Page 2 of 4

Your Child’s Mess Is Your Message

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

Many parents use control to manage their children’s behavior. Why wouldn’t they with parenting books and programs teaching them to do that very thing? Unfortunately, control is risky business, that when it works, leaves parent and child uncertain about who really won the battle. Rather than try to control a child, parents need to encourage self-control. This develops from taking responsibility for their actions and learning to clean up their own messes when they make them and make them, they will. This is where the mess becomes the message!

After a child makes a mess, such as hitting a sibling, lying to parents, not completing their chores, they need to figure out a way to clean it up. Messes create disconnection in relationships but cleaning them up re-connects them. The process of discovering how to clean them up is where a child learns self-control and parents find more joy in parenting. 

Parents do not get angry at messes. They require their child to clean up their mess. Because of age and inexperience, they may not be able to come up with a solution but one can be offered, by the parent, or they can try their own and then another try until the mess is completed. Parents who feel powerless don’t realize that they control the environment of the home. Children always want or need something and parents can simply state: “Of course you can have a snack sweetie as soon as you clean up that mess you make with your brother. And, by the way, I took out the trash for you since you were too busy playing video games and so you can do my chore of folding all the laundry. Take your time sweetie, the snack will be there when you are done.” 

Instead of a snack, the child may want to sit go to the neighbors to play or go to the shoe store to get new shoes or sit down with the family for dinner. The child can decide how long they want to take to clean up their messes and get the things that the parent has control over. Never fear, arguments, tantrums, screaming fits and vows of running away may be involved. They are ways the child believes he or she can control the parent. Parents must be patient and model how control is an illusion for them as much as it was for the parent. This information will serve them well in all their relationships for life. 

The good news is that this process will only take a few times (days?) until the child realized the parent means what they say and discovers cleaning up a mess is so much easier than testing the parents resolve. 

For more information, check out http://www.lovingonpurpose.com/podcast/ or https://www.loveandlogic.com/

Parenting Without Tears, Fears or “Rears”

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

Do you know Rudolph Driekurs? If you have ever taken a parenting class or read a parenting book you might. He was a child psychiatrist and parenting educator that wrote several books on how to change challenging behavior problems. What was unique about Dr. Driekurs is that he did it without punishment or rewards! He believed that behavior is driven by the need for social connection and feeling inadequate or not “fitting in” is what fueled a child’s misbehaviors. He concentrated on what he described as the 4 goals of misbehavior. 

Here is a list of some of Rudolph Driekurs most important parenting tools and ideas: 

Mutual respect based on the assumption of equality, is the inalienable right of all human beings. Parents who show respect for the child–while winning his respect for them–teach the child to respect himself and others. Equality in this sense is treating each person with respect and integrity, no matter what their age. This also leaves room for parents to be in charge and to set some non-negotiable rules and limits, but to do so in a respectful manner.

Encouragement implies faith in and respect for the child as he is. A child misbehaves usually when he is discouraged and believes he cannot succeed by useful means. 

Feelings of “security” are highly subjective and not necessarily related to the actual situation. Real security cannot be found from the outside; it is only possible to achieve it through the experience and feeling of having overcome difficulties. 

Punishment is outdated. A child soon considers that punishment gives him the right to punish in turn, and the retaliation of children is usually more effective than the punishment inflicted by the parents. Children often retaliate by not eating, fighting, neglecting schoolwork, or otherwise misbehaving in ways that are the most disturbing to parents. 

Natural and logical consequences are techniques, which allow the child to experience the actual result of his own behavior. 

  • Natural consequences are the direct result of the child’s behavior. 
  • Logical consequences are established by the parents, and are a direct and logical–not arbitrarily imposed – consequence of the transgression. 
  • Natural consequences are usually effective. However, when they are not effective or consequences are too far in the future, use logical consequences. 
  • Logical consequences can only be applied if there is no power contest; otherwise they degenerate into punitive retaliation. 

Acting instead of talking is more effective in conflict situations. Talking provides an opportunity for arguments in which the child can defeat the parent. If the parent maintains a calm, patient attitude, he can, through quiet action, accomplish positive results. 

