Good Cop, Bad Cop

In some households, one parent is the “nice” one while the other is the “disciplinarian.” Children, of course, tend to prefer the nicer parent. The other parent – the “bad” cop – is often resentful. This parent knows that children need boundaries, limits and guidance and wants to do the best for his or her child. He or she wants support from his or her spouse. When the other parent refuses to offer that support – or worse, supports the child instead of the spouse – the “bad cop” is often extremely resentful and upset. The upset only serves to reinforce how “bad” this adult is in the eyes of the both the spouse and the child. It is no fun being a bad cop!

If you are finding yourself in the position of being the “bad cop” in your parenting team, consider the following tips:

Follow the 80-20 Rule
Each parent needs to be both “nice” and also firm. Each needs to show love and offer appropriate guidance. In other words, each should follow the 80-20 Rule independently, being 80% good-feeling and 20% education-oriented (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for an in-depth explanation of the 80-20 Rule). Unfortunately, one parent cannot make the other follow this ideal ratio. Your spouse may refuse to engage in appropriate discipline and education. However, that needn’t be a problem for you. As long as you remain 80% good-feeling in your interactions with your child, your child will feel a strong and healthy bond with you. Your child will accept your guidance gracefully, because he or she will trust and love you. At the same time, your child will recognize that the lenient parent is a lenient parent – someone without much backbone. They will sense that parent’s weakness and, while maintaining affection, lose some respect.

Working Uphill
Often, lenient parents not only fail to apply rules and limitations, they also try to prevent the other parent from doing so. “Don’t worry that Mom said you had to be in bed by 9 – you’re out with me and we’ll get home whenever we get home” or “I know Daddy said you had to write out lines, but I’ll explain to him that you’re really sorry for what you did and you don’t need to write out anything.” In this case, it is very hard to institute rules, boundaries and consequences. However, don’t give up in despair. As long as you don’t exceed your 20% allowance for unpleasant-feeling communications (which includes, by the way, all instructions and corrections), you will still have tremendous influence over your child. If you give your youngster a punishment and the other parent tells the child he doesn’t have to cooperate with it, you can appeal to the child directly: “You and I both know that I warned you that you would have to go to bed early if you keep chasing your brother. Your father said you could stay up, but you know full well that you have to go to bed early. This isn’t between you and your father. It’s between you and me.” Then, if necessary, use the “jail” form of the 2X-Rule for effective discipline (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for complete information on how to carry out discipline using the 2X-Rule).

Be Aware of the Impact of Your Marriage
Children don’t want their parents to fight, losing feelings of security and respect when they do. Instead of fighting with your too-lenient spouse, aim to perfect your own discipline style, improve your 80-20 Ratio and become an overall excellent parent. At the same time, work on improving yourself as a spouse. This produces the best outcome for kids – far better than ensuring that each parent does the exact same style of parenting.

Resources and Support Groups for Parents

Parenting is a big job and often a stressful one. Fortunately, there are resources that parents can draw on to help support them through the parenting journey. Let’s examine the more commonly available ones:

Community Support Groups
Communities can help parents through their support groups. A support group is an organization of people who share similar experiences, interests, and/or backgrounds. It might meet regularly for structured or unstructured activities like meetings,  forums or focus groups. Or a support group can function as an informal network of people you can call upon if you need help.

What Kinds of Support Groups are Out There?
There’s a support group for almost every parenting need. To start with, there are parenting groups that focus on child rearing techniques and approaches. There are also parenting support groups specific to certain parenting issues and challenges – for instance, there are groups for parents of diabetics, parents of children with cerebral palsy, parents who suffer with depression and mood issues, single parents, fathering, blended families and so on. Some groups are primarily educational in nature while others are therapeutic and supportive. There are also some advocacy groups that promote or support specific causes to advance the needs of groups of parents. If a support group for your need doesn’t yet exist – start one!

What can Support Groups Do for Me?
Research shows that people benefit enormously from support groups of every kind. The camaraderie of like-minded people with shared goals reduces stress, helps reduce disease and unhealthy coping methods and enhances quality of life. In many cases, friendships formed in support groups develop into lifelong relationships.

