Name-Calling in the Family

When children feel upset, they may express their feelings in less than ideal ways. As adults, we can express our feelings maturely and without conflict (there are exceptions though!). However, as children are children, they can resort to insults and name-calling when they feel slighted, without any regard to the feelings of other people.

If name-calling is a problem in your family, consider the following tips:

What is Name-Calling?
Children often use words like “stupid,” “baby,” “idiot,” “moron,” and so on when addressing their siblings in anger. While parents do not generally “name-call” in the traditional way, the use of negative labels can have a similar effect. When a parent calls a child’s behavior “babyish,” “silly,” “mean,” “rude,” or “selfish,” he or she is in effect, also name-calling. Parents may not even realize that they are name-calling when they use these negative labels. They can innocently put these words into many simple, appropriate-sounding sentences – such as those below:

  • “You are being so rude.”
  • “What you are saying is rude.”
  • “Don’t be so rude.”
  • “That was so rude.”

Whatever grammatical structure is used, the negative label rude will be absorbed by the child. Parents cannot minimize the effects of a negative label by trying to hide it in various sentence structures. If the label is used anywhere in a sentence, it will be felt as an insult by the child. Of course the parent is simply trying to educate the child and not trying to insult him or her, but the child does not necessarily understand that.

Negative Effects of Name-Calling
Any negative label or insult has the potential to hurt a child’s feelings. Children who are frequently insulted by their siblings often remember the experience with pain even in adulthood. Children who have been insulted by their parents (i.e. being called “stupid,” “selfish,” “bad,” “good-for-nothing” etc.) also often retain the pain throughout adulthood.

However, remembered pain is not the worst consequence of name-calling. Far worse is the impact name-calling can have on personality development. Even fully grown adults who are subjected to regular insults (verbal abuse) are eventually affected by it: they come to feel less adequate, less competent and less lovable the more they experience being insulted. This effect is much much more powerful in childhood when a youngster’s sense of self is not yet fully formed. At this point, being called names can leave the child truly believing that he or she is damaged, worthless, useless, bad and defective, as well as unlovable. Once a child entertains such notions about him/herself, the child tends to act in ways that are consistent with that poor self-image. So a child who is regularly called a particular negative label, comes to believe that he IS that label. The label can be crippling, causing him to give up trying or project negative judgments onto others for the rest of his life (“I know no one really likes me”). Of course the negative labels used regularly by parents tend to be much more damaging than those used only by siblings, but the effects of sibling-abuse must not be underestimated.

Model Appropriate Behavior
Parents can help their kids learn to use positive words instead of negative labels. The first step is providing a model. This means that parents never call children names – they never use negative label or insulting language. Many people wonder how it is possible to correct a child without using a negative label. The secret is this: whenever you want to use a negative label to accurately describe a child’s behavior (i.e. “rude”), replace the label with the exact opposite word. For example, instead of saying to Junior, “You are being rude,” you can say, “You need to be polite when speaking to me.”  Always use the desired label instead of the offensive label. In this way, your children only hear your target words (your goals for them) throughout their 20 years growing up with you. This helps program their brains to remember your goals. Positive labels encourage positive growth whereas negative labels work the opposite way. If all your children hear is “stupid,” “lazy,” “selfish,” “wild” and so on, they will associate those words with their identity and all they are capable of being.

A few more examples of label switching are below:

  • messy becomes clean and tidy
  • disorganized becomes organized
  • selfish becomes generous
  • careless becomes careful

Your sentence then changes from, “You’re acting like a baby” to “I know that you know how to be mature. Please act that way now.”  Similarly, you can change “You’re being nasty to your brother,” to “Please be kind to your brother.”

Direct Teaching Techniques
Now that you have provided the model (and by the way, this also means that you don’t call your spouse or other people names), you are ready to teach your children. The following process can be used:

  1. Explain to your children that name-calling hurts and is harmful. Tell them that they must express their annoyance, frustration or upset simply by naming their feelings without adding insults. For example, it is fine to say to a sibling, “I disagree,” or “I don’t like what you did,” or “I don’t like your idea,” “Stop doing that” and so on.
  2. Make a clear consequence for name-calling. Whenever someone insults another person, they will have receive a previously established consequence of your choice. Tell the child what consequence he will receive for name-calling in the future and then give him that consequence after subsequent name-calling. For a complete list of appropriate negative consequences and the exact way in which they should be applied for name-calling, see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.
  3. Apply the selected consequence EVERY TIME you hear name-calling.  If improvement doesn’t happen over a few weeks, select a different consequence and try again.

Ridding your house of name-calling is a service to your family and even to your grandchildren, as the inter-generational chain of verbal abuse stops with your new programme. Good luck!

Child Swears

Swearing may be acceptable for “drunken sailors” but it is not a good communication technique in the home. Foul language is hurtful and insulting. Even if a person swears into the air because he stubbed his toe, it is still a very unpleasant sound in the house. It is unhealthy for the child who must listen to his or her parents swear at each other in anger. When an adult swears at a child it is not only offensive but also degrading and destructive to the child’s development. And when a child swears at a parent, it indicates a complete breakdown of the normal healthy boundaries between parents and children, some sort of grave dysfunction within the parent-child dynamic. In short, swearing is never a good way to communicate in family life.

How can parents encourage a “swear-free” environment? Consider the following tips:

Educate and Sensitize Your Child
Teach your child the importance and value of proper communication. Explain the crudeness of swearing and the reasons you don’t want it used in your house. The more the child understands about what is wrong with this form of communication, the more likely he or she is to respect your wish that this sort of language be avoided.

