As a parent coach, one of the chief complaints I hear from parents is: “Why won’t my children listen to me anymore? Things were going so well and now they ignore me, say “No”, or even do the opposite! I am so tired of it.”
But as a parent with young children myself, I know what opposition feels like and it isn’t pretty. As adults, we have a certain idea of how things should proceed and when your kids don’t march along nicely, this can be very frustrating.
So let’s take closer look at some of the reasons our kids don’t listen to us!
1. Developmentally, your child is right on track. It is normal and expected for all children to say no at different ages. For example, two year olds, four year olds, late six year olds…it is completely normal for changes to occur in both the body and the brain that can lead to an increased rate in irritability, sensitivity, and negativity. “Wait” you say, “my child is three and says no all of the time!” Every child is different, and your child may be on a different developmental track. The point is, be open to the idea that your child may not be trying to be disagreeable! They are trapped in a rapidly changing brain and body, and cannot get out! Realizing this will help grow your compassion and forgiveness for the child, as well as find solutions.
2. Your child says no because you are not allowing her or him to grow and change. What do I mean by this? Every child, no matter their temperament, is naturally inclined toward independence and real work. Each child wants to contribute in a real way and see the fruits of their labor. So, when a child is trying to dress herself, for instance, and we continue to step in and interfere, the child will begin to struggle to assert their independence. Try simply allowing the child to try something…what your child can do will surprise you!
3. Your child is saying no because you are asking too many questions. Parenting 101? If you don’t want to hear “no,” don’t ask a question that gives the child a chance to say it! For instance, you know the child is happily putting together a puzzle…so what do you think the answer will be when you ask, “would you like to get in the bathtub?” Of course, that child would rather puzzle away! So, don’t ask the question! Instead, create a transition and don’t offer a choice! Get down on the child’s level, look them in the eye, and say, “Bath time is in 3 minutes. I am setting an alarm. When the alarm goes off, the puzzles are over.” Alarm goes off, you gently and firmly lead the child to bath. Will they struggle? Maybe. But it will be far, far better the “fake choices” struggle!
Whatever you decide to do, remember that the more you struggle, the more you struggle!
The mere mention of the word makes even the most outspoken of people blush and change the subject, and it isn’t really surprising. We live in a culture where we are debating how and if women should have access to birth control, yet the American porn industry is a multi-million dollar business. We are confused about how to talk to our kids about sex because, in large part, we are confused about sex.
So, let’s not pass that confusion to our children. “Fine,” you say,”but how?” I am a big believer in common sense, so let’s start there.
Talking about your reproductive body parts isnot the same as talking about sexuality. Would you think twice before talking to your four-year-old child about how his heart works? What about lungs? Fingers? Of course not. Well, a uterus, a penis and a vagina are also just that: body parts. They have specific and important roles in the body, and they aren’t all sexual. You need a penis and a vagina to urinate! When we talk about body parts with our children, try to think of it as a biology lesson: body parts and their functions.
Children are born as sexual creatures. As soon as a child realizes their hands are attached to their arms and that they can control those hands, they start to touch everything, including their genitals. Many a parent will share stories of little baby erections, and how, as they watched in horror and amusement, the boy seemed to be quite pleased with it. Little girls and boys can start to masturbate as young as two and well, let’s face it…that never really stops, does it? For young children, masturbation most often occurs unconsciously, as well as when they are relaxed and happy. Some children also use it as a coping mechanism for when stress sets in. This is all normal and healthy. Yes, you can teach them that there are appropriate times and places for touching (their rooms), but a gentle distraction is the best way to handle a child who is masturbating. “Who wants to play Zingo?” or “Time for a bike ride!” You get the idea.
Talking to your kids about their bodies and sexuality can help prevent sexual abuse. A child is most likely be sexually abused by someone they know (a coach, a teacher, a person in your religious community, a family member, a friend, a neighbor). Adults who sexually abuse kids are counting on that child to not understand his or her own body. If a child is confident and knowledgeable about private parts, they stand a greater chance of knowing that “no one is allowed to touch me, except me.” And this is not a one-time message! You have to remind your child, as they grow, develop and change that his/her body belongs onlyto him or her and no one else. Talking to your children about their bodies (frankly and often) is an important tool to help protect them from predators!