Where can I Find a Support Group?
There are many institutions that have support groups; a quick search online can provide you with a list of support groups in your area. Churches typically have a fellowship group for parents; schools have parent associations. Interest groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Positive Parenting Network, and League of Parents with Disabilities also host support groups. The same can be said of professional associations and government regulatory commissions like the American Academy of Pediatrics or the American Autism Society. Your local social services branch of government may run an extensive network of programs and groups for parents.  Even your chamber of commerce may have relevant groups such as groups for working mothers  or those who are running home businesses. Hospital programs often run postpartum groups and usually can refer parents to other community-based parenting supports as well. Ask your doctor and your pediatrician for a directory of parenting groups and resources. You can also call your local Child & Family Agency for a listing of relevant groups. Your child’s school probably has guidance and counseling services that can also point you to groups and resources.

These days you don’t even have to leave your home to find a support group. There are also many online support groups where quality information and peer encouragement can be found. Websites, blogs, forums, mailing lists and social networking sites are homes to various support groups on the net. Just make sure you pick support systems that actively police itself against the proliferation of inappropriate or inaccurate information. Look for online groups that are community sponsored such as those established by hospital, university and government programs, or groups that are organized by highly trained and trustworthy helping professionals.

Getting Your Child to Talk to You

“You never listen to me!”

Many children feel that there is no point in talking to their parents. From experience they have learned that their parents are very poor listeners. In fact, their parents seem to want to talk a lot more than they want to listen; they are more interested in getting their point (or their sermon!) across than finding out what their child has to say. Moreover, parents tend to correct their child’s thoughts and feelings instead of accepting them (“You certainly do NOT want to quite school! How could you ever consider an idea as crazy as that? You need to complete university if you want to find a decent job…etc.”) Rather than subject themselves to this kind of “conversation,” kids would rather keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves.

And yet, parents usually want their kids to talk to them. They want to know what’s going on in their child’s mind and life. They also want to be able to guide their youngster appropriately. Moreover, they want to enjoy the strong, positive bond that happens between parents and their children when communication is good. Interestingly, the more skilled a parent is at listening, the more he or she will be able to accomplish all this. Fortunately, it’s easy to become a skilled listener.

Consider the following tips for listening to children in positive and productive ways:

Pause
It helps to stop what you’re doing even for just a minute or two to really look at your child when you are conversing with him or her. Stop cooking or reading just for a bit while you look directly into your child’s eyes. Even if you go back to your task while continuing the conversation, those few minutes will have made a significant impact. Of course, if you have a bit more time, then give your child your undivided attention even longer. Focused attention is a precious gift – especially in today’s world!

Be Aware of Your Body Language
Try to lean towards your child when he is sharing, in a manner that communicates presence. “Presence” is a way of being with someone that is supportive – even healing. It conveys caring, interest, involvement and connection. “Presence” is conveyed with posture, proximity and eye contact. Don’t look down, fidget with papers on the table or check the mail. Just sit still for a few minutes. Again, it is not necessary to give your child an hour of your undivided attention. Any number of minutes is beneficial. Do what you can.

Sum It Up
Your child doesn’t know if you heard what he or she said unless you give feedback – a short summary of the words that were spoken. To communicate to your child that you are listening, just re-state his or her main message in your own words. This is a technique called reflecting or mirroring. It conveys understanding and connection. Moreover, this strategy also helps you stay calm in what might otherwise be a stressful conversation. Sometimes a child is saying something that might trigger worry, panic or anger in a parent. By repeating back the child’s general message, the parent allows his or her own emotions to settle down. In fact, allowing the child to talk and talk while you repeat back and repeat back, gives you plenty of time to turn off your own adrenaline. You might decide that you don’t even need to respond to the child in that moment – that you need time to think about what he is saying and you will get back to him in a few hours or a few days!

Look for Feelings and Emotions
Effective listening is not only about paying attention to the words that are being said, but also to the message that is being conveyed. The message is carried by feelings. Does the child look worried, relieved, upset or mad when he or she is speaking? These emotions are carrying the really important message within the communication. Summarize the words and then offer a guess at the feelings that the child is feeling as he or she is speaking. For instance,  you might say something like, “So you’re saying you really want to go to camp. I see how excited you feel about the idea,” or “So you’re saying you don’t want to go camp – you look pretty unhappy about the idea.” To get a sense of your child’s feelings, listen to his tone and of voice and volume, look at his facial expression and body language and consider the type of words he is using to make his point. Put all of these markers together to decide whether he is happy, sad, mad or scared. Then tell your child what you guess he might be feeling. If you’re wrong, the child will correct you. If you’re right, the child will feel really understood. In either case, the child will appreciate the work you are doing to try to connect at a deeper level. Keep in mind that all feelings are just feelings. Showing your child that you can name and accept his feelings creates safety and closeness.

