If your child throws and breaks a toy, he or she won’t have the toy to play with anymore.
  • Logical consequences. Create a consequence for your child’s actions. Tell your child if he or she doesn’t pick up his or her toys, you will take the toys away for a day. Help your child with the task, if necessary. If your child doesn’t cooperate, follow through with the consequence.
  • Withholding privileges. If your child doesn’t behave, respond by taking away something that your child values — such as a favorite toy — or something that’s related to his or her misbehavior. Don’t take away something your child needs, such as a meal.
  • Timeout. When your child acts out, give a warning. If the poor behavior continues, guide your child to a designated timeout spot — ideally a quiet place with no distractions. Enforce the timeout for one minute for every year of your child’s age. If your child resists, hold him or her gently but firmly by the shoulders or in your lap. Make sure your child knows why he or she is in the timeout. Afterward, guide your child to a positive activity. If all else fails, tell your child that you are taking a timeout away from him or her for a few minutes because of a specific behavior. Be sure to explain the behavior you’d like to see.

Whatever consequences you choose, be consistent. Make sure that every adult who cares for your child observes the same rules and discipline guidelines. This reduces your child’s confusion and need to test you. Also, be careful to criticize your child’s behavior — not your child. Instead of saying, “You’re a bad boy,” try, “Don’t run into the street.” Never resort to punishments that emotionally or physically harm your child. Spanking, slapping and screaming at a child do more harm than good.

Set a good example

Children learn how to act by watching their parents. The best way to show your child how to behave is to set a positive example for him or her to follow.

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By Shelley Emling

When I asked a good friend whether there’s anything she regrets saying in front of her teenager, she responded “pretty much everything I’ve ever said.”

Since I have two teenagers and one preteen myself, I know what she means. When it comes to efforts to engage in real and meaningful dialogue with one’s teenager, complicated doesn’t even begin to describe the terrain. And that’s because, as parents, we often talk at our teens and not with them.

At least that’s the way it seems from what I’ve experienced. I asked a few other friends how they interact with their teens.

One said: “My rule is not to repeat or discuss in front of my teenagers anything another parent has said about his/her child. This does not, of course, include accolades. I’m talking about when parents are expressing frustration about something their child did.”

Another friend said she never uses the word “fat” in front of her teenagers and never tells them to “shut up.” She also said it’s a good idea never to ask “what the hell were you thinking?” Most times, she noted, you really don’t want to know the answer.

Still another friend said it’s never a good idea to talk about people in front of your kids or to speak badly about their teachers.

In the end, after exchanging ideas with a number of parents of teens, I came up with my own personal list of seven things never to say to your teenager. If you have your own ideas, please feel free to note them in comments.

1. “How was school today?”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked this question, only to be met with a one-word response — usually “good” or “fine” — and a view of my teenager’s back as he walked from the room. It’s so much better to ask a specific question. “How was that algebra test?” “Was the algebra test as hard as you thought it would be?”

2. “Around” or “about.”
Saying you want your teen home “around 10 p.m.” is opening curfew up to a vast world of interpretation. With my teens I have to be as specific as possible. You must be home by 10 p.m. and no later. I would like you to take out the trash AND empty the dishwasher — within the next 10 minutes. Be home by 10 p.m. on Saturday night, March 23, 2013.

3. “You can’t imagine what I’ve been through today” or “you can’t imagine the day I’ve had” when your teen tries to ask you about something when you get home from work.
Again, I’ve been guilty of saying something like this many times. And I have had bad days where all I wanted to do was pour a glass of wine and go up to bed. But your teen needs you to be present — even when you may not feel like it.

4. “Look how your sister (brother) does her homework.”
It’s hurtful to compare your children to one another in this way. And comparisons only needlessly pit siblings against one another. Each child is unique with his or her own special characteristics. Focus on the good.

5. “I hate you too.”
Rare is the parent who hasn’t been told they’re hated. But when you let your anger get the better of you and you say “I hate you” back, it’s immature and and just plain wrong. You’re not your child’s peer but you are supposed to be their cheerleader and their role model.

6. “Just give me a minute!”
If only I had a dime for each time I’ve said this on many a busy day. But I believe it tells your kids you are brushing them off. And I don’t want to do that. Better to say, I think, that you need to finish up a quick task and that you’ll be with them in a few minutes. And then actually BE with them in a few minutes.

7. “Good job!”
I used to say this all the time to my kids until I realized I was saying it so much — it had lost all its meaning. Obviously you should praise and encourage your kids. But don’t just keep saying “good job” if there really isn’t anything to say “good job” about.

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By Jennifer Ball

I became a parent in 1994. And then again in 1995. And 1997. And then, because all of the cool people were having Y2K babies, once more in 2000. That’s four kids. Four kids who are now all teenagers and a mother who is no longer young. (No, there was little math done prior to conceiving these angels… but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Throughout my parenting journey I have learned a lot. I’ve learned things that have benefited me (and my kids) and I’ve learned things that have made me cringe and doubt my ability to parent. When I first became a mommy, 19 years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I went from self-absorbed party girl to a crying mess wearing giant mesh underwear, pleading with some poor soul on the 24-hour hospital nurse line to come take the shrieking red-faced baby-shaped creature writhing in the bassinet. “YOU LET ME LEAVE THE HOSPITAL WITH HIM!” I screamed “I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!” I’ve had several “not my best moments” since then. And also, some really good ones.

