Effective Discipline, Part II

So in last week’s blog post I gave you ways to control yourself so you can control the interactions with your children.  I’m sure some of you where like, “What?”  But it works.  Kids are always trying to get adults off center and tipping towards a meltdown.  When you don’t let that happen, the game is loads less fun for your kids.  They give up, after a while, and start listening.

Once you’ve got control of yourself, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Control The Environment

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Insert your face here.  You rule over the stuff.

 

  1. I own all the stuff.  I do.  Since children legally cannot enter into contracts without the implied consent of their adult guardian, the adult guardian actually owns all the stuff.  You should see kids’ faces when I explain this.  They cannot legally buy anything without your implied consent and therefor ownership.  Now let an evil laugh loose, bwa-ha-ha! I therefore control all the resources in this environment.  Toys, phones, stuffies, video games, gaming systems, i-pods, tablets, etc.  Once you have this attitude, your children will know that messing with the rules leads to the next point.
  2. I will take all the stuff in SMALL increments.  Never, never, nunca, not at all, do you ever take all the stuff at the same time!  Your kids will tempt you to do this, “Just take it all!”  Yah, I’m not that dumb.  When you have all the stuff your child no longer has anything to lose.  That’s how action movies start.  The hero has nothing left to lose and the fight is on.  Take stuff from your children in logical ways and small increments.  Take 15 minutes of their favorite TV show.  Hold them back from the first house while their siblings get to trick or treat that one. Take one action figure at a time. When they start throwing the rest at you, put them back in the room and talk through your emotions.  “I think you are wanting to throw your stuff at me so I’ll get really mad and take everything away from you.  Then you’ll be all melodramatic and hope that I lose my cool even more.  I am mad that you threw toys at me but I will keep my self-control.  You don’t get to have that.”  Stick with this and be consistent.
  3. I will take the stuff quickly.  My son has had to buy back his toys with his allowance because I told him to clean up and he played for that hour instead.  Fine.  I cleaned up.  It all went into a bag and he could buy back any object in the bag for $1.  He had $13 saved up.  He remembers that very clearly.  Say what you want, give one warning only, then take something quietly.  No screaming (control yourself first), and no further warnings. It’s good to remember that you don’t have to take the phone or the x-box to mess with access to them.  I can recommend Circle, a one stop for controlling internet access from your phone.  No more YouTube videos at 1am if the little rotter’s tablet won’t be allowed access! (Yes, we have dealt with that at my house.) Circle usually about $99 and well worth it.
  4. My wallet will be open for business not charity. Stop giving your children money outside of Christmas and their birthdays.  This gives you leverage to ask for chores, homework, instrument practice, whatever.  It’s the carrot for good behavior.  Carrots don’t mean anything if your kid has them everyday without having to do anything. Give the carrots back their meaning.  Hand out less.
  5. I will take control of my house and I will get adult help if I need to. Want your kids, and possibly your spouse, to know that you ARE the new sheriff in town? Have a friend come over and help you clean.  If you have the $, hire someone who will help you clean and organize.  Either way, kick everyone out of the house and get ruthless.  You are the parent, you have the right to throw random crap away.  You especially have that right if the random crap is in a pile under the bed that hasn’t been touched in years.  If the original dust bunnies now have grandchildren, you have the right to thoughtfully toss that. Now introduce the family to the new standard of clean and let them know you expect it to stay that way.  Use consequences both negative and positive to reinforce how you mean it. If you are in a situation where you can’t do this, then do a small version of it.  Taking control of the physical space gives you a visual message and then communicates the same thing to the rest of the family.  Give yourself that message.  Even if it starts in a closet no one else sees and then spreads from there.  Physical control of the environment helps you feel better.

You do NOT have to live in chaos. Here’s your blueprint for regaining your control and making your child listen!

The kids are screaming at you.  The house is a mess and nobody listens when you ask for help.  Siblings are supposed to love each other but all your kids do is fight.  You are overwhelmed, outnumbered and outgunned.

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Help is on the way!  In the next three posts I will teach you 15 surefire ways to regain control of yourself, the situation, and the discipline of your kids.  If you can do these things consistently for 2 weeks, you will finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.  Give this a month and you’ll start feeling like a parent and not a prisoner!

To set these up you have to understand the following concepts.  You can’t control your kids.  Didn’t get that or think I didn’t write it right?  You CANNOT control your children.  When you try all hell will break loose in your house.  There’s plenty of ways to encourage them to control themselves.

Punishment doesn’t work.  Consequences work, punishment works against you.  Consequences teach your children the connection between their own actions and what happens next.  Punishment teaches them to hide from you because they’re avoiding your anger.

You control yourself first.  Then you take control of the environment.  Last of all you reflect back to your kids.  There are consequences you will be handing out throughout all of these steps.  Anytime you loose control of yourself, you can’t do discipline.  Making children upset to match how they’ve upset you is punishment.  It teaches children that revenge is good and the strong get to take it.  Now imagine they’re 15 and bigger than you.  I’ve counseled that family too many times.  Control yourself, control the environment, then be a mirror that allows your child to see her own behavior.

