LYING

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I’ve felt it. The shock of realizing your kid just lied to you. It sort of fills you with a sense of surprise, which quickly melts into anger. If it’s particularly sneaky, we can begin to over-react.

First of all, take a deep breathe. It’s going to be okay. If you need to, go somewhere else and calm down. It will be more helpful to address the issue when you are calm. When you feel ready, here are a few tips to help you respond appropriately.

Don’t set them up.

It can be tempting to try and catch them in the act so to speak, but resist the urge to set them up by asking questions you already know the answer to. “Did you eat the brownie?” Is just a set up for lying if you know they already took it. Instead, try saying, “Hey, I saw that you took a brownie earlier. Can we agree to not eat any more until after dinner?”

Deal with the real problem.

Often times kids will lie because they are feeling stuck, are afraid of punishment or rejection, or think that the lie will keep the peace. If your child is lying, ask yourself what they might be afraid of or trying to avoid. Are they hungry at different times than food is available? Have they been dealing with feeling left out or deprived of something at school? Is there a way to find a middle ground on an issue where you have said a flat no? Don’t let power struggles turn into a losing battle for both of you if a decent compromise is possible.

Let them know they are loved.

Ask yourself the hard question, “Have I set up a system that punishes honesty?” As parents, we have the greater responsibility to respond and act appropriately. If we haven’t been a safe person by responding out of anger, we might need to make amends with our kids. If you have been in power struggles with your kids and they are starting to lie out of defiance, it might be time to stop any criticism or punishment and just remind your child how much you love them. They might be incredibly unpleasant at this stage, but it could turn the tide in the battle so that everyone can win.

Show them appreciation when they are honest.

Praise their honesty, even if it comes after a lie. Any positive reinforcement of honesty will show them that you are a safe person and that lying is unnecessary. When we show our kids that we are willing to be consistent, yet flexible with them, they will begin to trust us and come to us with requests instead of using deception to get what they want.

While it’s tempting to start worrying that your child is going to turn into a psychopath if they keep lying, try to resist that kind of unhelpful catastroph-izing. Don’t call your child a liar. She is a person who has told a lie, not a liar. Remember to keep negative behavior separate from their identity by not labeling them with the behavior.

While dealing with lying is difficult, it is age appropriate in the later elementary years as their abilities, logic, and emotional complexity are developing in huge leaps. Kids are sorting out their roles in families, school, and social groups. Pressing on the boundaries is just part of the process. The best thing we can do is treat them like we hope to be treated, with kindness and respect.

HOMEWORK HASSLES

As school starts back up again, so does homework…and with homework comes power struggles. Whether it is feeling the need to constantly check up on whether homework has been done or not, the quality of effort, or finding time to squeeze it in, homework can be a major source of stress for families. Here are three tips to help handle homework hassles and hopefully make the transition back into the school year go a bit smoother:

Make a Homework Plan

Set a time to sit down and make a plan about how your child plans to get homework done. Agree on what is allowed before or after homework [no screens until homework is done, they can play outside for 30 minutes prior to homework etc.] Some kids are early risers and fresher in the morning, others do best right after school. Don’t assume you know the best time for your child, let them guide the process. If you have multiple kids they may not all be wired the same. Write up a homework agreement and let it play out for two weeks. Pay attention to what you see [are they starting too late? Are the rushing through?] Schedule a homework check-in and let them know what you have been observing, and make any changes necessary. Working homework into a morning or evening routine that is visible for everyone helps externalize the expectations.

Put It In Their Hands

Part of what causes so much homework anxiety is that parents feel a responsibility for their children’s work. However, homework is their work, not yours. Set up a routine and then let your child be responsible for it. Schedule times when you are available to help [between 7-8am, or after dinner between 6:30-7:30pm]. Don’t allow poor planning or last-minute needs to dominate the family. For larger projects schedule trips to the library or to the store for supplies ahead of time. If there is a serious learning problem then it is appropriate to talk with the teacher or hire a tutor, but outside of that one the of best life skills a child can learn is to take responsibility for their own work. Additionally, parents often have specific grade expectations for their children. But if the child is not motivated to get the same grade you are inviting power struggles. A better way to approach grades is to ask the child what grade they would like in the class. If they say “C+” you can let them know you would love for them to get a higher grade than that, but ultimately their grades are in their hands. Then make as plan for what they will need to do in order to achieve that grade. Avoid hovering, nagging, or being overly involved with the teacher. Too often parents bring their own fears and worries to a situation they actually can’t control.