When you start a dialogue about sexuality and their bodies with your young children, you create a trusting, open and honest relationship for down the road…when it really matters. Maybe you have a strong outlook on issues of teen sex, or maybe you aren’t sure how you feel about it. In any case, if you don’t speak to your children about your values, they are going to turn to their peers and the larger culture for how to feel about their bodies and what to do about sex. And as I’ve mentioned, that can be some pretty tough terrain for your child to navigate alone. Do you really want all sexual information to come from a sex-ed class in school and their peers? Your children may understand how sex works (or how to stop it, so to speak), but will they understand your family values? Study after study shows that these conversationsmatter. So, start it young. Become a source of reliable, measured and caring information! Let your children know that you will always answer their questions. Let them know you will not judge them if they are worried about something. Your child will have missteps and worries, broken hearts and their own sexual discoveries, but your values and how your family discusses sex becomes the template that lasts for years to come. Silence and embarrassment are not values, so start now, and start young!
The good news? There are many resources and guides to help you in these conversations, so don’t go it alone! For reference books, I recommend Sex and Sensibility by Deborah Roffman, Everything you Never wanted your kids to know about sex (but were afraid they’d ask) by Richardson and Schuster. Books you can share with the kids: What’s the Big Secret by Brown and Brown, and It’s NOT the Stork by Harris and Emberley.
And if you ever feel as though your child is not in a “normal” realm of sexuality, please speak to your pediatrican. There are many resources, therapists and doctors who can help!
Photo Sources: Thinkstock
So often, parents think that meals are only about eating food, and yes, consuming calories is important. But is very helpful to remember that meals are a good time for the family to come together in conversation and cooperation.
So, let’s try something a little out-of-the-box. This idea is meant to cultivate some cooperation, collaboration, and interest in food, as well as responsibility, and fun! This day can be altered to simply one meal; do what is right for your family!
The “Kids Rule the Kitchen” Day!
1) Two days before the Big Day, tell your children that they are going to be in charge of feeding the family! Let them know that there must be nutritious choices (2 fruits, 3 veggies, proteins, etc.), and then help them plan the menu. IT MUST BE FOOD THAT THEY CAN MAKE OR MAKE WITH ONLY A BIT OF ASSISTANCE FROM YOU, THE PARENT. Otherwise, why bother? Also, don’t judge the choices too harshly. If it is waffles and grapes for breakfast, cream cheese and jelly sandwiches with baby carrots and pretzels for lunch, and chicken nuggets with frozen peas and mac-n-cheese for dinner…it’s okay. It’s one day.
2) Write down the menu for the day and hang it up where everyone can see it.
3) Go shopping with the kids and their lists. Allow them to find the items (and tailor this for the younger set). If you have readers in the house, they should manage this fine.
4) The night before the big day, remind the children that they are making the food the next morning, and you cannot wait!
5) Don’t overmanage the day. As safely as you can, allow the children to work out their issues and make the meals. Yes, help cut veggies and toast waffles, but stay out of the way as much as you can, and don’t criticize. Stay positive, smiling, and say that everything is delicious. As the parent, offer to set the table and get the napkins for the family.
6) Enjoy the meals together! Mention the details of what you notice. Show gratitude for the food and the preparation. Offer to clear the table.
7) Above all, let this be a fun experiment. Notice how your child handles this fun challenge. Is your child afraid to fail? Does your child ask for your help constantly, because they are accustomed to you jumping in? Is your child thriving under a bit of pressure, and have a creative flair? A day like this shows you a good bit about your child’s temperament, as well as your own parenting strengths and weaknesses. Watch and take note.
8) Plan another one! No matter what, declare it is a great success and schedule the next one. Everything that children do is practice, so allow this to be practice. Your goals are not about food here. They are about fostering confidence, cooperation, fellowship and fun. Get brave and give your children a chance!
You yell at your kids, all of the time? Well, that’s okay. That’s good enough.
You feed your kids frozen pizza five out of seven days of the week, pretty much all of the time? That’s okay! That’s good enough.
You sit and stare into your iPhone while your kids play at the park, day in and day out? No worries, that’s good enough.
Your child spills his energy drink into his iPad during his fourth hour of play? That’s fine; that’s good enough.
Your child does four hundred activities, twelve months out of the year, leaving him exhausted and you half-crazed with the driving: good enough!
Your child watches TV before bed, every single night. Good enough.
Your child eats more sugar and artificial ingredients than you would ever admit to? Good ‘nuff.
Your children fight to the death some days, and you go hide in the car? Good enough.
You don’t want to host play dates because you don’t want to watch your own kids, let alone anyone else’s. Good enough.
