Lessons for Everyday Parenting

The Connective Parenting Newsletter, November 2013

To read Part 1—click here »
To read Part 2—click here »

Don’t Take It Personally

When we allow our children to express their feelings that means all feelings including disgust, hate, fury, jealousy. When we allow them to speak their minds, it means being willing to hear, “I hate you”, “No, I won’t”, etc. But when we take their feelings and words personally, it means we feel attacked and can’t respond calmly.

Children are dramatic. Aren’t we all? And often say things for effect. Accept the emotion, hear the words, stop the behavior if necessary. The key to staying calm is not taking it personally. Your child’s upset is hers. It’s not about you. It may be in response to you, but it’s about her.

When your no means no, don’t expect your children to like it. When parents think they have to save their children from any suffering or disappointment, a firm “no” is hard to come by. If they expect their children to accept their “no” graciously, expectations are unrealistic. If the parent takes the child’s anger personally, it causes the parent to relinquish the “no”, and the child learns that her protest works.

Allow failure

When we try to control our children, it means we don’t trust them. It means, You have to do it my way to be right. It means we are driven by fear (false evidence appearing real). It’s excruciating to watch your child make a mistake or fail at something when you know you could make it easier for him—excruciating yet necessary.

Connection means reaching a place where you trust your child’s process more than your need to fix it for him. Children need to find their own way. We can offer our opinions and support but we cannot solve our children’s problems—nor can we ask our children to solve ours. Self-esteem comes from guiding them to solve their own no matter how hard.

It is through learning from mistakes and failures, accomplishing something through difficulty, that real self-esteem emerges. When we pick our children up before they fall, we tell them they are not capable of handling the fall. It’s the “picking yourself up and brushing yourself off” that builds self-confidence.

Take Your Time

When you parent with a controlling mindset, you must react immediately to a wrong-doing, punish and criticize—”nip it in the bud” to teach a lesson—right now. This is not only ineffective, it is also extremely stressful.

Have you ever said or done something that you didn’t mean? Of course. Given time you may make amends. We don’t give our children that time—because of our fear that we are setting the stage for “Lord of the Flies”. Given time, children—and adults—are more likely to apologize and resolve the situation because they can think clearly and gain perspective. They are not being hyjacked by their emotions and want to make amends because they truly want to do the right thing.

When blamed, we go into defense mode. Many adults hide behind defensive walls protecting their failures for fear of being judged—as they were in childhood. Judgments and criticism fuels defensive behaviors. Defensiveness fuels aggression and shame.

Stop, breathe, wait—and then think. When you know your button has been pushed and your child’s tension is high, do only what you need to do to keep everyone safe. If children are hurting each other, get your body between them and yell STOP. Get them separated and nothing more. When your child is talking to you in a way you hate, simply turn away and do something else. If he is hitting you or another child, hold his arms or pick him up to stop his action.

The key is to come back to it when emotions are calm. Use the “Do-over” consistently until your children are used to revisiting a situation. They don’t want to talk about it, but once they learn they aren’t getting in trouble, they may start initiating “do-overs”. This is the most effective consequence you can give. Always employ the “no one loses” rule so they trust the process.

Perception Shift

The biggest trap to using a connective approach is focusing on the tools alone. Implementing a new skill set only works when you are calm. When stress or fear enters the picture, you snap back to old methods because your fundamental understanding of the new skill has not been established. Your perception needs to shift 180º—from my child is being a problem to my child is having a problem. When you truly understand connection, it keeps you in a clear head even when the going gets tough

Switching to a connective approach is hard when you were not brought up with one. Connection requires eliminating old and learning new habits. Even if you hate the habit of screaming at your kids, you have learned it well and you need to relearn a new habit. This takes time. Most importantly, it takes a new perspective. You wouldn’t expect to be fluent in a new language after a few weeks of classes. Using connective communication is like speaking a foreign language for most of us. But when fluency takes over, your lives will change.

To read Part 1—click here »

To read Part 2—click here »

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.

Interfering Relatives

Q. With the holidays approaching, how does one react when a family member shouts or reacts to your child’s behaviour in ways you don’t agree with?

A. Often family members think they have the right to discipline any children in the family and do so the way they would their own. Depending on your relationship, you might be able to advocate for your child in the moment saying that you will handle the situation and then take your child to another room. At the very least, talk to your child after the event and acknowledge how difficult that must have been to have grandpa or whoever yell at her. It’s fine to say that you probably would have felt hurt if you had been in her shoes. Instead of asking your child how that was for her or ignoring it, your acknowledging statements build a nice safe bridge for her to say how she felt if she wants to. Then ask her how she thinks she could handle it if it happens again. Don’t tell her what to do but encourage her to come up with her own idea. You can offer suggestions if she doesn’t know but telling her what to do is leading and projecting your agenda onto her. The goal is for her to feel validated for her experience without you having to say what a bad person grandpa is. Then at some point I would suggest saying to the family member that you understand he was upset by your daughter’s behavior, that you certainly get that way too, but that what would be the biggest help to you would be to have his support and leave the actual management of behavior to you even when they don’t agree with how you handle it. Not easy to do. But you can often get somewhere when you ask for their help and support rather than blaming them for their behavior (Same with your kids!) Also check out my blog below. This is a question that I get often and I have offered some ways of handling it.

