Contemplations on Control: How we make (good) decisions

Some people have trouble making good decisions. Boundaries are a challenge and saying “no” feels impossible. For others, they are quite comfortable making decisions. They might even enjoy telling others what choices they should make. Parents often feel a need to tell children what to do all the time. They believe that children can’t or won’t make a good choice. As we contemplate the elements of control in our lives, we want to find that balance between laissez faire attitudes and acting like a control freak. 

Making choices, even bad ones is a way to feel powerful. Many children and adults will act in the opposite manner just to feel some form of power in their own lives. Authority figures are seen as untrustworthy, no matter how experienced or wise they might be. That isn’t the point for a person who feels powerless. Control and the defiance that often comes with it feels like the only way to find power or freedom.

We value the freedom that can come through choices. It is one of America’s highest personal values. Unfortunately, freedom to do anything one wants, whenever one wants to do it, and not expect any real consequences is not true freedom. True freedom comes when we exercise self-control. 

Ask Dr. Seuss, if you don’t believe me:

You have brains in your head,

You have feet in your shoes,

You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.

Sound advice. The trick is choosing the right direction! 

Parents want children to listen and obey because they have more experience dealing with the complexities of life. Children want to assert their control in order to better know themselves. There are specific stages where this most evident, like in 2-3-year-old toddler stage and the 13-17 years of adolescence. The reason these ages and stages are so fraught with power struggles is because the child is going through rapid brain growth, hormonal changes, and social/emotional demands. That requires a lot of self-assertion in order to master it all. 

As I have already described in other blog posts, a parents job should resemble a coach more than a director. While this isn’t always possible or practical, it is the healthier approach to successful parenting. A parent TELLS a child what to do. Children can’t become responsible human beings or eventual adults if they rely on parents what to do. Parents can expect more self-responsibility and problem-solving if they don’t let the child make choices. 

A parent coach offers choices in order to empower children to learn from their choices. Isn’t this how we all learn? Of course, understanding this approach and performing it in the heat of the “battle” is difficult but that isn’t a reason not to use it. The good news is that the drive to choose is built into our nervous systems. You don’t have to tell a child to have an opinion. They already have one. You don’t have to model how to prefer for one type of food over the other or one game over the other. The child just does this naturally. Coaching allows us to direct what is already inborn. Parents should let it work to their advantage!

Forcing control, although at times necessary, shouldn’t be our primary parenting plan. Parents can give choices for things they approve of…usually two is good. If the child wants a third option, and they will, simply repeat the two choices and when the situation becomes a game, and it will, make the choice for the child. This is where parents can be direct and assert their wills. Pick your battles well in other words.

Researchers on control like to use the words “agency” or “self-efficacy”. I guess it sounds more clinical. The more agency we use in life the more power-full we feel. The more good decisions we make, the more confident we are to try new and more challenging things. Good deciders set bigger goals in life than bad deciders. They get along better with other people, can be better team players, have higher academic achievements and work ethics, and they are healthier and happier people overall. 

That all sounds good until you make a few bad choices and start to believe that you don’t have the ability to make a good choice, ever! People who go through trauma often feel this way. Depression is a common hallmark of making bad choices or having gone through bad things. This is what researchers call “locus of control”. Someone with an internal locus of control believes they are the cause of a successful outcome. An extern locus of control refers to things happening by chance or luck. After a traumatic event or series of events, a person can feel helpless and have an external locus of control. If something good does happen, it is random and accidental.

It is possible to have an “illusion of control” where someone feels they can master things they really can’t. They don’t have an overdeveloped internal locus of control and may take on too many tasks or make claims of being able to accomplish tasks that are too difficult. They are ready to accept responsibility for success but blame others/events for failures. This illusion prevents them from really learning how to be successful in life. Much of wisdom comes from making mistakes and then trying a new approach next time. 

