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This article is a reprint on how to talk to children about violence. Unfortunately, the information is still timely as shootings continue to occur around the globe negatively impacting children and their development. Regardless of the specific incident, this blog will help parent understand the process for safely communicating with children.
Violence in society is a major issue for families today. It’s everywhere we look, it seems, and as a parent it disturbs me deeply. Part of the job of parenting is to protect our children from the ills, if not the evils of the world, but what do you do when it comes looking for you. Recent sniper attacks, school suicide-killings and the outbreak of fighting around the world, makes talking to our children about violence a necessary responsibility.
It would be easy to wait until our children bring up the issue and not take a lead role in discussing violence with them. Unfortunately, too many children take in the information, attempt to process it with their limited experience and understanding, and never say a word to an adult. Just because they don’t initiate, doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t. For these children, talking about the violence may relieve feelings of anxiety and insecurity they were bottling up inside. Children get their sense of safety from the attitudes and behaviors of adults, primarily parents. How we act and talk will have a direct impact of the emotional well being of children.
The first step to talking to children about violence is to acknowledge their thoughts and feelings about the violence. The best way is the simplest: Ask them what they think or feel. This will give parents a barometer about where the child is at and what concerns need to be addressed. Demonstrate that you are willing to hear it and give your child full attention without judgement. Too many parents are quick to jump into a child’s comments and make them seem invalid. A parent might dismiss their child’s fears as unnecessary: “You shouldn’t feel that way” or “You don’t need to worry about that.” A parent might even reply that the child is being silly, stupid, or overreacting for what they are thinking and feeling. This is a sure method to get a child to shut down emotionally and not communicate with a parent, now and in the future. Get on a child’s level by sitting or kneeling down when talking to them. And get rid of any distractions (i.e., turn off the television or radio). Make the conversation about them not you.
The second step is to clarify and/or reflect back a child’s comments. For example, a parent might say, “Tell me more about your fears of someone killing you” or “What do you mean you think the world is going to end.” This also communicates to a child that what they have to say is important and not trivial. It makes parents more aware of the underlying issues. If a child’s comments are clear then repeat back to the child what you heard them say. Don’t be a parrot; just summarize it, so that you and the child are on the same ground mentally.
The third step is to share your feelings and value about the violence. This means you must be aware of what they are before you ask your child to share. How do you feel about the violence? What is your value-system about killing, death, and violence? Is it a social, moral, or relational issue for you or does it encompass all three. Once you are aware of where you stand, you can communicate this with your child. Share in a direct, simple, and honest manner. How you say something may be more important than what you say. But be sure to say it in a matter of fact way.
What you say will vary depending on your values and the age of your child. Young children have difficulty separating reality from fantasy and it may be important to describe the difference. For example, a parent of a young child might state: “I know that the cartoons you watch sometimes have characters who shoot one another but that is not real. In real life, when someone gets shot they get hurt and they might even die.” Avoid in-depth explanations for younger children. They will lose attention and not be able to process long descriptions. One to two sentences are more than enough. Additionally, parents can use drawings and children’s book about fighting, violence, etc. Always follow up with reassurances that you love them, will do your best to care and protect them, and that they are safe.
Older children may be able to verbalize their thoughts and feelings more distinctly but don’t let that be an excuse not to talk about it. Use the same principles as with younger children but feel free to talk more deeply about the violence. Watch the news report together or read the newspaper article out loud, pausing to discussing thoughts and feelings. Ask them if they know of anyone who has been the victim of violence. The older they are the more likely they will know or have heard of someone. Talk about violence that has occurred towards them or in their daily life, such as school. Guide the older child toward your values without forcing them on them or telling them how they should believe. And look at ways to get involved in your community or through national relief efforts to help victims of violence. Being proactive will give a child a sense of power versus powerlessness.
What we say to children is important and we must say something. Sticking our heads in the sand will not improve the situation. Actually, ignoring or dismissing the topic of violence will increase a child’s anxiety and fears. But even more importantly, how we talk about violence will have profound impact on our child’s sense of self, their understanding of right from wrong, and their relationship with the parent.
Whenever we think about the challenges of parents, there is probably nothing more colorful than the problem of a rebellious teenager. Trying to control an out-of-control adolescent can drive a parent crazy!
I want to do a series of blog posts that address the issue of control through the spiritual discipline of contemplation. Contemplation is the act of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time. It is a deeper reflection on the motives and desires of our heart…and out teenagers.
Control, by nature, forces us to react to external behaviors. In the case of a “rebellious teen,” we are faced with unpleasant back talk, arguments, manipulations, curses, eye rolls, blank stares, aggression, lying, stealing, and other acts that defy our rules and morals.
