“Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?” - Jane Nelsen
“How much more precious is a little humanity than all the rules in the world.” -Jean Piaget Let me ask you something; what do you do if/when: ● Your child screams “I hate you!” ● Your child hits his baby sister? ● Your child is rude to your mother? ● Your child refuses to do her homework? ● Your child starts to scream in front of a group of people at the grocery store when you say “no” to purchasing a candy bar? ● Your child’s curfew is 9pm but he doesn’t get home until midnight? ● Your child comes home drunk or high? If you’re human, chances are these situations would upset you. Or you may trigger a fear or wonder if you have a “bad” child or that you are a “bad parent.” Then there’s the judgement, and the judgment is real. God forbid your child has a meltdown in a public place. Even if you don’t see the glares of judgement, you will probably feel them. I’ve noticed that our culture is often more tolerant of dogs misbehaving than babies and toddlers crying. Have you noticed the difference between how people react when a child is crying in a restaurant or store versus how people react when a dog is barking or causing a disturbance? All of this judgement and the shame that goes along with it tells us that we need to “do something” about our child who is disturbing the peace. What is often implied is that we should respond with a punishment. But what this model misses is the recognition that the child is acting out because a basic need is not being met. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? If your child is sleep deprived, is flooded with stress hormones in their brain, or has low blood sugar, the most basic physical needs are not being met. If you threaten them with punishments, you are also taking away the needs of safety and belonging. I know this may sound hard to digest, but bear with me here. Most parenting books and resources focus specifically on a child’s behaviors. If child does A (yells at you), give consequence B (time-out) and A (child yelling) will stop. Behavioral approaches originated from the work of B.F. Skinner, who worked with laboratory animals, not people or children. But unlike dogs, children are much more complex and we are discovering that using a behavioral approach misses much about what is going on with the child. Often, the behavioral approaches actually escalate the behaviors or make them much worse! However, most of us don’t know any other way to look at the situations that come up in our parenting. It is what we see all around us. It is what we know. It is a part of who we have been as a society and how we have looked at our children. Fortunately, we are entering a new era of consciousness in regards to raising children. We now have scientific evidence that through the positive relationship we build with them, our children behave better and actually want to behave better. Psychologists and researchers call it Interpersonal Neurobiology which incorporates studies from psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, and sociology demonstrating that the mind and brain are shaped by emotional relationships. Relationship-based discipline is revolutionizing the parenting world. Rather than motivating your child to behave through fear or threats, they behave well because it makes them feel good and they have integrity, and science backs this up.
Why Children Misbehave “Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.” ― Marshall B. Rosenberg Children act out because they are in distress, not because they are bad people that need punishment. Acting out is a cry for help, a cry for love. When we respond to poor behavior with anger or punishment, it distances us and invalidates the child’s feelings, often sending them deeper into the feeling that caused the poor behavior in the first place. One of the biggest myths is that if we don’t punish our children that we will spoil them, but we couldn’t be further from the truth. Connecting instead of punishing creates emotional intelligence, allows us to help them process their big feelings, and increases their trust and connect. Poor behavior is an expression of an unmet need. What is an unmet need? I often refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when going through my checklist of what my children may need. I start with the physiological needs: 70-80% of the time a poor havavior has to do with being tired or having low blood sugar (being hungry). The rest of the time, it is often related to a need to feel safe or or an emotional need not being met. You don’t want children that are obedient all the time. “Yes I do! you plead. Just like many traps in life, in the short term, perfectly obedient and well-mannered children feel great. In the long term those children grow up to be people pleasers and even with years of therapy have trouble finding their authentic feelings and happiness. Children should be allowed to disagree, argue, and misbehave, they are trying to figure it out, trying o get their needs met, trying to find their way. Misbehavior shows that they are comfortable enough with us to show us their inner pain. Of course, we want to make sure we help them learn a better way to get their needs met and can use Positive Discipline (in this chapter) and Transformational Communication (Chapter 9) to help them learn without having them be afraid of our retaliation or rejection for misbehavior. If we are too rigid then they will begin to lie and sneak. Rules should instead be simple and few. Offer explanations, “You must be so tired to hit your sister in that way.” Look to infer their behavior to help them learn emotional intelligence, “did you hit your sister because you are jealous that she got a candy?” The goal is to teach them to articulate their feelings instead of acting them out. When children feel heard and listened to, they have no need to act out. Their feelings are accepted and validated.
What an opportunity! When a child acts out with us it is an opportunity for us to help them process their unmet need. Of course, in the moment it will not always feel that way. At times you may feel so angry yourself that you will realize that you also have an unmet need. What to do with all of these unmet needs? It’s an opportunity to learn together. Accepting your children then helps you accept yourself. Herein lies a beautiful learning opportunity, to teach your children that life is about learning, and that when they feel a negative emotion it is because something was not aligned with their core. When we teach them this, we can also remind ourselves, what holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl put so well, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Of course, this requires a change of attitude on our part. Our task becomes less focused on controlling external behavior and more focused on letting go of our need to control behavior. It is a place of acceptance instead of a place of judgement. Have you ever had the experience of being upset, telling a friend about your problem and them telling you what to do instead of comforting you? It doesn’t feel great and we do this to children all the time. We are so uncomfortable seeing them upset that we want to fix it right away. When they are sad, we feel responsible and sometimes even resentful…what do they have to be sad about? I took the day off of work, we just spent the day at the park and I just bought you ice cream…now you are crying?
