Helping Kids Deal with Feelings

Parents sometimes get so caught up in the physical demands of childrearing (getting kids ready for school, providing meals, making sure homework is done, taking them to lessons, getting them into bath and bed), that they can easily forget that there is a whole other side of parenting that is equally important and that must be attended to: the child’s inner world – the world of feelings. Helping children identify and manage their emotions is a critical task for any parent. So much of a child’s behavior is driven by emotions; frustrated children may become aggressive, frightened children may refuse to cooperate at bedtime, socially anxious children may isolate themselves, and so forth. Indeed, young children are prone to react emotionally to every situation rather than think about what they ought to do. Kids of every age are prone to experience periods of overwhelm or insecurity, moodiness or anxiety. Parents can play a major role in helping kids to negotiate the world of upsetting emotions.

How can parents help children deal with their feelings? Consider the following:

Be Open about Your Own Emotions
Kids feel free to explore and express their emotions only to the extent that they feel their family is open to it. So teach by example. If you feel sad, then express to the family that you are sad: “The ending to that movie was so sad that it made me cry!” If you are angry, assertively (that is, politely but firmly) express that you are angry: “I am really upset that you didn’t listen to me!” When you are feeling anxious, say so: “I’m worried about Grandpa. He fell twice last week.”  When children see that their parents are comfortable having and speaking about emotions, they will learn that feelings are just a normal part of the human experience. Parents who tell children to “stop crying” or “there’s nothing to be afraid of” accidentally encourage kids to bottle up their emotions.

Welcome Your Child’s Feelings
Differentiate between behaviors and feelings. You won’t be able to accept all of your child’s behaviors, but you can certainly accept all of his feelings. Let’s say that your youngster is mad at his brother for breaking the tower he was building. The anger is understandable and acceptable. However, punching the brother is completely unacceptable. Anger is a feeling – always acceptable. Punching is a behavior – and behaviors may or may not be acceptable. Is your child whining because he doesn’t like the meal you prepared? Whining is a behavior and one that happens to be unacceptable. Not liking dinner (feeling disappointed or frustrated) is a feeling and is acceptable. Your response can welcome the feeling while correcting the behavior. For instance, “I’m sorry you don’t like tonight’s dinner. I know that you’re disappointed and frustrated – you wanted something else. It is not O.K. to whine like that. Just tell me how you feel in words and I’ll try to help you out.” No matter what your child is feeling, accept the feeling without criticism or correction. This is easy to say but really hard to do. Sometimes your child feels things that you might find frightening. For instance, your child might say things like, “No one likes me” or “I’m so ugly” or “I don’t want to finish my degree. It’s just too hard” Your job in all of these cases is to accept the feelings BEFORE you try to educate the child. “No one likes you? That’s a sad feeling!” “You feel ugly? That’s really hard! “You don’t want to finish your degree? You sound very discouraged.” As the child responds, continue naming feelings as long as possible. Don’t jump in to correct the youngster because that will stop him from trying to share feelings with you in the future. When your kids have angry feelings, teach them the right way to express those feelings. How feelings are expressed is a behavior. Yelling, for example is a behavior, as is talking in a normal tone of voice. Teach kids that yelling, name calling, swearing, throwing, kicking and so on are all unacceptable ways to express the feeling of anger. On the other hand, saying “I’m angry” or “I’m really upset” or “I am so frustrated” are all valid ways to verbally express anger. Teach them to name their feeling and ask for what they want. It is normal for both parents and children to feel frustrated. You can certainly name, accept and validate your child’s upset and frustration. You cannot, however, accept his abusive behavior.

Use Pictures to Help Your Child Identify Feelings
When young children have difficulty articulating what they are going through, it’s best to turn to non-verbal aids. One such aid is a set of pictures depicting the different kinds of emotions. Instead of asking children to tell you how they feel, encourage kids to point at the card that illustrates the emotion they are going through. Parents can also use the cards as a prompt when trying to figure out what their child is feeling. Some parents put a “feeling wheel” on the refrigerator where a child can easily see it and use it to describe what he is experiencing.

Make it a Habit to Ask Children How They Feel
Very few parents take the effort to deliberately help their kids to identify what they are feeling at a given point in time. But there are many occasions when a focus on feelings can help increase a child’s emotional intelligence. Occasions when kids are happy, such as when a playmate comes over, can be an opportunity to teach kids about positive emotions. It looked like you guys were having a blast? Was it fun having Steve over?” Occasions that are sad, such as the death of a pet, can be opportunities to instruct about negative emotions. “I can’t believe that Fluffy died! I feel so sad. How about you? How are you doing?” By inviting open discussion of feelings you make it easy for your children to access their own and others emotions and become emotionally intelligent.

Difficult Spouse

Like difficult children, difficult spouses may be rigid, over-sensitive, explosive, stubborn and more. This makes them challenging to get along with and one has to be a very skilled communicator in order to bring out the best in such a partner and minimize conflict. Although a difficult spouse’s personality presents certain predictable challenges in marriage, it also creates certain predictable challenges in parenting.

Here are just some problems that you may encounter with your spouse as a parent:

