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.

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.

Bullying

Bullying is something most children encounter in one form or another. Children struggle with being called names, being picked on, being excluded, or being the ones acting unkindly or aggressively toward others. Scientific studies show that bullying is an international problem that affects all schools, and that bullying cuts across international, socio-economic status and ethnic boundaries. Hence, across the nation, parents, teachers, schools and children alike are taking action to learn to recognize the extent and impact of bullying and to stop it from happening. We are not exempt from the problem; we, too, need to address it for the sake of our children.

When bullying is ignored or downplayed, children will suffer torment in the short-term, and possible life-long consequences. Bullying makes young people feel unsafe and feel that there is something wrong with them. It can make them feel lonely, unhappy, and physically ill. Children may lose confidence and may not want to go to school any more. Victims of bullying may also exhibit changes in speech patterns, sleeping patterns, diet, and academic performance as well display secretiveness, uncommunicativeness, bed-wetting and sullenness. In extreme cases, bullying has even led to child suicide.

As for the bullies, research shows that without intervention, many child bullies continue to engage in these offenses as well as other antisocial or criminal acts. Children who bully at school and who get away with it are more likely go on to be bullies in the workplace and to engage in domestic violence.

Hence, as parents and educators invested in our children’s welfare and eductation, it is incumbent upon us to address the phenomenon of bullying and to offer our help and support to both victims and bullies alike. All incidents and forms of bullying are abusive and unacceptable, yet they can be turned into opportunities to teach our children how to better interrelate, how to be considerate of others, and how to be a better person.

Fortunately, there is clear evidence that parental and school action can dramatically reduce the incidence of bullying. There are an increasing number of tools to help teach children who are bullied how to stand up for themselves, to teach bullies themselves alternate ways of handling their feelings, and to teach schools how to be advocates for creating a community that will not tolerate bullying behaviours. This article will provide a brief review of what the experts say about bullying behavior, bullies and their victims, and practical steps that children, parents, and educators alike can take to stop bullying.

Bullying Behaviors
A bully is someone who uses his or her power to hurt another person. Bullying can be physical, verbal, psychological, or a combination of these. It may involve one child bullying another, a group of children against a single child or groups against other groups (gangs).

Physical: – it can mean hitting or kicking or pushing or shoving, or making someone do something they don’t want to do.

Verbal: – it can mean calling someone names, saying or writing mean things, spreading rumors, or threatening someone.

Psychological: – it can mean making someone feel unsafe, uncomfortable or scared, leaving them out of activities, ignoring them or making them feel invisible.

Why Do Children Bully?
While bullies are often perceived as confident, arrogant and invulnerable, in most cases, they actually suffer from low self-esteem. They may bully to get attention, to feel in control, or to make themselves more popular. (In fact, however, while bullies are often surrounded by other children, it is usually out of fear of the bully and not through popularity). Bullies are also often angry, maybe jealous of the person they are bullying, and are very often children who have been bullied or abused themselves. Sometimes they are children experiencing life situations they can’t cope with, leaving them feeling helpless and out of control. They may be children with poor social skills, who do not fit in, or who cannot meet the expectations of their family or school. Hence, they bully to feel competent, successful, to control someone else, and to get some relief from their own feelings of powerlessness. It is important to recognize that in some cases, bullies may not even understand how wrong their behavior is and how it makes the person being bullied feel.

Why are Some Children Bullied?
Some children are bullied for no particular reason, however there are two streams of data on the types of children who are more prone to be picked upon. One line of research identifies children with the following characteristics: low self-esteem; insecure; lack of social skills; cry or become emotionally distraught easily;  or unable to defend or stand up for themselves. Children might also be targeted if they are different in some way – i.e. the color of their skin, the way they talk, their size or their name. Targets of bullying also tend to be non-violent, preferring to resolve conflict with dialogue.

Alternatively, other research finds that bullies target children who are responsible and respectful, and communicate easily with adults. These victims may be self-reliant and independent, such that they don’t need to join gangs or form cliques. Driven by jealousy, bullies target these children who have a higher-than-average emotional intelligence and who have high moral integrity that they’re unwilling to compromise.

Advice for Children Being Bullied
There are many practical tips that we can offer children if they are confronted by negative or potentially abusive behavior. It is important for them to know that they are not alone, and to emphasize that they have a right to feel safe and secure: no one should have to put up with a bully, and no one has the right to make someone else feel uncomfortable or unsafe. It should also be emphasized that (in most cases) it’s really the bully’s problems that are causing the situation, and that the bully’s taunts should not be taken personally.

