Quick Parenting Tips
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How to Foster Internal Motivation
So let’s talk about how to get your kids to do the things that they are supposed to do. Now when I talk to parents about this, most people say, “Well, I was raised by parents who punished me when I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.” And while I’m not necessarily going to say that you shouldn’t use punishment at all, I actually want to add more tools to your discipline toolbox, because I think punishment tends to be an external motivator.
Think about it: If you were raised by someone who punished you all the time, when that person wasn’t around to punish you, did you still do the right thing all the time? Or did you say, “Hey, that person isn’t around to punish me, so I can do what I want.”
I want you to be able to raise children who aren’t doing the right thing simply because they’re afraid to be punished, but they’re doing the right thing because they are choosing to do the right thing. They’re internally motivated to do the right thing.
So how do we raise kids who are internally motivated to do the right thing? This comes from a balance of being both really firm with our kids…but also really respectful at the same time.
What do I mean by firm? It’s really important that you do have really firm rules and boundaries in your home. Your kids know what is and isn’t acceptable, and you enforce those boundaries really consistently.
But the respectful piece means that instead of focusing on how can you punish them and make them feel really bad about what they’ve done, instead of doing that, you respect the fact that children and teens are actually missing certain tools. So you focus on giving them the tools to meet the rules and the boundaries instead of punishing them when they don’t know how to meet the rules and the boundaries.
For example, I will tell you that kids and teens are both missing the ability to effectively control their impulses. They’re also missing the ability to handle discomfort. (Now I would argue that a lot of adults are also struggling with the ability to handle discomfort, but kids and teens certainly don’t know how to automatically do that!) So if they’re in a situation where they have homework or they have something they could be doing that’s more fun, because they are impulsive and because they don’t really know how to handle discomfort, they’re going to choose the thing that’s more fun – and more comfortable — over choosing the homework.
So what we need to do is teach them how to control their impulses, teach them how to handle discomfort.
Now you could certainly tell them how you would handle it if you were in a situation where you had to do something and it was really uncomfortable and you didn’t really want to, but more importantly, I think it’s important to teach them their own tools so that they know how to handle it. You need to help them figure out what would work for them so that when they’re at school or they’re at a friend’s house and you’re not around, you’ve taught them that rules must be followed (because you’ve been really firm), but you’ve also taught them how to follow those rules.
Being able to be firm and respectful with your child — showing them that rules must be followed and teaching them how to follow those rules — is one of the best gifts you can give your children, and that’s really how you foster internal motivation.
If you want to know more about balancing firmness with respect or if you want to figure out what tools is your child missing and how do you teach those tools, I encourage you to check out my online parenting Academy, where I focus on teaching exactly that.
What To Do When You’re Running Late and Kids SLOW DOWN
Have you ever noticed that when you’re trying to get out of the house quickly in the morning – or you’re up against the clock for some reason – that you tell your kids to hurry up and they actually SLOW DOWN? Well I’m going to give you a couple of tips for how to handle that, but the first thing I want to say is that what you are experiencing is real! When you are rushing – when you are worried that you might be late and you’re stressed out – your kids actually sense that stress and it stresses them out and what you’re seeing in their behavior, their slowing down, is actually their response to that stress. Slowing down is their response to the frenetic energy in the air.
So what you’re noticing is real. And I want to give you a couple of tips for how to handle that.
The first tip has to do with how we can naturally speed up our kids, without saying “hurry up” …because you probably know that saying “hurry up” doesn’t actually speed them up! So what you need to know in order to make them go faster naturally is that kids move slowly when they have to do monotonous tasks – things they’ve done over and over, like shoes on or getting their jackets on. (Of course these are the things that they need to do to get out of the house!) But kids are wired for novelty and stimulation, so when they’re doing boring tasks, they actually get distracted by anything else that’s more novel or stimulating, which is basically ANYTHING besides what they’re doing! And that distraction slows them down.
