Linda Martin, what were you thinking?  Storming off the stage to confront Billy McGuinness, after verbally attacking him as an ‘odious little man’ in front of a TV audience of thousands. (Replay on the Irish Examiner webpage.) 

It seems TV loves it when chaos erupts during a live performance – reality TV at its ‘finest’ but what are our children learning about human interaction?

Are we adults giving a message that if somebody says something you don’t like or agree with:

– it’s okay to insult them

– it’s okay to make them feel small in front of others

– it’s okay to bring other unrelated comments into the argument?

(‘You may not be used to dealing with women with brains’  – Linda, what is that saying about your opinion of the many woman who interact with Billy McGuiness, including Laura O’Neill!)

What was Linda hoping to achieve?  She’s a fine lady and we’re proud of her contribution to our country.  I just wish she’d used this opportunity to model  graciousness. What I want my children to know is how to have a good clean fight that improves understanding and restores relationship.

So for Linda Martin and for any parent who wants to raise their child’s level of Emotional Intelligence, here are ten top tips on how to use Anger constructively.

* You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.

* When you get angry the reactive part of your brain takes control, so your clear thinking temporarily shuts down. So rather than blurting out the first thing that jumps onto your tongue, focus on your breathing.  Breathe in 1-2-3-4-5-6-7- out 8-9-10-11 several times. You’ll get more oxygen into the brain, you’ll become calmer, your thinking brain will reengage

* Ask yourself, ‘What really matters here?’  (If you were to look back on this incident in ten years’ time, what would you like to remember?)

* The person’s behaviour is about them; your response is about you.

* Two wrongs never make a right.

* It’s never ok to insult another.  Treat others as you would like to be treated, even (or especially) when you’re angry.

* When there’s an issue that needs to be discussed, stick to that topic only and don’t allow any other issue to contaminate the space.

* Anger is always a signal, ‘I need change.’  (So figure out how to create the change you need. And sometimes the only change you can make is the way you think about something).

* Anger and aggression are not the same thing.  I feel angry but when I act out of that anger it becomes aggression.  Aggression is never pretty, helpful or healing in any relationship.

* My feelings are never wrong, providing I never use them as weapons against anyone, including myself.

What  tip would YOU add to this list about Managing Anger?

Nearly fifteen years ago I started a programme that introduced preschoolers to basic Emotional Intelligence, including what to do when you’re feeling angry.  I was so amazed at the children’s enthusiastic and wise response to this work that it began my path of working with parents so that families can:

think more clearly,

connect more compassionately,

behave more response-ably

and live more joyfully.

If you’d like to discover more, I’m running a six week evening Parenting Course in Douglas, Cork: How to Listen so your child Will Talk

and also Kinsale: ‘BEHAVE – what to do when your child won’t’ (based on Val Mullally’s forthcoming book)

Last edited March 21st 2014

New blog: ‘I hate you’

How does a parent respond when their child attacks with words like:

‘I hate you’.  Our latest post by accredited Parent Coach Val Mullally

/

Last edited September 17th 2013

‘My child’s become so unreasonable. He used to be placid and easy going. Now he suddenly explodes for no reason.’ Perhaps you are like this parent, trying to figure out where your child’s anger has suddenly come from and what to do about it.

In my work as a Parent Coach, I’ve noticed how often parents find themselves dealing with children’s anger after they’ve experienced some major change. Perhaps it’s starting or changing schools, or after the death of a loved one. This all makes sense when we recognise that anger is a very common reaction in times of loss and it makes sense because anger is always an inner sign ‘I need change.’ And sometimes the change we   wish we had was to change things back to how they used to be.

It’s unsurprising that children, with limited reasoning and verbal skills, may express this anger in a socially unacceptable way – through tantrums, verbal or even physical outbursts – possibly at those closest to them. Claude’s father had recently walked out of the family home. Claude screams at his mother, ‘I hate you!’ Our reaction in such a situation may be to feel hurt or angry. Perhaps we would find it easier to cope if we remind ourselves that the child is battling with complex and painful emotions.
When a grieving child suddenly kicks the dog or smashes a treasured object, he may be trying to say something he cannot find words for. If he is experiencing frustration and anger, he needs to be handled with the same reassurance and care we would offer grieving adults. Punishing a child who is reacting negatively will only increase his rage and possibly cause him to bury his grief.  Rather, we need to guide him gently towards more socially acceptable outlets, and help him to find words for his feelings. For example, if a child has just thrown a toy across the room, a helpful response might be,‘You’re feeling angry. If you throw the toy it may break. Let’s find something else you would like to play with.’Acknowledge the child’s feelings, gently letting him know that his action was inappropriate, and find another activity that will help him ‘let off steam’ in an acceptable way.  Creative activities that can help hurting children vent their anger include:

  • play dough
  • puppets
  • fat wax crayons and large sheets of paper
  • hammer, wood and nails.

