Q. I know you don’t believe in consequences, but is there ever a circumstance where a consequence is effective even when knowing the root cause of the behavior? Example: My 10-year-old son expressed this morning that he wished he didn’t have to go to school. He was moody and angry. I did some digging and turns out he hates music and it’s his first class of the day. I get it. I said missing school isn’t an option and asked if he could think of anything to make the day bearable. He was super angry and wasn’t open to hearing me and started to call me vulgar names/swears. I told him that calling me names is unacceptable—something I’ve told him many times. He stormed outside to ride his scooter for a bit, and I was left wondering if he should lose YouTube after school. Will it make him remember or think twice when he is in the red zone swearing at me? Is it just a thing parents do to feel in control when the situation feels so out of control? Can I do both? Does it make sense to say, “in our home when you call me vulgar names you lose privileges”?
As I sit blissfully holding my infant grandson, I am struck by his fragility and vulnerability. He is dependent on us, his caregivers. And we in turn look to every possible behavioral sign to determine what needs caring for. Is he hungry, tired, does he have an internal pain, does he need a burp, a suck, a bounce, a diaper change? We rotate through the possibilities hoping to land on the right one, thrilled when we do, worried when we don’t.
When he’s content, he coos and looks around curious about all he sees. When something is wrong, he makes a pained face and cries. We answer those cries. We will do so for a good long time to come.
Caregivers must pay attention to behavior that signals a problem the child is having—a need that must be met. As he grows, his cries turn to whines, hurts to frustration and anger. Sensations of discomfort, pain, and hunger get complicated with jealousy, confusion, shame, fear, embarrassment, anger. As he learns he is a separate entity, he understands that he can be left alone, yelled at, and made to feel bad. He learns he can be a problem to those he loves and needs the most.
We live in a school culture within a parenting culture that expects its children to fit in and embrace that culture.
For many children acculturation happens seamlessly. But for at least 1 in 5 children*, it requires giving up oneself, shifting off base, and surrendering to a non-nurturing authority. In other words, understanding that you are wrong and the other is right. Parents are expected to take on the role of enforcer using consequences, threats, punishment, withdrawal of what is most cherished—coercive tactics to manipulate children into being who they are expected to be.
These are the children we see as defiant and oppositional. The square pegs society tries to fit into its round holes. And if they don’t adjust enough, they become the troublemakers, the problems, the ones we fear our children will grow up to be. These are the children who are tough to raise and who cause problems in classrooms.
At home, they fight the rules and argue every direction given. Parents complain they never listen, won’t do as they’re told and refuse to comply. At school they are considered disruptive, attention-seekers. The problem worsens with reprimands, isolation, and punishment. Counselors are brought in but counseling that typically focuses on training the child to self-control, keep emotions in the “green zone”—messages that unintentionally say You’re not right the way you are. This “help” further identifies the child as the troublemaker, the one who can’t get along, the one who isn’t like the others who don’t need a counselor’s help.
Harmony children* are just what the name implies — they thrive on harmony. They hate fights, anger and tension and will do what they can to avoid it. Unlike an Integrity child*, Harmony kids can easily comply with your wishes and back down when faced with anger. Similar to the Dandelion child* who does well in any environment, your Harmony child is likely to be flexible and can transition well.
Whereas an Integrity child has you tearing your hair out, Harmony kids make you feel like a great parent. They will work hard to meet high expectations. This child can get very upset and angry but gets over it pretty quickly. Things that stick to your Integrity kid like Velcro, roll off your Harmony child like water off a duck’s back. This child is easy to live with and doesn’t often stress you out or give you reason to worry.
They make great friends and generally have lots of them. They are easy to like as they are good at understanding all points of view. They can move from group to group with their chameleon-like qualities and rarely cause discomfort or discord among friends. They generally fit well in school because they are malleable and work diligently. They make great mediators and can stand up for the kid who gets bullied.
Are you exhausted and overwhelmed by your clever little manipulator who fights you every step of the way, won’t take no for an answer and will not be told what to do? Do the words stubborn, demanding, disrespectful, disobedient, and argumentative come to mind? My guess is you have an Integrity Child* as opposed to that delightfully easy Harmony Child* who makes you feel like the best parent in the world.
In my humble opinion, understanding your Integrity child could be the most important job you will ever do. Orchids* (1 in 5 children)—my term is Integrity to incorporate a broader range—have the potential of becoming the brilliant revolutionaries of the world when given the nurturing their extremely sensitive natures require. When misunderstood and pressured to be different, they can become burdens on society as the very troubled and often addicted young people we fear raising.
