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!

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.

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 Single Parents

Solo parenting is very challenging. The physical, capsule emotional, pill psychological, viagra 100mg financial and mental exertion required to raise a child is demanding even when two people share the task. To have to manage independently or with minimal support is both difficult and exhausting. Nonetheless, a child in a single-parent home needs the same amount of love, nurturing and guidance as all other children; how can a single parent best meet the needs of his or her youngster?

To help you navigate child-rearing as a single parent, consider the following tips:

Enlist Support Wherever Possible
Take all the help you can get physically and emotionally. Get your immediate family members and your closest relatives and friends to be your support system in raising your children. Visit these people and invite them to be regulars in your home and at your table. Knowing that you’re not alone is in itself a huge burden lifted, especially as you through the more challenging times. Practically speaking, however, no one can do it all on their own. Hired help is great if you can manage it too – babysitters, “mother’s helpers,” students, cleaning and cooking help – whatever you can afford will be helpful in freeing you up to be a more relaxed and focused parent. Equally important, your children will have more balanced relationships: when it’s just one parent and one child, there can sometimes be way too much closeness for developmental comfort. Children need space in which to develop normally. Having other people besides the parent to deal with helps the parent take eyes OFF the youngster for a time, providing relief for both the parent and the child. No one likes living under a microscope.

Be Organized or Hire Help to Get There
Routines and systems will help keep your busy life running smoothly. The less you have to think, the better – freeing up important time and energy for your kids. Sit down ONCE and make a two-week dinner schedule. Then just repeat that two-week cycle for the next ten years! Your shopping routine will become easy and automatic because your meals are all planned out. Have specific days for laundry, banking, cleaning – whatever you need to do. In this way, everything will happen and you won’t have to waste time thinking about how to do it all. Less stress for you is more calm and stability for your kids. Do the same for your finances – if possible arrange for automatic banking, savings and investing routines that don’t require your regular personal attention. Consider hiring a professional financial consultant to help you put processes in place.

Draw on Emotional and Spiritual Resources
Parenting can be easier when parents feel emotionally supported. Consider joining and participating in a faith community that can help nurture your soul and give you the strength you need to do this big job well. Psychological support from a mental health professional can help ease stress and provide helpful guidance as well. There’s a slew of books and internet resources created by those who have traveled this path or studied it intensely – there’s no need to reinvent the wheel or do it in isolation. Consider joining a support group for single parents or just try to meet like-minded single parents for companionship and camaraderie along the journey. If possible, read up or take a course on parenting strategies – single-parenting is harder than family-style parenting. You need to have more tricks up your sleeve than average parents do and you need to be a bit more psychologically sophisticated as well; there’s just more to deal with. Parenting will be a lot easier when you have the necessary information under your belt.

Don’t Get Bogged Down
Remember to have some personal fun – it’s good for you and can help you do a better job of parenting. A sour, exhausted, bitter, resentful parent is, by definition, not a good parent. A happy, energetic, positive parent is more like it! Keep up good health and lifestyle habits as much as possible, which means exercise, eat healthy, socialize, laugh, relax. When you’re ready, go ahead and date (and re-marry!). You need to live a full adult life and show your children how it’s done. It’s up to YOU to figure out when and how you’re going to do all this, but do it you must. An emotionally and physically healthy lifestyle not only helps you thrive, but also provides an important model for your child to emulate.

The Importance of Teddy Bears

Why do kids love Teddy Bears? For the same reason that adults do! Although stuffed toys may seem “silly” or “unnecessary” to the untrained eye, they can provide many benefits.

The Human Need for Softness
The softness of a stuffed animal can provide not just emotional comfort, but actual physical healing as well. Research done on baby monkeys separated from their parents (Harlow’s studies) showed that those who had a soft, terry-cloth mother “substitute” actually thrived physically. However, those who had a wire substitute did much more poorly, even though they were sufficiently fed. Primates – and that includes us – are obviously meant to be nurtured by softness. Somehow, softness is associated with the tender feelings of mother-love and as such, can trigger bits of that warm feeling in one who encounters it. People instinctively buy soft bears or other stuffed toys as baby gifts, but as it turns out, softness appeals to more than just babies.

