Tuesday, September 1, 2015

4 Parental Behaviors to Avoid

Dr. John Gottman is a world-renowned relationship expert. Through many years of research, he has discovered 4 behaviors that we should avoid if we want to have strong, healthy relationships. He calls these behaviors the four horsemen of the apocalypse because they are sure to bring about the end of a relationship. Having a healthy, connected relationship with our children is what enables us to influence and guide them throughout childhood; therefore, having knowledge and understanding of these 4 pitfalls and their antidotes can help you build a better relationship with those most precious to you – your children.

Horseman #1: Criticism
Parents often use criticism in an attempt to motivate a child to do better, but criticism rarely motivates. It tears down. Criticism is pointing out something negative – basically shining a spotlight on the child’s flaws and negative traits. The problem is that, according to Dr. Julie Gottman, “kids take in all that criticism as a way of reflecting who they are.” It makes children believe that there is something wrong with them. I’ve said before that parents should be the people who see the best in our children and shine the spotlight on their good qualities. Children can’t see and live up to the best in themselves if we’re always pointing out the worst.

Examples of Criticism:
“You’re so clumsy.” “Why can’t you ever remember to make your bed? What is wrong with you?” “Look at this mess! You’re too lazy to clean your room.” “You’re spoiled rotten and don’t appreciate anything!”

What are kids really hearing in these phrases? Be more careful to not spill your drink? Please be responsible and make your bed? I’d like for you to tidy your room? I wish you were more appreciative? No. They’re hearing: You’re clumsy. You’re stupid. You’re lazy. You’re spoiled. Any motivation to do better is squashed under the weight of shame.

The Fix:
Leave out character judgments and use “I statements” to state what you want. “Oops, it spilled. I want you to get a cloth and wipe it up.” “I want you to make your bed, please.” “I want you to clean your room before you go to your friend’s house.”

Horseman #2: Contempt
Contempt is criticism coming from a place of superiority. It comes out as name-calling, sneering, eye-rolling, sarcasm, hostile humor, and mockery. Interestingly, contempt not only predicted how relationships would go but it predicted how many infectious illnesses the listener would have in the coming year! I can only conclude from that information that talking down to a child tears down more than his self-esteem.

Examples of Contempt:
“Stupid brat!” “Are you ignorant? Why would you do that?” “You wouldn’t even think of picking up your clothes, would you?” “Aw, look at the little baby crying again! Wah wah!”

The Fix:
The antidote for contempt is respect. Treat your child with the same respect you want her to treat you with.

Horseman #3: Defensiveness
Defensiveness is described as a reaction against feeling personally attacked; self-protection through righteous indignation or playing the victim. In the parent-child relationship, the parent may feel defensive when he realizes he was actually in the wrong or when a child points out the parent’s flaws (criticizes the parent). Basically, defensiveness says “the problem is not me, it’s you.” It’s avoiding taking responsibility by placing blame on the child.

Examples of Defensiveness:
“I wouldn’t have yelled if you’d have done what you were told!” “I shouldn’t have called you stupid, BUT you made me so angry.”

The Fix:
Accept responsibility for your part in the problem, and listen to how your child is feeling with an attempt to truly understand her position. “I shouldn’t have called you stupid. I’m sorry.” “I apologize for yelling. I lost my temper.” ...continue reading at CreativeChild

For more of my Positive Parenting articles featured in Creative Child Magazine, click here. Pin It Now!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Becoming an Emotion Coach

I'm over at The Gottman Institute today with a post on becoming emotional coaches for our children. Did you now that being able to understand and manage emotions well is one of the key predictors for a successful life? Read on to learn how to give your child a head start!


What determines how children turn out? This is the question on every parent's mind. What can we do to give our children the best start in life and to ensure that they grow into kind, intelligent, and happy people? As parents, we all want to raise kids who:
  • Are compassionate
  • Treat others well
  • Are confident
  • Think for themselves
  • Have good values
  • Are proud but not arrogant
  • Value themselves and their abilities
  • Have morals we respect and admire
Interestingly, world-renowned relationship researchers Drs. John and Julie Gottman have determined two predictors for how children turn out.

1.  Emotion regulation: The ability to understand and manage feelings

2.  Social relationships: How children get along with adults and other children

Unfortunately, very few parenting resources discuss these two predictors. Most parenting resources focus only on discipline, and that alone does not help parents reach these goals. Realizing that parenting is about so much more than a discipline method - that a big part of good parenting is teaching children emotion regulation - I turned to the Gottmans’ Emotion Coaching: The Heart of Parenting video program.

Dr. John Gottman says that parents cannot accomplish all of these goals with discipline alone, and that this is instead accomplished through what Dr. Julie Gottman calls “Magic Moments.” These are moments of connecting with children when they are emotional. It is through connecting during Magic Moments that parents can really influence how children feel about themselves and about the world. How we connect during those moments is dependent upon our own “meta-emotions,” which is how we feel about feelings, and of course, how we feel about feelings is a direct result of how we were treated in childhood when we showed emotions!

