Viewing entries tagged
setting boundaries

My Teenager Won’t Hug Me Anymore

A mom wrote me recently, concerned that her fifteen-year-old son was pulling away from her, especially in terms of being affectionate and letting her do things for him.  This is a common occurrence in the lives of parents and kids.  This mother wondered, “How do you provide that same sense of security to your children as they start to break away from you?”  My response offered words of comfort and advice that might prove helpful if you’re experiencing something similar.

 

It’s totally normal.

This is what teenagers do.  What they’re supposed to do.  They pull away so they can figure out who they are without you.  Your child is becoming himself, which is what you want. 

 

This is an important step towards self-exploration.

Your son is creating new attachments to his peers that allow him to become ready to be a "we" with someone else in the future.  This shift in attachment—he’s still attached to you, but in a different way—allows him to take the secure base he has in his relationship with you, and use it as a launching pad to explore who he is apart from his family and in the context of his peers.  This process is a crucial stage in his identity formation. 

 

Find ways to connect, physically.

It’s still possible to be physically close with your son.  Take his cues and respect his journey into adulthood, while still letting him know how much you love him.  At times this may mean a simple pat on the back or the head, or an arm around his shoulder.  But even if it's a bit uncomfortable, try to keep hugging him when you can—even it’s the dreaded “side hug” that can feel so awkward. As much as possible, keep up the affection, and the connection.  You might even see whether he'd be willing to let you climb into bed next to him to read to him or have him read to you.  If not, get the laptop and watch some funny YouTube videos together.  You have to sit super close so you can both see the screen, and the laughter can create a shared moment of joining. 

 

Be thoughtful while also observing boundaries.

Don’t be corny, but come up with gestures that show him thoughtfulness and nurturing without treading on his independence.  Take him a Jamba Juice when you pick him up from school.  Text him about something you’re proud that he’s done.  Challenge him to a game of Ping-Pong.  Take him to dinner and a movie.  And when he's sick, baby him like you used to.   He’ll love it.

 

Sometimes you just can’t win.

One moment he’ll tell you to back off, then the next minute he’s mad that you’re showing attention to his younger sister.  It's very similar to his toddler years, when he’d say, "Me do it," and then get mad that you weren’t helping him.  He's in between two worlds and wants what he feels like he needs—but only when he thinks he needs it.  He wants to be treated like an independent adult, but secretly, he may have times when he just feels like being nurtured like a little kid.  The best thing you can do is to assume he still wants you to nurture him and be a mom, while also communicating that he can tell you to give him space if he feels smothered.

 

Be direct.

Since you’re not a mind-reader, initiate a direct conversation about your uncertainty about how to interact with him.  Talk about your desire to keep nurturing him and doing things for him, while still respecting his space and independence.  Explain that you know how capable he is, then ask for his guidance and advice on this issue.  If nothing else, he'll be aware that you’re trying. 

 

Back off, but be available. 

Self-sufficiency is so important, so you want to encourage it.  But you need to still be sending signals that say, "I'm always here for you if you need me."  Communicate this over and over, both verbally and nonverbally.  Then he’ll know it’s true, whether his actions show it or not.

  

The original version of this article can be viewed at Mom.me.

 

 

Overestimating Your Child's Ability to Deal?

We expect so much of our kids, don't we?  But when we misperceive their ability to handle themselves well, we make things hard on everyone involved. That's the gist of my new article at mom.me:

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I hear it from parents all the time.  They’ll come to my office and say, their voices full of frustration, “He’s capable of handling himself well.  He does it at school and usually at home.  But then there are times he just acts so immature and freaks out.”

Sound familiar?  Does to me, too.  In fact, it sounds just like my kids.

And like these parents, I’ll sometimes take the next, seemingly logical, step and assume that the fact that a child can often make good choices and handle herself well, means that she can always do so.

A father in my office last week described his daughter like this:  “She wants things her way.  And if things don’t go her way, she might lose it; and she could clearly make a better choice.  I know she can deal with stuff well, she just chooses not to.”

Again, this can seem like a logical conclusion.  But is it?  In other words, if a child often, or even usually, handles herself well, does that mean that when she doesn’t do so, she’s being manipulative or somehow choosing to make things hard on her parents so she can get her way?

Let’s apply it to ourselves.  Could someone say something similar about you as a parent?  “She’s capable of parenting well.  She does it lots of places, and usually she handles herself great at home.  But then there are times that she just acts so immature and freaks out.”  I don’t know about you, but if someone said that about me, my only response would be, “Guilty as charged.”