As we contemplate this challenge, ask yourself the following questions:
“What am I trying to control?”
“Am I trying to control out-of-control behavior?”
“Do I want to win? At whatever the cost?”
“Is it possible to have two winners and no losers?”
“Is it really my mission to dominate the will of another person?”
“What is the long-term goal of parenting: relationship or being right?”
“What is better: A change of heart or a change of behavior?”
The idea of attempting to control someone who is out-of-control sounds like war in the making. How can the two things approach one another? This type of control Control ends with no winners. Parenting is not a competition! You do not have to always be right or win every battle. In fact, why is parenting even seen as a battle? There must be something deeper than this relational reality.
If you make two lists with all the things that a parent can realistically control on one side and all the things that parents cannot control in their teenager’s life, you begin to see the discrepancy in the lists. Parents who focus on the child’s side of the list will be more frustrated than those who stick to their own side.
Control is better viewed as a negotiation.
There are things on the parent’s side of the list that the teenager wants and there are things on the side of the teen’s list that the parent wants. There is room for negotiation and working together toward a common goal.
One of the most powerful items on the parent’s list is transportation. The teen needs to get places and the parent has control of the car. An easy trade-off can be negotiated. Chores completed can result in transportation to a friends house, for example. There doesn’t need to be loud, angry words shared back and forth. Just a simple, direct offer to trade chores for transportation. Don’t react to “moodiness”, eye rolling, or slamming doors. I know it’s hard. Focus on the bigger lessons here…
What parents really want is to see their teen make “good choices.” Choices imply a sense of power that allows the child to choose between good and bad and learn from their experiences. Lessons learned are how the neural software, in the teens brain, gets its updates. Suffering the natural consequences of a teens choices can be painful to watch but without teens will never mature and grow up to be the responsible people parents want.
What teenagers want most is power over their lives. In reflection, it would seem the parent and the child are working toward the same goal, right? The parent wants their teen to have the power to make good choices after all. The failure of this contemplation is that teens view power differently. They want the power to do whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want, without consequences. This is their immature view of adulthood. As adults, we know this is just fantasy. The negative consequences of these kinds of choices taught us that power is really about managing ourselves well. Negative consequences will teach our teens this same lesson just like parents had to learn it.
Control is about communication.
Parents believe that they are clear and perhaps they are but continuing to clearly state expectations and needs may have to be repeated. There are split moments of gentle normalcy where parent and teens can really communicate. Use those moments to understand the child’s needs and struggles. Don’t use it to lecture or give advice. Listen and learn to give you more control. Control is knowing how to meet the needs of the child in a way they can cooperate with you.
Powerless people feel like they have no power, so they engage in power struggles to get more power.
Power-full people know they are powerful and learn to manage themselves.
Powerless people must be empowered to know they are power-full too.
Power is unequal. When we view oower as more rights or more choices than this statement is true. But if we view power and control managing ourselves well than it is not true.
Teenagers believe parents have all the power, therefore they believe they must take it from parents in preset to get any power. This do this through power struggles, by rejecting rules, defying directives, and manipulating or lying to parents.
Focus on problems when in the heat of the power struggle.
Parents who focus on the person exaggerate the struggle. Ask the child what is the problem and how do they want to solve it. Control is coaching a child to a logical conclusion even if it means trying answers the parent already knows won’t work. Let them try! Let go of the tug-of-war rope and join the child on their side of the circumstance. Get their perspective on the situation as childish as it seems. Parents TELl children what to do. Coaches ask them how they want to solve their own problems and cheerlead them to a positive conclusion.
In the end, control is an illusion.
We have no control over anyone else. It is a common reaction to feelings of fear and anxiety. The higher our anxiety, the more we attempt to control. The more we feel out-of-control, the more we work to find some area that we can create control. It is the source of our obsessions and compulsions. It creates power struggles in relationships. It concentrates on being right over relationships. It disconnects instead of connects families. Take notice of the areas in life that feel controllable and those that feel out-of-control. Examine the feelings that come with each. Choose to respond and not react to those feelings. Don’t allow the negative lies that feeling out-of-control tries to tell you: You are a bad parent, You are a failure, You are not loved or respected, You are not safe, You can’t trust anyone but yourself, You are destined to feel horrible and lonely. Find alternative truths to declare over yourself to counter these false beliefs. They may not feel true but feelings are not the truth. Control is managing your beliefs which will, in turn, manage your feelings.
Everyone struggles with how to deal with their emotions. This is especially challenging for children whose neurological development has not matured to the point that they can use more rational thinking to deal with their emotions. It becomes even more problematic if our children have suffered a traumatic event or experienced toxic stress.