Teddy Helps Manage Emotional Distress
A teddy bear can provide comfort through hard times. When a child suffers a loss or when he or she is feeling fearful or upset, the inanimate object has the power to soothe and comfort. The animal “looks” as if it understands and cares, which allows a child to feel supported while he or she is all alone. Having the chance to “talk” to the bear or simply communicate emotions non-verbally is equivalent to the adult exercise of journaling. Journaling involves writing feelings out on a piece of paper or computer screen: despite the fact that no one is receiving the journaled message, journaling has been shown to be highly therapeutic, helping people to release all sorts of emotional pain and work through their issues. The teddy bear is like a blank screen for a child or teen, an invitation to process emotional pain and clear it. Words don’t always need to be expressed; emotion can be transferred in a wordless hug.

Teddy Bears Convey Love and Acceptance
People of all ages see the “love” within stuffed animals. In fact, it is possible that stuffed animals can stimulate the energetic heart center and stimulate both emotional and physical healing – perhaps one day research will reveal just such a positive effect. Meanwhile, people will continue to buy stuffed toys for themselves and their loved ones even without documented health benefits! Stuffed animals have their own quiet way of saying “I love you.” This can be very helpful to a child who feels rejected by peers or who is suffering the anger of a parent or sibling. Even in good times, stuffed animals can add love to one’s life. For instance, cute bears are often exchanged between girlfriends and boyfriends on Valentine’s Day, birthdays and other romantic occasions. People also bring stuffed animals to hospital visits, to leave a bit of loving energy behind.

And, unlike their live furry counterparts, remember that stuffed animals don’t need to be fed or cleaned up after; they offer lots of the same emotional benefits without any real costs (except for the initial purchase!)

People Outgrow Their Teddy Bears and Live Normal Lives
Many adults still find stuffed animals adorable and even comforting, and while some people may claim this is infantile, it is probably better to take comfort from one’s Teddy Bear than from the alcohol, drugs, foods, pornography and other addictive and dangerous “comfort” objects that adults frequently access.

Some grownups are open about their relationship with a stuffed animal. The world record breaking land and water champion Donald Campbell was always with his Mr Whoppit teddy bear on record attempts. In the record breaking first non-stop Atlantic flight in 1919, aviation pioneers Alcock and Brown took their teddy bear mascots with them. Indeed, many adults feel that their bears and such are “lucky charms.” So go ahead and enjoy your own stuffed animals and give your blessing to your child’s bears as well.

Socially Unacceptable Bears
Peer pressure causes kids to give up the public affair with their bears. They stop taking them to school, sleepovers and so on because they don’t want other kids to make fun of them. For most children past the preschool years, bears stay home in bed.This is as it should be. If your teenager is inseparable from a stuffed animal (i.e. takes it with her around the house, takes it with her outside the house), you should arrange for professional assessment. Recognizing that bears are for comfort in one’s bed is a sign of normal development. It’s fine to like the funny and heartwarming look of stuffed animals around the house as well. What is not normal, however, is NEEDING a bear in one’s hand all the time past the age of 5 or so. Having said this, a child who has experienced a trauma may benefit from the comfort of a bear-in-arms even though that youngster is older than 5. Still, extended and inappropriate bear-holding even in traumatized kids is a sign that psychological assessment may be beneficial.

Anger and Conflict During Discipline

Discipline is hard for parents and kids alike. Tempers can flare on both sides. Angry kids are challenging to deal with, but angry parents can actually cause trauma in their children. Indeed, much accidental psychological damage is done during disciplinary episodes. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s look at what causes anger during discipline and see what we can do to prevent it.