But obviously, you and I don’t have bad parenting moments because we’re intentionally acting belligerent so we can get our way.  Manipulation implies that we are calculating.  But when we mess up with our kids, it’s because the emotions get the best of us and we temporarily don’t act like the kind of parents we want to be.

You see the point I’m making.  Just because we parent well lots of times, doesn’t mean we can parent well all the time.  The way we handle ourselves really depends so much on

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Read the whole article here.

Bathroom Privacy 101

Ever feel like you just can't find a minute alone--even to go to the toilet?  I get it.  Over at mom.me, I've posted a new article on the subject.  Here's how it opens: ------------------

If you have small children, you know they like to follow you into the bathroom. In fact, 92 percent of mom bloggers have written, at one time or another, about the simple desire for getting to go to the toilet by themselves. (Actually, I just made up that percentage, but it sounds about right.) It’s not that we don’t love being with our kids, but come on. Give a mother a break, right?

Let’s begin with one thing: Our little ones follow us to the bathroom not to invade our privacy, but because they just like being with us. Still, we deserve some alone time.

If you find that you need some privacy, or if your child is old enough to begin learning about specific boundaries and personal-space issues, here are some suggestions for finding a couple of minutes of “me time” in the bathroom.

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7 Ways to Deal With a Toddler's Tantrum

I have a new post up at mom.me.  It begins like this: ---------------- I recently wrote about why we should be grateful when our little ones throw a tantrum. But aside from understanding that a tantrum is normal and even healthy, what else can we do when we’re actually in this kind of high-stress moment with our kids? I don't believe parents should ignore a tantrum. When children are truly out of control, that’s when they need us the most. We still need to set clear boundaries, but our response should always be full of love, respect and patience.

Here are seven suggestions for dealing with a toddler’s tantrum:

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View the whole gallery here.

8 Reasons to Be Grateful for Tantrums

Here's a new post on Mom.me.  It begins like this: ---------------

Grateful?  Really?

I know what you’re thinking: "File this one under 'You can’t be serious.'”

But I am serious.

Nobody likes a tantrum: not your little one, and certainly not you. But even though we don’t enjoy our kids’ tantrums, there are plenty of reasons to be grateful for the times when they get the most upset.

For example . . .

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Click here to check out the whole piece.

The Dreaded Potty Talk: Is This a Battle I Should Fight?

Potty talk and childhood go hand-in-hand.  I can’t fully explain why words like “poop,” “butt,” and “wiener” should be so inherently and universally funny to kids, but they obviously are.  How do you decide how big of a deal to make potty talk in your house?  Here are some suggestions:

 

Decide for yourself.

You may have heard that there’s the “correct” way to handle toilet humor.  Maybe your parents had a definite approach.  Maybe they still expect you to follow their lead.  But with your own children, the first thing you need to do is think critically and thoughtfully about how you want to handle this issue (and others) in your family.  Maybe you don’t really have a problem with hearing your kids talk and giggle about pee-pee.  Or, maybe it’s really bothersome to you.  Either way, form your own opinions rather than just following what you’ve heard you should do.

 

Know that it’s normal.

If your kids think “stinky armpit” is a hysterical phrase, then they’re completely normal.  Even if you decide you don’t approve of potty talk, you don’t need to worry that something’s wrong if your children guffaw at body humor.  And admit it:  Isn’t it funny sometimes to you, as well?  I couldn’t help but crack up a bit recently when my boys and my husband were dying laughing about a library book about the planet Uranus.  (Did you know that Uranus is made up of rocks and dust, and that people on Earth can’t see Uranus without a telescope?)

 

Emphasize what's really important.  

Think about what actually matters to you.  Do you find the word “butt-head” patently offensive, or is the problem that it’s hard to use it in a kind and respectful way?  In my own home, with my kids, our rule is that all speech needs to be respectful.  I don’t happen to mind potty words if my kids are being silly or playful.  It can get annoying, sure, but I don’t necessarily see those words as worse than other childish phrases and songs  But words that hurt someone’s feelings or show disrespect—whether they have anything to do with the body or the bathroom or not—are off-limits.

 

Talk about why words matter.

Help your kids understand that they should consider the words they use not because certain words are inherently bad, but because words are powerful.  They can hurt, or heal, or please, or build up, or tear down.  Explain that you have a reason for teaching them about the terms they choose.

