The Best Gift to Give Your Kids

mom and daughter playing PAIDWhen you were little and the teacher asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, you surely didn’t answer “overwhelmed,” or “frustrated,” or “miserable!”  But these are the words that come up in my parenting classes when parents talk about their daily lives.

Of course, there are happy connecting moments as well, but the day-to-day grind of parenting can create a negative mood in the family that becomes habitual. If you have started to dread, more than you enjoy, your interactions with your children, then I invite you to consider this idea:  you have more choice between feeling miserable or feeling happy than you think…and it starts with your brain.

Emerging research shows that the brain is not as hard-wired as previously thought. We can learn to be happier. In fact, one of the most popular classes at Harvard University (taught by Dr. Ben-Shahar, author of Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment) is a Positive Psychology course in which students learn to train their brains to cultivate more happiness.  The underlying premise of positive psychology is that you can learn to be happier just as you can learn to solve math problems or to be proficient at a sport.

Your happiness is one of the best gifts you can give your children.
When parents are asked, “What do you want for your children?” one of the most common replies is, “I want my child to be happy.”  Well, where do you think they learn to be happy?  From watching you!  That’s why in her book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, Christine Carter’s Step #1 is…Get Happy Yourself.  She even cites studies that indicate how happy you are dramatically affects how happy and successful your kids are.

It’s worth the effort to raise your happiness quotient because it will impact your entire family.  If you’d like to train your brain for happiness, consider these ideas:

Decide that you want to be happier. When you make that decision, you start to notice choices for happiness that you may have missed before. Those choices may be small, such as lying down for 10 minutes when you’re tired rather than powering through a task, but you start to create an awareness and habit of seeking happiness that grows.

Acknowledge your feelings. When you feel overwhelmed or distressed, don’t make it worse by beating yourself up for being upset.  When you invite those feelings into your awareness and give them respect and attention, they usually begin to shift on their own, and you start to feel better.

Fake it till you make it.
 Ask yourself, how would a happy person act?  How would they walk? What would they say in this instance?  What would their face look like?  And then act, walk, talk and look like that.  Your mind takes cues from your body.  It’s hard to be upset when you’re walking with a spring in your step, whistling, with a smile on your face!  When you “act like a happy person” you’re laying down new neural connections that make it easier to tap into genuine happiness.

Celebrate success. Whether it’s the achievement of getting out the door on time this morning or a weekend when your children got along, take in the accomplishment, and give yourself and your children a pat on the back.

Seek meaning.
Happiness comes from doing something that gives us pleasure and meaning. If you’re short on pleasure and meaning in your life, find something to fill those needs. It could be a hobby, volunteering, taking a course, or allowing time to read a book or cook something tasty.

Express gratitude. Notice and be grateful for everything that makes your day better, from your child’s quick hug to your morning latte.  (I admit I get carried away with gratitude.  I’ve been known to express gratitude to my washer, dryer, dishwasher and other kitchen appliances.  But I am so grateful for the ease these items bring to my life!)

As you practice happiness and make it a habit, you’ll find yourself in a lovely upward spiral that will support you through challenging times. As Dr. Ben-Shahar writes in his book, “Happiness is not an end state, but rather something you work towards your whole life.  Thus, you can be happier each day.  Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”

Summer Family Vacations — what to do with all that togetherness!

vacation PAIDSummer vacations with the family can be the best of times or the worst of times. Confining airplanes or exhausting hours together in the car, boring hotel rooms or funky cabins on muddy lakes and six straight days of rain – family vacations can make you wish you had chosen a “staycation” instead!

On the other hand, exploring new places together, sharing leisurely time and goofing-off for days at a stretch, meeting new people or reuniting with loving relatives – family vacations can be the best thing since summers were invented.

