Dream Parenting is about speaking into the lives of our children and awakening them to the reality of who they are designed to be. Not all children what us to speak to them. They feel they know best. How do they come up with that idea? Do they see us as poor models about how to live life? Do our actions not inspire them to be designed like their designers? Design is the starting place. Destiny is the goal. They carry our DNA but we have to imprint and inspire them to be all they are designed to be, so they can live out their destiny. Our dream family is not just a product of our imaginations alone. It is birthed in the union with those we have birthed. 

Our children turn away from our moral codes when we react more to fear than to promises about our future. Fear is always a reaction. Promise is a response! Think about it for a few minutes. As parents, too many of our past disappointments are speaking into our present/presence and we do not display a design our children want to emulate. Dreams are not born out of fear. Dreams are produced by a strong faith in the knowledge of who we are. Not what we do and not based on what our children do. 

I hope this is not confusing you. You can’t build a dream family by managing behavior. That’s the bottom line. You have to build it by reminding yourself and your children about who you are designed to be. If you don’t yet understand that, then this is the first step in your new family blueprint. 

I think I should create a handout to go with this…Be on the lookout for one. in the meantime, join our MORE list and get past Dream Parenting Handouts and more: Click here now.

Attitude Awards for Your Children

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

Have you ever received an award for “outstanding achievement” or completion of some difficult task or milestone? How did it feel to get that award? Did you place it proudly in your home or office where you and everyone else could see it? 

Your children like to get awards too. Trophy’s, certificates, ribbons, and cards can create personal satisfaction. They reinforce our sense of uniqueness and give attention to our gifts and talents and hard work. Try giving your child an award for good attitude. This isn’t for cleaning their room or getting an A on a test. That is a good time for an award as well but attitude awards focus more on the inner qualities that you want to see more of in your children. Giving an unexpected award for goodwill, kindness, generosity, teamwork and other character traits will bring those qualities to the forefront more often. Your child might not be the kindest person in the family. All the more reason to give them a award for any effort in this direction. Anything attitude and behavior you reinforce in a child will reproduce in their life and anything you ignore will decrease. Be sure to use sincerity and surprise to make the award more impactful. 

He Never Acts This Way At School!

“He Never Acts This Way At School!”
by Ron Huxley, LMFT

“The energy which makes a child hard to manage is the energy which afterward makes him a manager of life.” – Henry Ward Beecher”

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

Have you ever heard a parent say this or perhaps said it yourself? Why do some children misbehave at home and not in other settings, like school? While the opposite situation might be true, where the child misbehaves at school and not home, let’s look at this common parenting frustration.

Teaching is a good definition of balanced discipline. In fact, the word discipline comes from the root word “disciplinare” which means to teach or instruct. Most parents understand discipline as reducing inappropriate behaviors (punishment) instead of helping children achieve competence, self-control, self-direction, and social skills. Of course, all parents want this but reinforcing appropriate behaviors seems like a luxury or fantasy when parents are having big problems with their children.

The Parenting Juggling Act

One reason for this may be the act of juggling work and family that so many contemporary parents find themselves performing. In this situation, only the most annoying or irritating behaviors are sure to get a parents attention. Children quickly learn that good behavior or even quiet, a self-directed behavior rarely gets the attention of overloaded parents. Good behavior is one less thing a parent has to deal with while bad behavior guarantees parents attention. This is what educators and therapists call “negative attention” – a powerful reinforcer of children’s misbehavior.

What’s the Model?

So when parents wonder why their child doesn’t misbehave in school we should investigate the school/teaching model a little closer to see what frustrated parents can use at home. Of course, as any teacher will admit, perfect behavior from children never occurs at school or anywhere else but let’s compare school behaviors to home discipline.

Schools are learning environments. Discipline requires a learning environment characterized by positive, nurturing parent-child relationships. Is your home a learning environment or an entertainment center? Are their books, activities and private spaces for children?

Teachers use a curriculum. Discipline occurs when a plan or structure is in place for children. Do you know what you want to teach your children? What values or ideas do you want your children to believe? Is there a set time or routine for learning these things? Are you available to the child for help and instruction? Do you have materials available to educate you about topics you want to teach your children? Are there regular discussions about daily responsibilities, spiritual ideas, personal dreams, and problem areas?

Grades are used to evaluate a child’s progress. Discipline can be both an instruction and a measurement of children’s behavior. What grade would you give your child in hygiene, social ability, responsibility, etc.? What rewards (physical or verbal) are given for “A” grades? Are parent-child conferences held to discuss strengths and weaknesses and make a plan for improvement? Do children get regular feedback from parents on how they are doing at home?