  • Your spouse has a tendency to spoil your children. A spouse who spoils the kids can be frustrating to deal with. He or she harms the children directly by overindulging them, refusing to establish appropriate limits and/or failing to establish healthy boundaries. In addition, such a spouse can harm the marriage as he or she contradicts the parenting rules you try to put in place and thereby aligns him or herself with the children rather than with you. In this way, the spoiling spouse diminishes your authority as a parent, causing real harm to your children through the process of “triangulation” (setting kids against the other parent).
  • Your spouse is too strict. Sometimes the opposite is true; your spouse establishes so much control in the family that there is barely room to breathe! Parenting should be a balance of love and authority, and rules must be flexible enough to accommodate the family’s changing needs. If your spouse tend to be too closed-minded, inflexible, rule-oriented and stern, he or she can alienate you and the children in one sweep.
  • Your spouse has to be right about everything. Marriage requires give-and-take as well as flexibility and the ability to compromise. Some difficult adults are simply too rigid and righteous to negotiate about parenting issues or anything else. Such a spouse provides a poor model of respectful negotiation for the children to emulate. Instead, the youngsters see an immature, controlling parent who cannot see another person’s point of view.
  • Your spouse is overly-dependent on you for decision-making. It’s great to be relied upon, but not for everything! When a partner refuses to step up to the plate to make decisions and take responsibility, you are left raising a family on your own. It’s not fair and its maddening. And watch out – the abstaining spouse may even accuse you of making poor decisions and being to blame for the children’s problems!
  • Your spouse is too critical. Getting constructive feedback from your spouse can be helpful. However, some spouses have a tendency to criticize everything you do. Whether your spouse claims that you are not feeding the kids the right kind of food, buying the right kind of clothing, or putting the kids to bed correctly, it feels like nothing but complaints.

What can you do when you have a difficult spouse?

Improve Your Own Communication and Relationship Skills
Just like a parent has to be highly skilled in order to raise a difficult child, a spouse has to be highly skilled in order to deal effectively with a difficult partner. Read marriage books or take marriage classes. Use the same excellent skills you’ve acquired in parenting to reduce defensiveness and encourage spousal cooperation. Use plenty of positive techniques like praise, acknowledgment, and empathy. Limit criticism and correction and eliminate anger. All of this will help your difficult spouse be more open to your suggestions and help in parenting and in every other area of marriage.

Consult a Third Party
Let a parenting expert guide you and your spouse together in creating your parenting plans. This can help avoid conflict over parenting issues and facilitate decision-making. When a neutral third party makes a suggestion, it is easier for your spouse to follow than when you make a suggestion (even if it’s exactly the same suggestion!).

Consult a Marriage Counselor
You aren’t the best one to teach your spouse how to behave. If you want him or her to provide a healthier model for your kids and to be a more pleasant person for you to live with, let a marriage counselor help out. Marriage counselors have the training and know-how to help people make significant changes in the way they behave as spouses. Your difficult spouse can become an easier spouse after a number of months of marriage counseling. Do not send your difficult spouse for individual counseling since the counselor will lack the necessary information (i.e. YOUR point of view) to truly help your spouse.

Parents Disagree about Discipline

It is common for any two people from different family backgrounds to have experienced their own discipline differently and therefore to have different thoughts and feelings about discipline. For example, one person may come from a home where discipline was harsh. He might react to that experience by repeating it with his own kids, feeling that although it was painful, the results were obviously successful. Or, he might react to it by vowing never to discipline his children at all. This person’s parenting partner might have come from a home where discipline was appropriately balanced with warmth and love. The partner might feel comfortable copying this “authoratative parenting style” in the family. These two parents may have trouble working together; for instance, the harsh-history parent may have no tolerance for any kind of discipline of his children, no matter how mild, reasonable, or even necessary, it might be.

The Cost of Fighting About It
The trouble is, that when parents fight about discipline, children know it and feel it. The result is often “triangulation” in the family – a situation in which the child and more lenient or more reasonable parent form an alliance against the “mean,” stricter parent. The so-called “mean,” stricter parent may actually be the healthier parent, the one who is using reasonable discipline methods. However, when pitted against a no-discipline parent, the perceived “mean” one may lose the child’s affection. In other cases, the “mean” parent really is unreasonably strict and harsh. In general, kids don’t like to be disciplined and therefore, whichever parent does it less is likely to be favored by them. This can then rob the so-called “mean” parent of ALL parental power. The nice-parent-child team discredits the other parent to the point where the child may virtually lose one parent as a life resource. While the lenient parent might be trying to protect the child from the stricter or even harsher parent, he or she may accidentally end up robbing the child of the other parent altogether. When the situation leads to divorce (see below), the child may even lose his home. Except in the case of true abuse, trying to save the child from the other parent is harmful for the child.

In addition to the effect of triangulation on the child, there is an obvious effect on the marriage. No parent likes to be disempowered by the other. Resentment builds, sometimes to the point where divorce ensues. Even if the marriage lasts, there is often bitter animosity due to triangulation.

However, triangulation isn’t the only problem that can arise out of fights about discipline. Even if the child is close to both parents equally (or distant from them both equally), the fighting itself is an intense stress in the home. Children are always troubled and sometimes even traumatized by parental conflict. They often feel deep sadness and fear – sometimes for safety of themselves or their parents, and sometimes for the sustainability of the family unit. When the subject matter of the conflict is THEM (as it is when the subject is discipline), they may feel guilty in addition to being fearful or sad. When parents fight a lot, children can become depressed and troubled in many ways. Their physical health, mental health and ability to function may all be affected. For instance, many children get stress-related headaches, stomach aches, rashes and other physical symptoms when their parents argue about discipline. They can get depressed and/or anxious and develop an array of nervous habits and acting-out types of behaviors (such as being more argumentative themselves). Their schoolwork can suffer as well.

How Not to Fight about it
When parents have radically different views of what should happen in discipline, they need to work to get more on the same page. It could be that each parent has to move a little away from his or her own position and a little closer to the partner’s position. There are different ways for this to happen.

Parents can take a parenting course together. Learning philosophies and strategies from an objective outsider is often far easier than taking instruction from one’s spouse. While this outsider may be a parenting insructor in a group setting, it can also be a private practitioner (such as a family therapist, psychologist or other mental health professional). Choose a professional who has a special expertise in parenting in order to get the most helpful guidance. Parents can also read and discuss a parenting book together (have a book-club a deux) or look up questions and answers on-line together.

