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. 

Contemplations on Control: Rebellious Teens

Whenever we think about the challenges of parents, there is probably nothing more colorful than the problem of a rebellious teenager. Trying to control an out-of-control adolescent can drive a parent crazy!

I want to do a series of blog posts that address the issue of control through the spiritual discipline of contemplation. Contemplation is the act of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time. It is a deeper reflection on the motives and desires of our heart…and out teenagers.

Control, by nature, forces us to react to external behaviors. In the case of a “rebellious teen,” we are faced with unpleasant back take, arguments, manipulations, curses, eye rolls, blank stares, aggression, lying, stealing, and other acts that defy our rules and our morals. 

As we contemplate this, ask yourself the following questions: 

“What am I trying to control?” 

“Am I trying to control out-of-control behavior?”

“Do I want to win? At whatever the cost?” 

“Is it possible to have two winners and no losers?”

“Is it really my mission to dominate the will of another person?” 

“What is the long-term goal of parenting: relationship or being right?”

“What is better: A change of heart or a change of behavior?”

The idea of attempting to control someone who is out-of-control sounds like a war in the making. How can the two things approach one another? Control that is viewed as a way ends us with no winners. Parenting is not a competition. You do not have to always be right or win every battle. In fact, why is parenting even seen as a battle? There must be something deeper than this relational reality.

If you make two lists with all the things that a parent can realistically control on one side and all the things that parents cannot control in their teenager’s life, you begin to see the discrepancy in the lists. Parents who focus on the child’s side of the list will be more frustrated than those who stick to their own side. 

Control can be a negotiation. There are things on the parent’s side of the list that the teenager wants and there are things on the side of the teen’s list that the parent wants. There is room for negotiation and working together toward a common goal. 

A common area of power on the parent’s side of the list is transportation. The teen needs to get places and the parent has control of the car. An easy trade-off can be negotiated. Chores completed can result in transportation to a friends house, for example. There doesn’t need to be loud, angry words shared back and forth. Just a simple, direct offer to trade chores for transportation. Don’t react to “moodiness”, eye rolling, or slamming doors. I know it’s hard. Focus on the bigger lessons here. 

What parent really want is to see their teen make “good choices.” Choices imply a sense of power that allows the child to try and choose between good and bad and learn from that experience. This is how the neural software gets its updates: experiences, good ones and bad ones. Suffering natural consequences can be painful to watch, for the parent, but it allows teens to mature and grow up. 

What teenagers want is power over their lives. In reflection, it would seem the parent and the child are working toward the same goal. The parent wants their teen to have the power to make good choices. The failure in this contemplation is that teens view it differently. They want the power to do whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want, without consequences. This is their immature view of adulthood. As adults, we know this is just fantasy. The negative consequences of these kinds of choices taught us that power is really about managing ourselves well. Negative consequences will teach our teens too if we let it. 

Control is about communication. Parents believe that they are clear and perhaps they are but continuing to clearly state expectations and needs may have to be repeated. There are split moments of gentle normalcy where parent and teens can really communicate. Use those moments to understand the child’s needs and struggles. Don’t use it to lecture or give advice. Listen and learn to give you more control. Control is knowing how to meet the needs of the child in a way they can cooperate with you. 

Powerless people feel like they have no power, so they engage in power struggles to get more power. Power-full people know they are powerful and learn to manage themselves. Powerless people must be empowered to know they are power-full too. 

Power is believed to be unequal. Some people have more than others. In most situations, this is true but in terms of power being about managing ourselves, and not managing others, it is fairly distributed to everyone. Teenagers see parents as having all the power. Therefore they believe they must take it from parents by rejecting them, defying them, and manipulating them. The result in continuous power struggles. What a hard view of the world to have! 

Focus on problems when in the heat of the power struggle. Parents who focus on the person exaggerate the struggle. Ask the child what is the problem and how do they want to solve it. Control is coaching a child to a logical conclusion even if it means trying answers to the problem, the parent already knows won’t work. Let them try. Let go of the tug-of-war rope and join the child on their side of the circumstance and ask coaching questions to help the teen see the choices, that give true power, to help them learn how to make good ones. 

In the end, control is an illusion. We have no control over anyone else. It is a common reaction to feelings of fear and anxiety. The higher our anxiety, the more we attempt to control. The more we feel out-of-control, the more we work to find some area that we can create control. It is the source of our obsessions and compulsions. It creates power struggles in relationships. It concentrates on being right over relationships. It disconnects instead of connects families. Take notice of the areas in life that feel controllable and those that feel out-of-control. Examine the feelings that come with each. Choose to respond and not react to those feelings. Don’t allow the negative lies that feeling out-of-control tries to tell you: You are a bad parent, You are a failure, You are not loved or respected, You are not safe, You can’t trust anyone but yourself, You are destined to feel horrible and lonely. Find alternative truths to declare over yourself to counter these false beliefs. They may not feel true but feelings are not the truth. Control is managing your beliefs which will, in turn, manage your feelings. 

