Finding a better way to get positive behaviors by acknowledging the real reasons for them. "It Was Never Your Fault"These are some of the most powerful words I use in coaching parents. "It was never your fault," carries a healing message to children that releases them from undeserved guilt. When children are free of guilt, they're learning, listening, and functioning well.
When parents are also freed from guilt, they, too, learn, listen and function well. That's my aim, to help you, as a parent release guilt that you never deserved.
"How does that work?" you might wonder. I offer parents forgiveness because I truly believe you/they have always been doing what you knew how to do. When my kids were young, I made a lot of mistakes. If I'd had a parent coach back then, I would have loved guidance and forgiveness from a trusted professional. I think it would have made all the difference. Now that that ship has sailed, I feel privileged to be able to lead parents through Present Moment Parenting in a way I never was. I feel honored to say, "You did your best. It was never your fault when things didn't go well."
And for kids, it's the same. There's not a child in the world who doesn't want to be in close connection with their parents. After all, parents are their survival, so it makes sense that they would strive to maintain the bond. But their emotional state, undeveloped as it is, prevents them from making the bond stronger. They falter, they have meltdowns, they make their parents feel frustrated and angry.
As the adults, it's our job to realize they never intended this disruption in the closeness with us. They just lacked the brain development to control their outbursts, their refusals, and their nasty words. Once we realize that undeveloped brains is the issue, and not bratty, controlling, impossible kid, we're miles ahead of the game of healing the break between ourselves and our children.
So, what's the first step? Changing our automatic reaction to defiance from one of upset and consequences to one of understanding, calm, and listening to the underlying emotion. When we can do that, our kids feel seen, heard, felt, safe. And from there, we can gain their cooperation.
Recently I heard a quote from a parent that went: "Once I dropped the parent role and focused on strengthening our relationship, everything got better." That to me, is gold.
What do kids need? A loving, accepting, guiding presence. This enables them to learn, follow, and emulate their parents' behavior, especially forgiveness.
If you'd like more information on how parent coaching works, click here. I'd love to help you form that strong, healing bond with your children that reduces defiance, strengthens your relationship, and brings peace to your home.
To read or listen to my book, click here: Present Moment Parenting; The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child.
Do Consequences Work?
Posted: April 11, 2019
Do Consequences Work?
by Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.
Copyright @ 2019 Anu Family Services/Center for the Challenging Child
You just discovered your son was using drugs at school, or your daughter said something inappropriate to friends online. Maybe your first response is to take away electronics or ground them for a month ... to cut them off from their friends so they can think about what they did wrong, and to remove the opportunity to acquire drugs or say nasty things. Your expectation is that they'll think about this consequence next time, and avoid going down that path again.
But in the back of your mind, you realize consequences aren't that effective, as the kids always get around the limits you set. You feel helpless and disempowered.
In the world of authoritarian parenting, we tend to “stick to our guns” and hope our kids eventually see the light. Our thoughts go like this: “Maybe in a year or two, this will get better, and in the meantime, I have to make sure he knows I’m the boss. That’s what good parents do. He’ll thank me for it later.” Then we get caught up in keeping kids home off their devices, and responding to more and more defiance with harsher consequences. “Merry-go-round parenting,” it should be called. So stressful for you and them.
In the world of passive parenting, we tend to say, “He never listens anyway, so there’s nothing I can do about this.” We get all lenient and the kids’ behavior gets even worse, with ever-more dangerous and disrespectful behavior, to the point that our frustration is through the roof. We start thinking of them in really negative terms, and even find ourselves not liking them at all.
In the world of authoritative parenting (hint: this is where we want to land) we start to wake up to the fact that as kids grow up, they no longer accept our authority over them because they need to establish it for themselves. Consequences just don’t have much effect, as they’re simply waiting us out until they can take the reins of their lives again. What’s driving this, and this is so important, is that they are evolving humans who must manage themselves, and are in the process of learning how that works. If we stay in charge of our kids, or give up on them, we deny their inner drive for self-direction with parental guidance, which never goes well. More consequences, more defiance, more arguments, more acting out, and eventually, broken relationships.
So, what’s the solution to this rather daunting dilemma? Asking rather than telling. Including them in solutions. Honoring their opinions, even when they’re not those of a grown-up. Engaging them in conversation instead of saying how it should be. Understanding that they are works in progress and that your patience is key. Treating them with respect, and being there when things don’t go that well. Listening deeply.
These are all concepts contained in my book: Present Moment Parenting: The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child, available in paperback and audio here. Order it now if you want to see real change and to feel close to your child again.
I See You Letter
“I See You” Letter
Another tool for helping a child with a traumatized brain, or any child who is asking for attention by showing unwanted behavior, is an “I see you” letter. When something is put into writing, it weighs more. The child can read the message without having to hear the adult’s voice, which is more effective because adult voices have sometimes not proven trustworthy in the past. I encourage caregivers to write the letter in a notebook, so the child can write back, if she so chooses, and review the letter at any time. The re-reading can be very healing. When I’ve encouraged other adults to write this type of letter, they’ve told me that they’ve found it later, stashed in a drawer or other safe spot, but never thrown away, which speaks to its significance to the child.
You can write a letter to a child of any age. If she is old enough to read, just leave it on her pillow. If not, write it out and read it slowly, then hand it to her.
If the child is so hurt that listening to you read a letter is too much, try posting notes that say what you see in her all over her room. Use the components below to craft your letter or your notes.
The components of the “I See You Letter” are:
- I see what you've been through (in details that are significant to her, maybe just the things you know she remembers). You may want to add, "And other things, too, that we haven't talked about." This could spark a response where she shares more.
- In light of your experiences, I realize that none of your recent behavior is your fault. You were just trying to express your pain.
- I'm sorry I blamed you when I just didn't realize that your behavior was your pain being expressed.
- Together we'll work on making it better, and here's how: ______
I just wanted to tell you what I see when I look at you. I see a kid who has had some very rough experiences. When you were younger, your adults did not do what they needed to do to keep you safe. No child should have this happen, as every child deserves and needs to be kept safe. Your mom left you with people who hurt you, and your dad left without saying why. That must hurt so much. I want you to know that this was never, ever your fault. You were an innocent child.
I see a kid who is sensitive and smart. I see a kid who is amazing at figuring out other people. I so appreciate hearing you express what you know long before others your age can do that. I see a kid with artistic ability, and one who cares deeply for our pets. When I watch you with younger children, I am so impressed with how tender you are.
I realize I have gotten angry with you and yelled when you were upset with me. I now get that you just felt threatened, and you did not mean to hurt my feelings or disrespect me. I’m sorry and I will try very hard not to yell in the future. If I make a mistake and yell (because we all make mistakes), I will apologize and have a do-over, because no one deserves to be yelled at.
If you feel like writing back to me in this notebook, that’s great. Feel very free to do so. If not, I’m fine with that, too. I’m just happy to be able to use this notebook to say what I want to tell you in writing.
I am so happy you are in my life. Thank you for all the gifts you give me, especially your smile.
I encourage adults not to ever mention the letter, nor to expect him to say he read it and liked it. For a traumatized child, this may be too much vulnerability. But what often happens is that adults notice a softening in their child, a better attitude, more affection, more focus, and more cooperation. That’s the goal of writing: to see the child clearly, communicate it, allow the amygdala to register that the child is seen and therefore will survive, watch the result in a much more relaxed and relieved child and in an improved relationship. I often describe this process as being “like physics,” as predictable as proven science. It’s truly remarkable how dramatic the results are! And when you think about it, the seeing is the tool for calming the threat alarm. No wonder the child can now function so much more rationally. The more rational front brain is able to work!