Here are some suggestions to share with your children:

  • Believe in yourself. Have confidence that you can deal with bullies in a peaceful manner.
  • Ask your friends to get involved and to stand up for you when the bully is bothering you.
  • If you don’t have good friends, just ask some classmates to help by confronting the bully (see below) if needed. Ignore them/walk away: if the bully no longer gets a reaction out of you, he/she will usually move on. It is no longer any fun.
  • Look the bully in the eye and say “STOP DOING THAT”.
  • If the bully makes a teasing joke, laugh and say “That’s funny.” Then just walk away.
  • Try confronting him and telling him how he is making you feel. “What did I do to you?” BUT, if the bully is very abusive or violent, this technique should be avoided.
  • Tell your parent, teacher, principal or another adult that you trust. This isn’t tattling — you have a right to be safe and adults can do things to get the bullying stopped. Keep telling adults until you find one who is willing and able to help – don’t give up.
  • Travel to school in a group; at recess time, play close to the teacher on yard duty.
  • Spend time with your friends/join with others – bullies hardly ever pick on people if they’re with others in a group.
  • If you find it difficult to talk about being bullied, you might find it easier to write down what’s been happening to you and give it to an adult you trust.
  • If you see someone else being bullied you should always try to stop it. Get as many of your friends involved as you can.  Research shows that bullying occurs because people who see it do nothing to stop it.  However, if several kids confront the bully (“leave him alone”) then the bully will back down. Let the bully know that you think what he is doing is stupid and mean. Get someone to call an adult. When witnesses do nothing, on the other hand, they are condoning the behaviour of the bully and giving him permission to continue.

Help Your Child
No one suspects that his or her child is a bully. However, it is clear that someone’s child is! Help out by discussing the problem of bullying at your dinner table. Ask the children about their experiences both as victim and as aggressor. Explain the motivation behind bullying behavior. Discuss coping mechanisms for victims. Do some role-playing. Discuss ideas for helping bullies build their self-concept in a healthier way (i.e. finding successes in different areas, making friends, getting professional help).

Another important way to help reduce bullying is by using discipline techniques with the children that do not involve bullying – provide a model of problem-solving that shows respect for the child’s feelings and demonstrates rational forms of communication.  Keep anger to a minimum since it can create anger and aggression in children. Keep in mind that most bullies become that way because they don’t like themselves very much. Your child may need more positive attention. Further, a prime strategy to ensuring children’s safety is to empower them to resolve their conflicts on their own, in assertive, non-aggressive manners. Teach your children to behave respectfully toward their siblings. Make clear consequences for aggressive and bullying behavior in the home.

Teachers: Preventing Bullying
As soon as children begin to interact with others, we can begin to teach them not to be bullies and not to be bullied. We can give them words for their feelings, limit and change their behavior, and teach them better ways to express their wishes. Children do not learn to solve problems and get along by themselves. We need to teach them.

Schools are the ideal environments in which to promote anti-bullying policies and in which to teach students how to effectively prevent and deal with incidences of bullying. Further, children who are not bullies or victims have a powerful role to play in shaping the behavior of other children. Teach your students to speak up on behalf of students being bullied. “Don’t treat her that way, it’s not nice.” “Hitting is not a good way to solve problems, let’s find a teacher and talk about what happened.”

Schools: Preventing Bullying
Schools have a moral obligation to provide a safe physical and emotional environment. Since bullying can be found in every school, every school must recognize its extent and impact and take steps to stop it from happening. Indeed, a school’s failure to deal with bullying endangers the safety of all its pupils by allowing a hostile environment to interfere with learning.