 

Don’t demonize the words.

You may decide that you don’t want to hear potty language.  Even (and especially) if you don’t, it’s probably not a good strategy to outlaw them completely.  Making them taboo will only increase their power.  So instead, explain to your kids, in a matter-of-fact tone, that "potty words are for the bathroom, so it's totally fine to talk about poopy butts, but go talk about them in the bathroom."

 

Set boundaries when you need to.

Even if you don’t mind some giggling about bathroom humor, the chances are that you’ll get tired of it at some point.  You don’t have to listen to jokes about bodily functions 24-7, any more than you have to listen to the playlist of kids songs any time you’re in the car. 

 

Redirect.

When you do want to set boundaries, a good way to address the issue without banning the words and thus giving them more power, is simply to lead your kids in a different direction.  When they say “butt,” you say “earlobe.”  Find other body parts (“nose hair”) and silly phrases (“shamma-lamma-ding-dong”) that can incrementally lead the conversation elsewhere.  Or, simply offer a completely different activity that can give them positive attention in another domain:  "Let's get out the frisbee!"

 

Be respectful of others’ wishes.

If you have no problem with your kids using potty talk, it’s still important to talk to them about how other families might have different rules about what’s OK to say.  Make sure your children know that certain words are fine to say at home, but that they may not be appropriate at school or at some friends' homes.  It’s actually good for kids to figure out that there are different rules in different contexts.  

 

Prioritize the relationship.

However you decide to respond to the potty talk, make sure that your relationship with your children remains the central focus.  When you laugh with them, when you explain your reasoning, and even when you set boundaries, make it all a part of a loving relationship where, regardless of how you might feel about your children and the way they are talking, you love and approve of who they are, without reservation. 

 

The original version of this article can be viewed at Mom.me.

Should I Use a Leash on My Child?

As you can see here, I recently made a brief appearance on "Good Morning America."  I was asked to share my opinions on whether or not to use a "leash" on a small child.  Only a minute fraction of what I said ended up in the actual segment, so I wrote up my thoughts in an fuller article.  You can read the whole article at Mom.me (where it's already generating a great deal of discussion).  Here's an excerpt from the piece: --------------

You see it at the mall, at the airport, at Disneyland. A small child wears a monkey backpack, and the monkey’s tail is a tether held by the child’s parent. A leash.

Lots of people react pretty strongly against leashes for children. I even hear the practice described as “inhumane.” When I asked a friend about it, his tongue-in-cheek response was, “That’s how you get them to sit and stay.”

In my opinion, a leash is like so many other parenting tools and techniques. It’s not inherently good or bad. What matters is how it’s used: how it’s presented to the child, how and when the parent uses it, what the child’s temperament is, and why the parent is using it.

For example, I can see why a mother of young triplets might use a leash when she takes them to a crowded store. Or why the dad of an impulsive 2-year-old who has a history of bolting might feel the need to use it in airport security because he’s also attending to a 4-year-old. In fact, I’m not sure that a leash in these cases is all that different from buckling kids into a stroller to keep them contained. And, further, it might be a better alternative to what I’ve seen in parking lots, where I sometimes see a parent yanking a child’s wrist in rough ways.

In other words, I understand that in certain situations, a parent may have tried everything and eventually decided that a leash is the best way to protect her child until the child has a little more capacity for thinking and controlling impulses. Some parents are truly afraid for their child’s safety, and that fear is legitimately based on the child’s past behavior. I’ve talked to many caring parents who decided to use some form of a leash when it became a basic safety issue for their overly impulsive child who was, say, 18- to 36-months-old. And some parents feel that this provides them with a basic security that allows them to be more engaged and playful with their child.

However, all that being said, I do have three main concerns about using a restraining device like a leash.

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Click here to read the rest of the article.

 

 

20 Discipline Mistakes All Moms Make

Some of you have seen my posts about common discipline mistakes even the best parents make.  Mom.me has just posted a re-working of those ideas as a gallery with pictures.  It begins like this: -------------------

Because we’re always parenting our children, it takes real effort to look at our discipline strategies objectively. Good intentions can become less-than-effective habits quickly, and that can leave us operating blindly, disciplining in ways we might not if we thought much about it. Here are some parenting mistakes made by even the best-intentioned, most well-informed moms, along with practical suggestions that might come in handy the next time you find yourself in one of these situations.

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View the whole gallery here.