Trauma and toxic stress impair all areas of development for children causing them to act and think below their chronological age. We call this gap “Age vs. Stage” to reference how a 16-year-old can act socially and emotionally like a 6-year-old. Often, the age that the child experienced the trauma is the emotional age they get stuck at even while the rest of them advance in years. This can open the eyes for many caregivers who are puzzled by the age vs stage problem.
Adults don’t always have good solutions to this problem, however. We may not really know how to manage our own emotions. Perhaps we have had our own trauma that shuts us down when overwhelmed by stress or we haven’t had many examples of what healthy, responsible adults do with their intense feelings and so, we limp along with our own developmental journey.
What most adults do is stuff their feelings. They might do this by dissociating from their bodily reactions and disconnect from extreme feelings of intimacy or closeness. They might push the feelings down until the boil over in a fit of rage, with everyone around the just waiting for the next volcanic explosion. They might try to be super reasonable and lecture their family and be perfectionistic with expectations no one can live up to.
The healthier answer is not to try and live from our emotions at all! The secret is that you can change your emotions by changing what you believe. When you wake up in the morning, don’t ask yourself “How do I feel today?” Ask yourself, instead “What do I believe today?”
Families who are faith-based believe many things they don’t always practice. For example, we believe that God will take care of all our needs but we spend hours being worried. Our beliefs must go deeper into our subconscious minds where habits exist. You don’t think about how to do certain things in life, like driving your car or make dinner, because those thought structures are set in our subconscious mind so that we can spend more energy on other conscious thoughts and actions. Practicing what we preach has to become a natural reaction to life’s challenges as well.
Faith-based families have a strange distrust of their own souls as well. Our souls comprise our body, mind, and will. Perhaps we distrust them because we haven’t changed our subconscious habits yet. This will be an on-going process, for sure, and one we can start modeling for our children as well. We also have to live healthy lifestyles, eating good food, engaging in playful activities, and getting rest and exercise.
Our beliefs allow us to overcome shame from our past. This is what causes traumatized children (and adults) from believing they deserve a good life because they are unworthy of love, unwanted by biological parents, and damaged in some way – maybe many ways. This negative belief results in the sabotage of success, self-injurious behavior, suicidal ideations, depression, anxiety, and fear. This list could go on…
God’s mercies are supposed to be “new every morning” and the same level of grace should be extended to ourselves as well as to other. We need to offer this to our traumatized children, as well. Whatever happened yesterday must be forgiven and our thought life must be taken captive.
A powerful tool for ourselves and for our families is to make biblical declarations – out loud! Life or death is on the tongue and what we say can steer the direction of our lives (Proverbs 18:21; James 3). Speaking out our new beliefs is an act of faith because we may not feel that what we are saying is true but we are not letting our emotions guide our beliefs, we are letting our beliefs direct our emotions.
Renewing the mind is how we are to live our faith governed lives and it is a continual process of maturity for our children and will help to close the age vs. stage gap (Romans 12:1-1).
Start your declarations with the words “I believe” and see what happens to your own mindset as well as to your child’s attitude and behaviors.
“I believe” that I have all the grace I need to face any challenge or problem that comes up for me today.
“I believe” that I am worthy of love and the love of God, who is love, overflows from me to everyone I encounter today.
“I believe” that I am trustworthy, kind, and tenderhearted. I am able to forgive other people who have hurt by and not live in bitterness or seek revenge.
- “I believe” that my prayers are powerful.
- “I believe” I am great at relationships and making friends.
- “I believe” that my family is blessed and I am a blessing to everyone around me.
- “I believe” God is on my side and doesn’t hate me or punish me.
- “I believe” I can think right thoughts and make good decisions.
- “I believe” that I am successful and have the ability to think and act creatively today.
- “I believe” today is a new day, full of new mercies, and I can be happy and rejoice in it.
- “I believe” that the joy of the Lord is my strength.
- “I believe” I do not have a spirit of fear and God gives me power, love, and a sound mind.
- “I believe” that I can control what I say and everything from my lips speak love, live, and encouragement.
- “I believe” that I can remember everything I am studying and will accomplish everything that needs to get down today.
- “I believe” that believing the truth sets me free of fear and depression.
Don’t worry if you don’t always feel what you say is true. Don’t be concerned or deterred if your children don’t agree with your declarations, at first. I believe that if you practice these declarations and start to create your own personal list that you will see incredible changes in your own heart and the heart of your family, today and over time!
Take a free online course to help your family heal at FamilyHealer.tv
Take a moment to think about a happy moment in your life. It could have been a moment that occurred recently or a long time ago.
Perhaps it was when you or a family member graduated or when you got a promotion to the job of your dreams or when you asked someone out on a date and they said “yes” or when a new child is born.