If you’d like to have more of the best of times and less of the worst, here’s 5 tips to increase your odds:

  1. First of all, watch out for great expectations. Your own and the kids’. Enjoy the surprise of the vacation as it unfolds. This doesn’t mean don’t make plans. By all means, do make plans. And include everyone in the planning. Maps, brochures, photographs, share them all beforehand so that everyone knows what’s possible. Make check-lists, too, with responsibilities for everyone. And then hold those plans lightly so that unexpected adventures and spontaneous fun can be part of the mix too.
  1. Allow plenty of time, don’t jam-pack days or crowd too much into the trip. If you’re traveling with young children or toddlers, take short jumps instead of long leaps. If you’re driving, stop often, get out and stretch, move around. Consider picnics instead of restaurant meals.
  1. Keep it simple. Don’t schedule so many activities that there’s no time for just hanging out. Build in rest-time, too. Tempers have a tendency to flare when everyone’s packed together day and night for long stretches of time. Create alone time, for you and the children. Everyone needs recharging. Remember, both boredom and over-stimulation can result in acting out–so strive for balance.
  1. Keep a log or scrapbook to record your family vacations and take it along with you on each trip.  You can spend a few minutes at the end of each day recapping that day’s adventures and toss in any momentos, like ticket stubs, photos, tic-tac-toe games and pressed flowers.  Believe me, the few minutes you take to record your impressions while they are fresh will gift you with cherished (and detailed) memories when your kids are grown.
  2. Be sure and allow a day or two for re-entry before you go back to work and the children return to their summer routine. Coming home can be as stressful as leaving. Plan some space for a relaxing re-entry and make homecoming part of the vacation, too.
Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications

Raising Compassionate Kids

girl and kitten PAIDHow to raise kids who are kind and considerate is a hot topic these days. With so much bullying happening in the world, both in schools and via the Internet, it seems more important than ever to raise kids who can be thoughtful and empathetic towards other people.

Children have an inborn capacity for compassion. Although you can take steps to raise a compassionate child who is kind to others yet strong enough to stand up to hurtful words and actions when necessary, the most important thing to remember is that children may listen to what we say, but they model themselves on how we behave. This means that if you practice and demonstrate compassion (with yourself, your child and the other people in your world), your child is very likely to emulate that behavior.

Here are some ideas to help you integrate compassion into your everyday life in ways that you can share with your child:

Volunteer. Show your child that all people deserve kindness by serving together at a soup kitchen or volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. Let your child choose a volunteer activity that builds on interests they already have (for instance, the Humane Society if they love animals or reading aloud to the blind if they love to read).

***If you live in the Atlanta/Dunwoody area, check out The Packaged Good, where you and your kids can decorate and personalize care packages and create craft projects for people in need.

Get a pet or a small plot of dirt to cultivate. When a child is invested in the care of another living thing, they learn about nurturing themselves and others and are less likely to engage in bullying. And most pets and plants require time outdoors, so you’ll both get a good dose of fresh air!

Practice listening and allow feelings. I always tell parents that only a “hurting” child hurts others. When your child is hurting, instead of responses like “keep your chin up” or “big boys don’t cry,” invite your child to share his or her feelings. Particularly with younger children, hug them to provide soothing reassurance that it’s okay to experience and express feelings of distress. When you help them heal their hurts by allowing them to fully express their feelings, it will be easier for them to listen to others with an open and compassionate heart.

Limit time with video games and television showsespecially those with even mild violence. Numerous studies have shown that media violence promotes aggression and desensitizes kids to the consequences of violent behavior.

Experience a neighborhood or part of town (or even another country) very different from your own.  Try a restaurant in a different neighborhood or take in a festival where people have a different culture, language and music. Experiencing diversity shows a child that differences can be both interesting and fun!

Activities that promote compassion mean you’ll be bonding with your child in ways you can both feel good about. In addition, activities like volunteering or growing a garden serve another purpose–they remind both of you that you have something valuable to offer the world. Your child’s growing self-respect can help turn the tide of bullying and the devastating effect that this has on children’s lives.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥ 

Choose one of the activities above and implement it this week. Then keep adding to your “active compassion” list as you become more and more intentional about modeling compassion and kindness.  Remember, your kids are watching you!

