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Let’s bring this analogy home to my role as parent. Here’s a situation I’m sure you’ll relate to. Notice the before and after scenes – I’m the same, loving mom in each. The difference is, in the second scene, I have a deeper understanding of Positive Discipline and with a few tweaks, the interaction with my daughter is transformed at the core.
The scene: I’m putting my 6 year-old, S, to bed and have just finished reading her a bedtime story.
S: Mom, I’m afraid.
Me: What are you afraid of? (a bit annoyed and really thinking “what could you possibly be afraid of?!”)
S: I’m scared to go to bed.
Me: There’s nothing to be scared of – you’re in your cozy bed and your family is home with you. (My annoyance is building.)
S: I’m still afraid.
Me: That’s silly cause you are perfectly safe. (I’m determined to leave and stop this conversation.)
As I leave the room a jumble of thoughts go through my mind:
- What have I done to make her so insecure?
- What’s wrong with her that she can’t simply go to sleep?
- What’s her fear going to become as she gets older?
- It’s simple, she hasn’t had enough hardship in her life – if she’d had more trials, like me, then she’d know what fear really is!
After (with a Positive Discipline approach):
S: Mom, I’m afraid.
Me: What are you afraid of?
S: I’m afraid to go to sleep. I’m afraid of all the normal stuff that people are afraid of.
Me: Where do you feel that in your body?
S: My heart. It’s like I have butterflies fluttering in my heart and frogs jumping in my stomach.
Me: Oh, that doesn’t sound good. (I place my hand on her heart).
S: Do you ever get scared?
Me: Yes. Remember last week when we were on the airplane and it was really bumpy and you were laughing and whooping it up? I was really afraid – I didn’t like how that felt AT ALL.
S: I was scared too but it was also fun and funny.
Me: People get scared of different things – I LOVE GOING TO BED.
I left the room, my daughter fell asleep. I wasn’t worried about her future. I felt close and connected to her.
Let’s look at some of the obvious differences in how I felt and acted in the two scenes.
- Stuck in limited “role” of mom
- Focus on how I’ve failed as a mom
- Interested in our shared human experience
- Willing to share my vulnerability
- In the present
- Faith in my daughter to figure it out
While there’s no perfect way to parent, we can make small, subtle shifts that bring in the light to reveal our higher self. When we allow this to happen, we truly sparkle. The end result? An intimate moment of precious connection with our child. There’s nothing more beautiful than that.
We have much to learn from each other.
In the comments below share what motivates you to go from scene 1 to 2? What helps you sparkle?
Next time you’re in that #1 scenario, stop, breathe, connect, wait. Let us know what happens.
Lisa Fuller facilitates parenting classes in the East Bay and coaches parents one-on-one. She’s a compassionate listener, committed to empowering parents through Positive Discipline’s common sense principles. Lisa’s three children are 18, 14 and 7. She’s an M.S.W., Certified Positive Discipline Trainer and Certified Professional Coach. To learn more about Lisa, visit http://www.LisaFullerCoaching.com
“I need a hug” is an actual parenting tool from “Positive Discipline.” You can use this tool almost any time, in any situation, and it often works wonders.
Imagine that your child is having a tantrum. You say, “I need a hug!”
Your child can’t hear you at first because he is tantrumming (or arguing, or negotiating, or fill in the blank.) So you say it again, louder, “I need a hug!”
Your child might look at you, confused. “What?” he asks.
You say it again, “I need a hug!”
“Right now?” Your child asks.
“Yes, right now!” you reply.
If your child is able to give you a hug, several things will happen. First, your child feels needed and helpful — a sense of significance. Second, when your child hugs you, his brain releases a neuropeptide called oxytocin, also known as the “feel-good neurochemical.” Your child feels loved and connected — he has a sense of belonging. After some moments of cuddling and connection, you may then be able to re-direct your child to something else, or do some problem-solving together about what to do next.
When children feel a strong sense of belonging and significance, they are far more able to think rationally, and be respectful and cooperative. They feel better, so then they can do better.
And this is true for adults, too. Just the other day, I was “losing it” with my daughter, E. She had been dawdling all morning even though we had made a plan in advance about how she could get herself ready on time. At the last minute, instead of getting her shoes on, she was making tea for herself and spilled sugar all over the counter. AHHHHHH! I flipped my lid, and maybe kinda sorta yelled, “E., what are you doing?!!!”