What feelings did you have when this moment occurred? What is it joy, excitement, or surprise? How positive did you feel about yourself and your future? Probably great, right?
Now think about a tough situation that happened to you? What feelings did you experience then and how well did you feel about yourself and your future? Obviously, not as great as the positive experiences.
We all have good times and bad times in our lives but some people seem to be able to “bounce back” from tough times better than others. Some people can still feel optimistic about their future despite bad times.
We would call these people “resilient.” It is a desired quality to survive all the ups and downs in life. Those who have it, have an advantage at home, work, and life. If you don’t have a lot, then you feel all the pain of living in a much more dramatic way. Do you want more resiliency?
How do you get it? Is it purely genetics? Can you learn skills to improve it? Is it all chance, a luck of the draw?
Resilience is an interactive process between the characteristics of the person and the environment in which they live. Genetics does make a difference but they are not the only factor. They can make us more sensitive to negative experiences, like child maltreatment, parental neglect, the witness of violence, poverty, job loss, illness, etc. Our particular temperaments make us more or less vulnerable to the stress and trauma. Our bodily chemistry manages the expression of stress responses which affects our viewpoints about our circumstances and self-image.
This is just one variable in the science of resilience. The other, equally important factor, is the quality of our relationships. Stress can be managed when we have loving, caring, healthy people in our lives to help us through it. Research demonstrates that even if there is only one person who can support us we are more likely to cope with difficult events.
For example, if a child turns to the loving neighbor whenever dad is drunk and angry or mom and dad fight or mom too depressed to make dinner, then that child will have a greater capacity to “bounce back.” We call this type of person, a “cookie person” who offers warm, fresh cookies to eat when times are hard. Did you or do you have a “cookie person” that you can turn to when overwhelmed?
Unfortunately, not everyone has a “cookie person” in their lives. When a natural helper is not available people have to search our professional helpers, like therapists, teachers, and school counselors to help them. These professionals can offer a listening ear as well as teach skills to manage anger, improve parenting, manage finances, and navigate through community resources. This type of support balances out the negative situations to create more positive outcomes.
The most powerful truth, when it comes to building resilience, is that we are social beings that need other people. We thrive in healthy relationships. If we didn’t get this in childhood, we can still develop it in later life. Attachment researchers call this later development “earned security.”
A Zen saying that illustrates resiliency that comes from warm, social interactions is…
“If there is light in the soul, there is beauty in the person. If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house. If there is harmony in the house, then there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world!”
Can one person make a difference in the world? Yes. Are you that one person to one other person? Who can you turn to in your natural environment or who can you contact to help you professionally and create more resiliency in your life?
Get more resiliency tools in the Trauma Toolbox at http://FamilyHealerSchool.com
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According to a recent article by Greater Good Magazine “Data suggests that, on average, every classroom has at least one student affected by trauma. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, close to 40 percent of students in the U.S. has been exposed to some form of traumatic stressor in their lives, with sexual assault, physical assault, and witnessing domestic violence being the three most prevalent.”
Fortunately, we can use trauma-informed learning tools to help! Visit our online course for more information for your child and your school: http://TraumaToolbox.com
This is a free course and open to all stakeholders in your community. We are developing new courses in fall 2018. Take online quizzes, get downloadable reports, watch multimedia lessons and much more. Go now!
Many foster and adoptive parents have children with special needs who require specialized care and skills. According to Wikipedia, the term special needs “is a term used in clinical diagnostic and functional development to describe individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental, or psychological.”
In the United States, more than 150,000 children with special needs are waiting for permanent homes. Traditionally, children with special needs have been considered harder to place for adoption than other children, but experience has shown that many children with special needs can be placed successfully with families who want them.
This can put more of a strain on families than they realize. Just loving a child really hard is not enough to manage the requirements of a special needs child. It takes special knowledge and a support system from other parents of special needs children and professionals who “get it!”
Being unprepared is one of the reasons foster and adoptive families disrupt. Disruption is a term that refers to the ending of a foster placement prior to the finalization of an adoption. The rate of disruption has traditionally been10-20% nationally. Post-Adoption services and education can decrease this rate dramatically!
Perhaps the most challenging special needs issue, for parents and professionals, is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This is defined as a “continuum of permanent birth defects caused by maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. It refers to a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Problems may include an abnormal appearance, short height, low body weight, small head size, poor coordination, low intelligence, behavior problems, and problems with hearing or seeing.” (Wikipedia)
In addition to the physical symptoms of FASD, there are several corresponding mental health problems, such as attentional deficits, clinical depression, anxiety, or other mental illness. As you can imagine, many of the problems show up in the child’s school experience. Suspensions or expulsion from school occurs in 90% of children in the united states. For teenagers, this can result in dropping of out of school, experienced by 60% of the subjects (age 12 and older).