Spiritual Surround: How to shift the negative atmosphere of your home.

Join me for the third seminar in the “Healing the Traumatized Child” series November 26, 2018, from 9 am to 12 noon. The seminar will be held at GraceSlo Church on 1350 Osos St., San Luis Obispo, California.

Healing strategies for traumatized children involve helping children help within the spiritual atmosphere of the home. Let’s explore spiritual strategies that create compassion and loving kindness in our children and ourselves. Transform negative atmospheres into hope-filled realities with this practical training by Ron Huxley, LMFT.

Family Healer School

Ron Huxley’s FamilyHealerSchool.com provides families with FREE help on parenting, anxiety, trauma, child behavior, spirituality and more. You can find healing for you and your family with multimedia content, downloadable resources, quizzes, and inspirational meditations. Our vision is to see families healed and living in complete abundance.

Get more information now: Click here!

Faith-In-Motion Seminars: “Healing The Family Constellation”

Join me as I kick off 2018 with a new series of Faith-In-Motion Seminars. Sponsored by the San Luis Obispo County Department of Social Services, Grace Central Coast, and Cuesta College, this seminar scheduled on January 22, from 9 am to 12 noon, will be on “Healing the Family Constellation.” 

I will be talking about the healing power of the family from a faith-based, trauma-informed approach. In addition, we will have a panel that represents the adoption constellation. They will share their diverse stories and answer some practical, real-life questions.

In this month’s seminar, we will discover the pro’s and con’s of open adoption, the various levels of relationship between adoptive parents, children, bio family members, extended family, and professionals. You will collect powerful trauma tools to heal the damaging effects of toxic stress and trauma. And, of course, there will be a time for questions and answers.

There is NO FEE to attend this seminar. Training hours are available. I hope to see you there.

Download the flyer here!

What’s Your Parenting Style?

Parenting_Styles-_How_to_Balance_Love___Limits

What’s your parenting style? Are you happy with the results you get from your interaction with your children? What about with your spouse? Do the two of you work well together or do you have oppositive ways of parenting that results in arguments and resentments?

This doesn’t have to spell D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R for your family. Even complete opposites can learn how to work together by focusing on each other’s strengths and compensating for each other’s weaknesses.

Parenting styles can be categorized into four main styles that correspond to a balance of “love and limits” that include:

 
* Rejecting/Neglecting Style: Low Love and Low Limits.

* Authoritarian Style: Low Love and High Limits.

* Permissive Style: High Love and Low Limits.

* Democratic or Balanced Style: High Love and High Limits.

“Love and limits” are terms that describe a parents discipline orientation. Parents who are oriented toward a “relational discipline orientation” are said to use love as their primary style of parenting. Parents who use “action discipline orientation” are said to use limits as their primary style of parenting.

All parents incorporate both love and limits in their style of parenting. It is the balance of love and limits that determine a parent’s particular style. Only the democratic or balanced parenting style have both high love and high limits. In addition, each style has strengths and weaknesses inherent in them and are learned from the important parental figures in our lives. These figures are usually our own parents.

Parents who use love as their primary style (permissive parents) consider love to be more important than limits. They also use the attachment and their bond with their child to teach right from wrong. They spend a lot of time with the child communicating, negotiating, and reasoning. Their value is on “increasing their child’s self-esteem” or “making them feel special.”

Parents who use limits as their primary style (authoritarian parents) consider limits as more important than love (relationship). They use an external control to teach right from wrong and are quick to act on a discipline problem. Consequently, children are usually quick to react and rarely get their parents to negotiate. The value is on “teaching respect” and “providing structure.”

Parenting styles are defined as the “manner in which parents express their beliefs about how to be a good or bad parent. All parents (at least 99%) want to be a good parent and avoid doing what they consider to be a bad parent. Parents adopt the styles of parenting learned from their parents because

1) They don’t know what else to do

or

2) They feel that this is the right way to parent.

You can learn how to balance love in limits in your relationships using our Family Healer School ecourse “Parenting Styles: How to Balance Love and Limits” (CLICK HERE). 

W.O.R.K. With Your Teen’s Brain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A particular area of interest for me is the teenage brain. It is one of the most rapidly changing periods of brain development. This is no surprise to parents who are trying to understand the rapidly changing personality of the teenager.