Another strategy to attain a meeting of the minds on the subject of discipline, is to refrain from criticizing your partner’s parenting EVER. If you don’t like what your spouse is doing, approach him or her with curiosity and a desire to understand rather than with complaint and criticism. For instance, suppose your spouse gave your son a negative consequence on Monday for failing to come home by his curfew (“you’ve lost your cell phone for a week…”). On Tuesday, you see that your spouse has returned your son’s cell phone to him already, clearly failing to follow through with discipline. Avoid approaching your spouse in a confrontational manner – “If you never carry through, he’ll never learn”…etc. Instead, you ASK your spouse what made him or her change his mind. Ask this with genuine curiousity, not with bitter sarcasm. Greet the answer with Emotional Coaching (empathic listening and naming of feelings). For example, imagine that your spouse explains, “I felt bad for him. He really needs that phone.” You might respond with, “You’re such a good mom/dad – you really care about him! I’m just wondering how we’re going to help him come home on time – I get so worried when he stays out past his curfew – I really want us to be able to get this through to him. What do you think we should do about it?”  If every disciplinary difference of opinion is handled in a caring, respectful manner, the parents will be able to negotiate their differences and find ways to do what’s best for the kids – eventually.

Finally, parents who are too harsh or too lenient in their discipline styles tend to love their children and are trying to do what they think is best for the child. Because of this, most people can see the wisdom of applying the 80-20 Rule. The 80-20 Rule is the ideal good-feeling to bad-feeling ratio of parenting communications to children. Laughter, praise, gifts, physical affection, empathy, and any other good-feeling communication needs to happen 4 times for every 1 bad-feeling communication like giving an instruction, correction, complaint, threat of punishment, actual punishment and so on. Moreover, the bad-feeling communications need to be only mildy-bad-feeling. Otherwise, they can completely wipe out the positive effects of the good-feeling communications, no matter how many there might have been. Full details on the 80-20 Rule are available in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

Too Controlling

People like to have things their way. Parents, in particular, often like to have things their way – because they feel that they know what is best for their children. No matter the age of the child, the parent is always a couple of decades (or more) older than the youngster and therefore, even if not wiser, is at least more experienced. This makes the parent rightfully confident in the leadership position. However, being in charge can sometimes lead to being controlling. Let’s look at some of the differences between taking appropriate control and being unpleasantly controlling.

Parental Authority
Parents are in a leadership position in their household. While they can certainly be kind, loving and respectful to their children, they must also be prepared to set boundaries and limits and to offer guidance. Parents are responsible for the safety and education of their children. They need to direct the household. When they fulfill these tasks in a way that is respectful of the child’s feelings and needs, they are taking control. When they fulfill these tasks without sensitivity to the child’s feelings or needs, they may be controlling.

For instance, a parent can set an appropriate bedtime for a child. The parent can use his or her authority to instruct the child to go to bed at that time. However, if the child shows that he or she is not yet ready for sleep or has something that needs to be finished, the parent may make allowances, permitting some flexibility around the designated bedtime in order to meet the child’s needs. However, when the parent is controlling, there will be little or no consideration of the child’s needs.

To understand this better, imagine that you have seen a watch that you’d like to buy. It’s a bit pricey, but exactly what you’ve been looking for. You tell your spouse that you’re thinking of purchasing the watch. Your spouse tells you that there’s no way that you’re going to buy that watch at that price. Even if you manage to purchase the watch, your spouse’s behavior has been controlling. On the other hand, if your spouse entered into a discussion with you about his or her concerns about the cost and tried to creatively find a way that it would be possible for you to get it anyway (i.e. find it elsewhere at a better price, save up over a few months, buy it on a payment plan, etc.), and at no point put his or her foot down to tell you what you can and cannot do, then your spouse is not at all controlling.

A controlling parent calls the shots without regard to the child’s feelings or needs.

Adults with Controlling Parents
It’s not only small children and teenagers who suffer from controlling parents. Adults can have them too! Sometimes parents issue “commands” to their grown children such telling them they must come for dinner once a week or call every day or do errands for them. They may assert their control in various ways – by being aggressive if their demands are not met or by acting pathetic and helpless in a manipulative way. Parents can even make financial threats in order to assert control (“if you don’t do as I ask, I’ll cut you out of my will.”). Adult children need to find their own strength. They don’t really have to do anything their parents want them to do anymore, but they must be willing to face the consequences of non-compliance. Will a parent cut off communication or baby sitting services? Adults have to decide what the cost will be if they defy controlling parents and whether or not they are willing to pay those costs.

Teens with Controlling Parents
Teenagers make those kinds of calculations all the time. A teen might stay out past curfew because friends are all at a big celebration. The teen knows that her controlling father will be enraged when she gets home late but she chooses to deal with that in order to stay out with her friends. In fact, teens – like adults – don’t have to comply with controlling parents. They will, however, have to pay a price for non-compliance. The truth is that parents will have to pay a price, too, for being controlling. Often, the child withdraws from a controlling parent. As the child becomes more independent, he or she has less and less to do with the controlling parent because contact is so unpleasant. It is important for the health of the parent-child relationship that parents give more and more freedoms as the child matures and less and less direction. The child needs space to develop through the process of making errors and making adjustments. The more a parent can start to stand back and allow the child to experience life, the more the child will appreciate him or her. Controlling parents may be highly invested in the success of their child (and therefore make all sorts of rules and conditions in order to “protect” the child and ensure success). However, even if the child succeeds in the end, the parent-child relationship may be so strained that the child will not allow the parent to be part of that success.

Anxiety is the underlying motivation for being controlling. Parents make too many rules and limits when they don’t trust the child to behave normally. However, excessive rule-making usually results in excessive sneakiness and deception. Parents need to work WITH a child to find a way for both parent and child to feel fairly satisfied with conditions. Together, parents and teens can establish curfews and hosuehold rules. A teen needs to be consulted just like an adult.

Young children can also be consulted. However, parents of young children do need to be somewhat more controlling. The younger the child, the less freedom is appropriate. Toddlers need adults to help establish healthy habits. The older the child gets, however, the more the parent has to loosen controls and offer more freedom. Again, failure to do so can pose a serious threat to the parent-child relationship.