After you have conveyed understanding of your child’s communication, be sure to ASK the child what he needs or wants. Continue to be on the listening side of the communication until your child asks you for your own thoughts and opinions. Or, after you have done a really thorough job of listening, you can ask the child, “Would you like my opinion on this?” or “Do you want to hear an idea I have?” and so on. Once the child has indicated an interest in your input, then you can offer feedback or practical suggestions. In short, name and reflect your child’s thoughts and feelings FIRST and solve problems SECOND. You’ll find that your child will be much more receptive to you and your ideas because you have done such a good job of listening!

Helping Your Child Deal with Your New Marriage

There are many changes that occur between the time a marriage dissolves and the time a new home is established. Children go through it all, along with their parents. In some ways, the journey is even harder for the kids; they are often unwilling passengers on a train that’s going to a place they don’t want to go. This can be especially true when a parent introduces the idea of remarriage.

If you are about to let your children know about your plans to remarry, consider the following tips:

Talk Little, Listen Much
It’s not complicated: you want to get married to someone who isn’t the parent of your kids. One sentence can convey this idea. After you say that sentence, allow the kids to react. Listen to what they have to say and nod your head even before you open your mouth. Keep nodding! When you finally do say something, it should be nothing more than a summary of what your child has said – particularly if the child has expressed negative thoughts and feelings. Consider the following dialogue, for example:

Parent: I want to let you know that Dan and I want to get married in the spring.
Child: Well if you do that then I’m leaving home.
Parent: (nods)
Child: There’s no way I’m living with him in this house.
Parent: (nods)
Child: He’s such a phony. I hate him!”
Parent: (nods)
Child: So you better rethink this thing.
Parent: (nods and adds:) You don’t want Dan in this family – you don’t want to live with him, you hate him – as far as you’re concerned, he’s just a phony.
Child: Exactly.
Parent: I understand.

There is no need to go further in the conversation at this point. The child is too emotionally aroused to deal with the information or to have a reasonable conversation about it. He needs time to process what has been said so far. Enormous changes are about to occur in his life. He’s in a state of shock, denial and rage about it all. This is not the time to tell him to “get used to it because this is what’s happening!” In fact, this first conversation isn’t the time to provide any sort of education, cheerful promises, corrective messages or anything else. It is particularly NOT the time to explain your motives, justify your decision or otherwise defend your position. Keep in mind that you are the adult and you are the one who is in charge and will make all the decisions. The child is powerless and he knows it. That is part of the reason for his extremely negative reaction.

Move Forward with Your Plans
Although you are welcoming and accepting your child’s feelings, you are not changing your plans. Carry on as usual with your new partner and go ahead and make marriage arrangements in front of your child (that is, don’t sneak around, hiding evidence of this activity). When your child protests, listen without judgment. Avoid making any remarks meant to change the child’s feelings to happier ones. For instance, DO NOT SAY anything similar to the following statements:

  • don’t worry – you’ll soon love Dan as much as I do
  • you’ll see – we’re going to be so happy together
  • Dan is a great man – you just have to get to know him better
  • you’ll love his kids and we’ll all be one big happy family

There is no need to stop the child from expressing his displeasure unless he is being rude to you or disrespectful to your partner. For instance, if your youngster says things like “I hate Dan. The guy’s a jerk!” you might say something like, “I understand you don’t feel positively toward Dan and that’s fine – no one can make you like someone you don’t like. However, I do not accept disrespectful speech, name-calling or insulting language. I don’t mind if you want to tell me your feelings about Dan, but you need to do so in a respectful way. It’s totally cool to say ‘Mom, I just don’t like Dan.’ If you have to say, say it that way. Remember, in this house we don’t GIVE and we don’t ACCEPT disrespectful speech.”

Respond to Questions
If you are careful not to shut your child down with your own anger, lectures, criticisms, excess information and cheerful pep-talks, your child is more likely to continue talking to you about his feelings about your plans to remarry. This is a good thing – you want your child to get everything off his chest. Be prepared for a barrage of questions:

  • where is everyone going to sleep?
  • what will happen to the way the house looks and runs?
  • what if he tries to tell me what to do?
  • where will he put his things?
  • where will his children stay when they visit?
  • what if we don’t like the way he cooks or cleans?
  • what if we don’t want him using our stuff?

And so on and so forth. Again, don’t answer in a sing-song voice, dismissing the questions with a bright “it will all work out – you just wait and see!” Instead, say things like,

  • Good question.
  • We’ll have to experiment at first and find the best solution.
  • It will probably take some time before we develop a routine that works.
  • It may be awkward at first.
  • Sometimes there are differences that we can’t make disappear.
  • Probably it won’t be perfect.
  • It may not be easy – especially at first.