Let School Be School

There are built in consequences at school regarding homework. If your child is forgetful, it is not helpful to them to remember for them. Set up an external reminder system that lets the child take responsibility [a calendar that has due dates, a note on the door etc.] If they forget their homework, let the consequences at school play out. Or if your child simply chooses not to do their homework that week then they will have to face their teacher. Let the consequences of school play out at school, but don’t pile on at home. You can let your child’s teacher know that you will no longer be nagging or reminding about homework, because you see school as your child’s job. There is no need to add grounding or take away privileges because they got in trouble at school. Instead sit down with them and figure out what they can do differently. It is your chance to make it a teachable moment rather than a punishable moment.

Homework is an opportunity for children to learn how to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own choices. Being an advocate, a support, and an encourager is appropriate for a parent - however we want to avoid using shame or punishment as a motivator. Show faith in your children that they can do hard things and they can get the work done. And remember, sometimes the best way for children to learn is the suffer the built-in consequences that come with their decision.

LET ROUTINE BE THE BOSS

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The start of school is just around the corner…which means packing lunches, brushing teeth, checking homework, and making sure your child is dressed appropriately for the weather…all before 9am! Getting ready in the morning can be a huge stressor for families, leaving everyone rushed and frazzled at the start of the day.

Too often we as parents result to nagging, arguing, coaxing, and just doing it for them because we don’t know what else to do. As you kick off the new school year try letting routine be the boss instead of you! Externalizing expectations and processes can help getting out the door run smoother, and it teaches kids the lifeskill of time-management.

Here are four steps to building and implementing a routine:

Work Together

Children are much more likely to follow through with a plan that they helped to develop. When building a routine don’t simply dictate what needs to happen and in what order. Work with your child to come up with a plan that works for everyone. It helps to come prepared, so jot down the things you know need to happen in the morning [getting dressed, packing their backpack, brushing hair and teeth etc.] Let them decide what order to do them in. If you find that getting dressed after breakfast isn’t working you can always adjust, but let them have a say in how the morning runs.

Make It Visible

Make sure that the routine is highly visible in prominent spaces. If steps of the routine involve multiple levels of the house have it posted on both floors [the fridge and a bedroom door]. You can let your child type it up, write it on a whiteboard, or make handwritten copies. If your child can’t read add pictures [hand drawn, clip art, or even polaroids of the various tasks].

Add Some Fun

Whether it is a 2 minute dance party, getting some extra reading time, or a quick game of tag - let them add an element of fun into the routine. Work with them to see what makes the most sense. Often as parents we only allow for fun if everything is finished, but sometimes a little break in the middle of the morning can help kids rally and feel motivated to finish in good spirits.

Trust the Process

Once you have settled on a routine and externalized it avoid the urge to nag and coax. Instead, if you find your child lagging or resisting simply say to them, “What should you be doing next?” or “What is next on your routine?” Remember, there will still be days where they wake up on the wrong side of the bed and you need to help them along, but in general never do for a child what they can do for themselves. Sometimes they will push the boundaries to see how serious you are, be prepared to let them live with the consequences. If they forget their homework let them work it out on their own with their teacher. If they refuse to wear a coat trust they can handle being cold for a day. If they miss the bus you can charge them cab fair for making you drive them to school! If the order of the routine is breaking down have a family meeting that evening and start at step one again!

There may be tough days, but overall when the process and and expectations are clear, children rise to the occasion. Routines can be a sanity saver for parents and it can bring order and structure for children. Feel free to develop routines for mornings, evenings, dinner, weekends…anything that helps your family work together better!

And hopefully you can use all the time not having to coax your kids along to actually savor that morning cup of coffee!

TRY A POSITIVE TIMEOUT

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Too often as parents we feel like we need to deal with a bad situation immediately. However, dealing with a problem at the time of upset usually only makes a bad situation worse. The child is too upset to listen and the parent is at risk of saying or doing something they might regret. The truth is, everyone does better when they feel better! Taking some time to allow everyone to calm down BEFORE dealing with the problem sets you up for a constructive interaction.

A great tool to help everyone come at the problem at their best is a positive timeout. Negative timeouts are punitive and meant to make the child feel worse [sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done…] Positive timeouts are not meant to deal with misbehavior. Instead they are a means to help everyone calm done and then deal with the problem at a later point in time. It may seem like rewarding misbehavior, but remember it is not the solution to the problem, it is a tool to help you calmly address the problem. Think of it as taking a break ahead of a challenging conversation.