There is solid evidence that school action can dramatically reduce the incidence of bullying. What works best is a “Whole School Approach” in which the development of a ‘common understanding’ of bullying and expressing it in a policy is the key to reducing bullying. It must be supported by clear guidelines on how to deal with cases of bullying.
The following are some suggested actions schools can take to create a bully-free environment:

  • Take a proactive approach to bullying, not a reactive one which will be too late.
  • Create a whole-school ethos such that bullying is regarded unambiguously as unacceptable behavior.
  • Use a full staff meeting to raise awareness and knowledge of the issue. The anti-bullying initiative must be tied to the school’s philosophy.
  • Research existing anti-bullying programs or initiatives that best fit the culture of the school; find out what similar schools have done.
  • Teacher Action: All staff must to be committed to a common response to bullying when it does happen.  Immediate intervention is crucial.
  • Curriculum Action:  All pupils in the school will need to have their awareness raised, and this can be accomplished in a variety of ways: 1) integrating an anti-bullying component into existing curriculum areas; 2) introducing a series of discrete anti-bullying modules as part of a special social-skill-development program; 3) reinforcing anti-bullying messages in school-wide forums such as assemblies, newsletters, or awareness days.
  • Teach assertiveness, anger management and conflict resolution.
  • The goal is to convey that: STOPPING BULLYING IS EVERYONE’S RESPONSIBILITY.
  • Outside the classroom: Provide adequate supervision in places and times that pupils identify as problematic (i.e. where bullies dominate); provide opportunities for bullies to be kept busy, i.e. introduce activities that will involve the bullies and encourage them to participate positively; have discipline procedures in place that remove persistent offenders from the environment.
  • Remember: If there are no consequences to the bad behavior; if the victim does not complain and if the peer group silently or even actively colludes, the bully will continue with the behavior.

We can stop the cycle of bullying, and in its stead impart to our children valuable lessons in morality, self-esteem, character, responsibility, and interpersonal relationships.

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.

Help Your Child Manage Anger

Anger is one of the most destructive emotions; people who have difficulty managing their anger can end up hurting others and themselves. As adults, they can destroy their most important relationships – those with spouses and children. Parents can help their kids have lifelong satisfying relationships by helping them to find healthy ways to deal with anger. In addition, when parents provide their kids with anger management tools, parenting itself becomes easier and more pleasant. On the other hand, when free range is given to angry outbursts, temper tantrums and rage, family life becomes very stressful. Moreover, children who are allowed to vent their rage not only scare their siblings and their parents, but they also frighten themselves. Their out-of-control behavior leaves them feeling emotionally out of control as well. For all these reasons, parents will want to help their kids deal effectively with inevitable provocative and upsetting situations.

The following are some tips on how parents can help children manage their anger:

Anger is Not Always Loud
It’s important that parents know how to recognize anger. Some expressions of anger are obvious and easy to spot. For example, raising one’s voice, banging hands on a table, and kicking the trash can are external and explosive ways of dealing with anger. But there are also more hidden and subtle expressions of the emotion. Passive-aggressiveness, depression and sarcasm can be signs of anger that are more internalized. If parents know how their child expresses his or her anger, then they can shape their interventions appropriately.

Model How to Handle Anger Well
Parents are in the best position to teach kids about anger during discipline. When offering negative feedback, correction or any type of guidance to a child (including giving negative consequences for misbehavior), show that you have control of your anger — even if you are really upset. If children can see that there are assertive (polite yet firm) ways of expressing anger, they will use them themselves. When you find yourself getting angry at a child, model the entire process of calming yourself down. For instance, tell the child, “I am getting frustrated. I need to calm myself down before I say anything more about this. I’m going to the kitchen to get a big glass of water and I’m going to sit down and drink it slowly until I feel better. Then I’m going to start thinking about what I need to do to about your behavior so that this problem doesn’t happen again.”

Take Ownership
Never blame the child for your anger. This teaches the child to blame others (like his siblings, friends and you!). In other words, don’t say things like “You’re making me mad” or “If you do that again, I’m going to get mad.” Instead, just take ownership: “I’m starting to get mad.” Remember, you may be getting mad because you are sleep-deprived, stressed, and hungry. You might feel helpless with this child, not knowing how to gain his cooperation. None of these reasons has to do with the child. All kids misbehave. It’s the parent’s responsibility to learn how to handle misbehavior without anger.

Don’t Accept Excuses
Similarly, don’t excuse your child’s angry behavior. Teach your youngster that “He broke my castle” is not a good reason for hurting a toddler. It’s an opportunity to use words “You’re not allowed to break my castle! I’m not playing with you now.” Even if the child is angry for really good reasons such as the fact that parents are going through a difficult divorce, or the child himself is challenged by illness or whatever – angry behavior cannot be excused or condoned. You understand, of course, that the child is very stressed. However, as a parent you want to teach the child that he still has control over his mouth and body. He can choose his behavior. Choosing to be hurtful or destructive is only one option. A stressed person can choose to remain sensitive to others even though he himself is suffering emotional pain. 