So the solution to speed them up is to actually help them make those tasks more engaging. So, for example, if you’re rushing out of the house and you need your kids to put their shoes on, you can say something like, “Hey, I challenge you to get your shoes on before I count to 100.” Or if you have a young child you can say, “I challenge you to get your shoes on with your tongue sticking out.” Or to an older child you can say, “I challenge you to get your shoes on with your eyes close.” Teaching them to make tasks more engaging actually speeds them naturally.
There’s another tip I want to give you though. This tip is to ask yourself whether your stress is doing anything to help the situation. Now I want to grant you the fact that usually when we’re worried about being late, it’s for a really good reason. Maybe being late is going to mean you’ll miss a meeting, or it’s going to affect your ability to get into the doctor’s office. And those are really good reasons, but often those are also short-term reasons. So I want you to really try to put this in perspective and think, if you’re always rushing and always running late, is that really the energy that you want to have in your home? Is that really what you want to teach your children – that life is always about rushing? So I want you to put this in perspective and realize that not only does rushing actually stress them out (and slow them down) more, but it teaches them a crazy pace of life, and my guess is that’s not really what you want to teach them in the long run.
So putting this in perspective really allows us to raise our kids not by the clock, but rather what’s really important to us. When we realize that being late isn’t the end of the world and it’s not as important as the tone we’re setting in the house, sometimes that can calm us down a little, it can help our kids calm down a little and then they can do what they’re supposed to do.
If you want to know more about how to motivate better behavior in children — and how to feel less stressed as a parent — I encourage you to check out my online parenting Academy, where I focus on teaching exactly that.
How to Raise Resilient (Rather Than Entitled) Children
Let’s talk about how to raise kids who are resilient instead of entitled — kids who can handle it when you say no, rather than kids who expect you to say yes.
All of the parenting strategies I teach are based on respecting your child. So a lot of people make the assumption that because I’m talking about respecting children, this means giving them everything they want or being really nice to them all the time. And in fact that’s quite the contrary of what I try to teach parents.
I believe that giving kids what they want all the time leads to a sense of entitlement. Respect isn’t about giving kids what they want, it’s about giving them what they need when they can’t get what they want. And really what kids need is parents who are supportive… parents who teach them how to handle their big feelings when we say no.
So for example, let’s say you go to Target with your child, and you’ve told your child ahead of time that you’re not going to buy something for them. And then they see something that they want and they ask for it and they get really upset. Giving them what they want would be about saying, “Sure. You know what, I’ll buy it for you.” Just to maybe make them be quiet. Giving them what they need would be saying, “No, you can’t have it, but I understand why you’re disappointed because that’s a really cool thing and I’m telling you you can’t have it” (instead of saying something like, “I told you you couldn’t have it, you knew beforehand that I wasn’t going to buy you anything. Why are you so upset?”).
Giving them what they need is about support and teaching and understanding when they are disappointed, rather than getting upset with them for having normal feelings because someone told them no.
Giving them what they want is usually about buying them things or doing things for them. Giving them what they need is about supporting them and respecting them when they have big feelings when we say no.
If you want to know more about teaching kids how to handle their big feelings like disappointment and frustration I encourage you to check out my online parenting Academy, where I will teach you exactly how to do that.
How to Get Kids to Do Something the First Time You Ask
I’d like to give you a tip if you are a parent who is tired of telling your child four or five times to do something before they actually do it.
My tip for you is: If you want your child to listen and do something you ask after the first time you ask them, you have to show them that you mean what you say after the first time you ask them. For example, if you ask them to put their shoes on, you would have to actually stop what you’re doing and make sure they listen to you. Instead of yelling at them from across the room four or five times, “Put your shoes on, put your shoes on,” go over to where they are and show them that you mean what you say by saying, “It’s time to put your shoes on,” and waiting until they do it.
Unfortunately many of us have taught them that they don’t really need to stop until we’ve asked them four or five times because we’re not going to check to make sure they’ve done it until the fourth or fifth time.