Big Emotions Are an Opportunity for Growth Instead of viewing big emotions such as crying, temper tantrums, becoming angry easily, and anger outbursts as something inherently wrong or that needs to be “fixed,” the interpretation can shift into a learning opportunity. Through interpersonal neurobiology, we can understand these meltdowns from a neurological perspective. It informs our parenting practices significantly. For example, we know that most young children have not yet learned defense mechanisms to suppress their feelings. The temper tantrums and meltdowns that children express are in fact the way we often feel inside also, but as adults, we have become experts at suppressing or denying emotions. What happens when emotions are denied? When emotions are denied, there is a consequence. From living in denial or living an inauthentic life, to feeling lack of pleasure or connection to others, denying our emotions is chock full of negative results. Other consequences that result in denying emotions include addictions such as being “busy,” overeating, overspending, and generally dissociating from our body. Sometimes we unconsciously create situations to replicate what needs to be healed from our childhood. Therefore, one of the most powerful gifts we can give them is to accept them in all of their manifestations: the pleasant and unpleasant. We need to learn to allow them to be in pain. Don’t teach them your patterns of minimization or denial, stay present with them, and the emotion will run its course and resolve itself. When we try to thwart the course of emotions and control them, we confuse our biological responses to stress and our yearning for authenticity with mind-games to hide from big feelings. But it’s so hard to see our children in pain! When they experience rejection, or a scraped knee, or a tearful outburst, we yearn to comfort them, as much for them as for ourselves. It hurts us to see them in pain. “Don’t cry,” “Don’t be angry” and “It’s Ok” are well-meaning communications, but have a disastrous result. We are, in essence, telling them that how they feel is invalid. This unintentionally teaches them that uncomfortable feelings are not allowed. Instead, the best thing we can say is, “I’m here for you.” This avoidance of pain is understandable, it’s in the air we breathe. As a society, we have a hard time allowing pain. We medicate fevers, which, within limits, are beneficial and meant to resolve themselves. We over-prescribe painkillers. We are so afraid of pain that we have become addicted to shopping, food, drugs, and being busy in order to distract ourselves from it. But pain does not go away when avoided or masked. The only way to process pain or uncomfortable feelings is to sit with the pain. The only way through pain is to go in it. To allow it to be, to teach us what it is we need to shift, to change—not to ignore it. And pain, can increase pleasure. Without pain, we wouldn’t recognize happiness. And when you have pain, you can experience a relief from pain and greater appreciation for what you have. Often, when a child has a tantrum or acts out in anger, it is leftover from a previous time when they did not fully express their emotion. My son likes to say “I’m getting my sadness out.” The emotions do not disappear with time. Emotions stay with us until we release them either intentionally or unintentionally. When emotions pent up, they can lead to outbursts in children as well as adults.
The true meaning of discipline When you hear “discipline” do you think “punishment?” Most people do…the meaning has been altered from its original form. The true meaning of discipline is “to learn” or “to teach” which came from the Latin disciplina. We know that for children to learn why behaving positively is important is better than teaching that if they don’t that something negative will occur. The traditional view of discipline is that our children behave because they learn to be scared of us. This creates not only disruption in the parent-child relationship, but emotional pain. We don’t have to teach them to be scared of us in order to behave. One of the major problems with using punishment as discipline is that children learn extremal motivation (to behave through fear of being punished) instead of internal motivation (to behave because they are motivated to behave). You see, punishment robs children of critical thinking—they comply to our wishes out of fear instead of understanding the reasons why positive behavior is important. In my work with helping adults process their childhood, I’ve heard “My parents called it discipline, but I now know it was abuse” so many times. Traditional discipline risks our children feeling as though they have been abused. When we are overly tired and our children are afraid of us, our yelling out of exasperation can be interpreted as abusive. In many countries, spanking is illegal and considered abusive. Why risk our children experiencing discipline as abuse when there are better ways of promoting positive behavior. The trouble is that punishment works (so does bribery) but only in the short-term. When children are raised with punishment, when they come of age to begin to question the behavior of their parents (often just before the teen years), they no longer will tolerate a threats and respond with extra rebellion and defiance. However, when children are raised with internal motivation and critical thinking, the teenage years are much less rocky for everyone and the parent-child relationship endures successfully. Another issue with punishment is that when we are in a state of anger, we are likely to botch the discipline process, and punish more than we intended. This is often where yelling comes in. I’ve met with so many parents whose primary parenting goal is to stop yelling, yet when punishment continues to be used, this goal is almost impossible. The truth is that we can only respond to our children (or anyone for that matter) appropriately when we are in a neutral state. As parents, it is our obligation to not become triggered by our children no matter what they did to provoke us. So, what should I do, you ask? I find that the simplest solutions are the most helpful: when deciding on discipline, ask yourself this: will what I say increase or decrease the connection with my child? If it lessens your connection with your child, don’t do it. The first rule of raising children consciously is to prioritize the relationship. Positive behavior is the result of a positive relationship. Often, there is a misperception that relationship-based parenting means permissive parents who never say “no” to their kids. In fact, the kind of relationship we are going for is a balanced, honest, loving and safe relationship, not an unhealthy relationship. Funny enough, this parent-child relationship that psychologists have found to develop incredible children also happens to look a lot like the relationship that psychologists have found makes the best marriages. Ideally, the relationship we want to have with our children is much like the relashipships we want to have in our life in general. These relationships are based on authenticity, feel inherently safe, allow for mistakes and are mostly drama-free. These relationships have love at their core and don’t need manipulation. These relationships allow us to be our best selves. The same is true for parent-child relationships. Generally, most parents fall into three parenting styles: Permissive, Democratic (also called Authoritative), or Punitive (also called Authoritarian). Permissive parents are very loving but have few rules or guidelines. Punitive parents are very “do it or else” and Democratic parents, which Jane Nelsen describes in her book on Positive Discipline, as “kind and firm.” Again and again, Democratic parenting styles have been shown to be the best approach to raising children. Democratic parenting is related to higher self esteem and life satisfaction. The democratic approach has also been found to positively influence social competence and social and emotional skills. Sounds great on paper, but if you were raised with a too permissive or overly punitive parenting style it can be hard to find the middle ground on your own. Most who know that the way they were raised was not ideal tend to sway too much in the opposite direction: children that were raised with too much fear, tend to be permissive parents, parents that were raised too permissive or neglected tend to be either too strict or overly involved. It can be hard to find the middle ground alone yet raising children isn’t something that has to be guessed at. We know what works and what doesn’t.