When You Know You are Too Controlling
You may realize that you are too controlling. However, fear and concern for the child’s well-being has made you behave this way. You want so badly to help save your child from harm so you tell him that his girlfriend isn’t good enough for him or that he needs to take such and such a job for the summer or that he can’t associate with various friends. You have seen for yourself the poor results you are getting with this method of parenting and you want to change, but your worry for the child’s welfare gets in your way. What can you do?

There are several things you can do. First, join a parenting group of parents whose kids are in the same age group as yours. When you hear how other kids behave and how their parents deal with it, you will acquire so much valuable knowledge. You may also find emotional support in such a group. Reading parenting books and checking online for issues faced by this age group, can also be very helpful. Finally, seek psychological counselling. A professional mental health practitioner such as a psychologist, social worker or family therapist can help you gain perspective and unique skills for solving parenting problems. The sooner you can break away from your controlling tendencies, the sooner your kids will be able to live up to your positive hopes and dreams for them.

Other Parent is Too Strict

It is quite common for one parent to think that the other parent is too strict. The overly strict parent may be the biological parent of your child (i.e. your current spouse or your ex-spouse). Just as easily, the overly strict parent may be the child’s step-parent (i.e. your spouse from your recent re-marriage). No matter who it is, watching this person parent your child (or children) is a painful experience for you. You think that this person is unduly harsh or demanding and may be damaging your child. What can you do about it?

What is Too Strict?
Few parents feel that they, themselves, are too strict. In fact, most parents think that their own perspective on setting rules and boundaries for children is “just right.” If the other parent does it differently, that other parent is seen as “too lenient” or “too strict.” We use our our own values as as the golden standard!

In fact, there is a more objective way to determine whether or not a parent is too strict. We can look at how the children are doing. We need to look at three main areas:

  • the quality of the parent-child relationship
  • the child’s behavior and performance
  • the child’s emotional health

Let’s look at each of these individually. If a parent is too strict, this will affect the quality of the parent-child relationship. Children resent parents who are overly strict. They feel closer to those who seem to understand them and respect their natures and their limitations. Take the case of 17 year-old Sandra, for example. Sandra’s father insists that she come home at 9p.m. on the weekends, whereas her friends are typically allowed to stay out till midnight. Since her father’s strict rule ruins Sandra’s social life, she resents him – in fact, she says she “hates” him. Sandra feels that her father doesn’t understand how important her social life is to her and when she tries to explain it to him, he seems more interested in his own rules than in her happiness and well-being. As a result, her affection for the man is seriously compromised. An overly strict parent will not be able to have a warm, loving relationship with his or her kids because the parent’s standards convey lack of empathy for the child. Even if the parent applies strict rules and standards out of love, as most do, it is not the love that the child experiences, but rather, the unreasonableness of the rules and standards. True love has to take the child’s feelings into account.

The second criteria for overly strict parenting is the effect on the child’s behavior and performance. When a parent puts reasonable boundaries and limits on a child in a loving and flexible way, the child thrives. For instance, parents who limit computer time, insist on homework time, impose a bedtime and demand punctuality for school, actually help their children learn to function well – providing all these fixed times are appropriate and reasonable for the child’s age and personal limitations (this is where flexibility comes in). However, when parents raise the bar too high with overly strict rules and regulations (i.e. the computer time is virtually non-existent, the homework time is excessively long, the bedtime is unreasonably early and the morning routine is so tight as to be unpleasant), children often react with poor behavior of various types. When a child becomes sneaky, manipulative and/or dishonest, it can be an indication that the rules are too many and/or too strict. Children have to survive somehow and one way is by breaking the rules constantly. However, since overly strict parents also tend to be punitive, the kids become experts at devious behavior. On the other hand, in homes where the standards are reasonable and the child can breathe freely, there is no need for deceptive behavior; the child is able to comply with parental demands without resorting to lies and games. In short, the more deceptive your child is, the more likely it is that a parent is being overly strict.

Finally, we can look at the child’s emotional health. When parents are warm, understanding and reasonable, children thrive emotionally. On the other hand, when parents are intimidating, rigid and unreasonable (overly strict), then children can manifest various types of stress reactions. Some kids develop eating disorders. Some develop addictive behaviors. Some have anxiety. Others get depressed. Some don’t seem to react at the time they are dealing with an unreasonable parent, but later on in life, develop trauma syndromes or personality problems related to the dysfunctional home in which they grew up. Although children suffer stress and emotional problems for many reasons (some of them purely biological, others triggered by social and academic stress or personal traumatic experiences), living for a couple of decades with an overly strict parent is a definite stressor and can trigger both emotional issues and physical stress syndromes like headaches, stomach problems and other health problems.

If Your Spouse is Too Strict
Parents who are strict usually love their kids and have no desire to hurt them. They just want them to grow up “right.” They cannot see the damage they are causing. However, one thing is clear: you cannot get your spouse to lighten up by reprimanding him or her for being too strict. Criticizing the strict spouse for his or her parenting approach simply makes the person feel unsupported. The spouse is likely to turn against YOU for “siding” with the children.

Instead of attacking your spouse for overly strict parenting, PRAISE him or her for wise and compassionate parenting. No one is strict on every issue all the time. Let’s say that your overly strict wife decides to let your son sleep over at a friend’s house on a school night. You can say something like, “That was really nice of you. I know that Jay really appreciates that. He’s lucky to have a mom like you!” Of course, do this in a way that sounds genuinely appreciative and definitely NOT sarcastic! By attending to appropriate parenting behaviors, you can reinforce this kind of parenting and help extinguish overly strict tendencies.

Another step you can take is to talk to your spouse about how much the kids love him or her. This helps the overly strict parent relax into more relationship-oriented (as opposed to rule-oriented) parenting.

