“Kids, Parents, And Power Struggles” – Chapter 5

This is a GREAT chapter called, “Stopping the Tantrums.” Teaching children how to recognize their emotions and take actions to soothe and calm themselves is really, really important.  It takes years to practice this, because many of us are still working on this as adults (and yet we expect our children to control themselves like adults!)

Think of the way we respond to children.  The scenario author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka gives on page 74 is that of a child coming home from school where every.single.thing has gone wrong.  The child comes home and falls apart.  Did this ever happen to you as a child?  Were you heard?  Or did you hear:

  • Go sit in your room
  • It’s no big deal
  • Or did you hear nothing?  Child problems were ignored because somehow they weren’t as valid as adult problems.
  • Did your parents hug you?  And did you want to be hugged or touched at that time?
  • Did they get in your face and match your intensity?

The author describes pulling out a big bag of fluffy white cotton balls and having parents imagine themselves soothing and diffusing those strong emotions with our children. What would that look like?  What would the words be?  How would we want to be treated?  Teaching children to soothe and calm themselves begins with US. We can choose to soothe and calm, and our children will learn to do the same.

A child’s emotions can be completely hijacked by their fight or flight system.  The author describes on page 77, “Does Your Child Need To Escalate To Be Heard?” on page 77, a common scenario.  She writes, “The more you know about your child’s day and life, the easier it is to pick up the more subtle cues.”   It all begins with connection.  

If we are stressed, our children are stressed too.  When we are stressed, things that don’t normally bother us do bother us, and we either don’t pick up on other’s cues as well (the author calls this “neural static”) or we overract.

Several of the strategies to help bring down intensity:

  • Get down on eye level.  Listen.  You are not getting in your child’s face to yell at them, you are getting on their level to listen to them.
  • Allow enough time for transitions, because this allows time to monitor emotions and then you have time to help manage the emotions.
  • Physcial activity – kids and adults NEED it.  A twenty minute physical break can be really important.
  • Space -sometimes the best thing we can teach our children is to say, “I need space.”
  • Deep breathing
  • Distraction
  • Sensory Activities

Parents wonder if this isn’t SPOILING the child.  The point is this is the first step, not the only step.   Have a plan for soothing for all ages, and teach teens to exercise DAILY (see more about that on page 86).  If you do all of this, and your child still just rages, it’s time to call in a professional.  They can teach your child the best strategies, and it’s easier to do it sooner rather than later.

We are here to be the alley of our child.  Let’s make a plan.

Blessings and love,

Carrie

“Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles”

This chapter is entitled, “Enforcing Your Standards and Staying Connected.”  Author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka begins this chapter with a story about her fifteen year old daughter who wanted to rent a hotel room with friends to have a party instead of going to the homecoming dance.  They said no, and their daughter complained but didn’t scream and yell or give her parents the silent treatment.  The author writes,” What I realized is that over the years, my daughter had learned our family’s standards – not perfectly, mind you; she is human- but pretty darned well.  Those standards had helped her keep her cool and continue to work with us.  But it’s often difficult to imagine how you can teach your child those skills when his screams drown out your words or his blows are bruising your arm.  How do you soothe and  calm him when he’s kicking and flailing at you?  What do you do when he swears at you?  In the heat of the moment you have to help your child to stop reacting and instead to learn to choose a more respectful and suitable way to express his strong feelings. ”

The steps to this process are all practiced separately over time; only then can the child learn for him or herself to put the steps together to have a more mature response.  The steps are:

  • Have standards and expectations.  That is the foundation, and gives you the ability to say, “This behavior isn’t right; let’s make a different choice.”
  • Enforce the standards of reaction. By that, do we accept hitting as a response to a standard?  Do we accept being sworn at?  We can then stay, “Stop. In our family, we don’t hit.  We don’t swear at each other – you can tell me how angry you are!” Your words have to match your actions, and usually this step is more effective in children who are not yet adolescents.
  • Keep your standards consistent.  You cannot punish when you are in a bad mood, or let things go because you are in a great mood.  No one can predict how you will react if you aren’t consistent, and that can lead a child or teen toward being hypervigilant and prone to being frustrated and feeling helpless because the child doesn’t know where the line is.
  • Deal with guilt.  It is so hard to see our children upset, crying, sad, frustrated, angry.  However, if we avoid all boundaries, our children may not be very nice to be around. If we can’t help them handle their strong feelings, we are showing them that those feelings are not acceptable, and that we are helpless when they feel strongly.
  • Match your actions with your words.  Shouting isn’t action.  Yelling isn’t action.  We need to stop and move to stop our child.
  • Review your standards with the child BEFORE you get in the situation again.
  • Teach your child what they CAN do!  Teach them how to act when they are frustrated or upset.  
  • Practice with your child.  You can pretend and role play the situation with smaller children and go over the situation verbally with older children.
  • Consequences are okay.  Consequences are planned out, laid out, discussed before the situation occurs.
  • If you make a mistake, it’s okay!  There are no perfect parents.  It is okay to admit you didn’t handle something right.  It is okay. too, to have backup.  From page 69, “Research has shown that if one adult says what the standard is, kids may or may not get it.  But if two people say what the standard is, even weeks later, kids still know the standard and follow it.  So if you want to increase your effectiveness, get a backup.”  If you and your partner end up fighting instead of backing each other up, just give each other grace.  Learning to work together is a process that takes time and it involves creating a plan.  
  • You can always change the standards.  If you have been doing things that hurt each other instead of helping, you can always come together and decide what to do differently.

Hope you enjoyed Chapter Four!  On to Chapter Five!

Many blessings,

Carrie

Book Study: “Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles”

(We are kicking off our new book study on Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s “Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles:  Winning for a Lifetime.”  Some of you may be familiar with Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s book, “Raising Your Spirited Child,” but this book is just as wonderful and I think applicable across a wide range of ages and stages. So grab a copy of the book and follow along!  Also, check out IG and FB @theparentingpassageway for tips/reminders each week based off some of the ideas in each chapter so we can all have winning families and be the parents we want to be!)

Chapter Three is “Bringing Down the Intensity: You’re The Role Model.”  The author jumps right in by saying, “Learning to express strong emotions, like anger and frustration, respectfully and selectively is learned behavior.  You don’t have to be a victim of your emotions.  You can choose your response.  You don’t have to react.”

This is so often easier said then done!  The connection between threatening or frustrating situations and stress hormones is clear.  Our strong emotions can lead to pretty instinctual responses, such as striking back physically or screaming or yelling, giving in completely, shutting down, or emotionally distancing yourself from your child and just breaking off the relationship.

The problem is, none of these things really solve the problem.  They don’t teach our children a new way to react, and they tear apart relationships.  

Instead:

  1. Change the frame.  Our children are not out to get us, to make our lives miserable, they don’t have character flaws that are going to end them up with a wasted life.  See their behavior for what it is.  With older children you can ask them about the why’s.  Give your child the benefit of the doubt and listen.
  2. Set standards….for yourself.  What ways did your family express anger or frustration that you don’t want to repeat?  What do some people around you do to express anger that you don’t want to do?  Is it shaming, yelling, threatening (hopefully not hitting), swearing?  What is your standard and how will you uphold it?  Fear and intimidation may stop a behavior momentarily, or the whole thing may escalate – and does fear and intimidation teach your child how to deal with frustrating emotions or help your relationship with that child?  The author suggests we fill in this sentence:  “The next time I am angry, I promise myself that I will NOT……..” Fill in the blank that works for you.
  3. Monitor your feelings.  Standards are goals, but emotions can really derail our best intentions.  We need to learn how to identify early how to recognize what emotion WE are feeling, and diffuse it.  If we don’t, then we are over the edge and go into the behavior we don’t want at all.  Anger is usually a second emotion – we went past frustration, disappointment, fear, sadness and just went right into anger to cover that up.  The way to start to learn to identify emotions early is to pause for fifteen second throughout the day and just note your feelings.    Look for the big ones- hungry, tired, happy, irritated – and then for the more subtle emotions.  If you find your emotion, you can choose a better response.

Part of this is knowing  your stress cues.  When you are stressed, what do you do?  The author gives examples such as slamming doors, being impatients, screaming at the kids, not smiling, rushing, gritting or grinding our teeth.    We can take the time to diffuse before we walk in the door  or start bedtime routines.  Recognize what the most vulnerable parts of the day really are for you.   Many of us have control of how to tackle those daily or weekly spots, if we just recognize where those spots are!