And the reason they’re waiting is actually because their brains are not naturally wired to stop doing something they’re in the middle of doing to go do something they don’t really care about. If they’re in the middle of playing before you ask them to put their shoes on, their brains aren’t naturally wired to transition from something they are interested in to something that they are not interested in. While they’re physically capable of putting their shoes on, they’re not going to choose to go through the discomfort of stopping the play to go put their shoes on. They’ll only do that if they know you truly mean what you say after the first time. So you have to teach them that they MUST do what you say that by taking the time to show them a few times that when you ask them, you mean it.
I have a couple of quick tips to make this even easier in the moment. The first thing I will say is that, often the reason we’re yelling across the room is because we have a lot of things to do and we’re really busy and we’re under a time crunch. The good news is that you can develop your influence (showing them that you mean what you say) during a time when there isn’t as much of a time crunch. Take a weekend when you’re going to be home and practice this by asking them to put something away. If they don’t do it the first time, you walk over, and you wait there until they put it away. You do this a few times, and they will start to realize, “Oh, Mom and Dad mean what they say.” Then when you do have to do this when in a time crunch, it saves so much time because you’ve already shown them that you mean what you say.
Then the second tip I have for you is to let them know you’re going to start doing this. Give them the heads up that you’re going to follow through when you ask them to do something, and then prove to them that it really is going to happen by following through. It’s very likely that after a few times, you won’t have to go over there anymore because they will know you mean what you say.
The last tip to make this a little bit easier is to make proactive deposits into your child’s need for control on a regular basis. A lot of kids naturally seek control, and if we are not making these deposits and giving them a sense of control on a regular everyday basis, they will refuse to listen to you simply because they’re trying to get control. If they feel like they have some control over their lives, they don’t use not putting on shoes as a struggle to gain power.
Remember that you want to show them you mean what you say because, otherwise, you’ve taught them you don’t mean what you say. You want to give them an opportunity to practice this when it’s not during a time crunch. Let them know it’s happening, and give them some control on a regular basis so it doesn’t become about the power struggle.
How to Stop Your Child From Being Nasty When They’re Upset
I’d like to give you a couple of tips to change things around if your child becomes nasty to you (or anyone else in your family) when they are upset.
Honestly, I talk about this topic all the time with parents because, for better or worse, it’s actually very common for human beings to take big, uncomfortable emotions (disappointment, frustration, overwhelm) and turn them out on other people. I call this “turning ‘Yuck’ out.”
We do this as adults too. For example, maybe you’ve had a really bad day…for whatever reason, you’re in a place of Yuck… and your child asks you a question, and you take all of your Yuck out on them. Or maybe you’re really sweet to your children all day long, but you’re actually really frustrated with them, so you take that Yuck out on your spouse.
We turn our Yuck out, and so do children. Their “nastiness” is their way of turning Yuck out. But turning Yuck out could also be defiance or a refusal to take responsibility for their actions. That’s all Yuck being turned out.
So what do we do in this situation? Let’s start by talking about what you cannot do. You’ve probably learned this already; you could probably tell me all about this. You can’t tell your child in the moment what they should do differently. So you can’t say something like, “You’re really upset. Please take some deep breaths.” Because once they’re in Yuck, they’re not going to want to do what you ask. So the key is to teach children how to release this Yuck in a healthier way, but you have to do it proactively, in between times of Yuck.
There are two tips that I have that can make this really work. These tips will make or break whether your child actually uses more healthy strategies in the moment.
The first tip is that you need to help them find a strategy that is comfortable for them. So obviously deep breathing works, but that may be not something that they choose on their own. What I suggest is you think about the temperament of your child and find a strategy that matches their temperament. For example, if you have a really physical child, a child who maybe yells or pushes when they’re really upset, you want to find them physical strategies to release all of that energy of those uncomfortable emotions. But those physical strategies obviously have to respect the people around them. So some examples of respectful physical strategies are pushing really hard on a wall. Or doing wall pushups. Or taking some paper and crumpling it up in a ball. Or some children might like to take a crayon and just draw/color really hard on a piece of paper.
