Parenting is fundamentally a set of leadership skills. You might even think of it as management skills in the best senses of the term management. As leadership skills, it's about people and relationships. Like so many things we do, it helps to be able to think about it on two levels: a "strategic" one of ideas about how things tend to work and a "tactical" one of actions for what to do in the moment. We're going to look at both today in an effort to connect them in ways that make it easier for you to make good choices when things aren't going well.
Five Key Relationship Principles
- Everyone wants to be treated with dignity and respect.
- Everyone would rather be asked than told to do something.
- Everyone wants to know why they are being asked to do something.
- Everyone would rather be given options than threats.
- Everyone wants a second chance.
– Dr. George Thompson
Let's start with the most important strategic ideas first. There are five key relationship principles to practice working from. You'll find them in the quote above.
The first is the key to the rest. Respect has at least two faces. We can think about respect as "honoring" someone or treating them with deference, or we can think about it as "accepting" someone and working with their abilities, thoughts, feelings and identity. For our purposes, the second definition is the more important. This doesn't mean that we're OK with everything about another person. It means we love them anyway and even if they aren't at their best.
The next three keys are easy to understand when you think about your own experience. You want to "chose to" not "have to" do things. You want to know why you should do something when it may not be obvious. You don't like threats or ultimatums. These don't work for other people either, even if you're the parent and "should be" the "boss."
We all struggle with key five to some extent. This is because we often think someone doesn't really deserve a second chance for some reason, including we're just really unhappy with them. We'd like them to suffer (at least for a little while). It can also be because we don't realize what second chances can be.
Giving someone a second chance doesn't mean everything is forgotten or left unaddressed. It simply means restraint, grace and mercy are applied in the interest of the relationship and someone's future growth and development. Second chances can be a limited opportunity to try again, with more structure, supervision or limited trust. It can be a time for someone to show they can step it up, do better and to a degree prove themself. Real trust is earned. Real love is not.
It's also vitally important to understand and remember your kids' basic needs. A short explanation of them is attached to this lesson. You also need to understand the basic motives for misbehaving and another short explanation for it is attached. You may find it valuable to review them from time to time or keep them where you can reread them until you really know them.
Three Essential Skills for You
Today we're going to focus on three skills related to getting things done: communicating with your kids, getting them ready to do something and handling consequences.
How to Communicate with Your Kids
Getting things done and handling relationship issues always starts with communicating effectively.
- Assuming your child goes first. Look at you child while they are talking. Stay calm and don't interrupt.
- Use their words to describe what you understood or to summarize what they said.
- Ask them to tell you if what you said is what they meant and to clarify anything you misunderstood.
- State your thoughts. Have them follow the same steps you just used. Correct them if they interrupt. This might sound like: "I took my turn to listen to you respectfully. Now, it's your turn to listen to me respectfully."
- Have them do step 2 with what you said, and you do step 3 if necessary.
- Come to an understanding or develop a solution to the problem or situation. Repeat the steps as needed.
Preventive Teaching is about preparing your kids for what is about to happen. Sometimes this is called scaffolding. You are going to tell them what you want them to do, not what you don't want them to do.
- Start with something positive or empathetic about their behavior.
- Describe what you want them to do. Avoid talking about what you don't want in order to keep them focused on what's more important.
- Give them a meaningful reason to do it. This is a reason that means something to them. It "logically" works from their point of view. It should be positive or desirable whenever possible. If necessary, point back to something in your Family Mission Statement.
- Practice or role play the behavior a few times. Take turns to play both roles, with you playing your child's role and you doing the expected behavior first. Model what you want.
- Find one or more positives to praise before constructively correcting any mistakes. Asking "gentle" questions about what didn't go as expected sounds much less critical than just pointing out what you didn't like.
- Continue to practice until both of you are comfortable.
