Lessons for Everyday Parenting

The Connective Parenting Newsletter, February 2014

household rulesWhenever you are setting rules with your children you can use this rule of thumb.

Every rule you make should fall into one of these 3 general rules:

  1. Respect Yourself
  2. Respect Others
  3. Respect Property

If your rules do not fall into one of these categories, they are likely to be arbitrary and may seem unfair or illogical to your children, hence will not be followed without a power struggle.

For example: No hitting falls under both rules of Respecting Self and Others. Doing chores or jobs around the house comes under Respecting Others and Property as does no throwing in the house or no kicking the dog.

However, homework must be done before any gaming time is tricky. It isn’t about respect as much as it is about obedience, which children don’t do well with. Homework time is more of scheduling issue. Be sure not to send the message that you have to do homework when I say so because I don’t trust you to do it on your own. It always backfires when a child feels he has to prove himself to his parent. To make a homework rule effective you want to insure that it follows the Respect Yourself rule, which means that homework time should be considered mostly by your child with your help and involvement. He must have the right to decide what his needs are after school hours. In other words, if you insist on homework being done first thing after school (so it’s out of your hair and you don’t have to worry about it), that is being disrespectful of your child’s needs. He may need to chill out for a while after a long day at school and have an hour of video gaming or playing outside or whatever before homework, which he might rather do after dinner. Respecting Yourself means that you can say, “I am available for help and questions at these times only”. And then let him consider that when he is choosing when to do it.

Bedtime, teeth care, physical hygiene might be easier managed if you are clear about them coming under the Respect Yourself rule. Then be sure that you don’t expect your child to understand the importance of self-care until she is much older. Some rules must be parent-set when the child is too young to know what is needed to care for and respect her body.

This is when I suggest calling on the Parent Card. This is a good example of you being respectful of your child. “I don’t expect that you will know and understand how much sleep you need to be healthy and strong/the importance of brushing your teeth/maintaining a clean body. That’s what I’m for. It’s a parent’s job to make sure that things you don’t understand or care about yet get done.” Then respect for your child shows up by giving some choices about how these things get done. “What song shall we sing for marching up the stairs tonight?” “Do you want to brush your teeth or get in pajamas first?” “Shall we read 2 long books, or 3 short ones tonight?” “Which 3 days of the week do you want to take your shower? Morning or evening?”

We must never forget the importance of modeling respect for our children, for their desires and ways of looking at things. In order to respect our children, it is imperative that parents have an understanding of the developmental needs and wants of their children at different ages as well as their specific temperamental needs.

Getting angry at a 2 ½ year old for grabbing a toy away from another child and expecting him to apologize is being disrespectful to him. Expecting a 13 year old to understand and care more about you and your needs than her own will lead you right into disrespect. We quickly label a child as disrespectful of us when we don’t even enter their minds. Rather than disrespect, it is far more likely that your child is focused so intently on what she thinks she looks like, what someone at school said to her yesterday, or the test coming up than what you asked her to do for you. That doesn’t mean let it go because of the general rule of Respecting Others. But it does mean that as a parent, you can show her respect by understanding that she is NOT showing disrespect. She is merely being normally egocentric and needs reminders of what is being asked of her—without tones of disapproval and disappointment.

Respecting our children goes miles toward gaining their consideration and cooperation, not to mention their respect of others needs and rights as they grow. We just need to know how to set our expectations in a way that is respectful of their stage of development and individual temperament. You wouldn’t ask a child in a wheelchair to run upstairs and get your sweater. Likewise, you should not expect the same of a child who is experiencing fear of being alone, even when your younger child can do it with no problem.

We can set limits, problem solve in order to hold our children accountable for their unacceptable behavior, and express our anger all with full respect and consideration of our children. Take the rest of today and watch yourself communicating with your child. Ask yourself:

  • Am I being respectful? with everything I say.
  • How would I like hearing what I’m saying right now?