Other problems, such as legal issues, can occur for FASD children. Being charged or convicted of a crime is experienced by 60% of the children ages 12 and older. (Wikipedia)
One of the ways to help children with special needs heal is to work on executive functioning skills. Executive Functioning: “are a set of cognitive processes – including attentional control, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility, as well as reasoning, problem-solving and planning – that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals.”
Elevating executive functioning skills will help children with special needs make better choices, control their behavior and manage their thoughts and emotions. The simplest way to elevate them is through play.
It’s been said that play is the “beginning of knowledge.” The play is a child’s natural language and how they interact with the world and learn new skills and the shortest route to helping special needs children.
Babies and young children can benefit from games of peekaboo, pat-a-cake, hiding games, simple songs, and music, copying games, and fingerplays. Example of young child games include Eensy Weensy Spider, Where is Thumbkin, Open, Shut Them. Repetition and allowance for failure is key to helping children’s brain develop normally.
School-age children benefit from reading books, music, and movement, simple imitation games like follow the leader, conversations, manipulation of objects like blocks and Legos. Allow children to set the course of play allowing them to start and stop the rhythm of play.
It would seem that play with special needs children is the same as with any other child and it is…except that the intention and purpose of the play are to build brain skills that need reinforcement. The ability to stay focus and tolerate interactions need to be increased over time. If a child can only sit and play for 5 minutes, we want to increase that time to 6 minutes, then 7, etc. Start where the child is and allow them to increase tolerance and focus.
Take into consideration that each time the nervous system starts and then stops, it learns how to persist past impulses and distractions. Each time it achieves a difficult goal, it discovers the pleasure of success and wants to repeat this experience. This provides an internal locus of control that doesn’t require an adult to always supervise the play.
Play also develops social skills, an area that can be drastically missing in children with special needs. As children get older, teamwork becomes more important and necessary both at home and school. Children become more active and like to engage in dance, sports, playing catch, and various competition games. Competition can become a way to alienate others as special needs children have tantrums/meltdowns when they don’t win. This is due to a need to compensate for low self-esteem feeling like a failure at tasks and games.
Let the play be about the process and not the end result. Be happy for others who when and concentrating on celebrating team efforts will enhance executive functioning and overall relational success.
Is this still exhausting work? Yes! But the effort will be worth it in the long run. Use storytelling and imaginary play to make the connections that are missing in social/emotional development. Role-playing and creative art can also be a powerful tool for parents and professionals. Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says, clapping rhythms, guessing games, I Spy, and Brain Teasers are also useful brain tools.
Teenagers with special needs can benefit from practicing real-time daytimers, calendars, whiteboards, mind mapping and more to develop organizational, goal setting, planning, and monitoring and studying skills.
None of these activities should be done in isolation from caring, patient adults. Attachment and brain researchers operate under the maxim that “brains that fire together, wire together.” Just giving a toy to a child or tell them to do a task will not enhance the prefrontal cortex of the brain, where executive functioning is centered. Optimal development occurs when do people interact. Adults can guide the conversation and play to specifically target the individualized needs of the child. The child’s ability to push passed frustrations and manage moods will need the adult to help them through it.
Finally, children of all ages can benefit from the mental organization power of mindfulness. Executive functioning is more than academic ability. This might be the focus on many of the adults in the child’s life but life smarts are important aspects of book smarts.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Learning to be mindful of one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations calm the nervous system so thinking skills can increase. Teaching children the importance of experiencing their breath, mindful eating, yoga, and how to ground themselves are crucial skills at all ages.
Get more powerful tools for managing special needs and trauma for your organization with Trauma-Informed Training by contacting Ron Huxley now…click here!
Have you ever kept a diary? Maybe as a child, you did. I still do although I am not as diligent with it as I used to be. Using a diary is a simple way to manage your anger. Anger triggers and solutions are very predictable. Unfortunately, we miss the clues to both of these anger management tips and continue to repeat the negative process of outburst and tantrums.
Every day for two weeks, write in a diary using this four-step anger management process:
1. List what made you angry.
2. List how angry it made you feel on a scale from 1 to 10, one being cool and calm and 10 being a major rage.
3. Put a plus sign (+) down if you handled it well and a minus sign (-) if you didn’t.
4. Write what you will try next time this situation presents itself.
After two weeks are over go back and see what you have learned. You will be surprised by how much info you gathered in a short time and how much insight and change you have accomplished.
