Q. I have two sons almost 3 and 5. The 5 y.o. seems to take his anger out on his brother with some physical violence when he’s upset. After an incident, I take the 5 y.o. upstairs to his room and we talk about our family rules (respect others, respect ourselves and respect things) and about the feelings attached to the situation/hitting or kicking. He gets upset and doesn’t like when we go upstairs and often cries. I know his impulse control is still not there, but I want to stop him from hitting again and teach him it’s not ok. I try very hard to control my emotions. Sometimes he hits just to be a “pain in the neck” and bug his brother. I assume he’s doing it at times for our attention. Should I approach it differently?
Q. My 3 ½ yr. old son has on ongoing heart condition that he was born with that is being controlled by daily medication (morning, afternoon & evening). He is very bright and articulate and has always been amazing at taking his drugs but over the last few weeks his independence (and determination) has increased tenfold, and he is asserting his authority by refusing to take his drugs.
I have tried everything – asking politely and explaining why he must take them, bribery, and then out of sheer panic (these are life saving drugs), yelling and forcing the drugs into him and preventing him spitting them out by restraining him! I know this is totally wrong but it gets to the point where there is no other option. After trying for an hour without success and by the time we have forced him we are all very upset and very late for nursery school and very late for work… and this is every day. How can I manage this better and just get him to agree to take them?
Even after I outline problem solving to a frustrated parent of a child who just keeps pushing the limits, I get the same reply. “Yeah, okay, but what do I DO?”
It’s hard to understand at first that logical words, emotional understanding and empathy, and asking the child to think is actually DOING anything. We are so accustomed to grounding, time outs, taking away privileges, threatening, and withholding. It’s hard to think a respectful process of working it out is doing something.
What’s hard is dropping the notion that we have to make our children miserable in order to teach lessons.
We want our children to grow to be happy and successful, yes — but more specifically, to be responsible, respectful, grateful, honest, kind, empathic, helpful and giving to others. The irony is that traditional methods of parenting — varying degrees of reward and punishment, threats and criticizing — teaches exactly the opposite.
In my 30 years of working with parents on how to better connect with their children (ultimately resulting in better behavior), I have learned one thing over and over and over. It’s all about relationship. In order to get respect from our children, we need to be respectful of them. Nothing else needs to be taught about how to be a good person that consistent work on a gratifying and mutually respectful relationship doesn’t teach. But it’s not simple.
Developing a Respectful Relationship with Your Child Involves:
- Understanding the power of connection. Empathizing with and understanding your child’s agenda, instead of telling them what to do and expecting it to be done according to your agenda.
- This may be the hardest — stepping back and trusting your child to do the right thing and allowing many mistakes to get there. Trusting means letting go of nagging and hyper-vigilance.
- No blaming and criticizing. The message you intend isn’t the message that is received. A child who feels bad about himself, behaves badly.
- The ability to remain objective and observe what is happening right now rather than getting triggered by the past or fears of the future.
- Understanding and allowing all of your children’s desires and wishes — not fulfilling all of them, just acknowledging them.
- Finding balance through understanding that no family member’s rights and needs are any more or less important than another’s.
- Holding appropriate expectations for each child to insure they feel accepted. Accept the child you have, not the child you wish you had. If your expectations are too high for this moment, your child will think he can never be who you want.
- Maintaining respectful interaction with your children even when setting a limit or correcting behavior. There is never a need to be disrespectful. Firmness and clarity is all part of establishing mutual respect.
- Maintaining a respectful relationship with your spouse or partner to model the relationships you hope your children to have.
- Being the type of person you want your child to become.
A good relationship is like a mobile dancing in the breeze. It requires sacrifice, compromise, give and take, and respect for one another — balance. A good relationship is mutually satisfying and leaves you feeling better and stronger. Balance in the relationship comes through understanding and consideration of each other’s needs and agendas — very different for adults and children.
Why are we obsessed with having the answers?
What am I supposed to do? How much should I push? When do I pull back? What is the right answer? When is this child ever going to learn….? What am I to do?
We seem to be constantly questioning ourselves and our competency. We’re never good enough. Perfectionism seems to be on the rise. Is it human nature or is it the chaotic world we presently inhabit that seems to foster addictions to performance and outcome — the “shoulds” of life? Most of us worry about what has been and what will come. It’s amazing how much one simple “should” can create anxiety in an otherwise perfectly fine moment.
Sometimes it’s all you can do to keep up with life. To keep up with your teen can seem daunting.
Your relationship with your teen can make or break your teen’s experience and relationships with peers, friends, school, and family. Research shows that connection with family is the #1 preventive factor in substance abuse, addiction, pregnancy, and school failure throughout the teen years.
Connection means that when faced with a dilemma or decision, your teen will first think what would my parents say? instead of what would my friends say? Connection does not guarantee smart decision-making—your teen is in the developmental risk taking years—but it puts you first and foremost in your teen’s mind. If your teen fears punishment, thinks you will not understand, knows she can’t talk to you, she will turn to her friends for the support and understanding she needs.
by Julietta Cerin
This is the best complete description of Connective Parenting I know—all the better because it’s written by a mom who has struggled through the ups and downs and learned its immense value in her relationship with her child—in her family of two. I am grateful to Julietta for her hard work and for writing about it in this moving story. ~ Bonnie
This is a story about a tiny family of two. The mother is devoted to her little boy, considers his care her number one priority. The child, too, adores his mum. And yet the mother presents at parenting courses tearing her hair out at her son’s ‘defiant’, ‘uncooperative’, ‘aggressive’ and ‘destructive’ behavior. She is bewildered that her son, as she sees it, deliberately breaks the rules in order to make her angry – and he does it so well. She feels that both her own anger and her child’s behaviour are out of control.
I saw an exhibit of Art Spiegelman’s many years of brilliant comic work at The Jewish Museum in NYC. One comic strip caught my attention as brilliant parenting advice. I share it here.
The comic was Spiegelman’s fairy tale of a Prince who told his father, the King that he thought he was a rooster. His father laughed it off but the Prince kept up his belief. His father, of course getting concerned for his son’s mental health, dismissed and belittled his son’s fantasy. The more the Prince seemed convinced, the more his father rebuked him and the more the prince regressed into his roosterdom until he eventually spent all his time naked under a table crowing.
The nature of tragedy is that it is out of our control. Ultimately so is just about everything. The nature of parenting is the desire to maintain control. The irony is that in order to best handle times of tragedy and to best maintain influence over our children, we first need to let go of that desire to control.
Instead we tell them what to think and feel, what to say and do. Everything around us tells us that if we do this, take that, wear this and buy that, we will be happy. Rewards and punishments are the way we control and tell them how to be. This method raises our children to focus externally (what will happen to me if…? Or what will I get if…?). They often don’t know how to handle themselves without those external controls. Most of us have lost sight of what we already know — if we could trust ourselves to just listen.
I choose to be a connective parent because flexibility and self-direction are the two top competencies needed to succeed in the 21st Century.
I choose to empathize with my child because understanding another’s point of view is paramount in establishing good relationships.
I don’t engage in power struggles with my child because a win/lose model never wins.
I don’t use time out because I don’t think it’s right to isolate a child who is having a problem.
I don’t spank or hit because I don’t want to teach my child that using physical force is a way to get what you want.