For information on development, anything from the Gesell Institute is a good resource. Ilg and Ames write books for each age, Your One Year Old, Your Two Year Old on up through the teen years.
For temperament, the best is Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s Raising Your Spirited Child, whether your child is spirited or not. She helps you understand your own temperament as well.

Questions and Answers

I want your questions. Here’s how it works: You email me a question to bh@bonnieharris.com, and I answer pretty quickly. I put it in a newsletter at a later date. Please try to keep them brief without leaving out critical details.

Resistance to potty training

Q. Our 4 yo began potty training around 18 or 19 months old. We use cloth diapers and I was pregnant and eager to get #1 out of diapers before #2 came along. I’m sure I forced the issue and made things difficult for my daughter. Each time it seemed my daughter had sorted things out and would go several weeks accident free, a rough week or two would follow. When her brother was born we had to start all over. When we travel or have family visit, she regresses again. Accidents have never been an issue at her preschool. I’ve wondered if she’s had UT infections because of so many accidents (tiny ones) in a day. Usually it seems like she just doesn’t want to stop what she’s doing to use the toilet. Other times it seems she’s asserting her independence. We came up with a rule several months ago that if she has an accident she needs to let Momma or Daddy know and then she needs to throw her underwear in the laundry shoot and the adult will get her a clean pair while she sits on the potty. That worked for a little while. The day after family visitors left she began having BM accidents—rare for her. She has continued to poop in her underwear a few times a week. She won’t let her father or I know she has had an accident, so the poop dries and makes a big mess (gets on furniture, the carpet). If we ask if she needs to use the potty she says no. Any ideas on what we might do to help our daughter progress through this?

A. I know from personal experience how frustrating this stage can be. You can have a doctor check her for urinary problems to rule that out, but most likely her accidents are stress related—possibly stemming back to feeling forced as well as not wanting to disappoint you. Her holding ability is simply not automatic enough to get through a stressful situation without releasing, even a tiny bit. The BM accidents may have more to do with proving to you that she has to do this in her own way on her own time. Frustrating, I know! The most important thing is for you to convince her that she is the one in charge of her body, and it will happen when she wants it to. Let her know it’s up to her. When she trusts that you will not be disappointed in her (why she doesn’t tell you) but that you want to only help her through it, you can make a pile of clean underwear easily accessible and ask her to put her dirty underwear to soak in a sink that you have left water in. When it can be completely her doing and she doesn’t have to come to you to tell you anything about it, it may be easier for her. In hindsight, I learned that my daughter didn’t potty train easily because she didn’t want to grow up because she was afraid that if she grew up, we would die. Kids have all kinds of reasons.

Boy Aggression

Q. Our 6 yo son is bright and generally enjoyable to be with. He is a cute, talkative, entertaining, fun, sweet, creative kid, altho resistant to being directed and has a hard time sitting still and listening to directions. His teacher has complained about his “play fighting turning rough in the playground”, where he starts out with Kung fu panda and it ends invariably in tears between him and the other first grade boys. He has been warned by the teachers multiple times, sent to the principal, and now the teacher wants him to go to the school psychologist. My husband and I are fine with that. However, I wonder if it will make him feel “shamed”. We have talked to him countless times and explained he is not to get physically rough with his pals, emphasizing collaborative games rather than competitive play. I don’t want to antagonize the teacher or the principal and be seen as an “annoying parent” of a problem kid who needs to be handled and avoided, but I/we do need to advocate! I’m aware that I react when I feel that our son’s behavior is reflecting badly on us and our parenting, and this makes me feel constricted with him. When he is resistant, I have thoughts like “see how difficult he is, no wonder the teacher doesn’t like him, he’s going to become a delinquent and end up in jail” — this kind of fearful catastrophic thinking does not help me stay in the present and connect with him, and then I feel badly about getting frustrated and not patient.