Coming soon: The Anger Toolbox ecourse! Join our newsletter now to get more info when it arrives…
By Ron Huxley, LMFT
You walk in and find your child playing computer games instead of cleaning his room. You asked him an hour ago to clean it. In frustration, you blow up, yelling at him to get his room cleaned up or “else.” He scrambles around picking up dirty clothes and toys. You stomp off. There has got to be a better way, you think to yourself.
Fortunately, there is a better way. Yelling often gets opposite results and results in a lose/lose situation. Even if you win (get him to clean his room), you lose (feel horrible for yelling). Instead parents can try using
negotiation. While, it is not a perfect tool, it will increase the cooperation desired from your child.
Negotiation is a tool that allows parents and children to make a win/win agreement. It is a learned skill and no child, that I know, is born with it. It must be modeled and reinforced by parents. But, because most parents, that I know, were children at one time or another, they were not born with it either. Therefore, here are several steps for parents to teach negotiation to your child:
Step 1: Know what is negotiable and not negotiable ahead of time. If cleaning his room after dinner is not an acceptable time because company is coming and you need the room picked up now, state firmly but gently, why it is not acceptable to wait. If it is an acceptable time to do the chores, then be flexible and make sure you are both clear on what “after dinner” really means.
Step 2: Be open-minded. Be willing to listen and consider the other person’s viewpoint. Stephen Covey, in his book the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests that you seek first to understand the other person before you ask to be understood. If your child appears grumpy and depressed take a moment to find out why. Yelling will only increase the grumps and depression, backfiring on you in moments of revenge or decreased cooperation
Step 3: Set a time limit. Keep the negotiation time short to prevent the discussion from getting off track. Most negotiation ends up in the blame game where there are no winners, only losers. Keep things on the specific topic and not on what happened yesterday, last month, or years ago. If you do get off track, simply steer yourself back on the right path by stating, “Let’s get back to the issue of when you are to clean your room.”
Step 4: Keep it private. Don’t embarrass your child by negotiating in front of his friends. He will be more likely to react negatively if he thinks others are watching. Ask to talk to him in a private room or ask for the friend to go home.
Step 5: Stay calm and cool. Don’t try to negotiate when feeling you are over heated, tired, or preoccupied with a hundred other things. If the situation gets too hot, suggest taking a few minutes to cool off and then resume the negotiation. Set this up as a ground rule before negotiating if you think a heated discussion is likely.
Step 6: Acknowledge the others’ point of view. Even if your child is totally off base, acknowledge his feelings about the chores. Those feelings belong to him and are valid to him even if they are not to you. One way to do this is to say, “I can see how you could feel the way you do given your bad day at school.” You never said it was true, just bad for him.
Step 7: Restate the final solution once it is reached. Most failures to cooperate after a negotiation is due to a misunderstanding about what EXACTLY were agreed upon. Write it in contract form if that seems necessary.
Of course, negotiation may not be enough. Your child may still not pick up his room. If that happens set firm consequences for failure to cooperate. Remind him of the negotiation and, in the future, write everything down so there is no dispute on the agreement. When he fails to comply, point to the contract and state the consequence. This takes parents out of the uncomfortable judge and jury role. Most often, children will be testing parents to see if they mean what they say as parents have failed to follow through themselves, in the past.
Get a number of parents in a room and ask them about their children’s behavior and you will begin to hear a common theme that boys behave differently than girls. It’s news in the media too; it seems, with all of the talk about our Emotional IQ (usually referring to a male’s lack of) or how men are from Mars and women from Venus. Sit in on an online chat room for parents or an email discussion list on male/female relationships and it won’t be long before you see some retort about how “men can’t express their feelings” or “boys acting out their aggression.” All of it focuses on how men struggle with their emotional self.
As a man, I won’t deny it’s true. Even the men I have talked with, be they friends or patients in my office, will agree with it. The rub is that while men accept this fact they feel helpless to change it. That’s because we are caught in a double bind, put on us by society, the other gender, and ourselves. The double bind says that we should be more in touch with our emotions and yet, at the same time, be tough, macho, Mr. Fix-It, and the Family Provider. We are asked to be in touch with our “feminine” side and still retain our “Male” strength.
Add the problem that most men never had adequate male role models in life, or if they did, they weren’t emotionally available one’s, and you end up with a fairly confused man or son about the emotional nature of manhood. William Pollack, Ph.D., in his book, Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of states that the consequence of this confusion for males includes higher rates of depression, anxiety, aggressiveness, and substance abuse. It’s ironic that male’s confusion about expressing emotion leads to emotional problems. He goes on to state that in order to survive this confusion, boys learn “the code” that to be a man you must pretend to “feel nothing.”