When your spouse is overly strict to children in front of you, don’t intervene unless there is an issue of physical or emotional abuse (of the kind that Family Services would call “abuse”). If you disagree with his or her intervention, but it is not abusive, then let it go – until you have a private moment with your spouse. When clearly out of earshot of the kids, you can then talk to your partner. Start off by describing what you think is right about your partner’s intervention (i.e. “I’m so glad you laid down the law about homework time! These kids need to apply themselves more seriously to their schoolwork.”) Only AFTER naming the positive side of your parnter’s intervention, should you go on to attempt to modify the overly strict side of it (“I’m just thinking that 3 hours might be too much for them right after school and I was wondering how you would feel if we knocked that down to two hours, with one hour before dinner and one hour after dinner. That would leave them time for their extra-curricular activities which I think are also important for their development. What do you think?”). This sort of approach is far less confrontational than direct accusations (“the kids are going to hate your guts if you lay down rules like that for them”). As a result, it has a better chance of helping your partner learn to address the child’s needs and feelings as he or she is setting rules and limits.

Child is Destructive

Children can be destructive for several reasons. Some are “innocently” destructive due to excess energy and poor judgment. Kids with ADHD, viagra dosage for instance, can play too wildly at times, accidentally causing damage to property through impulsive behavior. Other kids are destructive on purpose, acting out their anger, hurt or frustration. This sometimes occurs because of their inborn temperament, sometimes because of watching parents or older siblings behave similarly and sometimes a combination of both nature and nurture. Some kids are destructive only at home whereas others are destructive elsewhere as well. In all cases, parents need to know how to stop their child’s destructive actions.

If your child is destructive at times, consider the following tips:

Never Lose Control
The destructive child is out-of-control and needs to see a model of excellent self-control. No matter how upset you are with your child’s destructive behavior, control your own behavior! Even if your youngster broke your favorite, irreplaceable camera, heirloom or something similar, restrain yourself: no yelling, no touching the child, no name-calling, no verbal abuse of any kind. Instead, let the child know that you need to THINK about what you’re going to do about his behavior, and then leave the scene of the crime to do just that. If you lose control in front of your child, how can you expect him to behave differently?

Teach Your Child the Importance of Respecting Property
Let your child know that he can’t destroy property just because he’s upset. Explain to him the value (monetary or sentimental) of things and the consequences his actions have not only on himself in terms of getting punished, but on those whose property he destroys. Ask him how he would feel if someone broke or damaged his favorite toy or his bike. Let him know that when he destroys someone’s property, he’s making them feel the same way. The child may simply not fully understand the consequences his actions have.

Use the 2X-Rule
If your child continues to be destructive, warn him or her that acting in this way will result in a negative consequence in the future. You can say “From now on whenever you are destructive, you will lose “screens for that day.” or something along those lines. If the destruction is very serious (i.e. damaging a car or a house or causing expensive or severe damage to property), use “jail level” consequences (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for a detailed explanation of discipline strategies, including “ticket” and “jail-level” negative consequences). “Jail level” consequences are punishments that your child would REALLY dislike. The “ticket-level” consequence of losing screens for a day can be annoying or slightly upsetting to children, but most will recover quickly. The “jail-level” consequence of losing screens for a week (or longer for an older child) however, might be something that the child really can’t bear. All children have different feelings about what is or isn’t important to them though. You should pick both regular, “ticket-level” consequences and very serious “jail-level” consequences according to your own child’s value system. If losing a story at bedtime is upsetting enough, that can be a consequence for playing with balls in the living room after being told not to do so. For another child, losing dessert will be the language he understands best. For a child who has painted your walls with magic marker, you might warn that future occurrences of this very destructive behavior will cost the child significant portions of his allowance or the privilege of riding his new bike. See Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for an extended list of negative consequences.

Teach Anger-Management strategies
If your child’s destructive behavior occurs mostly when he’s angry, teach him alternative ways of handling this strong emotion. There are many techniques and strategies to help your child manage his anger and many internet resources and books on this subject. Some tips that you may find helpful include:

  • Teach your child to think about the situation and it’s consequences before he acts.
  • Teach breathing techniques to your child. These can help calm your child down in moments of anger. One simple technique your child can use is to think the word “in” while breathing in and think the word “out” while breathing out. Have him practice nightly at bedtime in order for this technique to be truly available and calming in a moment of upset.
  • Teach him how to communicate his feelings in the right way when he is angry.
  • Teach him how to be able to “let go” after upset has occurred.
  • Anger and tantrums can often come about after a build up of stress, so teach your child stress reduction methods as well.

Use the CLeaR Method
In the CLeaR method, a parent gives the child a comment on what he is doing correctly, a label on how he is acting, and a reward to reinforce positive behavior. If your child is often reckless and careless while playing but is at the moment playing quite appropriately, give him a comment – “I see that you’re being careful with your toys today.” a label -“That’s very mature of you.” followed by a reward -“You can play outside for longer today since you’re being so careful.” when he plays carefully.

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. If your child exhibits violent rage that leads to destruction of property, the flower remedy Vine may help him. For loss of control, the flower remedy Cherry Plum is used. If your child has meltdowns when provoked, you can try the remedy Impatiens. You can mix several remedies together in one treatment bottle. To do so, you fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child 4 drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the negative behavior disappears. Start treatment again, if the behavior returns. Eventually, the behavior should diminish completely.

Seek Professional Help
If your child continues to exhibit destructive behavior despite all the interventions you employ, it is best to arrange for professional assessment and treatment. It is possible that you need a “tighter” educational approach and it is also possible that your child him or herself, will benefit from therapeutic intervention. Ask your doctor for a referral to a pediatric mental health professional.

Tips for Dealing with Separation or Divorce

When parents separate, adiposity children can experience many different emotions. If separation means the end to a violent or intensely conflicted home-life, children may experience relief. In most cases, they experience sadness – especially when they are strongly attached to both parents. Often they feel confused, lost, upset. It’s not unusual for kids to feel tremendous anger as well; they are losing their home, their stability, their security. Sometimes they are resentful, feeling that they shouldn’t have to shuffle back and forth between homes or move out of their old home or otherwise deal with difficult conditions. Other common emotions include feelings of abandonment, fear, worry, depression and even trauma. Sometimes children will benefit from professional help to sort out all their feelings, but in many cases the parents themselves can provide the necessary emotional support.