“We must become the people we want our children to be.”  Joseph Chilton Pearce

Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications

10% is Enough

mom pulling hairWhen I first started teaching parenting classes back in 2005 I once told my class about an incident that had just happened where I yelled at my child.  I remember several people gasped and they all exchanged looks. Then one person asked, “You mean you yell?”  Another added, “At your child?”

I was equally bewildered by their bewilderment.  And then it hit me…they think I’m on the “other side” of this parenting stuff … somehow they’ve gotten the impression that I’ve graduated…that I’ve arrived…that I’ve reached perfect parenting nirvana and bliss. This was a disconcerting thought because, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth!

Oh!  Wow!,” I exclaimed, “I hope I haven’t misled you into thinking that I don’t do all these things that we’ve been talking about…the things you are trying to change and improve.  I’m right there with you!  I’m teaching this because I need to learn it myself.”

Then, as I watched those words sink in for them, for a moment it entered my mind that this was the beginning of the end of parenting classes for me. I had just let the cat out of the bag and now the word would get out that I yelled at my own children, and no one would want to come to my parenting classes.  What could I possibly teach anyone about parenting when I didn’t have my own parenting act together?

Thankfully, after I was knocked clean off that perfect parenting pedestal (thank God!), the parents expressed relief. I went from being the “parenting expert” to a “mom” who was struggling with the same issues that they were struggling with…and who was able to apply what I was teaching to my own parenting around 10% of the time (yeah, I got a little crazy with my confessions).  My willingness to be vulnerable and “let it all hang out” put us on equal ground and created emotional safety where we could openly share what was really going on in our families, the guilt (and sometimes shame) we felt around our parenting, and the hope that we still had time to get it right…or at least to get it good enough.

Fast forward 12 years and I’ll tell you 10 things I’ve learned about the parenting paradigm I teach–even if you can only apply the concepts 10% of the time:

  • 10% of conscious intentional parenting is better than 90% of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants parenting.
  • 10% of focused attention on your relationship with your child is better than 90% of focused attention on “behavior issues.”
  • 10% of striving to connect and understand is better than 90% of attempting to correct, convince, cajole or coerce.
  • 10% of parent “time-ins” is better than 90% of child “time-outs.”
  • 10% of quality engaging time with your child is better than 90% of stressed-out distracted time with your child.
  • 10% of listening is better than 90% of lecturing.
  • 10% of setting loving limits is better than 90% of issuing threats, punishments or bribes.
  • 10% of changing ourselves is better than 90% of trying to change our children.
  • 10% of unconditional love is better than 90% of love with conditions.
  • 10% of honest imperfect parenting is better than 90% of false unattainable perfect parenting.

It’s been quite a journey since that parenting class when I confessed to my own imperfect parenting. After over a decade of studying, practicing and teaching conscious forms of parenting, I may be up to applying it 25% of the time in the heat of the moment….and that’s on a good day.

But now I know that’s more than enough!

I’ll leave you with these words from Brené Brown, about imperfect parenting as a gift:

        “The practice of framing mothers and fathers as good or bad is both rampant and corrosive.  It turns parenting into a shame minefield.  The real questions for parents should be, “Are you engaged?  Are you paying attention?”  If so, plan to make lots of mistakes and bad decisions.
         Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time.  The mandate is not ‘be perfect and raise happy children.’  Perfection doesn’t exist and I found that what makes children happy doesn’t always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults.”
        — Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Invite yourself to a nice cup of tea and sit down and ask yourself these questions:

  • In what areas do I try to edit the version of my family that I present to the world?
  • In what ways am I afraid of being judged by other parents?
  • Do I ever judge other parents based on how their children act, look, or sound?
  • Do I put pressure on my kids to be, act, look, and sound perfect so that I look good as a parent?
  • What part of my authentic self am I afraid to show to others?
  • What would be the worst thing that could happen if I revealed this part of me?

Based on your reflections, decide if there’s room to practice more authenticity and vulnerability in your life.