Discipline is Education
Offering children guidance and a good parental model is very important. For instance, telling children that they need to refrain from talking with their mouth full of food and also showing them through the parental model that this is how people conduct themselves is the best way to begin to the education process. However, this “one-two punch” is not always completely sufficient to get the point across. For instance, you may be a very responsible person who always comes home on time or at least calls to say when you’ll be late. The fact that you behave this way AND that you’ve explained to your 16 year old daughter how important it is to conduct oneself this way, does not guarantee that your daughter will conduct herself that way. You may have to do more to get the lesson across in a way that affects her behavior. Sometimes “more” involves giving positive attention or even positive rewards for appropriate behavior in order to reinforce that behavior. However, sometimes “more” involves giving negative consequences in order to discourage unacceptable or inappropriate behavior. Negative consequences are TOOLS in a system of discipline.

Discipline is related to the word “disciple” – student. When the parent offers discipline to the child, it is a form of education. As such, it has nothing to do with emotions like anger or behaviors like yelling. A good disciplinarian is simply a good teacher.

The Teaching Moment
Since discipline is nothing more than teaching, it is important to choose an appropriate time and place for any lesson that you wish to impart. This is called “the teaching moment.” A teaching moment is usually fairly private (never in front of guests). It is a moment in which the child is calm. It is also a moment in which the parent is calm. If these conditions are not met, the parent should wait before attempting to discipline. A parent has about 20 years to raise a child – there is no “emergency” (unless the child is standing in traffic). In general, wait until you are both calm and you have an appropriate location in which you can speak. If either of you is upset, just wait longer. It is fine to wait hours, days, or sometimes even longer (the older the child the longer it’s possible to wait).

Most of what goes wrong during discipline happens because the parent did not choose a “teaching moment.” Instead, the parent felt upset and punished the child while still angry. This causes the parent to use emotion instead of appropriate negative consequences, to try to teach the lesson. Since the parent is upset, his or her ability to choose an appropriate negative consequence is severely compromised. Angry feels can seriously interfere with the thinking process.  In anger, the parent might choose a negative consequence that is too harsh, too long or otherwise too unreasonable. Moreover, the chances of the parent being able to explain what he or she wants and doesn’t want from the child are fairly slim, due to the parent’s intense upset. Instead of communicating in such a way that the child would be able to hear or want to hear, the parent is likely to communicate in a way that infuriates the child or shuts him down. The parent may use escalatory language and say hurtful things. This, of course, makes the child very upset and he may then lash out in kind or more so. When the parent “loses it” the child is much more inclined to lose it as well. Now we have a shouting match instead of “discipline.”

Arguments and Conflict
A cycle occurs: the child’s upset triggers parental upset that triggers more upset in the child and so on. As the child gets more and more out of control, he is likely to show less and less respect to the parent. The child’s rudeness causes the parent to become more and more offended, insulted, enraged and punitive, which causes the child to feel more offended, insulted, enraged and vengeful.

The one to break the cycle of anger and conflict during discipline is the PARENT. No matter how rude, wild or out-of-control the child is, the parent must stay calm, collected and adult throughout any communication. The parent can use the Two Times Rule – 2X Rule – to carry out discipline (see the full explanation of the 2X Rule in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). The parent says something once, says it again with a warning of a consequence, and then gives the consequence if necessary. The parent stays calm and quiet throughout. The consequence has been chosen earlier, when the parent was thinking about the child’s behavioral lapses. If the child argues, a similar structure of communication is used to stop it: the parent follows the “I-Do-Not-Argue-With-You” rule (also described in full in Raising Your Kids without Raising Your Voice).

When children see that their parents can actually stay perfectly calm, respectful, caring and reasonable during moments of intense stress, they will use the model as one of the valuable tools they’ll have for learning how it is done. Moreover, parents can use discipline itself to help teach children that it is fine to feel anger, but it is not fine to just express it without regard to people’s feelings. The Relationship Rule is a step-by-step process for teaching children how to express themselves politely, even when feeling upset. The consistent parental model is very, very important in making the lessons stick!