Don’t Accept Abusive Behavior
Anger is a feeling. Behaving hurtfully or destructively is a behavior that is abusive to others or to the environmnent. Slamming doors, yelling, swearing, throwing things, hanging up – all of these aggressive behaviors are abusive to those on the receiving end. Punching holes in walls, smashing furniture, and so on, are also acts of abuse in that they terrorize the household. Use negative consequences for abusive behavior: “You cannot say or do hurtful things like that every again. From now on, when you choose to yell, swear (etc), such & such consequence will occur.” (See Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for a detailed approach to discipline).

Teach Your Child Safe Ways to Release Anger
Parents can help their children deal with anger by teaching them how to use their words effectively. The most powerful tool for this is the parental model. Saying to your child, “I am really upset about this” teaches the child to use those same words when she is feeling upset. In addition, actually teach the child to use such words. “It’s not O.K. to call someone names. Instead, just tell them how you feel. For instance, when you’re mad at me, don’t say ‘you’re the worst mother in the world’ but instead say ‘I’m really really upset about this.'” Equivalent phrases include “I’m not happy about this,” “I’m not happy with you right now,” “I’m really frustrated,” “I resent what you did,” “I’m extremely displeased,” “I am furious,” “I am angry.” Sometimes a child will be so angry that she’ll want to throw something or break something. Such behavior is destructive and cannot be permitted. However, you can teach your child to rip paper into shreds (an exercise that makes a good ‘ripping’ sound and uses a fair amount of physical energy), or let out a silent scream (just open her mouth and imagine screaming at the top of her lungs) or pull and twist a folded towel (which releases excess physical energy). Punching a pillow or punching bag is NOT recommended as this activity actually stimulates more anger rather than releases energy. Another good way to release fury is to sit down with pen and paper and write really fast, pouring out all the wrath in words onto the page. The page should be thrown out afterward. Younger children can be offered a big black ‘mad’ crayon to scribble pictures and feelings onto paper. Teenagers can be encouraged to release angry energy by engaging in intense physical activity like lifting weights, doing push-ups or riding the exercise bike.

Give Examples of Destructive Anger
Your child need not learn through the school of irreparable mistakes. They can learn through the mistakes of other people. When you hear stories in the news of people committing angry crimes, talk about it to your children. Let them know that anger is a dangerous emotion when it is not controlled and expressed in healthy ways. Show them that you value communication and the skill of calming down.

Consider Bach Flowers
Bach flower remedies may help your child feel less angry. The remedy Vine can help reduce an angry nature. The remedy Holly can help children who are easily offended or prone to jealousy. Impatiens can help those with a short fuse. (These remedies can help adults too!) For more information on the Bach Flower Remedies, look online, in books and throughout this site.

Point Out Positive Role Models
Similarly, when you see or learn about people who handled a difficult situation gracefully, be sure to talk about it with your kids. Emphasize that people always have control and can make the choice to maintain their dignity and the dignity of others even in very stressful situations.

Seek Professional Help
If you have tried all of these interventions and your child is still easily anger, aggressive, or verbally abusive, consider making an appointment with a child psychologist. A mental health professional can provide effective treatments to reduce anger.

When Your Child is Rude or Disrespectful

There is a saying: “sticks and stone can break your bones but names will never hurt you.” How wrong that is! Verbal abuse can truly hurt – not only in the short term but also for extended periods of time, sometimes even a lifetime! Inappropriate verbal behavior in the form of verbal abuse is common in family members: sarcasm, name-calling, insulting, yelling, swearing and many other forms of hurtful and diminishing communications. Children and teens sometimes learn this kind of behavior from their parents, but just as often they pick it up in the schoolyard or on the block. They can also learn it online and through social media. Even television, movies and songs can teach kids how to use language inappropriately.

In order to help children stop engaging inappropriate verbal behavior, consider the following tips:

The Parental Model is Important
Children and teens will learn that people of all ages communicate very poorly at times. Their friends, neighbors and relatives will provide live demonstrations of inappropriate verbal behavior. Parents are always the most powerful teachers, however, so it is crucial that YOU model appropriate verbal behavior for your child. Even when you are frustrated, tired, irritable, sick, stressed or enraged, always speak in a respectful manner. If you give in to shouting and cursing, chances are very high that your kids will learn to express strong emotion that way too.

