Viewing entries in
Ask Tina

Helping Kids Deal with Anxiety about School--Part 5

I keep hearing from parents whose kids are dealing with anxiety as a new school year begins.  Here’s what I tell them. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJQ0Nwk8hhY[/youtube]

Helping Kids Deal with Anxiety about School--Part 4

I keep hearing from parents whose kids are dealing with anxiety as a new school year begins.  Here’s what I tell them. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEQe2xfaQyc[/youtube]

Helping Kids Deal with Anxiety about School--Part 3

I keep hearing from parents whose kids are dealing with anxiety as a new school year begins.  Here’s what I tell them. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2pxKovH-Qc[/youtube]

Helping Kids Deal with Anxiety about School--Part 2

I keep hearing from parents whose kids are dealing with anxiety as a new school year begins.  Here’s what I tell them. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGl5DN4I_-E[/youtube]

What Kids Need Most: You Being Present With Them

Here’s my response to all the parents out there who worry that they’re not doing all the “right things” with their kids. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQ6SPIW64w4[/youtube]

Ask Tina: How can I get my daughter to do what I ask the first time I ask her?

Q:  Tina, do you have any suggestions for getting my daughter to do what I ask the first time or to help me not have to repeat myself over and over? A:  The best suggestion I have for not having to repeat yourself so much is to stop what you’re doing and focus on the situation.  I usually find that the reason I’m repeating myself is because I’m preoccupied with other things and not following through immediately when one of my sons doesn’t do what I’ve asked right away.  By the time I notice that he hasn’t done what I asked, I get even more frustrated because now it’s been so long since I first told him what to do.

Of course you wish your daughter would just do what you say, but one way to at least cut down on the nagging and frustration is to stop what you’re doing, kneel down, make eye contact and put your hand on her arm or shoulder.  Then turn your voice way down, almost to a whisper.   Ask her to repeat what you’ve said.   Say, “Maybe you didn’t understand what I wanted you to do, or maybe you’ve forgotten, so I am going to say it again.  Then I want you to jump up two times to let me know you know what to do, and then go do it!”  You can also try something funny:  “Hmm.  I think I told you to do something, but I don’t know what it was.  Maybe you can go do it and then surprise me!”

Small children easily forget and become distracted.  So give simple instructions, and only one or two in a row.  Also, stay focused yourself, so you don’t become distracted and then discover ten minutes later, when it’s time to leave for school, that your daughter still hasn’t put her shoes on.

To some extent, this will always be a battle you’ll fight with your kids.  But focus on helping them execute your instructions, and before long you’ll see real improvement, which will at least decrease the amount of daily frustration you feel.

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. 

Ask Tina: Friend vs. Authority Figure

Q:  Is it really true that I should be an authority figure and not a friend to my daughter?

A:  I hear this idea sometimes, too.  Something along the lines of “Your child already has lots of friends; she needs you to be the parent.”  I think this notion was probably cleverly expressed by someone, and it started getting passed around as gospel without any critical examination.

I can see why parents have been advised that they should be authority figures.  After all, children need structure and boundaries and to be held accountable for their behavior, and an authority figure provides these types of important limits.  All of this is backed up by scientific research.

But does that mean that we have to be only an authority figure?  Why this forced dichotomy?  Why can’t we be both?

Definitions always matter.  What do you think of when you think of a friend?  Predominantly, friends are people we like spending time with and have fun with.  Friends are people we talk with, share our lives with, lean on when things are tough, celebrate with when things are good, etc.   Hmmm.  Sound like something that would be great for a parent-child relationship?

In fact, the research shows that the best outcomes for kids result from having caregivers who have high expectations and enforce limits (as an authority figure does), but who also are very warm and nurturing (as a friend would be).  (I’ll be writing an article on this subject soon.)

The concern comes when parents rely on their kids to meet needs that other adults should be meeting for them.  It’s clearly inappropriate for parents to depend on their child to listen to them complain about their serious financial problems or to comfort their emotional turmoil, since doing so can cause all kinds of problems for the child.

What is OK, more than OK, is to have a parent-child relationship with a strong friendship dynamic as well.  Because, think about it:  If you have to turn in your friend hat and put on your “authority figure” hat instead, won’t you miss out on a lot in your relationship with your daughter?  And won’t she?

With my boys, I try to be both.  I’m not always able to make it happen, but I hope they think I’m fun and want to spend time with me.  I hope they want to tell me things, and I hope they feel like they have a friend in me—even though they know I’m also going to be a hard-nosed disciplinarian when they need me to be one.

Ask Tina: Am I Spoiling My Baby?

Being a parent to a new baby is really hard. When your basic needs like eating, peeing, showering, and sleeping are being taken away, it’s easy to feel like you're at his mercy. Just hang in there. I promise it will be better soon. These days (and nights) are really long, but they will go quickly. And, it may be hard to believe, but you'll likely long for the days of just holding him all day, just relishing his skin and little breath and holding his little hand.