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1. The Attention Flip:

There’s nothing our kids want more than our attention, and they will get it however they can! What tends to happen is that we get so caught up in putting out fires (dealing with misbehavior), that we have to use the moments when things are going well to empty the dishwasher, take a shower, or have a To-Do list meeting with our spouse. This means we are paying attention to the wrong things! What we pay attention to gets repeated, so when we do this, we are insuring that the bad behavior will go on, while providing no incentive for our kids to continue the good things they do. Try to keep your corrections as short as possible and use the bulk of your interactions to praise and encourage.


2. Pick Your Battles:

We’ve all heard this expression, and usually it is used to mean we shouldn’t fight with our kids about everything. I agree with that, but I think in deciding which things are worth fighting over, we also need to consider that we should only pick battles we know we can win! Our kids discover early that there are three things we cannot force them to do: eat, sleep, and use the potty. When we battle over these issues, it results in an epic struggle that costs us a lot of relational ground for very little reward. It’s best to set up choices and positive incentives on these, and many other, issues where our kids are highly invested in maintaining control.


3. The Teaching Value of Failure:

In looking back over the course of our lives, I suspect most of us would realize that we learned so much more from our failures than our successes. But it’s hard to watch our children fall and be hurt, and we worry so much about the pressure their generation is under to not just to succeed, but to excel, that we tend to step in and rescue them from the natural consequences of their own mistakes. Unfortunately, when we do this, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn and to grow, and just as importantly, to see us as their supportive, soft place to crash land after a failure or a disappointment.


4. Fear of Failure Leads to High Anxiety:

In private practice, we have seen an alarming increase in childhood anxiety in our clients. I believe that in part this is a result of the above scenario. We rescue our children from their own mistakes thinking that protecting them is good, loving parenting, but really this sets up a dynamic where the fear of failure can become crippling. We need to be letting them make mistakes when they’re young and the cost is relatively low, and sharing stories of our own screw ups and foibles with them with humility and good humor. Until we learn to normalize failure, our kids will become progressively more anxious and afraid.


5. Choose Your Teachable Moments:

When our kids do make mistakes, we often respond in anger. Our emotion being in the mix then makes them self-defensive rather than self-reflective. At this point, adrenaline is high on both sides, ensuring that whatever lesson we want to be teaching is lost. It’s much more effective to delay the consequences until we are calm enough to be sure we are delivering the message we really want them to hear, and in a way that it can be received. No matter what type of discipline we use, if we try to deliver it when emotions are high, it will not be effective.


6. Rules Without Relationship = Rebellion:

Our children naturally want to please us. When this gets off track and the child is pushing boundaries all the time, it’s often a result of his feeling micromanaged. Young children usually receive between 1,500 and 2,000 commands a day! If we’re honest with ourselves, we would likely admit that while many of them are necessary, an awful lot of them are not. We need to increase the amount of control and choices we give our kids, and focus on bonding with them, rather than always insisting on The Rules. In the long run, when our kids are grown, will it matter more that they ate a “thank-you bite,” or that their memories of family dinner center around laughter and feeling heard and understood?


7. Chores Are Really Important:

Of course, part of our job as parents is to prepare our kids to go out into the world and be able to take care of themselves, and that involves knowing how to do laundry, keep a budget, and prepare an adequately nutritious meal. While teaching life skills is an important aspect of chores, there is more to it. Research shows that human beings are wired to want to be part of a tribe. When this need is met at home, there is far less need for a child to seek this sense of belonging elsewhere (cliques, gangs, unhealthy dating relationships, etc). Being depended upon to help at home, and being valued for that effort as part of the team, goes a long way toward fulfilling that desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves.


8. Nagging and Reminding Creates a Need to Be Nagged and Reminded:

Whenever we know that someone else has a good handle on a problem, that frees us up not to worry about it ourselves. By taking responsibility for our kids’ schedules and deadlines, we are ensuring that they don’t have to worry about it themselves. Why would they check their own agendas/sports bags/practice schedules when they know that we will be on top of it for them? Much of the time, we are creating irresponsible kids while complaining about how irresponsible they are! We need to step back so that they can step up. Are they going to mess up at first? Of course! But refer to numbers 3 & 4 above - eventually, everyone will figure out who’s responsible for what.


9. Sibling Rivalry Has a Purpose:

The sibling relationship is our first opportunity in life to compete, and the first place where we figure out for ourselves if there is enough of everything to go around. Do you have a Plenty Mentality, or a Scarcity Mentality (there either is enough time, food, money, love, etc. for me to get what I need, or there isn’t)? Chances are, you can trace this back to your early childhood experiences and how you had to compete for what you wanted. As parents, the constant bickering and tattling and scuffling is a huge annoyance, but when we get overly drawn in, anything we say will be interpreted as unfair by one child or the other anyway. Unless physical harm or property damage is imminent, mostly what we need to do is teach the life skills of cooperation, teamwork and sharing, validate the strong emotions involved, and let them work it out.


10. Bribes, Threats, and Incentives:

What’s the difference? It’s all about who holds the power. Let’s take the example of a kid who doesn’t want to sit down after school and do her homework.

  • A bribe: “If you would just finish your homework, I’ll give you some cookies.” In this scenario, the child has the power, because it’s obvious to her what Mom wants her to do and that she is willing to give up cookies to get it.

  • A threat:“You are not getting any cookies until your homework is finished.” In this scenario, the parent has all the power (and all the cookies!).

  • An incentive:“Hey, I’m going to have some cookies in a little bit. You’re welcome to join me when your homework is finished.” In this scenario, the control is shared, because the child feels that she has the choice to finish or not, as Mom is just as happy to eat all the cookies as she is to share them. Shared control eliminates the need for the child to push back.

The more often we can change our language to offer incentives without the use of bribes or threats, the less often our kids will feel the need to argue with us.

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