As I see it, your Integrity child is born with an internal core of a sense of rightness and justice that drives his every mood and behavior. These kids try our very souls. And while we think they will never learn and we fear for their futures, what they are doing is demanding our personal responsibility and integrity. But it’s hard to see that from the trenches of daily battles.
Q. I know that it’s normal for adolescents to reject their parents to some degree but my son (11) has been coming out with some very explicit insults about me. After school today, when I only said, “Hello”, he replied “You’re so annoying.” I said that I felt it was an unkind thing to say (he has said it a number of times lately) and he said, “Well it’s true, you do annoy me – a lot.” The previous time I said, “What is it about me that annoys you?” and prior to that had let it pass. I can brush it off and not take it personally a few times but when it’s repeated, it’s hard not to feel angry and hurt. Other times he wants to tell me things and is physically affectionate. I don’t expect a growing young person to hang out with Mum, but I give him the best of my care and kindness and all he feels is “annoyed”? It’s not that he says it that I have a problem with – it’s that he feels it. Please help with how to interpret and respond to this.
A. I had the worst year ever with my daughter when she was 11. She was my button-pusher and I learned so much from parenting her. At 11, her brother went away to school, and she hated being the only one, feeling like she was being watched all the time. She threw a lot of nasty barbs my way, which I didn’t always duck from (but should have). So, I know the hurt you are feeling. I wish I knew then what I know now.
Q. I am at a loss for how to parent my 5 yo daughter. She does whatever she wants, including things that are dangerous or destructive, even when she knows and has agreed to the rules. This morning we were all in the living room and she left to go to the bathroom. After a little while I went to see what she was doing and smelled a very strong odor. I asked her what it was, and she said bug spray. She had found a can of bug spray and sprayed the entire thing over every surface of the bathroom. She has also taken pens, etc. and written on anything and everything including walls and furniture. She’s taken scissors and cut things. She’s dumped out entire packages of food to make her own creations. She’s squeezed out entire tubes of toothpaste. She says she knows she shouldn’t do these things but does them because she just wants to. Nothing has ended in a lasting solution. I’m not handling things well. I yelled a lot this morning. Right now she is being supervised 100% of the time. I don’t like exerting that level of control and I don’t think it’s really healthy for her or me, but I don’t know what else to do.
Do you yell more often than you like?
Does yelling fall short of getting the result you want?
Do you find yourself yelling when you don’t realize you’re doing it?
Do your kids say you yell all the time?
Is yelling easier than stay calm?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be addicted to yelling. We can get addicted to patterns of behavior, especially when we experienced those patterns growing up. And what’s scary is that, like addictions, we often don’t realize we’re yelling and will actually deny it when we are. But your kids hear it as yelling.
Q. Many years ago, I wrote an email asking for advice about an incident that had happened to my son. You wrote a response that was not only full of honesty and wisdom but that assuaged my feelings of incompetence as a parent. Today, that young boy is now a man and is doing fairly well. Our relationship, although challenging at times, is a healthy and loving one. My question today is about this time of racial disparity and pain in our country. As a person who believes in the importance of doing inner work so that we can be better people to others, I would like your opinion on how to respond, handle racist and disparaging remarks when I am surrounded by people who have very different thoughts than my own. It is unfortunate but true that not everyone in the country will speak up for racial injustice for fear of confrontation and or broken relationships. I have always taught my children to open their eyes and see the injustice, to be kind and fair and considerate of others. I fear for them as well. I want them to stand up for themselves and the healthy beliefs they were taught. I know that in order for change there has to be suffering but I am not sure how to come out of it with integrity. Your response will be gladly appreciated.
Q. Stuck at home with three kids is bad enough but one of them is going to drive me insane. My older and my younger are doing their work and managing okay, but my 8 yr. old refuses to do his school work, along with everything else, and has regular meltdowns. He’s always been tough and resistant to what I want him to do, but now he just won’t do anything I say and is starting to use profanity toward me and my husband. I yell, send him to his room, but mostly just give up. What else can I do?
A. I’m sure you are the voice of so many parents all over the world today cooped up at home with the whole family. You are scared and anxious, not to mention frustrated with kids underfoot all day long. So are your kids.
I am going to assume that your 8 yr. old is what I call an Integrity child. That means his individual make-up (not your doing) is extremely sensitive. He was born with a core sense of justice, rightness. He will not be told what to do and will not take no for an answer. This does not mean he is not caring and cooperative. It does mean that when you tell him what to do, he feels controlled because he is more sensitive to that than your others. And given the present circumstances, his sensitivity is on hyper-alert so he is stressed most of the time. One cannot be at their best when stressed. No one knows that more than you.