Your child may also fish for reassurance that you will still be available as a parent. Again, don’t sweep the worry away by saying, “There’s plenty of time for everyone and everything! It will all work out!” Instead, acknowledge the valid concerns. Your acknowledgment actually helps the child to trust you more and helps reduce some of the emotional distress he is feeling. Say things like,

  • You’re right – there will be a new person in the house and my attention will be divided in a way that it isn’t right now. Right now you have me all to yourself. That will definitely change. It may not be easy at first.
  • There will be an adjustment period. After some time, we’ll figure out the best way to be together and apart, to have private time, me & you time, family time and other times. We’ll work it out by experimenting and learning.

Remarriage is a serious undertaking – and a difficult one. Your child deserves serious attention to his concerns. Even if you yourself are feeling totally in love, happy and optimistic about the undertaking, your child may be in a very different space – feeling uncertain, frightened, angry, hurt, lost and confused. Acknowledging and welcoming all these feelings helps them to leave more quickly. Ignoring them or wishing them away can cause them to stay buried inside where they can eventually lead to many kinds of distressing symptoms such as behavior problems, emotional problems, addictions, mental health disorders and more.

Address Negativity toward a Stepparent
Children don’t want more parents – particularly stepparents. They normally make this clear by saying things like, “He’s not going to be the boss of me. I’m never listening to him.” Acknowledge the child’s feelings and accept them as usual: “ You’ve already got a mother and father and you don’t want any more parents!” Again, make realistic statements. Depending on the age of the child you may say things like,

  • We’ll figure out how to live together day by day. We’ll work out the problems as they arise.
  • Your feelings will always be respected and acknowledged. I’ll do my best to make sure you feel comfortable in your own home and that my new partner relates to you in a way that will be as comfortable for you as possible. We all know that he is not your father. You’ll have a different sort of relationship with him than you have with your Dad.

Patience and Time is Required
Your child is going to go through an adjustment period. You cannot rush him into a happy relationship with your new spouse. Although it may be counter-intuitive, acknowledging the difficulty and pain of the situation will speed things along, helping your child to be open to enjoying his new life with his new family much more quickly and fully. Don’t expect this to happen overnight; allow your youngster to go through whatever he has to go through in whatever time it takes. Your calm understanding, compassion and patience will help your child more than you can imagine.

Provide opportunities for interaction before re-marriage. Do not rush to marriage just yet – do allow possibilities for your new family to spend time together first. This is to make your children feel at ease, instead of them seeing the both of you planning and working on the marriage all of a sudden.

Using Stories to Teach Important Values

Parents want to impart important values to their kids. The trouble is, they often try to do so by “lecturing” – making long speeches to their kids about right and wrong. Kids tend to roll their eyeballs, cover their ears and otherwise try to drown out the sound of these talks, but parents often continue – sometimes louder and more forcibly – because the messages are so important to instill. However, there is a far more successful and easier way to get the point across: using story telling.

If your moral lessons seem to sometimes be falling on deaf ears, consider the following tips for teaching values the story-telling way:

Why Stories?
Most adults recall fables and stories they heard repeatedly in childhood. Sometimes they remember just a line from the tale – remember young George Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped down the cherry tree”. (Apparently George Washington never said this at all, but it doesn’t matter – we all learned the lesson!) What is relevant is that children are very receptive to stories and parables, so much so that they often remember them for their entire lives.

This is why psychologists recommend reading and telling stories to children. Aside from giving parents an excellent opportunity to bond with their kids, stories appeals to children’s imagination and love of make-believe. Stories – whether pure fiction or reality-based – speak the language of children, making them the perfect vehicle for teaching lessons and values. In fact, trying to teach values head-on by simply telling kids what is good and what is bad, just DOES NOT work. Sure, it’s important to tell the truth, but saying so does not compare in the least to hearing the tale of little George Washington’s dilemma.

Use Children’s Books, News Items, Blogs and Other Sources of Information
Visit your local children’s bookstore or library and look for books “with a message” – nowadays it’s easy to find book with both covert and openly educational agendas. For instance, there are books about the importance of honesty, kindness, respect and so on. In addition, search for fictional or autobiographical stories that convey important values or have relevance to your child’s unique challenges. For example, you might find a book about an inventor who finally invented something significant after years and years of failed experiments – thereby teaching the value of perseverance. Consult your local librarian, a teacher or child psychologist for specific recommendations of value-laden stories.

