Tag Archives: empathy

28 Reasons to Be a Connective Parent
Connected Parenting

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.

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Feb ’22 Q&A Hitting a Wall? (Revising a conversation from May ’20)
Emotional Exhaustion

Q. I’m utterly overwhelmed. I’m resentful of those who have support from a partner and grandparents and guilty for feeling resentful. Frustrated that there’s no end in sight. Exhausted, emotionally and physically. Sad. I miss my family and friends. Lonely. 3 kids 1, 4 and 8 entirely on my own. Working 60 hours a week. Trying to be grateful I’m employed but there is no balance possible when you have 3 kids in tow. I don’t bathe or sleep without them and if I try, they scream or immediately ‘need’ me for something which is their anxiety showing up. It’s endless. How do I stay sane?

A. We’re on year three of a global pandemic and all of us, especially parents with young unvaccinated children or families with unpredictable child education schedules due to positive COVID cases, are still very much in the throes of it. If we thought we were exhausted in May, 2020, it’s certainly not gotten better for a lot of people. Maybe we’ve become more accustomed to our reality, but emotional stress among our hardworking families is very real and present.   

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Willful Defiance: A Lesson for Parents and Teachers

Defiant Child

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. 

The message is loud and clear to all the “normal” children—this is the child with a problem, the one not to trust, to stay away from, to tattle on, to make fun of. All children are harmed in this process of coercion by isolation.

Why do we think making children feel alone and wrong is going to motivate them to do what we want? If they acquiesce, it is out of fear which leads to stress and anxiety. 

What we miss seeing in these children is their intense awareness of justice, of knowing what is not right for them, that they can’t, not won’t fit. These children have a sensitive litmus monitor to anything that does not feel fair to them (to them being the operative words). They tend to be smart, easily bored, charismatic (class clown), extremely loving, highly sensitive both emotionally and physically (too light, sound, smell, clothing, stimulation) and fiercely loyal. They want desperately to do the right thing, but they can’t do what someone else thinks is right if it doesn’t fit who they are. They have a strong sense of personal integrity. We miss these aspects because they can be so hard to get along with since their idea of what is right doesn’t fit with what is needed to maintain acclimation both at home and in the classroom. They resist, they fight, they cannot acquiesce.

I believe these are the potential leaders of the world when given the chance. But we do our best to censor them at every turn, so they are rarely able to meet their potential.

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  • First, we must acknowledge and support their “squareness” seeing it as different, not wrong. These children are often trouble-seekers, not trouble-makers*. They shine a light on hypocrisies, wrong doings, unreasonableness, and inequities in our culture. They are the canaries in our coal mines. Unfortunately, when we don’t listen to them, they can no longer listen to us. When we try to force them to change, they wither and become the real trouble-makers of society.
  • Instead of sending them off to therapists (although this can be helpful), we need to better support parents in doing the work that therapists do. Parents, therapists, teachers, principals all need a new mindset through which to view these children.

  • We need new and different schools in every community that are project and exploration based made just for square pegs. They need an environment that serves their way of thinking, that fosters their unique creativity. That square peg when supported, seen and heard for that unique perspective, could change the world.

  • This is hard for parents schooled in the I’m the parent and I know best philosophy when their behavior is not what is expected. Parents and teachers must step across the gap to stand shoulder to shoulder with these trouble-seekers so they learn to trust themselves and the authorities in their lives. Parents and teachers need to see the disruptive, attention-seeking behaviors as signals of their pain, frustration, confusion, powerlessness. They must learn how to connect with that emotional level, leaving the behavior aside. Punishing, reprimanding, threatening undesirable behavior denies everything that provokes it.

  • We must learn to address the child’s experience rather than insist the child understand and be considerate of ours. Once children feel accepted, consideration becomes easy. Acceptance doesn’t mean allowing all behavior. It means, I accept that you are feeling in a way that causes you to behave in this manner. Their emotions must be allowed as uncomfortable and inconvenient as they are, so we can learn from them, not shove them back inside to fester.

  • Instead of denying their emotions with There’s nothing to be upset or scared about or You’re fine or Calm down, we must help them feel okay by naming emotions, sharing our own, letting them know they are gotten. And not make them feel that the “green zone” is the only good place to be.