Fortunately, my younger daughter, M, knew about this hug tool and used it on me.
“Mommy, I need a hug.” She said.
“What did you say?” I asked.
“I need a hug,” she replied. I went over and gave her a hug.
I’ll be darned. It totally worked. I felt better.
I was still irritated but far less so, and was able to ask for help while I got my lid back down. Thank you, M, for reminding me of the power of “I need a hug!”
When might “I need a hug!” come in handy for you? Please share your thoughts!
It was Monday night, I was sick, and my husband had been out of town for the long weekend.
He arrived home in the evening, intending to stay just long enough to print out tickets for a Warriors game (one his few indulgences, which I am happy he takes) and then go. Our 7 year-old, M, was not happy he was leaving so quickly.
When I took her upstairs for her bedtime bath, she began to cry and said she missed Daddy.
“I know M, you miss Daddy. He’s been gone for a while, it’s true.”
The crying persisted. “I want Daddy!” she cried.
“Yeah, M, I hear you. You want Daddy. But I’m here and I love you.” I attempted a hug.
Hug was rejected.
“I want Daddy. I didn’t get to see him all weekend!” Lots of crying.
“I know M. I’m sorry he’s not staying tonight. Let’s get into your nice warm tub.”
And here’s where the story could have turned sharply in the wrong direction . . . I very easily could have “flipped my lid:” now my feelings were hurt, I’d been sick all weekend without my husband, and I really just wanted to be in bed myself! How could she be so needy? I’m the one who needed Dad!
OK, honestly? All these thoughts did go through my head. But I kept my mouth shut and made a choice to get curious instead: Was she hungry? Did she get enough sleep last night? Or was she simply feeling disconnected from her Dad? I decided it was the last reason.
I helped her into the tub (she was still crying) and sat down next to her.
Dad came up to say goodnight and goodbye. “Daddy, I want you to stay,” she said.
On a different day, Dad’s guilt could have made him skip the game. But we had faith in our daughter to work through her feelings and recover.
Dad masterfully “built a bridge” (a term from Gordon Neufeld) with her: “M, I love you so much and I miss you, too. When I get back from the game, I will come in and cuddle with you for a minute, OK? And in the morning, we can play a game together because I’m taking you to school.” She can now see a bridge to the other side of her sadness.
He left. (She was still crying.)
We got out of the tub, dried off, and brushed teeth, through tears all the while.
Here again, on a different day, I might have been pushed to my limit: “M, that’s enough now. There’s nothing we can do about it, so just move on! Stop crying!”
This day, somehow, I took it in stride, knowing that feelings are always OK, and that M had some big ones right then. Trying to squelch her feelings would only exacerbate the situation.
So I stayed calm and moved on. I asked her what book she was reading and began to read to her. The story distracted her and she calmed down. My cough kept interrupting the story, but I did my best. M noticed.
“Mom, I think you need some rest.”
“I do, M. I’m ready for bed, too,” I replied.
“Let’s just cuddle instead of reading,” said M.
“Excellent idea, M.”
After some moments of cuddling together, all was better. We were connected. She felt better, and I did too.
“Thanks for helping me today, M. I really needed that cuddle,” I said.
“Me too, Mommy. I love you. Get well soon!” And that’s how the story ends.
It could have ended very differently.
This story exemplifies one of the greatest parenting epiphanies I ever got: I don’t like crying. It makes me uncomfortable. I want it to stop. But if I can just “be” with it — allow the feelings to be there — and tolerate the discomfort I feel, the feelings pass. They always do.
In the process, my daughter is also learning: that her feelings are real and OK to have, that she can recover, and that her parents love her even when they don’t give her everything she wants, right when she wants it.
What helps you stay cool, calm, and curious in the face of really irritating behavior? Please share your thoughts! And if you’d like some help, join me for a 3-week parenting workshop. More info at www.WorkingParenting.com
“Your explanation of your child’s behavior guides your intervention.” — Ross Greene
I will forever be transformed by having read, “The Explosive Child” by Ross Greene. Poorly named, this book describes both a perspective and a process for solving behavior problems jointly with kids (all kinds, even non-explosive ones.) His work, along with “Positive Discipline,” inspired the curriculum for my parenting mini-series: “Rewards, Punishments, and Problem Solving.”