Of course, it’s not possible to “feel nothing.” The best example comes from the biggest complaint about male’s behaviors, namely, that they are too competitive and aggressive. Boys are much more likely to be diagnosed as conduct disordered learning disabled, and attention deficit. Statistics are also higher for violent crimes and fighting among males. They are also more likely to be medicated for these disorders to decrease their aggressive behaviors. Dr. Pollack feels that males are given an “emotional funnel” to express their feelings. All of their emotions: sadness, fear, anxiety, and frustration is translated into one emotion: Anger!
Anger is the most common emotion expressed by males. That is because men and boys feel more accepted by society when they express anger over what is considered to be the more “feminine” emotions. Here is the double-bind again: we ask males to manage their anger which is the only socially acceptable emotion to express and that emotion turns out to be a cover-up for other emotions, such as sadness or powerlessness. Anger or aggressive behaviors, are just the symptom. The source may be any number of hidden, indirect emotions.
So what do males do with this double bind? If we agree that we have trouble expressing our emotions, and that creates trouble for us relationally and socially, how do we get out of trouble? First, we start with understanding the true nature of emotions and then society must demonstrate an acceptance of those emotions in boys and men.
The Emotional Brain
If we look at emotions from purely a physiological standpoint, they turn out to be some of the most fundamental parts of our brain. Researchers have determined that our emotions are controlled in the brain stem, which regulates our involuntary functions and the middle area of our brain, which controls our basic drives, such as eating, and sleeping. Emotions come from and are related to some of the most primitive and primary areas of our brains.
According to Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., in his book, Emotional IQ, our emotions are designed to “motivate” or move us forward in life. Each emotion has a particular purpose in our personal evolution. Anger serves to give us the energy and strength necessary to change a situation, fear allows us to focus on the threat at-hand and evaluate a course of action, happiness increases energy and decreases inhibitions to achieve goals, love creates satisfaction and a state of rest or contentment, surprise allows us to take in more information about an unexpected event, disgust expresses a need to avoid an undesirable event or food, and sadness slows us down to adjust to a major disappointment and find solace in familiar people and places.
Dr. Goleman goes on to acknowledge that while males and females have the same emotional capacity, they are taught very different lessons about how to handle their emotions. Parents tend to discuss emotions more with daughters than sons. In studies of parents telling their children stories, girls are told stories more heavily laden with emotional words and situations than are boys. Mothers display a wider range of emotions when playing with their daughters than when they are playing with their sons. And even when parents talk to their children about emotions, they use more emotional descriptions with girls than with boys.
Research has also shown that girls develop language skills much sooner than boys and are more articulate when it comes to expressing themselves emotionally. This natural advantage and the de-emphasis on emotional training for boys, lead males to communicate their emotions behaviorally. This may be why so many boys get into fights, play competitive sports, or act aggressively towards others. It is their way of communicating their feelings. And anger is the socially acceptable spokesperson for all of those feelings, be they positive or negative. Perhaps the answer to the emotional double bind, experienced by boys and men, are to provide males with the missing Emotional IQ training. Teaching males to understand and express their emotions increases their Emotional IQ, according to Dr. Goleman and other researchers. It is this Emotional IQ that provides success at school, work, or home – wherever human relations are necessary.
Emotional IQ Training
Howard Gardner, a psychologist at the Harvard School of Education, has suggested that there are many different types of intelligence, not just academic (linguistic and math) one’s. He refers to these as talents that all children possess, male or female. Being able to use these talents is what makes people successful and satisfied in life. Peter Salovey, another psychologist, refines Gardner’s talents into five main domains of emotional intelligence: Knowing one’s emotions, Managing emotions, Motivating oneself, Recognizing emotions in others, and Handling relationships. Making these domains a part of every boy’s daily curriculum is essential if we want to help boys increase their Emotional IQ and become the fathers and husband’s society desires. Another way of saying it is, if we want males to be more expressive emotionally, we have to give them the “right tools to do the job.”
Where do we start? The most natural place is the home. And the most natural person is dad. It stands to reason, that if we want to teach real boys to be real men, then we need to utilize our most natural and powerful resources. We also need to be more conscious about what and how we are teaching emotional literacy to our sons and take a more active approach in doing so. And these Emotional IQ skills must be socially sanctioned in order for the new skills to take root and grow.
Dr. Pollack suggests that we give our sons undivided attention every day. This means full attention, not partial or half. Don’t engage in cooking, cleaning, reading or anything else that might detract from the attention giving. Dads don’t always have to talk when giving attention either. Playing a game or working on a project, side-by-side, with minimal words is enough. Jerrold Lee Shapiro, Ph.D, in his book, The Measure of a Man: Becoming the Father You Wish Your Father Had Been, states that while men and women experience emotions similarly, they may share those emotions differently. Men, due to past Emotional IQ training, are used to indirectly communicating with one another. This is what, Dr. Shapiro calls “side-by-side” or “shoulder-to-shoulder” communication. Moms tend to prefer the more “face-to-face”, direct approach.