These days, it seems everywhere I go, I see fresh, new mommies. I see them at Costco, at the mall, walking on the trails near my house. They remind me so much of my past self and my past babies. I want to talk to them and tell them what I’ve learned, but the creepiness factor and the realization that I’m about to be late for something always stops me. Well, creepiness be damned today, friends! I’m going to talk now. I want to tell you stuff I’ve learned along the way and the things I wish someone had told me about all those years ago. Would it have changed the way I parented, made any difference at all? Who knows. But humor a tired old woman, okay?

Here are my 10 best pieces of parenting advice:

1. Trust your gutAlways. Your gut is trying to talk to you. Listen to it. This is one thing I’ve learned a little late in the game, and I regret that. I remember stifling gut feelings way back in my children’s lives: a situation didn’t feel right. A kid they started hanging out with made my mama-bear senses tingle. Something a teacher said (or didn’t say) felt off, somehow. Mother’s intuition is real. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. That said, there is a difference between the pangs caused by intuition, and those caused by guilt or worry or temporary insanity. It takes a while to figure out that difference, but it will happen. When it does, stand up for your gut and take action. If it means being “bad cop” with your kid, or “that parent” at school, so be it. When all is said and done, YOU are your child’s number one advocate. Never forget that.

2. When your kids start school, get to know their teachers. Start with preschool, and don’t ever stop. Get to know the people who are with your kids for the day. These people work hard, oftentimes for meager wages and iffy benefits, because they LOVE what they do. Stop in and say hello. If you have time, offer to help. If you don’t have time, be sure to keep the lines of communication open and don’t be shy…let them know when your child tells you something wonderful that happened at school. Teachers hear a lot about what makes parents mad…let them know what makes you happy, too.  Keep an open mind when dealing with the teachers, and try to keep a level head. It’s scary, sending your kid off into the wilds of school. Their teachers know that..most of them are parents, too. As your kids get to junior high and beyond, the opportunities to meet their teachers become less convenient and take a little more work. But they are there, and guess what? They still love what they do. And, for the most part, they’d be happy to meet you.

3. Get to know other kids. And their parents. This one is easy when they’re little. As they get bigger, not so much. You have to work at it. My kids have had some of the same friends for YEARS. I have wiped some of their butts, these boys who are now over six feet tall and boom out “YO, JENNY” as they walk in my front door. But some of these kids, I don’t know from Adam. I have no idea who they are, who their parents are, what they’re like or even where they live. It’s taken me a while but I am now comfortable with finding out more. Now? I will call a parent I’ve never met, just to introduce myself. It’s hard but I think it’s necessary. It takes a village, people, and sometimes you have to be the one to round up the villagers.

4. Don’t judge other moms. Well, try not to, anyways. It’s natural for women to judge each other. Time was, I hung with a different group of women. We had kids that same age, we lived in the same neighborhoods. I enjoyed their friendships. But I remember going out to dinner one night, and talk turned to a fellow mom from our ECFE class. Started out only slightly catty, and then it got bad. This was mean, mean stuff. And I partook in it (grammar cops? Don’t be too harsh). When I got home, I felt like shit. I said to my then-husband, “I need to make some changes in my life.” A few days later, the woman we had been verbally eviscerating over dinner was injured in an accident. I made dinner, and brought it over to her. We became friends. Our friendship lasted several more years, and then, like some friendships do, it faded out. But I’m glad I decided to take the high road. You are going to cross paths with many other moms over the next several years. Some will be your friends, others won’t. But let me tell you this: the more you put yourself out there, and the kinder you are to others, the better you will feel at the end of the day. For every mom out there, there is a life story just waiting to be heard. Get to know as many as you can.

5. Starting now, be aware of what you’re feeding them. I’m not saying you should go buy a share in an organic farm. But there are a lot of scary things in food today. Do you hear judgment in my voice? No, you do not. I have the number for Costco Pizza on speed dial, we get slushies from Super America and I love me some Twizzlers. But read labels, people. Do a little bit of research about additives and preservatives and artificial sweeteners and nitrites and hydrogenated oils and CORN and everything else. It’s overwhelming, but try to do a little bit. Feeding your kids things that aren’t processed and full of chemicals takes a little getting used to, and it can be a little more expensive, but it can be done. Believe me..if my broke, busy ass can do it, anyone can. Lifelong eating habits begin NOW, when your kids are little and they still think you are smart. If you can make sure most of those habits are healthy ones, that’s a win, mommy. Please note, I said most. There are enough Flaming Hot Cheetos in the cushions of my living room couch to feed a small country. Choose your battles, right?