If your family is going through marital separation, consider the following tips:

Welcome Your Child’s Feelings with Emotional Coaching
If your child expresses worry, anger, depression, abandonment or any other emotion as a result of the divorce or separation, try using emotional coaching. Emotional coaching is the naming of feelings. In this scenario, you may say things to your child such as “I know you’re sad that we won’t all be living together in the same house anymore.” or “I know you’re upset about having to sleep in two different beds,” or “I know you miss Daddy so much.”  You can talk about whatever feeling your child has about any aspect of the separation or divorce.  . Through acknowledging and accepting your child’s feelings about what is going on, you can help him release those feelings a little. If your child believes that his situation after the divorce is terrible, don’t try to downplay his feelings (i.e. by saying “it’s not really so bad – there’s lots of advantages to having two homes”). Accept and acknowledge your child’s feelings the way he feels them, not the way you want him to feel them.

Continue to Provide Appropriate Limits for Unacceptable Behaviors
Just because kids are hurting doesn’t mean it’s O.K. for them to become rude, aggressive, disobedient or otherwise badly behaved.  Your continued use of boundary-setting tools, rules and expectations will actually help increase their sense of security and emotional equilibrium. Be loving and respectful but firm. Follow the Relationship Rule as explained in the book Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice. The Relationship Rule states “I do not give, nor do I accept, any form of disrespectful communication. I only give, and I only accept, respectful communication.”  This means that you don’t yell at or insult your child and you do not allow the child to yell at or insult you! Do not accept the excuse that your child is frustrated or traumatized by the break up of the family. While it is understandable that children will feel hurt, confused, overwhelmed, angry and grief stricken, it is NOT O.K. for them to act out these feelings with rudeness to their parents.

Offer Professional Support
If your kids are hurting, they may benefit from extra time with the school guidance counsellor or a mental health professional. There are also support groups for children experiencing divorce (which may be offered by local family service agencies). Your child may need someone to talk to who won’t be hurt by his anger or sadness. Allow him or her to talk to a therapist – or even a neighbor or relative – without asking him or her to tell you about the conversation. Privacy can give the child the opportunity to really clear out troubling emotions.

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. The flower remedy Walnut can help your child adjust to the many changes that may occur in his life after the divorce. Honeysuckle can help him not dwell on his former life, painfully longing for a return to the past. The flower remedy Willow can help ease any resentment the youngster might be experiencing as a result of the divorce. Star of Bethlehem can reduce feelings of shock, trauma and grief. If depression manifests as a result of the divorce, the flower remedy Gorse can help. When your child worries about his future and new life, Mimulus is the flower remedy to turn to. You can mix several remedies together in one treatment bottle. To do so, you fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child 4 drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the emotional distress dissipates. Start treatment again, if it returns. Bach Flower Therapy cannot erase the pain of divorce, but it can sometimes help reduce the duration or intensity of initial distress that the child suffers.  Bach Flower Therapy is just one tool that adults or children can employ to help cope with stress. Using it may help reduce side-effects of stress such as sleeplessness, illness, behavioral problems and other stress-related conditions.

Be Aware of the Impact of Your Own Mood
Going through separation and/or divorce is really hard on parents. You may be distracted, traumatized, grieving, upset and overwhelmed. It’s hard to parent in this state. If possible, get professional support and/or join a support group (even if it’s just on-line) for divorcing parents. Make sure you have time to yourself each day. Single parenting is exhausting and difficult – if you don’t take good care of yourself, you’ll soon have insufficient patience for your child or children. Exercise and feed yourself well. Try to sleep. Learn mindfulness meditation and research stress reduction techniques. Be aware that your children are watching you carefully; they need you to be healthy for them.

Minimize Conflict with Your Ex
On-going conflict between separating and divorcing spouses is the factor that causes the most maladjustment in children from broken homes. Your children have the best chance of developing in a normal and healthy way when you have a friendly, cooperative and respectful relationship with their other parent. If the other parent is impossible to deal with, try to never speak about this fact when the kids can hear you. Bad-mouthing their parent (even when everything you say is the absolute truth) severely harms the children. You might hate your own mother, but you don’t want other people insulting her nonetheless. Insulting your child’s parent is an insult to the child him or herself. Moreover, the conflict itself is traumatizing. Children often end up in decades of psychotherapy to recover from the effects of witness their parents’ post-divorce conflict. Save your children from this fate by being determined to act respectfully toward your ex-spouse and never speaking badly about him or her.

Keep Routines Normal
Resist the temptation to sleep with your children once your spouse has moved out. You don’t want to have to kick them out of your bed when you decide to remarry. Normal routines increase stability, so keep life as normal as possible and the same way it was before the divorce.

Kids Need Laughter
Even if it’s a stressful time in your life, remember that kids are kids – they need lightness and laughter. You can bring this into their life with funny bedtime stories, silly games, outings, movies or other amusing activities.

New Baby – Interfering In-laws

Parents-in-law can be wonderful assets in one’s family life but sometimes they can present tremendous challenge. Often,  it’s a little of both! And when one’s in-laws become the grandparents of one’s new baby, one’s relationship with them often takes on a new curve. Focus is diverted away from the adult children, to the new baby instead. But what does one do when in-laws are a bit too helpful or too opinionated, too needy or too intrusive?

If you have an interfering in-law, consider the following:

Start with Understanding
Babies are exciting! And if this is the first grandchild, you can especially understand the enthusiasm of your in-laws. In fact, you’d probably be disappointed if they showed no interest whatsoever in your new child. Moreover, if this is a first grandchild, keep in mind that your in-laws don’t yet know where to put themselves, don’t know the boundaries, don’t yet know the place of the grandparent. Even if this is not the first grandchild, your in-laws may not, for some reason, know how to behave appropriately. (In many cases, there are obvious reasons why they don’t know). You can, in a gentle and respectful way, begin to set boundaries in a way that your in-laws might be able to benefit from. For instance, you can say “Oh, thanks Mom – but we prefer to give the baby her bath ourselves.” Even if Mom-in-law is upset by this, you’ve done nothing wrong. You’re not responsible for her upset, unless you’ve abused her by being insulting, loud or harsh. Being quietly persistent with your wishes can set the boundaries over time.