Appropriate verbal behavior is more than controlled anger. It is also behavior that shows the correct respect to others in all circumstances. For instance, children need to show an extra level of respect toward parents, grandparents, teachers and elders. Again, your own model of appropriate verbal behavior to this class of people will be important. Be aware of how you sound on the phone when talking to your parents, and watch yourself when you are speaking to them in person – no matter how frustrated you may feel at a given moment. Your child is listening and learning.

Your Home is a Training Ground
Don’t allow your child to practice verbal abuse. The more your child whines, yells, snarls or otherwise communicates inappropriately, the more likely it is that he or she will continue in that way throughout life. The more someone does something, the easier it is to do again. This is due to practice and the fact that more neural pathways are produced for repeitive behaviors. People don’t just wake up one day when they’re 30 years old and start yelling and swearing; this is something that they’ve learned in their formative years. Therefore, help your child to STOP inappropriate verbal behavior as soon as you see it. Use the full gamut of parenting techniques to encourage appropriate verbal behavior and discourage inappropriate verbal behavior (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for a complete program). Whether your child is rude to you or to a babysitter, relative or sibling – get to work on it right away and nip it in the bud! If it has already been going on for a decade, you can still address it starting today. You need a zero tolerance policy for inappropriate verbal behavior. Any behavior that others would consider obnoxious or any behavior that would harm your child’s relationships should be targeted. This can include not only direct verbal abuse as described above, but also mumbling, repeating oneself, talking on and on and on without regard to the listener’s attention span, speaking too loudly and speaking too quietly.  All inappropriate verbal behaviors can cause your child pain in his or her own social world, therefore it is important not to ignore them and just hope that they will clear up by themselves. Do what you can do to help your child and when you’ve exhausted your own ideas, call upon professional help.

Keep the Bigger Picture in Mind
Inappropriate verbal behaviors may reflect emotional issues that require attention. A child who expresses anger through inappropriate verbal behavior may need to learn better communication techniques but he or she may also need help to address the underlying anger itself. A child who mumbles or speaks too quietly may need to learn how to express him or herself in more attractive and age-appropriate ways, but he or she may also need help in addressing social anxiety or insecurity. In other words, both the behavior and the emotions often need to be addressed. Professional help can often help in the deepest, most thorough and quickest way, so ask your doctor for a referral if you have any concerns whatsoever about your child’s feelings.

Rudeness and Disrespect

It once was that children feared their parents; nowadays, it’s more likely to be the other way around. Parents are often afraid of their own kids. Modern parents frequently feel helpless with their children and all the more so with their bigger kids. While they try to set up rules, set limits and run a tight ship, they find that their kids ignore the rules, break the boundaries and do whatever they want. Their disregard for parental authority applies to both action and words. It is no longer uncommon for children ten years old and up (old enough to know better) to impulsively blurt out whatever they want to, however they want to. If they want to holler, they will. If they want to hurl insults, they will. They’ll swear, threaten, get physical and do whatever else they feel like doing when they are displeased, upset or outraged. Disgruntled teens talk back.

Naturally, if a parent responds negatively to a child’s request, the youngster will feel at least displeased, possibly upset and on occasion, outraged. Feelings happen. However, many young people don’t seem to know how to express negative feelings in a way that preserves their dignity, preserves the dignity of others and maintains healthy, loving relationships. Mouthy teenagers do not only harm their parents; they harm themselves as well. Out-of-control teens (adolescents who are not thinking of the long-term consequences of their words or actions) experience more daily pain than their in-control counterparts. When teenagers know how to express their upset with sensitivity to the feelings of others (in this case, parents), they will enjoy all the benefits that good communication skills bring: peace in the home, emotional well-being, emotional love and support, mental stability and even, improved physical health.

Insisting on Respect
Parents will actually do their kids the favor of a lifetime if they are willing to insist on respectful communication. Parents who let their adolescents talk back disrespectfully actually help these children build strong brain pathways for verbal abuse. When these young people get married, those pathways will be solid as rock. Consequently, when feelings of frustration, anger and disappointment are triggered by their new spouses, their abusive brain pathways will light up and BAM: out will spew rude and hurtful words that will burn a deep whole in the new relationship. Rude teenagers grow up to be rude spouses. Rude teens can even grow up to be rude parents! Maturity does not bring respect. Education and training does.