  • Their unacceptable behavior must be interpreted as cries for help, not as evidence for admonishment. Disruptive, provocative, rude, angry behaviors are the child’s attempts to be heard. Instead of ignoring, punishing or silencing that behavior, connecting with the need to be heard and understood will eventually calm the child. But when they are given the chance to be heard only under certain circumstances determined by the authority—using the right words and tone, at the right time, on the right topic, they are not usually cooperative because they still cannot trust themselves. They need to be heard even when what they are saying is inconvenient, angry, troublesome and provocative.

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    ‘Tis the Season for Compassion

    Holiday Hug

    Expectations are always high at this time of year. It’s the season for joy, friendly people wishing each other cheer, generosity of spirit, and family gatherings. But just as often, it’s not for so many.

    The stress and tension of buying gifts, satisfying expectant children, and anticipating family gatherings fraught with anxiety and judgement are also heightened at this time of year. Loneliness, grief, and loss feel heavier now than at any other time. Suicide statistics peak. And on top of all the usual stress, we are in our second holiday season marred by a world-wide pandemic with a new and possibly scarier variant at our doorstep. The unhappy and the sick feel more isolated, rejected, and angry at this time of year.

    Now that I have fully depressed all of you, I do not mean to be a downer. What I want is to prod your compassion and empathy to understand that this season is just as hard for many as it can be joyful for others.

    Can you allow a family member’s, even your child’s, sadness, depression, anger, without allowing it to spoiling your own happiness? Can you be the support that a loved one needs without worrying you must do something about it, feeling guilty and then backing away because you don’t know what to do? Are you free to feel how you want without fearing the judgment of others?

    Many hate and resent this time of year—the commercialism, the lies and myths, the money spent, the decorating, the fake cheeriness. We come in all shapes and sizes of how we celebrate, what we believe, what brings us happiness, and what brings us down. The question is not can we simply tolerate the differences. Can we accept them? That does not mean agreeing, joining, or endorsing. Can I accept that people are different, that someone believes something that I don’t, that my child thinks it’s wrong that he doesn’t have a smartphone and I disagree? That I feel happy, and you feel despair? Or vice versa. And it’s okay. I don’t have to change anything.

    True empathy means I get how you see the world from your vantage point, in your experience of the world with the feelings that come up for you—and I don’t judge that. It does not mean I agree with or share your point of view. It does not mean it is my job to fix things for you so that you see it differently. It really and truly means I understand. It’s not sympathy. Sympathy puts me in your experience with you. Empathy means I can stand in my experience and understand and support you in your experience.

    Can you empathize—understand another’s point of view—without being brought down by it or thinking you must fix it? If you think you should but know you can’t fix it, that’s when you will walk away, avoid, or ignore the one who is hurting—because you feel incompetent. But all any of us really want is just to be heard, recognized, and validated—not fixed or changed.

    Parents tend to take responsibility for their children’s feelings. Christmas is for children after all—isn’t it? We expect their excitement and smiling faces. But what about disappointed, sad, bereft children? Isn’t Christmas for them too? We all want our children to be happy but taking responsibility for that happiness puts you in a no-win situation. You are not responsible for their happiness—an impossible task. You are responsible for all your feelings, words, and behavior. But that is what you often want to blame on others.

    I often get questions from parents complaining their child is “ruining it for everyone else” or “dragging everyone down by her mood. It’s not fair to the rest of us.” Have you ever felt depressed, lonely, angry? Of course you have. Do you feel that way to make others feel the same? I doubt it. Don’t put that power on your children—or anyone for that matter. You will only increase their unhappiness and add to their guilt when they learn that they are “making” everyone else feel bad.

    Empathy, acceptance, support, consideration, and respect go a long way toward providing the unhappy person with what they need. A person at any age needs to feel normal and accepted no matter what they are experiencing. When we meet anger with anger, we send the message that your anger causes mine, and it’s not okay. Staying above it, yet empathic with the angry person means you are not being dragged down into the negative experience. And you are providing space for the anger of the other to dissipate on its own.

    No one, but children especially, should ever feel forced to alter their feelings. Yes, they are often inconvenient and can take up a lot of space. But isolating, belittling, criticizing, and blaming adds fuel to the emotional fire. If it does put out the flames, it’s only temporary. Burning embers burst into flame at the next opportunity.