It helps that there’s a simple process to follow (Greene calls his, “Collaborative Problem Solving,” and I call mine, “PESOS.”) But even more profound is the perspective shift he recommends parents take while solving behavior problems with their kids.
Because how you see your child’s behavior affects how you feel, and how you feel affects how you act. There’s some chicken and egg going on in there, for sure, but it starts with what you see, or rather, how you make sense of what you see.
Here’s an example:
Your child asks for ice cream before dinner. You say no. Your child breaks into full tantrum.
What do you see? You might see an ungrateful child who is completely spoiled and freaks out when she doesn’t get her way.
What do you feel? Irritated, disgusted, mad at yourself for raising such a spoiled child.
What do you do? You tell her to knock it off and stop being such a spoiled brat. You walk away in disgust while she tantrums even more.
NOW . . . here’s another perspective on the same example:
Your child asks for ice cream before dinner. You say no. Your child breaks into full tantrum.
What do you see? You could choose to see a beautifully imperfect child who is still learning and growing, and who wants to behave and do well, but something is making it hard for her. Maybe she is feeling powerless. Maybe she is feeling lonely and disconnected from you. Maybe she is simply hungry.
What do you feel? Curiosity. Empathy.
What do you do? You might give her a big hug. Or ask her if she’s feeling hungry. Or tell her that you love her and want to share ice cream with her after dinner.
“Your explanation of your child’s behavior guides your intervention.” And since we always want our interventions to be helpful, it’s always better to see your child as one who is trying to do well and behave nicely, but something is getting in the way. Because what you see affects how you feel, and how you feel affects how you act.
And as you may already know, we all do better when we feel better! Grown-ups and kids alike.
What shifts for you when you shift your perspective? Please share!
There it was again. A wet towel lying on my 11-year-old’s bedroom floor.
I’m not a neat freak, I swear. I like things to be relatively clean, and I appreciate an organized pantry or filing system. But there are often dirty dishes in my sink at bedtime, and every horizontal surface in my office is covered with something that belongs somewhere else.
But the wet towel on my daughter’s floor! And the dirty clothes only inches from her hamper. And piles of clean, folded clothing on her chair, awaiting their moment to be placed neatly into drawers. It kind of kills me.
I know many tools from Positive Discipline, and have been using them for quite some time. Like asking rather than telling: “what do we do with wet towels?” Writing a humorous note: “Hi, it’s your carpet here, and I’d appreciate seeing the light of day!” Pointing to the wet towel without speaking. Taking time to teach her how to fold and hang a towel. I even tried joint problem solving. Her solution: “Give me a reward every time I put my towel away.” Huh. That’s not what I was going for.
She would quickly comply when I reminded her, but I was really tired of reminding her. Our relationship was turning into a series of reminders. And then someone asked me a very good question: “What if you cared less?”
Wow. I had to think hard about that one.
The next day, I told my daughter that I was going to give her some space to take care of her own room. I told her that I hoped she would pick up her towel after bathing, and put away her clean clothes on her own, but that I was no longer going to remind her and that I had faith in her to take care of these things herself. In short, I backed off.
For the next week, amazingly, her room was definitely tidier. When her towel was picked up and clothes put away I told her that I noticed and she literally beamed. But after about a week, I walked in to find her towel on the floor, and (ugh!) I couldn’t not care. I looked at her with wide eyes and pointed at the towel. I broke my end of the deal. (Again, ugh!) Man, it’s hard to care less.
So, I will try it again, and reflect a bit more on why it’s so hard to care less. I know that fear is playing a role here: fear that she will be a sloppy mess for the rest of her life and no one will want to be with her because she can’t take care of herself or her things. But how likely is that, really?
I, myself, used to put wads of already chewed gum on the back of my bed stand. Now that’s disgusting. And somehow I turned a corner and cleaned up my act. All on my own. I didn’t end up living alone in a pig sty.
There’s also fear of judgment. When people look at my daughter, what will they think of me? I thought I was over that one. Apparently I still have some work to do.
My realization (slowly coming to me. . . ) is this: My daughter will change. She will grow. She has so much time, and so many strengths. Some parts of her may not change, but even so, I want a strong, connected relationship with her. So I have to decide what to care about. And what not to.
I’ve also decided that I’m teaching her how to do her own laundry ( :
What do you want to care less (or more!) about? Please share your thoughts!
“You must give up the life you had planned in order to live the life that is waiting for you.” Joseph Campbell, Anthropologist