6. If your kid needs help, make sure they get it. Don’t let pride or fear or ignorance get in the way of your child getting help. Academic, mental, physical…if they need it, make it happen. I know that time and money are precious commodities, but if you can get help for your child via a tutor, a program outside of regular school, a good therapist, whatever…find a way to do it. Check with your pediatrician, your local school district or even better, other parents to find the help your child might need. For a long time, I denied that there was something broken in one of my boys. Something in his sweet mind wasn’t right. I blamed it on my icky divorce, on the Nintendo, on hormones..hell, I went all Milli Vanilli and blamed it on the rain. Turns out he had a chemical imbalance and needed some help. If I’d addressed it earlier, we could have avoided some really scary stuff. He’s growing up to be a kick ass young man, but those few years of darkness could have been made a bit lighter if I’d just faced the music. Please don’t make the same mistake.

7. Spend some absolutely free time with your kids. At least once a week. Preferably? Once a day. We schedule our kids to death. They have swimming and soccer and baseball and t-ball and Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and Hebrew and Confirmation and Interpretive Dance and karate and basketball and EVERYTHING ELSE. And it only gets crazier, trust me. My giant OfficeMax calendar (yep, it’s a paper one…I’m old school) has not only my crammed itinerary on it but the schedules of four teens and their jobs, sports and appointments. So now, while you can, do it. Try to find some time when there is nothing scheduled for either one of you. Time where you can just chill with your kid(s) and talk or watch clouds or match socks or observe your dog twitching in his sleep. Time where the two of you can connect. Time where you’re not worried about whether or not they have the right uniform with them or if it was your turn to provide snack. Clean and pure mommy/kid time. They crave this. You need this.

8. Find the funny. To quote The Joker, “Why so serious?” Everyone has a sense of humor, and there is no time like parenthood to get that sucker out and use it on the daily.  Now, I’m not saying that you should be the whackadoo laughing in the corner all day, but open your eyes to the glorious funny that presents itself to you. Not everything is life or death, not every mistake you make is going to send your kid into a downward Miley Cyrus-spiral.

I’ll never forget the exact moment I decided to laugh at motherhood: the aforementioned screaming baby-shaped being (my firstborn) was about 3 weeks old. I was changing his diaper and he, of course, was wailing away. Suddenly, a magnificent arc of urine shot forth from his teeny nethers and splash-landed in his eyes. He peed on his eyeballs, people. I had a split second there where I could have gone the serious route: I could have made a panicked call to the pediatrician’s office or the poison control center to find out exactly when my precious boy would be rendered blind from his corrosive urine…or I could laugh. I LAUGHED. Because there was my now-quiet angel, blinking in bewilderment with droplets of tinkle flicking from his eyelashes. I wiped his eyes with a cloth, kissed him and finished diapering him. And I felt better. Choose laughs; always choose the laughs.

9. Take it easy on yourself. For real. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a crappy day (or week, or month) as a mom. I thought there was so much pressure to be The Perfect Mommy back in my day, but holy crap…you fresh young mommies have it coming at you from all directions: Pinterest, Facebook, a plethora of Mommy Blogs and celebrity mommies who have perfect bodies, perfect homes and loads of perfect parenting advice. Please know this, ladies: there is no such thing as The Perfect Mommy. She is an urban legend created by some evil marketing genius. So what if you whip your hair back into a ponytail several times a week and say “fuck this shit” every once in a while and you decided to let your kids watch Disney channel for an hour while you DID ABSOLUTELY NOTHING other than eat some chips and emptied the dishwasher? The world will continue spinning on its axis, your kids will be okay and hey, the dishwasher is emptied. Sounds pretty perfect to me.

10. Be prepared to let go of dreams, hopes and expectations. Be ready to replace them with different dreams, hopes and expectations. It threw me for a total loop when I discovered that one of my kids had a hard time reading. Me, a voracious reader since I was four…my three older kids followed suit. Picked up books and just took off. Same with spelling. Never once had to help them with spelling words, they just knew. When my sweet, youngest baby began school, it became apparent that he’d be different. And I’ll be honest with you…it baffled me. I didn’t know how to handle it. So for a while, I didn’t. I figured that it would work itself out, this reading thing. Guess what? It didn’t. He needed help. I had to accept that.

Nobody becomes a parent and thinks, “Gosh..I hope I get to know everything there is about Aspergers or ADD or speech impediments or developmental delays or juvenile diabetes or (insert any sort of childhood detour you can think of here)”. We have these babies and we picture them doing everything that “normal” kids do. We dream of our little ones playing peacefully at the playground, side by side with other cherubic kids, and growing up to be productive, happy members of society.

You know who doesn’t care what we dream and hope for? Our kids. They come to us as they are. Perfectly imperfect little beings, flawed and beautiful. The mommy who dresses her baby girl all in pink and surrounds her with dolls may have to get used to the fact that her little princess wants to wear boy clothes and play football. That little boy you had hoped would inherit your math prowess and go on to great academic success may surprise you and instead be fascinated with cars and become a mechanic. You may find yourself struggling to get your child out of bed in the morning because he’s too depressed to face life. You may be the parent sitting in a doctors office, learning the next steps in your child’s treatment. Who knows? Maybe your child will grow up exactly as you had hoped. Stranger things have happened.

