Introduction to Choosing Connections

Sun-and-Wind-Fable-001

One of my favorite Aesop Fables is the story of the contest between the sun and the wind. They challenged each other to see who could get the coat off of a traveler walking on a road. The Wind blew and blew, and the traveler held on to his coat tighter and would not let go. The Wind could not get the traveler’s coat off. Then it was the Sun’s turn. The Sun simply came out from behind the clouds and shone and radiated warmth. The warmth of the sun warmed up the man and the man willingly took his coat off by himself.

The moral of the story is that kindness and gentleness is better than force and bluster in a relationship. That is what choosing connections in parenting – and all relationships is all about.

Choosing connections is about focusing on the relationship when we make choices as a parent. Start with the basic concept that may take some time to acknowledge- we can only control ourselves and everything we do is a choice including our actions, thoughts and feelings. When we understand this, we can make better choices to have better relationships.

 

So much of parenting is trying to get children to obey because we know what is best for them. Granted, of course we do! We’ve lived longer, we have more experience and we’ve been in their shoes as a child. But try to remember being in those little shoes as a child when your own parent told you to do something. If it was something that you did not want to do, you were probably resentful but did it to avoid consequences. It wasn’t about relationship, it was about power. That wind probably could have eventually gotten the traveler’s coat off if it tried long enough and hard enough, but it would not have been the traveler’s choice. When we try to make others to do what we want them to do, it is called external control. We often are successful in using external control, especially when we are in a power position such as a parent, but controlling others doesn’t enhance a relationship. What if we can focus on the relationship and still have mindful children who will listen to us because we have a strong relationship with them?

 

William Glasser came up with a theory of choices in relationships in the 1960s. He specified behaviors that are connecting and behaviors that are focused on external control. The Gottman Institute that specializes in the science of relationships has a similar list. You will probably recognize these behaviors in all of your relationships, not just your parent/child relationships.

 

Connecting behaviors:

Caring

Trusting

Listening

Supporting

Negotiating

Befriending

Encouraging

 

External control behaviors:

Criticizing

Blaming

Complaining

Nagging

Threatening

Punishing

Bribing

 

When you cut out controlling behaviors that are meant to change a person, you will find that you have a better relationship with that person. And amazingly, you will discover that each of you are going to be better listeners, more empathetic, and more willing to negotiate to get each of your needs met because you have a strong, trusting relationship. Even if you are the only one practicing connecting behaviors, it has a powerful effect on the relationship. Recognize, that you can only control your own choices, and teach your child the same. When you are at an impasse with your child, you can only offer what you are willing to do to find a solution and teach your child to do the same.

 

Challenge: Before you speak, think, “how will what I am about to say affect our relationship?” Focus on connection. Try to go a whole day without any of the external control behaviors. If it is too much to remember, chose one or two to start with. Start small, the first stage of changing a habit is to first recognize how often it is happening in your life. You may not know you are doing it. Trying to go one day without using external control will help bring awareness about how often you may be using one or several of these behaviors. Maybe put a rubber band on your wrist and switch it from one wrist to another every time you catch yourself choosing one of these behaviors. If you make it one day, set a new goal of two days, three days, a week.

 

This is just an introduction to a much deeper concept, and probably brings up a lot of “what if” questions. I am happy to help you develop a plan to connect while raising a child with rules and respect in the household if you would like to book a coaching session. Also, I will be offering a parenting class soon that goes deeper into this concept. Please email me if you would like to be notified when the class is available.

 

 

 

References:

Glasser, William (1998). Choice Theory. Harper Collins, New York, NY.

 

The Gottman Institute: https://www.gottman.com/parents

What to Do When Children Lie

Canva - Mother with son in street

Do you feel like your child has a problem with lying? Are you worried that this may become a habit and there may be long term consequences if the child continues to make a habit of lying? You feel angry and disappointed in your child? What should you do?

 

Understand first of all that all children experiment with lying at some point. It is a part of normal development to understand fact from fiction and how to develop words and a story to persuade people. Also, in a way, we’ve taught children that is it socially acceptable to lie. Have you ever made your child thank someone or apologize for something, so they go through the motions without the sincerity behind the words? Have you ever demonstrated to your child that it is ok to lie to someone to protect their feelings?

 

“Oh, your hair looks really nice!”

 

“That is such a nice drawing, I love it!”

 

“No, those jeans don’t make you look fat.”

 

“I’m fine, thanks.”

 

 

By telling “nice” lies we teach our children that there may be legitimate reasons to lie- to stay connected to someone. I’m not here to judge you for sparing people’s feelings with socially acceptable lies, but be aware from a young child’s perspective how they may be trying to figure out the rules of when it is ok to lie and when it is not. If you think about it, both adults and children lie because they are afraid that the truth will affect the relationship. Lying is an attempt to stay connected.

