Repairing the Relationship

I went to a 2-day conference this past weekend and saw one of the founding “fathers’ of play therapy, Dr. Garry Landreth. He has been working with children as a play therapist for 50 years! Among many of his rich and interesting stories about the field of play therapy, were the pearls of wisdom that Dr. Landreth gave us. One that I found to be very powerful, especially for us parents is “It’s not what you do that is important but what you do after what you have done.” So, as parents, we goof! For example: instead of patiently answering our child’s question, one that s/he has asked for the 100th time, we grow impatient and respond inappropriately and out of frustration. Our child walks away hurt or gets angry back. We have bruised the relationship with our child. This leaves us feeling bad/guilty/sad/ _______(Fill in the blank.).

We give lots of importance to what we have just done. We berate ourselves because we have not lived up to our standard of being the perfect parent. Therefore, if we follow the words of Dr. Landreth, we will want to shift the focus of what we have just done over to repairing what we have done, thus repairing the relationship with our child. How do we do this? It’s not hard but the hardest part for many is admitting that we made a mistake, that we were less than perfect. It is important to model being less than perfect, model making mistakes and how we recover from these mistakes. Mistakes are an important part of learning. If we weren’t meant to make mistakes, erasers would not have been invented!

The repair is really quite simple the “what you do after what you have done” part of the equation.

1. Allow for a cooling off period. Let yourself cool off and gain composure. Your child may need to have a cooling off period too. This can be from 30 minutes to 2-3 hours. See my post on the cycle of anger.

2. Tell your child what you did not do well. Admit that your performance was less that perfect. It’s okay for your child to see this part of you, to see that people are not, nor need to be, perfect.

3. Say, “I wish I had ________ instead of __________ (What you did). This is a very important part as it also teaches your child what s/he can do as an alternate behaviour. So in the example above, losing patience, you might say, “I really did not handle that well when you asked me that question over and over. I got frustrated and yelled, I’m sorry. I wish I had said instead ‘I’m  frustrated by you asking me the same question over and over, so please don’t ask me again.’ ”

4. There are no buts in this equation. Do not say, “I really did not handle that well when you asked me that question over and over BUT it frustrated me.” But implies that you had good reason to blow up, that you are not responsible for your actions. This is not what you want to model.

Now you have just repaired the relationship and modelled it for your child. Try it next time you “goof” and I can assure you that you will have many opportunities to practice these 4 easy steps of making repairs!!

Share your successes or your challenges.

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Family Meetings

This is a great read written by my favourite parenting expert, Dr. Jane Nelsen. It is a simple “how to” for implementing family meetings.

From http://www.positivediscipline.com/newsletters/family-meetings.html

Family Meetings

by Dr. Jane Nelsen

It is difficult for me to choose a favorite Positive Discipline parenting tool, but family meetings are at the top. Children learn so much during family meetings, such as listening, respecting differences, verbalizing appreciation, problem-solving, and experiencing that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn and focusing on solutions. I have a much longer list, but you get the idea. Family meetings also create a family tradition and will create many memories.

One of my favorite stories is about a time my teenagers started complaining about family meetings—that they were stupid and lame. I empathized, told them we could shorten them, but to humor me because they were so important to me.

During this period, 17-year-old Mary spent the night with a friend. She came home the next day and declared, “That family is so screwed up. They should have family meetings.”

Why are family meetings so difficult?

Since family meetings are so important, why do so many families avoid taking the time to implement them? And, when they do, why do they have so many challenges?

One parent wrote about her frustrations with trying to implement family meetings sharing that her eight-hear-old son constantly displayed his new talent for burping during the meetings, and her five-year-old “freaks out” when anyone brainstorms a suggestion she doesn’t like.

Part of the problems could be that parents don’t take enough “time for training.” They may expect their children to have all the necessary skills for family meetings. When you think about it, this makes as much sense as expecting children to have the vocabulary of a college student the first year they start speaking.

Children under the age of four may not be developmentally ready to learn the skills for family meetings. If they are interruptive during family meetings (instead of being willing to play quietly), wait until they are asleep to have family meeting with older children. These first few meetings should take about 5 minutes.

A Family Meeting Training Plan

Week One: The Agenda

Introduce the five components of family meetings. Let your family know you will be spending as many weeks as it takes to learn each component.