I remember reading a fact once, something about how the chances of egg meeting sperm, about zygote becoming embryo, embryo becoming fetus and fetus becoming baby are slim.  Something like only a 10% chance of getting, and staying, pregnant each cycle. Having kids, whether you make them yourself or adopt or find yourself inheriting them through marriage, it’s a miracle. A blessed, everyday miracle. I consider my children to be my masterpieces, the best things I’ve done with my life. Would I go back and do some of my parenting differently? Yes, of course I would. I’d also go back to my size 4 self and tell her “DON’T START EATING YOUR FEELINGS!”. It is what it is. There are no do-overs.

There is only today. And this worn out, frazzled old mom hopes that YOU have a great one. Remember this one thing: You are a good mom. You’ll make mistakes and you will second-guess yourself sometimes, but you ARE a good mom. And nobody can take that away from you.

Now go on out there and be that good mom you are. You, my dears, are the face of parenting today. Those of us who have gone before you are cheering you on, feeling a mix of melancholia and nostalgia over those days gone by. We wish you nothing but the best…and want you to know that most of us are available for advice, or support… or an old, tired shoulder to cry on. We’ve got your backs, young fresh mommies.

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Is there a science to parenting?

For all the current discussion in the United States about gun violence and mental illness, there has been little attention paid to root causes. Any effort aiming to reduce gun violence — or child abuse, intimate partner violence, suicide or sexual abuse — must include a serious discussion about how society can improve the quality of parenting.

In 2010, children’s protective service agencies investigated 1.8 million referrals of child abuse and neglect pertaining to 3 million children. Although only 20 percent of these were substantiated, researchers report that physical abuse, including harsh physical discipline that is equivalent to abuse, is vastly underreported and may be 20 times more prevalent than is reflected in official statistics. (In other countries, including Spain, India and Egypt, harsh punishment is even more prevalent.) In Philadelphia, this behavior has recently been linked to the recession and the rate of mortgage foreclosures. When lenders put people out of their homes, one unforeseen consequence is that more kids end up with traumatic brain injuries.

It is now well accepted that physical discipline is not only less effective than other non-coercive methods, it is more harmful than has often been understood — and not just to children. A review of two decades worth of studies has shown that corporal punishment is associated with antisocial behavior and aggression in children, and later in life is linked to depression, unhappiness, anxiety, drug and alcohol use and psychological maladjustment. Beyond beating, parents can also hurt children by humiliating them, labeling them in harmful ways (“Why are you so stupid?”), or continually criticizing their behavior.

Improving the way people parent might seem an impossible challenge, given the competing views about what constitutes good parenting. Can we influence a behavior that is rooted in upbringing and culture, affected by stress, and occurs mainly in private? And even if we could reach large populations with evidence-based messages the way public health officials got people to quit smoking, wear seat belts or apply sunscreen, would it have an impact?

That’s what was explored in South Carolina in recent years, and the answer appears to be yes. With funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a parenting system called the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, which was developed at the University of Queensland, Australia, was tested in nine counties across the state. Eighteen counties were randomly selected to receive either a broad dissemination of Triple P’s program or services as usual. The results were both highly promising and troubling.

The good news was that, in contrast to the control counties, over two years, the nine counties that received the Triple P Program had a 35 percent reduction in hospitalizations and emergency room visits for child injuries, a 44 percent reduction in out-of-home placements, and a 28 percent reduction in substantiated cases of abuse. The bad news was that the Triple P counties mainly held their ground, while abuse increased elsewhere in the state, possibly because of the recession and the concomitant budget cuts in children’s protective services.

The Triple P Program has evolved over the past 35 years. It focuses on families with children under age 12 and has shown efficacy in numerous studies. It started as a home visiting program, but researchers found it too expensive to deliver more widely, so they looked for ways to broaden its reach – to get good parenting into the water supply. “You know how vast Australia is,” explains Matthew Sanders, Triple P’s founder. “Our question was how do we ensure that all families, regardless of where they lived, could access good quality evidence-based parenting interventions.” Sanders experimented with different dissemination techniques, including telephone consultations, and found that they could do just as well as face-to-face meetings.

What’s notable about Triple P is that it pursues a community-wide, preventive approach. Sanders believes that all parents would benefit from some education — though some need a light touch while others need significant help. And why would it be otherwise? Unlike driving a truck or teaching, no one needs a permit to become a parent. We copy others and make it up as we go. Without a “reflective awareness” and the benefit of information, says Sanders, parents are apt to struggle with strategies that don’t work – or that work for some children, but not others. He has seen a great deal of conflict and unhappiness and violence-begetting rage and humiliation that could have been averted with manageable changes.