Withdrawal as an effective counteraction: Withdrawal or planned ignoring (leaving the child and walking into another room) is most effective when the child demands undue attention or tries to involve you in a power contest. Often doing nothing effects wonderful results. 

Withdrawal from the provocation but not from the child. Don’t talk in moments of conflict. Give attention and recognition when children behave well, but not when they demand it with disturbing behavior. The less attention the child gets when he disturbs, the more he needs when he is cooperative. You may feel that anger helps get rid of your own tensions, but it does not teach the child what you think he should learn. Keep your emotions out of the situation.

Don’t interfere in children’s arguments. By allowing children to resolve their own conflicts they learn to get along better. Many arguments are provoked to get the parent involved, and by separating the children or acting as judge we fall for their provocation, thereby stimulating them to fight more. However, if children are hurting each other, your intervention is necessary.

Fighting requires cooperation. We tend to consider cooperation as inherent in a positive relationship only. When children fight they are also cooperating in a mutual endeavor. Often the younger, weaker child provokes a fight so the parents will act against the older child. When two children fight, they are both participating and are equally responsible. 

Take time for training and teaching the child essential skills and habits. Don’t attempt to train a child in a moment of conflict or in company. The parent who “does not have time” for such training will have to spend more time correcting an untrained child. 

Never do for a child what he can do for himself. A dependent child is a demanding child. Children become irresponsible only when we fail to give them opportunities to take on responsibility. 

Overprotection pushes a child down. Parents may feel they are giving when they act for a child; actually they are taking away the child’s right to learn and develop. Parents have an unrecognized prejudice against children; they assume children are incapable of acting responsibly. When parents begin to have faith that their children can behave in a responsible way, while allowing them to do so, the children will assume their own responsibilities. 

Over-responsible parents often produce irresponsible children. Parents who take on the responsibility of the child by reminding or doing for him, encourage the child to be irresponsible. Parents must learn to “mind their own business” and let the child learn from the logical consequences of his own behavior. 

Distinguish between positive and negative attention if you want to influence children’s behavior. Feeling unable to gain positive attention, and regarding indifference as intolerable, children resort to activities, which get them negative attention. Negative attention is the evidence that they have succeeded in accomplishing their goal. 

Understand the child’s goal. Every action of a child has a purpose. His basic aim is to have significance and his place in the group. A well-adjusted child has found his way toward social acceptance by cooperating with the requirements of the group and by making his own useful contribution to it. The misbehaving child is still trying, in a mistaken way, to feel important in his own world. For examples a young child who has never been allowed to dress himself (because “the parent is in a hurry”), who has not been allowed to help in the house (“you’re not big enough to set the table”), may lack the feeling that he is a useful, contributing member of the family, and might feel important only when arousing a parent’s anger and annoyance with misbehavior. 

The four goals of misbehavior. The child is usually unaware of his goals. His behavior, though illogical to others, is consistent with his own interpretation of his place in the family group. 

  • Attention-getting: he wants attention and service. We respond by feeling annoyed and that we need to remind and coax him. 
  • Power: he wants to be the boss. We respond by feeling provoked and get into a power contest with him–“you can’t get away with this!" 
  • Revenge: he wants to hurt us. We respond by feeling deeply hurt–"I’ll get even!" 
  • Display of inadequacy: he wants to be left alone, with no demands made upon him. We respond by feeling despair–"I don’t know what to do!" 
  • If your first impulse is to react in one of these four ways, you can be fairly sure you have discovered the goal of the child’s misbehavior. 

A child who wants to be powerful generally has a parent who also seeks power. One person cannot fight alone; when a parent learns to do nothing (by withdrawing, for example) during a power contest, the parent dissipates the child’s power and can begin to establish a healthier relationship with him. The use of power teaches children only that strong people get what they want. 

No habit is maintained if it loses its purpose, its benefits. Children tend to develop "bad” habits when they derive the benefit of negative attention. If crying or tantrums gets children what they want, they will continue to use those “bad” habits. If they don’t work, they quit using them.

