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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

3 Keys to Behavior Chart Success

I used to joke with parents that if they could make a grocery list, they could change a child’s behavior. The idea behind this is that most behavioral change takes parental attention and consistency. The truth is that we are constantly shaping our child’s behaviors every day. And, one might say, they are changing ours too! This is a natural process of interaction. The question is really, what are your shaping? Our you modeling positive habits? Do you reward positive behavior? Shifting our attention away from negative behavior (what you don’t want) and refocusing on positive behaviors (what you do want) can be as easy as making a list or creating a chart.

 Here are 3 keys to successfully changing a child’s behavior with a behavior chart:

1. Have a clear, achievable goal in mind: If you don’t know where you are going, you won’t get there. Don’t confuse the goal by making it too vague or complex. Focus on a specific behavior you WANT to see happen. Don’t write it in the negative. State what you want to see different. Be age appropriate when focusing on change. A 4 year old can’t do what a 14 year old can do.

2. Make it rewarding: The power of a behavior chart is that a child will get a reward for doing what you want. What motivates your child? What can you realistically afford to do? How long will it take to get the reward? Some children need daily, if not hourly rewards. Break a big reward down into smaller rewards if necessary to keep children motivated. The last thing you want is a defiant child who refuses to do a chart because it is too difficult or they feel like they will fail and so they don’t even try. Also, remember the best reward is you! Your smile, hug and words of praise should always be given regardless of any other physical reward.

3. Be open to change: If  the chart is not working, make changes. It is just a parenting tool, not a magical wand. Use the success or lack of it as feedback on how to create the chart. Use family meetings and intimate discussions about what is working for the child. Continue to celebrate any small success or effort. You might find that using a chart changes your parenting time and energy as well. That is good modeling and parenting improvement.

The Importance of the Father/Child Bond

One of the most magical moments of my life was being at the birth of my child. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I remember watching him squirm and cry as he met the world. I remember how he paused to listen to my voice as I whispered my love for him and commitment to him. To this day, spending time with my kids continues to be one of my favorite activities. To not spend time with my children is unfathomable.

For many fathers, this isn’t the case. They sit in hospital waiting rooms, clapping each other on the back and congratulating one another on a job well done, while their child enters the world without their father next to them. The day after the delivery and every day after are filled with missed opportunities to bond with their child and influence the directions they will take in life. They rationalize that they are sacrificing for their family by working long hours and justify their emotional distance as modeling how to survive in the “cold, cruel world.” Food on the table and a roof over head is nice but nothing makes up for loving, nurturing relationships with one’s father. How do fathers build this bond? What barriers stand in the way? And, what are some practical tools to help fathers strengthen their children intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically?

To help me answer these questions, I asked for advice from dad’s who have a close bond with their children. How do I know they have a close bond? I asked their wives! How do you bond with your child? In response to this question, all of the fathers answered alike. They stated that the best way to bond was simply to spend time with a child. What you do is not as important as doing something.

They divided activities up into four main areas: Physical, Intellectual, Social, and Spiritual. A balance of these four areas would result in a child having a happier, healthier life.

Physical activities are the most familiar to fathers and include working around the house together, sharing a hobby, coaching an athletic team, exercising together, and going places together.

Intellectual activities focus on being involved in a child’s academics, participating in school related activities, encouraging hard work, and modeling yourself as a their primary teacher of life.

Social activities centered on talking with children, sharing feelings and thoughts, demonstrating appropriate affection and manners, and getting to know your child’s friends.

Spiritual activities are used the least by dad’s but have the most power to influence a child. These activities incorporate reading spiritual stories together, going to church or the synagogue, praying with children, establishing rules and order, being consistent and available, and exploring the mysteries of nature.

