Koemba Blog

It’s not what you say … 
Ever get frustrated because the family isn’t cooperating?
The dishes need doing.
Or you’re just trying to reason with your eleven-going-on-eighteen year old?
The next thing war’s broken out.
You’re both shouting at each other.
Or your child’s stormed out the room. Or you have.
What went wrong?

Or, in Parent Coaching language:
‘What could I have done that would have been more helpful? ‘

I learnt a hugely helpful way of looking at this from Stephen Stosny’s book, ‘How to Improve Your Marriage Without Even talking About It’ (love that title!)
He explains that we react to the other person’s motivation.
It’s not what we say that counts – it’s how we say it!
Stosny says there are three motivations:
Attack, Avoid, and Approach.

When we sense that the other person is coming from an approach motivation –you want to connect, you want to hear my side of the story too, you want to be there for me, you want to have a sense of how I’m experiencing tbis – then we experience a sense, ‘You’re on my side.’

I can let down my defences.
I can cooperate.

But very often we have a gut sense that things aren’t okay.
We’re sensing an Avoid or an Attack motivation.

It’s easy to figure that our child’s going to react if we’re yelling or shouting.
A strong tug on the arm can also trigger an ‘attack’ message.
Blatant attack is pretty obvious.
But the child will also sense the ‘Attack’ motivation when we’re comparing, judging, coercing, manipulating, belittling, dominating, insulting or criticising.
When we devalue what is important to the child.
Invading the child’s  space can also be experienced as ‘attack’.
Even labelling  (‘Don’t be cheeky.’/ ‘Be a good girl.’) Wouldn’t you struggle if somebody tried to put you in a box!

And if you attack me – I either attack back, or I take flight.
I attack back: I protest, I roar, I shout, I hit out (literally or figuratively), I attack your loved ones (e.g. hit my sister), I thwart you by not cooperating
Or I take flight:  I run out (slamming the door in protest), I focus on the TV / play station game.
I act as though I can’t hear you.
I disappear unhappily inside myself, even though I’m still in the room.

Likewise the child’s ‘fight or flight’ instinct is going to be triggered when the child senses an ‘Avoid’ motivation.
Besides blatant ignoring here’s some of the ignoring behaviours that can press our children’s buttons:

– focusing on the TV  / newspaper
– busy on the computer or mobile phone
– ‘I’m busy in my own head’ ignoring
– busy with supper or whatever
– high on drugs or alcohol (This can be a really scary one for the child:  ‘The lights are on but nobody’s home.’

Another form of ‘avoid’ is abandoning our child.
Do we abandon our children regarding their feelings and experiences?
‘Oh just sort it out yourself.’
‘Of course you like peas.’
‘Don’t be a baby.’
Think about abandoning your child on the ‘naughty step’.
Ignoring  a young child’s tantrum. (The young child’s brain is not adequately developed  for the child to be able to calm herself).
A baby wild animal would die if the mother left it.
For a young child a sense of abandonment can be an ‘I’m going to die here’ experience.
The child needs to feel connected.

The issue is not about how do I stop my child from being reactive, the issue is what is the child experiencing as my motivation.
What might my child’s reactive behaviour be telling me?

Attack, Avoid or Approach?  It’s your choice.

Childs outburst? Or withdrawal?

Rather than asking,
“What did I say?’
we need to ask ourselves, ‘How did I say it?’

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your responses.

This is a very good question!  As parents we tend to worry about our children’s hurt feelings when they don’t measure up.

The important thing here is:  How does the child explain her low grade?

Does she say, “I guess the teacher doesn’t like me,” or “The test wasn’t fair,” or “I can’t do math” ?

The first two responses put the responsibility of the low grade on external sources, meaning it has nothing to do with Elena.  There’s nothing she could have done differently to get a better grade.

The third response points to her low ability to explain her grade.  “I can’t do math,” implies that she sees herself as incapable and therefore not able to improve.  Her performance in math is stable, doesn’t change.

But perhaps Elena says, “I didn’t study enough.  I planned to study, but I got busy watching tv, and then I forgot about the test.”

Here she has taken responsibility for her low grade.  Her belief is that if she studies more, she can do better.   Her performance on this particular test was a result of something over which she has control:  how much she studies.

Next:  How parents can guide their child to a more accurate, healthy view of their successes and failures.

The Little Scientist

We often see our little ones work hard to accomplish something new.  The child who learns to whistle for the first time has tried over and over again.  Learning to snap one’s fingers is a similar process.  There are lots of trials and errors.  The child takes the feedback (not consciously) from all of the failed attempts and fine tunes those small movements until finally the SNAP is heard.  How exciting!

Here is a perfect opportunity to reflect to your child what you have observed.  Notice the effort:  “Jake, you worked hard to do that.  You tried over and over again until you finally could snap your fingers.”   There’s no need for a lot of hoopla over this.  Rather, calmly notice the effort.