Triple P works at multiple levels, ranging from media and communication strategies (TV, Web, radio, newspapers) to brief individual consultations and group sessions to intensive parenting and family interventions for serious difficulties. “You need to get lots of practitioners from different sectors — education, day care, mental health, health, social services, pastoral counseling – who are trained to work with parents and families and give them an added skill,” explained Ron Prinz, the director of the Parenting and Family Research Center at the University of South Carolina, who led the Triple P study. “Parents need different ways to get exposed to it.” In the nine counties in South Carolina, 649 people received training (three to six days on average) to deliver the program.

For parents, exposures can range from watching a video to participating in two 20-minute phone calls to attending 14 group sessions. “We follow the principle of ‘minimal sufficiency,’ ” says Sanders. “Use the smallest possible intervention to solve or prevent a problem.”

There are dozens of strategies and variations for parents — those who have children with disabilities, chronic illnesses, obesity or emotional difficulties, as well as those going through separation or divorce or at risk of maltreating their children. Parents discover techniques like “planned ignoring” (good for low-level misbehavior like whining or minor tantrums where the goal is attention) or learn how to escape the “escalation trap,” which occurs when parents get exasperated.

The essence of the research is that children do best when they receive calm and consistent feedback and assertive discipline that’s based on reasonable expectations – with significantly more encouragement and positive feedback than criticism. “The main mistake parents make is forgetting the importance of catching kids doing the right thing,” says Sanders.

Stephanie Romney, director of the Parent Training Institute at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, agrees. Romney and her colleagues deliver higher level Triple P interventions to 1,000 families, many of whom are involved with children’s services. “Typically, the children have been on the receiving end of a lot of negative attention from adults,” she said. “Even if the child has misbehaved all day, their parents try to catch them for that brief window when they are behaving well and praise them.” Parents are sometimes amazed by the changes. “I’ve had parents tearing up talking about how their relationship with their child has improved,” she added. “They went for a walk together and held hands for the first time. And parents report that they try it out on their spouses and coworkers and it works with them, too.”

Triple P is one of several evidence-based parenting programs that have demonstrated how society can reduce behaviors that put children at risk. Some others include SafeCare, Parent Management Training – the Oregon Model, The Incredible Years and Nurse Family Partnership. What is different here is the idea that parenting education could be broadly disseminated. This is important, because parenting training needs to be de-stigmatized. It’s not just about reducing abuse.

Romney notes that one of Triple P’s strengths is that it presents a multiplicity of strategies and leaves it to parents to decide which ones to use. The community approach comes with limitations, however. It’s difficult to get parents to come in if they aren’t required to and it involves training numerous people to deliver the program – so start-up costs can be a barrier. But a lot of Triple P’s teachings are available online. And unlike many parenting blogs, the advice is supported by research.

Parenting doesn’t get much attention in policy circles. “We don’t have mechanisms that help people to understand that parent education and training can be very effective,” explains Richard Barth, dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work, who has studied parenting programs for 30 years. “The Triple P study showed that if you engage people before things go awry, they can avoid problems that we might have predicted for them, or they might have predicted for themselves. There should be a significant investment in understanding how to implement some of the elements of Triple P — so every family and clinician in the United States knows the basics of parenting and the things we can do if things get more difficult.”

It’s not just for children. “It really influences adult well-being, too” Sanders said. “Parents become less stressed, less angry, less depressed, and have less conflict with their partners. We now have research that shows that parenting interventions improve your capacity to function at work, too.”

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by James Lehman, MSW

Kids grow up watching you for a living, and let’s face it, they learn pretty quickly how to push your buttons. It might be back talk, or constant complaining or eye-rolling, but whatever the behavior, nearly every parent will occasionally lose their temper with their kids.

Many parents control their emotions most of the time. However, many don’t manage their emotions well, either occasionally or chronically. This article is for parents who struggle with keeping their emotions in check.

“If parents have problems with their child’s behavior and all they have in their parental tool kit are bigger hammers, the kids are going to develop bigger nails.”

In this discussion, “losing your temper” is generally defined as: yelling at kids, calling them names, slamming things on the counter, giving bigger consequences than are needed, and refusing to meet basic needs, such as by saying, “No supper tonight.” Power struggles can occur between parents and children over almost anything including, for younger children, bedtime, getting dressed, eating or not eating food, being verbally disrespectful, not responding to rules and limits, doing high-risk behavior such as playing with lighters and matches, or not staying on the sidewalk. With older children, the issues become much more focused on socializing, performing outside of the house, doing chores and assignments, and being dishonest and lying. I want to be clear that when I say “losing your temper,” I don’t mean physical violence. If parents find themselves engaging in aggressive physical behavior when their kids act out, they need help. Let me say this: that help is available. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of in seeking it out. Parents have to take responsibility when they find themselves crossing the line into physical abuse.

Two Reasons Why Parents Get Hot Under the Collar
Power Struggles: Parents often become enmeshed in power struggles with children. No matter what the child’s age, once you’re enmeshed in that power struggle, the more complex your emotions become, and the harder it is to get out.