What is difference between the father/child bond and the mother/child bond? It was quickly apparent from the surveys that dad’s have a different approach or style to bonding than mom’s. Dad’s have a more rough and tumble approach to physical interaction or may spend time in more physical activities such as play or working on a project together. Competition was also seen more in father/child bonding and was considered healthy if used in small doses and with sensitivity to a child’s temperament and abilities. Sportsmanship but not necessary sports activities, was regarded as an essential ingredient in the development of a child’s characters. While the approach may differ, the need for bonding with mom and dad is equally significant. One dad joked that other than a couple of biological differences (e.g., giving birth or breastfeeding) he couldn’t see one as more important than the other.

What barriers prevent fathers from achieving a bond with their child? All of the fathers agreed that work and the mismanagement of time were the biggest robbers of relationships with children. No one discounted a father’s responsibility to provide for his family, but all of them maintained that a healthy balance is needed between work and family. They felt that society makes it easy to use one’s career as an escape. Social influences tend to value the bond a child has with mom to be more important than with dad. But none of the dad’s questioned felt this barrier to be insurmountable.

Eliminating barriers in society begins in the home. Dads must demonstrate that being involved in the home is important to them before society will start treating dads as important to the home. Dads need to take the initiative to change a diaper, clean up after dinner, give the kids their bath, and do the laundry. The collective effect of these “small” acts will ripple out into society to create “bigger” change. Can a father bond with a child if they did not have a father growing up? The entire group affirmed that not having a father would make it more difficult but not impossible to bond with a child. According to one dad, bonding is more of an innate need or spiritual drive than simply a learned behavior. Therefore, fatherless fathers are not doomed to repeat their own childhood experiences. Another dad suggested “getting excited” by the little things that make a child excited or happy. Getting down on the child’s level, regressing to those early moments in life when you were a child, and sharing simple pleasures with your child will foster the bonding missed the first time around. In summary, it is clear that the bond between a father and a child is an important one.

Barriers, such as social values and absent fathers make bonding with children difficult but not impossible. Children need the unique style of bonding that fathers can provide and fathers can build that bond by spending time engaging in physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual activities.

10 Principles of an Aware Parent

I just learned about Dr. Aletha Solter’s book and principles of Aware Parenting. I don’t know why it took so long to become acquainted with her work but her ideas are extremely close to my own thoughts on parenting. Her ideas are timely in this day of discovery about the healing aspects of mindfulness. Read through her 10 Principles and see where they resonate with your own parenting thoughts. Source: http://www.awareparenting.com/english.htm “1. Aware parents fill their children’s needs for physical contact (holding, cuddling, etc.). They do not worry about "spoiling” their children.

2. Aware parents accept the entire range of emotions and listen non-judgmentally to children’s expressions of feelings. They realize that they cannot prevent all sadness, anger, or frustration, and they do not attempt to stop children from releasing painful feelings through crying or raging.

3. Aware parents offer age-appropriate stimulation, and trust children to learn at their own rate and in their own way. They do not try to hurry children on to new stages of development.

4. Aware parents offer encouragement for learning new skills, but do not judge children’s performance with either criticism or evaluative praise.

5. Aware parents spend time each day giving full attention to their children. During this special, quality time, they observe, listen, respond, and join in their children’s play (if invited to do so), but they do not direct the children’s activities.

6. Aware parents protect children from danger, but they do not attempt to prevent all of their children’s mistakes, problems, or conflicts.

7. Aware parents encourage children to be autonomous problem-solvers and help only when needed. They do not solve their children’s problems for them.

8. Aware parents set reasonable boundaries and limits, gently guide children towards acceptable behavior, and consider everyone’s needs when solving conflicts. They do not control children with bribes, rewards, threats, or punishments of any kind.

9. Aware parents take care of themselves and are honest about their own needs and feelings. They do not sacrifice themselves to the point of becoming resentful.

10. Aware parents strive to be aware of the ways in which their own childhood pain interferes with their ability to be good parents, and they make conscious efforts to avoid passing on their own hurts to their children.