Growing Yourself as a Parent

mom and girl PAID“Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”   -Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
Imagine a baby shower where the guests bring a special kind of gift for the new parents.
Not baby clothes. Not strollers or cribs. Not even a single book on child-rearing.
The gifts for the new parents? Self-awareness, self-love and self-growth as a person, as well as a parent.
The best parenting requires that we not only work to nurture and care for our children but that we nurture and care for ourselves.
Parenting is one of the–if not the–most challenging jobs on the planet. There is the awesome responsibility of raising and guiding another human being, of course. But it’s the daily interactions between children and parents that can require almost super-human amounts of flexibility, patience and awareness. All the experts and all the books aren’t there when it’s your toddler who won’t nap, your child who grabbed the toy out of his friend’s hand, your depressed teen who is desperately searching for answers, your adult child who can’t hold down a job.
Successful–even joyful–parenting is about listening to ourselves as well as listening to our children. It’s a self-awareness approach that brings the focus back to what we are feeling and needing, so that we don’t unthinkingly rain anger and fear down upon our children. Being aware of ourselves helps us develop a strong “inner authority” or an intuitive sense of knowing what is best for us and our children in any moment. (As well as accepting that sometimes we really don’t know yet!)
“We guide (our children) not because they have basically shabby motives, but because they lack the one strength most of us have: awareness of the world,” write authors Hugh and Gayle Prather in their book, Spiritual Parenting: A Guide to Understanding and Nurturing the Heart in Your Child.
Their book calls parenting a spiritual path that helps us grow as people while we are helping our children grow into adults. Our children challenge us and if we can truly listen, we can grow.
One of the first challenges is to understand that old patterns–often formed in our own childhoods–can often rule our behavior as parents right now. For example, if our own parents tried to fix everything that went wrong, we may try to do the same with our children. But our children may need us just to listen to their fears and not jump in with our own fears and try to “fix” it all.
In the process, we allow our kids to make mistakes, and that means we can, too. And if we can forgive our kids and accept them in all their flawed glory, it can’t be too big a jump to do this for ourselves.
As author Joyce Maynard writes, “It’s not only children who grow. Parents do, too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.”

 

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥
Spend time reflecting on your own childhood and how you were raised as a child.  Make two lists: what you want to do the same way as your parents did it…and what you want to do differently.  Pick one of the things you want to do differently, and over the next week, make a conscious effort to pause…and choose your new way.

Do your kids have to fight for power?

kids tug of warINTRO
In my parenting classes we often have lively discussions when we start to consider the partnership parenting approach that I teach.  What does it mean to share power in your family?  Can kids really handle more choice and power?  Isn’t it our job to make most decisions for them while they are very young and limit their choice-making to wearing either the blue or the red socks? In my experience, children can handle way more power than we, as the adults in their lives, are willing to give them.  In fact, I believe we unconsciously foster, to a great extent, powerlessness in our children.  And when children feel powerless, what options do they have but to submit or rebel? Submission turns them into nice dead people and rebellion turns them into very challenging children to raise.  If you see submission or rebellion in your kids, put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself honestly, “Do I feel power-full?  or do I feel power-less?”
In my own family, I know that my life would be so much easier if my kids would submit to my power and just do what I tell them to do.  But I’m not interested in just getting compliance if it’s going to come at a cost, if it harms the relationship in the long-term.  Plus, I want my children to realize they are powerful beings and to recognize and be in touch with their own needs–even if it means disagreeing with me and what I think is best for them.  After all, it is their life and their journey.  I don’t want to stand in the way of what they are here to learn.

Do your kids have to fight for power?

The shift to a power-sharing parenting paradigm can be mind-boggling and a lot of inside resistance can come up.  it usually goes like this, “If I open that can of worms, if I let my child have some power in making decisions that affect him, then all hell will break loose and I’ll never get back any control.”

So you start white-knuckling it, trying to keep control at all costs.  And, eventually, it does come at a cost.  They don’t stay young and pliable forever.  And that’s if you’re lucky enough to start out with a compliant child.  I didn’t start with a compliant child so my learning came early and quick!  Within the first year I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that control was just an illusion.  Once I loosened my grip on that illusion, things started to shift for the better.

