"Smart, audacious and often hilarious. Takes everything you thought you knew about parenting and turns it on its ear." - Jennifer Jason Leigh

Want respectful children?

If you want respectful children…

You gotta be respectful to them.

You want your children to listen to you?

You gotta really listen to them.

You want a child who is caring, sensitive and patient?

You gotta be caring, sensitive and patient to them.

You want a resilient child?

You have to let them practice struggling and recovering—with support.

And if you want your child to have impulse control…

you have to have it with them!

As in, don’t lose your cool. And when you make a mistake and respond in ways you wish you hadn’t (which we all inevitably do), you need to make amends—the benefits of which are numerous: 1) Your children will see you as fallible and thus human, 2) they’ll know you truly care about their feelings and 3) you’ll be modeling remorse and humility.

And just because you do treat them with respect and compassion, doesn’t mean they will transform their behavior overnight.

Patience, repetition and predictability are key.

DARE NOT TO DISCIPLINE: My conversation with Dr. Laura Markham

Dr. Laura Markham has a new book out: Peaceful Parents, HAPPY KIDS: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. It is practical. Easy to read. And very helpful.

I had the distinct pleasure of having a fairly in-depth and lively conversation with Dr. Laura on her book’s blog tour. You can also down-load the transcript of the conversation, here by scrolling down to GOOD JOB AND OTHER THINGS.

This is how it came about:

A few months ago, I emailed Dr. Laura:

Hi Dr. Laura,

(some pleasantries)

What is discipline, exactly? What would be another word to use instead of discipline? Is there another more accurate word to use?
The top google searches tell us that the most common understanding of the word is “training to obey rules through punishment to correct disobedience” and variations thereof. That being the case, I think saying “positive discipline” is like saying light black. It just doesn’t make any sense because black is always dark.
However, I know that you are against punishment. I also know that you have explained “discipline” to mean “to teach.” Not surprisingly the Webster’s dictionary says this is an obsolete definition. That rings true to me. At some point it meant to teach, but it now is synonymous with punishment.
You write “Here’s how to use discipline that works, so you can get out of the discipline business altogether.” 
You advocate for “alternatives to discipline” but if you believe it means to teach, you wouldn’t advocate for alternatives, no? Or for people to get out of the discipline business altogether, right? That’s the goal. And I agree. If you use the term “discipline” strategically, as in a way to capture the interest of those who do punish their kids, in an effort to reassure them that their kids will indeed still be disciplined, I can definitely understand that. But is that the case? It seems to me there can be another umbrella word to describe all of the alternatives you talk about. 

Alfie Kohn uses the term “work-with” parenting because he believes in working with children, not “doing to” them. And I think implicit in the word discipline, even when used as to teach, still is a form of doing to, instead of working with. I do know that you use the term POSITIVE PARENTING and likely that is your equivalent to his WORK-WITH PARENTING. Would you say the Positive Parenting approach is what you mean when you say “discipline”?

I’m curious about your thoughts on this. I believe it is more than semantic. I believe our language has real power. And I am so grateful for your work, agree with most everything you say and you have helped me so much, but when I see the word discipline, I cringe. 

Am I missing something? I am not a permissive parent. I set limits and enforce them. I talk with my children. I explain. I try to understand what drives their behavior. We work things out. But I never discipline them. I honestly don’t know what that means if we’re not talking about time outs, hitting, taking away privilege, consequences etc. 
Dr. Laura wrote back. And quickly! 

Thanks so much for writing. You are completely right. Discipline actually means to teach, but no one hears it that way. In my book I go into this in detail. The word I use these days is Loving Guidance….

(she goes on to talk about how she’s changed her language over the years)

I have an idea.  Why don’t you and I do an interview about this as part of my blog tour when my book comes out in November?  Would you like to be part of my blog tour?

THIS IS THAT INTERVIEW.

Actually it is more a of a conversation. About  loving guidance. About setting limits with empathy. About the importance of connection. About how really discipline really becomes besides the point.

Take a listen! Would love to hear your thoughts!

And many many thanks to Dr. Laura for taking this time to talk with me about what I consider THE important topic of our time.

xo

 

 

 

 

Jennifer

Owww kid! That hurt!

“Owww!” my husband screamed. Maybe he used some profanity. Not sure. I would have.