 

 

If I Could Tell You Only One Thing about Discipline

Discipline is a complex and complicated subject.  I could write a whole book about it.  In fact, I’ve already started working on one. But when we talk about effective discipline and how parents can achieve the results they want when they interact with their kids, it can actually be it pretty simple.  If it were a math formula, it would look like this:

 

WARMTH  +  AUTHORITY  =  EFFECTIVE DISCIPLINE

 

The research is really clear on this point.  Kids who achieve the best outcomes in life – emotionally, educationally, and relationally – have parents who raise them with a high degree of warmth and nurturing, or what I like to call emotional responsiveness, as well as a high degree of authority, where clear boundaries are communicated and enforced.  Their parents remain firm and consistent in their boundaries, while still interacting with them in a way that communicates love, respect, and compassion.  Warmth and authority are the two sides of the effective-discipline coin.

 

The first side of the discipline coin:  Warmth

When we nurture our children and attune to their internal world, we allow them to know and believe that they are seen, heard, loved, and approved of by their parents.  Then they’ll interact with the world around them based on that belief, so that their brains are wired to expect that their needs will be met in intimate relationships.  On the other hand, if a parent repeatedly shames and criticizes his or her child, then the child learns that relationships are based on power and control.  He will store up all kinds of negative emotions that will be expressed either externally through bullying and aggression, or internally through depression or anxiety, but either way he’ll be forced to seek bigger and bigger ways to get his needs met.  His brain won’t develop in ways that make it easy to problem-solve and reflect on his experiences; instead, he’ll most likely live his life reacting.  He’ll operate from a primitive reactive brain, instead of a thoughtful proactive brain.

It’s absolutely vital that parents nurture their children and do all that they can to offer them love, compassion, and understanding by consistently meeting their needs, even when the kids are difficult and act out with “bad” behavior.

 

The second side of the discipline coin:  Authority

It’s just as vital, though, that parents remain the authority in their relationship with their children.  Kids need boundaries so they can understand the way the world works, and what’s permissible, versus what crosses a line.  A clear understanding of rules and boundaries helps them achieve success in relationships and other areas of their lives.  Our children need repeated experiences that allow them to develop wiring in their brain that helps them delay gratification, flexibly deal with not getting things their way, and contain urges to react aggressively toward others..  By saying “no” and drawing boundaries for our children, we’ll help them know that rules exist that offer safety and predictability in an otherwise chaotic world.

 

Discipline as a Two-Step Process

Emotional responsiveness plus authority.  They go hand in hand, and when we discipline, we need to communicate both to our children.  You can think of it as a two-step process that can happen in either order.   You provide boundaries in a matter-of-fact tone:  “You know the rule about wearing your helmet, and I’m sorry, but you broke that rule, so now the skateboard can’t be ridden for the rest of the week.”  And, you offer empathy regarding the emotional effect of the consequences:  “I know that my taking your skateboard away makes you really sad.”  You can even combine the two steps with a statement like, “I’m letting you face your consequence because I love you, and it’s my job to teach you about being safe and how to be a responsible person.”

We want our kids to learn that relationships are about respect, nurturing, warmth, consideration, cooperation, and respecting other people.  When we interact with them from a perspective of both warmth and authority – in other words, when we repeatedly pay attention to their internal world, while also holding to standards about their behavior – these are the lessons they’ll learn.

I’ll close by emphasizing the point that was a bit of a revelation to me when I first understood it in relation to my parenting:  It really is possible to be calm and loving, and to connect with our children emotionally, while disciplining them and setting clear boundaries.  I don’t always do it, and neither will you.  But it’s important, and it’s healthy and helpful for everyone involved, when we combine clear and consistent consequences with loving empathy.

 

 

 

 

Proactive Parenting: Getting Ahead of the Discipline Curve

When your kids misbehave, your immediate reaction may be to offer consequences with both guns blazing. You hit your sister? That’s a time out. 

You broke the book shelf while climbing to reach the matches?  You just lost your playdate this afternoon.

 Your kids act, and you react.

If you’ve heard me speak, or if you’ve read other pieces I’ve written about discipline, you know I’m a big believer in setting and enforcing boundaries.  At times, giving consequences may be the best response in order to teach lessons about appropriate behavior and observing boundaries.

But here I want to make the case for stepping in before things escalate, before you have to start thinking about consequences.  I’m talking about proactive parenting, as opposed to reactive parenting.