Older kids and teens can easily learn moral lessons from exploring events occurring in the world around them. Read or relay items from the news and current events, opening them up for discussion.

Ask Questions
To help your child get the most out of information you are presenting, ask questions, make comments and generally help to explore the issues. Should a person risk his own life to help someone else? What should a person do with the millions of dollars they win in the lottery? How bad is it really to download products without paying for them? Don’t just read stories; start a discussion!

Tell the Same Story More Than Once
Children’s stories are so effective in influencing the way children behave, because they are stories that kids love to hear or read again and again. Repetition can work for you; it can reinforce the value that you want to teach your child. Repetition also gives you opportunities to explore aspects of a story you missed the first time. And if your kid is not yet open to the values you were teaching first time around, repetition is an opportunity to see if you both have had a change of opinion.

Make it Practical
When real-life situations arise, refer back to the stories and discussions you’ve had. “I know it’s hard to tell the truth – but remember the courage of George Washington? Can you be like him right now?” Bringing the stories into current moral challenges helps imprint them permanently in the mind; they become powerful lessons and resources that can be called upon again and again throughout life.

Why to and How to Stop Yelling

Parents love their kids. So why do they yell at them?

Here are just some of the reasons parents may yell at their children:

• Kids don’t listen when parents speak in a normal tone of voice but do listen when parents yell
• Parents were raised by  parents who yelled at them, so it just comes “naturally”
• Parents are tired & stressed
• Parents don’t realize how much damage is caused by yelling

What Damage is Caused by Yelling?
There are short-term and long-term negative consequences of frequently yelling at kids. Here are some short-term results:

• More misbehavior at home and/or at school
• More nervous habits (bedwetting, thumb-sucking, hair-pulling, etc.)
• More physical ailments (headaches, stomach aches, flu’s & colds)
• More academic problems
• More social problems

Here are some long-term results in adults who were frequently yelled at as kids:

• More mental health problems
• More marriage and parenting problems
• More physical health problems
• More difficulties at work
• Sometimes more social issues or criminal issues

Kids who are yelled at frequently by their parents may not have a close relationship with their parents during the teen and/or adult years. Some people don’t ever talk to their parents again or have minimal contact as adults, cutting their parents off from their own children (yelling parents may lose the opportunity to have a close relationship with their own grandchildren).

How Can Parents Avoid Yelling at Their Kids?
Parents who yell must interrupt the neural pathway in their brain that draws a bridge between a provocative child and the parental urge to scream. Neural pathways are physical. When a child misbehaves or doesn’t listen, a pathway is triggered (within milliseconds) and a raised voice pops out of the parent’s mouth. In order to interrupt this pathway, a parent must add a new step. Let’s say the pathway looks like this:

Child provokes — parents yells.

The parent can add a step like this:

Child’s provokes —– parent yells — parent writes out two pages of lines “I always speak softly including those times when I feel very  frustrated.”

This new step of adding an annoying writing assignment actually causes the brain to drop the original pathway. The trick is to increase the negative consequence for each episode of yelling or for each week of yelling. That is, raise the assignment to 3 pages, then 4 pages, then 5 pages and keep going as necessary until all yelling has stopped. It will stop of course, because no one has time to write so many pages after each yelling episode!

Now that the parent is not yelling, he or she must have strategies with which to guide children and gain their cooperation. Not yelling is a good beginning but it is not parenting! A parent must be able to teach a child, correct a child, instruct a child and altogether raise a child! Children can not be raised on praise alone. It is, after all, necessary to assert healthy boundaries and to model the process of boundary assertion for children. However, creating healthy, respectful boundaries and limitations requires skill. Parents can learn this skill by taking parenting courses or by reading parenting books.

Five Parenting Skills That Prevent Parental Anger
The following five parenting skills can completely remove the need to resort to anger in parenting. Parents who use this approach find that their kids behave better. In addition, the techniques facilitate the development of a strong parent-child bond, high self-esteem and increased emotional well-being. Outlined very briefly below, they are explained in detail in the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

1.The 80-20 Rule: 80% of parental communication feels good to the child. In this way, the child wants to please the parent. The child exhibits far fewer misbehavior.

2.Emotional Coaching: Parents consistently name a child’s feelings. This technique creates an intimate bond between parent and child, causing the child to have a better understanding of his own feelings and the feelings of others. The result is better mental health, better physical health, better academic performance and better behavior!

3.The CLeaR Method: A good-feeling form of discipline that capitalizes on a child’s positive tendencies. By shaping desirable behavior with pleasant forms of acknowledgment, the child goes from strength to strength. The child has very little need to seek negative attention or to enter power struggles with parents.