Control Yourself

  1. Take your own time outs.  Instead of standing around screaming with the kids, take a five minute time out and concentrate on bringing your own heart rate down before you go back to dealing with them.  Children match the agitation level of the dominant adult in any situation.  Give them a calm to imitate.  This can take a while for parents to get.  Kids know when you’re pretending calm and when you’ve really got it.  Keep working towards a calm your children can match.
  2. Put yourself on the top five of your priority list.  You aren’t going to have a calm that your children can imitate if you don’t have taking care of yourself as a priority.  It can seem backwards to women especially when I tell them to take a yoga class and leave their children in the daycare. “But my kids will bite each other and I already don’t have enough time!”  I know.  But time and self-care can’t be the last thing you give yourself each day.  You will NOT be able to consistently discipline your children if you are too worn out to think straight.
  3. Be a neutral expert. Before your kids start their daily exercises in trashing your house and smacking each other, concentrate on your long term role.  You need to be the neutral expert that they come to when there’s sex questions or peer pressure on drugs.  Take your emotions out of the interaction!  You must sound like a calm judge not the screaming Queen of Hearts. Practice sounding like Mary F*ing Poppins no matter what!
  4. Talk about your emotions out loud until your children at least roll their eyes.  I love this one and my son HATES it.  “I can feel my neck getting stiff when you ignore what I’ve said and act like you can’t hear me.  I know you can hear me and that makes what you’re doing very rude.  You are pretending I don’t exist so you don’t have to deal with me and now my skin is getting hot because I’m mad.  I will need to calm myself down before I come up with the consequence for your behavior.”  I can go on for as long as necessary.  Talk yourself through your emotions, their physical manifestations, how you’re calming yourself down and what you intend to do.  My son would rather me take a toy than talk about my emotions.  It’s that effective.
  5. Stop giving your children emotional Touch Downs. When I ask kids in my office how long it takes to get their mom or dad frothing mad, they can give me a timeline and exactly what parents say along it before the adult tantrum commences.  All children want control and power.  If the best way to feel powerful is make you lose your control, that’ll happen on the regular.  You may be scaring your kids silly when you lose it, but you are also dancing on the end of their strings and they know which tune it takes to get you there.  Take that time out and stop giving up your power.

 

Once you control yourself, you are ready to take control of the environment and hand out consequences that work.  I hear from clients how frustrating it is to practice self-control first.  Sorry, it’s the only thing that works every time.  No technique works if you don’t have control of your own emotions and meet your own needs.  Most every technique can work once you have yourself trained.

Stay tuned for the next two posts. We’ll go over the ways to control the environment and help your child start predicting how their behavior will bring positive or negative consequences.

Before you go, ask me a question! I love to hear from all of you.

Lorinne

Dealing with the Crazy ex-Spouse

For those who will be dealing with ex’s and Oh Craps! this holiday season, a little help.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Run from the anger alien!

Question: My husband’s ex-wife is making our lives miserable.  She calls my husband’s cell phone at all hours screaming at him.  She keeps taking this whole mess back to court, saying that we’re attempting to alienate her children and we’re abusive.  What makes me nuts about this is how she tells everyone I caused everything. She left him for another man!  I’m sick of defending myself.  Yes, I started dating my husband before the divorce was final, but how does that make me a homewrecker?  She was living with a guy and avoiding her children ’till I came along.  Now it’s like she’s in some weird competition with me.  How can I stop the craziness?

Answer: Some people connect better through anger.  Your husband’s ex-wife WANTS everyone to be angry.    If you hate her,  you’re thinking about her all the time.  She has your undivided attention and she’s not likely to give it up.

You don’t understand this.  You have a normal life where you get the attention you need from people actually liking you.  I’m betting that your husband’s ex-wife has few friends and unrealistic expectations of people.  She probably didn’t think her marriage was over just because she walked out.  That might have been her way of getting her husband to pay more attention to her  and be more intense with how he expressed his feelings.

She can’t feel at a normal level and she attempts to have people dial up the heat until they are out of fuel.  When she figures out that all resources have been consumed, she will move on like a conquering alien army looking for the next planet to eat.  You interupted this process.  Don’t feel bad.  You’re presence in this family has re-energized your husband and made him more attractive to his ex-wife.  It might not have happened had she moved on to a new victim, sorry, partner.  You got there too early for that scenario since she was still prodding your husband to do something combustible.

You must cut off the fuel.  And the cut-off has to come from the both of you.

  1. Get an alarm clock.  Your phones will no longer be by your bedside at night unless they are turned off.  If you must, get a second phone that is for emergency or job situations.  Guard the number with your life.  Phone calls are taken during decent hours only.  If you answer the phone tired you are most likely to become angry and fuel the anger sucking alien.
  2. Get a good lawyer who is willing to do the worrying for you or, make court prep a regularly scheduled weekly activity that has a time limit.  Do not spend more than 2hours per week on this mess.  These cases will tend to go back to the same judge time after time.  Keep a log of; phone calls, problems, refusals to exchange, and any negative statements the children repeat to you.  Do NOT cross examine children, ask them what their mother said, etc.  If they tell you, say “Oh, really?”  and go write it down.  When she takes you back to court, bring the log.  Judges don’t get elected for being stupid and they are rarely able to suffer fools gladly.  The ex-wife will be wearing out her welcome with the judge, let her.
  3. Who’s everyone?  And why do you care?  If the lady who lives under the overpass and throws old donuts at cars starts talking about you, is that going to be a problem?  You are making this situation worse by defending yourself against her accusations.  Learn to roll your eyes.  Do it often.  You already think she’s crazy, what does that make you if you’re taking her seriously? When you defend yourself to someone, you have made them a judge of your life.  This woman has no right to that much power over you.  Smile and act vague.  At the very least it will irritate the crap out of her.
  4. Figure out who you are actually angry at.  My best guess in these situations is your husband.  Write down what you want him to do about this situation and take it to someone who’s dealt with an ex.  Let them tell you which of these expectations are realistic.  Take the realistic ones back to your husband and start a conversation.  He’s been running and ducking this for years.  He’s tired and wishes it would go away, so phrase the opening of this conversation to appeal to those two needs.
  5. If people are that easy to predict, use it.  What do her children wish she would do with them?  Tell them you’re planning to do it and wait.  She’ll get to it first and you can go ahead with the things you really want to do.  Surprise is key here.  The kids will tell their mother everything and that needs to be OK!  You’re plans will have to be surprises or last minute.  Learn to act faintly ditzy so that last minute plans don’t seem like a stretch.
  6. No matter what she does, you and your husband need to respond as though you are smoking weed and have no motivation.  Vague, benign, faintly, slightly bored, yawning, disinterested.  Whether you are telling her that Monday is striped socks day for little Johnny, or you’ll call the police if she comes on your property again, use the same tone of voice and the same body language.  Practice acting stoned with each other.  It will be something you both get a laugh out of, and you could use that right now.