  1. The Agenda
  2. Compliments
  3. Brainstorming for Solutions
  4. A family fun activity such as a game, cooking, or popcorn and a movie.
  5. Calendar for family fun event

The first week you can spend more time on the Agenda. Let your kids know this is where they can write problems. (Younger children can ask parents to write on the agenda for them.) Ask if anyone can think of any problems they would like help with. If they can’t think of anything you could say, “What about ____________ (whatever problem you have noticed during the day between or with the kids). You could then say, “I would like to add burping.” Let them know that the agenda will be put on the fridge and anyone can add anything they want during the week. You won’t try to solve any of the problems until after the kids learn about brainstorming. Let your kids know that next week, they’ll learn about compliments so they might want to be thinking of what they appreciate about everyone in the family so they’ll be ready.

Then put the agenda on the fridge and end the meeting.

During the week, when you notice the kids having a problem you might say, “That sounds like a good one to add to the agenda.” Don’t insist. Just notice if they do or not. If you see kids fighting you might say, “Would one of you like to put this on the agenda?” They may or they may not. You are just making a suggestion that increases awareness of the agenda. When you have a problem, such as kids not picking up their toys, you could say, “This is a problem. Would you like to put it on the agenda, or should I?” If they don’t, you can.

Week Two: Compliments

Bring the agenda to the family meeting and say something such as, “We have quite a few things on our agenda (even if you are the one who has put most of them on there). It will be interesting to see how we solve these problems after we learn about brainstorming. Tonight we are going to do compliments. Who knows what a compliment is?

If your kids don’t come up with any of the following you can teach the following:

  1. Thank you for something someone has done for you.
  2. “Atta boy,” or “atta girl” (acknowledgment of something someone has accomplished.)
  3. Appreciation for something you like about a family member.

During compliments you can go around the circle and allow everyone to give a thank you for _____, an atta boy/girl for ________, or an appreciation for ____. If they struggle with this, say, “We’ll practice again next week.” If everyone does well, say, “Next week we’ll learn about brainstorming.”

During the week, when you see something “good,” you can comment, “That would make a good compliment during our next family meeting.” Don’t write it down or tell them to remember. You are just creating awareness. Continue to make suggestions when you see something that could go on the agenda–and/or add things yourself.

Week Three: Brainstorming

Move on to brainstorming only when your kids are doing well (not perfect) putting things on the agenda and giving and receiving compliments.

Bring the agenda. Comment on how much is on it and that you can’t wait to talk about brainstorming. Then do compliments. If they are proficient, go on to teach about brainstorming.

Brainstorming is when we think of as many ideas as we can to solve a problem. They can be practical or wild and crazy. After we have had fun brainstorming (with no discussion), we will choose one solution that we all agree on and try it for a week.

Choose a problem from the agenda and practice brainstorming. Be sure to teach about the wild and crazy part by suggesting some ridiculous suggestions at first such as, “No talking for a full day. Everyone will just burp.”

If someone starts complaining about an idea, remind the kids, “During brainstorming any idea is okay. When we are finished brainstorming we can discuss some of the ideas before choosing one that works for everyone.”

You might want to introduce a timer and set it for two minutes and challenge the family to see how many ideas they can think of it two minutes. This may help them stick to brainstorming for ideas instead of getting off-track into discussions.

After brainstorming say, “Now let’s look at our list and cross out anything that isn’t practical, respectful, or helpful.” From what is left, choose one that everyone can agree to. If everyone can’t agree say, “Okay. We are doing great at learning this process. Let’s table this item and try again next week to see if we can find something we can all agree on.”

Family Fun Activity and Calendar for Family Fun Events

These two components can be added anytime after your family is doing well with the agenda and compliments. You may want to add one or both the same week that you add brainstorming. Or you may want to use the family fun activity as a brainstorming lesson—brainstorm for a list of things kids would like to do at the end of the family meeting.

The calendar for family fun events means taking the time to make sure things you would like to do as a family get put on the calendar.

As you read all of this I hope you understand that the process is even more important than an immediate result. You are teaching skills that can last a lifetime. You are being patient. You are being respectful and encouraging. Whenever something doesn’t do well, you may want to stop and say, We’ll try again next time.”

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Sibling Rivalry

The most important thing to remember about sibling rivalry is this; the reason that siblings fight is always for attention. Sibling rivalry starts way before the second child is born. Even in utero, the first child is feeling the attention being diverted from him/her and this child is now having to share attention with this unborn child. The competition has begun and the rivalry is soon to follow.