Aware Parenting is based on the work of Dr. Aletha Solter. For more information, please see Dr. Aletha Solter’s books, The Aware BabyHelping Young Children Flourish, Tears and Tantrums, and Raising Drug-Free Kids

 

Using Your E.A.R.S. to Help Children Problem-Solve

Someone once joked that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we could listen twice as much as we talked. Not bad advice actually. Many parents would do well to heed that advice. This doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t talk to their children. It’s just that they shouldn’t be so quick to give advice or lecture of the right and wrongs of a problem. Listen first, then talk. Better yet, ask questions to get at the solutions to children’s problems. This causes them to feel as if they came up with the answer and take more ownership for the problem. E.A.R.S. is a helpful acronym for parents who want to improve their problem-solving skills with their children.

E = Elicit

The starting point for problem-solving with children is to elicit possible solutions that already exist in the child’s repertoire. Ask questions such as, “What would you think would make the situation better?” This implies that there is a solution and that the child has the ability to utilize it. If they don’t have an answer to this question, try this one: “What would your _______ (supply a relevant name here) say you are doing about the situation?”

This implies that the child is already solving his problem. The fact of the matter is that every response to a problem is a solution to a problem. Only some responses are better than others and have fewer severe consequences. The job of parents is to acknowledge children’s efforts and then direct them to use better responses.

If the child persists that there wasn’t anything good about what he did in the situation, then ask, “What was the part of the situation that was better than the other parts?” And if the child does recite some ‘better than other parts’ of the situation, ask, “How did you do that?” This encourages the child to learn from their own behaviors and increase positive responses.

If the child suffered severe consequences for his response to the situation, ask, “What did you learn from the situation?” Most successes are the result of trial and error and determining what doesn’t work.

A = Amplify

Amplify refers to the use of questions to get more details about any positive efforts toward problem-solving. Use who, what, where, when, and how questions. For example, “Who noticed you do that?” or “When did you decide to do that?” or “How did they respond to your solution?” Never use why questions. Why is a very judgemental word and will stop all attempts to help the child problem-solving because he feels bad about his efforts. Over time this can develop into a pattern of behavior where the child never tries anything new because he is afraid of failing. If he doesn’t try, he doesn’t fail. At least that is the rationale.

R = Reinforce

Years of behavioral change research have taught us that there are two ways to create change in others. Reward desired behaviors and ignore or mildly punish undesirable behavior. So be sure to reinforce any effort to solving a problem. Even failed attempts are worthy of acknowledgment. The child must want and value positive change. Reinforcement will be the motivating force for this value. Be sure, though, that you use verbal or social reinforcement. Don’t give in to bribes (candy, toys, and money) to reinforce the child. This will reinforce dependent and manipulative behavior and decrease independent problem-solution. The best reinforcers are a surprise. When children do not know when to expect a reinforcer (a compliment or public acknowledgment) they will be more motivated, ready for reinforcement at any moment in time.

S = Start again

Learning to problem-solving and listening to our children to help them, is a process. It can’t be done once and then left alone. It must be done over and over again. Repetition is a fundamental principle of learning. The more you do something the better you get at it. And now that the child has found a solution to a problem, plan for the next one. Most problems pop up again in life. Brainstorm solutions for the next time. And finally, treat every problem as an experiment where new and clever solutions can be tested. So use those two ears to listen more then you talk but when you do talk, ask solution-focused questions to help children problem-solve.

Power of Silly

There are a lot of very good parenting techniques available to parents in the form of parenting books, videos and classes. I have written and taught them myself. What you don’t often hear about is how to “do” parenting when the rubber hits the road. How do you get through the daily grind of life and keep a cheerful face and engage your child (or for some us multiple children)? My best parenting advice is this: Be silly. I know, parenting should be serious, shouldn’t it? The truth is that it is serious way too often.