Teachers are in charge of the classroom and model appropriate behavior. Discipline is most effective when parents remember that they are the leaders of the home and “practice what they preach.” Are you firm and consistent in your discipline with your children? Do you model appropriate behavior for your children? Do you give the things, to your children, that you ask for, from your children, such as respect? Do you say what you mean rather than threaten or bribe children? Do you have a list of rules posted where children can see them? Do you allow children to “raise their hands” and ask questions? Do you listen attentively to those questions and give an appropriate answer?

Children are given opportunities to explore and understand the world and themselves. Discipline is about internal control and not just external control. Do you give your child choices that require him or her to think about consequence? Are children recognized for behaving in an appropriate manner? Are there any “field trips” that children go on to inspire, instruct, or experience appropriate behavior? Are children give opportunities to act in a responsible and trustworthy manner? Are children encouraged to help their siblings and work as teams? Are there any parties for celebrating hard work?

Classrooms have rules that children must follow. Are their assigned seats at the dinner table or car? Are there any rules about waiting, talking, and seeking help? Do children get to “line up first” or “pass out the snacks” for exemplary behaviors? Are consequences given for inappropriate behaviors? Do children get warnings about misbehavior? Do children get to go to recess when they misbehave? Are the rules discussed with the children, posted where everyone can see them, and frequently reviewed?

Schools have recesses, school holidays, and summer breaks. Discipline is about doing nothing as much as it is about doing something. Do you allow your child to make mistakes and decide difficult (but not dangerous) situations on their own? Are there healthy balances between fun and chores, rest and responsibilities, work-time and playtime? Do you allow your child to simply be a child? Are developmental expectations appropriate to the age and abilities of your child? Do you allow yourself to be off-duty by having other adults to watch over your children? Are plans made, in family meetings, for fun as a family? Is quality time a regular part of your time with your children?

Novel Situations

While this may not cover all aspects of school routines or discipline practices, it does ask some very reflective questions. It is possible we missed the most basic reason for children’s different behaviors, namely, novel situations and conditional love. Novel situations refer to a phenomenon that affects a child’s behavior when in a new environment. A new environment is unpredictable and may require a child to be on his or her best behavior until the child learns what the rules and consequences are or what they can get away with. Home is often predictable. The child already knows what they can or cannot get away with.

Conditional vs Unconditional Love

Conditional love refers to the communication of worth a child will get from another individual based on their behavior. A teacher may only consider certain behaviors to be worthy of his or her love and care. At the root, this is a good strategy. It advocates reinforcing only positive behaviors and ignoring negative behavior but the long-term fruit can have devastating consequences for children’s self-esteem. A child’s sense of self should never be based on conditions. A child is worthy of love, dignity, and worth regardless of what they do. Reinforcement and even approval can be placed on a child’s behavior to communicate what is appropriate or inappropriate. A child may not feel this conditional love at home, knowing that mom will always love him or her and so manipulate this to their advantage.

Take a few moments to review these questions. If you are one of those parents who has said, “My child never behaves this way at school?” maybe now, you can finally find out why, and be able to say your child behaves appropriately at home as well as school.

> Get more tools for the job of parenting with an online consult. Contact Ron today at rehuxley@gmail.com for more information…

Do you have a “Problem Child?”

Jill remembers the very first time Ben got called to the principal’s office. The kindergarteners were standing in line waiting for the bus home when Ben pushed a classmate to the ground. Then he encouraged a few of the other kids to start kicking. The boy wasn’t down for long before a teacher, who had witnessed the whole thing, came over to intervene. Ben, the teacher later told Jill, seemed to think it was funny. Jill was horrified.

Ben and his collaborators were sentenced to five hours each of community service around the school during recess: cleaning dry erase boards, packing up balls in the gym. At home, Jill talked to Ben about what it means to act appropriately at school and to be kind to others, and continued to talk to him in the months following. He was a smart boy; he understood, she thought. After all, at home, he was generally well behaved.

And yet, three years later, Ben remains the undisputed class troublemaker. Teachers almost seem to assume that he’ll act out. Often, Jill suspects, this is precisely the reason he does. He knows what’s expected of him.

During the elementary school years, boys tend to misbehave more than girls, though girls catch up later during adolescence, in other ways. We used to say that boys were more “active,” as if to excuse, or at least explain, misbehavior. But the truth is that the line between “active” and “disruptive” is thin, kids aren’t particularly skilled at walking it, and disruptive is a problem. Parents of kids like Ben know that once a boy has been labeled a troublemaker at school, it can be very difficult for him to shake the label. Often, that’s because he becomes the label; he, like Ben, lives up to the expectations other have laid out for him.

