Making Peace with Fears and Doubts

How can we be so presumptuous as to think we know what is best for our children, what is the right thing for them to do, what are the right decisions for them to make? Plain and simple – we don’t know. We simply do not know, and to think we do, to believe we should know because it’s our job, not only puts us on a very fragile pedestal but truly hinders our relationship with our children.

We are so attached to being right when it comes to telling our children what to do, we overlook what might actually be right for them — and we don’t ask what they think.

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June ’19 Q&A – Control vs. Problem Solving and Balance

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?

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When Kids Made the Rules: Sandlot Baseball Taught Kids More Than Sport

Remember sandlot baseball? Neighborhood kids got together anytime they could down at the empty lot, out in the street or at the playground to choose teams and play ball. No coaches, no parents, no supervision. The basic rules of the game provided a structure within which the kids decided their unique rules of playing together and the consequences of not following those rules. Sure, there were fights.

Sandlot ball doesn’t happen anymore. Children learn the rules of sports by instruction from adults, many of whom are invested in winning. Adults set the rules, teams, schedules, pressure, and consequences. Parents yell from the sidelines telling their kids what to do. Children have lost the opportunity to make, play by, and problem solve the rules of any game. They must defer to adults all the time. This is not good for our future.

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Peer Relationships: Supporting your Child Through the Pain and Hurt of Friendships

Q. My 8 yr. old daughter, M, started playing with B last year and became her best friend. Towards the end of the year M became quite possessive of B. The situation escalated when B’s mother decided to “ban” B from playing with M. When this school year began, the ban was still on. I learned of it for the first time and also talked to the other mum. M was confused and angry, thought B was lying about the ban. She called her a liar and shouted at her which is very unlike M. She was still not ready to talk to me about it, so I couldn’t comfort or reassure her. It seems to me that girls this age don’t know how to play in groups at school.

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How to Step Out of a Power Struggle

When we engage in power struggles with our children, it means we are invested in being right. When we must be right—”I’m the parent, I know best. You must do what I say”—the child is wrong and is left feeling powerless. The child then must fight back to preserve integrity; either that or the easy-going child submits again and again learning in the process to seek the approval of others to gauge her self-worth.

Engaging in a power struggle keeps the parent in the position of having to be right.

Backing down from the fight may feel too vulnerable for many parents. The parent expect the child to back down, to give up, to acknowledge being wrong — in other words, the parent expects the child to be the grown-up first.

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Opening up Communication so Sadness and Stress Doesn’t Turn to Depression

 

Q. 

I’m concerned about my almost 15 year-old boy. He is depressed and with good reason.  He is slightly on the spectrum and has A.D.D. (no hyperactivity). We’ve moved twice in 14 months and we’re currently renting. He is a creature of habit and our lives have been very unpredictable for almost three years. He lost his baby brother when he was 6 and had to deal with Mom and Dad’s grief. He is totally quiet at school and therefore not making friends. He has never really talked much, especially about emotions. My husband is not open to much of anything except talking with him. He is very open with my husband, thankfully, but my husband is very unpredictable and emotional. 

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The Power of Acceptance

All parents struggle with fears and worries about their children and many end up just getting in their own way. When you take your children’s behavior personally and use your authority to control them to do what you want, you may wind up creating the scenario you most fear.

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Mar. ’19 Q&A – Being Your Child’s Friend and Parent, Angry Behavior and When the Coach is a Bully

Being Your Child’s Friend and Parent

Q. I do welcome your advice and think you speak a lot of sense, but I am not sure about your advice to be your child’s friend in one of your articles. What is wrong with being a mum? I am the only person who can officially be regarded as mum in my daughter’s life and I feel very proud to be so. I am not sure being a friend is possible as the friendship is automatically unbalanced. I have a number of very good friends, some long term and we have quite balanced relationships, involving give and take. I do not regard my relationship with my daughter as balanced, and she does not seem to understand give and take. I would also say she is a very high maintenance friend, and therefore I would go out of my way not to be her friend if she wasn’t my daughter. I don’t think she is like that with her peers though – I think their relationship is balanced. When choosing activities, we try to pick nice things to do and see, and we get a lot of resistance from her until we get her there and then she loves it. We also get resistance around food and most things at the moment – she is quite selfish and does not seem to understand the notion of helping out, and she wants things from shops all the time, which is wearing.

