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Do you spell Truth with a capital T?

(Scroll down for this month’s Q&A and a story)

Angry MollI’ve come to believe that there is no Truth with a capital T. When you’re living in a family, you either push, pull and dictate to get your capital T kind truth across or you let go and realize there are many truths, one for each member of the family. The fear is that letting go means losing your truth—what you think is right. Fear causes friction and fighting to get your truth to the top—because you’re the parent after all.

The jockeying that goes on in a family, sometimes with pain and agony, is really the process of negotiating all these truths. If negotiation doesn’t happen, some truths go unheard and unrecognized. Someone else’s truth has bullied its way through and made it the Truth, the only truth, the whole truth. When one truth is on top, everyone else’s is subverted. And we know what that leads to.

When negotiation happens, all the truths bat up against each other. It’s messy, not easy, and sometimes quite unpleasant. Maybe one person’s truth comes out on top this time and another next time or a little bit of everyone’s truth combines to make the resolve. But the result is everyone’s truth is heard.

This carried right into the world at large, and city, country or worldwide problems arise when people believe their truth is the one and only Truth. What does it take to let go of that and incorporate other truths? Fear arises that my truth will be stamped out by someone else’s or a bigger truth if I don’t yell and scream and throw money at my truth and demand that it is the one and only. Unfortunately the truths with the most money usually win.

Back to the family. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if we all teach our children that their truths matter, that they will create a society in which we acknowledge and respect many truths—world peace? I know, pie in the sky. But I think it’s a movement that is worth starting and what better place than in our families so our children grow up knowing that their truth is their birth right as is everyone else’s.

Not only did my truth not matter, I didn’t even have a truth when I was young. Or I lost it somewhere early on. My father’s truth ruled with a capital T. But any system of authority when there is one Truth only is about control. And when control rules, no other truth is heard because control fears discord more than anything. It has to be right and so everyone else either goes along or has to be wrong. I went along. My brother was wrong.

When children are fighting and screaming, they are just trying to get their truth heard. The more they feel heard, the less they fight and scream. When your kids argue with you they are pointing out what is true for them. Their arguments are attempts at saying, Hey wait a minute, we’re headed in the wrong direction, we need to change course. You might see it differently. That’s fine. It’s just your truth bumping up against your child’s. It’s messy. One truth might win this time or each gets a little win. But if your child thinks he never wins, you’re in for more and more arguing—the nasty kind.

Whenever there is disagreement with the one Truth, there is reprisal. Reprisal means fear is at work. When you have to be right, ask yourself, What am I afraid of? Answer that question before you go any further. You can even say, “I can’t answer you right now. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” Then do it.

When the capital T truth rules, children go unheard. Perhaps they get used to it as I did. But if they can’t just take it in, they rebel. So the task at hand is to learn how to back off—not from actively parenting, from being right. Parenting actually gets more active when everyone’s truths are being heard. It’s harder than having one Truth per family. It means you’re listening, you’re thinking, you’re respecting, you’re considering, you’re weighing options. There isn’t a right and a wrong. That’s why this parenting business is so hard. But ironically, once you let go, it has an amazing way of getting so much easier.

Questions and Answers

To take the toy or not to take the toy

Q. I am reading “Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids” for the second time and love your philosophy. But I may not be getting something. My son is 19 months old and recently started swinging his toys around at people or the dogs. My instinct is to take them away from him and say “we don’t hit” but I remember you saying not to. I go down to his eye level and explain that he shouldn’t hit and that it hurts people but I’m not sure he understands as he just kind of smiles at me. I think it’s part of his developmental stage (impulsive behavior) but I don’t want him hitting people or the dogs and hurting someone. Can you explain.

A. Your explanation goes over his head and means nothing to him. He’s just playing. I am not for taking the toy away when it is punitive or instead of helping two children work it out and come to a resolution. However, if your son is hurting anyone, definitely take it away. But when you understand he is not hurting on purpose but is being an impulsive toddler, you can take it away when the intention behind your action is not “I have to take this away because I can’t trust you with it”, which is usually accompanied by anger and impatience, your intention is, “I am taking this because you’re having a hard time controlling yourself. I don’t expect you to know how to do yet so I will help you”. Your accompanying emotion is understanding and sends a very different message. On page 9 in “Confident Parents” there is a similar example with a two year old. Then tell your son that the toy could hurt someone and that you will take it so that doesn’t happen. No blame or criticism.