Here are three tips to work with your child to set up a positive timeout:

1. Find a Spot Ahead of Time

For a positive timeout to be effective the space must be prepared in advance. Don’t just assign a spot to you child, work with them to pick a spot that would help them calm down. It can be in their closet, a corner in their room, a special chair, or a spot outside. Designating a space for them to go when they need to calm down can help diffuse them when they are upset. Next time they lose it you can ask them “Would you like to go cool off for a bit? Do you want me to come with you, or do you want to go yourself?” While you’re at it, find your own calm down spot! Next time you are about to lose it you can model what it looks like to take a break by going to your designated spot.

2. Let Them Fill The Space

It is natural for parents to drift towards punitive when setting up a calm down spot. Again, we don’t want to reward misbehavior - but remember, a positive timeout is simply a means to calm down so you can come back together and deal with the problem. Instead of making the space boring and plain, work with your child to discover what would help them feel better. Art supplies, books, legos, or stuffed animals are all good options. Its okay if they want to stay in their calm down space for a long time! The point is not to punish them, but to help them feel better so they can actually learn from their mistake and help come up with a solution when you address it later. The only thing to avoid in a calm down space is a screen of any kind, as they will either ramp up the child’s brain or simply let them zone out. Otherwise, create a space they want to choose to go to when they are upset.

3. Come Up With a New Name

If you’ve been using negative timeouts try changing the language to help your child understand this isn’t a punishment but simply a time to calm down. Instead of saying take a timeout you can encourage your child to take a break, cool off, or go feel better. Let them know that you will deal with the situation after they have calmed down. Scheduling a time to have a conversation signals to them that you plan to deal with the problem after everyone feels better.

A positive timeout sets everyone up for success and teaches children life-skills for how to deal with upset feelings. It may take some time before they really take to their calm down spot, but after a while you’ll find they choose it before you even have to suggest it. Coming at problems with a calm and clear mind increases harmony in the home and builds better relationships!

FOUR TIPS FOR WINNING COOPERATION

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There is nothing more annoying than when you feel like your child is working against you. Whether it is dragging their feet getting out the door, refusing to do their chores, or interrupting you constantly as you try to get something done. When our kids are being difficult it is easy to fall into being snappy or lashing out, which normally leads to power struggles and meltdowns. In these moments our best tool for moving forward in a positive way is seeking cooperation from our kids rather than compliance. Cooperation is the process of working together to the same end. While compliance may feel easier, cooperation can defuse charged situations and build the relationship at the same time. Here are four strategies for winning cooperation:

1. Involve Them Usefully
Often kids go to annoying behaviors because they are seeking attention, even negative attention. They can keep you busy with them through acting helpless, interrupting, whining, or simply being clingy. Instead of feeding the negative attention loop, give them a useful task. Teach them to fold socks, give them their own grocery list in the store, have them water the plants or pull the weeds. Involving kids usefully gives them the attention they are seeking while teaching them that they are able to make a positive contribution.

2. Make a Plan Together
Expectations that go unspoken normally go unmet. Working together ahead of time to make a plan can go a long way towards a positive outcome. If going to the park decide together how you will plan to leave. A five minute warning? A game of tag before you head out? If going to a restaurant discuss ahead of time how your child will pass the time if they get bored while waiting. If you are having guests over make a plan for appropriate behavior and where they can go if they need to calm down. Rather than just telling children what they should do, taking the time to plan together teaches them the lifeskill of forethought and responsibility.

3. Get On Their Level
Children are smaller than adults, and they are used to being talked down to - both physically and verbally. When they are being annoying or irritating try pausing and getting down to their level. Kneel down, look them in the eye, take their hand, or give them a hug. Connection can help your child feel heard and open them up to being able to listen to what you need to say. Getting on their level demonstrates respect and care, which can go a long way. 

4. Use Humor
While being funny is often the last thing we want to do when we are annoyed, it can disarm a charged situation and redirect your child’s attention. When they are whining you can pretend not to understand or to mishear their words, if they are acting helpless you can pretend that your legs have turned to jello, or when in doubt put on music and do a silly dance. Humor is surprising and can lift everyone’s spirits. Remember, when people feel better they do better. A good laugh is sometimes all you need to turn a bad situation around.

Cooperation allows everyone to win and learn to work together! Plus it is a great lifeskill to teach our children. Try one of these four tips the next time you are feeling exasperated and see the power of winning children over!