4.The 2X-Rule: a firm but respectful form of discipline in which a parent never asks a child to do anything more than two times. By refraining from repetitive requests, the parent saves him or herself from getting angry. The 2X-Rule utilizes mild negative consequences instead of parental rage in order to gain a child’s cooperation.

5.The Relationship Rule: This rule insists on consistently respectful communication in the home from both parents and children. It helps the entire family manage their angry feelings appropriately and keeps the family emotionally safe. The rule states: “I only give and accept respectful communication.”

Is it Really Possible to Raise Kids without Yelling at Them?
Absolutely! The first step is to take the idea that yelling is damaging very seriously. The more yelling occurs, the more damage occurs.

The next step is to punish oneself for yelling. This also must be taken seriously. It is not enough to remember the idea of punishment or to remind oneself that one shouldn’t yell. In order to disrupt the harmful neural pathway, it is essential that the body/brain experiences the punishment. If a parent is willing to punish him or herself, yelling WILL BE cured!

The final step is to have a new set of strategies in place. Parents must never be left helpless. Parents need skills that will create a solid bond with their children because the bond itself increases cooperation (in addition to creating a foundation for mental health and emotional well being!). Parents also need to know how to discipline effectively and respectfully.  The word “discipline” means teach. There are actually good-feeling forms of discipline as well as unpleasant feeling forms. The majority of discipline that occurs in the home should be good-feeling.

Yelling is not part of the discipline process. It is an emotional reaction on the part of a parent, indicating upset, lack of control and helpless rage. Parents are entitled to their feelings. However, feelings need attention and calming. They are not parenting tools. Parenting tools require some study and thought whereas the expression of negative emotion occurs impulsively, without thought. However, the time it takes to think and plan parenting interventions is well worth it. The positive results of this kind of thinking endure for a lifetime.

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!

Raising an Adopted Child

Today, many families are turning to adoption to start or to expand a family. Whether due to issues with infertility or to a desire to extend love and care to a child in need, adoption is a way of enjoying the blessing of family life.

If you are thinking about adopting a child or if you have already adopted a youngster, consider the following tips:

Important Facts to Consider
When we think of having a baby in the family, we usually imagine a smiling little cherubnik cuddled in our arms. The reality of small human beings is often very different however. Children are complex, bringing a host of exhausting, painful, frightening and difficult  experiences to parents. While it is possible to find oneself raising a very easy child, it is even more likely to find oneself raising a complicated little person with a variety of issues (because that’s just how people are!). While there is no reason to expect worse case scenarios, realistic expectations of child-rearing can help adoptive parents be prepared for the journey of raising a child and be sure that this is what they want. Consider the normal and common challenges: a baby can suffer from intense colic or various health issues. Toddlers can be wild and uncontrollable. School-age children are often uncooperative or even defiant. When parents of naturally born children discover their child has developmental issues of some kind – learning disabilities, emotional problems or behavioral challenges – they handle the stress knowing that this is their child who they must raise the best they can. When their adolescent rebels, goes on drugs or gets into trouble with the law, they feel intense pain but they know that this comes with the territory of raising children. Adoptive parents can face a bit more difficulty in coming to terms with the difficulties in parenting and particularly with difficult-to-raise children. If it turns out that their adopted child has truly challenging issues, they may feel that they got a raw deal or that they could have had an easier life if only they hadn’t gone to the trouble of adopting. Just like natural parents, adoptive parents have to be psychologically prepared for everything and anything. Having or adopting a child is something like buying a piece of property “sight unseen.” As long as you are prepared for this reality, you will be able to take the challenges of child-rearing more in stride.

Biological Parents in the Picture
Whether you decide to be open about the adoption with your child, or you want to keep it a secret until the right time, your child will almost certainly want to meet his or her biological parents someday. You will eventually have to face the task of sharing what you know about them, and assisting your child in the search for them. This can sometimes be a painful process for both the child and the adoptive parents. Your child has to process issues of abandonment and feelings of not being wanted. You have to deal with the reality that being an adopted parent is a special role, one that involves forever sharing your child with the people who brought him or her to the world, whether in fact or just in your child’s mind. However, being prepared for this part of the parenting journey helps significantly. If possible, find out what this process was like for other parents – how they went about it, how it felt for them, their child and the biological parents. The internet alone is filled with group sites, blogs, and forums catering to adoptive families. Others can offer practical and emotional support to ease the way.