Here is how a fight will typically go. Child A and child B will fight. One of them will call “Mom/Dad!!” and the parent will arrive to “settle” this dispute. The parent will listen to both sides and then decide who was at fault in this argument leaving one child feeling smug and thinking “I won! Mom/Dad likes me best.” and the other feeling angry and thinking “Mom/Dad always take his/her side. They like him/her best. I’ll get even.” If this sounds like the parent, in all his/her good intention, has just sowed the seeds for a new battle to emerge, you’re right.

The experts agree that the best way to handle sibling rivalry is to let the kids work it out for themselves – and they will! Sibling rivalry is healthy and kids learn and practice many great skills when they fight. They learn to feel comfortable when faced with conflict, they learn conflict resolution and problem solving skills, they learn about compromising and how to negotiate.

Here are some pointers to follow when sibling rivalry begins.

1. Treat all fighters equally. It doesn’t matter who started a fight as it takes 2 to fight. One may start the fight but it takes a second person to continue the fight.

2. Do not take sides. This just causes resentment and looks like favortism in the eyes of the children.

3. Stay out of their fights. Kids need to learn how to resolve their fights.

According to the book “Siblings Without Rivalry” written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, there is a “script” to follow.

1. Name what you see/hear. “It looks like you two are mad at each other.

2. Reflect each child’s point of view. “I see that you, Mary, are wanting to play with the blocks that your sister, Sally, is playing with. Sally, you feel that you should play with the blocks because you have already started building with them.”

3. Summarize the problem with respect. “That’s a tough one, 2 children who want the same blocks.”

4. Express confidence in them to work it out. “I am confident that you can work out a solution that is fair to both of you, one where both of you will be happy.

5. Leave the room. You will be amazed at how quickly the children will be able to work out their disputes.

Things to note:

– When kids are young, it will be necessary that you sit down with them and teach them problem solving skills; teach them how to resolve conflicts. Sit them down, one on each side of you and talk through the problem and solutions without you, the parent, having any input on what they come to as a solution.

– If the children are hurting each other, treat each the same and separate them, each to a place where they can cool off before coming together again.

– If the dispute is not getting worked out, you can ask the children if they need help. Let them know that you are willing to help but if you step in, there will be one happy child and one unhappy child. Ask again if they would like help. Usually the answer is that they will work it out on their own.

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Understanding Adolescents

Adolescence is a time of huge change. Teens are needing to individuate, to progress, to maintain connection, to find balance, to learn to cope with tumult, sadness, rejection and disappointments (Grogan, 2015). They are also trying to make sometimes daunting discussions about their future: their academic and career choices. They are doing all this while their brains are in a chaotic period of development (NIHM, 2011). Their is heightened fear and anxiety in teens and this is due to the amygdala (the emotional centre of the brain) developing at a much faster rate that the prefrontal cortex (the reason and logic part of the brain) (Freidman, 2014).  In order to be able to make a good, sound decisions, the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex need to be working together, something that does not always happen in adolescence. Yet, you say, “But my son/daughter is capable of making good decisions.” Yes, they are capable and do make good decisions at times, but this is not consistent. Somedays the amygdala and the cortex are in sync and many days they are not. This inconsistence is due to the fact that the bran is still developing and will continue to do so until mid to late twenties – 25 for women, 28 for men.

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Therefore, when parents see this inconsistent and sometimes erratic behaviour, they become worried and begin to think the worst. Their impulse is to reign the teen in and become more intrusive. This is a destructive cycle and will only push the teen further away. What is a parent to do?

This is not an easy time for parents and this is a real juggling act; they can’t withdraw nor can they become intrusive. To make matters, ever more confusing for parents, is that somedays these teens are independent and autonomous, not needing much from their parents and other days they are acting like young children again and needing them again. So parents never know which role they are to play. The best way to imagine this period with your teens is think of your teen being on an elastic band, somedays that elastic is pulled very tightly, almost to the point of breaking and other days it is slack. This is the exact same process that 2 year-old sgoes through. They are individuating, learning who they are separate from their parents, testing their world and then returning to the safe haven of the parents for reassurance that the parent is still there. Parents need to be able to continue being that safe haven.

As humans, one of our basic needs to to connect and this never changes. We need to continue to work on our relationship with our teens, a relationship that we started building right from birth. This is a relationship built on mutual respect, understanding, trust, open communication and empathy. Try to remember, no matter how hard your teen pushes away, s/he still needs to know that you will always be there.

Healthy Self-esteem

The following is a very interesting article that was written by Kerry Watts, an independent consultant for the BC Council of Families. I thought it was worth sharing.