Generally, in the case of a power struggle, parents feel that their power is being tested and challenged by the child. As that happens, parents often try to exert more power to get the child to comply or agree. Of course, the more the parent tries to exert power, the easier it is for the child to win simply by saying “no” or throwing out some excuse. This further frustrates parents until they reach their boiling point—let’s call this their “temper point.” Once parents reach their temper point in these situations, they often lose sight of the original reason why they tried to establish a limit, and they become overly engrossed in “Who’s in charge.” Believe me, many parents out there have found themselves in that situation.

Physical Risk: The other situation where parents reach their temper point is when they’re dealing with adolescents and pre-adolescents who are doing things outside of the home which their parents perceive as being too risky or dangerous. This can be physical risk, such as going to bad parts of town, or moral risk, as in engaging in manners of dress, music, and recreation which are against the parent’s values and beliefs. In these cases, parents try to set limits on children who are becoming more and more autonomous. Fears that they will get involved with the wrong crowd, use drugs and alcohol, or put themselves in physical danger can trigger some very heated situations where the child is fighting for what he perceives as his or her rights and freedoms. When kids say “Everybody’s doing it,” what they’re really saying is “I have a right to do it, and you have no right to stop me.” Remember, there is a very simple formula for understanding why teenagers break the rules. That formula goes like this: “That rule is unfair, and if it’s unfair then I don’t have to follow it.” Sadly, you will hear this formula stated in many different ways with teens and pre-teens nowadays.

Why Losing Your Temper with Your Kids Doesn’t Work
Look at it this way: If losing your temper was effective, being a parent would be really easy. We’d simply have to wait until our child was annoying us too much, then we’d yell at him, and he’d go out and change his behavior. I’ve often told parents in my office, “If yelling worked, I would just simply call the kids into my office and yell at them and they’d go home and have a good week.” In fact, if yelling worked, they never would have been in my office in the first place. But losing your temper doesn’t work. Losing your temper is ineffective because the original problem is often forgotten in the heat of the argument, and goes unsolved after all is said and done. Instead of the child learning problem-solving skills from the parent to manage the particular issue at hand, those problem-solving skills get supplanted with the parent’s power thrusts toward the kids. This is not to say that using power is bad or immoral. It’s simply ineffective if the child doesn’t learn problem-solving skills. Simply put, if parents have problems with their child’s behavior and all they have in their parental tool kit are bigger hammers, the kids are going to develop bigger nails. The day will come when that parent will not be able to manage their child by losing their temper. It must be understood that learning how to solve problems and manage emotions is the primary task of childhood. And if the parent isn’t teaching that, it’s hard for someone outside of the home, whether it be a therapist, counselor or teacher, to pick up those pieces effectively.

If you have a “hot temper,” get help. If you have a consistently hard time controlling your temper, or you find that anger manifests itself frequently, you can use the points in this article as a guideline for how to deal with your kids, but you have to take responsibility very quickly on getting the help you need. The word “hot temper” is code we use for people who are intolerant and can’t handle any kind of challenge or anxiety. This often is caused by issues other than child-raising, whether it’s stress from work, finances, relationship difficulties, or a parent’s own childhood experiences. Parents are responsible to get the outside help they need so that they can manage their kids appropriately.

Don’t Take Your Child’s Behavior Personally
Taking things personally means viewing that child’s behavior as a total reflection of your character, skills and worthiness as a parent. You often see this when kids act out in grocery stores or at the mall, and parents feel embarrassed and judged by others. There are two fallacies here: one is the belief that the other parents are judging you critically instead of feeling empathy for you because of their own experiences with their children. The other fallacy is to believe that their judgment matters, because it doesn’t. What matters is that you deal with your child effectively when he acts out in public. And if you don’t have the skills to do that, you make it your responsibility to get them. So the effective parent is not the one who never loses their temper; he or she is the one who finds a way to do something about it. Parents who experienced a lot of criticism and frustration in their own childhoods are more likely to see condemnation and disapproval in the eyes of others and react in an ineffective way. In those situations, where parents do not manage emotions effectively, the problems can escalate into a power struggle, which is something we really want to avoid with kids, especially in public.

Parents who take things personally often have a mindset that it’s not right or it’s not fair that their child should want to buy a toy or get distracted or not follow directions. That thinking just adds fuel to the fire of personalization. Know this with younger children: Whatever it is they’re doing, they’re usually not doing it to you. The more able you are not to project sinister motives into your child, the more objective you will be able to remain. The fact that you feel embarrassed by your child’s behavior does not mean in any way, shape, or form that your child is trying to embarrass you. Your child is either over-stimulated or distracted by something that’s not on your agenda. Sometimes children become locked in a power struggle that they don’t know how to resolve and don’t know how to stop. Remember, the time to teach them how to avoid power struggles is when you’re not in one. When a parent gets locked in a power struggle with a child of any age, the parent is the one that needs to have sufficient skills to avoid and manage it.