The answer to all of this may be acceptance of reality. This is a philosophical idea and spiritual practice of letting go of expectations and desires that create most of our on-going suffering. When something happens that we don’t want or we don’t get what we do want, we suffer. The truth is everyone does this and everyone suffers. Acceptance allows us to be aware of it and adapt. We don’t blame others for our mistakes or at least, our part of a situation/problem. We are humble and try to find the wisdom of our failures. We don’t allow others to control us and we don’t use control to deal with anxiety. We simply allow what is to be and find the truth in the experience. As the Bible says, “Truth sets us free” (John 8:32). 

Acceptance isn’t another form of helplessness, however. We accept our situation but continue to hope for change. Christians, for example, trust that God’s will, however difficult or uncertain, is the better choice over their own personal will. When the two wills conflict, we submit to God’s will. Continue to control people and events, in order to get what you want, alienates family and friends, and puts tension between your reality and your desire to have what you want. This tension will result in negative emotions and behaviors. Learning to accept and let go will allow using that energy to make the best of your situation. Now that does require self-control!

“Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” Eckhart Tolle

“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” William James

“The art of acceptance is the art of making someone who has just done you a small favor with that he might have done you a greater one.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

>> Learn more about “Acceptance and Change” in our Freedom From Anxiety course at http://FamilyHealer.tv

>> Invite Ron Huxley to speak at your next event by contacting him at rehuxley@gmail.com or 805-709-2023. 

Great Behavior Breakdown

Why does your child lie, steal, defy, incessantly chatter, cling, or whine?
The answer is simpler than you may think: Children misbehave because they are stressed. When something is alarming, their brain is stuck reacting to fear rather than responding normally. It feels like life-or-death for the child, resulting in dysregulated behaviors. 

Parents often wonder, “What was he thinking? He knows better. He must be doing this on purpose.” The truth is, the child is not thinking at all, but merely reacting unconsciously. The solution is not doling out consequences, but rather helping your child return to regulation. Bryan Post in his book The Great Behavior Breakdown, explains how to respond to misbehaving children in a way that helps them feel safe, thus eliminating negative behaviors.

What can trigger a fear response in your child? For some children, especially those who have experienced trauma, almost anything can trigger fear. A small change in routine, such as going out to eat at a restaurant or skipping reading before bed, can illicit fear. In normal development, a brain automatically alerts to any change in environment, quickly assesses it to see if it is an emergency, and then returns to normal functioning. When a child’s development has been troubled, her brains often get stuck in alert mode. A brain that is stuck in alert is panicked, illogical, and desperate. There is only one thing that can bring the brain back to normal functioning: containment and positive feedback loops.  
Containment means eliminating extra sensory input. Often this looks like turning down the music, walking out of a store, sitting on a parent’s lap, or closing eyes. Positive feedback loop is a fancy way of saying, make it feel safe and enjoyable. When the child is full of negativity, hold on to a calm, regulated, demeanor. Be positive, low key, and non-threatening. Eventually the child will give in to your invitation to stay near until he or she feels safe enough to go back and play. 

I have used Bryan Post’s approach for years while working with adoptive and foster children. For kids with trauma, his techniques work when nothing else does. Next time your child is misbehaving, see the reaction as fear rather than anger. It will change the way you respond, change your child’s behaviors, and transform your relationship.

Guest Blogger:
Stephanie Patterson, MS, LMFT

Parents don’t necessarily need a new idea as much as they need a new perspective on their child’s heart. What is your child’s uniques gifts, talents, perspectives, dreams, needs, desires, wants, fears, joys, passions, etc? The best parenting tool is seeing children through their eyes. 

Clinical competencies for the effective treatment of foster children

Source: http://ccp.sagepub.com/content/21/1/32?etoc

Abstract

Despite a high level of documented mental health needs among children who have experienced foster care, research indicates that treatment outcomes are often disappointing. In order to improve outcomes, evidence-based treatments for attachment, trauma and behavioral difficulties are often promoted for this population. However, little research exists on whether or not those interventions effectively address the unique and complex mental health needs of many foster children. While a rather robust literature exists on foster children’s multifaceted difficulties, most treatments do not fully represent that range and complexity in their interventions. This article attempts to begin to fill that gap by outlining the knowledge and skills clinicians must acquire if they are to effectively treat foster children. Treatment of foster children should be seen as a subspecialty within the field of child mental health, and trainings that help clinicians gain more knowledge of foster children’s unique needs should be more available.