Minimize mistakes. Making mistakes is human. We must have the courage to be imperfect. The child is also imperfect. Don’t make too much fuss and don’t worry about his mistakes. Build on the positive, not on the negative. 

A family meeting gives every member of the family a chance to express himself freely in all matters of both difficulty and pleasure pertaining to the family. The emphasis should be on “What we can do about the situation.” Meet regularly at the same time each week. Rotate the leader. Keep minutes. Have an equal vote for each member. Only bring those concerns to the family meeting, which are negotiable. Require a consensus, rather than a majority vote on each decision. Some family rules are non-negotiable. Perhaps explanations or reinforcement of a rule would be appropriate.

Have fun together and thereby help to develop a relationship based on enjoyment, mutual respect, love and affection, mutual confidence and trust, and a feeling of belonging. Instead of talking to nag, scold, preach, and correct, utilize talking to maintain a friendly relationship. Speak to your child with the same respect and consideration that you would express to a good friend.

inner-healing:

Optimal Relationships have a balance between doing and being. Are your relationships dry and boring? Maybe there is too much doing and business and not enough talk about dreams, thoughts, and feelings. Are you filling like your relationship is not productive and stuck? Maybe more action and planning is needed? Find that balance by setting boundaries on when and what you talk about together to achieve more balance in your relationships today.

Are you a Perfect Parent?

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

How many of the parents, reading this column, are perfect 
parents
? None? Well, how many of the imperfect 
parents
, reading this column, have perfect children? Still 
none? While it may be that perfect parents don’t need to 
read this column, I think the real truth is that there are no 
perfect parents or perfect children.

If that is true, then why do so many parents act as if there is 
such a being as the “perfect parent” or “perfect child?" 
To illustrate my point, try completing the following 
sentences. Just say the first thing that comes to mind:

1. A good parent always… 2. Good children should…    
3. As a parent, I must… 4. My children ought to be more… 
5. If I were more like my own parents, I would be more…

If a parent falls short of these standards, and so, is not a 
"good” parent, what does that leave the parent to be? 
Parents are left with the belief that he or she is a “bad" 
parent. These beliefs are responsible for why parents feel 
so out of control and powerless in their parenting roles. 
Parents need more realistic beliefs about parenting.

Realistic Beliefs about Parenting

Beliefs are expressions of parents’ values about 
themselves, other people, and the world. Unrealistic beliefs 
create a feeling of demand that pushes and drives parents 
unnecessarily where realistic beliefs create a feeling of 
inner stability, even when circumstances aren’t always 
stable.

One way to create more realistic beliefs is to evaluate the 
evidence for your unrealistic thoughts about parenting. Ask 
yourself these questions: What law states that a child will 
always listen and be respectful? What evidence really 
suggests that all parents must be available to their children 
at all times? What edict states that I must be perfect?

For one day, make a list of all the negative thoughts that 
come to mind as you go about your parenting duties. At the 
end of the day, look over the list and write out alternative, 
positive counter-thoughts. Whenever the negative thoughts 
come up, immediately state the alternative thought to break 
its power over you. If it is too hard to remember them all, 
pick one or two of the negative thoughts that create the 
most interference in your parenting and counter those only. 
Do that for about a week and then move down the list to the 
others.

Changing what you say about your parenting will change 
how you feel about your parenting. Try this experiment: 
complete the following incomplete sentences and notice the 
emotional difference between these and the first list.

1. A responsible parent always… 2. Good children 
sometimes… 3. As a parent, I can be… 4. I desire my 
children to be more… 5. If I were like my own parents, the 
positive qualities I would like to have…

Only one word was changed in each of these sentences 
and yet it dramatically changes how you think and feel. If 
you are going to accept the fact that you are imperfect then 
you will have to eliminate "perfection” language from your 
thoughts and words. You will need to accept the fact that 
you are acting “good-enough.” This doesn’t mean that you 
shouldn’t strive for more out of yourselves or your child. 
Self-improvement is not the same as expecting perfection.