The Myth of Punishment When we punish our children, yell at them, spank them, scold them, shame them, or lecture them, it creates fear, not learning. The brain gets flooded with stress hormones and cannot process our attempts at teaching. Best to wait at least a few hours after. When humans are scared, they cannot learn! “Tough love” creates fear, distance and resentment. In teens, parents often use the idea of “tough love” thinking that they should “know better” by now. But teens, need our connection more than ever. It’s hard enough to connect with teens but when we use “tough love” with them it creates isolation from who they need to rely on the most : their parents.
But What About Rewards? The problem with rewards is they don’t help children learn to be responsible because the parent is the one monitoring. Rewards take away a child’s potential for feeling good about their accomplishments and their ability to feel capable. Instead of teaching children how good it feels to behave considerately to others and to achieve on their own, rewards teach children focus on “what’s in it for me.” Rewards rarely produce lasting changes in behavior. When the rewards stop, children often go back to behaving the same way they did before the reward. Research has also shown that children whose parents make frequent use of rewards tend to be less generous than their peers Rewards also produce less quality work. People expecting to receive a reward for completing a task (or for doing it successfully) simply do not perform as well as those who expect nothing Alfie Kohn has been researching this predicament for decades. His essay “The Risks of Rewards” explains “There are several plausible explanations for this puzzling but remarkably consistent finding. The most compelling of these is that rewards cause people to lose interest in whatever they were rewarded for doing. This phenomenon, has been demonstrated in scores of studies.” One of the reasons why I feel that the most connected parents and teachers end up rewarding their children and students is because rewards make us feel good. It’s kind of like giving ice cream to a child. It makes you feel good to share it with them but you know it’s bad for them.
The Myth of Being Permissive Just as parenting with threats and punishments can be harmful, likewise, parenting with few rules or guidelines can also be scarring. A child is taught that relationships have no boundaries and that love means you can do what you want to do without regard for others. I began my parenting journey on the too permissive side. Just like every parent cliche, the pendulum was swinging far on the opposite for me. In the beginning, I avoided saying “no” when my daughter was a small child at all costs. When she would ask for more candy I would offer her a fruit. When she would ask for a toy, I would distract her with a bird outside the toy store. Looking back, I can see this was just a form of fear of conflict that was completely unconscious. I was teaching the balanced kind and firm way of discipline but my subconscious fears kept arising. In my childhood, it was not safe to disagree and so my permissiveness with her was a form of avoiding a feeling I had not yet learned to resolve. What a gift she gave me. I was able to see that my fear of conflict was teaching her to avoid conflict. By the time her brother came around four years later she had taught me to be comfortable saying “no” and I finally was able to update my programming away from what worked for me as a child (to avoid conflict) to a healthier relationship (to be direct in communication). If I hadn’t been open to that lesson, my daughter may have grown up in a passive state, accepting what was given to her instead of communicating her needs directly. So you see that being too permissive can create future suffering.