It’s not easy for parents to admit their son is the one causing trouble, and can be even harder to reconcile when the child is well behaved at home. It’s a natural impulse to defend kids, especially when you didn’t actually see what happened, and want to help them argue their way out of trouble – whether that’s after-school detention or a speeding ticket. It’s also natural for parents to want to intervene when their troublemaker finds himself an outcast among friends, as many often do. “Many of the boys stopped wanting to play with Ben at recess because it often meant they’d get into trouble, too,” remembers Jill. “It was heartbreaking, but in a way I couldn’t really blame them. It wasn’t untrue.”

If your child is the troublemaker, it’s important to help set him straight sooner rather than later – ideally before he gets labeled and before he finds himself losing friends. A few ideas to keep in mind:

Practice tough love (on yourself, too). Be honest with yourself about your son’s behavior. Your job is to be his champion, but not his defender when he’s behaved inappropriately. If he’s the class clown, even if he’s not “hurting anyone,” you need to acknowledge that, and respect the consequences. Learning to develop the skills needed to be part of a group is a critical part of growing up, and something your son needs to learn. Maybe even the hard way.

Cooperate. The best results come when parents can work with, and not against, teachers. When you argue with the school, his coach, or the staff at the daycare, you’re letting your son off the hook. You can support him without letting him avoid the consequences of his actions. The more you help him skirt the issue, the less likely he is to change. And if you do disagree with the way a teacher is handling your child, never discuss it in front of him. That will only further undermine her authority in his eyes. Take your concern directly to the teacher, way out of earshot of your son.

Be specific. When your son acts out at home or in school, don’t just tell him what he did wrong. Have him tell you – and then talk together about why that behavior was unacceptable. Teach him strategies to act better. One way to do this is to present specific scenarios. Set up micro-scenes and have him act out responses: What to do when he’s bored in class, angry with a friend, feeling the urge to tell a joke during quiet time. Then remind him of all his positive qualities and point out when he does something right, like helping a friend or making his bed without being asked. Being labeled a troublemaker can be difficult on a child’s self-esteem, so remember to give it a gentle boost now and again. If he thinks he only does wrong, he’ll continue to do wrong.

Let things go…  If your son is losing friends because of his behavior, don’t try to intervene, no matter how difficult it is to watch. Children have the right to decide if they’re not comfortable playing with other children. Respect their decision and know that it will be a learning tool for your son, then talk to him about why his friends may be turning away. Learning how to get along with others is an important part of becoming independent, and while you can help him understand what it means to be a good friend, you can’t force other children to overlook your son’s problematic behavior. In fact, the less you help, the quicker he’ll figure it out himself.

But don’t give up. If the pattern continues or gets worse, you may want to consider enlisting the help of your pediatrician or a counselor. Some kids have trouble adjusting to change, at school or at home. But if his behavior has been consistent over months or even years, something may be bothering him that he’s unable to articulate.

Changing Children’s Behavior: Take Some Measurements!

Does your child have so many problems that you don’t know where to start? Are you so frustrated that you can’t see or think straight? Do you feel helpless about how to make changes in your relationship with your child? Perhaps the first place to start is with a few measurements.

When behaviorists study people’s behavior, they start with a baseline. A baseline is a tool that is used to measure the frequency and duration of someone’s specific behavior. A baseline can be used to measure the frequency and duration of both desirable and undesirable behavior. This dual measurement can tell parents what they want to increase and what they want to decrease, all without a lot of screaming, hair pulling, or medication!

The first step in determining a baseline is to measure a child’s behavior when no intervention or tool is being used with the child. This way parents can get an accurate estimation of the child’s behavior. Baselines will allow a parent to measure the effectiveness of a particular parenting tool they are using. If a parent discovers that a tool is not getting the desirable results (i.e., the misbehavior continues at the same level as before or is much worse), then the parent knows to abandon this approach and try another. Parents then find a different tool to use that gets them better results. Sounds easy, huh! Actually it isn’t. But with a little practice parents can use baselines to objectively and rationally approach a behavior problem and change it.