We can use activities like these to help children to ‘let off steam’ in a way that won’t hurt themselves or others. When a child is ‘stuck’ in their pain and anger and you are feeling unable to help them move through that experience I recommend seeking professional help such as Play Therapy. Your child may need a safe space to work though ‘tangled emotions’ and troubled thoughts, and play therapy uses toys, which are a child’s ‘natural language’ to give the child a safe space to do this. We also need to learn the skill of deepening  communication with our children.  (If you are in Ireland or nearby, don’t miss out on the ‘Coaching Approach to Parenting’ course. Click on this link for detail).

Sometimes a child’s experience with us is that it’s not okay to talk about troubling things. I love Catherine Wallace’s statement:

‘Listen eagerly to anything your child wants to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff  when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.’

This applies to children but recently I’ve been challenged to recognise how it applies with the elderly as well. An aging father wants to buy his adult daughter a rather expensive gift and she resists him spending money on her.

‘But I want to get you something special before I die,’ he says.

‘Don’t be talking like that, daddy,’ she exclaims. ‘Of course you’re not going to die!’

Whilst it’s not an easy subject to discuss, the fact is that sooner or later the old man must leave his loved ones and take that journey to an unknown destination. As with the child, if we shut down the conversation now when it doesn’t seem relevant or urgent to us, we may be shutting down the opportunity for the other to share their anxieties or to say something they need to say. When we shut down the topic of conversation by ignoring it, or making light of it, the message we might be giving is, ‘I can’t discuss this with you.’

Imagine if you had to take a journey to a foreign land and whenever you tried to broach the subject, people avoided the conversation. Imagine how much greater your anxiety would become if this subject is taboo. Imagine your sadness if you couldn’t say the words of farewell that deep inside you wanted to say.

This is why it’s so important  to use whatever entrances in conversation come your way, no matter how small or unexpected, to give the message, ‘If there’s something on your mind, I’m here to listen.’

When we learn how to create a safe space for any subject to be discussed, we give the gift of connectedness.

Part of this blog is an excerpt from ‘Working with Under Sixes – a  handbook for everyone in children’s ministry’ by Val Mullally. 

This practical book includes helpful chapters on:

– play

– storytelling

– encouraging creativity

–  dealing with discipline

and helping children cope with loss

Last edited February 26th 2013

You’ve just had a melt-down!  After Tantrum #7 and many attempts to figure out how to calm your toddler you lost it.  A few seconds later you feel as though you have just watched a bad movie, starring you as the Monster parent!  “I can’t believe I screamed at my child!  How could I have reacted that way?  What an awful parent I am!”  And it probably doesn’t stop there.  You continue to beat yourself up periodically throughout the day.

The Perfect Parent  

You remember all of those report cards.  If you’re like most people in our culture, throughout your life you received messages about how well you were doing, not just in school, but perhaps in sports, in attractiveness, and in how “nice” you were.  You may have been taught to strive for perfection.

And so you learned to measure and judge yourself.  Am I smart enough?  Fast enough?  Pretty enough?  And am I a good enough parent?  With self-judgment often comes self-criticism, which may consist of some fairly harsh, negative, mental thrashing (e.g., “What a bad parent I am!  Why did I lose my temper over something so silly?”).  Clearly such negative thoughts serve to tear down our own sense of competence.

The truth is:

  • There is no such thing as a “perfect parent” thank goodness!  How would your child ever live up to the expectation to be like you if you were perfect!  Talk about pressure!
  • Parents are human beings.  Human beings do not behave consistently all of the time.  You, as a human being and a parent, have many emotions that sometimes just push through your attempts to be calm and rational.  It’s human nature.

So while you may intend to always react calmly to your children, when the unexpected happens (e.g., You sniff out the stench in the house to discover your 10-year-old’s missing baseball socks under her bed, growing mold) you just might scream!

Instead of beating yourself up…

Try a little kindness.  Your child is going to see you get upset for a variety of reasons from time to time.  What’s important is that s/he also sees you treat yourself with compassion.

If you feel you have mishandled a situation with your child, rather than beat yourself up, try comforting yourself. You don’t deserve to be punished for your mistake, but that is what you are doing when you criticize yourself in a demeaning fashion.