Consistently Reinforce a “No Swearing” Rule
Kids will tend to copy what they hear adults say or do. It’s almost impossible to discipline a child or teen who swears when Mom and Dad do the same. Ending a child’s swearing must therefore start with ending the parents’ swearing. If you’ve developed a habit of swearing when you hurt yourself or when you’re angry at someone, let your children know that you are “swearing off swearing!” Tell them that you are going to discipline yourself every time you swear until you’ve broken your habit of swearing. Your punishment could be anything you choose – donating money to charity, doing push-ups, or even writing out pages of lines every time you swear. Just pick something, let everyone know you’re doing it and then do it. Within a few short weeks, your should no longer be swearing and your child will be impressed.

Once you’ve properly dealt with your own swearing habits, tell the kids it’s their turn. You will now ask them to select an appropriate punishment for themselves (or choose one for them) that you will enforce whenever you hear them swear.

Mind Your Reactions When You Hear Your Child Swear
Children like attention and will engage in behaviors that bring them attention. Therefore, it’s essential NOT to give a lot of attention to swearing. If your child swears, go silent. Take time to calm down and think of what intervention you want to use to deal with this behavior. Remember: the more upset you show, the more you’re likely to hear bad language again. Stay cool.

For young children, those aged 5 and below, the best response to swearing is a calm “We don’t speak like that. Those are bad words. Please say it again properly.” Again, remain calm and collected.

For older kids, react calmly, slowly and quietly using the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe) – a gentle, but firm form of discipline. Essentially, you make a rule that swearing is not allowed. Then, when the child swears, you repeat the new rule and name a negative consequence that will occur in the future for swearing. Then, if it happens again, quietly and firmly apply the consequence.

Replace the Swear Word with Something That is More Acceptable
What if  your child uses swear words in everyday conversation? In this case, your child may not be swearing out of anger or for attention, but has simply become used to speaking in such a fashion. Ask your child to use an acceptable replacement word immediately after swearing. Constantly having to say the acceptable word helps the child’s brain select this word in the first place instead of the swear word. For instance, if the child has the habit of using a short expletive meaning “horse manure,” you can ask him or her to then say, “darn!” or “shoot!” or something similar. In this way, you are training a new, more acceptable habit.

Understanding Your Teen

Teenagers can be challenging to raise. However, knowing what “makes them tick,” can make the job far easier. Let’s look at the typical characteristics of teenagers in order to better understand this period of life.

The following are some of the hallmarks of the teenage years, and some tips on how parents can help navigate them:

Rapid Physical Changes
Adolescence is a time of many physical changes as children gradually transform into young adults. For boys, there is a “growth spurt” — a rapid increase in height and weight, sometimes followed by changes in bone structure. Hair starts to grow in different places: the face, the armpits, the legs and the pubic areas. The adolescent’s voice deepens, and sounds more “grown up.” There are increases in muscle mass and strength as well.

Girls are also have sudden increases in height and weight. Breasts develop, hips become more defined, and body hair grows in the pubic and armpit areas. This is also the time when menstruation begins, often bringing along hormonally induced mood swings.

In both genders, the skin becomes more sensitive and sweaty, making adolescents more prone to pimples or acne. Kids develop at different paces – some making early changes and others making later ones. Often, kids are self-conscious about where they are in the normal distribution. Everyone wants to be “average” but of course, that isn’t possible. As a result, teens can feel embarrassed, inadequate or otherwise troubled by their physical changes: boys with squeaky voices and girls with flat chests can feel temporarily inadequate or self-conscious. Sometimes, the lingering consequences of insecurity can last for decades. Parents can help by being sensitive to their teens, never making rude jokes or unkind remarks. After all, every human being must go through adolescence on his or her way to adulthood. The gentle support and guidance of a parent can make the transition easier.

From Parent Approval to Peer Approval
At this stage of development, your child’s main focus of attention will shift from you to their same-aged classmates and friends. They may now prefer to spend more time with friends than with family members. Some kids don’t even want to be seen with parents in public! It’s all part of the push toward independence. Their “cutting of the apron strings” is a temporary phase: as your child journeys to adulthood, a healthy balance between family life and social life will emerge — and you’ll regain your place in their heart.

Testing Limits
As mentioned, kids at this time are exploring their identity and independence. Testing of rules and limits is all about pushing the borders now, bursting out of the protective shell. Teens might violate curfew, disobey house rules, experiment with various risk-taking behaviors, and constantly negotiate their “rights.” You might bring books home from the local library on subjects like smoking, alcohol, sex, drug use and so on. There are many books for this age group designed to be appealing to teens – with pictures and simple explanations this literature can provide the warnings and education your child needs in a teen-friendly way. Books can be a better method than dire warnings from an anxious parent.

At this point, parents should strike that balance between being understanding of their child’s need to be autonomous, and setting reasonable and consistent rules for their child’s safety and well-being.. As a rule, try to accommodate the new freedoms they ask for, for as long as safeguards are in place. Take the opportunity to teach about responsibility and accountability. It’s important NOT to establish rules that none of their friends have. Instead, allow your child to be a normal teen within his or her community and try to put your own fears to rest. It can be helpful to access the help of a parenting professional or mental health professional to get normal parameters such as age-appropriate curfews on weeknights and weekends, dress codes, use of alcohol and drugs and so on. If you have an accurate frame of reference, your rules will be more appropriate – and your child will probably have a greater respect for your decisions, which might lead to greater compliance with your rules.

An Increased Interest in Sexuality
Your child will now be showing an interest in all things sexual including advertisements, internet porn, and real people. Don’t be surprised if you see your normally “plain and simple” son or daughter dolling up a bit, and taking an interest in grooming, fashion and flirting. This is all a normal part of the growing up process. Modern teenagers may be more open about sexuality than older generations and may want to be sexually active and more sexually active at earlier ages. Many kids in today’s society are confused about their sexual orientation and some may benefit from professional guidance. Your job is to share your values, provide information and establish clear expectations. You probably don’t want your child to be making babies just quite yet but teenagers don’t automatically know how to prevent that from happening. Teach responsibility and safety in sexuality – don’t assume that your child has learned this at school or on the street. Your child needs to know about sexual diseases as well and how to both prevent them and identify early symptoms. Some parents arrange for the child’s doctor to explain the details of contraception and sexual protection from pregnancy and disease.