A. Unfortunately schools are set up to care for many children and few are able to individuate teaching styles. While understandable, parents must understand that DOES NOT mean their children are wrong or bad if they do not comply with the wishes of teachers and administrators. What it does mean is a rambunctious, impulsive child makes it hard for teachers to do their job and of course compliant children make their jobs easier. Instead of trying to talk your son out of physical rough-housing and competition—a losing battle since this is who your son is—your efforts would be better spent on going with his physicality and competitive nature and teaching him how to be appropriate with that. A parent who feels hand-slapped by the school as you describe will typically try hard to get the child to behave counter to his nature—a loosing battle. You must set your expectations for the child you have, not the child who would make life easier. His resistance will only increase if he learns he is a disappointment to you or anyone else. This is a huge problem for active boys in our schools. Does your husband wrestle with him? If not, encourage it. Play physically with your son and teach him how to stop when someone says no. Play hitting and kicking games so he learns what he can and cannot hit and kick. Use sticks to hit trees and talk about what happens to the tree if it’s bark gets stripped. Google it. Then find things he can whack with sticks. Get him a punching bag and gloves. Give his nature the outlet it needs. This is probably the most important way to influence him. When he knows you are allowing him to be him, then he will be more cooperative with appropriate parameters.

Shrugging Off Affection

Q. My 13 year old daughter is not a child who likes to be hugged or touched very much. She has always been this way. She will occasionally want a hug from me, but hardly ever from dad. This hurts his feelings, and if she pulls away from him and tells him to stop when he is trying to hug her, pat her on the back, his response is to push more and hug anyway! This ends up putting me in the middle, as I see it as her boundary that he should respect. I think that continuing to force hugs, etc. despite her wish not to is sending the wrong message that she has no right to control her own body and who touches it, which could pose problems later on with boyfriends. When I tell my husband this, his response is: “I’m her father!” He takes it personally when I don’t think it’s about him, it’s just who she is! Help!!

A. Especially at 13, she is very sensitive to a man’s touch—even her father’s. This is a combination of her innate temperament (sensitivity to external touch/pressure) and her stage of development. Unfortunately your husband takes it personally but it is hard not to. I understand your concern about her boundaries but I don’t think her father’s desire to give her a hug will cause issues for her about controlling her own body. Unless there is any physical/sexual inappropriateness with her father (doesn’t sound like it), I wouldn’t worry about boundaries. Simply allow your daughter to give her father the signals she wants and let him handle it. If you stay removed from it (instead of making it your problem), perhaps he will ask you what the problem is and you can explain your point of view—it’s not about him, it’s about her. If you think she is feeling victimized by it, ask her how she feels about her father’s hugs. If she expresses disgust, problem solve with her about ways she can get her message across to him more effectively—don’t tell her, help her think it through. If she shrugs it off, it’s best to leave the issue between the two of them. If his hugs are simply hugs, I actually think it’s better for him to hang in there so she doesn’t think her father is detaching from her at a very critical age. I actually think it’s good that he goes for a hug in spite of her shrugging him off. But he would do better to shrug off her shrugging.


I love the chart in “Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids” that reframes children’s statements in terms of their actual intent. ‘I hate you’ means ‘I don’t like what you just did/said.’ ‘I wish you weren’t my Mummy’ means ‘I’m really angry with you’. Through practicing Connective Parenting with my son I’m learning a new skill: stating the obvious. When I was growing up, nobody ever said what was really going on. If someone got really angry, everyone spoke in polite civil voices – or no-one spoke at all. If someone was upset, nobody asked what was wrong, they just pretended not to notice. It was as if feelings were too scary to speak about, and if we acknowledged what was really happening, the sky might fall.

Thanks to Connective Parenting I have learned to say to my son: ‘You’re disappointed,’ ‘You don’t want to go’ or ‘You don’t like what I just said.’ To my mum: ‘I said something that hurt your feelings.’ To my adult partner: ‘You’re really angry.’ Profoundly simple statements that powerfully name what is actually going on. Statements that let another person know you ‘get’ the place they are in at that moment, and you respect their right to be there.

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