A. Being a friend to your child and being your child’s mother are not mutually exclusive. What my article attempts to portray is the role of an authority figure who is also a friend — in my estimation the best kind of authority figure and one who is respected and appreciated more than one who holds power over another. I wonder if some of the resistance you get from your daughter is due to the fact that she feels the hierarchical approach from you and doesn’t feel the “friend” aspect of your relationship.

I also believe that in order to have a strong connected relationship with our children, we must see the balance. Yes, you have authority because age is a factor. You cannot expect your child to want to do what must be done — clear the dishes, go to the dentist, eat healthy food, discern tech time — so your authority must remind, problem solve, and make agreements to insure things get done in order to maintain balance in your family.

You cannot expect your child to want to do anything but play, so you must see to all the necessary functions of growing up before your child is old enough to see the importance herself. You do this because your young child is helpless and developmentally incapable of managing on her own.

Of course, resistance comes due to her stage of development and the limits you must put on her to help her feel that you are in charge and in control — she is too young for this. This is why you are more than a friend. I always advocate for parents to be their child’s #1 ally. That does not mean that setting limits is not necessary, but it can be done in a way that is respectful, that maintains balance.

You certainly do not want to feel walked over by your friends, nor do you want the power to walk over them. Friends come to agreements mutually. That is very possible with children when we understand that they do not need to be dictated to and directed all the time. Connection with our children requires us to speak to them in the same way we speak to our friends. We do not have the right, nor is it effective teaching, to speak to our children in ways we do not want them to speak to us. Double standards do not work.

Speaking down to them, telling them what to do and how to do it. With connection and empathy, we get into their shoes and understand their point of view and frame of reference first — important in a friend relationship. Then we talk about what needs to be done — we hear situations, choices, and desires from our children. We listen to their point of view. Then we acknowledge our own and work with problem solving to find a balance that works for both of us. I imagine that is how you work out relationships with your friends as well.

Being a friend also means knowing whose problem is whose — we do not ask either our child or our friend to solve our problems or take responsibility for them. When I have a problem (don’t like something my child is doing) and yell at my child for being annoying, I am blaming my problem on my child, making my annoyance her problem. When I own it (“I feel annoyed when I hear…. That is not okay with me. Here’s what I would like.”), then my child is far more likely to be cooperative because she does not feel blamed. She can then hear me and what I want. She feels respected and never put down — the foundation of a good friendship.

It takes a lot of accountability and responsibility to be a good friend to your child as well as a good parent. Both require respect, consideration of each other’s agendas, and a balance of needs. It’s amazing how much resistance falls away when we establish this kind of relationship. You will always be her mum but hopefully you will want to be her friend as well.

 

How to Understand Angry Behavior

Q. I could use some help with my 6 year old daughter who is very strong willed. How do I help break her habit of saying “stupid, idiot, I hate you, no” etc. Do I just ignore her and hope she will outgrow this or is there something more going on behind the scenes? And she likes to yell when she talks to her parents, as if she is angry. Any help you can provide would be most helpful.

A. No you do not ignore her. Ignoring means that you are paying no attention to the reasons that are prompting her behavior, which will only make her angrier and prone to more attitude and dramatic words. Also ignoring means that it’s okay with you to be spoken to like that.

Sometimes it takes a bit of detective work to uncover what is going on. But first, ask yourself what you imagine she thinks and feels within your relationship. In your interactions, does she think she is a problem? Does she feel unconditionally accepted by you or might she fear that you wish she were different? Does she feel heard, accepted, understood? Or does she ever complain that she’s bad or indicate in any way that she is putting herself down?