Changing Defiance to Fun

Q. I wonder what you make of the following. Deliberate and direct defiance. My 5 yr. old son walked on my bed (a low futon) and in a normal voice (not angry) I said, ‘Please get off my bed, the bedspread is white and your feet are dirty from the floor.’ I put out my hand to help him off. After about 3 seconds he looked at me with a big grin and jumped back on the bed and began trampling flamboyantly all over it. This time I got angry and pulled him off saying, ‘I just asked you not to do that. Beds need to be respected.’ Why does he immediately do what I’ve asked him not to do? Later that day he got angry with me because I told him he couldn’t have a treat right before dinner. He ran into my room, jumped on my bed this time with sandals on and began trampling all over it. Clearly, with every intention of making me angry. This time I just looked at him. I chose not to be angry. After a few seconds I said ‘Why would you do that? Walk on the bed when I have asked you not to?’ And he quickly got off. I did not know what consequences to use for this incident – surely there should be one for doing something he knows is disrespectful, dirtying my bed.

A. One of the issues for you to approach is looking at whose problem it is. The one who has the initial upset about any situation is the one who owns the problem. Knowing that will inform how you handle it. In this case, you are the one with the problem. It is fun for him, it is a soft place right near the floor, your place, and is very tempting. Blaming him for walking on it means you are trying to make it his problem—of course that’s what we want. Kids know instinctively when we do that and automatically resist. When it is your problem you need to own it – “I don’t like it when you walk with dirty feet on my bed. I know you love to do it and I can see that it’s fun. What can you walk on instead?” You could give him a choice. “Either find something else to walk on or take your shoes or socks off.” You need to motivate him to help you when it’s your problem. If you see his behavior as defiant, you are sure to feel angry and react with blame. If you see his behavior as normal, age appropriate and hard to control when there is something he wants to do right there in front of him, then you will be more likely to find ways to help him. He sees it as a game and likely hopes you will join him, which would be great fun and motivation to get him to remove his socks or shoes. Your focus is on what he is doing wrong as opposed to what he could do instead. You can also try, “Feet belong on the floor. See if you can you get both of them there at once?” Kids love challenges but they hate threats. Having your bed close to the floor is too great a temptation to expect him to ignore it. I would suggest protecting it with a darker bedspread and allowing him on it with no shoes. When he felt angry about not getting the treat he wanted, he knew how to get you angry. Payback. Can’t expect him to be happy being told what to all the time. That’s what we expect consequences to do. That’s unrealistic. We have to understand that we can’t hold children to a double standard. I can’t treat you with lack of consideration and expect consideration from you. When you see the situation this way, no consequence will teach what you want.

Owning Your Problem

Q. I need help. I had a situation with my 7 yr. old daughter. Both my kids end up coming down stairs while I’m trying to work on bills. I explained to them I needed to work. My daughter decides to use the other computer. She bangs the mouse on the desk. I ask her to stop but she continues. I told her she would have to go upstairs if she doesn’t stop. She continued and I’m pissed. I needed quiet to concentrate. I told her to go upstairs. I felt angry and powerless because I am trying to work on bills and need quiet. I spent a good part of the morning playing Monopoly with them and yesterday they had a bunch of friends over so I wasn’t feeling guilty about them being alone. The behavior I didn’t like was that she wasn’t stopping and I was working on bills. I guess she was having a problem with the computer so she was slamming the mouse. I was having a problem because I needed quiet and time to get my bills done. I’m not sure if I was making her problem my problem. I ended up turning off her computer and telling her to go upstairs and taking her by the arm…she starts kicking our furniture. So I tell her she can go on her own or I can take her. She stops at the stairs so I yell. Whose problem is it? Honestly I often feel like I can’t have any time to take care of the things I need to without interruption and I don’t like it. I can’t always make life perfect and work on it when they’re not here. Could you offer some feed back to this?

A. This is your problem and you were making it hers. She doesn’t care whether your bills get paid. You do. She was most likely banging on the mouse to get your attention. Is she balanced and content enough in general as well as having an independent nature to expect her to leave you alone to do your bills? Or is she not getting her needs met in general and is she someone who needs interaction? She may be able to play fine on her own but when she wants you, it’s hard to be considerate of your needs especially if her needs have not been considered. It certainly is better to do your work when the kids are not around. You might get bits done but expecting them to leave you alone without interruption is pretty unrealistic. Unless you own your problem and ask them to help you out. “I have a bunch of bills to pay. I don’t like doing it but can get it done pretty fast if I have 30 minutes. Here’s what I’d like. Can we play Monopoly until …o’clock. Then I’d like you guys to play something on your own for 1/2 an hour and as soon as I’m done we will do…?” You have to motivate them to help you with your problem when it means being completely unavailable to them. Do you see? Your anger at your daughter felt unfair so she punished you. It’s not her job to understand your need to pay bills.


I live and grew up in Japan and I happen to find your book’s translation when I disparately needed guidance on anger control with my kids (3 of them). The theme is universal (as long as you are human) and I hope that someday your teaching and wisdom will be widely known, praised and exercised in this country. Thank you very much for “showing me a way out” of the situation where I almost felt that it is better for me to leave my kids as I had been such a negative influence by snapping at them pretty much all the time. After listening to your book, When Your Kids Push Your Buttons, I find it amusing now, by the way, when I write down my assumptions one by one which used to make me feel so mad. One very funny example is “a house must always be squeaky clean no matter what”. I was dead serious when my 3 kids pushed my button about this assumption, but now that I realize this consciously in words, it even makes a good joke for any parent, doesn’t it?! A house can never be squeaky clean when you have kids. That is not part of their job description. You will have a nervous breakdown or be a 24-hours-a-day angry parent for holding onto this assumption… I have about 25 of similar funny assumptions now – and counting!!


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