What to do About Misbehavior The first resource to handle misbehavior is to prevent it. One of the best ways to prevent misbehavior and to make your children feel special is to spend quality special time together. It’s so powerful that if I had to pick only one tool for parents to learn I would teach this. If you remember anything about how to handle misbehavior, remember this: the amount of quality time you spend with your child is directly related to their positive behavior. In other words, the less quality time you spend, the worse their behavior. The more quality time you spend, the better they behave. It’s hard being a parent, right? You’re busy, exhausted and your child is acting poorly! Poor behavior means you need to spend more quality time with them…but how? When you feel as though you don’t even have a moment for yourself and now your children need more of you it can feel overwhelming. Good news: a little goes a long way. There are so, so many parallels to parenting and marriage that I can’t help but compare the two. The more quality time you spend with your spouse, even just for 10 minutes a day, the less marital problems you will have. What children (and most marriages) need is to know what to expect. So, plan on spending regular time with each child individually. How much and when is different for every child. As long as its regular, it will have a positive effect. I usually start with 20 minutes per day. A regular time is essential. It’s especially empowering for children if they can choose the activity you will do together. You may want to offer a couple of suggestions and let your child choose from what you suggest or even let them make a list of all of the things they want to do with you. Make sure your phone is off during your time together. As tempting as it is, do not check the phone during your special time with them. Many parenting books make the mistake of describing the philosophy but not giving enough tools to actually implement it. One of my favorite set of tools is Jane Nelsen’s Positive Discipline, based off of Adlerian psychology which views child misbehavior as a discouraged child. One of my favorite Positive Discipline tools is to remember the simple mantra of being kind and firm, the basis for democratic /authoritative parenting style. But when we are triggered, we often revert to the parenting styles of our children or we use or anger or guilt to influence our communication with our children. When we are angry, we tend to overreact and yell or spank. The effects of guilt can lead us to be too permissive. We may have guilt about not being around our children more or for not being able to provide them the life we wish we could provide them with. More often than not, parents fall into punitive or permissive parenting patterns when we are trying to not replicate what our parents did to us so we wing too far in the opposite direction. Positive Discipline provides an easy solution: respond with “I love you and the answer is no.” It’s a kind but firm response to testing boundaries. There are a thousand different ways to be kind but firm in your discipline communication. Here are a few examples:
I know you don’t want to clean your room and we can do it together.
I can see how much you want another cookie but it is bad for you.
It is bedtime. I do love snuggling and reading to you, but it is now time for sleep.
Many parents ask, why not just say no? Well, in response I ask, if your friend asks you a question to which your answer is no, do you just say no? For example, if a friend asks you to go to a movie with them, do you say “no” or give a reason why? Giving a reason why doesn’t mean you have to explain yourself, it gives your children a chance to learn about your decision process so they can grow their own decision making skills and hopefully when they are away from you will make healthy decisions. It also shows that you respect them enough to explain. It does not mean that they will always agree or be satisfied with your decision, though. Be prepared for attempts at negotiation, begging and cajoling. Stay firm and stay kind.
Here’s a tool I teach parents and also use with my own children when I need some guidance about exactly how to be firm and kind. The acronym is V.L.E.O. and stands for Validate, Limit, Explain, Option. If you do it in that order you’ll be able to connect with your child, teach them emotional intelligence, be firm and kind and also teach them critical thinking skills. With the exception of infants, a child is never too young to be spoken to this way. In fact, it will also work in all of your other relationships. It’s just a good way to communicate with others. I teach the same skill when I work with couples in couples therapy.
Step 1:Validate Feelings: This is one fo the first communication tools that we learn as therapists. For children, teens and adults alike when people come to you with an issue, something they are upset about there are some rules: 1. Don’t try to fix 2. Don’t distract 3. Don’t minimize 4. Don’t make it about you 5. Don’t feel sorry for the person
But instead of remembering all of the don’ts, just remember to validate and listen. What do I mean by validating? Acknowledge the feeling. Here are some examples: “That must have been hard.” “I can see you’re really upset/sad/angry.” “I can imagine you may feel upset/sad/angry.” It’s hard to watch our children suffer and not rescue them from their suffering. However, when we do, we rob them of the opportunity to learn to understand their feelings and create solutions that are empowering to them instead of being reliant on us. It’s also hard to allow our children to have their feelings because we weren’t allowed to have ours. When we were young, we were given the message that our feelings weren’t allowed to be felt. When we got hurt, we were told “you’re ok.” When we had a problem at school, we were told what to do. When we had tears we were told to “stop crying.” Most people still struggle with identifying even how they feel, let alone the steps they need to take to resolve future the problem. Often you will need to validate and still be firm. “I see that you are upset and you still need to….”
Step 2: Limit Here is where you set the limit, remind them of the family rule/guideline. For those of us that err in the too permissive, it is also a good reminder to remind ourselves of the limit. Here are some examples: …and we don’t hit others …but we only play video games on Saturday. …but our family rule is to finish our homework first …and we don’t tease people in our family
Step 3: Explain The explanation step provides critical thinking skills and helps our children comprehend why we have that limit. For those that swing a bit toward punitive parenting, this step is helps release that fear-based motivation and shows our children that understanding why is important so they don’t grow up too submissive, or too rebellious when they become tired of being submissive. Here are some examples: …because we are kind …because our bodies need to eat healthy to grow strong …because we respect our teacher …because there are better ways of showing when we are upset
Step 4: Option Offering an option is helpful. Just as you would when you’re talking to an upset friend. Offering an option shows you care and offers your child a way out of their stuck feeling. Here are some examples: …why don’t we go read a book together? …why don’t we plan on a day you can stay up late? …would you like to snuggle? …would you like to find a day in the calendar when we can come back? …how about we brainstorm how you can earn money to save up for that toy? One of the most helpful ways we can prepare ourselves for not swinging too far in the permissive or punitive areas is to prepare in advance our responses to common issues. In my parenting workshops, I ask parents to write common issues on index cards, then on the reverse side to come up with kind and firm responses. Take a minute to write in your own in the table provided. Some more examples have been given.