Anyway, he’d been whacked in the shin with a  plastic rake by our three year old Hudson. Apparently it wasn’t the first whack because John said, “I told you if you did that again I’d take away the rake.”

And so he did. Up onto a high shelf in the garage it went.

My husband was on his way to help our daughter Jules with something when this happened. He was blindsided, annoyed, in a hurry, trying to do too many things at once and in pain. Everyone loves John. And this is the kind of thing that happens when you’re highly sought after.

Hudson, like all people who exhibit, as they say, “aggressive behavior” was hurting. About something. That his son was in pain, certainly wasn’t the first thing that came to John’s mind . Understandably. Nonetheless, I wish that it had been.

As John went over to help Jules (who was likely screaming with impatience: “Come on Dad!”) Hudson was left near me. Crying hysterically. Angry. And with a mission. No one was going to take  his rake away! So he started scrambling, trying to figure out how he could climb up onto the tool table to reach his rake.

Good times.

Me, I’m thinking, Fuck! How did this happen? And now what? 

If I could remember exactly what I then said to Hudson, I’d tell you. I didn’t get the rake for him. I tried to empathize though it was the last thing he wanted to hear. He was enraged. Somehow (again, it’s a blur), he decided to join me on my trip to the market. He had his blanket. He was in the backseat sucking his fingers. He’d calmed down. Some.

But it wasn’t over.

After twenty minutes in the market, we headed to the car, at which point I said, “You were very upset when Daddy took your rake…”

He cut me off with “I don’t want to talk about that.”

“Well I know there is a reason you hit him. You must have been really upset about something.”

This got his attention. I wasn’t going to tell him what he already knows, that we don’t hit. He didn’t want to hear that. That he knew.

“He said he would come up to my room and play with me,” he very quietly said.

And there it was. He was hurt. Somehow, something his sister had said to Dad had taken his Dad away from him. From their time to connect. To play together. To be together.

Now I’m not certain if John had said he would go up, but that was the impression Hudson apparently had. And maybe John had said he’d come up after he finished something with Jules. Who knows. There was a lot going on. But whatever had happened, Hudson believed his Dad was going to go play with him and then on a dime he wasn’t. And instead he was going to be with his sister.

Infuriating. No?

So!

On our way home I asked Hudson if he’d like to talk to dad about what happened. If he’d like to share with him why he was so upset that he hit him with the rake.

He nodded.

As we climbed the stairs, he made it clear he wanted me to do the talking for him.

Which I did.

“Oh Huddy,” John said. “I’m so glad you shared that with me. I do want to play with you in your room. Would you like to go play now?”

Hudson nodded yes.

And off they went to build.

When you’re whacked in the shin it can be very hard to remember that behind every aggressive impulse is some pain. And when it is coming from a young child, that yes, first the limit needs to be set “No hitting” but then, drop to your knees, “Hudson, you need something. You don’t have to hit me. You can yell, Dad please listen!’ and I will son. I will. How can I help?”

So when too much is going on to remember that (my husband is amazing, but not perfect!) remember to revisit it later. That’s the gift…we can come back to it. No need for anything to be swept under any rug.

 

Do you scare your kids? Do you think they deserve it?

 

Do you feel like that’s just the way it is? If your kids don’t do what you say and you’ve asked nicely more than once and they continue to “push your buttons” and “test your patience”, do you feel justified in your yelling? Or threatening? Your counting down? Your infliction of pain on their bodies (aka “spanking”)?

Or do you sense there’s another way?

From what I can gather, this is what parents seem desperate to know:

  • How can I get my kid to clean up the playroom?
  • How can I get my kid to brush his teeth?
  • How can I get my kid not to hit me?
  • How can I get my kid to “listen” to me?
  • How can I get my kid to cooperate?

Essentially:

How can I get my kid to DO WHAT I SAY …

so that I don’t get upset and yell at or threaten to take away toys or hit my kid. And then regret it. Or not. 

(It continues to shock me that parents think hitting a child will teach the lesson that they shouldn’t hit. Am I missing something?)

If THEY would only listen, all would be well with the world.

(Those little snot-nosed fucks.)

Here’s my message. Be forewarned: You’re not going to like it.

 It’s not your kids. IT’S YOU.

You can’t self regulate.