 

Reach out for help.  You’ll need a place to vent and some accountability on your actions so you don’t accidentally fuel this anymore.  Once you’ve cut off the fuel, expect it will take a while to get her to cut the behaviors.  Your family has been a regular feeding ground and aliens don’t give those up and move off without a fight.  She’ll fight, you’ll smile benignly and she will eventually get frustrated and move on.  Keep that stoned smile plastered on your face and reclaim your planet for peace!

Help, I need to Motivate myself!

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Because, cmon, motivation and discipline are words that other people use to tell me why I’m not perfect.  Only I know I’m not perfect and that’s not what I have a problem with.  My problem is how I need to get things done that I DON’T like doing.  The things that are either so boring I will be smacking my own head or so scary that my stomach clenches and I feel sick.  Either one will fill my head with sand and my whole body with weights.  That sounds great, let’s move more sloooowwwwllllyyy through a task that already sucks!

Or not.  But how you ask?  First off, acknowledge how hard/boring/scary/awful/awkward your task is.  Lying to yourself that this is going to be easy won’t make it go faster.  Most of the time when we rate a task under its actual difficulty level, we just get mean to ourselves later about how hard it actually was.  Skip that!  You have enough negative voices in the world around you.  Don’t set up a situation where you’ll get negative on yourself.  List out the reasons that this will be bad and then you’ll have more grace towards yourself whatever happens.

Break this down, WAY down.  Let’s say you need to make a phone call that will not go well.  You have bad news to give, the other person doesn’t like you, and they will attempt to argue no matter what you say.  If you look at that head on, it will always seem like a wall falling on you.  So break it down so far that you will have a number of success stories before you get to the actual call.  So the list looks like

  1. Find that phone #
  2. Write an outline of what I need to say, any questions I need to ask
  3. What’s my back-up, forward my outline to someone?
  4. What info will I need in front of me for this call?
  5. Get that info and have it on hand

 

Notice that I made the first thing the easiest.  Find that phone number and voila! I can check something off.  You’ll also notice that once I let myself in on how bad this will be, I start making a plan that matches that reality.  This list calls for back-up, getting my information together, and having a clear idea of what I have to say.  I see a lot of my clients prepare for the call they wish would happen and then get eaten by the call they knew was coming.  Acknowledge!  Validate!  If you don’t want to make this call/ start that diet/ go look for a new job, there is a good reason and lying to yourself won’t make it go away.

Now move.  Any movement on the task will be good.  Once you’re in motion it’s easier to keep going.  So pick the smallest easiest thing, get it done, feel that rush of checking it off, and then head into the next thing.  If the task involves some kind of performance (any moment you will be talking and feel judged) then practicing is movement.  Talk to yourself in the mirror, have the conversation in the car on your way to work, try out different approaches.  Laugh all you want, but I practice testimony in the shower.  Wherever, however.

Reward yourself throughout the process.  A list can be its own reward as you check off the tasks you’ve gotten done.  Gloat when you can put that checkmark there.  It will help get you through the process.  Also think about small breaks, allowing yourself treats, and calling friends when you’ve gotten something done.  This can feel weird.  A lot of us are more used to attempting motivation through shame and fear.  But those don’t work!  Write a list of activities under five minutes and small treats that you will feel good about.  You will be amazed at how much more motivating it is to reward yourself.

Now all of this will go crap-side-up if you get caught in perfection.  The only perfect things are statues, that don’t move, and therefore can’t get anything done. My favorite quote on this is from Tim Ferriss and to paraphrase it, “The half assed plan you’ll stick with always works better than the perfect plan that fails.”  My add to that is, “All perfect plans fail.”  When you can’t think of what to do next and you feel overwhelmed by even the little tasks on your broken down list, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, Half-ass that sucker!  It will give you the freedom to get moving.  And once you’re moving…you’re likely to keep moving.

Forgiveness is NOT a free pass.

 

No one can force you to forgive.  You also can’t be forced into taking vitamins, staying away from abusers, and following your dreams.  Let’s get this straight right now.  Forgiveness is NOT for the other person.  It’s for YOU.

When you forgive, you no longer put the energy into the other person, into hoping for their pain, or wishing they would finally make yours right.  You put yourself in charge of the future and allow the past to stay where it will do you the least amount of harm.