Extreme Misbehavior – Conduct Disorder

Even before stepping into high school, John had already accumulated a laundry list of offenses. He had been involved in bullying, vandalism, fire setting, stealing, and fighting, among other aggressive or illegal activities. As if these antisocial behaviors weren’t enough, John also had other issues like abusing alcohol and prescription drugs, and threatening his parents with violence.  At 14, he was arrested for assault, and placed in a juvenile correction facility.

John has Conduct Disorder, a mental health condition believed to affect 3-10% of American children and adolescents. Conduct Disorder or CD is characterized by persistent patterns of antisocial behavior, behavior that violates the rights of others and breaks rules and laws. While most kids have natural tendencies towards episodes of lying, belligerence and aggression, children and teenagers with Conduct Disorder exhibit chronic and inflexible patterns of gross misbehavior and violence. Conduct Disorder is a serious disorder of behavior and not simply an overdose of the sort of ordinary mischief or misbehavior that all children get into. It is characterized by repetitive, consistent antisocial behavior that is not responsive to normal parenting interventions.

Conduct Disorder manifests in aggression to people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness or theft, and serious violations of rule such as running away, using dangerous weapons, skipping school and classes, ignoring curfews and so on. Symptoms cause severe impairment in the child’s personal, academic or social life. Conduct Disorder occurs more often among males than among females and usually coexists with other mental health conditions such as substance abuse, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, learning disorders, and depression.

What it’s Like for Parents
Conduct Disorder poses one of the greatest sources of grief and stress among parents. Symptoms can start out looking relatively normal, involving “misbehavior” such as chronic arguments with parents, disobedience and even hyperactivity. But as time goes by the gravity of the symptoms tend to escalate, alongside with their frequency. Temper tantrums can become actual episodes of violence and assault; lying to parents can become stealing from friends and classmates; and lack of respect for privacy at home can become breaking and entering somebody else’s home. Conduct Disorders can lead to cases of rape and sexual abuse, even homicide. If left untreated, Conduct Disorders can evolve into the adult disorder known as Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Receiving calls from teachers, principals and even the local police station, are common occurrences for parents of conduct disordered children and teens. Usually, there are many fruitless attempts to discipline or moderate a child’s behavior. Even counseling is insufficient because the biological nature of the disorder necessitates medical treatment as well. Because kids and teens with Conduct Disorder  suffer from a lack of empathy and emotional responsiveness, parents rarely get through to their child on their own.

What can Parents Do?
The good news is that there is hope for treating Conduct Disorders, and many programs have been found effective in both managing symptoms and restoring functionality. However, treatment is usually slow and complex. Indeed, Conduct Disorder is one of the most difficult behavioral disorders to treat. Recovery generally requires time and a combination of many different treatment approaches including different types of therapy, education, behavioral interventions and medications.

What can Help?
Early intervention helps increase the likelihood of successful treatment, which is why parents should act promptly when they notice antisocial behavior in their children. CD often begins as ODD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, a condition characterized by lack of respect for authority. Lack of empathy is also a risk factor, alongside a family history of antisocial and/or criminal behavior.

As part of a comprehensive treatment program, traditional counseling and therapy interventions can go a long way, particularly those that aims to teach positive social skills such as communication, empathy and conflict management. Emotional management techniques, such as anger management interventions can also help. Sensitivity training, especially those at residential camps where kids and teens can interact with peers (and sometimes animals like horses), have also been known to be effective.

Parents are also encouraged to join family therapy sessions and Parent Management Training or PMT. Family therapy can surface systemic factors that cause and reinforce antisocial behavior in children. Family therapy can also help parents establish more effective forms of guidance and discipline, and teach parents how to respond to disruptive and defiant behaviors.

Because of the biological factor in Conduct Disorders, getting pharmacological help is important as well. A psychiatrist can help plan the appropriate drug therapy for a child or teenager with Conduct Disorder. In addition, a psychiatrist can help manage the child’s overall program of therapy and specific interventions. Sometimes the best source of help for children with Conduct Disorder is a specialized children’s mental health treatment center where many different types of professionals offer services under one roof and the child’s program can be coordinated through one department. Ask your doctor for a referral to such a center for diagnosis and treatment of your child.

Grumpy or Abusive Upon Awakening

Parent: “Good morning, sweetie. Breakfast is ready – come get it before it gets cold!”
Child: “Get out of my room! “

Mornings can be quite stressful when you’re dealing with a grumpy child. Morning grouches can range all the from snappy and irritable to rude, mean and/or aggressive. They may be also be contrary, uncooperative or outright defiant. In many cases, they can spoil the day before it’s even started.

Sometimes morning grouches are totally pleasant people at any other hour of the day; sometimes they are the logical manifestation of a routinely negative temperament. Whether they are full time grumps or just morning grumps, parents need to know how to get them up and running.

What can parents do with children who are grumpy or hostile upon awakening? Consider the following tips:

Your Child Simply isn’t a Morning Person
It’s the same for children as it is for adults: some are night owls; others are morning people. Whether it’s innate personality, or an inborn biological clock, it may be best to understand that the youngster is “morning-challenged.”  It’s O.K. to accept some morning moodiness, but do not accept bad behavior – including rudeness, violence or any other unacceptable behavior. It’s O.K. if the child cannot greet you with smiles and sunny cheer. It’s not O.K. if the child is unpleasant or mean.