The next step is to gather a few basic materials: a piece of graph paper, pencil, and daily calendar. Write across the top of the graph paper the behavior you wish to increase or decrease. For example, you might write: “I want to increase the number of times that Tommy takes his bath on time” or “I want to decrease the number of times that Mary hits her little brother.” Picking the behavior may not be as easy at it sounds. You must pick one behavior to focus on and not get confused with other problems at home. Be very specific about what you want to increase or decrease. Don’t write: “I want Tommy to behave.” That is too general and vague. You will never achieve that anyway, so why frustrate you and Tommy. Pick a behavior that is particularly troublesome and/or dangerous to start.

To get a baseline, simply count how many times a day that particular behavior is occurring for one week. Average it on a per day basis by taking your weekly total and divide it by seven (days of the week). That will be your baseline. Let’s say that you want Tommy to take his bath, on time, every day. At this time, Tommy only takes his bath, one time, once per week. One is your baseline. Anything you use to increase this frequency will be considered effective. Anything that does not or reduces it to zero, is not effective.

After you have picked the behavior, use the bottom of the paper to list the days of the week from the calendar (Sunday, Monday… Saturday). Along the left side of the paper you will write a range of numbers, starting from the bottom and going up. The range could be from zero to ten, if the behavior you are targeting is a low frequency problem or zero to hundred, if it is a high frequency problem. I would suggest sticking with a low frequency problem. It will make the process simpler and easier to monitor.

Now comes the fun part: picking the tool. What will you use to increase or decrease your child’s behavior? You could do what you have always done, like Time-Out or Removing Privileges. Or you could read up on a couple of books, ask a wise friend or teacher, or search the Internet, looking for various interventions to try. Regardless of where you go for your tools, choose only one. Use the tool of choice for a period of one week and faithfully measure how many times a day that behavior occurs with the application of the tool. Be sure that all caregivers (moms, dads, relatives, day care staff, etc.) use the same tool or you will not get a good measurement. In fact, if dad is doing one thing and mom another, you could be sabotaging each other’s efforts. Get everyone on the bandwagon and cooperating.

Chart the number of times the behavior occurs (its frequency per day) and the time that it occurred. In order to see if change has occurred, parents must check to see if there is any difference between the baseline number, before any intervention was made, and the number of occurrences after an intervention is made. This final number should come close to your target number. Let’s take another look at Tommy and his bath time. Mom and dad decided to take away Tommy’s television privileges if he did not get in the bath on time each day. They did this by simply stating the consequence ten minutes before bath time to give him time to prepare. If Tommy did not get in the bath on time (they gave him a five minute window of opportunity either way) they stated that there would be no television privileges the next morning and stuck to their decision. After a couple of days, Tommy realized that mom and dad were serious about this bath time business and decided to cooperate. He was able to get in the bath, on time, three times in one week, as a result of mom and dad’s new interventions. This was a definite increase from the baseline and considered successful by everyone.

Don’t worry if the change doesn’t occur immediately. Children test their parents to see if they will be consistent with these new interventions or if parents are going to fall back to old, inconsistent ways of disciplining. One to two weeks may be needed to witness any real results. If the behavior is still not changing after that period of time, find a new tool. It is also important that you be consistent. Inconsistency will reward the behavior in the wrong direction.

What if one parent is willing to cooperate but the other is not? This makes our task harder but not impossible. Simple measure during a time that you are able to control, say, during the daytime when dad is at work. Obviously, you must pick a target behavior that occurs during that time period and find a tool that you can administer alone. Children will adapt to the different parenting styles of their parents, even if they are exact opposites.

Reward all positive, behavioral changes. This will help to maintain the behavior over a long period of time. Don’t resort to bribes, such as sweets, money, or toys. This will backfire on you. Use social praise, like: “Great job” or “I really appreciated how you did that.” This is usually sufficient for children. Any negative behavior should be ignored, as much as possible.

How long should you use the baseline tool? Use the tool for as long as you need. Once you are getting positive results from your new tool, you can go on to targeting a new behavior or put the chart away until it is needed again. Behavior tools, like the baseline, have some limitations. Very smart children see your strategy and try to go around it or do as they are asked, during the specific time it is asked, and then immediately misbehave right after. For example, Tommy may get into the bath on time so that he can watch his favorite television programs, but right after the bath, he may become rude and obnoxious to his little sister. This is a weakness in the tool, not you. Ignore the weakness for now. All you are concerned with is increasing getting into the bath on time. Later you will address, with the baseline tool, the rude behavior.

The value of this parenting tool is in its ability to get a baseline measure of a child’s behavior and to test the validity of the parenting tools your are using. It allows you to cope with feelings of frustration and target behavior objectively and without negative attention to the child. This allows the parent and the child to concentrate on more enjoyable activities together.