Common Issue: Too much tv/phone/video games Solution: Together come up with guidelines around media. Times that media is allowed/is not. Together decide on consequence if media guidelines are not met.
Common Issue: Whining for a different outcome (staying up late, more dessert, etc.) "I hear that you want to stay up late (validate), but it’s not good for you to miss sleep. How about you pick a weekend day to stay up late?"
Common Issue: Hitting sibling "I see that you’re upset but we don’t hit others. Would you like for me to come with you in your room and you can tell me what happened?"
Common Issue: Not waking up for school "It’s hard to wake up in the morning, I understand! We can’t be late for school as it shows disrespect to your teacher. Would you like for me to help you come up with solutions?"
How to Prevent Problems and Handle an Ongoing Issue: An ongoing issue is a sign of a problem in the family system and should be addressed as a family. One simple and even fun way to handle ongoing issues is by implementing regular Family Council. The idea of a Family Council is a modern take on an ancient tradition. Council is grounded in the tradition of indigenous people all over the world and we’ve added elements that are developmentally appropriate for children. During Family Council, parents let their children help solve problems that come up. As all members of the family help to brainstorm solutions, it becomes less about blame and more about “how can we resolve this?” Family Council considers each person’s perspective relevant so even the youngest and most quiet child feels heard. It incorporates elements of gratitude, respect, relationship, and deep listening, with some fun sprinkled in. Family Council is a game-changer for families and extremely effective in improving behavior, relationships and children’s confidence. When you do weekly Family Council, you create a tradition of compassion, listening, democratic problem solving and an essential time to express feelings. Kids love Family Council because it allows them to be heard and have a voice in the functioning of the family. So much misbehavior is related to kids needing more attention or needing to feel more power—Family Councils address these spot on. Enjoy! My kids love the Family Council time and look forward to it; my 9 year old says “it’s cool” and my daughter says “I feel good knowing we can work things out without getting into trouble.” I’ve guided many families toward this practice and nearly all of the families that use it really love it. It’s also great for smaller families or families with only one child. It’s an opportunity to be seen as an equal and to participate in the decision-making.What’s not to love about appreciating each other, getting buy-in from your kids on good behavior and having a family activity together? The Family Council is used in Positive Discipline but is called a “Family Meeting,” the outline format here is derived from Jane Nelson’s “Family Meetings” and is an incredible tool. It is also part of the Transformational Parenting curriculum. I recommend doing Family Council once a week. It can be fun to keep a family album of family council. The Transformational Parenting online course (www.Transformational Parenting.co) has family council templates you can print out and complete at your meetings to help you remember the steps and keep track of the progress your family is making.
How to Run a Family Council: 1. Start with Compliments. Go around the circle and allow everyone to share what they are thankful for or what they appreciate. You can model this by going first. Often, it’s helpful to provide a sentence structure when learning. For example, “Thank you for the ________ (trees, sun, dinner, new jacket, etc.). This sets the mood as positive and gives the opportunity for everyone to connect and be reminded of how they are loved. 2. The next step in the Agenda is Brainstorming for Solutions. Explain to your children that brainstorming is when we think of as many ideas as we can to solve a problem. They can be practical or wild and crazy. After we have had fun brainstorming (with no discussion), we will choose one solution that we all agree on and try it for a week. Choose a problem from the agenda and practice brainstorming. Once your family has made a list, go around and ask your children to cross off anything that won’t work. Share the importance of creating a solution everyone can agree on. Try it for a week. If it needs revisiting, put it on the agenda again and come back to it. 3. After Brainstorming, you can share about what’s going on in the next week so kids can know what to expect. Another addition helpful in promoting a positive attitude is to also ask everyone what they are looking forward to for this next week. 4. Last, but not least is the Fun Family Activity. NEVER skip this as tempting as it can be with busy schedules. This is the relationship bonding piece that the kids love the most. Let the kids choose an activity you can do for 5-15 minutes together as a family. Some suggestions include charades, family art, card games, guessing games, dominoes, board games, puzzles, Simon Says, etc.
Family Council is best run during mealtimes because it’s one of the rare occasions where everyone is sitting together. Choose a day when all members of your family household are likely to sit for a meal together. Stick to the same day every week and even if you are traveling, home late, or it’s a holiday, hold the Family Council. The consistency and structure are regulating for children and they feel more secure when they understand what to expect.
Make sure no one interrupts each other. In indigenous cultures, a talking stick is used to give a visual aid for whose turn it is to speak and who will listen. You may find it helpful to use an object that gets passed as well. When someone is talking, they hold the meaningful object and no one else talks. It’s time for deep listening for the others. When that person is finished, they can pass the object to the next person and they have a turn to share.
You can print copies of the Family Council Template online at www.TransformationalParenting.co. Use one per week. Tape it on the refrigerator, low enough so your kids can reach it. Explain to your kids that when they have a problem or something that’s bothering them they can write or draw it on the agenda. Many families like to keep their Family Council Agendas as a record of their progress. It can make kids very proud to see, for example, that they used to have frequent sibling squabbles that have been nearly eliminated.
When it’s time for your Family Council, take the agenda and use it to help you remember the steps. If there are no Agenda items (problems/issues to be addressed), you can ask the family and write them down in the gray box.