There are sometimes very good reasons not to share power.  But I believe that are more good reasons to share power with our kids, starting when they are young.  Allowing them to have choice and leadership in their lives (within safe limits) in ever larger doses as they age, instills in them confidence that they can manage their lives, make decisions–even bad ones–and bounce back when they make mistakes.  It instills in them a knowing that what they think and need matters in this world.  This inner trust in themselves (or the lack of it) will be their guide into adulthood and will impact every relationship they have, especially the one with themselves.

There are too many grown-ups walking around today with this harsh voice inside that says things like, “You’re not worthy.  You’re not enough.  You’re not loveable because you are flawed.  You don’t really matter.”  Wouldn’t it be nice if our kids grow up to hear a different voice inside, a nurturing one that says things like, “I’m not perfect but I’m still worthy and loveable.  I am enough; I don’t have to be something I’m not.  I matter.  I have the power to create the life I want.”

How do they learn this power and how to manage it if we never give it to them?  Or if they have to fight so hard for it that they never learn the give and take of sharing power with others?  I don’t have the “right” answer, but I sure do love the questions!  We encourage our children to share with others.  Are we modeling the same when it comes to power?

5 Things to Know About Chores and Allowance

houseworkBasically, there are two schools of thought when it comes to our children doing household chores and receiving an allowance.

The first approach is to tie allowance to doing chores.  Money is given if agreed upon chores are completed or money is taken away from a decided amount if chores are not completed.  Some parents pick this approach because they want to model the “real world” where you have to work and earn your money if you expect to receive a paycheck.

The other approach is to NOT tie allowance to doing chores.  Some parents pick this approach because they want to instill in their children that freely contributing in some way is expected from every member of the family, i.e., everyone pitches in to make the household work without expecting to be paid for it.  Also, the parents model generosity by sharing their resources with all members of the family.

I decided to use the latter approach with my children because, for me, I wanted their motivation for contributing to the family to be intrinsic (based on their own feelings of accomplishment and contribution) rather than extrinsic (based on receiving a reward—money).

Whichever approach you decide to use with chores and allowance, here are 5 things that will help your children achieve a healthy relationship with money and family:

1. One of the ultimate lessons is to teach your children how to manage their financial resources for short-term and long-term goals.  In this vein, it helps to have them divvy up their allowance among three categories:  (1) long term savings, (2) charitable contributions, and (3) spending money. For example, when my children were young and received $3/week allowance—50¢ would go into long term savings, 50¢ would go into charitable contributions, and $2 would be leftover for “spending money.”

I paid them quarters and gave them 3 glass jars where they could watch the accumulation of their savings and charitable donations. The spending money didn’t accumulate for very long but hey, that portion was meant to practice spending, right?  The long term savings helped them learn to delay gratification and save up for those bigger ticket items.  And the charitable donations taught them the spirit of generosity and responsibility for being part of the solution to local and global problems. I remember their joyful faces when my children took their jar of quarters to donate to the local animal shelter.

2. Communicate clearly what their spending portion of the allowance is expected to cover.  Will they be expected to pay for any toys they get other than toys they receive as gifts at holidays and birthdays?  Will they be expected to pay for candy they want?  Or for entertainment, i.e., going to the movies or to Chuck E. Cheese’s?  Or for their video games?  As they get older (and their allowance increases), make sure the list of what they are expected to cover increases along with it.

3. Let them “fail” by making bad choices with their money.  As hard as it is, don’t bail them out! They will learn from their “mistakes” better than any financial lecture you could give them. Instead of lecturing or bailing them out, give them empathy when they realize their mistake and give them encouragement when you see that they are learning to make better choices with their money. This will take time. They will make mistakes as they learn and grow, but they will also learn to “self-correct” as they live with the consequences of their spending choices. Your acceptance of their learning and your empathy help maintain the relationship and gives them a safe place to experiment–fail–self-correct.

