What is Your Attention Focused on?

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There is a great anecdotal story that circulated during the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. She made a lot of public appearances that year and a lot of “regular folk” got their chance to interact with her. One woman stood in line to meet the queen for a long time. She finally got her chance and just as she was presented to the queen the phone in her purse began to ring. What to do? Act like she can’t hear it? Fumble in her purse and turn it off? Answer it? What is the royal etiquette for this situation? The queen herself solved the problem by saying, “you should answer that dear, it could be someone important.”

 

While we might debate whether the once in a lifetime experience of meeting the queen is more important that whoever might be on the phone, what this story reminds me of is our daily choice of what we pay attention to. We cannot multitask very well.  The most important thing is the thing we are thinking of right now. Whatever that woman decided to do there, that was the most important thing. If she took the call, she would have been focused on the call. If she ignored the call, she is deciding the queen is the most important thing right now.

 

In parenting we chose to either react to the behavior or look at what is causing the behavior. Do you react to the deed or respond to the need? Which one do you pay attention to, which one is important? In connected parenting, the need behind the behavior should be the most important thing that we focus our attention on. You’ve done this before. When your child did something risky that may have resulted in an injury, your first impulse is to rush in and ask, “are you hurt? Are you ok?” It’s not the time to lecture. Your child’s safety is the most important thing right now.

Outside of an emergency, it is usually a bit harder for a parent to prioritize the need over the behavior. But it is still just as important in a non emergency to make sure your child is ok. To do this we have to be able to parent from a calm regulated place so we have the ability to pay attention to the most important thing. Take a slow deep breath. Drop your shoulders to relax your muscles. Doing these physical things help your body to relax. Here’s a fun fact- you cannot be anxious in a relaxed body! Try it.

 

Once you feel you are regulated, look at your child, remind yourself that you love him and his behavior is a communication of some deeper issue. Is your child scared, hungry or tired? Are they trying to meet their needs for freedom, fun or power? Does he need someone safe to address those needs more than he needs a lecture about how he just messed up? Right now, decide which is more important, the phone call or the queen? Chose the need, and focus all of your attention on it, and later you can go back and address the behaviors.

Choosing Connections to Meet our Needs

 

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In a previous post, I wrote that behavior is communication. Whatever behaviors we choose, it seems to us to be the best way to get our needs met. Psychologist William Glasser came up with a list of 6 basic needs that every human seeks to have met. I know every philosopher and psychologist has their own list, so bear with me, you may have your own list, this is the one I like.

These basic needs are:

Survival

Power

Belonging

Love

Freedom

Fun

 

If you are not getting your basic physical needs met, then your need for survival will surpass all the other needs and they will not matter until your need for survival is met.

 

So, assuming the need for survival is met, then each person has varying degrees of how much of the other needs they require to have a fulfilled life. The amount of each need we require will fluctuate according to our age and circumstances and personality. You may find at some point in your life you have a high need for power, and at other times you may find that you need freedom more than power.

 

Look at that list and think about which of those needs are most important to you. You should be able to recognize that one or two of those needs are very important to you, and you may even be willing to give up some of one need in order to get more of another need.

 

Look again at that list and think about your child. What needs do you think are important to him?

 

Think about your relationship with your child through the lens of your needs and his needs. Each one of you is trying to get your own needs met. Your behaviors are a way to meet those needs. Most likely when there is friction in the relationship, one or both of you are trying to meet those needs through external control. External control means you are using controlling behaviors like criticizing, blaming, complaining and nagging to try to get the other person to meet your needs. The friction happens when that controlling behavior contradicts what the other person needs.

 

It is so important as parents to pause and look past the behaviors and see what your child needs right now. When we understand that we are making choices to meet a need, we can understand that the other person in a relationship is also trying to meet a need. To get along in a relationship, whether it is parent/child or any other close relationship, the external control has to stop, and you must find a way to negotiate your needs. That may sound rational in an adult relationship, but hard to conceive in a parent/child relationship. But it can be done when a parent keeps in mind that what he wants out of his relationship with the child is ultimately a connection and he can negotiate his own power when possible to help the child meet his own needs of power, or freedom or fun. When we are able to stop controlling someone else, the amazing thing is that we gain control and we have a stronger connection with that person.

 

Practically speaking, negotiating your needs and your child’s needs could look like this:

 

Parent of teen: “You want to go to this party (fun, belonging, freedom), and I want to make sure you are safe (love and power). How can we both get our needs met here?”

 

Only bring to the discussion things that you are willing to negotiate, don’t say anything that the child should do. This brings the child to your side to help you solve the problem together without any judgement from either of you.

 

Parent of younger child: “You want to watch TV (fun) and I want these chores done (power), what can we do to solve this so that we are both happy?”

 

It will take a lot of creativity and negotiation on both sides, but ultimately, you are bonding with your child, keeping communication open and you are also teaching him great self-honoring decision-making skills that will benefit him throughout his life.

 

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

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

Introduction to Choosing Connections

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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