These are tough problems for a lot of parents who think their job is to make sure their children do what they say. Read my first response about being friends with your child. But also, do not let go of what is important to you and what you need to maintain balance. If she yells “stupid idiot” at you, tell her calmly that you do not want to be spoken to that way. Let her know that you will be in the kitchen when she is ready to tell you what she wants. And then go to the kitchen. Do not engage in a battle of wills.

I use the metaphor of an iceberg to help parents understand how behavior should be approached. 90% of an iceberg lies beneath the surface of the water. All we see is the tip, but if we don’t acknowledge what lies below the surface, we can crash and sink. Behavior is only the tip of the iceberg; it’s all we see. But if we only address the behavior, we miss the big picture and are in for problems of resistance and reactions. Below the surface of the behavior lies the internal emotional state from which behavior emerges. Draw an iceberg with a “water line” separating the tip from the larger area representing the internal emotional state.

In the tip, write your daughter’s behavior, words or attitude. When you are in a calm mood, write below the line anything that comes to mind that could be prompting her behavior. When behavior is resistant or angry, I always assume that feelings of powerlessness, feeling unaccepted, and misunderstood are strong possibilities for provoking angry behavior in a young child. Get as specific as you can. She doesn’t like it when I yell at her. Her sister was provoking her a lot today. She hates it when she gets homework.

When you see what lies beneath the surface and stop taking the behavior at face value, you will feel more compassion for where she is coming from. Once you can switch your perception around to see that she is having a problem and not being a problem, you can address her problem differently. Ex: “Boy you really hate what I just said to you. You wish I would say something different.” or “You must think I don’t understand what you’re asking/wanting. Can you try it again, and I will listen very closely?” You are ignoring her words but not her. You are giving her the connection she needs to get to the root of the problem.

It sounds like you have what I call an Integrity child. This is a strong-willed child who won’t take no for an answer and will not be told what to do. Nothing wrong with that. It just makes it doubly hard to parent her! I know, I have one.

 

When the Coach is a Bully

Q. I am 63, raised 4 children and have been raising my 10 year old grandson since he was 5 weeks old. My daughter was unable and unwilling to care for him and four years ago committed suicide. He has no father either. He is on the Rec department basketball team this year for the first time ever. One of his coaches is a bully. He screams at the kids all the time, swears and rarely gives a compliment to any child. He has no child on the team himself, although the other coach does, and his son is favored at every game and plays the entire game. I would like you to address this kind of bullying in sports, and I’d like to know your opinion on what a parent could do other than speak to the coach and report these incidents to the Rec department (all of which I have done). It seems this particular coach is also on the Rec department BOD so I think he is well protected. This coach needs to go. There should be no room for a person like him to be coaching 10 and 11 year olds. I do not want my grandson to suffer consequences from my speaking out (although I think he has already).

A. How awful for you to get a new baby to raise and then lose your own. I can’t imagine the pain of that. I hope your grandson brings you some joy. Your predicament is a tough one. Unfortunately, there are too many stories like yours. Not only bully coaches, but over involved parents can ruin the experience of playing sports for kids. I’m afraid there is nothing more to do other than what you have already done, which is important. After that, it’s no one signing up for that coach’s team. And then you have to decide whether that choice is yours or the child’s.

I’m curious to know how your grandson feels about his coaches and his experience on the team. If he would rather stay on the team given the present circumstances, then I would do some problem-solving with him. Talk with him about your observations. You do not have to say what a jerk the coach is, merely, “What I see is not okay with me. His way of treating children I find very offensive. I’m wondering what you think about it.”

It’s important that your grandson know that the bullying is not acceptable. Ask him what effect it has on him, making sure he understands that this is the coach’s problem has, and he is not to blame. Then pose the question: “Is basketball important enough to you to put up with this coach’s rude and inappropriate comments and not take them personally or do you feel bad enough to quit and wait for another team with a different coach?” Let it be your grandson’s choice.

