Let’s Get Rid of Trick or Treat!

trickortreatPAIDThe last twenty years or so have given us many new insights into child development and what is required for optimal brain wiring.  Neuroscience and social research are showing us that a secure attachment and the quality of the parent-child relationship are what influence our child’s behavior the most.

Armed with research findings that favor relationship-building over behavior modification, many parents are veering away from using “tricks” (punishments) and “treats” (rewards) to discipline children.  After all, discipline means to teach—not to coerce with punishment or to convince with rewards.

In fact, “tricks” or “treats” override children’s natural willingness to do what’s right based on intrinsic learning and instead, motivate them to “behave” based on extrinsic motivations–to avoid punishment or to receive a reward.  While it may “work” in the short term to get you the desired behavior, it will not teach your child to go inside and decide for himself what is right or wrong.  Disciplining our children in a way that nurtures their self-discipline will pay off in the long run when they are teenagers and we’re not around to put them in time-out or present them with a sticker for their sticker chart!

But how is it possible to discipline without punishment or reward?  Won’t kids run wild and play with matches and kill each other?  I’m not saying children don’t need limits.  They do.  But setting loving limits and letting your child feel the feelings that come when they bump up against them is not the same thing as punishment.

Punishment is time-out (sending into isolation), or taking away privileges, or spanking.  Discipline is setting limits, holding those limits, and letting natural consequences teach the child. It’s viewing behavior as communication and using dialogue to dig for what’s under the behavior.  What is your child communicating?  What does she need?  It’s talking it through, putting the issue on the agenda for the weekly family meeting, and collaboratively problem-solving together.  It is teaching, which is mostly with words and always through modeling.

With our gentle guidance, we can help our children develop their own moral compass and regulate their impulses and behavior.  It takes time.  After all, they’re just kids.  They’re learning. When we give up the tricks and treats and use discipline to teach our kids, we invest in building a relationship based on trust and mutual respect.  As they grow older and our influence pales in comparison to the influence of their peers, this relationship becomes uber important. When we honor the natural growth in our children as their conscience develops from the inside out, they are able to make better choices, even when no one is looking.

(For a deeper understanding of how to discipline without punishment or reward with lots of concrete examples, I recommend No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind and/or The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind…both by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.)

How to say “I love you” without saying “I love you”

mom and daughter PAID

Studies have shown that our children learn more from what we model for them than from what we try to teach them with our words.  Think about it for a moment, does your child learn more when you lecture him about how to treat the family dog, or when he sees you gently stroking the dog’s head?  Does she learn more when you admonish her to say I’m sorry, or when she hears you expressing regret?  Like it or not, your child pays more attention to what you do than to what you say.

So even though it feels good to hear the words, “I love you,” it feels even better when someone consistently acts in a way that conveys love and caring.

Here are 7 ways that you can say “I love you” through your actions:

  1. Be present with your child.  Be fully aware and attentive to her being.  Lay aside all distractions (email, cell phone, to-do list) and just BE with your child, letting her guide all action (or inaction).  (Do this at least 10 minutes every day and see what a difference it makes in your child’s behavior).
  2. Listen with your whole being when he speaks to you. Get down to his level (whether that’s kneeling down or sitting beside him), look into his eyes, and listen with your ears and your heart.  This may not be possible every time he speaks, but do it consistently enough that he feels that his voice matters to you.
  3. Make your child feel special by letting him know what you notice and appreciate about him.  I used to play a game with my kids called “What I like best about you is …..”  and I would fill in the blank with something I noticed, liked, or enjoyed about them.  They could never get enough of this game and when the neighbors’ kids heard us playing this, they also started coming to me and asking, “What do you like best about me?”
  4. Ask them what you can do to make their lives more wonderful (that doesn’t involve spending money).  And then do more of those things.
  5. Get out the baby books and go through their birth and newborn pictures with them.  Children love to hear their birth stories and it will renew your feelings of that deep awesome wonderlove as you remember the first time you met.
  6. Let your children “accidentally overhear” you saying nice things about them to someone else.  Kids come to expect that we will say nice things about them to their face simply because we’re their parents.  So when they “overhear” you talking about them to someone else, it feels more objective and boosts their self-image and self-esteem.
  7. Stay loving and affectionate even when your child is acting out and losing it.  Let him know you’re on his side even as you hold loving limits and accept his intense feelings about those limits.  When your kid is the most unlovable…is when he needs love the most.  
♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥ 

For the next week, act on the list above–try a different one each day.  At the end of the week, ask your child, “What makes you feel loved?”  Her answer can help you refine and keep adding to your list.