You go to bed exhausted, angry, lonely, and anxious about your parenting? That’s cool. It’s just good enough.
The more I read, the more my head spins.
It head spins from this idea:
Frankly, I don’t care about much of what people judge as “good enough.” Everyone is going to probably damage their kid’s psyche somehow, so beyond beating and shaming him or her, I withhold judgment about much else you do as a parent.
What I care about is this strange pride in shouting out your suffering, like a bizarre badge of dishonor.
Do moms really care about serving frozen pizza, four nights in a row? I don’t. And if you really do care, then stop telling people you are good enough and cook some real food.
Do moms really care if they yelled in the parking lot once this week? I don’t think you are a bad mom. Or do you yell until you are hoarse, every single night? You know that this life of constant yelling, well, it is not good enough.
And do you really care that you are too tired to fake the smile at fifteenth red circle drawn by your four year old? Or are you so tired that everything is drudgery, but you are labeling it as good enough.
I don’t feel badly for working when I am in the park with my kids. I tell them I need to work and I answer e-mails. And when I consciously spend time with them, I don’t look at my phone. That is not good enough. That is good. That is fine.
And when, two months ago, my husband and I had lost it one too many times with one of our children, we called our parent coach and said, “help.” That yelling, that fighting, that anger, it was not good enough. We needed to work on it.
How about we (me included) stop flying our fake flags of failure and have two categories: “good” and “needs work.”
Personally, I am all “good” with setting boundaries. I “need work” with celebrating and remembering to smile. Boom. Done. I know I need to smile more. I am not going to continue to grimace and tell everyone it is good enough.
I really don’t think you have to call yourself good enough anymore. Frankly, I think that is a crappy way to parent and live. It minimizes the good you do, and it gives you a free pass to be a miserable parent when you know you need to take responsibility for your behavior and get it together.
If being a “good enough” parent means a faux acceptance of poor parenting behaviors and a disavowal of the good parenting choices, than that is not good enough. That is treading water.
And another thing (she hollers from her soap box)! I don’t hear dads referring to themselves as good enough. My husband virtually sends himself flowers for dressing all three of the kids. Men seem to be generally good. Maybe they could stand a parenting tune-up here and there, but I want Moms to stop it with the good enough. It’s enough already.
So, if you follow me on FB, you saw the process. Which is to say, I posted that I bought some salmon that my kids would never eat.
Then I realized that, “Shit, I should do something about this This is why people hire me.” Huh.
So, I had a cup of coffee and thought.
The word that appeared was EXPECTATIONS. (Which is, yes, how things happen to me. They appear. Words. Images. People. My dead father-in-law comes to me when I meditate. Crazy? Maybe, but you are already reading this, so hang in…)
I often assume (is there anything more dangerous in parenting?) that my children know what I am thinking and wanting from them.
Yeah…ummm, they don’t. I needed to make it explicit. Again.
And I have been quite busy helping other people have great meals with their kids…and guess what? I have been blowing off my own family.
Oh sure, we all sit together and have a cursory dinner. ”What are you grateful for?” Blah blah blah. I have been checking it off the list, half-in (which means half-out), and frankly, making some pretty shitty dinners. Who wants to celebrate Kraft? Not me. Not even my kids.
So, the letter. The letter was about setting about some expectations for them. Sure.
It was really for ME.
“Hey, kids. Mom is going to make you a real dinner. It is going to have antioxidants and vitamins and it cooked in way that demonstrates care and skill!”
“Hey kids, I want you to know I am taking this seriously. And yes, it is $22 a pound, but that is not why I care. I am taking it seriously because I have forgotten to show up for dinner properly.”
The nine year old declared dinner, “Not disgusting.”
The six year old took a bite and dramatically spit into the trash (I appreciated the theatrical nature of her disapproval).
The almost three year old only wanted to know what her father was going to do. When he ate it with gusto, she decided to eat it with tacit acquiescence.
The lovely outcome? NO ONE ASKED ME FOR WHEATIES.
They always ask for Wheaties with bananas when they don’t want whatever is served for dinner.
The answer is always no, unless I am too fucking tired to hear it.
So, everyone sat there for about ten good minutes. Everyone ate the rice and vegetables, and picked at the fish.
Last fall, I (luckily) found and read the book Duct Tape Parenting, A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids by Vicki Hoefle. Talk about a game-changer! It instantly spoke to me about the power to staying quiet, as well as allowing our children to grow resilience by figuring things out on their own.