The point is that taking all of this energy that’s inside from these uncomfortable emotions, or Yuck, and they’re releasing it in a healthy way but in a way that matches how they’re feeling. Kids who are really physical and really angry don’t necessarily choose on their own to take deep breaths.
Which brings me to the second tip I want to give you: Even if you’ve found the best strategy in the world that your child loves, they won’t actually use it unless they’ve practiced it in between times of yuck. That’s because when we are in Yuck, we automatically default to what we’ve done time and time again in the past. Until a new behavior becomes as automatic, we’re not going to do that new behavior. You can almost think about it like muscle memory. When we’re flooded with emotions, we’re going to do what our muscles remember to do. So if your child has screamed for the past 300 times that they’ve been upset, and you introduce this new strategy once or twice, and you haven’t really practiced it, there’s no way they’re going to do that new strategy. That behavior hasn’t created a deep enough groove in their brain to do the new behavior. So it’s really ideal to practice these behaviors in between times of yuck.
I can tell from having worked with hundreds of families that those two things are really what make or break whether a child does choose to use these healthier strategies in the moment… It’s about finding a strategy that works for them, and making sure they’re practicing it in between times of Yuck.
So if you want some ideas of more strategies for handling nasty behaviors, or how exactly you practice this with your children, check out my online Parenting Academy where I offer all of these practical tools and answer your questions about them.
Why Behavior Charts Don’t Work (And How to Motivate Better Behavior Instead)
I have to tell you that I’m not a big believer that we should use behavior charts to motivate better behavior in our children. And don’t worry, I’m going to tell you what I think we should do instead.
But I want to start by telling you that I was recently meeting with a parent whose child was struggling because she was in an elementary school where they were using behavior charts. Her daughter was trying really, really hard to get on the “green” zone of the behavior chart, and she would try every day, but every day, she would inevitably be in the “yellow” or the “red” zone of the behavior chart. And this child was getting more and more upset. Ultimately, the parent came to me because her daughter was thinking that there was something wrong with her. She was thinking, “Well, because I can’t ever get to the green, I must be doing something wrong. There’s something wrong with me.”
And I see this over and over. It’s not that behavior charts in themselves are bad. It’s just that they work well to motivate behavior for the kids who can already act positively on their own. But the truth is that kids who are misbehaving are often doing so because they don’t know how to do something different. They don’t have the tools to behave more positively, and behavior charts do not give our children those tools.
So, for example, if there’s a child who’s getting in trouble because she keeps talking to the people around her… there are actually some tools that she’s missing in order to be able to stop talking. That child needs to learn how to control her impulses, and she needs to learn how to deal with the monotony of having nothing to do. Let’s say she’s finished her work, and she’s just sitting there. Well, her impulse might be to start talking to her friends around her, and she needs to know how to do something different. But behavior charts are only going to show that she has talked again, and she’s going to go to the yellow zone, and then eventually the red zone.
What I think we need to do instead of just using behavior charts is to teach our children the tools they need to be successful.
We can teach kids how to control their impulses, and it’s actually kind of fun to do this. We can use games like Simon Says or Red Light, Green Light to get them used to controlling their impulses.
We can also teach them how to entertain themselves or engage themselves when they are bored, so that they’re not bothering other kids. For example, we could say to this little girl, “If you’re done with your work, why don’t you make up a song to a tune that you already know? Try making up different lyrics to ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.‘” And as she’s making up that song in her head, she’s not going to bother the kids around her, because she has learned how to keep herself engaged.
If you think about it, behavior charts are really external motivators, and we want kids to learn how to be internally motivated to act positively. Teaching them tools instead of relying on behavior charts is more likely to motivate them to do the right thing, because they know how to do the right thing.
So if you have any questions about this or any thoughts, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you want more suggestions for ways to teach impulse control or how kids can engage themselves when they’re bored, check out my online Parenting Academy where I offer all of these practical tools.