According to Kristin Neff, Ph.D. the first step in a self-compassionate approach is to be aware of what’s going on inside:

  • Take a moment to notice what you are saying to yourself.  You might be thinking, “Of course I know what I’m saying to myself!” But most people don’t actually stop to hear the words and how harsh they sound; it has become automatic to say “What a dummy,” etc.  We end up sending ourselves these critical messages over and over again.  Unless you become more consciously aware of these messages, you continue to chip away at your own self-esteem.
  • Pay attention to the “tone of voice” you are using in your self-talk.  If you are calling yourself names, you probably sound angry, and harsh.
  • Then, just as you would comfort your child, or a good friend, be compassionate with yourself.  Soften your tone of voice.  Choose words that serve to comfort.  Practice an attitude of acceptance.  You might tell yourself, “That didn’t turn out the way I wanted…. Like every other human being on this earth, I made a mistake.” You could smile, and even give yourself a hug.  According to Dr. Neff, your body responds to that physical gesture of warmth and care.  It may seem silly, but self-hugging can help to soothe distressing emotions.
  • In this attitude of compassion, seek to repair the disconnect with your child.  For example, you might say, “When I found your socks I really just lost it.  I didn’t handle that well.  Would you like a hug?”  Then just listen.  At a later time you can restate your expectation that your child will put dirty socks in the laundry room.In the case of the tantrumming toddler, just be present.  Hold your child when s/he is ready to be held.  In a soothing voice you might say, “You were very angry when I said we couldn’t go outside…..And then I got angry and I yelled.  I’m just going to sit here now and be quiet.  Do you want to sit with me?”  Even if your little one is too young to understand your words, say them anyway.  Your child will hear your compassion.

I highly recommend the book, Self-Compassion, by Kristin Neff, Ph.D., who writes openly about her own struggles with parenting her autistic child.  Take a few moments to look at her website http://www.self-compassion.org, where she has a brief video clip and some guided meditations.

Last edited June 23rd 2012

The debate rages and, no matter which side of the argument you’re on, you can see you’re right.  And what if, in one sense, both parties are right?

I say both parties may be right because I’m looking past the ‘to smack or not to smack’ and I’m asking a different question. I’m asking ‘What is it we really want to achieve?’ And I suspect that both parties will agree without hesitation that what we want is young people who are respectful of other people and of others people’s property.

So what would happen instead of trying to outshout each other’s argument regarding whether or not smacking is okay, we reflect on what might be learnt from the mindset of the other.

Here’s what it looks like from my viewpoint:

The ‘Smackers’ are right about children needing boundaries. When you’re standing on the ‘Smackers’’ side of the fence it’s obvious that many good old -fashioned values and behaviours have been undermined.  They are saying ‘children need boundaries.’  And they are absolutely right. Children need boundaries for our benefit and also for their own. A child without boundaries can feel very insecure because he doesn’t know where the limits are. I once heard a wise lady describe a child raised without boundaries as being like a blind person trying to walk in a room that went on and on, without any walls. Imagine how disorientating, and perhaps even frightening, it would be to have no walls to help you gain a sense of direction. Children need boundaries so that they know what to expect and what’s expected from them. In fact, the ‘Smackers’ are cautioning something really significant here – Discipline is essential if we want peaceful society.  ‘Kids who are brought up with firm, fair, consistent boundaries don’t go off the rails so easily.’  Sue Atkins[1] Certainly part of the problem with the UK riots had to do with lack of boundaries and discipline.

And what if the ‘Non-Smackers’ are also right because they have figured out that actually children are people too and all people deserve to be treated with respect?  What if they’ve recognized that violence begets violence?

For some insight into why smacking isn’t going to achieve what’s needed, here are some key points that leading international neuroscientists recognise:

1.  The child’s brain is still ‘under construction’.  This means that the child will not always perceive things as we adults do. Yes, there are times when children will need our intervention and guidance.

2. Because the child’s brain is not fully developed, it also means that at times of strong emotion, children need adults who can be the ‘emotional thermostats’ – helping to keep the heat of roused emotions at a reasonable temperature.

3. When we are upset we don’t ‘think straight’. This is because we don’t have one brain. In a sense we have three brains, and the innermost section of the brain, often called the reptilian brain, is the part that reacts when the person is under threat.  When we sense ‘danger’, the brain focuses its energy on this deep inner brain – causing us to go into reactive mode, of fight, flight, freeze or appease, to help keep us safe in an emergency.  The cost of this ‘survival mode’ is that clear logical thinking temporarily shuts down.  It makes sense that when a child is smacked, they are going to feel under attack, which means the primitive ‘survival’ mode of the brain is triggered, which means that they won’t take any learning from the situation.  All the child will gain is a fear reaction that will get them to avoid being in the same situation again.

Will it teach them not to repeat that behaviour any time the authority figure is present to reinforce the punishment? Yes.

Will it teach them compassion or consideration for others?  No, because the part reptilian part of the brain that is triggered when we are under attack doesn’t do compassion or reasoning – it only does survival.  Crocodiles don’t worry about connection – they just do survival!