4. Make a list of ALL the family contributions (I call them contributions, not chores–who wants to do “chores”?!) and divvy up the list:  Who will pay the mortgage? Who will buy gas for the car? Who will get the trash together weekly?  Who will cook dinner?  Who will set the table?  Who will dust the furniture? Who will do the laundry?  Who will put the folded laundry in the drawers? Who will clean the playroom?  Who will vacuum? This gives children a sense of all that goes into running a household and it gives them some perspective on the magnitude that their parents are already freely contributing to the family.  Engage the kids: ask for their input, have them cut out pictures of how they want to contribute and glue them into a collage, or hand make a game board with all the contributions they can make and play a game (roll the dice and whatever space they land on is their contribution for the upcoming week). Help meet their need for fun and play and you’ll reap more cooperation from your kids.

5. Be sure to follow-up with your appreciation when they contribute. (This is different from “praise” which I see as having some downsides.)  It’s merely noticing and appreciating–by stating how it affects you:

“I see that you have the table all set and ready for dinner. Thank you.
That makes it easier for me to focus on cooking.”

“I noticed you put all your clothes in the drawers. Thank you.
I like it when things are in their places, don’t you?”

“I see that you’ve gathered all the trash without me even having to remind you.
Thanks. I like it when I can trust that things will get done.”

 This builds self-esteem as they get better at performing tasks and when they see that their contributions are acknowledged and needed in the family.

It’s about PRESENCE…not presents

gingerbread houseAt this time of year it’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of the season and the frenzy of shopping sprees.  Is there any home with a little girl that doesn’t have a Frozen themed Elsa doll wrapped and ready to go?  Or a home with a little boy that doesn’t have a Lego building kit under the tree?  (I’m sure there are, but the toy companies would have us think otherwise).

Every year I say I’m going to opt out of the madness and make room for relaxing evenings, slow dinners, and hours of listening to the Elvis Christmas Album.  I envision me and the boys sitting around the den surrounded by twinkling lights, sipping our hot chocolate, laughing and sharing memories of seasons past.

Yet, as the holiday season rolls around, there are school dinners and concerts, sports banquets, plays, party invitations, and shopping for the kids and loved ones.  Not to mention, end of semester final exams, basketball tournaments, and end of year personal and business financial reporting.

What happens is I wind up surviving the holidays, rather than enjoying the holidays.  I regret to say that for many years I’ve let out a huge sigh (that I’ve been holding from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day) and thought, “I’m glad that’s over!”

 Can you relate?  Are you rushing around to get everything ready for the holidaysand missing the holy days in your life right now?  Are you sprinting from store to store buying presents for your loved ones and missing the opportunity to snuggle up at home and gift them with your presence?

What do you think your kids will remember twenty years from now?  The doll or the time you spent together making a gingerbread house?  The Lego kit or the time you spent together baking cookies, or stringing popcorn, or eating the popcorn and watching A Charlie Brown Christmas?

I recently read an article where the author was a long-time teacher and over the years she had asked the children in her classrooms what their parents did that made them feel loved or happy.  On the Top 10 List she compiled, not one thing required money.  They all required time and presence.  Examples: tuck me in and sing me a song, give me hugs and kisses, cuddle under a blanket and watch TV, tell me stories about when you were little.

So this year, I finally made some progress.  I got the tree up and the home decorated early so we had more time to enjoy the twinkling lights. I got the Elvis Christmas Album (cd) out and popped it in the player.  I made hot chocolate with little marshmallows.  We’ve sat down to a leisurely dinner (with fresh baked cookies) several times this week.  We’ve been connecting and spending time together and I’ve been saying “no” to other distractions. THIS feels like thrivingduring the holidays, rather than surviving the holidays!  I invite you to give it a try!

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Carve out a little time each day to spend with each child (one-on-one if possible). This is especially needed during hectic holiday time.  Stress is contagious….but so is calm presence.