Decide What You’ll Do Ahead of Time.
There are two things that I think parents can do that will help them a lot when it comes to managing their emotions. The first is to plan ahead, and the second is to have a bail-out plan. Parents needs to plan for situations where they think their buttons are going to be pushed. Those situations are pretty easy to figure out if you just sit down and write yourself a list. First, write down situations and places outside of the home that are problematic. Examples might be going food shopping, going to the mall, or going to restaurants. You probably know ahead of time that you might have problems managing your emotions in reaction to your child’s behavior during those trips. Let’s face it, it’s easier to figure out what you’ll do when you’re calm and sitting in your kitchen than when you’re in aisle 3 of the local supermarket.

If your child does something in particular that aggravates you, plan on what your response will be. This is easy because you don’t have that many options to begin with. You could inform your child that you’ll give him one warning and then you’ll both be leaving the store if he misbehaves. You can plan on going to your car until your child calms down and you think they’re ready to try again. While you’re in your car, you can talk to your child about what they can do differently when they don’t get their way again after you go back into the store. If your child doesn’t calm down in the car, or if calming down in the car has not worked in the past, then you have to go home. After you go home, you can try it again later that day or the next day. In many cases, your child will learn how to handle these situations, but they won’t do it while they’re in the store. When children are in stores, malls or at playgrounds, it’s easy for them to become over-stimulated. Once that happens, it’s almost impossible for them to respond to outside direction unless it is very clear and powerful.

For kids ages 3 and up, a discussion about what’s going to happen before they go into the store or the playground while you’re still sitting in your car can be very helpful. With young children especially, writing down three rules on an index card to read before you leave the car can be significant in helping them learn self-management skills. There is something powerful to children about having something in writing. So you keep these rules in your glove compartment and before you go somewhere, review them with the child. The card could say: “No asking for extra things, we’re here to pick up specific items today. If you ask for extra things, you’re going to be told ‘no.’ If you or act out you will be removed from the store or the playground.”

Have a bail-out plan: Plan how to bail out of conflicts when your buttons are pushed, so that you don’t lose your temper. For instance, if you’re going to talk to your child about something anxiety-provoking or emotional, be prepared for when that child doesn’t react the way you want them to. Already know in your mind what you’re going to say or do. There are two ways to go about this: one is to calmly say to your child, “I have to talk to you about something important, I’ll be up to your room in about 15 minutes and I don’t want to argue or fight.” This gives your child time to prepare for the discussion. Also, during that time, you can decide what you’re going to do if your child starts to argue. The most obvious thing is to tell the child, “I don’t want to be talked to this way. I don’t like it,” and then leave the room. You can also say, “We can try to talk about this at 6 o’clock, until then, no cell phone, video game or TV.” Parents who are mentally prepared for how they’re going to act when children react have a much greater chance of not losing their temper.

If You Lose Your Temper
Acknowledge to your child that you’ve lost your temper, but not in overly emotional terms. Just as we want to teach children to own their behavior without a lot of justifications and excuses, so should we model that behavior for them. I think the best thing to do is admit you were wrong and explain to your child what you’ll do differently next time they act that way instead of losing your temper. But work out with yourself what you’ll do differently the next time you’re at the point of losing your temper. Also, I believe parents should have a support group they can talk to if they find themselves losing control of their temper often. I say “group” but it may only be one or two people with whom you can share about how you’ve lost your temper with your kids. It is very helpful to have somebody outside of your family, preferably with children of their own, to talk to about the day-to-day parental situations which occur. If you don’t have that in your life, the Parental Support Line for the Total Transformation® Program can really help with these types of situations.

How to Calm Down When Your Anger has Reached the Boiling Point
When we’re talking about parents calming down, we’re talking about them “self-soothing.” In other words, they soothe themselves by managing their own thoughts, not by controlling the environment around them. So when your child is challenging your authority, what you are thinking will be critical to how you will respond. If you’re thinking, “This behavior isn’t fair, everybody thinks I’m a failed parent, other parents don’t go through this,” or are repeating some other self-defeating self-talk, things are sure to escalate. But when you’re thinking, “I can handle this, this is a child misbehaving, not a reflection of my parenting skills, other parents go through this, what can I do safely about this now,” there’s a much better chance that there won’t be a conflict. Remember, advice such as “Count to ten” only works if you try to think positively while you’re counting to ten. So if you’re counting to ten saying, “Don’t overreact, this is just childish behavior, how can I best handle this, what does the child need from me now,” there’s a good chance counting to ten will work. Similarly, if you have a conflict with your child at home and you go into another room and take ten deep breaths—that’s a seven second inhale, seven second hold your breath, seven second exhale—and you think positively while you’re doing that, like “How can I best handle that situation, how important is this to me, how can I make this work without fighting,” you’ll have a much better chance of resolving this situation effectively.

Whatever’s going on, whatever your child is doing, losing your temper won’t help. It may feel good in the short term, because you feel powerful, but in the long run the child has learned an ineffective lesson about managing anxiety or conflict.

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By Lisa Cooper

Parenthood provides a unique opportunity to examine the real meaning of patience. When I asked my 7-year-old why he seemed to enjoy stretching my patience to the absolute limits, he simply shrugged his shoulders. “It’s a kid thing,” he says matter-of factly. Bottom line interpretation: Parenting requires patience. And how and why you as a parent choose to develop patience is entirely up to you.