“The Courage To Be Imperfect”

It takes courage to be a “good-enough” parent. This is what 
the child psychiatrist, Rudolph Driekurs, calls “the courage 
to be imperfect.” While there are plenty of perfect parenting 
standards to fall short of, there are no rules for how to be 
an imperfect parent. Here are ten un-commandments for 
developing the “courage to be imperfect”:

1. Children should be encouraged, not expected, to seek 
perfection. 2. Accept who you are rather than try to be 
more than or as good as other parents. 3. Mistakes are 
aids to learning. Mistakes are not signs of failure. 
Anticipating or fearing mistakes will make us more 
vulnerable to failure. 4. Mistakes are unavoidable and are 
less important than what the parent does after he or she 
makes a mistake. 5. Set realistic standards for yourself and 
your child. Don’t try correcting or changing too many things 
at one time. 6. Develop a sense of your strengths and your 
weaknesses. 7. Mutual respect, between parent and child, 
starts by valuing yourself. Recognize your own dignity and 
worth before you try and show your child their dignity and 
worth. 8. Unhappy parents are frequently discouraged, 
competitive, unrealistic in their standard for themselves and 
their children, over ambitious, and unbalanced in their love 
and limits. 9. High standards and expectations are 
frequently related to parents’ feelings of inferiority and 
lack of adequate parenting resources. 10. Parents need to 
develop the courage to cope with the challenges of living, 
which means, they must develop the “courage to be 
imperfect.”

How do you feel about your child today?

Are you feeling love or are you feeling anger or sadness or disappointment?

Our feelings are responses to events that occur in us and around us. They are not definitions of the relationship status or the amount of affection we can direct towards our children. When they mess up and they are good mess makers, we never change our affections toward them regardless of our emotional state.

Emotions come and go. The word emotion comes from the French term “to stir up” and stir up they do but they also settle down. Our emotional statement is based on our state of mind about our intentions to love our children in unconditional ways no matter what emotions have been stirred up. 

The good news about emotions and relationships is that they are new every day. Today is a new day to start fresh and re-store new emotional experiences. Don’t let emotions drag yesterday into todays thoughts and actions. Yesterday is a drag…it drags down your ability to parent from a fully charged emotional purpose to love and cherish your children.

Give yourself permission to feel freely, in love, with your child today. 

Parents need to stop thinking about how to “fix” their children’s behavior problems and begin to look at how to “re-source” them instead. Stop trying to stop tantrums or talking back and start re-connecting them to the source of the problems. What is your child needing that he or she cannot get or getting that he or she doesn’t want? Decode and recode your children to add social skills, self-soothing, understanding, competence, attention, love, affection, security that is driving the behaviors in the first place. 

It is time to put away punishment and use discipline which is to disciple or teach/guide a child to appropriate behaviors. The goal is not “stop irritating mommy” today but learn to live life successfully tomorrow! You can never deal with a negative by using a negative and expect a positive outcome. 

Visualize who and what your child is becoming and connect them to that source of choice-making, problem-solving, character. 

The essence of parenting doesn’t occur in the schedules, checklists, and daily chores. It occurs in the moment by moment encounters that happen between family members. These tiny experiences that repeat a thousand times a day offer parents a change (or a redo) to install values, model behaviors, and equip children with emotional tools for successful living. The ultimate goal of parenting is to create prosocial, proactive human beings, not compliance driven, homework completing robots. 

The Four Hour Parent

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

I recently picked up my copy of Tim Ferriss book “The Four-Hour Chef.”  The author has been listed as one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Business People of 2007”, Forbes Magazine’s “Names You Need to Know in 2011,” and the wildly successful author of “The Four-Hour Work Week” and “The Four-Hour Body”.  Although “The Four-Hour Chef” sounds like another cook book, it is far more than that. It spells out the recipe for how to learn any skill, regardless of your age or how hard the task. The book’s subtitle is “Learning anything, and living the good life.” Who doesn’t want more of that?