I instantly decided to band-aid my mouth shut for five mornings in a row. It was fascinating, eye-opening, and yes, oddly relieving to stop the nagging, reminding, and constant talking.
If you are interested in listening to an interview Vicki and I did about my “Say Nothing, Do Nothing” Experiment, listen here!
Duct Tape is not Just for Quick Fixes, Anymore!
That’s right, you’ve guessed it. I’m going to change how you look at Duct Tape. I am going to suggest you start thinking about what ONE roll of duct tape can do for your parenting experience.
First, let’s take a second to think about you and your kids. I don’t know your children, but you know them very well, so go ahead and think about them in action. Now think about you in action as the parent. What seems to go smoothly (bedtime routine?) and what seems to fall apart every single time (morning routine?). Now, think about your favorite parenting strategy. Do you have one? I bet you do, but you might not even know it. You might think, well, I don’t use anything consistently, but yelling, nagging, reminding, lecturing, and all those reactive habits are strategies that you use every day to try and change your children’s behavior. How is it working for you? Are you implementing strategies that are creating long-term change, facilitating strong independent confident, capable children? If not, here’s where the duct tape comes in handy.
Another use for Duct Tape
Imagine sitting down with your kids and telling them you are sorry. You are sorry for all the bossing, dictating, controlling and micro-managing you have been doing and that you are really sorry for treating them as though they are incompetent. Tell them you are going to step back for five days and observe and watch what they can do by themselves and identify where they could benefit from some training. Ask them how they would like to wake-up in the am. An alarm clock, alarm on a phone, the sun streaming in the window? The choice is theirs. Tell them you will be taking a piece of duct tape and putting it right over your mouth, to help you break your old habit of jumping in and nagging, reminding, lecturing, bribing and so on. What would happen if you were unable to remind them what to be doing, thinking, or saying all day long? Now sit in a chair. Imagine you’re duct taped there. You cannot run into the living room with every little spat. You can’t carry backpacks, or bring shoes for kids who left them at home. You can’t clean the entire house. In fact, all you can do is sit there, accept what’s happening around you, learn what your kids are capable of, where they could use some training and where you will start on your journey to raising respectful, responsible, & resilient kids.
When and why would a parent do this?
When your child decides to wear fleece pants to school in August and learns a valuable lesson, you can nod and say nothing (instead of “I told you so”), because personal experience is the BEST teacher.
When your child has a temper tantrum in the kitchen, you quietly leave the room, instead of getting down on the floor and joining her. (We all know adult temper tantrums are much worse.)
When your child forgets his lunch you quietly have faith that he has what it takes to be a little hungry, solve the problem, and remember the next time. (If we want children to believe in themselves, we must believe in them first.)
This, my friends, is the best gift you can give yourself, and it’s the gift that you can give your children. I challenge you to learn to “duct tape” yourself out of all the nonsense that goes along with raising children. With this one gift of duct tape, you can give your kids the golden gift of learning independence, problem solving, failure, forgetting, learning, asking, remembering, discovering, unfolding, realizing, trying something new and creating a life that is their own. In one year, imagine the difference.
Consider the Duct Tape Parenting pledge
As a Duct Tape Parent, I pledge to
If this all seems a bit radical and overwhelming, pick up a copy of Duct Tape Parenting, A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids (Bibliomotion 2012) at your local bookstore or Amazon.com or enter to win this giveaway. Learn more about the foundational philosophy behind this parenting approach and the strategies that will help you to invest in the relationship with your child, to trust your child to navigate his life, to train your child in life and self-skills necessary to lead a healthy fulfilling adult life, to provide the opportunity for your child to practice and master these skills while living at home with you AND to still manage to get out of the house on time in the morning without tantrums or tears.
Enjoy the Journey! – Vicki
I talk to clients quite a bit about siblings and all that annoying fighting. The most current literature says, yes, siblings fight. It is normal, and these fighting kids stand a good chance of enjoying a warm relationship as adult siblings. I assure parents, over and over, that their kids will be okay. I empathize: yes, it is hard. Annoying. Torturous, even. But it will be okay. And I believe it…
So, imagine my horror when I was driving last week and heard a radio show where a therapist was talking to the host about horrible, excruciating, terrible and tortured adult sibling relationships. People were calling in, describing hellish and awful sibling relationships: extreme anger with their parents, lengthy, costly and failed therapy, miscommunication, avoidance, ruined family structures and holidays, losing touch with whole branches of families, etc.