Consequences for Kids
When we are angry while correcting misbehavior, we usually have positive intentions for what we're trying to do but fail to recognize that it takes a toll on the relationship when it's used too much or expressed regularly. We often think about correcting misbehavior in terms of punishment rather than teaching, training or simply correcting. We get focused on imposing some kind of hurt, pain or suffering. This is supposed to discourage the behavior in the future. This just does not work well. The focus for your child quickly turns to unfairness, meanness, payback or rebelling, and so it fails to encourage better behavior and does nothing to teach new or desired behavior.
Effective correction has five components. If consequences aren't working for you one or more of these components is missing or needs adjustment.
- Immediacy – Consequences should happen as soon as they reasonably can. If it will be more than a few minutes or hours, the connection between misbehavior and consequence gets lost.
- Proportionality – The consequence should match the degree or size of the problem. Smaller and more consistent consequences are far more effective than big, angry, overblown inconsistent ones. You are also far more likely to follow through with smaller easier to apply consequences.
- Consistency – Consequences should be almost automatic. If you fail to be consistent, your kids are frequently "rewarded" for their misbehavior. It is far harder to get a behavior or habit to change when it is intermittently rewarded or reinforced.
- Importance – Any consequence should be meaningful to your child. If they don't find the consequence unwelcome, it's meaningless. For example, sending your child to their room with all their toys, electronics and other entertainments for a few minutes might even be a reward. They have what they like, and as a bonus they don't even have to argue any further with you.
- Variety – Don't always give the same consequence, even for the same misbehavior. It will start losing its meaning and effectiveness. Variety is not only the spice of life but of consequences, too.
Some Consequences to Consider
Timeout · Writing sentences or a short essay · Doing small to medium size chores · Loss of privilege, electronics, TV, gaming or treat · Partial loss of allowance or spending money · Postponement of planned purchase or reward · Loss of time with or going somewhere with friends
Some Chores or Family Jobs to Consider
Sweeping · Mopping · Setting table · Clearing table · Putting away leftovers · Washing dishes or loading dishwasher · Putting dishes away · Cleaning sinks or tubs · Dusting and straightening · Washing laundry · Folding laundry · Putting away clothes · Picking up toys · Cleaning up yard · Taking out trash · Emptying waste baskets
Reminders for Calming and Self-Control
- Breathe – Take even, relatively slow, relatively deep breaths.
- Watch your thoughts and feelings. Label them "neutrally". Imagine them floating by like clouds in the sky or leaves down a river.
- Rephrase your thoughts more neutrally or objectively. How might a good friend or outside observer say it?
- Remind yourself of your desires for the relationship. What do you value? What do you want down the road?
- Look for elements of good or the positive in what is happening or being said to avoid tunnel vision and rumination.
- Remind yourself that strong feelings will pass in less than 2 minutes if you don't keep adding fuel to the fire. You will be able to think more clearly and helpfully then. Almost nothing needs to be decided in the heat of any moment.
Question for Journaling
- How consistently do you correct your kids? Do you often let things go or impose consequences inconsistently depending on your mood? What makes a difference?
- How would you describe communication between you and your kids? What do you think makes things better or worse?
- How do your parenting styles mesh with your partner’s or others in your home and family that interact with you and your kids frequently?
- What consequences and rewards do you use the most? How often do you use praise?
Smarter Parenting, How to get your child to listen | Importance of communication skills
Smarter Parenting, Address problems - Regain control - Preventive Teaching,
Smarter Parenting, Consequences for kids - Effective Negative Consequences,
Nicholeen Peck, A House United: Changing Children's Hearts and Behaviors by Teaching Self-Government (2009)
Smarter Parenting, Lessons, videos, blogs, podcasts and some special needs/issues materials.
Verses of the Week
Train up children in the way they should go then, even when they are old, they will not depart from it.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.
Prayer for the Week
Help me this week to begin to see my relationships in a new and more manageable way. Help me remember the tools I think will be useful to us, so that I can start making the lives and relationships around me happier and healthier. I really want to understand others better. I want more insight into how they think and into what they find important. I want to be a better parent and partner. Amen.