Family history is a critical part of a person’s identity, and your child may even struggle with the issue of why he or she is put for adoption in the first place. Your child may go through an “identity crisis” as he or she tries to work out his or her place in the world in general and in your family in particular. A child’s racial and cultural heritage will always be a significant part of his or her persona. Recognizing and honoring all parts of the child’s background helps the child to remain healthy and whole.

Relationships are Nurtured and Healed with Love
Just like their adoptive parents, adopted children have an extra set of issues to contend with in their family. They know that they come from other people and this creates a challenge for them. Children always resent their parents at some point because parents, being just regular human beings, sometimes behave poorly or make poor judgments or somehow manage to let their kids down. Naturally born children take this in stride, having the “luxury” so to speak, of resenting their folks but knowing that these are their parents. Adopted kids will also experience disappointment in or anger at their adoptive parents but they may think, “my real parents would have loved me more” or “why did I have to get adopted by these horrible people?” Expect your child to go through bad moments of feeling completely alienated. Allow for the bumpy road. But continue to do the best you can, providing consistent, unwavering love and generous doses of positive communication. In the end, this will help to ensure that your adopted child will be as close to you throughout life as any “natural born” child would be.

Parenting From a Distance

Parents sometimes have to be away from their kids. Divorce, buy military duty, diagnosis business trips and other trips can all keep parents away for various periods of time. Sometimes parents have to be away from the home in order to tend to family members in hospital or other settings. Whatever the reasons for separation may be, kids usually feel some sense of loneliness and loss – sometimes even abandonment. Fortunately, parents can help minimize the distress that their kids feel upon separation by utilizing modern technology to retain a degree of connection.

Video Calls
In the last few years, we have experienced massive advancement in technology. Moreover, recent advances have also permitted less expensive means of communication. A webcam, headset and internet connection is all that is needed for person-to-person live video calls. A weekly (or for short absences, daily) video date can help maintain the all-important feeling of connection.

Mobile Phones
Mobile phones can be used as small computers on the go. Take pictures as you are out and about and send them immediately, in real time. Use texting and messaging options to have conversation in the “now.” Send the photos and also have face-to-face telephone chats. Over the next few years more and more options for mobile phone communication will be available. Take advantage of them!

Online Gaming and Networking
If your youngster is into online or mobile gaming, then perhaps you can play together. This kind of activity can be excellent for bonding.

Across-the-Miles Celebrations
A video can easily update you on your child’s latest school activity – recitals, plays or sports events. Hopefully someone is available to record important events for your return viewing. In addition,you might be able to use live video calls to bring yourself and your child together at important moments in time.

Responsiveness
Try to respond promptly to whatever communications come to you from your child. Reply to text with text, calls with calls, emails with emails (and letters with letters, if your child is into snail mail!). Do what you can to maintain the momentum.

But above all, more important than the quantity of time you spend communicating is the quality of communication you send. It’s vital that your child understand that lack of proximity can’t harm the parent-child relationship. In general, try to avoid offering criticisms and complaints long distance; instead, focus on the positive while you’re away and wait till you get home to provide needed education and guidance (within the context of the 80-20 Rule as described in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe).

Tips for Step-Parents

Given today’s divorce rate of 50%, cheap a lot of new families are created out of remarriage. In addition, many children become step-children after one of their parent’s has died and the other has remarried. Sometimes step-children also inherit step-siblings, meaning that the parents in such reorganized households have a lot of new family dynamics to deal with. Even if blended families are now a social norm, creating and living in one always comes with certain challenges. For a new step-parent, the road is far easier when preparations are made; it is helpful to learn about common step-parenting issues and strategies for managing them.

Honoring the Previous Family
Being a step-parent is harder than being a regular parent. Not only must you  build a new family, but you also have to do so without nullifying the original family your step-children come from. On the contrary, the more recognition, validation and honor you can give to the children’s original family, the more comfortable your new children are likely to feel around you. In cases where the other parent of your step-children has died, you can certainly ask the children about their past experiences in the family, their special memories and even their relationship with that parent. You want to show the kids that you aren’t afraid of the topic and that you aren’t trying to pretend that they didn’t once have a whole different home. Your unspoken message is “that was a precious part of your life and this new life with me in it is a different chapter of your lives. Both parts are valid.”