Silliness is a useful way to lighten up the mood in the home and to engage bored or irritable children. Over the years I have used variations on the silly theme with mostly good effect. Here’s a few to try on and see how they fit for you:

Change the game rules Parents can get exhausted playing the same old game of “Go Fish” or “Sorry.” Anything done hundreds of times can be hum drum. Spice it up by changing the game rules. Use a pirate voice when playing a card game. “Argh, give me your fours!” Narrate the characters in the book you read at bedtime every night. Act it out instead of reading it. This weekend I played my niece, nephews and grandson Ping Pong Poetry. Every time you hit the ball you have to rhyme a word: Ping, sing, ring, thing, king, etc. It resulted in several belly laughs.

Tell a joke This is perhaps the simplest silly strategy. Have a long car ride? Tell a few Knock-Knock jokes. OK, you might have to do a google search first to come up with a few but it will be worth the research! I have one I told me kids over and over again. They groaned every time I would start to tell it but I could tell by their smiles they loved the “tradition” of it as well. Want to hear it? “How do you make a hanky (hankerchief) dance? Put a little boogie in it.” Made you laugh? I know it is a little irreverent but isn’t that the point here?

Make up a song Need to get your kids to focus and march in a file through a store without touching everything? Come up with a marching song and sing it (quietly) as you go down the aisles. Preschool teachers do this all the time to get kids to clean up their mess and move to a new classroom activity. Use it at home too.

Food can be fun Got a picky eater? Dinner time always turns into a fight? Use the food to create some fun. Put coloring food into the milk. Make a game out of how slowly you can eat. Wiggle your nose at others around the table and see who can catch who doing it. Eat in courses, switch seats for each one or use your opposite eating hand to do it. Make faces out of the foot as you place it on the plate. We often use special pancake forms on the griddle to make dinosaur shapes. A lot of food is package in shapes of animals or other character. I enjoy bitting their heads off. Sorry, but I do. Have a crunching contest – keeps kids focused and eating mom!

Wear funny slippers My sister-in-law came over for the weekend and wore fluffy pink slippers most of the weekend. She was comfortable and the kids loved making fun of her. Keep a full house of people energized and in good humor. Alternate this strategy by wearing bright clothing, mix patterns or act cool in your shades. I am sure you have a few silly tricks up your sleeve.

Share them with us by leaving a comment or Facebook post or Tweet us! Let’s pool our silliness ideas together and use it to increase cooperation, enjoy each other more, and decrease stress levels.

Putting your worst parenting foot forward

I have spent a lifetime being defensive. The world, frankly, is a harsh place to live and over time one can become quite hyper vigilant and self-protective. It takes some risk to put yourself out there after suffering rejection and betrayal. Unfortunately, that is the only way to live in an intimate relationship with other people, like your family.

I get that there are abusers out there and it may not be wise counsel to open yourself to that. I am not asking for anyone to be a victim. I am addressing the more basic, day-to-day willingness to be open and non-defensive. I have spoken about the benefits of this in other posts on TransPARENTcy, etc. It may be worthwhile to read those posts.

Try an experiment with me: Put your worst foot forward. Instead of covering up your mistakes or telling little white lies about your parenting performance, try sharing a parenting issue you really want to change about yourself. You will have to pick the right moment and to be safe, the right person at first. After you do that, ask for some honest feedback. I mean really honest. Look the person in the eye and don’t talk until they are done. If they hedge their comments, ask for further clarification until you get to the bone of truth. Finally, state your appreciation and willingness to consider incorporating that information. Take the next 24 hours to do just that.

I wonder what response this will initiate in others? I am curious what it will do to you if you can live in a non-defensive position? Protecting ourselves takes energy. Lots of it. What would happen with all that creative juice if you applied it to making your parenting better versus avoiding change?

Change is uncomfortable but nothing real and satisfying is achieved by avoiding it. The biggest therapeutic truth I know (I didn’t say I always practice it) is that you have to go through the pain to get to the other side. I wonder what that other side will look like for you in your closest relationships.

Share your experiences with this by leaving us a comment or tweet us @ronhuxley or go to our Facebook page!

Games Parents Play!

Sometimes parenting just seems like a game…that you can never win. The other team has more energy, more time, and more players. To help parents improve the odds, we’ve come up with some new “game plans” that might even the score.