    This holiday season see if you can feel free to feel however you do. If someone tries to talk you out of your mood or cheer you up or bring you down, simply ask to be accepted and understood. Try, “I’m not asking you to do anything about it. I just need to be here for as long as I need. I’m only asking you to understand.” Just let it be. This too will pass. read more

    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 and therefore doesn’t make friends. Being stuck at home doesn’t help. He has never really talked much, especially about emotions. How can I help him open up?

    A. Everything you have described is life events that have been out of your or your son’s control. Very hard but this is life happening. These are situations that people have to deal with. Depression has all to do with how those events are perceived and dealt with. If your son’s emotions are swept under the carpet, ignored or criticized, then he will be left feeling unheard, alone, misunderstood, etc. – fertile ground for depression. But if his feelings are acknowledged, even if your son doesn’t do much talking, then he is left with the sadness, grief, or anger about the situations, but everything is out in the open and feelings usually do not fester to cause depression.

    We want and often expect our kids to be open with us emotionally – mothers especially. But not all kids, especially boys, are open with their thoughts and feelings. That doesn’t mean they feel unheard. How we communicate with them has all to do with how they feel about themselves.

    When you have a non-talker, you want to make sure you don’t use the excuse that he doesn’t open up or share to ignore the situation and not talk about it. You can use what I call connective communication (best communication with anyone actually), which does not ask questions. When you ask questions – What’s wrong? How do you feel about…? Why don’t you…? – you put him on the spot, and he feels forced to come up with something. He may lie, tell you what he thinks you want to hear or what he knows you don’t want to hear to get you off his back. Rarely do questions, unless and until you have a very open connective relationship, get you the information you want.

    Making statements goes a lot further:

    Moving as many times as we have done lately must be quite discombobulating for you. I know how difficult change can be, and we’ve forced you into a lot of it. Changing schools is tough. I’m actually amazed at how well you have taken it. But I imagine that it has taken its toll on you. It’s really hard, right now. Period.

    I wonder sometimes about how you are with not having many friends. I’m curious to know if that’s hard on you or if that is your choice. Sometimes kids your age can be tough to be around. Period.

    Sometimes I think about how hard it must have been for you when Dad and I were grieving the loss of your little brother. We weren’t there for you as much as I would have liked. I feel so sad about that time – for all of us. Period.

    That must have been hard to hear. I bet if I were you, I would have felt angry and confused. Period.

    It’s so hard not to ask questions when you are hoping to find out answers. When there are no questions, the other person feels more inclined to listen, doesn’t feel obligated to talk, and connection gets better. Ironically, talking is more likely – but don’t expect it.

    Here is an article of mine explaining this further  –
    Communication 101: How to get your child to listen

    What your son needs is to know he can talk with you WHEN and IF he wants to. Especially kids on the spectrum have a harder time organizing their thoughts and making sense of them enough to formulate a conversation. Talking about emotions is hard for most people, males especially, and for an ADD kid on the spectrum, it’s especially tough.

    Also, boys tend to talk more when they are active, which may be why he talks to your husband more. Shoot hoops, take a bike ride or a walk. In the car, at bedtime if you are around him then (maybe not at 15), and perhaps mealtimes may be times to share yourself and how you are feeling. Your job is to model for him what it looks like to talk about emotions and values and what you think about people and events. Don’t expect it from him. If you don’t talk to him because there’s not much coming back, you are not being honest with yourself; you’re actually fearful of him.

    But the important thing to know is that traumatic life events only negatively affect us long-term when they are shoved down inside and not dealt with. His ability to talk about things will come from your openness and freedom to share how you feel and think. And just naming what happened in his life to cause upset is validating for him. Eventually he will be able to talk about it himself but maybe not with you.

    I would hesitate to identify him as depressed. Once you feel connection through making statements, then you can ask questions. Then you might ask, “Do you think you’re depressed?” If he responds with a yes, then ask, “Don’t you think getting help would be a good thing? Once you have made connection, he may feel differently about getting help because you can freely talk about it and help him see that this is not about him being a problem. If he still doesn’t want to, don’t force it. Hopefully he will come to it on his own.

    But then again, maybe he’s not depressed! Maybe he just looks it from your point of view. It is so easy for us to project our way of seeing things onto our kids. We have to consciously be aware that what is a problem for me might not be for my child.