                                             Overvaluing a Child’s Accomplishments can Lead to Narcissism

Most parents hope to raise children with healthy self-esteem; few would be likely to say the same about raising a narcissist.

A recent study suggests that the way parents talk to and think about their children can have a significant impact on whether they end up feeling good about themselves and liking who they are (self-esteem), or feeling that they are better than other people and deserving of special privileges (narcissism).

The study, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, measured child narcissism and self-esteem in children aged seven to 12 over a two-year period (the study’s author notes that before the age of 8 all children are narcissists). The researchers also measured “parental overvaluation” and “parental warmth” as a way of comparing social-learning theory, which suggests that children acquire their self-image via socialization, with the currently dominant psychoanalytic theory that narcissism is a result of individuals overcompensating for a lack of parental care and attention during childhood.

Over the course of the study, children of parents who consistently overvalued their accomplishments and felt they were “more special than other children” and deserving of “something extra in life” had higher levels of child narcissism, whereas the parents who showed emotional warmth tended to have children with higher self-esteem. According to the research: “When children are seen by their parents as being more special and more entitled than other children, they may internalize the view that they are superior individuals, a view that is at the core of narcissism. But when children are treated by their parents with affection and appreciation, they may internalize the view that they are valuable individuals, a view that is at the core of self-esteem.”

Previous research has linked narcissism to aggression and and violent behaviour, and many researchers argue that narcissism is on the rise, especially among adolescents. At the same time, people with high self-esteem tend to have lower levels of anxiety and depression. While the most recent study represents only a small sample of families, and there are many other factors at play that make individuals likely to develop narcissistic tendencies, including temperament, the findings are important in that they show that the type of praise we offer children can have a significant impact in how they view themselves.

Brad Bushman, one of the study’s authors, “It’s a lot better to say ‘You worked really hard’ than ‘You must be really smart,’ ” he says, “because if you tell the kid that they’re smart and then if they fail they think ‘Oh I’m stupid.’ ” He also suggests that parents replace telling children “You are special” with “I love you.” This reaffirms the child’s worth and value and raises self-esteem without encouraging feelings of superiority over others.

https://www.bccf.ca/bccf/blog/overvaluing-a-childs-accomplishments-can-lead-to-narcissism/

BC Council for families

Neurofeedback and Anxiety

Neurofeedback has shown to be effective in reducing anxiety in children – not only in adults. It retrains the brain in a passive, non-invasive way and calms the nervous system. It teaches the brain to remain in an optimal zone. The American Pediatric Association recognizes neurofeedback as effective for children on the Autism Spectrum for the same reason that it is effective for dealing with anxiety; it keeps the brain working in an optimal zone. Neurofeedback training helps the brain create new neuropathways, bypassing those that no longer work.

Let me take you through an example. Sally, an eight year old was brought in to see me because she had a lot of trouble separating from her mother. She couldn’t go off to school without a lot of crying and clinging to mom nor could she be left at a friend’s birthday party and sleepovers at friend’s house; impossible. This behaviour is not typical of an eight year old and this anxiety was causing Sally distress and was interfering with many areas of her life.

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In he diagram above, the green wave shows brain activity that it is in the “optimal” zone. The waves lie within a certain range. The mauve wave has large fluctuations and shows the brain that is outside of the optimal range. In the case of Sally the mauve wave would indicate her “anxious” brain. What happens during neurofeedback, is that whenever Sally’s brainwaves go beyond the optimal level, the brain receives a signal (a slight interruption in the music that Sally is listening too) that tells the brain to return to the optimal range. This is creating a new neuropathway, letting the brain know that it needs to remain in the optimal zone. Each time that the brain is signaled to return to the optimal zone, the neuropathway is strengthened so that it learns to stay in this optimal zone on its own.

Imagine standing in a field of freshly fallen snow. The first time you make a path in snow, it is slow going and the path is just defined. You can see your footprints but the snow between each footprint is still in tact. Each time you pass over this same path, the snow gets more and more compact and the individual footprints eventually disappear. All that you see is a compact path through the snow. This is a similar to what happens in neurofeedback training.

During the neurofeedback sessions, each lasting 33 1/2 minutes, the child can read a book, or play a game on the computer while listening to music. The child can even watch a movie. The neurofeedback program does the rest. The child has 2 sensors attached to the head, which are used to read the signals on the surface of the brain. This information is processed through the neurofeedback system and the system sends signals back as it needs to. At no time are there any electrical impulses or any other signals going into the brain through the sensors. The only signal that the brain receives is in the interruption of the music or audio that the child is listening to.