It went on and on.
My heart sank. I believed what I told my clients (and let’s face it, myself) about creating positive sibling interactions, but in the face of such anguish on the radio show, I was no longer sure. These men and women calling in, they were so sad. Some were angry, but most expressed a deep sadness.
How can we, as parents, possibly avoid such conflict, anger and miscommunication for our children? Or are we doomed?
So the last call comes in, and this man describes how both his mom and dad came from truly dysfunctional homes, and they both had little to no relationships with their own siblings as a result of how competitive their respective parents were. He then went on to describe that he enjoys warm and supportive relationships with his siblings, seeing them often and talking on the phone frequently. The radio host and therapist (and ME) were dying to know: what was the secret? What did his parents do to cultivate these great sibling friendships in the face of their own emotional challenges?
The man took a deep breath and said, “My mom and dad took the time to get to know each one of their children (four in total), really listened to each child and did the best they could to treat each child fairly.”
The host and therapist said, ”So, that’s it?”
The man continued to say that his parents made a conscious decision to not choose sides or label the kids. He made note, a couple of times, how hard this was due to the fact that his parents didn’t really know how to do this; they simply had to press on, making mistakes, making amends and moving forward.
The host, the therapist and I were silently listening, filled with hope and inspiration. When the man finished speaking, the therapist said (with joy in her voice), “That’s the best thing I have heard in ages!” and the host smartly added, “I think we should end the show on a positive note!”
I had been fretting about the “just right” advice or tip for my clients when it came to addressing sibling relationships, but was reminded, beautifully, that that is not what it is about.
Listening, paying attention, appreciating and growing the good in each individual child are the keys. These are parenting skills that work because, instead of battling a negative, you are encouraging authenticity. Every human wants and needs to be understood for who they really are. Kids are no different. When children believe they are understood, appreciated and needed in the family, they are less likely to argue, bicker and fight.
Am I suggesting it is as simple as paying attention…fully seeing your child for who they are, right now? That this, this, will combat sibling rivalry and feuding later?!?
Yes, yes I am.
Life is complicated; each child is different and will have a myriad of experiences affecting their relationship with each other. As a parent, you cannot control all of that.
So, go for the simple. Accept your child for exactly who they are, right now. Notice (aloud) his or her goodness, and keep it going.
They will fight; nothing is perfect. But you can start to relax, knowing that you are growing your family in the right direction.
Photo Source: Thinkstock
We have some stuff really backwards in parenting, as well as in this country.
We think ALL answers reside in talking (and hey, it is MY biz, too, so I get it), but so much good comes out of NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION.
The more I work on myself and with parents, the more I realize that we are largely not in touch with our bodies. We are not in touch with our children’s bodies. We are not using a good chunk of our senses because….why? Not deemed as “smart?” Not deemed as obvious? Uncomfortable?
I went to a mommy/daughter yoga class Saturday night. I massaged my six year old’s feet, her hands, and her shoulders. She was the most relaxed, the most contented, the most connected I had seen her in a long time.
No talking involved. JUST TOUCH.
I don’t remember the last time I had simply touched my daughter this much! Ahhh, wait. Yes, I do. Here she is, hours after being born, with her older sister. Being loved, loved, loved. Touched, touched, touched.
When we take touch out of equation, our brains are left to figure everything out, and I gotta tell ya, that’s a little frightening. I don’t know about your brain, but mine can be really mean. As in, sending me crazy messages full of despair, anger, and irrationality. If I listened to those messages, if I took them seriously and heeded them, well, I would start to believe them. I know this to be true, because I used to listen and believe them. It was saddest, loneliest, most crazy-making time of my life.
As Anne Lamott says,
If you are struggling with your child and you have talked-talked-talked it death, brought it back to life, and talked it to death again….try touch. Gentle, loving touch. The snuggles from the baby-days. It may not come naturally, but give it time…it’s all there…it will come back.
Well, the summer has arrived. Your sweet baby, your little one (now maybe nine, ten, or eleven years old) is heading off to his first sleep-away camp, and while you know he or she is ready, you are feeling nervous. Maybe even downright worried. The questions swirl: Will she stay safe? Will he reapply his sunblock? Will she make friends? Will he ask for help if he needs it? Will he or she miss me? And even worse, what if they don’t?
To help your child get off to camp on a positive note, I have a compiled a quick Do’s and Don’ts list!