Consider Sleep Factors
Some children and teens are miserable in the morning because they are sleep-deprived. Sleep deprivation can occur as a result of too little sleep (going to bed too late), but it can also occur as a result of poor quality sleep (i.e. caused by sleep apnea or other sleeping disorders). If your child is going to sleep too late, take steps to make sure that he or she goes to bed earlier. However, if your child is going to sleep at the right time, consider speaking to your child’s doctor about the morning issues and ask for a sleep assessment. What you might have judged to be poor behavior might actually be a health disorder.

Make it Pleasant
In less drastic cases, the creation of morning rituals may be enough to ward off the morning grumps. Some children wake up stressed and/or anxious about the day ahead. Rituals are very soothing, especially for the very young. If you have a young child who has mood issues in the morning, perhaps charting a structured morning routine can help. Use your imagination and make it fun as well as easy to follow: songs, poems, and stories may help move the morning routine along. For school-age kids, read a couple of knock-knock jokes instead of offering the traditional “time to get up” notice.  Consider using a funny or fun alarm clock – this can work nicely for teens too. Or, use a graduated alarm clock that uses light and pleasant tones to gently awaken the slumbering child. Play the child’s favorite music on speakers. Keep the atmosphere light and positive. Spray the room with calming essential oils or – in the case of aggressive morning kids – Rescue Remedy spray. When your child does show any sign of improvement, make sure to offer acknowledgement, praise and even reward – you want to encourage him to continue to work in the right direction.

Use Discipline if Necessary
Some kids (and adults!) are rude in the morning simply because they can be. No one is stopping them. And yet, these same youngsters suddenly improve their ways when someone “lays down the law.” Showing a zero tolerance for morning abuse, backed up by appropriate consequences, can stop morning abuse in its tracks. Remember, you’re not asking your child to feel happy about having to get up in the morning; you are only demanding that the child act in a respectful manner no matter how tired, irritated or displeased he or she might be feeling. Use the 2X-Rule to structure a plan of discipline. The next time your child is verbally abusive or otherwise disrespectful in the morning, tell him or her the new rule: “It’s not O.K. to speak to me in an unpleasant tone of voice or to say unpleasant words because everyone deserves to be treated with respect at all times. If you are in a bad mood in the morning, that is fine, but you need to speak and act respectfully nonetheless.”  Then, when the child behaves inappropriately on another day, repeat the rule and add the warning of consequences to come. For instance, “If you are in a bad mood in the morning, that is fine, but you need to speak and act respectfully nonetheless. And from now on, when you behave this way, such & such consequence will occur.” Name a specific negative consequence (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for more details about the 2X-Rule and for ideas about selecting age-appropriate consequences). On the third occasion of rudeness or lack of cooperation, apply the consequence. Use the same consequence as long as you are seeing improvement in the morning rudeness but, if after 3 or 4 times of using the same consequence there is still no improvement, change the consequence and try again.

Consult a Professional
If you have tried all these interventions and your child is still grumpy upon awakening, do consider speaking to your child’s pediatrician about the issue.

Defiant Behavior (ODD)

“I’m not eating that!”

“I can leave class anytime I want to. You don’t own me.”

“No. Make me!”

Do you have a child who is consistently negativistic, argumentative and hostile? Does it seem that every little issue in your household turns into a major battle? If so, you are probably exhausted! Parenting has turned out to be a struggle rather than the pleasure you expected it to be. And you are probably also confused – why is your child acting this way? Is there something you have done wrong? Or is there something wrong with your child?

There are  many reasons why your child may be this way, ranging from normal temperamental issues and  periods of intense emotional stress all the way  to various mental health diagnoses. In this article we will examine one possible cause of consistent defiant behavior: ODD – Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Why Do Kids Misbehave?
Misbehavior is normal for any child; part of the natural developmental process involves testing parental limits. In addition, stress can make kids irritable and less able to control their behavior or their mouths. Sick, overwhelmed, hungry or tired kids disobey, talk back, argue or even deliberately trample parents’ authority. Sometimes, simple lack of knowledge or inexperience is the culprit behind misbehavior.

However, when a child defies authority regularly and consistently – across all situations and independent of other factors like stress, fatigue and so on – it is possible that he or she is suffering from a condition called Oppositional Defiant Disorder or ODD.

What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?
Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a chronic, pervasive pattern of being uncooperative, defiant and hostile to authority figures like parents, teachers and most adults. ODD symptoms are far more intense than ordinary misbehavior, impairing a child’s ability to function well at home or school. Sibling relationships and friendships are also affected.

Children with ODD have frequent temper tantrums and other dramatic displays of displeasure, engage in excessive arguments with adults, constantly challenge or question rules, and deliberately attempt to annoy or upset other people. They’re also prone to blaming others and exhibiting vengeful behavior. Symptoms usually occur at both home and school. ODD most frequently  occurs along with other diagnoses such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, mood disorders and anxiety disorders. ODD is estimated to affect 3 to 16% of the population of children and teens. It can manifest as early as a child’s toddler years.

What Causes ODD?
Experts point to a combination of factors including biological (e.g. an impairment on the area of the brain that manages impulse control and emotional management), social (e.g. harsh and punitive parenting techniques, stressful family transitions, difficulty relating with people) and cognitive (e.g. poor problem-solving skills, irrational thinking) issues. It is recommended  that interventions for a child diagnosed with ODD are also holistic, addressing the whole child.