David Lammy UK author of  ‘Out of the Ashes: After the Riots’ [2] states in an article in the Guardian, where he blames anti-smacking law for UK riots.  “The ability to exercise their (parents’) own judgment in relation to discipline and reasonable chastisement has been taken away. ”

What I’d like to say to David is that I agree with him that children need discipline but Punishment and Discipline are not synonyms.  ‘Chastisement’ is Punishment  – not Discipline. Punishment attempts to work from the outside in. Discipline works from the inside out.[3]

Smacking (a.k.a, Punishment) isn’t going to achieve what’s needed because, in the words of leading neuroscientist Daniel Siegel:

“Discipline” really means to teach, not to “punish”.[4]

What we want is surely to teach our children acceptable social behaviour.

Some parents resort to smacking children because they don’t know how else to maintain boundaries. Some parents don’t smack but resort to other tools of coercion and manipulation that ultimately might be just as harmful,  (and much of this is advocated on popular TV Parenting programmes).

I appreciate that David Lammy  MP is voicing that the violence that erupted in the UK is a signal that this is an issue that needs urgent and serious attention. When Smackers and the Non-Smackers choose to focus on the outcome we desire: ‘What is it we really want to achieve?’, here’s some of the factors we’ll most probably agree on:

Yes, society needs children to have boundaries.

Yes, children need to have boundaries.

Yes, everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

And it’s time to learn from experts in the fields of child development, attachment parenting and neuroscience about what’s needed to raise emotionally healthy individuals who respect themselves and others.

What’s vital is that parents and educators are equipped with helpful discipline tools that work, not just on the short term from the adult’s perspective – but ‘work’ in the sense that they are going to achieve the long term goals of a peaceful and respectful society, where everyone’s needs, including children’s,  are taken into account.

 

Other related articles:

Rioting Teenagers – can your parenting make a difference?

Teenage Freedom?

Helpful resources by Val Mullally related to this topic:

Managing Anger in the Home CD & MP3

 

Dealing with Discipline CD & MP3

 

Soon to be released: Children’s Challenging Behaviour

(Sign up for our newsletter to keep in touch with new releases).


[1] SueAtkins Twitter @SueAtkins 30/01/2012

[3] Adapted from Danny Silk

[4] Siegel, Daniel J and Payne Bryson, Tina, ‘The Whole Brain Child – 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind

 

 

Last edited January 30th 2012

Teenage Freedom?

‘How do I give my twelve year old freedom but also keep an eye on her without her thinking that I don’t trust her?’

What’s helpful when teenagers are pushing  for freedom and you’re worried about their safety?

As parents we develop strategies to try to keep our teens safe – but not all are necessarily helpful.

The Checking Up Strategy

What I think isn’t helpful is ‘sneaky’ checking up.

I think of one mother who used to surreptitiously check her teenage daughter’s phone. The daughter resorted to renaming the ‘not- allowed’ boyfriend as ‘Jenny’ on her phone.

Life has a strange way of boomeranging – and if you do sneaky you’re likely to get sneaky.

One of the things that I did with my sons that was helpful was to have a policy that if they wanted to go out, we, as parents, would be phoning the parents who were hosting the event so that we could check arrangements.

They knew this was the deal and that we would not agree to them going out if there was anything that was of concern to us.

The ‘ParentPepTalk’ Strategy

I was so anxious that my sons would turn out ‘right’ that I thought it was my job to repeatedly remind them what ‘good’, responsible behaviour looked like. Now I look back I recognise that my sons had been taking ‘snapshots’ of ‘how we do life’ from a very early age. By the time they get to their teens they have a complete reference catalogue stored up –

how we do conflict

how we deal with upset feelings

what we do if we can cheat and get away with it

how we show love

what’s okay and not okay.

The endless list is already stored and the last thing teens need or want at this stage of their lives is the constant peptalk.  When my son was in his early teens he told me about boys drinking at parties,  he immediately got the  ‘That’s not okay, please don’t you ever do that, I’ll be so disappointed, blaah, blaah, blaah’ ad infinitum lecture. So what happened within a couple of years is he stopped telling me what was happening in his life. The wiser me now recognises that he was telling me because he was trying to make sense of the standards we’d encouraged. It would have been more helpful if I’d just listened to what he wanted to share and asked his opinion.

We can get so worried by what we think might go wrong that we only focus on the negatives. What I know now is that if a child has a strong sense of self-esteem she’s not going to be trying to fill the ‘hole in her soul’ with drink, drugs, sex and all the other parent nightmares.  A child with a strong self-esteem has an inner core she can rely on.

So how do we build young people’s self esteem?

Recognise that self esteem is much more than self confidence. Self Esteem is like a three legged stool and confidence is only one of those ‘legs’. Like any stool we need the legs to be of equal length and strength for a stable base.  I’m most grateful for learning this concept through Jesper Juul’s book: ‘Your Competent Child’.