Not everyone wants to be in charge of themselves.  It’s a harsh truth that being victimized  can leave some people in a bitter place of waiting for someone else to make it right.  That feeling can be somewhat addictive.  If you’re the victim, you’re always right, you’re always sure the other person is wrong, you never have to give up on what you’re owed.

It’s not actually a good life.  But it has a dark addictive pull.  Some people would rather be right than happy.  And if you only hurt yourself, that’s horrible.  But permanent victimization allows you to hurt everyone around you.  The most horrible behavior I’ve seen as a therapist has been justified by victim status.  Guys who wind up in an anger management group for knocking their wive across a room, all say the same thing. “She came after me!  I wouldn’t have had to do anything if she would have just shut up.”  Women who’ve abused their children or allowed one boyfriend after another to do it for them, same thing.  “He called me a b****, you would have hit him too.”  “I didn’t hurt my child, my boyfriend did and I’m being blamed!”  The worst behavior is always justified by how badly the abuser has been victimized.  And it’s crap.

No one ever had the right to abuse you no matter what happened to them.  You do not have the right to abuse anyone else no matter how crappy your day, your week, or your whole life has been.  Forgiveness is the verb that allows us to let go of how badly we were treated so we don’t recreate the cycle for someone else.  We make the effort to let go of what we’re owed, so that we can get what we truly want.  You need more than what you’re owed by the people who have hurt you.  You definitely ought to want more than that.

When you hang on to what you’re owed, you are more likely to take the payment from someone who wasn’t even there.  Let yourself become the victim and you will have a black hole sucking all the light out of your relationships with no end in sight.

Do you truly want what you think you’re owed so damn much that you will sacrifice everyone around you to that goal?  Will you sacrifice your own happiness because your need for vindication is so extreme?

Forgiveness hurts and it’s hard, and you will wish you didn’t have to do it.  And it’s the best hard thing you will ever do for yourself.  Imagine you had spend 5 years eating snickers and watching vapid TV with all your free time.  Now you really want to fit into a decent outfit and be attractive to the opposite sex.  You have 5 years of damage to undo and you will be sweating, screaming, throwing out foods that don’t help you, watching TV from an elliptical, and discussing how you let yourself go with friends and professional helpers.  In about a year or less, you will walk into a room and show off every painful moment it took to get you into fighting shape.  You will love every moment you hurt because it led you to feel this good right now.  It will be better because it took the pain to achieve.

When you forgive, you take on the pain of your life without any hope of someone else rescuing you from it.  You take on the pain that the other person will never accept and you feel pain that was never a fair or just payment for your actions.  You agree that you will take on all the pain for both of you and bear the entire load.  Because that is the ONLY way you’re ever going to be in a position to dump the whole thing overboard.  You can sit on that couch and feel the pain of rejection but not take on the extra possibility of failure, or you can lever yourself up and make painful changes that lead to that moment of freedom you’ve dreamed of.

We’re going to spend the next 4 days on the specifics of how to forgive.  I hope you’ve been convinced to at least think about this, for your sake and the sake of the people you actually like.

 

Picture from AlicePopcorn from flickr creative commons

Don’t be so responsible, at least not for everyone else!

Who are you responsible for?  Most adult women don’t know the answer to this question.  They think they do, but they are taking care of everyone else around them, not taking care of themselves, and then resenting someone else for the state of their lives.  Plenty of men are doing the same things and talking about how they can’t ever get out of a job they hate.

If you’re going to have a goal, you are the only one who can truly make that happen for yourself.  You are even responsible for who and how you ask for help.  But that’s help, not take over and make my dreams happen for me.

Prince or Princess Charming is not coming to make your better life appear.  You will have to take the responsibility for yourself and start letting a few other people’s needs slide.  That’s right, you need to get a lot less responsible.  Go nuts, let the dishes sit, mow the lawn after you’ve written your bucket list, let the other people in your life have the control.

Yes, control.  You need to control you, and let other people get into their own trouble or success as the captains of their own ships.  I’m not saying let your 3yr old make major life decisions.  But you’re teens could definitely do their own laundry.  And if they mess that up, let it be a learning experience.

Never be so dependable that you never get a chance at your own dreams.

Be less responsible, go play, go dream, let everyone else pick up the slack for once while you make something happen for yourself.

How to save your child!

Last post was on how to ruin your child, but some people do most of those and still have decent children.  How the heck is that happening?

Resiliency.  The ability to come through tough times with your better self intact and growing.  Some children seem to have a natural store of this, while others can get to this state with help and training.  So here are 10 ways to help any child withstand and thrive in their circumstances.