When we parent proactively, we watch for times when we can tell that misbehavior and/or a meltdown are in our kid’s near future, and we step in and try to guide them around that potential landmine.  Sometimes you can even catch the misbehavior as it begins to surface, and redirect your child in a better direction.

Yesterday, for example, my sweet and usually compliant eight-year-old was getting ready to go to his swim lesson.  I noticed that he overreacted a bit when I asked him to apply sunscreen – Why do I have to use sunscreen every day?! – but I didn’t think much about it.  Then while I was getting his little brother ready, he sat down at the piano for a minute.  He started playing one of the songs he’s learned, then when he missed a couple of notes, he slammed his fist down on the keyboard in frustration.  I stopped what I was doing and walked over and set an apple in front of him.  He looked up at me, and I simply offered him a knowing smile.  He and I have been talking lately about his tendency to lose control of his emotions when he gets hungry.  He nodded, ate the apple, and moved back into a place where he felt in control of himself.

I’m not always this quick at reading cues, and of course, sometimes no obvious signs present themselves before our kids make bad decisions.  But this particular morning, I saw the signs and, out of justifiable fear at what was coming, took one simple, proactive step to address the situation.

Sometimes all we can do is react.  But other times, we can take proactive steps to stay ahead of the discipline curve.  That might mean enforcing a consistent bedtime so your kids don’t get too tired and grumpy.  It might mean stepping in to begin a new game when you hear that your children are moving towards significant conflict with each other.  It might mean telling a toddler, with a voice full of intriguing energy, “Hey, before you throw that french fry across the restaurant, I want to show you what I have in my purse.”

Parenting proactively isn’t easy, and it takes a fair amount of awareness on your part.  But the more you can watch for the beginnings of negative behaviors and head them off at the pass, the less you’ll end up having to lay down the law and give consequences, meaning you and your children will have more time to simply enjoy each other.

Does Your Discipline Ever Move From Consistent to Rigid?

There’s no question about it:  consistency is crucial when it comes to raising and disciplining our children.  Many parents I see in my office realize that they need to work on being more consistent – with bedtimes, limiting junk food, or just in general – when they interact with their kids.  But there are others who have placed such a high priority on consistency that it’s moved into a rigidity that’s not good for their kids, themselves, or their relationship. Let’s begin by getting clear on the difference between the two terms.  Consistency means working from a reliable and coherent philosophy so that our kids know what we expect of them, and what they should expect from us.  Rigidity, on the other hand, means maintaining an unswerving devotion to rules we’ve set up, sometimes without having even thought them through.  As parents, we want to be consistent, but not rigid.

Kids definitely need consistency from their parents.  They need to know what the rules are, and how we will respond if they break (or even bend) those rules.  Your reliability teaches them about cause and effect, and about what to expect in their world.  More than that, it helps them feel safe; they know they can count on you to be constant and steady, even when their internal or external worlds are chaotic.  In this way, we provide them with safe containment when they’re exploding because they want an extra scoop of ice cream.

So how do we maintain consistency without crossing over to rigidity?  Well, let’s start by acknowledging that there are some non-negotiables.  For instance, under no circumstances can you let your toddler run through a busy parking lot, or your older child swim without supervision or get into a car with a driver who’s been drinking.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t ever make exceptions, or even turn a blind eye from time to time when your child misbehaves.  For instance, if you have a rule about no toys in a restaurant, but your four-year-old has just received a new puzzle game that he’ll play with quietly while you have dinner with another couple, that might be a good time to make an exception to your rule.  Or if your daughter has promised that she’ll finish her homework before dinner, but her grandparents show up to take her on an outing, you might negotiate a new deal with her.

The goal, in other words, is to maintain a consistent-but-flexible approach with your kids, so that they know what to expect from you, but they also know that at times, you will be thoughtfully considering all the factors involved.

The biggest deciding factor when it comes to discipline is what you’re hoping to accomplish with your child.  Remember, the point of discipline is to teach, not to give consequences.  If consequences help you teach the lesson you’re wanting to teach, then great.  But don’t be rigid on this, applying the same consequence to all infractions.  Look for other ways to accomplish your goal, and to effectively teach what you want your kids to learn.

For example, try a “do-over.”  Instead of immediately offering a punishment for speaking to you disrespectfully, say something like, “There’s a much more respectful way to talk to each other.  I want you to try that again. You can tell me how you’re feeling, but use respectful words and tone.”  Do-overs allow a child a second chance to handle a situation well.  It gives them practice doing the right thing.  And that’s often much more beneficial than a time-out.