    Quietness can easily be interpreted as depression – unfairly. Introverts are looked on with concern or pity in our society – completely the opposite in other societies. Nothing wrong with being quiet and introverted. He is likely a deeply perceptive person who works things out internally long before he expresses himself. Extraverts are the opposite. They have to talk it through to know what they think!

    Often deep thinkers are not drawn to the more popular high school kids. They have nothing in common with them. It often takes years before many kids find their tribe — others who share their interests and values.

    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.

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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.

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    Hugs Reduce Stress

    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.”

    A now more than two decade long scientific study by the Academy and the CDC shows the long term, harmful effects on society when we turn a blind eye on the problems faced by young children. From the stress children experience when their parents abuse alcohol or drugs, emotional or physical abuse or neglect, emotional or physical treatment between parents, mental illness, separation or divorce, to a child crying out and not being comforted and feeling unloved — stress comes in all shapes and sizes.

    The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, originally conducted from 1995-1997, is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being. We now have research showing the connection between disrupted neurodevelopment, social, emotional and cognitive impairment, risky behaviors, disease, disability and even early death to Adverse Childhood Experiences.

    Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, let’s look at what we can do about it.

    The Academy has issued a policy statement that includes, “Protecting young children from adversity is a promising, science-based strategy to address many of the most persistent and costly problems facing contemporary society, including limited educational achievement, diminished economic productivity, criminality, and disparities in health.”

     

    Prevention Strategies

    The study outlines extensive strategies to turn the horrendous statistics around — strengthening economic supports to families, changing social norms to promote positive parenting, quality care and education, better parenting skills training, and intervention methods.

    We can’t always control the environment for our children. Death and loss, natural disasters, accidents, an ex-spouse’s choices, disciplinary measures at school, hurtful remarks and bullying are all beyond our control. Nor should we hover and protect our children from growing up and experiencing the world we live in. Many circumstances children find themselves in can be toxic and traumatic, but when they have a protective factor to turn to safely, namely a parent or caring adult who understands, listens, accepts, and connects, a child can deal with and learn to make sense of most experiences. Ignoring, sweeping problems or sensitive issues under the carpet, screaming at and punishing big emotions that parents don’t want or know how to deal with undermine the protection you can provide.

    Your connection to your children is the protective factor they need most. But connection is harder than we think, as most parents know. It often requires a mindset shift away from traditional parenting methods.

     

    How you can provide that protective factor:

    Stop threatening and punishing — the #1 tactic used by parents to coerce children’s behavior. In order to be the grounding force your children feel safe to come to no matter what, they must trust that you will never pose a threat to them. If they have nowhere to turn for an understanding ear, they will turn exactly where you fear most. This usually means

    When we remain stuck in the mindset that punishments and consequences for inappropriate behavior are the way to get appropriate behavior, we forfeit our child’s trust. Mostly what the child learns is “you don’t understand me”, because behavior is provoked by emotions that parents typically pay no attention to. It is the emotional state that needs connection. When that is ignored and parents focus on behavior, the primary link to the protective factors parents provide is broken.

    Habitual tactics are easy to fall back on when a child’s behavior gets tough. It is so tempting to pull computer time and cell phones, put kids in time out or send them to their rooms. These tactics miss the mark and only make kids mad. And if they “work”, it is only to get that cell phone back. Sneaky, conniving strategies result, and that all-important connection is risked.

     

    What to do instead – Problem Solving promotes connection:

  • Do nothing in the heat of the moment. When emotions are calm and the prefrontal cortex is back online, work on the situation. This is where parents stumble. We want to forget about it and move on.
  • Resist the temptation to blame. Own and acknowledge your feelings.
  • Look to your child’s need or emotions that provoked the behavior and connect with that need. “You must have been furious with your sister to hit her. Tell me what got you so angry.”
  • Discuss the problem without blame. Own what part of it is yours, “I’m really concerned that you don’t consider my feelings. It is not okay with me when you call me names.”
  • Acknowledge that your child was having a problem that provoked the behavior. It was a mistake, not a crime. Trust your child’s desire to be successful. We all say and do things we don’t mean.
  • Engage your child to come up with a solution that all can agree on.
  • Don’t expect the agreement to work. It’s a process. Keep refining until the behavior stops.
  • Do focus on acceptance, listening, predictability, playtime.
  • Take your focus off behavior and onto what could be going on with your child to get back to compassion. All connection requires compassion.
  • Hug a lot.
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    Dec. ’18 Q&A – Big Emotions, Angry Outbursts and a Must Read