4.  Learn effective strategies.  PAUSE is the biggest one.  Take a break and come back (walking is a great break).  If your child follows you and clings to your leg and won’t let you take a break away, you can have a time -in place where you can all sit together.  There is a very moving story about this on pages 50-51 if you get a chance to read it.  Some children who have had significant losses or separations, find a parent leaving to gather themselves traumatizing.  Be sure to explain you are not abandoning them, you will come back.  You can use a calming couch or chair (the time in all together method) or find great support for your child, like a neighbor or friend who can come over, and help you.  I urge you to have a few friends or family members you can call when you desperately need a break and who will come no questions asked (and no judgement!).  

Now is the time to make your plan and how you will handle things.  This would also be a great topic to talk to your partner or other adults in the house about.

Blessings and love,
Carrie

Book Study: Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles – Chapter 2

“The best antidote to U.S. teenagers’ major health problems – bad habits such as drinking, smoking, promiscuity – turns out to be a close connection with caring parents.” – The Journal of the Medical Association

This is a great quote I think, and it reminds all of us when we lose the forest for the trees why we try to do what we do.  Parenting and being in the trenches is exhausting!  The cajoling to reach normal things in the day for littles – going to the bathroom, brushing teeth, washing hair leads into  juggling homework, dealing with friends for older children and into navigating high school, driving, employment, romantic relationships and more for teenagers.  How can we do it?

I think the answer is in the title of this chapter, Chapter Two:  “The Decision to Connect.”  If we perceive the child as an obstacle to getting something done, something accomplished – then we may be sorely disappointed.  If our goal is to connect with our child in the process of life and in doing all the life things along the way, then we have a much better chance of success.

Chapter Two starts off with a great observation from children jumping rope.  The author writes, ” When we’re in those tugs of war with our kids, it’s much easier to see those struggles as opportunity once we realize we have the same options the kids across the street did.  We always have control of our end of the rope!  We can decide that this is the time to hang on tight, stand firm, and insist, “In our family this is the rule!”  Other times we may decide to step in and work with our child, enjoying together what we couldn’t do alone.  And then there are occasions when we realize it is time to let go of our end of the rope, to hand the whole thing over to our child, and say, “You’re ready.  Take it. You can make this decision.  You can handle it on your own.”

How do we know which of these tactics to use? I think some of it has to do with the size of decisions to be made, and the age of the child. and what our vision is for their adult life. How are we making them functional adults?  The author talks about Stephen Covey’s adage of “Begin with the end in mind.” She gives the example of sitting  with a three year old at bedtime, and people say don’t start that!  However, do you want your teens to see you as someone who makes time for them, who can answer their questions, who can be trusted and help them?  Think about the significant adults in your life who helped you (and those who didn’t) – what were their characteristics?

This does NOT mean we don’t have limits.  When I was a young parent, I think I had a picture of doing all the things so my children would feel close and connected.  I now think what children need to know is family is a partnership of respect, trust and communication between all parties.  Emotional coaching and teaching our children is about meeting their needs – of course!  It is about being responsive and senstive to them!  But it is also is about teaching them through being supportive and encouraging to meet the things that must happen, that need to happen.   How do we emotionally coach a child versus intimidating them?  Building relationships, and building a emotional coach type of parenting style is a process. You will mess it up along the way!  You may go back to less desirable behaviors.  Keep moving forward.  

One way to keep moving forward is to keep track of the developmental phase your child is in- what common things come up?  What has come up for your child?  What are potential strategies you could use to guide this while still connecting?  Who is YOUR support team?  I find many American mothers at least are functioning with NO support team.  No family really, if they have a partner they are gone for long hours, no neighbors per say.  You need a web of support.  Who can be in your pocket?  Who can you call when you are ready to melt down?

Can you identify what your child is feeling and why?  They may not be able to articulate it.  Most feelings have a need behind them.  What’s the need and what’s the best way, including the health of  you and the rest of the family, to address it?  This is partly why I am such a big proponent of rhythm for children – having the same rhythm really decreased the amount of decision making and stress.  If the bedtime order is always the same, there is less protesting and fighting.