 

Also understand that children with traumatic pasts, who maybe have been adopted or fostered, often had to lie to survive. The lies are motivated by fear and an unsafe environment. They did what they had to do to survive, when they desperately needed to stay connected to someone with power over them, but understandably, these survival skills are not always helpful in a trusting family environment. Children who have come out of an unsafe environment and are moved into a safe and nurturing environment may take a while to feel safe enough to change their survival behaviors. Parents may feel that children lie to protect themselves or they may lie to get attention. Try to reframe your thinking about the lies so the child can be connected to the person they are lying too- although they probably will not be able to voice that or even understand where the lies are coming from. The underlying issues are a need for security and love.

 

So how should parents handle children who seem to be lying often? Do not threaten punishment for lying. Most likely the child will react by getting better at lying to escape punishment as this keeps their fear on a high level. The child needs to know that they will be safe and loved even when they tell the truth about something that they feel is wrong. Encourage the child to tell the truth by expressing what you would like to hear- the truth, by saying something like, “You make me happy when you tell the truth,” if you suspect a child is about to lie.

Sometimes a child lies, because they think it is what the adult wants to hear, so saying this helps the child understand exactly what you want to hear. Also let the child know that you will love them no matter what they say. You may not have to say this in words, but in building consistency when they see that your love is still there when they trust you with the truth. In creating safety and consistency to reduce fear and mistrust, set rules and be open to negotiation. If a child knows there are rules, but a parent is open to hearing the child’s point of view, it increases communication, builds relationships and reduces fear. After a child tells you the truth maybe about how they broke the rules, keep your own disappointment and frustration from turning into anger and blaming the child. Take a deep breath to calm yourself and try thanking him for telling the truth. You can tell them you are disappointed if you need to give information about how you feel, but clarify that is your emotion and you will handle it, they do not need to regulate your emotions. Try not to tell them that you are disappointed if your goal in telling the child that is to shame him.  Remember, you want to foster connection and let them know they can always tell you the truth. Keep to the set consequences of breaking rules and tell them you know he can do better next time to let the child know you are on his side.

If you feel that your child is lying about silly things that don’t seem to matter, try approaching it with playfulness, “did that really happen or is that a silly story? Ah, I thought so, that’s a pretty silly story!” They may just be exploring that normal development discussed earlier, and your playful reaction helps them know you are connected with them and helps establish truth from fiction in an unthreatening way.

Connect, empathize and let them know they can trust you with whatever truth they need to tell you.

 

 

Resource: Bronson, P & Merryman, A. (2009). NurtureShock. Twelve, New York, NY.

Ockwell-Smith, S. (2017). Gentle Discipline. Penguin Random House, New York, NY

 

Creating a Nurturing Environment

bruno-nascimento-255699-unsplashEveryone has a range of tolerance of things that go wrong in a normal day. Traffic, misunderstandings, mistakes and conflict cause us to react and bring us to the brink of our tolerance. We can also find ways to moderate our feelings by doing something we enjoy or sleeping or doing something physical that gets the body moving and oxygen flowing.  If something is bad enough that a person has difficulty handling the event, the body reacts as if it is in danger. The pulse beats faster, the individual is fearful, anxious, has extreme emotions, and can’t think as well. That person is focused on surviving. If someone lives in an environment where there are often situations that are above their tolerance, the body will stay in a near constant state of danger. Even after a person is out of a dangerous environment, it takes a long time for the body to calm down and move back into a normal range of tolerance.

If you are caring for a child that was in an environment like this, normal behaviors that you might see because of this bodily sense of danger are:

  • Anger
  • Inattention
  • Aggression
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Defensiveness
  • Fidgety
  • Impulsive
  • Anxious
  • Hostile
  • Irritable
  • Irrational
  • Delayed physical and mental development
  • Poor Focus

The body tries to create a way to handle the overwhelming feelings of danger so you might also see children do one or more of these things:

  • Freezing
  • emotional numbing
  • Distraction
  • Self-soothing behaviors such as thumb sucking, rocking, or self-harming
  • Sadness
  • Withdrawn
  • Shy
  • Self-centered

Adults who grew up in dangerous environments might find that they are often:

  • Short tempered
  • Blaming
  • Criticizing
  • Humiliate others
  • Sarcastic
  • Threatening
  • Tired
  • Appear disinterested
  • Lacking emotions
  • Not trying to solve problems
  • Avoidant
  • Lacking eye contact

In their own adult way, this is how an adult with trauma may deal with their own perceived threats of danger.

As you might imagine, adults and children with trauma in their lives living together might have a hard time staying calm. As an adult, the task falls to you to try to stay calm yourself in order to help the child calm himself and bring the body out of the perceived danger zone. Draw from your beliefs, your values, your support system to help you keep calm and slow to react. There are wonderful apps for mindfulness and meditation to work pauses into your day so that you parent in a relaxed body. You will find if you can slow your reactions, and relax your muscles in a tense situation that you feel better about yourself, and your child and others around you will feel calmer in your presence.

Reference:
Rhoton, R. (2017). Transformative care: A trauma-focused approach to caregiving. Arizona Trauma Institute. Phoenix, AZ.