So let’s look at each of these:

Confidence comes from our sense of competence.  Learning to be able to do things for yourself and to be able to figure out what’s needed is all part of confidence building.  Obviously a situation that’s too big and overwhelming and beyond the child’s control will have the opposite effect and would damage the child’s confidence. That’s why it is important that we as parents both build our children’s confidence and also set clear boundaries around what we do and don’t permit.

Confidence is built when young people can figure out their own solutions. If parents are always rushing in to solve every dilemma, how do children learn?  Ask yourself if there are times when it would be more helpful to let your child take the consequences of her action (or inaction).

Belonging In the teen years a sense of being part of the group becomes very important.  The challenge comes when your child loses a sense of ‘belonging to herself’. Our need to feel connected to ourselves (our autonomy) and our need to be connected with others is like a see-saw. Both parts are necessary and the balance will only be kept if it’s firmly grounded in unconditional love.

When you get the first ‘teenage rumbles’ rather than resort to ‘Because I said so’ or caving in, focus on seeing these as opportunities to help the child keep connected with herself and her values and to learn to negotiate with you.

Worth Your child needs to know that nothing she does can add to or take away from her intrinsic worth.  When she knows this she’ll know you are the ones to turn to when life’s uncertain.

When your child has a self esteem stool with three strong legs of confidence, belonging and worth, she has a stable base to deal with the challenges of teenagehood.

Our children are already born with incredible potential to beautiful, wise, creative, compassionate, wonderful people.

It’s our job as parents to create conditions for them to thrive. 

You’ll discover more insights and practical tools in my CD                                                         ‘Helping Your Child Cope in the Real World’.  Also available as MP3.

Helpful books on this topic:

Your Competent Child Jesper Juul

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families   Stephen Covey

Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls Mary Pipher

Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood William Pollack

 

 

Last edited January 17th 2012

 

When parents fight at Christmas

Dear Santa

There are many children who could have written this. Some of their parents are together – and fighting. Some are divorced parents, or separated – and fighting. What could you say this Christmas that might be helpful for families that don’t get along together?

PercyPostElf

 

Dear PercyPostElf

Yes, grown-ups fighting is one of the sad things that sometimes happens at Christmas. Sometimes it’s a heartbreak story, and other times it’s those little irritations when families don’t get along together. Here are some helpful tips when there’s the risk of adult conflict over the festive season. But first and foremost I encourage parents to ask themselves: ‘Is home a SAFE PLACE for my child?’

1. Make home a safe place

You’d do anything to protect your children – right?  But where do your children turn for safety if you turn into the raging tiger? You’re not thinking about it at the time – but when you start snarling and roaring at your ex/partner/spouse you become someone who is unsafe to be around.  No matter how angry you’re feeling, remember that your reaction can be upsetting for the children. It’s also never okay for your children to experience you being abused. If you or your children are in physical or psychological danger please get help immediately. Your children (and you!) deserve a home that is a safe place.

2. When temperatures rise, take a breather to cool down

When something happens that makes us feel unsafe, the survival instinct is triggered. The brain puts all its energy into ‘fight, flight or freeze’, so the thinking part of the brain temporarily ‘shuts down’. This means that when you’re in ‘fight’ mode you’re not thinking/reasoning. You may be trying to get the other person to ‘see reason’ – but neither of you is able to do this while you are upset. If you want to have a different outcome take a breather until you’ve all calmed down.

3. Your rising sense of anger is an indication you need change

But choose to listen to what your anger is telling you and figure out what’s helpful before your anger boils over into an uncontrolled rage. When someone’s pushing your buttons, take action to bring the change that’s needed whilst you’re still calm enough to think.  Here are a few thoughts:

* Recognise: ‘Their behaviour is about them, my response is about me.’

* Sometimes what can be helpful is to use lighthearted humour – when you respond in a way that they don’t expect, it usually changes the whole game plan, providing you all laugh with each other (not at each other!)

* We can choose to deal with upsetting incidents without resorting to aggressive words or actions.

What else can help parents to stop the fighting?

For more insights on how to behave (children and parents!) in a way that’s going to create connection, I recommend popping Val Mullally’s Parenting book, ‘BEHAVE -What Do When Your Child Won’t’ into your own Christmas stocking.

The Parenting Book you want in your christmas stocking!

* Remember that people who have already ‘flipped the lid’ or who have been drinking excessively have moved past reasoning. Don’t try to reason with an un-reasoning person. Just do what’s needed to calm the situation. Focus on keeping yourself and your children safe (emotionally as well as physically).

* Sometimes the only thing you can change is your own attitude. You don’t have to ‘bite the anger hook.’ At one point Val created a poster for herself with fish swimming past a baited hook and the words: ‘Swim on by.’

