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”?
Q. I am really trying to parent my two kids, 5 and 7, differently than the way I was raised. I am good at telling my husband and my friends that I want to parent with connection. But when they say what does that mean, I’m lost. I get about as far as – ‘Well, it just doesn’t feel right to parent the old way.’ And of course I have my days when I lose it and do everything wrong. I wonder if you could help me think thru why I want to do a connective approach and what I can say to my naysayer friends.
A. This is a common conundrum for many parents who want to parent differently but who haven’t yet absorbed the principles of why or experienced the results of a connected relationship yet. It takes time to incorporate a new method before you can explain to others why you are doing what you’re doing.
It also requires a certain amount of child development knowledge not well understood in traditional parenting to know what can be realistically and appropriately expected for a child to succeed at meeting those expectations. As well as a trusting understanding of your child’s unique temperament.
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.
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.
Toxic stress in early childhood can harm children for life, warns the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Don’t think your children have experienced toxic stress? All children do to differing degrees. Whoever said childhood is bliss didn’t know what he was talking about. Children experience stress just by being a child. From nightmares, worry about transitions, being afraid of the dark or thunder storms, social fears, children have a hard lot. And that doesn’t cover huge emotions and dysregulation that they cannot possibly understand when asked, “What’s wrong?” Then being punished, criticized, or threatened for behavior they can’t control…. You name it, a day rarely goes by when a child doesn’t experience stress.
Stress arises for a child when sensing a threat with no one to protect him from that threat. Children who experience this kind of stress in the early years, even prenatally through mother’s hormones, “…are more likely to suffer heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other physical ailments…also more likely to struggle in school, have short tempers and tangle with the law.”
Pull-ups for Poops
Q. My 4 yo daughter won’t poop on the potty/toilet. She uses a pull-up to poop (she is very independent in the process). She holds it if she isn’t at home. She is totally fine with peeing in the toilet and has been for about 2 years now. Two things I think are contributing are that she gets constipated and has had some pain with pooping. She says she isn’t ready to go on the toilet because she’s scared it will hurt more. We are working with her Dr. on resolving the constipation and in the last couple months it’s been a lot better. She also regressed in this area when her baby sister was born. I’m not sure if that’s still part of it or not after a year and a half. She does have a few “baby” things she still wants to do, so maybe this is one of those things too. She has said she knows she’s too big to still poop in a pull up (her dad and I have never said anything like that to her). We have tried really hard not to make a big deal about it and let her decide to do it on her own, but I’d really like to stop buying pull-ups!
Does your child fit with his school?
Q. Our feisty 5 yo is not settling into school too well, and we have to attend meetings with the teacher due to his misbehaving ways. When asked why he acts out, ie: drawing on walls, running away from the class, ignoring instructions etc, he says, “because I felt like it”. This is quite concerning as he attends a Catholic School and is raised by a practising Catholic mother with very loving and devoted parents. He does not seem to understand what it feels like to be in someone else’s position. We are at a loss after trying to talk to him and discuss alternative ways of behaving with no positive results. Another concern is his lack of concentration as he has approx. 4 mins. of attentiveness before he loses interest and proceeds to do what he wants to do, sometimes ignoring instructions and/or consequences. I have been doing some research and strongly believe he may need some assistance with self-regulating. Do you have any suggestions as to how we can help our strong willed, stubborn child who is loved very much. We very much want him to enjoy school rather than say he hates school and doesn’t want to go?
Is it lack of confidence or too much control?
Q. Our 5-year old boy is struggling with confidence. He has difficulty focusing at school and we don’t want him to get behind. There are 22 kids in his class and the school has an expectation of work. Also has trouble focusing at soccer practice/games, anytime things are going on around him. He has no issues interacting with people, kids or adults. I believe he lacks confidence because he is afraid of trying new things. He doesn’t like to fail and gets frustrated easily when he can’t learn fast. He also gets very embarrassed when things don’t go as expected.
Following the same type of discipline we experienced as kids and some bad advice, we controlled his environment too much the last 2-3 years, and I believe that is the reason he struggles trusting himself and us. We had a baby last year (she is 1 now) and the combination of this big change and the environment we unintentionally created for him has been damaging for him. We have been looking into anxiety (because there is family history) and also ADHD to see if we need to be concerned. He has not been diagnosed with anything, but through some play therapy he started we were told he has control issues and to look into control and anxiety before ADHD. What would your recommendation be in order to boost his confidence and embrace who he is?
When your kids don’t listen, how long does your patience last?
You think you’ve tried everything. You ask nicely, you keep asking nicely until you explode, you lecture about all you do for them, you give them consequences for not listening, you give them extra privileges if they do — but your kids still won’t listen.
You can’t seem to get them do what they should: brush their teeth, go to bed, get off the computer, quiet down in the car, eat a healthy meal, pick up their dirty clothes, etc. What’s wrong with them? What’s wrong with you?
What if: They do listen, but they don’t like what they hear? (That’s not okay, is it?)
Now ask yourself: Are you asking them for cooperation or obedience?
You must be clear about what you’re expecting. If you expect obedience (I know, you don’t think you are), your kids hear it in your tone. There’s a “if you don’t do what I say, you’re in trouble” attitude that determines your tone and expectation.
The key to understanding why your children won’t do what you ask lies in understanding if and why you expect them to. Simply put, they are just being kids, doing what kids are supposed to do — get what they want when they want it. They’re probably not being disrespectful or rude. But you expect more. You expect them to do what you say because you’re the parent and kids should do what they’re told, right? After all isn’t that the way you were brought up? That’s expecting obedience. Nothing wrong with that as long as you take responsibility for it and understand that you are likely to get push-back, especially from strong-willed children.
“Bad” Preschool Behavior
Q. Our 31/2 year old grandson just started preschool, and has already gotten an email (in 6 days) about how bad his behavior is. Not listening, not being nice with other kids, etc. I don’t think he is old enough to verbalize what is bothering him, so how do we figure out how to help him? I remember your story about your child when she was young and even now you said it almost breaks your heart because she couldn’t say what was bothering her.
A. If your grandson’s preschool is complaining about his behavior,
- They don’t know how to handle impulsive children
- He is not ready for school
- This school is not the right place for him
Or all 3 of these may be true. In any case, I would remove him from this school immediately. If they see him as having “bad” behavior (not true), they do not understand behavior and it likely means they have already decided too much about him that will color all their interactions with him going forward. He needs a preschool that will understand normal, impulsive, boy behavior and how to respond to that behavior effectively. However, if his parents do not NEED him to be in school, then I might keep him home for another 6 months. Or if they can, hire someone to be with him at home. In terms of him verbalizing what the problem is, it is hard. His understanding is from a 3 y.o. perspective, which is not objective at all.