Be One With Your Spouse in Planning How to Draw the Line
What if your in-laws are the stubborn type? They contradict your guidance, make major decisions without consulting you, and usurps what you feel is your role in child-rearing? Your spouse may be able to help. In some cases, your spouse is actually your best ally in negotiating boundaries. MAKE SURE YOU TREAT HIM OR HER LIKE AN ALLY rather than someone who is on the enemy team. Let your spouse know that you want to enjoy his or her parents  and have them actively in your family’s life. Ask for your spouse’s help in making the relationship workable and positive.

Your spouse knows your in-laws a lot more than you do. He or she will know how to approach them without creating further complications. Let your spouse deliver strong messages if he or she is willing to, so that you can stay out of it and maintain a good relationship with your in-laws. However, sometimes spouses cannot stand up to their parents or do not know how to properly support their partner. If your spouse will not draw the line, don’t despair: draw it yourself. Again, remaining respectful is the key. However, in the case of “difficult” in-laws, expect a more negative response. They will have to comply (because, after all, your baby is YOUR baby and YOUR kids are YOUR kids and YOUR home is YOUR home), but they might put up a big fuss. They can go ahead and do that if they want to and you can’t stop them. Again, their reaction is not your responsibility. Only YOUR behavior is your responsibility. As long as you have remained respectful, you have done nothing wrong. Be careful to NEVER raise your voice to them, never swear or use harsh language, never insult them. Suppose, for instance, that they want to feed your 4 month-old baby some solid food while you want the baby to be at least 8 months-old before starting solids. You see your father-in-law putting a spoonful of mashed food into your baby’s mouth! You go up to the man and say, quietly but firmly, “Dad. I believe I told you that I don’t want to give Jason food yet.  Doctor’ s orders!” You then remove the baby and resolve to yourself to stay in the same room with the baby and the father-in-law until the child reaches the ready-to-eat food stage.

Use the Parent Card
It’s possible that the reason why your in-laws are extremely hands-on with their child is because they feel they are the more experienced ones when it comes to parenting — and they are! Communicate with them that, while you appreciate their presence and their help, you also want to learn the thrills and frustrations of parenting first hand.

Their advice is welcome, but this is your family; you may do things differently than they did. Ask them to give you and your spouse a chance, and assure them that you both will do the best that you can because you love your child and your family.

Assure Them That You’re not Taking their Rights as Grandparents
If your in-laws express concern that you are preventing them from developing a relationship with their grandchild, explain to them that they are always welcome to bond with their grandkids. But when it comes to particular issues, you and your spouse will be the in the lead role, and them in the supporting role. Clarify that this doesn’t mean they are not needed, and that they their role is not critical. In fact, let them know just how loved, important and needed they really are.

Compliment your In-laws
Let your in-laws know how much you appreciate them. Be generous with praise (“You’re so great with the children. No wonder they love you so much!”). Express gratitude freely (“Thank you SO MUCH for babysitting. You are the BEST!”). Buy the occasional gift (“I picked up some of your favorite chocolate for you.”) Let them overhear you speaking well of them (“Grandma & Grandpa are very hands-on – we’re so lucky.”). Do whatever you can to make them feel loved and valued – this is usually the easiest and surest way to gain their cooperation and reduce conflict.

Don’t Blame your Spouse
Hopefully your spouse loves his or her parents. If you have complaints about your in-laws, try to share them with your friends or therapist rather than your spouse. Your spouse can’t help who his parents are. It’s hard enough having difficult in-laws – don’t make your life even more miserable by fighting with your partner about them. Keep your marriage strong by keeping your complaints as rare as possible. If necessary, arrange for a couple’s session with a professional therapist in order to address difficult in-law issues without hurting your relationship.

Fighting in the Family

In most families there is some fighting. There are inevitably arguments, some bickering, hassling each other and, usually, some sort of fighting. Whether all this is harmful to the kids or  not depends on its frequency and intensity. An angry outburst once a year is probably harmless, providing that it involves no physical abuse, aggression or threats of divorce. Fights that happen every couple of weeks or more are likely to be very disturbing to the kids. Too much conflict threatens the basic stability of the family. Even if the fights are relatively mild, the unpleasant scenes make children feel unsettled and insecure. If the fighting is loud, scary, and very emotional, it is particularly disturbing to the kids. It can even lead to children’s nightmares, nervous habits, school problems and behavior problems. Parents really need to limit their conflict, if not for their own sake, then at least for the sake of the children.

Actions to Avoid in Fighting
Some ground rules for conflict will help preserve marriages and make children feel safer. Here is a list of things NEVER to do when arguing with a spouse:

  • never slam a door, hang up a phone or storm out of a house
  • never swear
  • never call names or hurl hurtful, diminishing insults
  • never threaten violence
  • never threaten divorce
  • never shout
  • never drive “crazy” when arguing in a car

Keeping Kids Safe
By deescalating conflict, parents can help their kids enjoy a safe family life. Arguing quietly and respectfully provides a healthy model for the kids too. It shows them how to behave toward their parents and toward their own spouses one day. (Providing a bad model of conflict resolution means that kids will learn the “wrong” way to behave in marriage and it also means that they never get to see the “right” way – their lives will be harder because of this.) The short list of what-not-to-do when arguing is within the reach of all normal people. Only those with serious mental illness cannot control their hostility – healthy adults can LEARN to change their destructive behavior patterns. It make take a few months to totally remove all frightening behaviors from one’s repertoire, but that’s O.K. Once it’s done, a parent can give his or her child the gift of security. Even if only one parent is able to make the change, the kids will benefit. What’s worse than one parent losing control? Two parents losing control! Don’t wait for your spouse to change; make your own changes today.