No-one ‘makes you angry’. It’s your choice.

Percy, sometimes families don’t get along, but if even one person chooses to do differently there can be a different outcome.

Of course every couple has a tiff sometimes, but what matters is not to let it get out of hand.

Before Parents end up on the slippery slope of anger, I wish they’d ask themselves:

‘Am I ensuring  home is a safe emotional space for my child?’  

When Parents fight at Christmas

May it be a peace-full Christmas.

Love Santa

Day 1   What to do with Children’s ‘Great Expectations’?

Day 2  ‘Need’ or ‘Want’

Day 3  Dealing with Disappointment

Day 4  Christmas Surprises

Day 5  Three Key Questions Regarding Purchases

Day 6  No Money This Christmas

Day 7  Christmas is for Giving

Day 8 When Sad or Bad Things Happen

Day 10 An Attitude of Gratitude

Day 11 Can’t Forgive

Day 12 Christmas – What Really Matters

 

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Last edited December 07th 2018

An Option to Meltdown

‘We had total melt-down this week.’

It was the fourth week of our Parenting Programme, and  Jane shared her story with the parents and myself, as facilitator, in her group. She’d had the flu during the week and one day was so off-colour that she left her five year old son, Timmy, to choose his own clothes for school. Later in the week he decided that he didn’t want to choose from the either/or outfits that she’d put ready – he wanted to choose his clothes himself. He started whining. She can’t stand him whining so she became increasingly uptight. He started having a meltdown and Jane left the room before she exploded. The other parents gave little chuckles – it was easy to identify with this situation.

‘How do I do it differently?’ she asked.

I invited her to role-play the situation, with me being the mother and her taking the role of the child.  I wish I’d had the video camera rolling, but this is roughly what transpired.

THE ‘KOEMBA–CONNECT’ MODEL

I reminded the group of the ‘Koemba – CONNECT’:

‘PARK – CONNECT – FOCUS – EVOKE before you PLAN.’

As I role-played Jane’s part I consciously chose to PARK my own stuff (particularly I recognised I’m parking my worry about what the group might think).

I also imagine what I might have to PARK as Jane:

my own agenda  (‘We’ve got to get going!’ )

my perspective  (‘What’s wrong with the clothes I’ve chosen?)

my frustration (Why can’t he just co-operate?’)

my opinions (He’s just doing this to annoy me!)

my fears (If I let him choose, he’ll put on something ridiculous!)

All this is ‘my stuff’ and will pollute the space between us, unless I choose to park it.

Only when I put myself in PARK  (In ‘neutral’ position) can I CONNECT.

I gently move in closer, I make eye contact at his level, using a ‘soft gaze’, I’m aware of keeping a calm tone of voice and open body language. Because I’ve already PARKed my stuff, what’s happening on the outside is actually a reflection of the inside– my intention is to CONNECT (Not trying create an instant solution, nor to cajole him into doing what I want). I know it will take time moving through the process to get to PLAN.

Timmy: I don’t want to wear these. I want to choose my own clothes.

Jane: You don’t want to wear those today.

Timmy: No, I want to choose my clothes for school.

Jane: You want to choose your clothes for school?

Timmy: Yes, when you were sick, I did it myself.

Jane: When I was sick you chose your own clothes.

I ‘timed out’ the conversation and checked in with the group. I recognized that as I was role-playing the mother, I wasn’t feeling up-tight and there was no sign of tension in ‘Timmy’. I checked in with ‘Timmy’  – he was ‘feeling heard’. I checked in with the group  – what did they observe? They were aware of the calmness. There was no whining or emotional temperatures rising. And ‘Timmy’ was not doing an out-of-control pre-schooler reaction  – but speaking in a very rational tone of voice. I (as ‘Parent’) had FOCUSED on the situation and EVOKED a response (rather than a reaction).

The Parent group then imagined what would be the situation now if this was an adult-to-adult discussion. We’d PLAN – we’d work together to find a solution that met both our needs.  Jane laughed.

‘I guess I’m worried he’d make a crazy choice but actually he dressed very sensibly when I was too sick to organize his clothes.’

Another mum shared,

‘It’s always a rush in the morning.  I think if we just do it ‘my way’ it will save time.  But when I push my own agenda and ignore what my child needs, it takes much longer and we’re all uptight and upset.’

HELPFUL PROBLEM SOLVING TOOL

‘I get that,’ said one of the dads, ‘but sometimes that’s not practical.’

We discussed a great tool that Faber and Mazlish introduce in their book ‘How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk.’

My YouTube video clip ‘Power Struggle Solution’ demonstrate this approach – click here if you’d like to discover this tool. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at how ‘copped on’ your children are at coming up with workable solutions and it’s a great way to build their problem solving and negotiation skills.