  1. Compliment specifically and describe actions not attributes.  Children think that pretty and smart are states of being that can’t be affected by their own actions.  Complimenting them on these doesn’t leave the child feeling empowered.  Make positive comments about actions children take.  This will point out to them how they change their own circumstances for the better.  When people feel powerless they get depressed, lazy, unmotivated, selfish, and scared.  Compliments about actions can be a protective layer against all the bad that feeling powerless can bring.  You can give a child that protective layer!  Make sure your compliments are about verbs not nouns or adjectives.  “I loved that you tried so hard!”  “Wow, you kicked that ball at the goal!”  Stay away from compliments that start with “You are…”  Those are attributes that children will usually see as unchangeable.
  2. Ask questions and listen to the answers. This works with any age child.  In my practice as a play therapist I shock parents all the time.  I tell them simple things their children have said and people sit back in stunned silence before saying, “She’s never said that before!”  No, she hasn’t, but she never felt that anyone had the time to listen.  Some children will not tell you the important things until you have spent several hours listening to their stories about the latest transformer cartoon they saw.  When children communicate with you they are looking for how you listen.  If you are waiting for the “important stuff” to actually start hearing the words, you will never hear anything important until it is too late.  Try this in small increments.  Spend at least 10 minutes listening to your child and commenting on what they’re saying without any statements of judgement or morals of the story.  Do that several times a week.  That child will tell you something surprising by the 3rd week, maybe sooner.  I have yet to meet the teen who really won’t talk.  They just need to talk about things you don’t find important, so they’ll know if you find them important.  Once they’ve figured that out, they spill their guts.
  3. Spend time.  Kids of all ages are used to being shuttled and cared for but the ones I’m meeting still crave time.  I see adults who don’t know how to let the kid pick the agenda and still remain in control of the situation.   When you know that you are the one in charge of safety and discipline, you can let go of the agenda control for a few hours and everyone will still be OK.  Occasionally let a child set the pace and pick the activity.  Go to the park.  Walk slower.  Look at the bug on the flower.  Watch really stupid Disney TV with your tween and listen to how cool it is.  Look for the perfect shoes for the all important first day of school (without sighing and looking like you desperately wish to be elsewhere).  Do this in lengths of time that you can manage and you’ll discover that it’s actually fun.  Children have a different time frame than we do and the world is still fresh to them.  Enjoy it, you’re relationship will improve and the child’s sense of well being will blossom.
  4. Praise hard work and make positive comments about perseverance.  Luck tends to happen more to the people who give it more chances to happen.  That comes about by hard work, multiple tries, perseverance.  If you want a child to succeed against the odds, praise every time he goes against the odds.  Being smart will not guarantee success.  But put the brains together with a good work ethic, and that kid is going to go places.  Know the value of your own hard work, say positive things about people that work hard, let your child know that work is good by your own attitude towards it.
  5. Give children jobs and insist they finish them.  It’s nice to talk about hard work, but if you’re actually going to compliment their actions, the kids have to have a chance to do the job.  They will not see this as a good thing.  You will hear whining, complaining, mouthing off, “You only had me for the free labor!”  Smile serenely and insist the job gets done.  Withhold the resources the child wants until the job gets done.  You don’t get paid for laying there, why should you teach your child that rewards come without effort?  You are NOT doing them a favor if you give money and rewards unconnected to hard work.  This is basically the same principal of empowerment.  What the child can change and feel control over, will be a protection against depression and negativity.  If a child realizes, “I can make good things happen for myself by my own effort.”, that child will be less likely to feel powerless and depressed.  Put children in a situation where they must work to get what they want.  This teaches them the power of their own actions and immunizes them against depression.
  6. Show gratitude in your own life and point out good things that come from bad breaks.  When you notice the good in your own life, your brain goes looking for more.  You prime yourself to find opportunities out of stresses, and you give yourself a cushion emotionally during bad times.  Do that when the little people are watching and they’ll be able to do the same things.  When kids around you say the negatives constantly, they are crying out for some guidance.  Ask them to stop, take a breath, and notice something good around them.  Don’t give them the moral of the story, don’t stop the rest of the whine down, just keep interjecting the new skill and showing your own command of it.
  7. Teach the difference between responsibility and guilt.  You are 100% responsible for your own life.  You’ve been that way since other people stopped paying for you and making all your problems go away.  Children will someday be 100% responsible, unless they’re constantly fighting the universe on this one yelling, “It’s not my fault!”  No, the guy who ran the red light and crashed your car is not your fault.  But he’s also not around to rehab your injuries, pay your bills, and make the situation better for you.  Guilt is irrelevant to your future.  Guilt is all about the past.  Teach kids to look towards the future and solve the problem for themselves.  Who created it is only important when you’re picking friends and figuring out who to stay away from.
  8. Encourage failure.  I am appalled at the number of bright, talented kids that show up in therapy due to their overwhelming anxiety and fear.  They are terrified of failure, won’t try anything new, won’t plan for the future, and often look for escapes in drugs, alcohol, and stupid behavior.  Failure is a fact of life that children will see as a hiccup or a complete breakdown, depending on your reaction to it.  How do you handle failure in your own life?  Your kids are watching.  Let children fail and encourage them to go for it!  When you help them avoid failure at all costs, you are teaching them that failure will kill them.  They’ll stay safely cocooned in the basement smoking pot to kill any motivation with that belief.  Teach them that trying and failing are GOOD.  Failure is how we learn.  Failure is where we consider and grow.  Failure is how we get better.
  9. Point out upcoming consequences and then get out of the way!  You know your child is heading towards an all-nighter and a bad grade in science.  Do you, A) Step in and make an award winning science project for them, or B) Tell you child that there isn’t a lot of time left and it will probably mean a bad grade if they don’t get started.  If you said A, you are enabling bad behavior that will haunt that kid for the rest of her life.  Point out the consequence in a calm tone of voice with no judgement attached.  Walk away.  Keep doing this until the child hits the wall they’ve been running for.  Ask them what they intend to do differently next time.  Repeat.
  10. Use consequences not anger.  Sometimes your child won’t have a natural consequence for his bad behavior.  You then have to decide what a logical consequence is and apply it.  Screaming, yelling, throwing things, withholding acceptance, silent treatment, and sulking are NOT logical consequences to a child’s behavior.  They ARE a child’s behavior.  If you use your emotions instead of consequences, your child won’t learn to make the connection between actions and consequences.  They may also be left more susceptible to emotional blackmail in later relationships.  Let children feel consequences, not your emotional need to avoid those.