Dr. Shapiro talks about the different styles of communicating emotions by men and women: “Men have long been criticized for either having no feelings or having the wrong ones, or being unable to describe them. It is true that males in our society are trained to deny, ignore, cover up, and rise above feelings. However, we do have them all the time. It is important that we express our feelings to our children in male ways. It is customary for men to be most open, for example, while they are working on a joint project together (i.e., shoulder to shoulder).”
It is also important that mom’s and dad’s encourage boys to express the full range of emotions. Past social conditioning that only some emotions, namely anger, are acceptable need to be removed. All emotions are valid. Be receptive to a baby’s sadness and discomfort as well as his cooing and giggles. Ask toddlers and school-age boys if they are feeling sad or tired and empathize with those feelings. Tell older boys that it is normal to feel awkward or anxious and have open discussions about his relationships with girls, other boys, siblings, teachers and family.
When boys do express themselves aggressively or act rambunctious, look below the anger. While it is true that boys, on the average, do play more aggressively, don’t let that prevent you from checking for underlying emotions of sadness or anxiety. Remember that acting out means just that. Boys often act out their feelings of hurt and loss. Labels those feelings for them if they are obvious or ask them about their feelings if they are not. Reflect on their behavior by stating, “You seem to be upset about this situation. I wonder if your are feelings hurt/sad/anxious by it.” Model complex feelings by admitting you often get angry when you feel these other emotions too. It is often difficult for young children to understand that people can have more than one emotion at a time.
Be willing to express your love and empathy openly and generously. Loving your son will not “baby” him, “spoil” him, or make him a “sissy.” It will make him more self-assured, confidant, and secure. When a dad is openly affectionate toward his son, a very deep message about manhood and emotions is communicated. Tell you son that you love him as much as you wish. Give him hugs and take opportunities to play with him.
Fatherless Homes And Father Hunger
What is a boy to do if there is no father or positive male role model available? The answer is two-fold: Model emotions yourself and/or borrow a positive male role model. Although the most powerful model of emotional literacy is between a dad and his son, mom’s can model healthy functioning too. Any and all adults, not just the biological father, can teach Emotional IQ. And if dad is absent, physically or emotionally, from the home, have your son join a mentoring program like Big Brothers or the Police Activity League. Ask around about organizations that provide positive role models for boys and check them out to determine if they are able to provide Emotional IQ training. Of course, they may not understand it as such, but watch what they do with your son and other boys to see if they are teaching it, by their actions. Recruit an uncle, grandfather, or other male relative to get together with your son one-day a week to go to the movies, build a model, or play catch. It is also possible to find a male, child therapist for your son. A child therapist can address the child’s issues (aggressive behavior, depression, anxiety, etc.), consult with the parent about how to increase a child’s Emotional IQ, and be an adequate male role model at the same time. While you are not trying to replace dad or build an unhealthy dependence on the therapist, a male therapist can provide that essential ingredient some boys needs and can’t get from a female therapist.
Dr. Shapiro talks about this essential ingredient as “father hunger.” Coined by James Herzog, a psychoanalyst, to describe the psychological damage in young children who were deprived of their fathers love and attention. These children were determined to be more aggressive and had trouble controlling their impulses. They also tend to be more immature and needy. Older children, who suffer from this “father hunger” are more likely to attempt suicide, run away, malinger, and manipulate others.
The satisfaction of this hunger is to find adequate father substitutes. Even men, who did not have emotionally available fathers or grew up in single parent homes without a father, can find other men who act as mentors or role models about how to be a high Emotional IQ dad. Even haphazard attempts at emotional functioning are better than nothing. Most children are fairly forgiving and willing to learn how to be healthy males together. Contrary to popular opinion, I think that children learn as much, if not more, from healthy male failures as their successes. Covering up our failures only reinforces the old “boy code” that we feel nothing or must always be right, tough, and macho.
The New Boy Code
Dr. Pollack suggests we adopt a new boy code. A code that respects emotions in boys and men, that is based on honesty rather than fear, communication rather than repression, and connection rather than disconnection. It’s time to stop complaining about boy’s aggressiveness and men’s lack of emotional availability by taking down the double bind. It is true that males have a problem expressing themselves. But it is also true that we hunger for relationship and affection. We tire of being cool, independent and always in control. Turn the emotional funnel around and let all of the emotions come out, safely and in a healthy manner. Maybe then it will be O.K. if big boys cry.