What Can Parents Do?
If you suspect that your child may have ODD, consult a pediatric mental health professional for assessment, and if necessary, a treatment plan. Once a diagnosis has been made, there are strategies that parents can employ to help their child with oppositional behavior. Management of ODD may involve therapy, medication and behavior management programs to be carried out at home and school. Positive parenting styles have been found helpful as well in the treatment of children with ODD. In particular, taking the power struggle out of parenting can lessen the tendency for the child to fight authority. When parents don’t offer strong emotional reactions to provocation, kids lose interest in trying to provoke them. Parents of ODD children can take specialized parent education training.

Although many children with ODD will benefit significantly from medication, parents can also experiment with Bach Flower Remedies instead of or along with psychotropic medication. Behavioral and psychological interventions will still be required. The remedies Vine (for defiance and hostility), Chestnut Bud (for disregard for authority), Heather (for drama and the need for attention) and Cherry Plum (for loss of control) can be added together in one mixing bottle and offered 4 drops at a time, 4 times a day until the defiant behavior has significantly improved. You can find more information on Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site. Before starting your child on the remedies, note how many times a day he or she currently engages in tantrums and arguments. Record the child’s behavior for a month while the child is taking the remedies. If there is a positive effect, continue as is, but if no difference is noted, be sure to consult with your doctor and/or psychiatrist for proper assessment and medical treatment.

How to Raise Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.) refers to “people smarts.” A person with high emotional intelligence understands both himself and others. Not only does the person understand people, but he also knows how to make them feel comfortable – he knows how to bring out the best in others. As a result, the person with high E.Q. experiences more success in relationships and at work. Kids with high E.Q. have better relationships at home and at school, with kids and with adults. Moreover, high E.Q.in children and teens is associated with better academic performance, better physical health, better emotional health and better behavior. In adults, high E.Q. is associated with better performance in every area of life.

What can you do to help foster your child’s emotional intelligence? In this article we will discuss ways one can boost their child’s emotional intelligence.

Adapt an Authoritative, Not an Autocratic Parenting Style
Parenting style has a huge influence on children’s emotional intelligence. When parents can guide their children while still being sensitive to their feelings, children have higher E.Q. Authorative parents are warm, but consistent in setting appropriate limits and boundaries. They will use discipline, but not at the expense of respectful communication and care. Their children will learn how to be sensitive to others and they will also learn how to “talk to themselves” compassionately, modelling after their parents. This gentle self-talk becomes a major aspect of their emotional intelligence, a tool they can use to reduce their stress in a healthy way.

Autocratic parents, on the other hand, don’t care that much about the child’s feelings. Instead, they focus on the rules of the household, what is allowed and what is prohibited, what the child may and may not do. Sensitivity to the child’s inner world is missing. In this case, children fail to experience parental empathy and as a result, fail to learn how to soothe their own upset emotions. They may attempt to relieve their discomfort by becoming aggressive, acting out their feelings. Eventually they may turn to comforts outside of themselves such as addictions (to food, alcohol, drugs, etc.). Acting out and addictive behavior reflects lower E.Q.

The more feeling words used by parents and educators, the more sensitive a child becomes to his inner reality. Most of us tend to use few emotion words in our dealings with children, and when we do, we often use the same few tired ones over and over.  It is important that we move beyond “mad,” “sad,” “glad,” and “scared.”  Shades of feeling are most helpful and can be used when describing our own feelings or the child’s feelings. Words like irritated, annoyed, frustrated, anxious, worried, terrified, alarmed, disappointed, hurt, insulted, embarrassed, uncomfortable, unsure, curious, interested, hopeful, concerned, shocked, elated, excited, enthusiastic, let down, abandoned, deserted, mellow, calm, peaceful, relaxed, bored, withdrawn, furious, enraged, frightened, panicked, and proud can be used DAILY to help provide an emotional education in the home or classroom. These are the regular feelings that children have in facing life, stimulated by everyday experiences, dreams, movies and even novels. Identifying a youngster’s emotional reaction and feeding it back to him, helps him to become aware of his inner processing. This information then forms the core of his emotional intelligence, providing an accurate barometer of his response to his world. From this place of inner certainty, a child is well-equipped to navigate life, knowing what he feels, what he is searching for and when he has attained it. His familiarity with the world of feelings allows him to connect accurately and sensitively with others. This prevents him from hurting other people’s feelings with words and further, permits him to achieve great kindness and sensitivity in his interpersonal transactions.

Here are some practical steps you can take to bring feelings into focus:

  1. Respond to your child. From the time your child is a crying infant to the time she is a young adult, be sure to be responsive. This means that you take her communications seriously. If she cries, try to come (instead of making her cry it out.). If she asks for something, try to answer her promptly. If she talks, you listen and respond appropriately. All of this responsiveness builds emotional intelligence because you are giving your youngster valuable relationship feedback. In the opposite scenario, in which a parent either fails to respond or responds only after a long waiting period, the child learns that people tune each other out. This causes the child to shut down. She assumes that her feelings aren’t that important based on lack of parental responsiveness and from this concludes that people’s feelings aren’t that important – the very OPPOSITE of the conclusions made by emotionally intelligent people. Quick responsiveness gives the message that people’s feelings matter. This is a prerequisite concept for emotional intelligence.
  2. Use a FEELING vocabulary. Pepper your daily conversation with “feeling” words. You can name your own feelings. Let your child know that you feel excited or dismayed or discouraged or resentful or whatever. This gives your child the vital information that everyone – including parents – has feelings and an inner life. Some people do this naturally, of course, but many do not. For instance, when a child is making too much noise, a parent may just say something like, “Can you please quiet down?” However, the Emotional Coach would say something like, “I’m starting to feel overwhelmed with all this noise going on. Can you please quiet down?” Similarly, a regular parent might give positive feedback to a child in this way, “I like the way you waited patiently in line with me at the bank today.” An Emotional Coach, on the other hand, might say something like, “I felt very relaxed with you in the bank today because you were waiting so patiently.” In other words, the Emotional Coach looks for opportunities to describe his or her inner experience. It is this description that helps the child begin to build an emotional vocabularly that will open the doors to Emotional Intelligence.
  3. Name your child’s feelings. Children feel feelings all day long but not all parents comment on them. In fact, many parents are more practical, focusing on solutions to problems. For instance, if a child is upset because there are no more of his favorite cookies left in the jar, the typical parent might say, “I’ll pick up some more for you when I go shopping this week.” While that solves the problem, it doesn’t build emotional intelligence. An Emotional Coach might say, “Oh, that’s so disappointing! You really love those cookies! I’ll pick some up for you when I go shopping this week.” The extra few words acknowledging the child’s inner world (“Oh that’s so disappointing”) make all the difference when it comes to building Emotional Intelligence. Similarly, parents often try to get kids to STOP their feelings or at least SHRINK their feelings by saying things like, “Just calm down – it’s not such a big deal” or “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” of “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” The Emotional Coach, on the other hand, accepts all the child’s feelings, giving the child the name for what is going on inside. “I can see how upset you are,” or “You’re really scared about this,” or “It so important to you,” and so on. By accepting all feelings as they are, the Emotional Coach teaches kids not to be afraid of or overwhelmed by feelings. This is a very important part of becoming emotionally intelligent.
  4. Teach your child how to express emotions appropriately. While all feelings are acceptable, all BEHAVIORS are not. It is not O.K. to hit and scream just because you feel angry. It is not O.K. to cry for an hour at the top of your lungs just because you are disappointed. Parents must teach children – by their example and by their interventions – the appropriate behavioral expression of emotions. For instance, parents can teach children to express their anger in a respectful way by saying things like, “When you are mad at your brother for touching your puzzle, just tell him ‘I don’t want you to touch my puzzle. I’m working hard on it and it bothers me when you move the piece around.’ Don’t slap his hand!” Parents will have to use the normal techniques of positive attention, encouragement and discipline to get the lessons across. It is, of course, essential, that parents are respectful themselves in the way they express their upset, fear and disappointment. See “The Relationship Rule” in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details on how to teach the proper way to express negative emotions.
  5. Let them experience failure and disappointment. It’s understandable that parents want to protect their children from disappointment. But know that rescuing children from pain, to the point that they never get to experience life, will backfire in the long run. Children need to know how to bounce back from adversity — resilience muscles need training too! And children won’t know how it is to rebound from disappointment if they aren’t allowed to experience it to begin with. When your child gets a poor mark on a project, don’t rush to the teacher to get the mark raised; instead, use emotional coaching with your child (that is, NAME her feelings). “This mark is so disappointing! You tried really hard and the teacher didn’t appreciate it. That is frustrating!” By naming feelings, you actually help shrink them down to size. Feeling words act as “containers” for feelings. It’s O.K. for the child to be upset, or even to cry. After awhile, she’ll calm down. And this is the important part – learning that calm follows a storm. Everything in life doesn’t need to be perfect. There is such a thing as recovery. “There will be more projects, more chances to get a good grade.” You want to show the child that you yourself aren’t afraid of negative experiences or emotions. This model that life is “survivable” can really help a child cope when the going gets rough.
  6. Expand their social network. Few parents think of other people as possible teaching instruments in promoting emotional intelligence. But kids can learn more from interesting personalities and other people’s life experiences than they can from a classroom lecture. Having to adapt well to different types of people — quiet, assertive, annoying, fun-loving — can teach a child how to regulate their behavior based on the demands of an interaction. The challenges other people go through can also provide insight on how to manage one’s own trials in life. Learning vicariously through the success and failure of other people is a good way to raise a child’s E.Q. So if you can, go ahead and enroll your child in various clubs or organizations. When they’re a bit older, encourage them to volunteer in community service. Send them on mission trips. Let them talk with grandpa or grandma. Every person has a lesson to impart to a child.

Arguments and Arguing

Everyone has an opinion: the toddler thinks she should stay up late while Mom thinks she should be in bed early. The 10 year-old thinks ketchup belongs on every food while the parents think not. One spouse thinks dishes can dry in the drainer while the other thinks they belong in the cupboard. Sometimes, we just don’t agree.

What happens when people disagree with each other? In some households, disagreements bring people to the verge of hysteria (and sometimes beyond). There can be shouting, pushing, throwing and other aggressive or even violent displays of opinion. In some homes, there is endless argument and debate, a verbal repartee that wears everyone down. In some homes, disagreements melt silently into the atmosphere; they are barely detectable, politely expressed as a difference of opinion. What’s it like in your home?

Arguments Hurt
Respectful disagreements are a necessary part of family life. However, arguments are not. Arguments cause stress, exhaustion and bad feelings. If they are frequent, they harm relationships. It is essential that people who live together learn to communicate without arguing. A peaceful home is not one in which everyone agrees about everything all the time; it is one in which people can make their point, be heard, be flexible, give-in, compromise, move-on and work together. It is one in which everyone’s needs are considered and respected.

Teaching Kids Not to Argue
Parents can help their children learn to handle differences peacefully. They do this in two ways – by modelling and teaching appropriate behavior.

Parents who argue with each other or with others teach their children to argue. These kids are likely to grow up to argue with their spouses and their own children. It will not be possible to teach your kids to handle conflict respectfully if you don’t do it yourself.

If you are providing a good model of respectful conflict resolution, you still have to TEACH the children how to handle their own negotiations in a respectful way. The combination of the parental model and parental instruction gives the child the best opportunity to acquire this skill. However, the child’s nature is also an important factor. Some people are born to argue! Their temperament is rigid and controlling. Other people are flexible and easy-going from birth. Whatever the inborn difference in their children, parents who provide the proper model and education are doing all that is in their power to help their kids enjoy peaceful and loving relationships. The desire to argue occurs frequently when a parent must deny a child or teen something that is requested. The answer “no” often leads directly to arguments. Let’s look at the “I Don’t Argue Rule” to see how parents can help children learn to accept this inevitable part of life without argument (you can learn about this rule in more detail in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.)