I know that is sounds almost to good to be true but I have seen the results for myself. Neurofeedback works!

Shopping With Children

Isn’t it fun going grocery shopping with your children? If you’re like most other parents, you have answered an emphatic “NO!” to this question. Here are some suggestions on how to make shopping a more pleasant experience for all.

1. Be proactive and plan for success. Make sure that your children are fed, toiletted, rested or not ill before embarking on a shopping trip. Any one of these things not addressed can turn a shopping trip into a nightmare.

2. Have a ritual, something that you always do after shopping, like going for a hot chocolate. Don’t use this as a bribe, however. Instead tell your children, “When we are done shopping we will go for our hot chocolate.” The implication is there that says, “If we don’t finish, no hot chocolate.” as there are days when you will have to abandon shopping because it’s just not going to work. Then the hot chocolate gets skipped too. Yes, there may be tears and shouts of disappointments but stay calm. They will pass and then you can explain why the shopping trip had to end and how there could be no hot chocolate because you never finished shopping.

3. Go to the stores that have those mini shopping carts that the children can push around.

4. Give the children certain things that they need to find from your shopping list to keep them engaged.

5. Ask the children to bring an activity that they can do while sitting in the shopping cart.

6. Keep the trips short. It’s better for your sanity to make 3 short trips a week than 1 long trip.

7. Remember to let your child know how you appreciate that you were able to get your shopping done. Tell them specifically what they did that was helpful.

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Reducing Your Child’s Anxiety

In my counselling practice, the most common issue that children come in with is anxiety. Families live very busy lives and children are kept busy too. Parents feel that if the children are kept busy, they will not have time to get into trouble. This may be the case with some children but what all the children do experience by being kept so busy is a lot of anxiety. Children are taxied from school to dance lessons, soccer practice, piano lessons, soccer games, art lessons, swimming lessons and a variety of other structured activities. Once the children get home, they have to eat and do their homework which then leaves little to no time for unstructured, non-electronic playtime. This playtime, be it alone or with a friend, is the time when children will unwind, relieve their stress, use their imaginations and creativity. They learn how to interact with others: cooperate, negotiate and share. It is a time for exploration and discovery and it is a very necessary part of growing up.

Often when children with anxiety issues come for counselling, they are wound up very tight and one thing that they all seem to have in common is that they do not know how to play, or at least they do not feel comfortable playing. When they come to a Play Therapist, they can expect play and it takes time before these children can abandon themselves to the play and thereby start the process of learning to handle their anxiety.

My prescription for reducing children’s anxiety is to reduce the number of structured activities that they participate in. My rule of thumb would be that children should participate in no more than 2 structured activities at a time. Diane Marshall, Director of Community Engagement Programs at Kaboom! states the following:

“Research about play highlights its role in supporting cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development. Play also strengthens creativity and academic achievement, and relieves the symptoms of attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression, and potentially debilitating health conditions like obesity and diabetes, among other major benefits.”

What other activity do you know that does as much for children as play does?

How to Avoid Saying “NO!”

When the situation is one of a power struggle or with a defiant child, no is often an invitation to confrontation. Here are 16 ways of avoiding saying no.
1. State clear expectations. “You may … as soon as you have finished …”
2. Respond with a question. “What time is snack time, before or after your nap?”
3. State a given. “This is bath time.”
4. Do not defend or explain, simply continue
to restate the rule.
5. Offer limited choices where all answers are acceptable. ” You may change your shirt now or after breakfast.”
6. Check out child’s knowledge or understanding. “What needs to happen before we can have a snack?” or ask what they heard you say. What they heard may be completely different from what you said!
8. Invite cooperation. “I need your help. Can you figure out the most helpful thing to do right now?” If the child says “I don’t know.” the parent can respond with “Would you like help remembering.
9. Negotiate an agreement. “Would you like story before or after your bath?”
– Restate the agreement. “You would like your story before bath time?
– Follow through.
10. Say what you want. “I want you to have your bath now.”
11. Just say “Yes.”
12. Seek cooperation. . Instead of issuing commands such as “Get your room clean right now,” try “I have time to help you straighten your room now. Would you like to do it with me?”
13. Establish expectations. Use family meeting to to come to agreements in advance on family issues
14. Sometimes accept “No!” This makes hearing a “No!’ more acceptable.
15. Sometimes we have to say “No!” “No, you can’t run in the street/play with the stereo.”
16. “Yes, later.”

Have you came up with some of your own ways of avoiding “No!”