    Handling Big Emotions and Understanding the Behavior

    Q. We had an episode with our 5 1/2 yr. old son. For the past 2 years, we have tried every approach. Our son is smart but immature. We feel he lacks confidence and tends to hold things in rather than talk. I tried to get to the root cause but he still won’t budge (one might say stubborn). Tonight he was off the wall jumping on chairs, interrupting when I had someone over and had to help them work. No matter how many times my husband or I ask him to stop jumping on chairs, he would say “no never”. He has a temper – will hit, throw, slam doors, spit and call us “stupid” or say “never” when we’re explaining how we want him to stop hitting and start listening. However, his tantrums have become less frequent and recovering has become quicker except tonight. Usually he’ll go through the tantrum and then start crying. If we try to challenge him and he’s in the mood, he’ll do it.  But most of the time, he’ll say, no let’s do something totally different or I can’t or don’t know how. If I say I’ll show you, then he’ll whine and say he’s a baby. He always has a comeback. What do you think?

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    When Your Kids Push Your Buttons

    We all know the feeling. Our child says or does that certain something, we see red and react in ways we regret. We feel out of control, blame the child, and set up our next power struggle. We “go on automatic” and lose our maturity and authority. But we have a choice. We can either punish our child for pushing our buttons or take a look at what our buttons are, why we react the way we do, and take responsibility for our behavior—like an adult.

    You know your button has been pushed when:

    • You engage in the “Road Rage of Parenting”
    • You hear your mother or father saying those words you swore you never would
    • You feel enraged, hopeless, guilty, resentful, etc.
    • You catastrophize and project your child into the future
    • You know you could never have gotten away with what your child just did

    Our child’s behavior triggers an old wound. Our buttons were planted long ago from messages we took in from our parents’ reactions to us. Those old painful emotions get tapped, it hurts, and we retaliate—but we don’t realize what’s happening. To stop this automatic reaction, first we must recognize that our reactions are caused by our own perceptions.

    We believe that our child’s behavior causes our feelings and reactions. “You make me so mad. How many times do I have to yell before you’ll listen?” The unintended message sent is you are responsible for my emotions and my behavior. We leave out a critical piece—the assumptions we make.

    The assumptions—perceptions, thoughts, and judgments—we make about ourselves or our children (He never listens, She’s so mean, I’m a terrible mother) are the culprits that provoke our emotions. We feel mad because we have fears and thoughts that hijack our emotions. Reactions inevitably follow.     

                                      

    Your behavior makes me THINK you are being mean

    and AFRAID I have not taught you how to behave properly.

    It is this PERCEPTION that causes me to FEEL angry and then to REACT.

     

    Reframing our Assumptions:

    We can’t change our feelings, but we can change our thoughts—the assumptions that provoke our emotions and reactions. No one can “make” us mad. We can reframe our assumption from my child is being a problem, to my child is having a problem. The result is a 180 degree switch in perception, a shift from anger to compassion.

    If a child yells, “You’re so stupid”, it’s because the child feels frustrated by something. If it pushes a button, the adult may react with, “Don’t you ever talk to me like that! Who do you think you are?!” The parent feels threatened and has taken it personally. She may have experienced a parent, sibling, or teacher making remarks like, “What are you stupid or something?” or “That’s not a very smart thing to say” enough times that the message sticks—I’m stupid, I’m not good enough. If no button gets pushed, the parent can acknowledge, “You wish I would say something different. You don’t like it when I ask you to do something you don’t want to do” and then redirect the child appropriately. This parent is not taking the child’s remark personally and can remain objective. She sees it as it is—an expression of frustration or powerlessness and deals with it maturely.