Children have a natural drive to accomplish.  If adults make a “big deal” over new skills, the child may feel more motivated to get the reaction from adults than to learn on their own.  So it’s best to comment on the effort and mirror the child’s feelings:  “You certainly worked hard at that.  I think you’re feeling proud of yourself?”

Research scientists know that they may have hundreds of failures before they get the answer they are seeking.  In pharmaceutical research, for example, the right formula may be trial #583.  Imagine how the scientist feels when trial #198 is yet again not having the desired effects!  In order to complete her goal, she must persevere and try again and again…. and again.  Each failed attempt gives her another bit of information to guide her next trial.

People who fail the most have the most successes!

How Failure Builds Self-esteem

“What?  Did I read that correctly?   How can failure build self esteem?   My child gets very upset when she fails at something.  She brought home a D on a science test last week and her self-esteem was out the window! “

Allow me to explain.

First, try to recall your little one learning how to walk.  He was crawling fairly well and now was beginning to pull himself up by a chair leg.  Many times he fell back down before he actually brought himself to a standing position.  But he kept trying.  And then finally that first step, and many more attempts to walk. He might have gotten hurt here and there, bumping his head into a sharp corner, perhaps.  Might have even cried.  But did that stop him?  No way!  He was on his biologically-driven developmental course, and he was determined to walk.  Did you worry about his self-esteem?

In The Optimistic Child, Martin Seligman describes a self-esteem movement that began in the United States about 40 years ago.  Schools developed self-esteem programs.  Every child was to succeed.  They should all feel good about themselves no matter what.  Teachers were reluctant to give low grades. lest children feel discouraged.  But the result was not an improvement in self-esteem.  Instead we have more depression in children and teens and lower self esteem than before this movement began.

Seligman points out that what really makes people feel good about themselves is accomplishments.  This doesn’t mean blue ribbons or straight A’s necessarily, but acquiring any new skill.  The child who learns to whistle after trying over and over again feels good about their new talent!  If that child had concluded “I just can’t whistle, “ and gave up, he or she would not have had the opportunity to succeed.

It is the child’s (and parent’s) interpretation of failure that is important.  A child who is struggling to understand division may have the interpretation “I’m not good at this; I must be dumb.”  This statement suggests that he or she can’t do any better.  But if she believes, “This is hard, so I’ll have to work really hard at it,” she is likely to persevere until she gets it.

In trying to protect children from the uncomfortable feelings of discouragement parents have sometimes contributed to that first interpretation.  Imagine the following scene:  a  7-year-old boy is trying to draw an airplane.  “This looks stupid.  I can’t do it!”  Mother might say, “Oh, that’s the best airplane I’ve ever seen!”  Her statement is inauthentic and her child knows it.  He knows his airplane does not look like any real airplane.  Also, she is telling her child that it is important that it’s “the best.”

The mother could instead validate her child’s feeling of discouragement.  “I can tell you’re feeling crummy about your drawing.  I feel that way, too, when I don’t do as well as I’d like.  If you practice your drawing I’ll bet it will get better.”

Watch for the next opportunity to respond to your child’s feelings of discouragement.  What could be a helpful way to respond to your child’s frustration?

How much is too much?

But Is our hard earned cash being well spent?

What’s going to really build more happiness in our homes?

One year I remember there being only one gift  for me under the tree.  One fairly large box – what could it be? When the moment of paper-ripping arrived I dicovered – a red suitcase!

We had a holiday coming up – but a suitcase!

‘Open it,’ my mother urged.

Lifting the lid I discovered a trove of small surprises.  The unexpected , the interesting can be more fun than the ‘must-have- of the-year.’

We want our children to have what we never had.

But what about thinking about what we want them to have that we did have?

Fun? Time together? Sharing? Caring?

Family or community ritual  and occasions that remind us what the season is really about?

Walks or activities together outdoors?

It’s more important to give our children experiences than things.

So this festive season,  let’s ask,  ‘How do we create the memories we’ll savour?’

When Emotions Get Heated

Imagine being a fly on the wall observing your own parenting.

You might figure:

‘Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ (Albert Einstein)

You recognise that there are repeating patterns of behaviour in your family, that aren’t helpful.

You want to choose a different way  – to respond rather than react.

You know you’re the only one you can actually change.

So, the next time you have an upset with your … (Click here for full article)

Mary Giles

I would fully recommend this course. This course is a journey of self-awareness, non-judgement, learning new skills, life skills, hope and positive affirmation.

I am calmer, more aware, reflect more, more nonjudgmental. My three children have benefitted greatly. To quote one of my children – ‘Mum, you are different since you did this course. You listen more and you seem to understand more.’

Marie Woodcock

This course has made me view my parenting differently and increased my awareness greatly, it has improved my connection with my kids.

Michelle Byrne

This course has nourished and supported me, first as a mother, and  helped me understand how to deal with emotional upsets – and most importantly how to enjoy being a parent … happy mother, happy children …

Deirdre Pender

I found it invaluable in my own parenting. My relationship with my children has deepened over the last few months and I can´t thank you enough for all your help and knowledge.