Consequences: It’s important not to confuse consequences with punishment. Consequences are decided on jointly and the child has a say in what he or she accepts as a consequence. Consequences are decided on in advance during a Family Council or in a conversation. For example, the conversation may go something like this: The parent, child who hit and his sister all sit down together. Parent: “This morning you hit your sister Sophia. Let’s decide what would be a good consequence to make sure that does not happen again.” Johnny: “I won’t hit her again.” Parent: “That would be great, but in case it does happen again, what would be a good consequence?” Johnny: “To have to clean my room.” Parent: “Well, you have to clean your room anyway. Can you think of something else?” Sophia: “He should have to give me $5.” Johnny: “That’s not fair.” Parent: “What would be fair?” Johnny: ” I guess $3 but it won’t happen again.” Parent: “Does that work for you (asking the sister?) Sophia: ” Yes.” Parent: “Ok, then, we are all deciding that if Johnny hits Sophia again he will give her $3. Sound good?” Sophia and Johnny: “Yes.” Parent: “OK, great! Let’s all high five on it!” Then, the next time Johnny hite Sophia: Parent: “You must’ve been really upset to hit your sister. Do you remember what we discussed as a consequence?” Johnny: “No.” Parent: “You were to give Sophia $3.” Johnny: “Ok, I guess.” Parent: “Do you want to talk about what upset you and how you can handle it better next time?” Johnny: “No.” Parent waits an hour and then asks to talk to Johnny again, gives Johnny alternatives to hitting. A punishment, on the other hand, is based in the power of the parent and is given on the spot. Here is an example of a punishment: Johnny hits his sister Sophia Parent: “Don’t hit your sister!” Johnny: “But she said I was ugly!” Parent: “Go to your room now or else you won’t have dessert tonight.” Johnny: Stomps out of the room angrily “FINE!” Johnny sits in his room alone and angry for an hour resenting both his sister and his mother. Deciding on a consequence with your child is essential as when the time comes to enforce the consequence, it will not be seen as a scar in your relationship but instead as something you agreed upon together. When your child has a behavior that you do not want to occur, take a deep breath to make sure your emotions don’t get in the way of your communication. It is important that you are not angry or raising your voice otherwise your child will receive fear instead of learning not to repeat the behavior. Calmly explain: “we do not do that. Let’s talk about how to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Would you like to talk now or later?” The child may be flooded with stress hormones in which case discussing the incident on the spot will not be helpful as she or he will not be able to learn. You need to make sure that once you decide in advance what will happen that you follow through. This provides children with structure so they know what to expect. My children used to fight in the car all the time. We live in the Los Angeles area and there is often gridlock traffic where we end up in the car for longer than we’d like to. When they were 3 and 7 I made a rule that if they fight I will pull over. Even in the middle of traffic I would calmly pull over (calmly is the key)! and bring out my phone while parked. “Tell me when you’re ready.” I would tell them. “But MOM!” They would shout. “It’s HIS fault! It’s HER fault, etc.” I just said, no worries, guys, just work it out and let me know when you’re ready.” They figured it out pretty quickly and it gave them great practice at resolving their arguments and letting things go. Once, I was assigned to be a driver on a field trip for my daughter’s 3rd grade class. I had five kids in my car and two of them started to argue and yell at each other. I pulled over and stopped the car, calmly started to look at my phone. “Why are we stopping?!” Asked one of the boys. My daughter explained our rule and told them they had to resolve it before I would drive again. It took about five minutes but they resolved it and the drive back was peaceful.
Parenting tools for common issues: Problem: Siblings fight Solution: Tell them to figure it out by themselves and come back with a plan…if they can’t do that then you can help them brainstorm.
Problem: Child is addicted to social media, video games or television Solution: Set time limits on when screens can be used. Decide together as a family during Family Council what limits are right for your family. For my family, we reserve screen time to Friday afternoons and weekends except for special occasions.
Problem: Your child misbehaves Solution: Instead of wondering what punishment to use that will work, instead wonder, “what solution will solve the problem?” Focus on solutions, stay away from blame, guilt or shaming which only teaches them to disconnect and doesn’t help them learn solutions for the future. Instead, ask your child to help brainstorm solutions. Ideally, you’ll want your child to be the primary contributor to brainstorming solutions. Once you and your child have come up with a solution, pick one that works for everyone. Give it a week. If it doesn’t work after a week, you can brainstorm again and try another solution that you and your child agree to.