Perhaps the most dramatic area of development is the area called the prefrontal orbital brain. It is called this because it sits directly behind our eyeballs and it is responsible for abstract thought, moral reasoning, self-control, planning, judgment and so many other areas commonly associated with adults. This area is in constant flux, causing radical shifts in mood and attitude. This formation and reformation of the brain continue into young adulthood (the mid-20’s). I often joke with parents that while their child has the hardware upgrade, the software has not yet been installed. This is why the teen is capable of getting pregnant, driving a car or doing algebra but they don’t mean that they are completely ready for the adult world of intense responsibility or raising a family.

This poses significant challenges to parents who want to navigate the raging waters of adolescence, therefore, I am going to list four basic reminders to help parents stay sane when their child actions appear insane. I am using the acronym WORK to guide parents:

W = Remember that your child is still “wondering” about how the world works. He or she might try to convince you that they already know how it does but they don’t. They haven’t had enough experience yet for this to be possible. They need you to help them by asking “what if” questions that will explain some cause and effect relationship and assist them in planning out their day and making better judgments. Because their brain is still developing they use their “will” to fight you and cover up their inexperience. Don’t shame them. Train the “will” to find positive rewards in daily interactions. “Wait” for them to get it. It will take them longer than you as they haven’t traveled some of these morally sticky situations in life yet. Allow them a little more time to “wake” up to a new world of responsibilities and schedules.

O = Be “open” to “opportunities” for your teenage child to share some wisdom about the world and how to survive in it. Don’t preach at them as this will shut them down completely. “Occupy” the same space and look for openings when you are both in a good mood. The relational approach will be more effective and allow more “objective” conversation between you. Remember that “obedience” at this age is really about natural consequences or trial and error for the teenager. The will learn more about doing then lecturing. Being a good role model will help them understand how to use the “operators” manual called their brain more than lots of words at this time of life.

R = “Relationship” is one of the toughest things to have with the teen but one of the most important tasks a parent can do for their child. You may only have a split-second when the door is open wide enough to have that former intimacy but use it when you can. It will pay huge ‘rewards” for both of you later in life. “Recognize” that the teen is in process. They are still not fully cooked and need more time in the oven of life before they can be expected to make better decisions. They will “reflect” their peers and “respond” more from other inexperienced teenagers over their own, more experienced parents. This is not a true sign of his “respect” or “rejection.” The teen is just trying to find their own way. Don’t take this personal. “Rebelliousness” is the other side of the “readiness” coin of maturity.

K = Be “kind” to your teen as they developmentally, socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Turn the proverbial other cheek and smile when they growl. Reach out again when they slap away your hand. The “key” to relating to the teenager is a long-term vision. This isn’t just about today. It is about the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years of your life together. The cold response you get from that teen-child today will “kindle” into a stronger fire connection later in life. Work with that end in mind. Keep in mind this is your “kin.” They may be more like you than you care to admit. They share your nature and your nurture and need your “kudo’s” for every positive effort and the end result you can give.

A family is a group of power-full people…

Ron’s Reading: Keep Your Love On: Connection Communication And Boundaries

One of the most common aggravations experienced by parents is the “power struggle”. It usually happens when the parent has to get to work or needs to finish dinner or help the child with their homework. Right in the middle of this urgent time, the child decides to exercise their will and demand a treat or refuse to put on their shoes or wants to argue about some topic they really don’t know anything about. Regardless of the circumstances, the outcome is two yelling, arguing, snorting, bug-eyed people who just want the other person to do what they want them to do. No fun for anyone!

Why does this happen so often in families? Danny Silk is one of my favorite authors and I recommend his books to many of the parents I work within family therapy or parenting workshops. In his book: “Keeping Your Love On: Connections, Communication & Boundaries” he shares how a family is a group of powerful people who are trying to learn how to live in powerful ways. He writes: “If you heard someone described as a powerful person, you might assume he or she would be the loudest person in the room, the one telling everyone else what to do. But powerful does not mean dominating. In fact, a controlling, dominating person is the very opposite of a powerful person. Powerful people do not try to control other people. They know it doesn’t work, and it’s not their job. Their job is to control themselves.”

The trick, for parents, is not to demand respect but to create a respectful environment where non-respect, talking back and control simply can’t exist. There just isn’t enough oxygen for those negative elements to survive. Learning how to be a powerful and responsible person is one of the most important tasks of parenting.

You can get more information (and read along with me) on Danny’s book here: Keep Your Love On: Connection Communication And Boundaries