 

Strong will turns defiant when misunderstood

Q. My 5 year old son is very bright and strong-willed. Our main concern right now is helping him listen and do as he is told. A lot of time it seems that sensory issues interfere with his willingness to do things like get dressed and put on his coat. If something does not feel right he will take it off and say, “I’m not getting dressed.” On top of the sensory issues, he has difficulty with transitions. At school he will continue to play even after the teacher has asked him to come to circle time. He has even been to the principal’s office at school for not following directions and refusing to go out for recess. I feel as though sometimes sensory issues interfere but he is also defiant at home and at school. How can I help him with his sensory issues, and what should I do when he just refuses to switch gears?

A. You are asking a strong-willed child to do what he is told. Until you understand how to approach him from the perspective of understanding who he is and what he responds to rather than making him do what you want, you will have defiant behavior. He is not refusing to switch gears. He is having a hard time switching and needs help doing so. Difficulty with transitions is part of who he is—now. Be sure you set your expectations for his success. Right now he is being expected to do things that are too hard for who he is, so he feels unsuccessful, maybe even a failure, which in turn causes defiant behavior. If his teacher can help him stop playing and come to circle, eventually he will be able to do it himself. Five year olds typically resist getting dressed. They love dressing themselves when it’s a new-found capability. Then it gets to be old hat and they discover that mom or dad doesn’t stick around now that they dress themselves. Suddenly they resist. They miss the close interaction that comes with being dressed. My suggestion is to dress him when he wants. Don’t make a big deal about it. Give him those precious moments of your time. Soon enough he’ll be back to doing it himself. If he doesn’t want his coat on, tell him you’ll have it with you in case he gets cold. These are small areas where a win for him will help him feel powerful, and if he can have choices about how he does things, he will be more likely to cooperate in when he doesn’t have a choice, like following rules at school. All unacceptable behavior is provoked by his internal emotional state. We must learn to listen to that and not take behavior at face value. Even if he has sensory issues, this is the way to handle it.

 

Two’s company, three’s a crowd. Four on the sidewalk’s not allowed.

Q. My 9 year old daughter currently has a group of 3 friends. One of them has been her best friend since starting school. The other two are best friends. When they are all together, the other 3 tend to leave my daughter out and join together to make fun of her. Sometimes she seems not to mind, sometimes she says they are leaving her out and she gets angry & fed up. When she was playing alone at her own house, I told the other girls that they had to play something together or I would take them home. Within seconds they were outside on the trampoline. There is jealousy and who’s-friends-with-who tension between them. I have decided never to ask them all at our house again…only one at a time. Each time there’s been a problem. I want to empower my daughter and don’t want it to knock her confidence. She said it only seems to occur when three of them are together and school is fine because she only hangs out with her best friend. She was very open about it and was thinking up strategies of what she could do with me listening and advising a little. Is there something more I could have done?

A. To empower your daughter and build her confidence, she is the one would needs to come up with the ideas of what she can say and do. You are half there. Keep telling yourself the way you would handle the situation is not necessarily the way she would or the way that it should be handled. It sounds like your daughter has some strategies and knows how to take care of herself at school. Girl dynamics are very tricky and multi-layered. You are smart to have only one at a time at home from now on. Three and four is not a good mix at this age. Continue to work with your daughter to find out what she is thinking first. Many situations that look awful to us, roll of kids’ backs and vice versa. Your role is to be her sounding board. If she seems stuck, ask her if she’d like your advice. Then make a suggestion and ask her how she thinks that might work. Also try some role-plays with her. If she feels equipped to handle these situations herself which includes strategically staying out of it when she wants, that is what will build her confidence.

Story

My upset 5 year old daughter threw herself on the floor yelling and screaming.  My 7 year old son and I were nearby and watched her tantrum (to ensure she was physically safe), but I didn’t interfere. After a few minutes as my daughter began to calm herself down, my son went over to her and gave her a pillow from the sofa, saying “Here I think this might make you feel a little better.” He then got a blanket, laid it over her gently, and walked away. My heart smiled. This may not seem like a big deal, but this  7 year old, who recognized his sister’s need for space and then reached out to her, is the same child who turned my world upside down when he was younger and is the reason I turned to you in the first place 5 years ago. I was at a loss how to handle my extremely emotional, intense, sensitive, highly spirited child. Needless to say, things have changed a lot since then! 

 

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"I am constantly astonished and delighted by your rich and insightful answers to parents. I have been a therapist for many years and I work with children as well as adults. Yet with all my experience and my knowledge, there is something so strong and assured about your views on child/parent relationships that they continue to engage and add to my knowledge."
When Your Kids Push Your Buttons
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