The Roots of Violence: Imagine for a moment that someone more than twice your size, a giant, yells at you and then hits or spanks you. Not only can you not defend yourself, but you are not allowed to become angry. This giant is your only source of survival, for food, shelter and even love. Sometimes this giant gets angry at you and you are not sure why. You live in fear of being hurt by this giant or losing the love of this giant for whom your survival depends. Because we so badly need the giant to love us, we love the giant no matter how the giant hurts us. When we are hurt physically or emotionally, we learn to blame ourselves instead of the giant. This is what we are to children: we are the giant. When children live in such a state, their anger turns inward but does not go away. Sometimes the anger gets inflicted on siblings, sometimes on school mates, and often, the anger stays in their psyche and becomes a part of them. The brain knows no time. When we are hit, spanked, shamed, yelled at, pinched, tickled too much, touched inappropriately, or made to feel small this feeling of anxiety and can stay with us our entire lives until it is made safe to release. Time alone does not heal these wounds. Left untreated, they turn into inner violence (low self esteem, overeating, undereating, drugs, suicide, etc.) or external violence (teasing others, the need to have power over others, domestic violence, cutting and self-harm, yelling, belittling, suicide, fighting, war, etc.). Yes, the way we are treated as children has a profound effect on the likelihood of war. In addition, how much we are held and touched has an effect on violence. Especially in the first three years. In order to mitigate stress, children (and adults) need touch and affection throughout their lives in order to tame the neurological tidal wave of stress hormones that arises when we are in fear. Make no mistake about it: the roots of violence are known. We know that violence is learned; we are not born violent. Most of us were beaten in our childhood and unless we understand the consequences of continued violence and the reasons why violence continues, we will continue to live in a violent world. “As beaten children are not allowed to defend themselves, they must suppress their anger and rage against their parents who have humiliated them, killed their inborn empathy, and insulted their dignity. They will take out this rage later, as adults, on scapegoats, mostly on their own children. Deprived of empathy, some of them will direct their anger against themselves (in eating disorders, drug addiction, depression etc.), or against other adults (in wars, terrorism, delinquency etc.)” explains Alice Miller, renowned psychologist. We learn to live in denial of the suffering we experienced as children. Every spanking, put down, manipulation, or shaming appears to have less and less of an effect, but that is because it is internalized and denied. We must survive so we put it away. We cannot live in a vulnerable state so we must tell ourselves that we weren’t devastated when we were shamed by our mother at the dinner table, tell ourselves that we don’t live in fear of a spanking or whooping by our father or mother…. Just as they tell us “I do think because I love you” we perpetuate the violence onto our children believing this is the only way. Denial is a dangerous drug and if left unchecked, can perpetuate systems of injustice and inequity as people with power (parents) perpetuate abuse of those without (children). In other words, if we don’t look inward to realize the pain of our childhood we will reflect this pain onto our children. Alice Miller calls this denial “emotional blindness.” She writes of the possibility of freeing ourselves from this “emotional blindness” “…by daring to feel our repressed emotions, including our fear and forbidden rage against our parents who had often scared us to death for periods of many years, which should have been the most beautiful years of our lives. We can’t retrieve those years. But thanks to facing our truth we can transform ourselves from the children who still live in us full of fear and denial into responsible, well informed adults who regained their empathy, so early stolen from them. By becoming feeling persons we can no longer deny that beating children is a criminal act that should be forbidden on the whole planet.”
What about spanking? It takes a paradigm shift to not do what your parents did to you. I was spanked and no, it didn’t make me mentally ill (that I know of) but it did make me afraid of my parents as a little child and I’m sad I felt that way toward them at the tenderest of ages…and once I did the research there was no going back. It’s also much easier NOT to spank and much more fun to enjoy our kids rather than have to have them be afraid of us. The American Psychological association wrote an article stating that “Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children.” Yet spanking remains controversial-perhaps we are in denial about what happened to us. Perhaps people have forgotten how it feels to be inflicted pain upon by someone you love and trust. Perhaps people are afraid of remembering out of feeling ungrateful for their parents’ sacrifice. Perhaps parents are afraid that if they don’t spank their children that they will grow up to be disrespectful adults. Perhaps families living in unsafe environments feel they need to create a climate of fear for obedience to protect their children from the unsafe environments they are living in. Whatever the reasons, we know there are better ways. Spanking doesn’t work, says Alan Kazdin, PhD, a Yale University psychology professor and director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic. “You cannot punish out these behaviors that you do not want,” says Kazdin, who served as APA president in 2008. “There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.” In the midst of procrastinating via Facebook and I came across a “To spank or not to spank” post. It was on fire with strong opinions and a lot of shaming and judgements.
Here is one of the posts that Elle Lowe from Washington wrote and gave me permission to share: “A week ago my two elderly Filipino aunts met my baby for the first time and started talking about their grandkids and how they flick the kids hard on the mouth when they’re being bad and they were laughing and saying how scared the kids are of them, that even just making the motion makes them run off and/or start acting right. I do not want my kid to be afraid of me. I remember being afraid of my mom. I kept secrets and flinched whenever she got close when she was upset with me. I won’t be a perfect parent. And maybe I may break in anger but I hope I don’t. I want a different relationship with my kid then my families relationships with their kids. Time to break the cycle. I want my kid to find other ways of solving conflicts and learn how to deal with his emotions.” Just last month, when I was picking up my son from child care, I watched a parent ask his son to come with him. The 11 year old was in the middle of a craft project so he pleaded with his father, “just five more minutes?” “No,” stated his father, “it’s time to go.” In defiance, the son didn’t budge and kept on with his project. His father then pinched his son’s side, “time to go,” he said. His father did this in front of me, who he knows is a parent educator and in front of the teacher. I wondered what must be going on with this father and if he regularly uses this pinching technique. The son was sent the message to respond immediately to his father’s requests or else. It made me sad to watch and I could see that the pinch was meant to hurt. It made me sad not only for the boy but also for the father. I could see the unnecessary distancing and distrust that occurred for the son, and some anger too. I could have provided the father with many different options that didn’t include hurting his son and hurting the relationship. Often, when parents complain to me about their defiant teens I notice that the teens that are the most defiant have been taught to fear their parents when they are young and the relationship is now broken by the time they are teens. Often, it’s very hard and sometimes impossible to repair the years of threatening and hurting. I can’t help but wonder how their teen would act if they had been motivated by internal motivation for goodness rather than by fear of punishment.