The premise behind the Four-Hour Ethos is help you have more control over your own life by doing more of what you enjoy and less of what you don’t. In the example of cooking, many of us love to cook (and eat, of course) but few of us love to shop for the food, do all the prep work or clean up after. Tim Feriss uses the metaphor of cooking to describe his step-by-step process of “meta-learning”. That’s the real recipe for parents.

His idea of meta-learning refers to the Zen concept: “before you can learn to cook, you must learn to learn.” I think this has a lot of relevance for parents who need to learn how to learn before they learn to parent. Parenting education has been around for some time. You can read attend classes, read books, search the internet, watch programs, and listen to podcasts. There is plenty of parenting information out there but still we strive for more. Or are we striving for the “recipe”? Are we looking for that secret ingredient on how to get a teen to do their homework or stop an ongoing sibling rivalry? Perhaps what really need is to first learn how to learn to be a parent.

One step toward this meta-parenting-learning skill is to ask ourselves: “What is one parenting skill I would like to master today or perhaps, one skill I have given up hope of learning with my children?” Ferriss would then suggest we deconstruct this skill to its simple components and reapplies the laws of learning to truly become its master.  

Ferriss describe a deconstruction tool to help us called the 80/20 Principle. This is also known as Pareto’s principle or the law of the vital few and it states that roughly 80% of the effects of an event come from just 20% of the causes. Taking cleaning up the house: 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people, probably mom. This applies to other areas of life, such as, 80% of the sales of a business comes from 20% of the clients. Or, 80% of the world’s wealth is owned by 20% of the people.

This economic principle works well in many parenting situations and I have used it for years to describe how 80% of the parenting issues that come up in my consulting office can be answered by 20% of my parenting tools. Most parents have similar struggles:  getting homework done or picking up after themselves or talking back or putting their feet on the furniture. There are typical problems that come up by developmental stages. Two year olds and teens are defiant. Five year olds have short attention spans, etc. It is the other 20% that is creates the big challenges and creative solutions. Dealing with a divorce or say, stealing items from a store. These are more serious issues really only occurs 20% of the time but make up 80% of my clientele. Who needs to see a child therapist for not picking up the dog poop or some other chore, really?

As a personal example, I have four adult children and two grandchildren and the skill I would like to master is how to maintain on-going communication with them spread out over various states. I want to do this in a way that feels warm and fuzzy despite the distance. Applying Pareto’s principle to my communication issue, I realized that regularly scheduled phone calls and text messages (20% effort) could result in my perceived sense of connection (80% effect). I also started being more diligent about traveling two hours away to my grandson’s early Saturday morning baseball games. It was a  drive and there was a cost of gasoline but the level of connection and my parenting needs were met with this minimal effort once a month.

This was a useful parenting tool with my clients as well. Ten minutes of one-on-one contact in the morning before school and ten minutes on getting home from school dramatically improved many families gauge of the amount of respect and cooperation. Sibling fights and morning tantrums decreased as well. It would seem that there isn’t an extra ten minutes in the morning routine to give to a child but really, how long were those tantrums occurring? How long does it take to make a U-turn back to the house to get the forgotten lunch or homework sitting on the kitchen table? A lot longer than the ten minutes it took to have some one-on-one. And parents and children felt so much more connected all day long.  

Another way of getting at this core parenting skills is to ask yourself if I only had 20 minutes to spend with my child each day – you couldn’t see or interact with them at any other time during the day – how would I best spend that time? Do more of that parenting behavior and witness the 80% effect from that minimal parenting activity. I am just guessing but that 20 minutes would be spent doing laundry or watching television together.  

Parenting Action Plan:

Take a few moments and ask yourselves these questions above. Start focusing on how to better manage your time with your child this next week. Start deconstructing what makes up the core elements of your parenting day and concentrate on the main ingredients behind what really makes a good family recipe. It is different for everyone so don’t look at the neighbor parenting activities. Start with works for you. Let us know how it goes by leaving a comment or sharing on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/parentingtoolbox

Take are 10 Day Parenting Challenge to build even more skills at home by clicking here http://parentingtoolbox.tumblr.com/10DayChallenge