Marriage Counseling
If change is difficult, or despite removing destructive behaviors there are still numerous marital issues, do your kids a favor and get marital counseling. Choose a counselor who is pro-marriage (not all are). Ask someone to help you reduce conflict and provide a calmer, more loving and more stable home environment. And don’t wait until you’re on the verge of divorce to do this. Do it now. You may be amazed at how powerfully positive marriage counseling can be.

Parents Set the Tone
It’s up to you. Parents set the tone in the home. You can’t expect your kids to do better at self-control than you can – you’ve got to show them the way and give them something to strive toward. Read books, take courses, seek counseling, but most of all – determine to remove destructive communication from your personal repetoire. You can do it!

Help for Angry Parents

Grownups sometimes act like children. This is great when they’re playing with their kids – it can make for a rollicking good time. However, it’s not at all great when the child-like behavior consists of having tantrums, slamming doors, calling names, making mean faces or otherwise acting like an out-of-control pre-schooler. While such behavior in a youngster is completely unacceptable and requires remediation, it is so much worse when it occurs in a parent. It upsets the whole household –  disturbing, frightening and sometimes even physically harming family members. Despite the harm that parental anger can cause, it is a fact that normal parents get mad. What can parents do, then, to minimize the harmful effects of their own rage, irritation, resentment and other forms of anger?

Anger in the Home
Anger, itself, is a feeling – an emotion. It is experienced physically as a tightening of muscles, a holding of breath and/or a rush of adrenalin. Anger is not a behavior. A person behaves a certain way when angry. The behavior that occurs depends on the person’s inborn nature, upbringing, education, training and personal development. Some people choose to “act out” their anger, actually demonstrating what they are experiencing inside. They are so upset that they feel like screaming – and they do. They are so upset that they feel like kicking someone or something – and they do. They are so upset that they feel like saying terrible things – and they do.

Other people choose to put a lid on their anger and withdraw until the mood passes. They, too, are so upset that they feel like screaming – but they don’t. They, too, feel like kicking, throwing or smashing something or someone – but they don’t. They feel like saying all sorts of terrible things but they refrain. Instead, they remove themselves from the scene that is triggering all the upset and take themselves to a place where they can let the energy move through and out of their body and mind. If knowledgeable and skilled, they may even speed that process along by using a technique or strategy that helps them to rapidly process their anger and completely resolve it. Otherwise, they may do the best they can on their own and finish the job up later with the help of the offending party and/or a third party.

Consequences of Parental Anger
Many people fall somewhere in the middle of these two styles – showing some anger and also showing some restraint. Obviously, showing less anger will cause less damage to all concerned. However, it is unfortunately true that ANY amount of visible and/or audible anger causes SOME amount of harm. Minor anger causes temporary hurt, moderate anger has stronger negative effects on children and intense anger tends to have intensely negative effects. We wish it wasn’t so because, as I suggested earlier, we all get mad sometimes. We wish that we could “get away” with expressing some of that anger since it often feels so good to move it through our body, our mouth and our muscles.  Unfortunately, when a person expresses rage, someone else experiences abuse (mistreatment, disrespect, emotional and/or physical harm). In other words, it is as if the angry person spews out his or her venom, literally vomiting bad energy onto whoever he or she is yelling at. The recipient of the anger feels soiled and damaged. Frequent exposure to this sort of toxic energy actually damages developing human beings.

The Parental Model
In addition, parental expression of anger is also a teaching tool. Adults show their kids how anger is expressed. Screamers all too often raise screamers (by showing their kids a destructive technique) and always leave their children deprived of a healthy model (by failing to show them a constructive way to negotiate strong emotion). Although a child can overcome his parents’ anger style, it is a challenge we don’t really want to present to our youngsters. Parental impulsiveness, lack of maturity, lack of skill and lack of self-control not only hurts children in the moment, it also hurts them for a lifetime as they either mimic the destructive behavior in their own families or they struggle against its effects inside themselves.

Choosing Healthy Ways to Express Angry Feelings
Feelings and behaviors are two different things. We will all feel angry at times because it is one of the emotions that is there for our own protection. However, none of us needs to act badly when we’re angry. We can tell a spouse or child that we are upset; there is no need to shout. We can impose negative consequences on children; there is no need for insult or other hurtful words or actions. We can always be mindful of our own dignity and the dignity of others even when we’re frustrated, hurt, insulted, exhausted, troubled or otherwise emotionally challenged. But we can’t choose these healthy communication tools while adrenalin – the fight-or-flight chemical – is coursing through our brains and body.

The trick, then, is to find effective ways to turn off anger CHEMISTRY so that rational and healthy choices can be made in the moment. The calm brain can make good choices, but the agitated brain just reacts however it wants to in the moment, without regard to the long term consequences of those actions.

The ability to turn off the chemistry of anger is a learned skill. It involves any technique that calms the body down. Slowing the breathing is one such technique. When a parent is feeling upset, he or she can purposely start to breathe more slowly and evenly. It will take a number of minutes before anger chemistry stops flowing, so patience is required. Leaving the conversation, drinking a tall glass of water, walking around the block – all these activities can help the brain recover. But the most valuable action even after one has left the conversation, is to slow the breathing more and more. The heart will also slow down, the muscles will relax and the brain will finally work again!

Removing feelings of helplessness is another important tool to help prevent and reduce anger. Parenting books, anger management books, classes,online resources, counseling, social support, spiritual guidance and a host of other resources are available to help provide tools, options and techniques to handle complex parenting situations. Being prepared and having a clear philosophy in advance can definitely help prevent rage attacks. If someone has tried all of these approaches and still gets angry easily, then adding several physical tools can help too: daily exercise, herbs, acupuncture, homeopathy, Bach Flower Therapy, essential oils and psychotropic medications can all help soothe the easily agitated psyche.

Anyone who cares enough about his or her family to learn how to eradicate anger-induced bad behavior can succeed. We can all be well-behaved parents – if we really want to be.