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”?
It is not easy to learn your child is being bullied. You are ready to do battle—anything to save your child from the pain and agony of daily terrorizing. Especially if you were bullied as a child. It’s hard enough to watch a sibling use age and power to overcome the wishes of the younger but a school bully, or a controlling friend is quite another thing. High emotional reactions from parents are always understandable but never helpful.
Bullying has likely been going on awhile when most parents learn of it—if they ever do. For the child, being the target of a bully is humiliating and shameful. The target does not want anyone to know. Even the most loving and accepting parent is often the last to find out for fear he may be letting his parents down. After all, to the target, he assumes it must be his fault. He must be weak and ineffective at preventing the bullying.
Therefore it is up to the parent to interpret behavioral signs. Not an easy thing to do. Changes in typical behavior, moodiness, staying alone, loss of appetite or sleep, sudden or more intense rudeness toward siblings or parents are a few behaviors that could signal bullying.
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.
Q. How should I respond to a child (12yo) who is always late (takes too long to get dressed, takes long showers, keeps skipping breakfast because she takes too long to get ready for school) and she responds: “I am lazy”. What can I do to assist her in being more motivated to be on time?
A. The cause of being late likely has one of three motivating factors. Motivating her to be on time will require a dig into why she is always late rather than focusing on simply the fact that she is. The phrase “she takes too long” leads me to think that you are setting an expectation that she cannot meet right now—and making a judgement that she is wrong. We typically look at behavior and define it as good or bad and react to the behavior accordingly. In doing so we miss the most important factor: what provoked the behavior.
To determine what the motivating factor is in this case, you want to know:
1) Is it school she is resisting?
2) Is the transition from home to school difficult?
3) Is it her innate slow temperament?
My proposed solution is simple: don’t waste a lot of time and money pushing kids in directions they don’t want to go. Instead find out what weirdness they excel at and encourage them to do that. Then get out of the way. ~ Seth Godin
Q. What is the best way to respond to my 12 yo son who refuses to go to school? It started after he had 2 teachers who focused on the things he couldn’t do. We eventually pulled him and put him in private school but that only worked for about a year. We pulled him altogether last year on the advice of his therapist. Virtual school was a nightmare, and we were taking care of my dying father in the house too. It was too much. He really hates school. He is super smart but has dysgraphia, ADHD and anxiety so he really struggles.
A. I imagine there are a lot of kids this pandemic has pushed to the surface who were falling through the cracks pre-Covid. The silver lining of this struggle may be that you have come up against a dead end with traditional school before serious problems arise for your son in high school. This is a tough problem but one that needs solving sooner rather than later.
I know I’m not alone in thinking this school year would be sort of back to normal. But it’s not over yet and many believe it won’t ever be. We are in a new reality that we first believed temporary. Our kids are going back to school but this year with no option for remote learning. In some parts of the country that may seem fine, but in other parts parents feel like they’re throwing their kids to the wolves.
What kids care about is their own experience. Navigating masks and relationships back at school can be tricky for kids wondering where they stand. Friendships are likely shifting leaving hurt and unhappiness for many. Some kids are fine with masks and forget they are wearing them. Some are hypervigilant and feel unsafe if others are unmasked. And some are sensitive to masks or are simply resistant. Some worry about getting exposed. Does that mean quarantine, missing school, bringing Covid home, getting sick, ending up remote?
While they have their own physical and emotional responses to the situation, children are highly influenced by their parents’ reactions and responses to this year’s new and changing protocols. All of which affects how they manage their experiences.
While you’re probably, and rightly, thinking about everything you should be doing, it’s also essential to think about the things you shouldn’t be doing, and the things you need to avoid.
Q. I am currently feeling like a failure as a parent. My 12 year old daughter is smart, well behaved, does well in school. However, there are 2 main areas where we fight and tempers flare resulting in a tense hostile environment at home.
1) She sneaks food. She loves junk food like cookies and chips. We have a policy at home where the kids get to choose 2 junk items from the pantry as snack after school. And the deal is they don’t eat anything later. It works in most part, but she ends up taking 1-2 extra things on the side to her room. I am worried about the impact of constant junking on her teeth & overall health. She just cannot stop herself from eating. I cannot constantly monitor her and increasing the ‘allowed’ unhealthy stuff on a daily basis is not an option.
2) The other is her watching You Tube, again without my knowledge. She has to use the laptop for homework, and I cannot baby sit while she is doing that as I have another kid and work to take care of. And mainly I want to give her the independence of making the right choices in the long term. Watching screen distracts her from homework, impacts the quality of her work so it takes till dinner time to complete! Plus, I don’t approve of what she watches. While age appropriate they are a waste of time and not shows that will enrich her, improve her skills and help her grow as an individual.
Q. My daughter is 8 years old. She is quiet, honest, kind, diligent, and the “dream child to teach”, the teachers say. She follows every rule to the T. On the playground, one of her better friends is starting to bully her. She was crying as she was telling me about the girl telling her to go into a dark shed on the playground. My daughter said she didn’t want to as she was afraid of the dark. The girl teased her for being a cry baby and insisted. Last week this girl told her she couldn’t play with their group and pushed her tray away. My daughter is afraid if she leaves the group she will have no one to play with. What should I do? I encouraged her to say STOP! and that you don’t like the way she is treating you, but she says that is not kind and she doesn’t want to be like this girl. She ‘practiced’ saying it but sounded like a mouse. Do I speak to the girl’s parents? Embarrassing. Or directly to the girl? Appropriate?
A. Your work is with your daughter to help her find her voice without prompting her to use your voice. “Stop” doesn’t work for her but something else will. Of course, we think we would know how to handle the situation if we were in it, and we want to tell our children what to do to solve it. Sometimes our suggestions work. But much of the time we are not helpful because we are simply telling them what we would do.
Q. I have a 16 yr. old daughter home from boarding school after 3 years. Since school started, she has been with “friends” every evening till 8 or 9 PM. On weekends, she has been out at least till 11 PM. She wants me to extend weeknight curfew to 9 PM and to midnight on weekends. I had said no, that she needed to be home by 6-7 PM at night and by 9 PM on weekends. She said that she does not have homework and gets bored at home with nothing to do. She brought home her first grades report — mostly As & Bs, except a D in Biology and an F in Language Arts. What are your thoughts on curfews?
A. My thoughts on curfews is that they stem from a reward and punishment system that depends on the parent holding all the power. Many parents think this is necessary. I don’t. What is necessary is to know when and how to use your parent authority and when not. But authority is not the same as control, which makes a connective approach harder and trickier — but once you get it, it makes complete sense, and your children will respond so much more cooperatively – because you are not trying to control them.