If he chooses to continue, keep the conversation going with him. But be careful not to infuse your opinion too strongly or he will stop talking. Always let him take the lead with a simple, “How was practice for you today?” If he is up for it, you can do some role playing with him. You can take the role of coach and encourage him to first say anything he wants to you. Let him get it all out. Then ask your grandson what he could say to the coach for real. Don’t tell him what you would say. If it’s inappropriate, say, “Okay, what do you think he would say or do then?” Keep going until he comes up with something respectful of the coach and truthful about his feelings. “I feel really put down when you talk to me that way.” But he may not want to put himself in a vulnerable position, so let him figure out what is best for him.

I find that this kind of role playing empowers the child. Even if he says nothing at all, he knows he has it inside. And he knows not to take the bullying personally — a very good lesson in understanding people. He will have lots of people like this in his life. The most important lesson is to learn that it is their problem not his. All tough situations can become important learning opportunities — much better than you trying to fix it for him. And blessings to you for taking on your grandson’s upbringing.

To submit a question, email me at bh@bonnieharris.com with your short question and I will answer you within a few days. It may appear in the newsletter at a later date.

 

The When Your Kids Push Your Buttons Audio Course
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why did I DO that??”
Wish you knew what else to do?

Learn to:

  • Understand your reactions and gain control of them
  • Interpret your child’s behavior
  • Set appropriate expectations
  • Defuse your buttons

 

Related Articles:

Can You Be Friends with Your Child?

6 Reasons Your Child Misbehaves

Lesson: Acceptance is the first step to Problem Solving

read more

Feb. ’19 Q&A – Food Demands, Imagination and Fear, and Religious Doubt

Stop Catering to Food Demands

Q. My kids, 5 and 3, have had catered food of their choice their whole lives, and we can’t figure out how to switch without enduring weeks and months of misery at the table. When we tried a year ago, we gave up after about a week and a half of screaming and crying at every dinner. After a long hiatus, I tried again, thinking the kids would help plan the menu and cook. They agreed to try a homemade mac and cheese. They took a few bites, declared it disgusting, and started crying for their usual (pbj for my son, pizza for my daughter). We also had other items they like on offer—pineapple and bread—but they wouldn’t eat. After 30 minutes of crying, my husband and I agreed to give in but to get advice on how else we might do this more effectively, and less painfully. An additional challenge is that we are vegetarian and tend to prefer healthy, fairly sophisticated foods. Since they won’t eat mac and cheese, they are unlikely to eat barley pilaf with kale, shiitake and marinated tofu. I’m willing to compromise my own palette to aid their development, but I end up feeling quite resentful when I am stuck eating mac and cheese (even with veggies) when they don’t even eat it.

A. You may not find a less painful way. But isn’t it worth dealing with the tough job now rather than continuing to raise children with restricted and demanding eating habits? You have 3 and 5 y.olds, not 8 and 10. Habits can change quite quickly. I would suggest that you talk with your husband first to make a plan and a commitment to support each other, and then present it to the kids. Talk about your plan rather than suddenly change the meals. Tell them they are now old enough to start developing more food tastes, which they WILL do. Acknowledge that it will be hard, they won’t like it right away, and that you completely understand. Let them know you will be fixing A meal for the whole family, and they can choose to eat it or not. Together create a list of foods that would be acceptable as side dishes that you might add to the meal. Then it is up to them to choose whether or not they will eat. That part is their job, not yours.

Allowing them to deal with THEIR problem is the hardest part for you. You must KNOW that they will not starve themselves; that they will be fine. They are protesting what they have learned. They have gotten exactly what they wanted and now they aren’t. Of course, they will be mad about it. Expect it and work with your husband to support each other in your resolve. You are not starving them. You are including at least one or two foods that you know they will eat. If they don’t, it’s in protest. That’s okay. Protest only works when you end up getting what you are protesting about. Soon they will get tired of protesting when it isn’t getting them what they want. Then play games at the table like “I spy” and take all focus off food. Don’t talk about food. Make mealtime a fun place to be whether they eat or not. Eat with fingers, chopsticks, toothpicks, toy silverware, anything that would make it more like a game.