 

There are plenty more ways to encourage resiliency in children.  These are just some of the easiest.  It’s a great topic to do some research on and then incorporate into your interaction with children.  It’s also, never to late to start these interventions.  It can be harder if you start later, but it’s still worthwhile. Good luck and go get started!

 

Picture by jaci XIII from flickr, some rights reserved.

How to ruin your child!

Now I’m aware there are good kids out there being raised right.  I also know there are children who get raised by loving parents doing everything right and the kid still hares off into all sorts of crazy.  There’s also some children out there being raised by well-meaning but not terribly effective parents.  The kids who are terrorizing the rest of the school and making life hard on everyone.  So forgive me if I sound cynical, pessimistic, or really sarcastic.  I’ve listened to too many kids talk about being; raped, bullied, beat up, ostracized, stalked, slandered,  poisoned, drugged, and run over by their peers.

Think I’m exaggerating?  I’ve been a therapist for 17yrs.  You do not want to know what I’m leaving out.

And the kids doing some of the worst behaviors were not physically abused, sexually traumatized, or raised by drug addicts.  These are “nice” middle and upper class children who were more subtly allowed to get warped.  You cannot take all the credit or blame for your child.  He or she has their own choices to make.  But if you are doing one of the following, I can pretty much guarantee problems will be coming for your family.

In the hopes that you will be able to see yourself in some of these and save yourself from the outcome, here’s 10 easy ways to completely ruin your child (and by extension your happiness, any hope of decent grandchildren, and the future of the species.  No pressure.)

  1. Give them EVERYTHING!  Never even suggest they work for what they want.  The good stuff should always be free and a fit should get you what you want.  When this ceases to work because peers and bosses do not find this behavior attractive, your child can experience depression at a much higher rate and be unable to take effective steps to help themselves.  When you’ve never had to help yourself, you don’t know how!
  2. Let them watch adult themed shows with sex and violence.  They’re going to deal with that eventually.  Give them a head start!  Seeing so much death, destruction and confusing sexual innuendo will help your children feel overwhelmed by their surroundings and unable to reach for real intimacy.  They will be more sure that bad things are going to happen and feel less able to take care of themselves.  As a bonus, if they get into porn they will fail to develop any real skills for sexual intimacy and be even less likely to make you a grandparent!
  3. Don’t allow your child to fail.  Failing and surviving will give them skills that might actually get them out of your house.  Fear of failure will paralyze your child into a fetal curl in your basement.  Children figure out that failure must be the worst thing that could happen when you NEVER let them even get close to it.  They will continue to rely on you to save them as long as you are willing to take away their right to learn and grow.
  4. Tell your children they’re smart, constantly, without ever commenting on or asking for hard work.  Your kids will expect problems to be easy and think hard work is what stupid people do to make up for being brainless.  When your child inevitably hits the moment that brain power alone won’t get them through, they won’t even attempt perseverance!  They’ll give up and move back into that sweet cocoon you’ve got set up in the basement.
  5. Helicopter in to rescue them from any discomfort they may face at school, with friends, at church, or on sports teams.  The ability to withstand discomfort and be graceful under pressure takes practice. Don’t allow your child any room to grow in this area and they will still be whining about how people don’t treat them nice when they’re 35.  Better yet, they may feel justified to give in to road rage, screaming fits in public, and any other number of embarrassing public acts.
  6. Completely ignore any issues they have at school, especially bullying and sexual harassment.  Better yet, tell kids it’s their fault and related to the way they look.  Unbalanced reactions that reflect your own need to avoid conflict or prove how right you are, are sure fire ways to screw things up!  Be sure to act surprised when the school calls about your child attempting to seriously hurt someone, the failing grades, etc, etc.
  7. Have an extreme reaction to their emotions.  Either pay so much attention to feelings that they are the center of the universe and a reason for everything, or discredit all of them and act like John Wayne crawling through cactus.  This can include being scared of your child or making sure they’re terrified of you without any mitigating attempts to show love and acceptance.  Your child will learn to either over-emote to an unappreciative audience, or be the unassailable tower of solitude and emotional distance.
  8. Don’t ever teach them any of your values in an attempt to let them find their own.  Obviously, we all slavishly followed what our own parents said.  When you give a child something concrete not to do, they know right where to start their rebellion.  Without guideposts of some kind, your child will just keep right on going with their behavior until they can get hurt.  They’ll also be confused by the multiple choices of belief systems about their own self-worth, their place in the universe, and the worth of other human beings.  Of course they don’t need some way to evaluate all this information and come up with a working model for themselves.  Just let them founder around!
  9. Let someone else do all the work, say a grandparent, without having the power or the long term stability.  That way your child can grow up confused about who’s in charge and acting out against everyone.  If you do this sporadically enough, your child won’t even be able to trust that relationships last and bad behavior doesn’t mean abandonment!
  10. Pick a favorite out of a group of siblings and do a LOT of comparison.  This way everyone can be turned against each other, you’ll completely ruin any attempts at cooperation or group cohesion, and all the kids will suffer equally whether or not they got picked to be the golden child!  The repercussions can last into adulthood as your children perceive all situations as a winner take all grabfest with no room for cooperation!

 

These are all the worst case scenario. Doesn’t mean they can’t happen.  If you see yourself doing one or several of these, get some help.  It’s easier to stop if you have someone helping you be accountable.  And just so you know, number 9 was my issue during my son’s first year of life.  I let him be raised by a caring friend who finally got tough with me and made me rethink the whole set up of my life.  It was NOT pretty!  But I can’t thank her enough for getting in my face about the issue.  Correct these, hold yourself and others accountable to raising children right, and remember that you won’t be perfect.  Just keep striving for effective.

