Story: My strong willed 8 year old was diagnosed with anxiety and displays this with anger. Last March I got diagnosed with cancer and needed surgery. His anxiety hit the moon. He’s been acting out by throwing a ball at kids, stepping on their feet, throwing sand, yelling, etc. I practiced your principles of empathy, and he was able to tell me about a kid teasing him for not climbing the rock wall. I would never have found this out had I not set aside his behavior and my problem, used compassion and empathy, and listened. Yesterday when I picked him up, he came running into my arms and cried and cried really, really hard. WOW! He hasn’t cried like that in years. He cried the whole way home and continued at home and let me just sit there with him. I used empathy when needed and let him say all these horrible things about a kid who’s been bullying him. Bingo, I got to the root of his behavior, went right past those weeds. I did my best to
We all know what it’s like to get our buttons pushed. It feels like an attack and a flooding of emotion. We tend to retaliate automatically—it’s that fight, flight or freeze reaction. Typically, we lay blame on our children for doing the pushing or ourselves for being inadequate. But seldom do we do anything to change this often damaging dynamic because it feels beyond control.
You’ve tried everything, right? Everything to get your children to change. But those buttons are our responsibility, not our children’s. They wouldn’t be pushing them if there were no button to push. Some parents, for instance, have an immediate reaction to being called “stupid”. Others do not. Why? Because it has to do with your individual past. Yes, your child needs to be accountable for her behavior, but if your button is pushed, you will react, teaching her the power of what did the pushing—calling you “stupid”, talking back, resisting, not listening, whatever triggers you. And so it continues.
Q. My 8 year old son is constantly talking back to me and using vulgar language. I tell him that is not acceptable, and he keeps doing it. He argues and doesn’t listen to authority—my authority anyway. He’s fine at school. Teachers love him. When I was young, I would have been smacked if I said half of what he does. I’m at a loss. What do I do to stop this constant talking back and throwing crude words at me?
A. I, like you, was brought up to respect my elders—at any cost. I wasn’t allowed to say what I wanted, what I thought about anything, or express my opinion. Only adults had opinions. Having an opinion was never encouraged, never asked for, never listened to. If one came out, it was ignored or highly criticized as talking back. Life was about doing what grown-ups told you to do. Children were second-class citizens. Fortunately (I guess) my temperament kept me from ever expressing anger at my parents for keeping me quiet. I just simply stayed quiet. But my brother
Q. I have enjoyed reading many things on your website. My husband and I are the owners of 1 integrity child and 1 harmony child. The first makes me nearly lose my mind as I am an integrity person as well. My question is how do you help them understand that the world doesn’t revolve around their perceived needs? My own experiences were tough, and it took counseling to finally work through my own self esteem challenges. It is and has always been exhausting. He is 18 and a good boy. He is polite, smart, well-adjusted, and has tremendous integrity BUT argues with us over nearly anything not being done his way. We try to get in his head and help him, but life will not always accommodate that, and he fears failure. I would love any insight you could provide.
A. The fact that your son is polite, well-adjusted with tremendous integrity says that you have raised him respectfully. But your fears of the outside world not accommodating his temperament are misplaced. He will learn from experience what tracks
Instead of starting off the new year with resolutions you are likely to ignore, how about deciding to accept yourself and your kids just the way you are?
You might find that acceptance is much harder than setting unrealistic goals that keep you in a state of tension when you can’t meet them or control them in your children. The task is realizing that the only way for change to occur is to first accept yourself, quirks, problems, and all.
Acceptance is what you and your children need the most. If you’re reading this, I can guarantee that your children know you love them. But…do they know you accept them? Or do they think you wish they were different? Be in your child’s head for a minute and answer that question.
Acceptance has to do with the expectations you set—consciously or unconsciously. Do your kids think they meet up to your expectations or do they believe they can never be good enough for you? How about you? Do you believe you’re good enough?
When you know you are good enough,
Are you trying to do the right thing by validating your child’s feelings only to hear even angrier tirades? Your best intentions backfire and you don’t know why. Let’s break this down to figure out why your child is reacting negatively when you are trying to empathize.
“I am understanding of how my child is feeling, but it seems to just make her madder,” is something I hear from many parents. Progressive parenting has put a lot of emphasis on validating feelings and being empathetic—rightly so. Your kids want nothing more than to know you understand them. But in our impatience to get on with what we want them to do, to correct them, we may end up invalidating their feelings without realizing it.
- “I understand you’re upset. You can be angry, but you have to get in the shower.”
- “I get that you’re mad at your sister, but you can’t hit her.”
- “You’re upset you got a bad grade. Buck up. You’ll do better next time.”
- “A friend should never make fun of you. You need to tell her
Q. My 9 year old boy’s behavior is driving me nuts and making me feel like failure. He is a strong-willed, smart boy, who will do anything only if he likes it. There are many things he decides he doesn’t like to do or eat, and there is no cajoling that can get him to give it a try. But my bigger problem here is his constant lying. He cannot stop himself from lying and sneaking. And this
behavior is only getting worse and more sophisticated as he is growing up. For eg, he loves cookies and most often eats more than what his share is. If I suspect that he ate them when he shouldn’t and question him, he goes on the defensive and outright denies it (even with all crumbs stuck to his mouth).
Another example is every night I ask him to brush his teeth. He usually goes
to bed without brushing, and when I check if he did what he is supposed to do,
20% of the times he tells the truth but the rest is
After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, I wrote an article called Look for the Helpers inspired by Fred Rogers. I am redoing it with the same basic
message—sadly because so much more has happened. Not only has gun violence increased, but our democracy and our climate are threatened. Whatever side of the political spectrum you fall, the recent overturn of Roe vs. Wade by the Supreme Court requires discussions with your children. How do you assure their safety at school? How do you tell them that the highest court in our nation has undermined the liberty of women?
My son just gave the commencement address at the high school where he teaches.
He too was inspired by Fred Rogers’ words:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother
would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are
helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my
mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still
so many helpers—so
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
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