Professional Resources
If children or parents get so out of control during episodes of discipline that they have trouble calming themselves down, professional help can be enlisted to help restore a sense of control and inner discipline. Mental health professionals can offer strategies and interventions that can directly target upset and angry feelings, helping parent and/or child to feel calmer and happier in general, as well as during moments of discipline!

How to Offer Correction and Criticism

“You know, you’ve been such an inconsistent parent! I don’t know what you really want. You don’t explain your rules very well. You punish me even for things that are not my fault. And when I need you, you are not there. You can’t even tell me you love me every day!”

Imagine that your child suddenly knocked on your door and issued a scathing tirade such as the one above. How would you feel? You might feel hurt, attacked, abused and unappreciated. You might feel like you never did anything right. Even if your child was just “trying to help,” you might still be left reeling in pain. Correction and criticism can be painful for anyone to hear – an important point to remember when you must offer criticism to your child. It is, however, possible to minimize the pain and destructive impact of criticism when one knows how to carefully present negative feedback.

To make your criticism as constructive as possible, consider the following tips:

Inquire – Don’t Lecture
In many cases, children are already aware of what they did poorly or wrong. Therefore, lecturing them about their failures and weaknesses just reinforces a disappointment they already feel. Instead of giving them a laundry list of bad calls, why don’t you just open the conversation with a gentle query: “Do you know what didn’t work for you?” Focusing on diagnosing where the problem lies is more constructive than tearing down a child’s already fragile self-esteem.

Choose a Teaching Moment
Don’t offer criticism when you are feeling upset or when the child is upset. Rather, wait for a teaching moment – a time when both of you are calm. Think of what you want your child to know and actually plan how you will present that information. Trying to teach a child an important lesson when either of you is upset is not only a waste of time, but can also be destructive. Lessons delivered with anger, sarcasm, ugly facial expressions, a raised voice and all the rest get lost in the sea of emotion. When you want the lesson to be learned, don’t allow the distraction of upset emotions. Wait till a calm and quiet time to provide education and redirection.

Coach, but with Permission
What if your child has no idea where the mistake lies? Then adopt the role of a mentor, instead of judge and jury. Instead of forcing your lessons, respectfully ask your child for permission to teach. “Would you like me to tell you how it could have been done differently?” Asking for your child’s permission doesn’t merely show courtesy on your part – it also makes sure that your child chooses to learn by saying “yes” to instruction.

Praise & Encourage
In any negative situation, you can always find something to compliment. In fact, just the mere fact that your child tried something new, or is currently listening to you, is cause for celebration. Don’t focus on the negative. Before you offer your correction and criticism, emphasize how proud you are for the right things they’ve been doing. In fact, try to use the “sandwich” approach: praise, correct, praise. This formula helps make negative feedback more bearable. “I like the way you are slanting those letters. Now if you just make them a bit taller they’ll look really nice – especially because you’ve formed them so well!

Explain the Effect of an Action 
If you are giving correction and criticism because of a negative behavior, then see if you can share the impact it has on YOU. Refrain from making it about the child’s personal flaws. For example, instead of telling your child that he or she was irresponsible for not calling home after curfew, explain instead how worried you were and how much you would have appreciated a call. Kids are more likely to respond positively to a correction or a criticism when they know that their response matters to you on an emotional level. “When you forget to take the garbage out, then I have to do it as I’m rushing out the door and this makes me get a late start which then makes me feel tense and rushed all the way to work!”

Focus on the Behavior, Not the Person
You love your child; you always will. And no amount of misbehavior or bad decision-making can take away that love. But if you engage in name-calling and personal attacks, you communicate that your anger is personal and permanent. Instead of raising negative personality traits (e.g. “You’re so inconsiderate”), focus on the observable behavior (e.g. “You promised that you would help out at the garage today, but you went to the concert instead.”). The rule in family life is “never use negative labels no matter how accurate they may seem to be.”