Parents like to play but sometimes feel guilty about it…

Source: http://www.fastcodesign.com/3052589/behind-the-brand/how-ikea-is-defining-the-state-of-play-with-a-little-help-from-dreamworks?utm_source

Play isn’t just about fun and games—it’s a valuable way for children to refine their motor skills, learn about the world around them, and develop social relationships. 50 years ago, that might have meant hide and seek; 30 years ago maybe it was Jenga; today it’s probably any number of games on a PlayStation or iPad. Anecdotally speaking, play changes with the decades, but what Ikea wanted to do with its 2015 Play Report is quantify the social forces that are driving the shifts and understand how design in the domestic realm—the company’s domain—can help adults and children play more.

To better understand the state of play, Ikea surveyed nearly 30,000 parents and children from 12 countries. The goal was to establish if the perception and nature of play had changed much since the last survey in 2009; whether children are playing less or more and the nature of play; if parents are playing more or less with their children; how digital media impacts family life; and the concerns, behaviors, and benefits of family time.

Here are a few of the findings:

1. Parents want to spend quality time with their children, but find it difficult to carve out playtime. And they feel guilty about it.

“Parents agree on the importance of play,” says Cindy Anderson, the business area manager for Ikea who’s responsible for developing Ikea’s range of children’s products. “At the same time, they sometimes struggle with finding inspiration on how to play and they’re bored when playing traditional children’s games.”

With that challenge in mind—making kids’ games more engaging for all ages and removing barriers to play—Ikea developed the Lattjo collection of products, which launches in November. It includes costumes; Ikea-fied games like chess, dominoes, tug of war, and percussion instruments; and a “recipe book” of activity ideas.

2. Parents are anxious about safety, but are also concerned about being overprotective.

“At the global level, about 22% of kids are not allowed to play outdoors and that’s an increase [from the 2009 report],” Andersen says. “That shows how important it is to play indoors—it’s, how can we create an environment to define playfulness inside the home?”

This information paired with the findings that home life is important inspired Ikea to create items that could be used indoors.

3. Over half of the parents surveyed said that play can include the use of smartphones, tablets, game consoles, and computers.

This sparked a mobile app and 25 animated digital shorts produced in conjunction with DreamWorks. The films include stories that teach children how to navigate the world, like how an eagle faces his fear of heights.

“You can develop a product, but the whole idea is to make us to play more, and to create a more playful mindset,” Andersen says. “To accomplish that, storytelling is an important complement to engage people and inspire behavioral change.”

The Lattjo collection as a whole seeks to spark creativity no matter where it comes from. “We’re all born with a certain play preference that’s stronger than others,” Andersen says. “Some are storytellers, some are into physical play, some are builders, some just like to move. What I hope that there is something that everyone can enjoy.”

Overcoming Selfishness

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

A lot of parents feel their children are selfish and mean to others. No one wants to raise a bully or narcissist. Fortunately, parents can use volunteerism to turn the tide on entitled behavior. 

When we help others we increase our capacity to empathize with others. You could even go so far as to say we increase our spiritual development. By the time your child reaches the age of 5 they are fully able to understand the hurts, needs, and problems of others. Parents can model helpful behavior and deal with children’s selfishness by volunteering to help others less fortunate. 

Helping does not mean write a check although that can be a big help too. In this context I am talking about talking the family out to a local community non-profit or special event to volunteer your time and talents. Let children offer suggestions about what they would like to do in the community. What cause would they like to get most involved with? You may be pleasantly surprised by how creative and genuine children can be when asked for their thoughts. Let the children help contact the organization or event and give choices of things they can do to help if there are choices. Take time after to reflect on what they got the most from it, what new insights did they gain, and how do they feel about themselves.