In general, the Gottmans discovered that there are 2 types of parents when it comes to meta-emotions.

1.  Dismissing/disapproving parents who see sadness and anger as though they are harmful poisons. These parents will do anything to change the child’s emotion to a positive one, feeling that anything other than a happy child is an indication that they are a failure as a parent. They says these parents view emotions as if they were a piece of clothing that you can choose to put on or take off.

2.  Emotion coaches are parents who view emotions as an opportunity to connect and teach. These parents, Dr. John Gottman says, notice lower intensity emotion in their children as well as in themselves. They meet all emotion first with understanding and empathy, and then these parents set limits or problem-solve, depending upon whether misbehavior was connected to the emotion.

In the Emotion Coaching program, the Gottmans outline the benefits of having at least one emotion coaching parent. These children:
  • Have higher achievement
  • Have fewer infectious illness
  • Have better impulse control and delayed gratification
  • Require less discipline
  • Whine less
  • Are buffered from most negative effects of divorce
How to be an Emotion Coach:
1.  Help children verbally label their emotions. To be able to regulate emotions, children must understand them – what they feel like, what brings them on, and what to do when they feel them.

2. ...continue reading how to become an emotion coach at The Gottman Institute Blog
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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Positive Discipline Difference

Last week, I debunked the myth that positive parents just want to be friends with their children. You can read that post here. This week, I want to address the idea that we simply don’t discipline our children. “But kids need discipline” is a recurrent comment on my Facebook page, and I must say that I absolutely agree. Kids DO need discipline! So do teachers, firefighters, artists, store managers, farmers, - every responsible, productive human being. So, the question is, what is discipline and how do we make sure our kids have it?

If you look up the definition for discipline today, you’re going to get something along the lines of “to punish or rebuke for an offense,” which I think is an unfortunate twist of the original Latin meaning, “instruction or knowledge.” I almost never punish my kids, but I do offer a lot of instruction and knowledge (which I wouldn’t do if I were permissive). Therefore, I definitely discipline my children, just not in the same way as many, and there’s a reason for that. The conventional way of discipline, to punish for an offense, is problematic for several reasons:

Quick-fix: By doling out an immediate punishment, we’ve skipped right over an attempt at understanding the cause of the behavior and what the child may need taught or helped with in favor of a quick-fix solution to make the behavior stop. Unfortunately, when we miss the cause or need behind the behavior, we’ve missed a key opportunity to help the child learn to understand and control himself, and ultimately I think that’s the real goal here – a child who is self-disciplined (who doesn’t need a parent following her around enforcing rules). We want them to know how to do what’s right when we aren’t there with our threats and parental power, yet we undermine our own efforts when we skip the teaching what’s right part in favor of the quick fix.

Missed connection: It’s clear that punishing children causes a disconnection between us and them, but most parents feel that the disconnection is necessary in order to teach the child a lesson. Ironically, connection is the very thing that makes children follow our rules, heed our instruction, and want to do well. In addition, the benefits of connection (attachment) is well-documented, and leads to higher self-confidence, resilience, social skills, and emotional health. When we approach a behavioral issue with the intent to understand and teach rather than to make the child pay, we can discipline while maintaining our crucial connection.

Wrong focus: Punishment often makes children focus more on their own suffering than on the effects of their behavior. In her book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, Dr. Becky Bailey says this, “You cannot simultaneously feel bad about what you have done and focus on what you must do differently.” In this way, punishment actually shuts down learning, and the lesson we are trying to teach is lost on a resentful child. Sadly, for some children, punishment makes them feel so badly that they begin to believe they are bad people, and when that gets into a child’s self-concept, he will behave the way he sees himself. Psychologists refer to this as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Those are the reasons I have chosen to discipline differently, with the intent to instruct and impart knowledge rather than to punish. To be clear, I have had to allow consequences that teach because, as we all know, poor behavior has negative consequences, but these are natural consequences that I don’t have to impose or a result of a solution that my child and I have arrived at together. If you’re wondering what I do instead of punishment, take at a look at these 3 alternatives to the old time-out I used to use.

Positive parents discipline in an unconventional way, but the idea that we don’t discipline at all is FALSE. In fact, I spend a good amount of time each day disciplining my children. It can be confusing to understand how to discipline without relying on punishment. It took a while for me to fully understand it, too. Once I did understand the reasons for connection, finding the need behind the behavior, teaching appropriate alternatives, and looking for solutions to problems, it became much easier to discipline my children positively, and I really feel that the benefits have been great for us all.

The links provided in the article will provide some insight into alternative methods of discipline. For more, pick up The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting and Positive Parenting in Action.

For more of my Positive Parenting articles, click here.
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