Or, if you do decide to go the consequences route, be creative.  Saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t fix the broken Buzz Lightyear nightlight that was thrown in anger.  An apology note and using allowance money to buy a new nightlight might teach more.  Try asking them to brainstorm with you:  “What can you do to make it right?”

The point is that in your efforts to be consistent, remain flexible to other alternatives.  Kids need to learn about right and wrong.  But as an adult, sometimes you need to be able to see the gray areas, and not just the black and white.  Make decisions based not on an arbitrary rule you’ve previously set down, but on what’s best for your kids and your family.

 

 

 

Ask Tina: My Child is Lying to Me. How Worried Should I Be?

Q:  My almost-five-year-old son is starting to lie.  I’m worried that this is starting a terrible pattern, and I don’t know how to handle the situation.  I’m just really upset because I’ve always stressed how important it is to tell the truth.

A:  First, take a deep breath.  This is typical behavior for a child.  Most kids tell fibs at this age.  In fact, lying is developmentally normal, and if he’s doing it to avoid getting in trouble or disappointing you, it is actually evidence of a developing conscience and moral code.  He knows what he’s done is wrong, so he lies to avoid being bad or to avoid getting in trouble or losing your approval.   If he’s doing it to be silly and trying “story-telling” out, it’s evidence of creativity and imagination.

So now, let’s talk about how to respond when kids are lying to deny that they did something wrong.  When I know my son is lying, I try not to say, “I don’t believe you,” or, "You're lying."  Instead, I say, “Why don’t you take a minute and think about what really happened and then start over.”  Sometimes I also say, “It’s really important that you tell me the truth and tell me what really happened so I can believe you when you tell me things.”  For smaller children, it's even OK to sometimes simply say something like, "Hmmm, I'm not sure about that.  That doesn't sound to me like how that would have happened," and then pause and let them respond.

Once my kids got to be about 6 years old, I was able to use an analogy—something about a glass full of how much I trust their words, and when they lie, it's like I pour out some of the trust and the glass gets emptier and then it’s harder to trust.  But when they tell me the truth, even when it’s hard, the glass fills up and I can trust them more.

Another time with my son,  I think he was about 4 or 5 at the time, I knew he was trying to lie, but when I asked him to go back and think about it and tell it again, he said, “I don’t want to tell you.” I told him that was honest and I appreciated it, and then I gave him assurance that he was free to tell the truth:  “If you tell me the truth, I won’t be mad.  We’ll just talk about it.” He told me the truth, and then I gushed about how great it was that he told the truth, even though it was hard, and he felt proud (thus reinforcing honesty).

So usually when my kids lie, I don't focus so much on the actual behavior they’re trying to cover up, and emphasize trust and truth.  (This has changed some, by the way, as my oldest has grown into adolescence; for him I typically address both issues fairly equally.)  I usually talk about how I want them to tell me anything and that lying isn’t OK, and then sometimes just talking about that is enough of a .  Since the point of discipline is to teach, I often find that the conversation itself teaches the lesson in the most effective way.  

The last suggestion is to make the truth-telling just an expected part of the family code that you reinforce frequently:  “We tell the truth in our family.”

If your child is telling tall tales about sort of random things, you can join in by amplifying the stories and making them sillier and sillier.  Lean into the imagination!

And if your child is lying to impress and feel better about herself, she’s showing you that she might need some strokes or to feel better about herself.  Find some ways to do that authentically in an area she does well in or catch her being good and amplify some things about her in proactive and positive ways. 

Sick of Time-Outs?

[Update:  I've spelled out some of my main reasons for not being a fan of time-outs here.]  

There are far worse discipline tactics than time-outs, but I think that there are some alternatives that can be better in certain situations.  Few children actually use their time-out time to reflect or calm down; in fact, it can even cause them to get more upset, depending on the child.  I prefer some other approaches that require my kids to get more practice using the problem-solving, empathetic, choice-making part of their brains:

  • A “re-do.”  One way I do this is by saying “Stop, please.  Now go out of the room and then come back in and ask me the right way,” or, “I’m going to take that toy, and save it for you when you’re ready to play with it nicely.  Just let me know when you are ready.”  Sometimes I even say, “I know you know how to do this the right way.  I’m going to give you a do-over.”  Not only does this approach address what your child has done wrong, it (more importantly) gives them practice at doing something right.
  • Ask questions about intent.  Sometimes misbehavior occurs when a child is trying to make something happen, and goes about it poorly.  By asking “Is that what you meant to happen?” or “What could you do differently next time?” you can get at motives and intent.  For example, if your child really wants another child to play with them, and the other child is not interested, your child might grab the other child’s shirt to make them play.  This would be a good time to ask these questions and talk with your child.
  • Encourage them to repair the situation:  Ask, “How can you make it right?” or “How can you show your sister that you’re really sorry?” or “How can you help your friend feel better?” This gives them practice at thinking about how their actions affect others, and how to begin to think about how other people feel.
  • Ask them to help you solve the problem:  “I’m not sure that taking the car out of his hand is the best thing to do.  But how we are going to solve this?  You want to play with the car, and your friend wants to play with the car. . . hmmm.  Do you have any ideas?”  This gives them problem-solving practice, as well as giving them a little choice, instead of hearing “Share!”  commanded all the time.
  • For older kids,  earning privileges for good behavior works really well as well (like a family walk, getting to choose what’s for dinner, getting to choose where they sit at the table, getting a game time or longer reading time with a parent, or other things that are important to them).

Clear and consistent boundaries are, of course, very important when it comes to good parenting.  The question is how to most effectively set and communicate those boundaries.  I’m not saying not to use time-outs.  But I do think that lots of time (and possibly even most of the time), we can find more productive and effective ways to respond to our kids’ misbehavior.

[Update:  I've spelled out some of my main reasons for not being a fan of time-outs here.]

Setting boundaries AND connecting emotionally

One thing that isn’t on the notes that we discussed is the importance of boundaries and consequences. It’s important for us to remember that connecting emotionally with our kids, joining with them, and looking at the underlying needs/emotions beyond the surface behavior doesn’t at all mean we should be indulgent. As an example, I think it would be weak and indulgent to respond to a child who’s crying and tantruming in public because he doesn’t want to leave somewhere by asking, “Are you upset? Why are you upset? It’s OK. We can talk when you’re ready.” And leave them crying and being upset, and not making them leave–giving them control over the situation. It doesn’t feel good to them or to you to allow their emotional states to dictate what is happening. A more appropriate response would be something like, “I can see that you are upset. Do you want to tell me about it? Ok, well, we can talk when you are ready, but right now we need to get in the car. You can either come right now on your own or I’ll help you get in the car. “ These are subtle distinctions, but important ones.

Sometimes they don’t know why they are upset—they just feel it. What’s important is that we let them feel that we care about how they are feeling, but also that we provide some limit and structure to the situation. For an older child, when she is losing it at bedtime, we can say something like “I know it can be hard sometimes and you can go ahead and let your feelings out. I’ll be here for you if you need me, and I can just listen if you want to talk or I can just sit here with you. In 5 minutes we’re going to turn off the light so you can get to sleep, but I can be here for you however would feel best to you for the next 5 minutes.” Our non-verbal tone of voice, body posture, facial expression matter a lot in how we come across.

I saw a mom at the park this afternoon who had a son who was about 5 or so. He was being a bully on the play structure and the mom didn’t intervene (saying she didn’t want to solve his problems) until another mom let her know that he wasn’t letting the other kids go down the slide, etc. The mom reprimanded him at which time he started calling her stupid and throwing sand. She told him they had to leave and gathered their things and kept trying to get him to leave, but never enforced it. They were still there when I left.

A way this mom could’ve been both attuned to his emotional state AND enforce boundaries would be to tell him that the way he was acting wasn’t OK and that they were going to leave (it might be OK to give him a second chance with a clear warning about what would happen with any future infractions depending on the situation and severity). When he started calling her stupid and throwing things, she could say “I can see you are really angry and disappointed about leaving the park. We can’t stay at the park because you didn’t make good choices, so we are leaving now. You can either walk yourself to the car or I will take you to the car. It’s your choice.” And then make it happen.

When we tell them “I know you’re having a hard time” or “I can see you are really upset” or whatever we say to connect with them emotionally and to let them feel felt, we also MUST expect behavior to meet our expectations, give consequences. We do want to offer emotional connection, but we never want to indulge their behavior. Again, it doesn’t even feel good to them to allow their emotional states to drive the situation.

Emotionally responsive parenting is at the heart of optimal development, but emotionally responsive parenting isn’t at all about being indulgent.