The “I Don’t Argue Rule”
The “I Don’t Argue Rule”  helps prevent escalation of conflict by ending combative conversations quickly. The entire conflict lasts only two rounds. For instance, a child wants to put ketchup on everything but the parent doesn’t want him to. The child enters “round 1” saying, “Can I put ketchup on my peas?” The parent enters “round 1” saying, “no” and offering one brief reason. For example, the parent might say, “No. It’s not healthy for you to put ketchup on all your food.” This reason is not meant to be a solid all-encompassing defense. The reason is a courtesy, to help the child understand that the parent is not simply a stubborn, mean dictator. When the parent usually answers “yes” the occasional, well-considered “no” must learn to be tolerated and respected by a child, not debated. (The child should have ample room to expand his mind in active debate at the dinner table over thought-provoking discussions about life, politics, religion and any other subject of interest: his creativity and intelligence will not be stifled by the “I Don’t Argue Rule”). In order to teach the “I Don’t Argue Rule,” parents must be reasonable people who are flexible and compassionate. They must be “yes” people, rather than “no” people. Unfortunately, “no” parents actually create the conditions under which children MUST argue in order to survive.

The child then starts “round 2” with a variation on the theme (i.e whining, repeating the request louder, giving logical arguments or whatever). For instance, the child says, “PLEASE!! I WANT KETCHUP! PLEASE?” The parent pauses to think carefully on “round 2” then either changes his or her mind OR repeats the original reply. If the parent repeats the original reply, he or she adds the words, “and that’s the end of the conversation.”  For instance, the parent now says, “I’ve thought about it and I don’t want you to have ketchup on your peas – and that’s the end of the conversation.”  The child does “round 3, 4, 5 etc.” alone, whining, begging, protesting, threatening or whatever without any response from the parent. In fact, the parent does not continue the discussion in any form, but rather gets involved in some other activity. When this approach is used consistently, children soon learn that they might as well stop talking after “round 2” because nothing they say will make a difference. They therefore stop arguing completely.

While using the “I Don’t Argue” Rule, parents ignore the unpleasant tactics of their kids. The rule is meant to teach children only one point: do not go on and on and on. Debate can be fun at the right time (i.e. on the debating team!) but is stressful when it occurs in the course of normal family communication. By teaching children this important point, parents give them a skill that will help them maintain pleasant relationships throughout their lives. When parents focus on giving and accepting only respectful communication, they help their children guard their tongues and their happiness. Differences of opinion exist; fighting and arguing doesn’t have to.

Bad Manners in Public

It’s bad enough when kids display bad manners at home but all the more upsetting when they behave that way in public! Most parents are mortified when other people can see how their kids eat with their mouth open, speak disrespectfully to grownups or sneeze without the benefit of a tissue.

But don’t worry: good manners can be learned (and taught!). If your child displays bad manners in public, consider the following tips:

Consider the Child’s Age
Bad manners are more common in certain age groups. For instance, pre-schoolers are quite impulsive and have trouble waiting. Consequently, this age group is prone to interrupting adults in order to get what they want or need at the moment. Since the behavior is age-appropriate, parents need to be gentle when offering education. “I know it’s hard to wait sometimes. When you see Mommy or Daddy speaking, just sit nearby and tap your fingers on your knees. Soon, Mommy or Daddy will stop talking and see you there and will be happy to help you with whateer you need.” If the child continues to interrupt despite the gentle instructions, parents might consider that the child is not yet ABLE to wait patiently. Older kids, however, have developed more impulse control and can be expected to be more restrained. Also, young children are used to shouting in the school playground and may not realize that shouting in a shopping mall or place of prayer is not equally acceptable. Some kids may slurp up their drinks in a noisy manner without realizing that there is another way. In general, young children must be taught how to display good manners – they’re not born knowing the rules of civilization. Patient guidance from parents is important. Using encouragement and positive reinforcement to encourage good manners is always the first route. Only if these fail to attain the desirable results would one move on to discipline.

Model Good Manners
The best way to teach good manners is for you to display them on a constant basis. If saying “good morning” or “good afternoon” is part of the family culture, then expect that your child will be greeting people courteously outside the home too. If some formality is present when you dine at home, then kids will practice table manners in public settings too. You can demonstrate how one answers a telephone politely, how one introduces oneself or other people, how one eats and so forth. You will still need to TEACH in addition to modelling. However, it will be very difficult to teach if you fail to provide the model of the behavior you are looking for!

Consider That Your Child is Misbehaving for Attention
Does your child have impeccable manners at home, but horrible manners when there’s an audience? If this is the case, consider the possibility that your child’s poor etiquette is his way of getting negative attention. When this happens, just ignore the bad manners; don’t reprimand or laugh. Also, be sure to give your child more positive attention both when he is behaivng appropriately and when he is just doing nothing wrong. When a child gets enough positive attention, he usually doesn’t try to get negative attention. However, if he feels that the only way he can get a parent to talk to him is to misbehave, then that is exactly what he’ll do.

Don’t Reprimand in Public
When a child shows bad manners in public, it’s tempting to reprimand — after all, people are watching! But reprimanding a child in public may backfire on you; your kids might feel embarrassed at being lectured or punished with an audience. Worse, you may be reprimanding when your child didn’t deliberately misbehave, but acted based on what they thought was right in that situation.  Indeed, it is ironic how ill-mannered a parent can appear when reprimanding a child publicly – some parents raise their voice, use unpleasant language or act gruffly. Such behavior can never instill good manners in a child! Instead of giving in to other people’s disapproving stares, wait until you both get home and gently teach alternative, more appropriate behaviors.