Step-children who come to you through the process of divorce may or may not have pleasant memories of their previous home. There are many types of divorce and in any case, the children’s experience of the dissolution of a home is normally very different from the experience of the adults involved. Again, you don’t want to pretend that the children did not have a previous life. In fact, acknowledging that all this change is difficult and must feel awkward, uncomfortable and unsettling can only help. Remember that children can feel intensely angry that they now have to live with a parent who is not their natural parent and siblings who are not their natural siblings. Acknowledging their grief and their right to anger shows that you are an understanding and trustworthy adult. “I know it’s strange having a whole new family in this house. It might make you feel upset or uncomfortable at times. We just want you guys to know that we understand and we’re here to help in whatever way we can. It isn’t easy. We don’t expect everyone to just start loving each other. That may come with time but it may not. All we ask for from everyone in this household is mutual respect. We talk to each other nicely. That will help all of us get along. If we later learn to like each other too, that will be a huge bonus!”

You May be Dealing with Trauma
Step-children have usually experienced some sort of traumatic loss, whether that was caused by death or divorce. Because of this, they often carry layers of grief, anger and anxiety – feelings that they don’t necessarily talk about. Their behavior, however, may be affected. As a step-parent you might see something that looks like an attitude problem, whereas it is much more likely to be an emotional problem. Sometimes it can be helpful to arrange for psychological counseling for kids who are being thrust into a blended family; counseling can give them a venue to work through their painful emotions far more quickly and efficiently than just waiting for “time” to do its magic. It is important to note that “time” does not necessarily heal these kinds of wounds at all. Therapy is a far better option. If therapy is out of the question, step-parents can accomplish much by being knowledgeable and utilizing resources such as books (books that can offer education and an opportunity to explore the issues in the reorganized family), pastoral services, community services and family services.

Because of all these emotions, step-children are rarely ready to give their hearts over to some new adult. It’s best if you don’t expect them to do so. Over the years, your patient, kind and understanding character will leave a strong impact, helping these youngsters to eventually open up to you and form a positive relationship. This process cannot be rushed, so just sit back and read some good parenting books (such as Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe) and wait.

Establish Expectations
As a new step-parent, you will want to avoid engaging in disciplining your step-children. Let their natural parent do this – unless the children are pre-schoolers. However, you can establish some basic expectations and rules just by living them yourself and using plain language to ask the children to abide by them. Work with your new spouse to create a set of basic rules and expectations that you are both willing to endorse. Suppose your new spouse never asked his kids to take their plates of the table after eating. You feel that since they are already teenagers, they should certainly be doing this for their own good as well as for the good of the household. In your home, you raised your children to do this task routinely. You have no intention of taking the step-children’s plates off for them and it irks you to see their father do it. Discuss the issue with the children’s father. If he sees the value in changing his previous philosophy and strategy, then the two of you can ask the kids to remove their plates from now on. If he doesn’t, however, then you remove your plates, you continue to ask your children to remove theirs, you express once only how you think and feel about the issue and then you let their Dad take care of it. If the problem gets out of hand, you can enlist the services of a family counselor.

Keep in mind that when you are pleasant, rather than strident, step-children are more willing to learn from you. When you keep the tone of the relationship positive, when you are willing to lead the way by your warm, kind example, you can accomplish a great deal over time. Don’t rush. Trust the process. Step-children are willing to learn more from warm, gentle step-parents than from strict, rule-oriented, authority figures.

Having said this, there is no reason for  you to accept any sort of abuse from a step-child. Read “The Relationship Rule” in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice to learn how to establish respectful communication between you and the step-children. This is one area that you should really work hard to bring the children’s parent on board since establishing and maintaining basic standards of respect will help your new family remain healthy and caring rather than dysfunctional and destructive to its members.

Take the Lead
Don’t wait for your step-children to warm up to you. YOU warm up to them first, even if they don’t “deserve” it. Children need adults to take the lead. Pay attention to their preferences and their feelings and aim to respect both. Go ahead and “buy their affection” by getting them little treats, making favorite foods or doing special acts of kindness. By tuning into their preferences this way, you help the step-children feel safe and seen – prerequisites for a healthy relationship. You can get to know the kids better by opening up discussions stemming from issues in the news or articles you’ve read. Listen to their thoughts and opinions on all topics and accept what they have to say without judgment. Keep criticism very low – both about what they say and what they do.

Your Spouse’s Children
Your relationship with your spouse is the glue that holds your new home together. Try your best NOT to argue about your kids. Allow your new spouse to love his or her kids more than he or she loves you. Doing so helps your spouse come to love you more LATER ON. Parents have an intense, instinctive, protective love for their kids – a different kind of love than the one they have for their partners. You are NOT in competition with your spouse’s children, but if you feel you are, then accept the fact that the KIDS win and you lose. Then move on from there. Once you stop struggling, your partner will ironically love you more.