     

    When your button gets pushed:

    1. Stop, walk away, do nothing (yet)
    2. Breathe deeply at least 3 times
    3. Wait until both you and your child are calm
    4. Go back over the situation and problem solve (do a “do-over”)

    To defuse your button:

  • Name your feelings
  • Identify the assumption you made to cause those feelings
  • Reframe your assumption from a judgment to an observation
  • Your reframed assumption should prompt compassion instead of anger
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    Hindsight on Gaming and Screentime

    Gaming and computer usage is probably the hottest topic in parenting. I have said much about it and share some articles here, but there is nothing like the horse’s mouth. This mom of an 18 yr. old son and two teen daughters, commented on my Facebook Group so eloquently that I asked her if she would write more about her experience. Below is just that. I couldn’t have said it better, so I share it with you:

    My son is now 18 and we had a talk recently about gaming and Fortnite specifically as we seem inundated with commentary around parent’s frustrations and concerns about the amount of time their kids are spending playing this game. It was a fascinating chat as we have some perspective now and can reflect on what worked and equally importantly what did not work well managing his love of gaming growing up.

    Looking back, my seminal moment came when he was 16 and wanted to use his own money to build a PC for gaming. He is now able to reflect on how we approached screens — this part was not always comfortable to hear — and how gaming now fits into his life as one of his many interests, hobbies and passions.

    He has always gamed, and this was a real hot spot for us. We all argued about it – my son and I argued, his Dad and he argued, and my husband and I argued about how long he was on line or whose turn it was to get him off! We valued family time, and him having multiple interests and balance, so we set rules which have always been simple and clear: A maximum time a day, one screen at a time (no double dipping), never in the bedroom (in the kitchen until he was a teen) and only after chores and homework. The consequence for not getting off was that the time was further limited the following day.

     

    The biggest lesson that I learned when he was younger was to try and engage. It never worked to shout from the next room or give no notice when it was time to get off. A better strategy was to engage first with what he was doing (perhaps asking to see his Minecraft creation), agree on a 5 or 10-minute warning (a timer worked well) and acknowledge him for the tough task of getting off. I tried to remain calm but clearly did not always get it right.

    When he was 16 and asked to buy and build his own gaming PC, the answer was quite simply, NO, as surely that would just lead to more focus on and time online. He was angry and frustrated and wrote a long email setting out all his issues around my approach to his gaming.  He pointed out, and I realised during the “discussions” around this new PC, that I just did not “get” his love and interest in gaming. He told me that this was his hobby, that I never understood or liked it (did I know the names of the games he played?) and that I had no trouble being involved in his sisters’ interests (I made it known that riding was a much healthier pursuit!). I only ever saw and brought up the negatives without taking any time to appreciate that he enjoyed the strategy, the action and the fun while finding new friends and feeling part of a community. He even added links to research and articles that highlighted the benefits of various games.

    He reminded me that he did well in school, had other interests, and kept to the limits and rules. And he was right! I needed to address my own issues and show the empathy he deserved.  Deep down (and not so deep down!) his gaming was a real button pusher for me. I worried that he loved gaming too much. I would react badly when he needed help getting off. I realize now that I was extrapolating to a life addicted to gaming and his subsequent ruin.

    He did get his PC and through many conversations (the two-way kind) about why, where, when and how this PC would be used, I gained a deeper understanding and closer connection with my son.

    For his part, when he looks back he can now see that the limits were an important part of learning self-control, although he still thinks that I was at times too rigid and didn’t completely “get it”.  He acknowledges that just as in the off-line world kids need to be taught and learn safety, self-control and resilience, they do need these lessons in the on-line world too. Just as they won’t learn from experience if they never leave the house, they won’t learn how to manage their on-line life unless they are allowed on-line with appropriate boundaries.

    So, what about Fortnite? According to my son, it’s compelling as it is cross platform, it’s free, it’s simple and team oriented yet strategic and the objective of being the last man standing is fun! It is however just another game – as Minecraft was for him growing up. So, the same principle applies. We are trying to teach on and off-line resilience as there will be another Fortnite in the future.

    A few of our suggestions:

  • Educate yourself – know and understand what they are playing and all the features.
  • Set age appropriate, clear boundaries that reflect your values and their age, stage and temperament. Just as you would not let them loose in the mall until old enough and without first teaching how to find you or their way home, don’t let them loose on-line without some training and rules.
  • Be consistent, be respectful and above all be empathetic.
  • Support your kids in their off-line interests. Be a mud slinger – let them try lots of things and see what sticks.
  • Family time – eat as many meals together as you can, have fun and keep the conversation going!
  • Know your child — My son is very intense, sensitive and did not like transitions when he was young. Understanding your child’s temperament is vital when it comes to having appropriate expectations for their ability to manage screens and their need for help in doing so.
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