While the cliché “patience is a virtue” rings true, it tends to give the impression that this is an innate quality with which only a few lucky mortals are born. Realistically though, patience is simply a parenting skill like any other. Certainly there are parents who seem better equipped to display patience in generous amounts, but “with effort and experience, anyone can lengthen his or her emotional fuse…” says Dr. Ray Gaurendi in his book Back to the Family. This doesn’t imply that patience is something that can be perfected and then forgotten about. “Patience is an ideal to strive for. It is not a day-to-day reality,” says Dr. Gaurendi. “If you accept that fact, you will be less demanding of yourself and your kids. Emotions are deeply wired into human beings, and most deeply wired into parents. The most laid-back of us can be pushed to rise up angrily. That is the nature of parenthood. More than that, it’s the nature of excellent parenthood.”

So, the first step towards mastering this skill is to have patience with yourself. Let yourself off the hook. The dynamics of living in a family unit are such that there will always be a variety of moods, emotions, and behaviors at work at any one time—and certainly some of these combinations will be more volatile than others.

When my 3-year-old chooses dressing herself for preschool as her claim to independence for the day, and I’ve had a good night’s sleep and no deadlines approaching, I smugly think that I’ve got this patience skill under wraps. Let her try it when my six-month-old has had me up three times during the night, we’ve all overslept as a result, my early-morning appointment scheduled weeks ago is looming, and her patient mother is suddenly replaced by what I’m sure a toddler can only interpret as a raving lunatic.

Luckily for our children, adulthood generally results in a measure of maturity. “Don’t raise your voice, and talk to [your kids] calmly, no matter what the situation,” says Clint, father of three youngsters. “This is something that Sheri and I have been trying hard to do in the past few months. We found there was too much yelling going on in our house, and as a result of the constant bombardment of noise, kids, phones, etc., our patience was very short. Although not directly being patient, it does seem to make a much calmer and more sane household, and therefore it is much easier to keep your patience.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the Massachusetts Medical Center and coauthor of Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, suggests that by practicing mindfulness—the art of bringing our full attention to bear on the moment at hand—we can’t help but cultivate patience. “If you take care of the present moment, then you’re more likely to let future moments unfold without pushing through to them,” he says. Resolving to make the most of your time with your children, no matter what the circumstances, is guaranteed to improve patience. Fretting about the unwashed dishes or piles of paperwork on your desk won’t get the tasks achieved no matter how impatient you get as your child laboriously rehearses her assignment for school the next day. In fact, the only guaranteed way to make the time go quicker is to enjoy it!

As much as it may seem that way on occasion, children seldom test an adult’s patience intentionally. If your children seem to, you need to ask yourself why. As writer Susan Spicer points out in her article “The Patient Parent,” “Sometimes choosing patience isn’t a matter so much of defusing frustration or anger. Rather, it’s choosing to pay attention to our kids because we want them to know we value their interests and concerns.” Take a few minutes to listen to your son’s vivid description of the latest action toy or your daughter’s lengthy explanation of why she colored the sky purple instead of blue. If you do have to interrupt, then explain why and suggest returning to the conversation at a later stage.

Setting an Example

Modern parents have many balls to juggle, and the way you choose to manage your time will directly influence the amount of patience you are able to display. “When you lose patience, in all likelihood it’s because you’re feeling thwarted; that feeling is unpleasant and the danger is you’re carried away by it,” says Kabat-Zinn. If being a patient parent is a priority for you, then reassessing your daily commitments may be necessary. Attitude is a vital ingredient to developing patience. “I think that patience is learned,” says mom Shan Farquharson. “My husband Kevin tends to look at the situation, walk away, think about it, and then once he has looked at it from every angle, smiles, gives his input, and leaves it at that—subject closed. Should the same thing come up in the next couple of days, he reacts the same way.”

Consider the statement by school psychologist and parent educator Sal Severe in his book How To Behave So Your Children Will, Too!, “Our economy has created financial tension in families. Parents come home stressed. Their fuse is short. The rising divorce rate affects all of our children. Today, there are schools where four out of five children have experienced divorce. Single parenting is stressful,” he says.

Less stress is a sure antidote for increased patience. And if you need to discipline your child, even scheduling that can be an effective solution. “Set aside time when you can calmly let your child know how you feel. Leave accusations aside and talk about your feelings as opposed to talking about him being a slob,” says Joan Parent, a parent counselor for King’s County Child Welfare Agency in Nova Scotia.

Understanding Expectations

Another point pertinent to patience is the fact that our expectations may exceed what our children are actually capable of. “A toddler in an itchy tux at a family wedding isn’t going to be able to sit through the after-dinner speeches happily,” says Gary Walters, a professor emeritus in the psychology department at the University of Toronto. “And if you expect him to, you end up in a vicious circle of misery. You’ve set yourself up for losing your patience. Your kid loses it, and people look at you. That kind of public pressure is awful,” he says. Develop the habit of devising back-up plans for any potentially explosive situations, and then, just as importantly, allow yourself to use them!

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