Leave the Time-Outs to Adults “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” -Carl Jung
When you are feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, overburdened, or upset in any way when you are with your children, give yourself a timeout instead of giving your child one. Save discipline for when you are calm. We tend to over discipline or under discipline when we are upset. You can use the minutes alone to think about why you are triggered: what emotion are you feeling? When else did you feel that emotion? Or if your mind is not calm enough to think, it can be helpful just to check out for some moments. My favorite time-out place is the bathroom; it has a lock and I can sit and take some breaths. Dan Siegel in an article for TIME magazine states, “So what about time-outs? In most cases, the primary experience a time-out offers a child is isolation. Even when presented in a patient and loving manner, time-outs teach them that when they make a mistake, or when they are having a hard time, they will be forced to be by themselves—a lesson that is often experienced, particularly by young children, as rejection. Further, it communicates to kids, “I’m only interested in being with you and being there for you when you’ve got it all together.” It’s important that you model to your children your full range of emotions, that you are allowed to feel them and, most importantly, that you model not taking your negative emotions out on them. In doing so, it is the most effective way to teach your children to process their own emotions without outpouring them on you. Instead of timeouts for children which we know are ineffective long-term and create behavior that’s motivated by fear instead of authentic connection, I encourage you to use the mode of time out for yourself when you need it. It is important to remember not to shame your child with communications such as “because of your behavior, I need a time out.” Just simply state “Mom/Dad is going to take a minute, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” When we find ourselves upset with our children, it’s important for us to ask ourselves, why am I really upset? When we become upset by a small misbehavior, it’s a sign that we have unresolved emotions. The funny thing about emotions is that they will not go away on their own. Time itself does not heal. Emotions will keep surfacing for years and years until we can process through them and let them go. Unresolved emotions have no timeline, and can be buried from our childhood. Until we can process through our emotions, we will inevitably become upset by someone or something else, regardless of our children. Although it may feel like our children are intentionally pushing our buttons, the triggering of emotions isn’t personal. Our children do not cause or contribute to our negative emotional state. We have a negative emotional state because we have unresolved emotions. However, it is a great opportunity to know that we have not yet resolved something that needs resolving. I think people choose to ignore when emotions rise unexpectedly because they are not sure how to resolve them. Not to worry, just by reading Transformational Parenting, you are already raising your consciousness. Just by being aware of the fact that an overreaction is likely unresolved emotions, your consciousness will work on the unresolved emotions. The last two chapters on Now What and Resources include further reading and suggestions on how to start or join a Transformational Parenting group in your neighborhood or online.
What to do when you yell or react negatively to your Child If you were unable to put yourself in a parent time-out and ended up yelling or scaring your children, it’s important for to admit you make a mistake. Showing we made a mistake teaches our children that it’s okay to make mistakes and also teaches them forgiveness. There are four steps to a perfect apology:
Get down to your child’s level
Ask for a hug (if you and your child ar comforted by hugging)
Apologize, admit to your mistakes
Ask your child for help.
Make sure to let them know that you appreciate their help. This teaches them to feel capable, significant, and relevant. Your apology might look something like this: “I made a mistake. I’m so sorry I yelled at you. I should have taken a timeout or taken a deep breath. Would you like to help me remember to take a deep breath if it happens again?” To remain in a calm state when your children are misbehaving, it can help to stop labeling your child’s behavior as “good or bad.” Instead, your goal is to be neutral and to accept the behavior as it is. It is just information. The behavior is not about us. The goal is for children to be allowed to have all kinds of behavior without us getting triggered. When we are triggered, it is because we have made up some kind of rule such as “kids shouldn’t do that, etc.” or “how dare she do that to me?” We personalize it or reject it, without allowing it to just be as it is. In doing so, we stifle the need of the emotion that is being expressed through the behavior. Inevitably, if we continue this pattern, our children learn the same avoidance or ignoring of emotions that we have mastered, which creates not only emotional issues but physical illness as well. When you think or say phrases such as “He made me feel this way or “you’re making me angry!” It’s a sign that you’re internalizing your child’s behavior. Instead, it is our responsibility as parents to control our anger, not our children’s responsibility to prevent us from becoming angry. Becoming angry is completely our own responsibility. Our children don’t “make us” feel angry, we are reacting to unresolved issues from our childhood and responding by putting it on them. Unless we are working on personal growth, we are, in essence, choosing anger. No one can make us feel anything—when we feel negatively it is a part of us that has not been resolved. Likewise, when we have strong emotions about another, it is an indication of that which we most need to resolve in ourselves. We project our feelings of self-hate onto another person because it is safer and because we are unconscious of our feelings. When someone triggers you, you can learn to identify that it is an area that you need to work on. This person that is triggering you is actually giving you a gift to show you what you need to work on. Our wounds are invisible so those that trigger us provide us with the gift of making our wounds visible. Instead of projecting our anger or hate onto that person, we can receive it as a lesson that we need to learn.