You can’t self-regulate because your parents couldn’t. You were not given the tools. You don’t know any better. I’m not blaming you, but it is still you. And you are the adult in the relationship and so it is up to you to calm yourself so that you don’t take your anger (likely derived from fear, fear of being late, fear of being disrespected, fear of whatever) out on your kid.

You want them to stop and clean up. You want them to stop and put their shoes on. You want them to do this and do that because you said so and yet YOU can’t stop and breathe. YOU can’t say “Honey, I need a  minute. I’m getting flooded. My brain has too much cortisol in it to respond to you in the way that you and all humans deserve. I need to get a glass of water.”

And I get why.

BECAUSE SELF-REGULATING IS HARD AS HELL.

You have to become aware of your triggers. You have to do some work.

As my friend Michelle put it:

“Yelling is an addiction. It gives me a sense of how hard it must be to break patterns of drinking drugs etc… Your body just goes there.” 

Michelle no longer tries to justify her yelling. She knows that when she can self-regulate, that when she can make time to be with each of her children, that when they are struggling, she empathizes, there is no need to yell.

But it is still a struggle.

Struggles are great. We all struggle when we try to make changes in our lives.

But I just so desperately want parents to move on to the struggling to self-regulate part of parenting and to give up the justifications for yelling at and threatening and hitting their darling, young children who so desperately need to express their feelings and to be heard and loved.

If you think a child stopping playing and cleaning up on a dime is the be all to end all, I’d like to share with you a different perspective.

Compliant kids are kids who don’t stand up for themselves. Their need for love and approval is so strong that they just do what they are told. I know lots of people who do what they are told regardless of what it is. (Hell six million Jews were killed because people obediently followed orders.)

I don’t want a child who isn’t passionate about their lives. Their friends. Their buildings. Their playing. Their love of staying awake and living life. Or their need for autonomy. I wouldn’t want a kid who doesn’t try to stick up for themselves and their point of view. Their joy in what they’re doing should be a good sign, a sign of total engagement, not a bad one.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have limits.

But if we can focus on their feelings, remarkably the limit that we’re trying to set (no hitting! no name calling!) dissipates.

Not allowing your child to express their feelings for as long as they need to, to get them out of their bodies is not healthy and borders on abusive. Why? Because stress leads to anxiety, depression, heart disease etc.

What our kids need is to EXPRESS THEIR FEELINGS.

Many many many parents worry that their empathizing will go on forever as if their children have an endless ability to wallow.

Okay, I’ve empathized. I know you’re upset. I’m sorry you feel that way. Now let’s get in the car. Enough is enough. I’ve got to get to work! You’re gonna get me fired!

IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY.

I love how Teresa Brett, author of Parenting For Social Change talks about this:

 In a culture that normalizes power-over and control of others, especially children, how a child communicates and expresses herself can become a battleground… Even when we accept the need for the expression of emotions, we may want to limit its length. At some point we think the child should feel better or that the expression is no longer authentic. I have often heard adults tell a child who has cried for a period of time, “Okay, you’ve cried enough; it’s time to stop.” This is another form of trivialization. The root of trivialization is anger: we are angry that the child is burdening us with her emotional expression “for no reason at all.” Notice that all of these reactions are based on the feelings that are triggered in the adult by the child’s emotional expression. We feel sad, uncomfortable, or angry, and our response to those feelings is a desire to control the emotions of the child so that we ourselves can be more comfortable. In fact, we make the child responsible for our own emotions.

I repeat:

“We make the child responsible for our own emotions.”

The buck has to stop with us.

We have to take responsibility for ourselves. We have to learn to self-regulate. We have to be empathetic. We have to let our children express themselves. We have to make sure they feel heard and understood. Again, we can set limits. But they don’t have to take those limits lying down. They can scream and cry. (And if you have to be at work, let them scream and cry in the car!)

“You seem angry that you can’t buy the toy….You love it so much. Your friend has one. You want one too. Me not buying it for you is making you scream and yell. It’s hard, I know…”

If we can’t stop the yelling, if we can’t start empathizing, we must seek help.

Therapy. Echo Parenting Classes. Reading Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting. Googling “self-regulation.”

You CAN learn to handle the screaming and the tears. You can handle their anger because you are their calm anchor in a chaotic world.

You can.

You can.

You are their Little Engine That Could.

 

 

This post was inspired by a talk on ANGER by Ruth Beaglehole, director and founder of Echo Parenting & Education on May 7th @ The Oaks School in Hollywood.