And also….keep saying “I love you.”  

The Unseen Effects of RIPPLES

There was a couple in one of my very first parenting classes who was struggling to relate to their teenage daughter.  They had a lot of anxiety about choices she was making and the friends she was hanging out with.  They were desperate to try the concepts I was teaching because nothing else had worked for them so far.  The fear-based techniques they were using (grounding, taking away privileges) were causing their daughter to move further and further away from them.  They were really, really scared and rightly so, for she had started to “experiment” with drugs.

It’s hard NOT to try to get a tighter grip on our kids when we sense they are slipping away from us into dangerous territory.  But often, tactics which use punishment (or guilt or shame) take us further away from the desired results.  The conscious parenting model I taught to this couple was a four-step process in which the intentions are to connect, to understand, and to let go of attachment to the outcome.  The main goal is to repair the relationship rather than change the behaviors. The premise being, that once the relationship is solid and the child trusts that her needs matter as much as the parents’ needs, then the door magically opens to empathic listening, honest expression, and care for each other.  This was very different from their earlier intentions which were to force their daughter to obey their rules so that she would stay safe.

This process is radically different from the fear and punishment parenting model most of us grew up in, so it takes a lot of practice to be able to apply it in the family.  The framework is a communication model based on Nonviolent Communication (cnvc.org), and it’s a lot like learning a foreign language.  It takes practice and repetition to be able to communicate in a “needs based” language.  But the mom and dad were committed to integrating the process and deepening their consciousness around a new way to parent.  They came to the eight weekly classes and then I lost touch with them.  Until…..

A couple years later the dad showed up at a mindfulness retreat that I had organized in North Georgia.  During the retreat he shared his story with the group.  He said that coming to those parenting classes had not only “saved” his family…he believed it had literally saved his daughter’s life.  Soon after the parenting classes, his daughter had made a choice that sent her life spiraling out of control.  At a party, on a lark, she tried crystal meth and was very quickly addicted. The dad said that it was his worst nightmare come true as he witnessed his daughter transform into someone he didn’t know.  He described the “darkest moment” of his life, when late one night, he found himself in a rundown seedy area of Atlanta in a “crack house” trying to rescue his daughter.  He found her upstairs drugged out, naked, in bed with her meth supplier.

He went on to describe how he and his wife used the process they had learned in the parenting classes to begin to repair their relationship with their daughter. To hear her, to see her, and to get clear on what the needs were underneath her use of drugs.  Once they could identify the needs under the drug use (such as, a need to belong) they could respect her need and support her in finding other ways to feel belonging that didn’t come at such a detrimentally high cost.  By respecting her need they weren’t seeing her as wrong and feeling a need to punish.  Together, as a family, they faced the dilemma before them and supported their daughter as she fought the addiction and healed.

But it didn’t end there…the RIPPLES continued…

The daughter, now healed and whole, and knowledgeable in a new way to communicate and relate to others (thanks to her parents’ modeling of the needs-based process), became passionate about working with other teens who were addicted to meth.  She became a counselor at a drug rehab center and used her experience to help countless other young people heal from their addictions and get their lives back.  And I imagine the RIPPLES continued on and on with these young people and the many lives they touched.

Repetition In Place Produces Little Effects Somewhere.  It’s a Law of the Universe.  What’s the quality of the pebbles you are dropping?  The ones that send their ripples in wave upon wave to eventually touch unseen and unknown shores………