THE POWER OF THE ‘KOEMBA – CONNECT’ MODEL

The group recognized the power of the Koemba-CONNECT approach to move out of the power struggle and to create harmony in the home.  What it’s sometimes hard to remember in our Parenting, is that it’s not our job to persuade our children to think the same as we do.  Our role is to support our children to be themselves, with their own thoughts, experiences, emotions and viewpoints. What we can do is to guide them to be response-able.  We can CONNECT so that they can articulate their own opinions and respect others’ – we can model how to connect and compromise.  That’s the potential power in our day-to day parenting struggles. Every upset is an opportunity for growth.

Instead of our children growing up thinking ‘my way or the highway’, they’ll absorb powerful tools to deal respectfully with conflict in relationship.

 

Last edited December 14th 2016

If you’re anything like I was when my children were young  – those words filled me with anxiety.

I needed my child to be happy at school so that I could feel okay about it.

So how to respond in a way that’s actually helpful?

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own anxiety that our response is actually about trying to calm our own anxiety – rather than responding to him.

Here’s some of the tactics we parents use in our attempt for ‘smooth entry’.

Parent: Unhelpful Tactic 1

We try to do is convince him he thinks /feels otherwise.

‘Of course you want to go to school – you love school.’

Parent Unhelpful Tactic 2

Change the subject.

‘Oh, look.  There’s Johnny.  Let’s go to the park together.’

Parent Unhelpful Tactic 3

Compare.

‘Your sister loves school.’

Parent Unhelpful Tactic 4

Try to reason.

‘You’ll be home in just a few hours.’

‘But last week you said you really wanted to go to school.’ (Maybe he did – but that was last week –not now!)

Parent  Unhelpful Tactic 5

Bribe.

‘Be a good boy and go to school and I’ll buy you an ice-cream on the way home.’

Parent Unhelpful Tactic 6

Belittle.

‘Big boys all go to school.’

These tactics aren’t helpful because:

* Your child’s not feeling heard or ‘feeling felt’.

(When his emotions aren’t calmed, he won’t be able to figure out how he can handle the challenge).

* When he experiences his parents ignoring what he’s experiencing, over time he might begin to doubt or ignore his own inner experiences /  thoughts and feelings.

* If he can’t share these worrying emotions with you because you ignore / divert him then  he might  start thinking that he can’t share  other concerns him with you.

* He might feel resentful towards a sibling (just because she likes school, why should that mean he does?)

* And if he figures that bribes get him rewards, you’re creating a situation where he’s more likely to complain about more things. (‘Mentality: ‘The more I complain the more ice-creams I get!’)

* Shaming a child might get the immediate result you want, but it means he’ll just be stifling his worries, rather than learning he’s got a supportive mum / dad who will listen and help him figure out what’s needed.

So what can be helpful?

* Be aware that, even if you’ve been careful about what you say, your child ‘reads’ you – your body language, tone of voice, muscle tension, facial expression. If he senses you’re tense/ worried/ anxious/ don’t want to ‘let your baby go’  – he’ll cooperate with you – and give you the behaviour that you are subconsciously  ‘asking him for’. This means making sure you’re settled and calm about the situation. (And sometimes one parent copes better at the school gate than the other parent – try to plan it that way if possible).

* Respond to what your child’s experiencing – not to your own needs.  It’s so easy for us to so want for it to be okay, that we’re trying to soothe him for our own sake, rather than being tuned in to what’s actually helpful for him.

* Respond to his words.‘ So you don’t think you want to go to school today. Tell me more.’ Often just having a chance to talk about it, knowing someone’s really listening, may be all he needs to do. And maybe there IS something that’s not okay, that he’ll need your support to sort out.

* Empathise. Notice his body language and facial expression as well as his words. Try to ‘get into his skin’ and feel what he’s feeling. Naming the emotion helps him to ‘name’, ‘claim’ and ‘tame’ the emotion.

‘You’re feeling sad/ worried about going to school?’ If you name the emotion, he’s more likely to have a sense that his experience is normal / understandable to others and this makes it easier for him to deal with overwhelming emotions.  He’s more likely to calm down when he ‘feels felt’.

Our culture tends to give a message ‘big boys don’t cry’ but our tears when we are upset are chemically different to the tears we cry when we peel an onion. Our ‘upset tears’ contain stress hormones – so when we’ve ‘had a good cry’, we feel better / more able to cope. Having said that, there’s a time  (Like going into the school gate) when tears most probably aren’t going to be helpful. Time to be listened to beforehand can reduce risk of tears at the gate.And avoid expressions like ‘Don’t cry.’ (All he’ll hear is ‘Cry’!)