Reward the Exercise of Good Manners
You’d be surprised at how well a child will adapt a practice or behavior when he or she knows it pleases you! Praise your child when they practice courtesy and good manners, and provide a smile when they behave well. And if they did something really considerable, such as made a grandparent or a visitor feel good, then you can go for big rewards, like taking a visit to the ice cream parlor or buying a small gift.

Bad Manners at Home

Sometimes children have trouble following basic etiquette or displaying good manners. During meals, for instance, your child may eat with his hands or burp out loud (without so much as a “please excuse me!”). When playing with a friend or sibling, he may grab a toy without asking or refuse to share. When a parent speaks he may interrupt. He may pass wind when at home, without caring about whether anyone is present. However, no matter what specific issue your child has with manners, there is a way to help remediate it. Even though these behaviors may occur in the privacy of your home where no one might be upset by them, addressing them is still important. It’s a parent’s job to help socialize a child, giving the youngster the essential skills that will help him in life. Possessing good manners is one life skill that will always serve your child well.

If your child displays bad manners consistently consider the following tips

Be a Role Model and Educator
This is obvious, but important enough to state anyways. We aren’t always aware of ourselves, so we may not realize that we eat with our mouth open or talk with our mouth full – especially if no one ever complains to us. It’s easier to see such behaviors in our kids. When you correct your child you may occasionally hear something like, “You do the same thing!” If this happens, thank the youngster for pointing it out and then say something like, “I guess we’ll both have to work on this habit.” This goes for any form of bad manners: putting your shoes on the sofa, grabbing things out of people’s hands, eating before the others have arrived at the table, taking portions of food without offering to others and so on and so forth. It can be a fun project to get a book on etiquette (there are many excellent ones available) and read tiny sections of it to the family at dinner time (it might take a year or longer to finish!). It can be used to stimulate discussion as well as to learn about social standards of behavior.

Use the CLeaR Method and Other Positive Strategies
The CLeaR (comment, label, reward) Method can be used when your child has a real problem with manners. In the CLeaR method, a parent reinforces the child’s behavior through the use of positive comments, positive labels and, for a very short period, a simple reward. This method feels better and actually works better than the nagging method – the technique most parents use to correct their child’s poor manners. It is also more pleasant than using punishment to correct the negative behavior. Suppose you were trying to teach your youngster to eat with cutlery instead of his hands. The CLeaR Method might look something like this: If the child begins to eat inappropriate food with his hands, hand him a fork and then make a comment (“You’re using a fork!”) Then offer a label. (“You have good manners!”) Then offer a small reward. (“I think that deserves a special treat for dessert for everyone!”) When using the CLeaR Method to teach a behavior, refrain from using discipline for that behavior at the same time. (Learn more about how to use the CLeaR Method to replace punishment, nagging and ineffective interventions, in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.) In fact, it is best to refrain from correcting the child when he is doing the wrong thing (i.e. talking with his mouth full) altogether. Correction is a form of attention that can accidentally reinforce the undesirable behavior. For instance, every time a child uses his talks with his mouth full, the parent tells him “finish chewing before you speak.” This comment – even though it is a correction – is a form of attention for the child and, as such, can have the consequence of INCREASING the inappropriate behavior! Instead, either use the CLeaR Method for that child or give specific praise to another child at the table who happens to be eating with his mouth closed (“I like the way you are eating quietly with your mouth closed”). (By the way, you can “set the child up” for the CLeaR Method by quickly and quietly asking him to talk only after he’s finished chewing and then giving loud and clear CLeaR Method attention to him when he does that.)

Use Consequences
Children can misbehave for many reasons. Your child may have bad manners, not because he doesn’t know what to do, but because he is choosing not to do it. Always check that your communication with a youngster is within the ideal 80-20 Ratio – that is, 80% of what you are communicating, feels good to the youngster (90% for teenagers – see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details on the 80-20 Rule). A good ratio reduces defiance and behavior problems in kids and teens. In addition, positive, good feeling, techniques should always be tried first when you want to educate a child. However, while such techniques will do an excellent job of education in most cases, they don’t ALWAYS provide a timely cure. If a child repeatedly displays a particular bad manner despite your positive efforts at eradicating it, it is time to try more traditional forms of “bad feeling” discipline such as the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details). Suppose, for instance, that your child enjoys burping at the table. You will inform the child that burping is not acceptable (except on rare accidental occasions, during which you say, ‘excuse me.’). After your information is delivered, the child will likely burp again at some point. Now you go to Step 2, telling him “from now on, when you burp at the table, you will have to leave for 5 minutes and then you can come back and try to behave at the table appropriately.” The third time the burp occurs and every time thereafter, a negative consequence will be applied. Use the same consequence for 3 or 4 occasions in order to see if it is being effective in reducing the rude behavior. If it isn’t, just announce that there will be a different consequence from now on. Use the new consequence for 3 or 4 times to see if the burping is happening less often. Continue to switch consequences only if you fail to see any improvement.

Use Bibliotherapy
Take some books or videos out of the library on the subject of good manners and read and discuss them with your kids. There are materials suitable for every age group, from the very young right up till adult! Explain the role of good manners. There are special films showing children of dignitaries how to behave appropriately. These can be entertaining as well as educational. As suggested above, you can read “Miss Manners” type books at the table and discuss with the family.

Consider Professional Help
If the bad manners are part of a larger picture of negativity or defiance, and your interventions have not helped sufficiently, consider seeking out the help or assessment of a mental health practitioner. Parents can also seek additional tips on how to deal with bad manners from a parenting professional.