They may not eat to make a point. And then beg for a snack at bedtime. Choose a time when “the kitchen is closed” and announce it with a last call. If they would like to get themselves cereal, they can do that.

Give them outlets for their anger—drawing how they feel, jumping on a cushion, punching a pillow—be their ally in their frustration and anger. But let them know that you are going to stay the course. Since you have backtracked before, they will fight you hard believing you will give in again. Stay as neutral as you can, don’t engage in their arguments except to listen, and keep the message clear that you are going to stick with the plan. “I get it. You don’t like this new plan. And I know you can do it.”

Be sure and regroup after a long crying session. Talk about how hard it is when things change. Have a good cuddle session after emotions have calmed and the pre-frontal cortex (thinking brain) can come into play again.

In your discussion with them, talk about everyone’s ideas of what should happen when they do nothing but cry. You might suggest that they can cry, but they will need to do it somewhere away from the table, so dinnertime still works for you and your husband—it’s about finding balance. They can choose to feel the way they want, but they don’t have the right to ruin it for you. Say all this very neutrally so you don’t get caught up in your fears.

Absolutely they can learn to eat the food you are eating. Perhaps adjust slightly in the beginning but resist the temptation to compromise what you want for what they want. Know that it is their problem and that you compound that problem for them when you make it yours. Be compassionate and understanding of their problem, but do not fix it. They will adjust but only when you hand over their problem to them. As long as they know that you will fix it, they will blame it on you forever. Courage! You don’t have to be cruel to do this. But you do have to have confidence in yourself and in them, that you are doing the right thing, and they will learn to be good eaters.

Imagination and Fear

Q. Our 6-year-old son is terrified of the dark. He won’t go into any room alone if the lights are out, and even in the daytime he wants someone to sit at the bottom of the stairs when he has to use the bathroom upstairs. We have tried every tool in our box and nothing seems to be effective—reward motivation, favorite stuffed animals, having the pets join him, lights on, letting our 3 year old sleep in his room, nightlights, trying to teach him to think of funny or happy things, etc. It breaks my heart when he calls to me in the night, and I see him lying there for hours terrified. He has started trying to wake his brother, and even slips into his toddler bed with him. His dreams have always been incredibly detailed. Creativity is one if his strong suits. As a toddler, he had 3 episodes of night terrors. It took him a bit to snap out of them and return to reality—an image that still haunts me today. We keep him from most “scary” shows that his friends watch and yet his imagination creates these horrible images and fear. I feel like there must be some way to help build his courage so that he can have a nourishing sleep without squishing into our bed or impacting his younger brother’s sleep. Any advice?

A. Interesting that you mentioned your son’s imagination and creativity. These wonderful traits often lead to disrupted and scary dreams and nightmares. Vivid imagination can take a young child into realms we have forgotten. And I believe vivid imagination is a sign of high intelligence (I do not have research on this). This is genuine fear and should be treated as such. Never minimize his fears but also support him with your confidence and assurance that he will get through it and eventually be over them. He of course worries he will always be like this. Your confidence is key because the more you worry about his fears, the more he gets the message that there really is something to be upset about.

Keep giving him “weapons” he might use, i.e. a nerf bat, a superhero quilt for protection, a night check with you of his closet and beneath his bed, etc. Instead of asking him to think of happy things, try rehearsing with him all the angry, horrible things he would like to say to whatever or whoever appears to him in the night—let him go all out. When he can do this with you, even if he can’t at the moment of fear, he knows he has it inside him. The role play can be quite empowering. And all the while, maintain your confidence that he will be fine.

If he is creative, get him drawing his fears. Putting shapes and names to what he is afraid of can soften the fear. It’s mindfulness for children. Name what you are afraid of and the fear becomes more manageable and greatly diminishes over time.