By insisting on respect, parents can help their children build strong brain pathways for self-control. While adrenalin is running, triggered by intense feelings of upset, the self-control pathways will light up. Although the young person may feel like slamming a door, screaming or ranting, he or she will quietly utter a statement instead. “I’m not happy about this” or “I want to talk with you about this again later” or “Is there any way you might reconsider?” or “Would it help if I did such & such?” and so on.

Let’s take an example. Suppose 13 year-old Suzy asks Mom if she can go to a party that 17 year-old Joey is making Saturday night. Mom feels that Suzy is too young for this kind of party and says, “I know you’d really like to go Sweetheart. Unfortunately, I feel Joey and his friends are too old for you. I don’t want you to go.”

Suzy is more than upset. She is hysterical. So she answers back: “I’M NOT LISTENING TO ANYTHING YOU SAY. I’M GOING AND THAT’S IT. THERE’S NO WAY YOU CAN STOP ME!”

Mom has two choices: either ignore the disrespect or address it. If Mom ignores the disrespect she has two choices: she can pretend nothing happened and simply respond to Suzy’s words (i.e. answering fairly calmly, “We’ll see about that.”) or she can actually join in the disrespect by shouting or insulting back (i.e. “TRY IT YOUNG LADY AND YOU’LL SEE WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU!). Either way, ignoring the disrespect ensures that more disrespect will be coming in the future. Ignoring allows the teen to build up the disrespect neural pathway in the brain. Failure to deal with disrespect is actually a form of parental neglect because when the child goes on to have trouble in other significant relationships, it will be due to the fact that no one ever taught her how to express displeasure sensitively. (In fact, if Mom actually screams back, she is actually modeling the dysfunctional communication strategy of yelling when upset).

So let’s hope that Mom decides to address the disrespect. If she does, she has two choices: either she can stop the conversation then and there and deal with the disrespect immediately, or she can wait until things are calmer later on and deal with the disrespect at that time. In this case, it is good to follow the concept of the “teaching moment” as described in the book Raising Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe. A true “teaching moment” is one in which both the parent and the child are calm and relaxed. Since the child in this example is currently hysterical, the period cannot be called a “teaching moment.” Mom decides to wait until later to teach her daughter  how to express displeasure sensitively.

The Relationship Rule
If a child has been taught The Relationship Rule while very young, it is extremely unlikely that he or she will be rude to a parent in adolescence. Indeed, the younger the child is when self-control is taught, the less likely it is that the child will ever talk back, insult or otherwise hurt a parent’s feelings or diminish a parent’s stature. However, The Relationship Rule can certainly be taught to teenagers (or even spouses!). Some patience will be required, however, to allow time for new brain pathways to form and for this new mode of communication to become the fall-back position during moments of emotional stress.

The Relationship Rule can be put in two ways – the positive and the negative forms:

  • I only give and I only accept respectful communication.
  • I do not give, nor do I accept, disrespectful communication.

A parent teaches The Relationship Rule in 5 simple steps (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for complete details). Step One involves teaching the actual rule by providing the rationale for the rule (especially for older children and teens) and by giving numerous examples, role-plays and re-enactments in order to see how this rule is applied under stressful conditions. After providing education and examples, the parent tests the teen. The parent asks, for instance, what is the wrong way for a son to respond to a parent who has refused to buy an MP3 player for him? What is the right way?

Step Five, the last step of the training program, employs negative consequences. Before this step, no punishments are used for disrespectful speech because all steps before this last one are designed to actually train the child’s brain to be respectful. The intervening steps allow the parent to be empathic and responsive to the child’s feelings. The last step is employed only to prevent regressing back to the old brain pattern.

Teaching The Relationship Rule means both teaching it through instruction and guidance, and also modeling it. Obviously parents themselves must have the self-control to continue to be sensitive to the feelings of others even when they themselves are intensely upset. Many parents will be challenged in this area since their own parents didn’t raise them with The Relationship Rule. However, the family that learns together, grows together. It’s fine for parents and kids to improve at the same time. All that is required is sincerity (i.e the parent acknowledges mistakes and actually reduces their frequency over time).

Sometimes, lack of education is not the only culprit in a teenager’s trouble with respect. There can be other issues such as undiagnosed mental health conditions and deeper emotional problems. If, after applying The Relationship Rule, improvement is not forthcoming, do arrange for a consultation for your family with a professional mental health provider.