See you back here next time for the blog on ways to make your child resilient and able to live through any of the above!

How to deal with Grief

Just not the typical stuff that everyone always told you about.

This is about the things no one says and most people seem to pretend isn’t happening.  So in no particular order, here’s a list of what you might face and some tips to make the process less painful.

  1. Justification will get you into trouble and you will have a VERY good supply of justification.  Have any old bad habits that have died the good death? Grief resurrects those fast.   You will want comfort.  You will feel justified in taking comfort where ever you can.  And if you don’t set some boundaries and get some help, you’ll be having a relapse into the cigarettes, bad boyfriends, chocolate cake, and self-loathing you used to deal with.  Find a way to indulge that will be healthy for you.  Go to a movie, call in sick and lay in the park, have coffee with friends and take good care of yourself.  Do NOT say you’ll give in to a bad idea “just this once” and think that actually works.
  2. Crazy is attracted to vulnerable.  And we’re all vulnerable in grief.  I would like to think that if I’m grieving, crazy people will leave me alone and have a little respect.  That’s not happening.  Think of these people as vampires that want to suck from your tear ducts.  They are attracted to your pain because they like feeling needed, and they expect that filling any of your needs will give them a license to own your life and your time.  Your best friend being there for you 24/7 is awesome.  But you do not have to accept every offer of help from anyone that comes along.  Your grieving, not destitute.  Say NO and say it often enough to keep your sanity.
  3. One loss will be a reminder of every other loss.  You can’t just grieve them one at a time.  And you’re not crazy because you started crying over the death of your friend and wound up re-living the moment in 3rd grade when the other boys wouldn’t let you be part of their spy kids club.  Grief revives grief.  Expect to be awash in memories and remember to roll with it until that wave passes.  It does pass.  Trying to shove it all back and ignore it will give you an ulcer and probably won’t work anyway.  Sooner or later you will ride that wave.  Set aside some time and let it roll.
  4. You will grieve what you WISH you had, what you SHOULD have had, and not just what you actually experienced.  Death & Divorce are the final blow to our fantasies that change can happen and happily ever after might still exist.  You can hate someone and still wail uncontrollably at their funeral because of the wishes you didn’t even know you had.  If you had the lousy relationship or time was too short with a good one, expect to be raging angry and unbelievably sad.  Both emotions are normal and will need outlets that don’t get you locked up.  Find a place to scream.  Go run until you puke or fall down.  If you can’t run, find some other activity that will get you sweating and exhausted.  Once you’re worn out you’ll cry more and that’s part of the process.  Physical activity is one of the few sure ways to flush all the stress out of your system and give you a fighting chance at a calm tomorrow.
  5. Other people will be struck with a sudden case of stupid and that’s the platform they will attempt to help you from.  I put down my horse a few weeks ago.  I cry just typing that.  Just a few days after it happened someone helpfully told me about a stage 4 cancer victim and her struggle with pain.  Randomly brought that up and spent 10 minutes detailing the horror.  And then he said, “So it could always be worse.  I mean really, you don’t have that much to complain about!”  No, I don’t have stage 4 cancer and I’m very happy about that.  It doesn’t make the pain less that I’m not afflicted with a life threatening disease.  Actually, I just feel totally angry at that moron because he wants me to feel guilty about my pain and shut up about it already.  People will also make judgements about the length of time you should be crying, and how much grief you should be allowed to express depending on a formula of how “close” you were, how long you knew the person/animal/marriage, and how disrupted your life has been.  If you are a Christian or have Christian friends, you will also hear about God’s will.  Please don’t deck anybody.  Do feel free to walk away.
  6. There will be a series of lasts and firsts that have to be lived through.  The last time you saw them, the last Christmas, the last time in the hospital.  It’s like you’re looking through the back window of a car as it pulls away from some place special.  At some point you start looking forward and see your first landmark that you can’t share anymore.  Expect at least a year of firsts that send a shock through your life.  These can be large or small and it won’t matter what you need to get done or where you are.  Surround yourself with people that can hear that same story again, as many times as you need to tell it.  Encourage them to talk about themselves and their own lives even though you might not really be listening.  Connecting with people is important to your long term health but it’s going to feel impossible as you travel through your lasts & firsts.  Treasure people who will know how to do the work for you and re-pay them in kind some day.
  7. Guilt and regret will do their best to find you and kick your ass.  We don’t like the total lack of control that loss brings into our lives.  Guilt is a way of pretending you could have stopped the bad thing, if only…..  There are rare times when we actually caused the problem that led to the loss.  If that’s true for you, accept your responsibility and learn from your mistakes.  The rest of the time we’re fooling ourselves that we could have controlled a situation that was never in our hands.  Regrets are usually centered around the things we meant to do and never found the time for.  No one has any time anymore.  I’ve been to too many funerals where we all said, “It shouldn’t take a death to get us together!”  And then we don’t see one another until the next funeral.   If you are overwhelmed with regret, you have a problem with the busyness of your life.  You will either force a slow down, or live with the next set of regrets after the next funeral.
  8. Time is going to go a little screwy on you.  Your perception of time passing will speed up and slow down with your emotional state.  Other people will not be on the same roller coaster and may “helpfully” try to rush you or slow you down.  If you’re at least aware of what’s happening, you won’t take it as personally.  Wearing your watch may not help.  Grief can make everyday objects and concepts suddenly complex and disturbing.  Your brain will get overwhelmed by the amount of emotion it’s processing.  Make someone else be in charge whenever possible while remembering you’re still the boss.  Do not give up all decision making for funerals, burials, parenting plans, divorce proceedings, etc.  Delegate as you need to but remind everyone you’re still checking the outcome.
  9. Yes, you will be annoying for a while.  And your friends will love you, remember who you usually are, and stick with you.  It’s going to be your turn soon.  You’ll have to listen to someone else cry, hear stories about their family/marriage/pet, and hold their hand until they can go it alone.  When you let people help you, they are more comfortable asking for your help later.  Let people see the full melt-down.  You’re building the trust they’ll need to show you the same someday.