Follow the Leader is a parenting tool that can be used in two ways: 1) As a game; and 2) as a “redirection” tool. When using this tool as a game, parents can invite their children to play “follow the leader.” This game is fun on family trips or vacations. Families with more than one child can have each child take turns leading the family hike or singing a song. The leader has the power to choose which forest path to take or which song to sing. Each child (and parent) gets the opportunity to be the leader, thereby encouraging equality and fairness. When used as a “redirection” tool controlling children can be direct their need to take charge of a particular task, such as getting the family together for dinner or organizing a wood gathering party for the campfire. Children who power-struggle with their parents can benefit from this latter application.

Freeze Play is a parenting tool variation of the Time-Out parenting tool. Time-out is usually conducted by isolating or excluding a child from the rest of the family or classroom. In this traditional form children are sent to their room, a chair in the kitchen, outside the classroom door, or left facing a wall. Time-Out has a number of disadvantages, the primary one being that it involves the use of punishment that may seem harsh to some parents and children. Some children may become out-of-control or physically destructive when put in isolation or exclusion time-out. Fortunately, parents can use a different form of time-out, that behaviorists call “nonexclusionary time-out.”

Nonexclusionary time-out, like isolation and exclusionary time-out, eliminates reinforces (interaction with others). It accomplishes this by freezing the moment of interaction with the child for a very brief, but poignant amount of time. For example, if a child starts whining when told they must wait for dinner to eat, the parent can firmly but evenly, say, “stop!” The parent then avoids eye contact (i.e., attention during the discipline) for a few seconds and the child is prohibited from communicating during this time. Afterwards the parent can nonchalantly carry on the task at hand or use Time-In or educational parenting tool. Be careful not to place too much emphasis on talking about the misbehavior afterwards as it might inadvertently reinforce the child to misbehave again for the attention it gains.

It might be necessary for the parent to tell the child what is going to happen during “freeze play” and the expectation that their will be no communication/eye contact during that time, so that the child knows why the parent is “acting this way.” In addition, the old rule of thumb for time-out, one minute for every year of life, can be used in Freeze Play by substituting seconds for minutes (e.g., one frozen second for every year of life.)

Huddling is a parenting tool similar in function to the Family Meeting parenting tool but different in form. Huddling is a quick, informal, type of family meeting that any number of family members can have together and can occur at any time or place. Football players do this before every play to make sure the team knows what the plan is and to make clear everyone’s job. Rather that set an agenda and have a formal meeting. Family members can stop whatever they are doing to have a quick, little meeting about a specific problem or task. Parents can play the captain by telling the family to “huddle together.” Put arms around one another for support or just gather together in a circle, face in. Talk about the problem or task and assign jobs or ask for quick input. Decide on a plan of action and say “lets go!” Parents can use this tool at the zoo to decide what they are going to go see first, at the restaurant to decide what everyone wants to eat, and at home to decide what toys need to be gather before going to the park.

While these “game plans” don’t guarantee a winning season, they can coach parents on new ways to improve there performance and their satisfaction in parenting. Go parents!

Behavior Charts: Free Parenting Tool

Have you seen our new Parenting Reports Section yet? There are several ebook, reports, whitepapers and charts for parents to build stronger, happier families. Today we are featuring one of our general behavior charts. Get it here: http://www.parentingtoolbox.com/parenting-reports/

Behavior charts are a great tool for parents to set structure and limits in the home. Be sure to communicate clearly with children about your expectations and get their buy in. Additionally, be sure that they are developmental appropriate to age and stage. A younger child can’t do as much as an older child but older child also have (or can earn) more freedom and independence. Evaluate your progress on a weekly basis to ensure the tool is working properly. Lastly, remember that a chart is just a tool and not a magic wand. If it doesn’t work for your child, use something else or feel free to alter it as needed.

Tell us how it went by leaving us a comment below or tweeting us or sharing on our Facebook page.