Temper Tantrums

A temper tantrum is an explosion. It is a burst of adrenaline manifesting in red faces, ask clenched fists, sale loud ranting and sometimes physical aggression. A person experiencing a temper tantrum is completely overwhelmed with emotion. He or she cannot be reasoned with because the frontal cortex (thinking center of the brain) is “offline.” Anger, patient panic and helpless rage control the show. Temper tantrums are unpleasant to witness, to say the least. Sometimes, depending on who is having them, they can be outright dangerous.

Who Has a Temper Tantrum?
We tend to think of tantrums as fits of anger thrown by exasperated toddlers. However, the reality is that people of every age can have temper tantrums. There are indeed 3 year-old temper tantrums, but there are also 9 month-old baby temper tantrums, temper tantrums in ages 12-24 months, preschool (4 and 5 year-old) temper tantrums, school-age child temper tantrums (that is, 6 year old temper tantrums right up to 11 year old temper tantrums), teenage temper tantrums and adult temper tantrums. In other words, tantrums occur across the entire spectrum of ages. They are not limited to any particular type of population but occur in regular folks as well as those with mental health problems or physical health problems. They tend to occur more frequently in some groups—for example, a link has been noted in ADD (attention deficit disorder) and temper tantrums and a similar link in Asperger syndrome temper tantrums. Adults with mood regulation disorders such as manic depressive disorder and borderline personality disorder also show a significant increase in temper tantrums. Some physical disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease are associated with a sudden appearance of temper tantrums in people who’ve never been prone to them.

Why Do They Happen?
Some temper tantrums simply come from the release of brain chemicals that is triggered by frustration or helplessness. For example, infant temper tantrums occur because the completely helpless newborn has needs that he cannot express in any other way. He is totally powerless over his environment, except for the one power tool he has in his kit: his ability to tantrum! Similarly, it is normal for 9 month-old babies to throw temper tantrums simply because they can’t do what they want to do, say what they would like to say or have what they want to have. Their helplessness triggers the adrenaline response and they’re off and running with a full blown tantrum. We find that 17 month-old babies have an even greater incidence of temper tantrums because of an increase in a mismatch between what they want to control and what they actually can control. They experience tremendous frustration as their knowledge of the world now increases but their competencies and power lag behind. However, as children increase in competency and power, the regularity of temper tantrums decrease. Thus while we see that it is common to have frequent severe temper tantrums in toddlers, such fits of rage become much less common in the school years.

When tantrums continue to occur in late childhood and beyond they require professional intervention. Something is seriously wrong. If the environment is still characterized by intense helplessness, perhaps the person is dealing with abuse. If helplessness is not the cause, sometimes poor modeling is the demon. Children sometimes live with parents who tantrum. They simply learn to tantrum as a communication tool. However, intervention is still required because those who communicate via temper tantrums will have serious relationship difficulties in life, including marriage and parenting problems and sometimes work problems as well. If the environment is not problematic at all, then physical or mental problems can be causing temper tantrums in this older group. Professional assessment and treatment can be helpful.

Handling Temper Tantrums
Everyone has to deal with temper tantrums at some point. Here are some tips for handling them:

  • When an infant throws a tantrum, try to determine what her needs are and address them. If you can’t find a specific cause of her frustration, assume some internal distress and simply try to soothe the baby with holding, caressing and gentle talk.
  • When a toddler tantrums, be patient. Wait for the adrenaline to run its course. Do not try to calm the child by asking questions, threatening or bribing. Just softly say something like, “I know you’re upset. When you finish crying you can tell me what you want and I’ll try to help” or “I know you’re mad/sad. I’m sorry you can’t have (the cookie or whatever). When you’re finished crying, we can have a story.” Do not talk to the child about the tantrum itself. Just wait it out, unless the child is actually violent during a tantrum. In that case, tell the child gently that he’ll have to finish his tantrum in his room and when he’s finished, he can come for his story/hug or whatever. A calm, unimpressed response to toddler tantrums helps children move through the tantrum stage much more quickly.
  • When a school-age child tantrums, wait for the adrenaline to run its course. When the child is calm, name her feelings. “I know you’re upset about (whatever).” Offer comfort. Then teach her that temper tantrums aren’t a good way to communicate. (Make sure that you are not modeling tantrums of your own!). Let her know that her tantrums upset you/the household. They have to stop. Discuss consequences if necessary. (See a full discussion of temper-stopping strategies in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe)
  • If an adult in your life is tantrumming, speak to your medical doctor for advice and consider arranging a consultation with a mental health professional for further guidance.