 

You’ve been here.  You’ve known pain and the moments nobody prepared you for.  Please take the time to share any other shocks from your own experience.  Someone else will benefit from your story.

 

The picture is called “Lost Tree” and is from flickr by h.koppdelaney

Clean out your kitchen

 

Walk into your kitchen, look around, what do you see?

This is where the past can negatively affect your future more than in any other room of your house.  It’s the pizza cutter that won’t go away. The foods we ate as a child, or that we eat to “feel better” now.  Or how about some raw chicken slime?

Your kitchen should be the cleanest room in your house, but it’s usually the room where you wish the magic fairies would come so hard you black out. They’re not coming, and you’re not going to get healthy by wishing.  Since you are the only rescue you’ve got coming, here’s a few ways to save yourself.

1. Remove what doesn’t work.
You know your life would be easier if you could walk into your kitchen and instead of being directed to all of the foods that are bad for you, you could pick the ones that actually help you. Your kitchen is where you feed your body and you make choices without even realizing it is all about your health.

Get rid of whatever you haven’t used and you won’t be using.  Throw boxes over your shoulder, fill crates with dishes that you’ve never even liked, make this place work for YOU!

2. Follow through on your goals.
In the kitchen the emotional and the physical goes so hand-in-hand we’re going to talk about them somewhat interchangeably. If you have a strong emotional drive to loose weight/get healthy, but you have junk food everywhere in your kitchen, there is a disconnect there.

There are so many disconnects that I see in my practice. People who come in and think that they are ready for change but their physical environment is still reflecting the old them.

When you walk into your kitchen your physical environment needs to reflect the future you want. It needs to be free of the past, clean and ready to make the present doable.  Point yourself towards the future that you want.

3. Make a commitment to yourself.
Does your freezer, and your refrigerator, and your pantry reflect the new you?  No? Your worth cannot be measured in Pop Tarts, and mac & cheese.  Anything that’s sugared, over processed, and says , “I don‘t really deserve to be healthy“, throw it out!

You no longer need this. You need a life that reflects what you want for yourself and not just what you’re willing to put up with. Make your pantry, your refrigerator, and your freezer reflect that new reality.

Emotionally we do the same thing with our beliefs about who we are and what we’re capable of.  Do you have self beliefs that reflect an old you? Are you able to say I love myself ?  Or do you still pack your emotional freezer full of pop tarts and crap in a box?

The good news here, a change in one area begins to reflect in the other areas. Even if you are not believing in yourself fully right now, restock your physical kitchen. Believe in your self enough to make physical changes around you, that will eventually be reflected in your emotional state.

4. Do the easiest stuff first.
It’s often easier to make the changes physically than it is to make the emotional changes. Unfortunately many of my clients think that they need to make the emotional changes and then finally go clear out their pantry. It doesn’t work that way.

If you are self sabotaging with your emotional beliefs and your physical reality, it’s going to be easier to change your physical reality before your emotional beliefs.

Think of it like this, if someone loves you there going to do good things for you to convince you of that. Have you convinced yourself lately that you actually even like you? If you haven’t what can you do that will convince you of your own self like?

Get into your kitchen and make it aware that you now like yourself.

5. Do it as big as you can and as small as you need to.
If you live with a bunch of little kiddos,  or a big boy who likes lucky charms too much, you’re going to have to do this in smaller ways. You’re going to have to claim a section of the kitchen and make that section free of the things that you no longer want for yourself. But somewhere, somehow in your kitchen, make an area that’s about you and how you want to feel about yourself.

Nobody will do this for you.  It’s your right to do it for yourself.

6. Expect and deflect the haters.
They may even be your own family.  People don’t respond to change well.  The very people who asked you to get healthy may be the ones who put sugar in your special section, whine about the new food choices, and tell you, “You take this way too seriously.  It’s like you joined a cult!”  When you expect everyone to make things easy for you, you’re doomed.  Other people will make healthy changes harder.  Now that you know that, you can be prepared to overcome.

Here are some possible responses.
-“I’m doing this for me, so that you’ll know it’s OK to take care of yourself.”
-“If I take care of myself now, I’ll still be here when we’re old.”
-“I refuse to live with shame and regret for one moment longer.  I have made a commitment to myself and I’m going to stick with it.”
-”I’m not making anyone but myself eat healthier.  I’m just suggesting it to the rest of you.”
-”Thank you for noticing I’ve made changes.”

Health and time cannot be bought back.  Protect yours.

Next time we’ll still be in the kitchen, talking about emotional residue and how it affects your new recipes for emotional closeness. Until then, happy cooking!

 

photo is “He has a plan” from the flickr photo stream of x-ray delta one.