Start with the little things–  there is a list on page 34, but here are my favorites from that list:

  • Don’t invalidate. Even if it doesn’t make sense, it can be important to your child, especially littles.  They don’t always make sense; they are little.
  • Take time to listen.
  • Assist but don’t take over
  • State things calmly.

There are great tips in this chapter!  I hope you all are enjoying this book.  When I first read this book, a long time ago, it seemed so much to take in but 18 years into parenting it seems pretty logical – so I think I am proof that we can grow and internalize these behaviors.  You can do it!  If you need help, and want to talk, I have some coaching sessions available by phone if you email me at admin@theparentingpassageway.com

Lots of love,
Carrie

Book Study: Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles

We are kicking off our new book study on Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s “Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles:  Winning for a Lifetime.”  Some of you may be familiar with Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s book, “Raising Your Spirited Child,” but this book is just as wonderful and I think applicable across a wide range of ages and stages. So grab a copy of the book and follow along!  Also, check out IG and FB @theparentingpassageway for tips/reminders each week based off some of the ideas in each chapter so we can all have winning families and be the parents we want to be!

I love how Mary Kurcinka writes, ” On the surface power struggles look like a tug of war.  Parents and kids pitted against one another.  Opposing forces pulling in different directions.  Two individuals at odds with each other, both determined to win!  The trouble is that if you win by simply outmuscling your child, you still feel lousy.  There’s little pleasure in victory when your child is left distressed and angry.  If you lose, it’s even worse.  When kind of a parent can’t even get a child to brush her teeth or finish her homework? Power struggles are frustrating.”

What a great summary of how things really go!  Who hasn’t feel angry or frustrated as a parent?

The reality is that a power struggle is like the tip of an iceburg.  Below the surface, every power struggle is about feelings and needs.  And feelings and needs encompass both parties involved.  Recognizing emotions and building relationships by responding to emotion is a way to deal with power struggles, because power struggles aren’t really about winning or losing.  

“Every power struggle offers you the opportunity to connect with your child or to disconnect.” (page 4)  If we can connect with our children, we can help our children and ourselves  cooperate, get along with each other – and play for the same team.  If we can become more emotionally intelligent, then our ability to manage our own intensity and our own triggers increases.

You can have a more harmonious home; emotional coaching is the key.  Seek first to understand and then be understood.

More to come on this wonderful book!

Blessings,
Carrie

Book Study: Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles

We are kicking off our new book study on Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s “Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles:  Winning for a Lifetime.”  Some of you may be familiar with Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s book, “Raising Your Spirited Child,” but this book is just as wonderful and I think applicable across a wide range of ages and stages. So grab a copy of the book and follow along!  Also, check out IG and FB @theparentingpassageway for tips/reminders each week based off some of the ideas in each chapter so we can all have winning families and be the parents we want to be!

The authors states in the “Greetings!” section that she saw families that were winning and gives examples of the parent who could scoop up a toddler headed for a meltdown and totally change the direction, the parents who can just raise an eyebrow and their child actually stops doing what the parent asked them not to do, parents and teenagers living together happily.  So what’s the secret for the rest of us?  Part of what she discovered, outside of love, was the idea of emotional intelligence.  There is a great sentence on page  xiv:

People who are emotionally intelligent are able to use their knowledge of emotions to nurture their most important relationships, and to build the connections that lead them to want to work together.

Read that again.  So does that mean if things are not going well, or if we have a spirited child, or a troubled teenager, that we aren’t emotionally intelligent?  Not necessarily; after all, things happen.  Life happens.  Sometimes we are just tired in the trenches.  But, it could also mean maybe we need a reminder or a tune-up to use our emotional intelligence to build a family team, to connect.  Perhaps we need a reminder to use this to help OUR CHILDREN learn to recognize their own emotions and take care of their own emotions if they are old enough – just like we teach them to take care of their physical bodies. 