Even young children can learn to use focusing on their breath to contain themselves. (Great at the dentist or doctor’s) Remind him of something that will be encouraging or reassuring. (‘I’ll be right here to meet you at home time.’)

* Some children battle to be away from the parent. Some token object to ‘keep safe for me’ or ‘so that you know I’m thinking of you’ that he can tuck into his pocket can give him something tangible to feel and reassure himself at times when he might need to calm himself during the day.

* Giving a choice can be helpful.  Perhaps as you get close to the school your child becomes increasingly clingy. ‘Would you like me to walk to the classroom door with you or do you want to say goodbye in the hall?’ Not going to school isn’t being offered as an option – but, by making a choice, your child doesn’t feel powerless in the situation

*  Daily transition times – home to school – can be stressful. Do what you can to minimize stress, like having everything ready beforehand, know where the car keys are, leaving five minutes extra early. A calm start to the day can make all the difference.

*  Keeping still (comparatively) and concentrating and cooperating all morning is stressful for young children. Plan for a healthy breakfast to start the day and an opportunity to work off a bit of energy. (Can you walk to school?)  Likewise, time to work off energy on returning home is needed.

In my years as school teacher/ principal I found that Monday morning blues after the first weekend is very common, even with some children who started school happily for the first few days. Forewarned is forearmed.  Be extra aware of what might be needed after the weekend so that you can respond helpfully before meltdown happens!

I’d love to hear your experiences.

Happy schooling!

 

 

Last edited September 03rd 2012

We watch the news and wonder how an educated country like England can erupt into such chaos.

What’s it all about?

They might have captured images on CCTV that will lead to arrests – and then what?

It’s like a doctor who treats only the symptoms without dealing with the root cause of the dis-ease.

It’s no good treating dysentery without creating clean water supplies and proper sanitation.

So what’s needed to clean up the current conflict in Britain?

 

If all conflict is a protest at the disconnection, what’s the disconnection and how can it be repaired?

Disconnection from self?

(Ironically, if regular life for a young man feels like ‘walking dead’ – can you imagine the sense of ‘aliveness’ that being involved in this type of trouble can arouse?)

Every image I saw last night of the violence was of young males.

Perhaps we’ve deprived them of environments where they can test their strengths and learn new skills – that they’re seeking some way of reconnecting with the masculine?

What does a healthy young male with testosterone pumping in his veins do, if he’s not given healthy channels of outlet?

Today is the eighteenth birthday of a young friend. There are three sons in the family, local farming lads – strong, talented, intelligent and kind, with two parents committed to their healthy upbringing.

I cannot even imagine these young men being involved in this sort of terrorizing behaviour and vandalism.      

They’re being given the environment for their masculine energy to be something they’re proud of – and something that contributes to community.

So in the areas where young men are not so fortunate, where are the ruptures in connection?

Disconnection from a sense of what makes life meaningful?

Disconnection from a caring, connected  community?

Disconnection from family?

And in particular, perhaps disconnection from healthy masculine role models?

In South Africa a number of years ago, the rangers in one of the large Game reserves were finding mutilated rhino. The creatures were so horribly damaged that the first thought was that this horrific vandalism had been done by poachers. Then they realized that this was not the cause, as the valuable horns had not been removed.

They discovered that the chaos had been caused by marauding ‘teenage’ elephant bulls. Over the previous years, the senior males in the herd had been eliminated by the rangers, as a means of population control. The result was that without the ‘big guys’ to model appropriate behaviour and keep the discipline, the young males went wild.

It’s an interesting tale to reflect upon at this time.

I’m not in any way condoning the behaviour –but all behaviour makes sense.

In my work as a Parent Coach I have repeatedly found that parents will book sessions to see me because of a ‘problem child’ and they are feeling at a loss as how to cope with the behaviour.

As the sessions progress, the issues below the surface begin to emerge. As parents discover how to meaningfully communicate and deal with what’s really causing the dis-ease, the child’s challenging behaviour invariably melts away. It’s not so much that problems are solved – but that they dissolve, once the parents begin to implement change that creates more enjoyable and fulfilling family life for everyone (parents included!)

The interesting thing is that, in retrospect, the parents can see that the challenging behaviour has proved to be a gift – so that they as parents could figure out what really matters and what they are going to do about it to create the home they really want.

An environment for young people to thrive.

The family is the building block for society.

When we create healthy family, we create healthy society.

This isn’t just parents’ responsibility – but starting where we are is the best place to start.

We can easily point the finger at these perpetrators – but it’s likely that such anti-social behaviour will continue to break out, like dysentery, unless we deal with the root problems.

African proverb:

“If young men aren’t initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth.”
(Tweeted by  @alantlwilson Bishop Alan Wilson)

 

 

 

Last edited July 14th 2012