Click here for my gift to you…a cute collection of “tickets” that your child can use for more time and connection with you.  Just print the sheet, cut out the tickets and staple them together to make your own Ticket Booklet.  Stuff it in a stocking or wrap it up and give the gift that your child will cherish all year (not just play with for a few days and toss in a corner).

What to do when your child says “no!”

I don’t believe there is a parent on the planet who hasn’t heard the word “no” coming from their child’s lips.  It seems that almost as soon as they learn to speak, this word becomes a mainstay for kids.  Particularly during those early years, when they are discovering they have their own preferences and testing the limits with how far they can go in making their own choices. 

Often, our impulse is to get them to change their minds.  We try to get them to say yes to our requests through convincing, cajoling, or coercing.  We persuade, we try to reason and when all else fails, we either use power over them or we give up, we submit.  Power struggles are very common when our child says “no!”

What if there was a better way to respond when you hear a “no”?   A response that discharges the power struggles and leads to connection with your child instead?  Well, guess what?  There is and it’s simple.  You just have to hear the “yes” behind the “no.”  Would you like to give it a try?

Here’s how it works. The next time your child says “no” to a request you have made,  listen for what she is saying “yes” to instead.  For example, if you ask your child to pick up the toys and put them in the toy chest, and she says “no,” perhaps she is saying “yes” to playing longer.  Or “yes” to deciding for herself when she will pick up the toys.  Or “yes” to ease and efficiency.  Make a guess and see if it’s right. 

“When I hear you say ‘no,’ I wonder if you want to play a little longer?”  If  you guess wrong, she’s likely to let you know and give you more information, such as, “I’m just going to get them out again in the morning.”  Go with the new information and guess again, “So you want it to be easy in the morning and have your toys right here on the floor ready to play?”  “Yes!”  Surely you can relate to that “yes”; aren’t there times when you want ease and efficiency in your life?

Now that you know what she’s saying yes to, validate her yes.  “That would be so easy, wouldn’t it?  To walk in here in the morning and everything is right here, ready to play!”  With this new understanding maybe leaving the toys on the floor will work for you.  Or maybe it still won’t.  Maybe you have a need for order so you can relax at bedtime.  Maybe you’re concerned that someone will trip on the toys and get hurt. 

Then you can share with her what you are saying “yes” to.  “I understand that would make it easier for you when you come in to play in the morning, not having to get the toys out again.  And I will be up later than you tonight and would like the room to look nice.  When things are in their place, it helps me to relax.  I’d like to be able to walk through the room without tripping.” 

When you share the “yes” behind your request, you allow your child to consider if she wants to contribute to making life more wonderful for you.  You are planting a seed in her, which, if watered gently over time, will blossom into consideration and regard for others. She will learn not to do something just because she is told to do it, but because she is in touch with her natural capacity to contribute to others.

Perhaps she will choose to pick up the toys because she knows it will help you relax.  Or perhaps she will still insist on leaving them out.  Don’t worry; your child’s capacity to care for others grows over time with lots of practice.  If the latter is the case, you can still water that seed of consideration in her by modeling it for her.  You lay all the “yeses” out on the table to be considered and together you brainstorm how to make it work for both of you.  “I hear you want it to be easy to start playing right away in the morning and I want the room to look nice and not have to worry about tripping over toys.  What can we do?”

First let her explore ideas and then offer your ideas if needed.  This will help her develop the skill of collaborative problem-solving.  You just might be surprised at the creative ideas that bubble up from both of you.  “How about I put my toys on this blanket and slide it over in this corner?” 

“Thanks for trying that.  Hmmmm, it still doesn’t look tidy enough for me.  I really enjoy looking at an uncluttered room.  How about we bundle the toys up in the blanket and put it inside the toy chest?  That way, it will be easy to pull it out in the morning and lay it back on the floor.  Will you try that?”  Thus begins the dialogue, the connection, the consideration of everyone’s input.

It can become a game, guessing at the “yes” behind the “no.”  The more you can develop your curiosity and the less you take the “no” as a rejection of your request, the more joyful your interactions with your child will be around that dreaded word.  🙂