But in order to do this, we have to be able to take care of our OWN strong emotions.  And I think many of us never learned how.  I think that’s why as an American society in particular, we see domestic violence/intimate partner violence, why we have an opioid epidemic, why people drink a lot after work, why people stuff their emotions down.    And part of dealing with our strong emotions involves some things many people try to avoid:

  • being vulnerable with others
  • building up a tight-knit support community (family members or not!  I think today most people say their support is NOT their extended family but chosen family)
  • learning to communicative in a way that is not passive-aggressive or full of sarcasm or put-downs, but in a way that says in a heartfelt way, this is what I need, this is what I hear you saying, can you recognize me and how can we work together
  • self-care – if we are completely exhausted, constantly on the go, never eating good food or drinking enough or exercising or taking care of our spiritual life, how can we hope to have enough to give our children or to be able to teach our children?

Just a few of my thoughts off these brief pages.  So grab your copy of the book, and look forward to diving into Chapter 1 on Monday!

Blessings,
carrie

 

 

 

The Winning Family: Increasing Self-Esteem In Your Children and Yourself

Who’s pulling your strings?

Chapter 21 is called “Who’s Pulling Your Strings?” and I love it because it points out that “growing up is the process of making the shift from an external to an internal authority, or locus of control.”  So, when children are little they look to PARENTS to be the authority because they only have an external locus of control.   Over time, as a child develops and matures, children learn how be confident and how to have responsibility for themselves, their responses, their reactions.  (You might be wondering exactly HOW to do this; this is the cruxt of understanding development and why it is so valuable in parenting!  Go to the header and click “Development” and a drop down menu by age will appear.  These posts will give you guidance as to what to expect at each age and how you can empower your children to become functional adults.  More on raising functional adults later this week).

This shift occurs, in my opinion, when we let children make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.  The author writes on page 213, “Many people trust others more than they trust themselves.  They don’t know their own values, opinions, beliefs, habits or identity.  They look outside themselves for approval, for a sense of worth, for happiness.  Fully grown adults, they may still look to others to clean up after themselves or to rescue them from problems.”   The authors has an entire section on the difference between cancer patients who decide to just “die obediently right on schedule” versus patients who take control and decide their cancer is not incurable.

The author gives exercises to help develop your own sense of self on page 215, and I can’t wait to try them out! There is an entire list of great suggestions on page 216-217 of how to move your children from external locus of control to internal locus of control.  I highly suggest you look at these pages.

Chapter 22 is “Play”.  Play is a universal language.  We can meet children at their level during play.  The author talks about how children who are entertained with a “high TV diet” wait to be entertained for their play.  Children can actively entertain themselves, but screens often thwart that between humor that is mainly put-downs, violence, and commercials to encourage consumerism. Children are born with a love of work – work is play, play is work.  Parents make the distinction.  If we put back fun into our work, then our children will enjoy it as well.   Have fun, and laugh.  Laughter is the best immune booster out there!  Other great tips in this chapter.

Chapter 23 is “The Winning Environment” and I love this chapter as it talks about how children need “optimal growing conditions in order to thrive.” The author has a checklist for what a winning environment would look like on page 226. This is a short chapter, but worthy to read.  Chapter 24 is also short and called, “Extending Your Family” and talks about how important the extended family is – American families used to be multigenerational, extended families which is not always the case now.  Kids used to be able to see how grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, all got along with each other and resolved conflict.  They got to see how different people handled life events. If a parent died, other family members would step in and keep the family going (this happened to me, so this wasn’t so many generations ago).  Today we have smaller households, and people and families are more isolated. Communities are often not supportive.  Neighbors don’t always pop in and out. The hard work of raising children is  lightened by sharing with others.  I believe this is the main reason mothers are exhausted today: no community!  Different families are being formed today, one extended often by friends, and I think this is so valuable.  I couldn’t raise my children without my good friends at this point!

The last two chapters of the book are about the winning family, and how this family can come in many shapes and sizes and forms.  What they share is connection, a sense of the family team, a balance of being close and separate, and the idea that we are all better together than apart (my wording). There is no perfect family, like a highlight reel on social media.  But there can be a great family that is always becoming as we help create it and rise to challenges together.   Chapter 26,  the last chapter talks about “A Winning World,” because families are where societies begin.   “Self-esteem begins in the family, but doesn’t stop there.” – page 240.

This is a terrific book, and I highly encourage you to read it this summer if you haven’t already. I also encourage you to get a copy of “Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles” for our next book study!

Blessings,

Carrie