I too tried everything I could think of with my daughter to no avail. Fears will not be assuaged. We did quite a bit of role-playing with her fears. Take turns playing what or who your son is afraid of and allow him to personify and talk to those fears. Eventually my daughter wanted to talk to someone else about her fears, so I set up a few appointments with a therapist who did some play therapy with her. It seemed to help. If your son would like that, I highly recommend a therapist who specializes in children’s fears and phobias. As hard as it is to live through, it is perfectly natural and will diminish with time. Actually, both of my children were very afraid at night until they were nine.

Fears change as cognition develops—from monsters and gremlins to a more realistic fear of someone entering the house. You of course want desperately to take them away, but that is impossible. It is important for them to go through their fears to learn to cope. Coping and living through it with your support and understanding will build his courage. It is not likely there will be any lasting negative effects. It’s just getting through it that is tough.

You might try working with him onTaming his Gremlin

 

Religious Doubt in a Teen

Q. What do you say to a son who says he doesn’t believe in God? We are a family who goes to church often, talks about doing good to and for others, and tries to instill proper values and ethics in the lives of our children. At dinner the other night, while conversing, our 14-year-old son dropped this bombshell that he was going to choose to be an atheist. It upset both my husband and me to the point where we sent him to his room to reflect on all he has to be thankful for. He is of a pretty calm and kind nature, so this really disappointed us and upset us. Is there something we could say and/or do to make him understand that God is important!?

A. Your son is demonstrating his growing independence. It is important that you honor that while at the same time maintain a relationship with him that he will always want to gain love, support, and influence from. It is his attachment to you and your family that will keep him safe, self-assured, and strong in the face of growing peer dominance. If you punish him for what he believes or what he thinks he believes, you are putting that relationship at great risk.

At 14, you can no longer convince him to believe as you do or make him understand that what you believe is right or important. He has his own mind. He sees that others believing differently than his family and now knows that he can too. It’s especially hard for parents whose faith is very important to them to see their child drop it. But I’m sure you don’t want to raise a son who just spits back what he learned from his parents. Ideally you want him to discover his own belief for himself—whether that is a belief in God, in nature, in a greater power, or simply in himself.

It is the territory of teendom to question all you were brought up with, to try on different “costumes” of different types of people, to feel embarrassed that you still have parents who are telling you what to do. These are the years of trial and error, of taking on and letting go. This is an essential process to go through in order to land where you truly belong.

Ask yourself why it is so important that he believe what you do. Will you not love him or approve of him if he decides as many do that there is no God? Will that make him an ungrateful, disrespectful person?

My suggestions is to let him know that you admire his independent thinking and probing, even though you believe differently. I would acknowledge that not everyone believes in God and many believe in different gods than yours. You can tell him all you want about how important your belief has been to you. But you cannot force him into those beliefs.

When we put others down for believing differently than we do, we foster bigotry. Your son could find that as further reason to not believe especially if he is punished (being sent to his room) for his doubting. In other words, you could be sending him further down the path you least want him to take. One does not have to believe in God to be humble, grateful, kind, helpful and respectful of others. He will take his values and ethics from you regardless of what he believes. It is important that you uphold those values by honoring his right to think differently. If you let him know that you understand he is struggling with important philosophical thinking, and you are open to discussing his quandaries with him, he will listen. When you let him know that you do not and will not approve of his decision to believe differently, he will no longer seek your advice. This is an important milestone for all of you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

~ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

 

To submit a question, email me at bh@bonnieharris.com with your short question and I will answer you within a few days. It may appear in the newsletter at a later date.

 

The When Your Kids Push Your Buttons Audio Course
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why did I DO that??”
Wish you knew what else to do?

Learn to:

  • Understand your reactions and gain control of them
  • Interpret your child’s behavior
  • Set appropriate expectations
  • Defuse your buttons
  • read more