Name  the Behavior that You Want  to See
Share your optimism for change by communicating the positive behavior that you would like to see in the future. This step is important, as it communicates that you see the mistake or misbehavior as a one-time episode and not a problem that can’t be solved. Kids tend to want to fulfill expectations of the people that they love, so communicating that your expectations are positive is a step in the right direction. “I know that you can get into bed on time by putting your mind to it.”

Choosing Negative Consequences

Negative consequences are an important part of a parent’s toolkit. Although some people believe that it is possible to raise children without using negative consequences, most parenting experts recommend the moderate and responsible use of consequences as an effective teaching tool in the context of a warm and loving parent-child relationship. Similarly, while there are some children who may never need a negative consequence to curb their behavior, most kids will benefit from the occasional negative consequence during their twenty developmental years. In fact, the careful application of negative consequences can help parents avoid the use of more toxic interventions like the expression of anger or helplessness. Consequences are used to educate the child, not punish him or her. In order to be effective, they must be delivered without malice, anger, upset or any other punitive, hurtful or shaming attitude. Indeed, the more similar a negative consequence is to a parking ticket, the better. Just like a parking ticket is delivered without emotion (no anger, rejection, humiliation, etc.), so too a consequence is delivered in a matter-of-fact manner. Consequences replace anger as a parenting tool. Yet, it is important to select consequences that are effective. A consequence that does not improve the child’s misbehavior is worse than useless – it can be harmful. Ineffective consequences frustrate parents and fail to educate children. In a cost-benefit analysis they lose out because they cause annoyance and upset without leading to any positive change in behavior. What kind of negative consequences can parents use that will actually be helpful?

Consider the following tips:

Natural Consequences
First, it helps to remember that parents need not always come up with consequences. In many cases, parents can simply let nature take its course, and let the school of life do the teaching. The idea of surrendering the reins may be counterintuitive for many, especially if you grew up raised under traditional parenting values. But experience can be the best teacher and restraint can be the best parental intervention.

When do you use natural consequence to discipline? Put simply, when your child seems to have realized that he has “bitten off more than he can chew” or that he is “reaping what he sowed.” These are the occasions when the natural effect of our kids’ disobedience or misbehavior is already jarring, or at least thought-provoking, for a child. In these situations, a parent’s reprimand would be superfluous. Sometimes nothing at all needs to be said. Other times, parents may want to simply sit down with their child, and gently ask: “Do you understand why things ended this way?”

Here’s an example: suppose you have repeatedly told your 7 year old son not to leave his fragile toy out where the toddler might get his hands on it, but your son ignored your advice and… the toy got broken by small, curious hands. Do you still need to give a negative consequence? Not at all!  It’s unlikely your child will repeat his mistake again. You can just express sympathy and skip the tempting parental lecture. Ideally, you would take some time before replacing the broken toy, so that the lesson will stick.

The same goes when your adolescent gets in trouble in the community or at school. You can show emotional support while allowing the consequences to unfold on their own. If you don’t need to add anything in order to get the point across, then don’t! Your educational power derives largely from the strength of your parent-child bond, so whenever you can be “the good guy” definitely take the opportunity!

Logical Consequences
The use of natural consequences during discipline has its limitations, however. For one thing, not all misbehavior produces negative consequences. For instance, a naturally smart child can still pass with flying colors at school even if he fails to study or repeatedly comes late to class. More importantly, some natural consequences threaten a child’s physical and emotional safety and must be avoided. For example, the natural consequence of not wearing a safety helmet during biking is an accident — something no parent would allow just for the sake of teaching a lesson!

In these situations, a bit more creativity is required from parents. Parents can try to develop “logical consequences”: consequences that may not be natural, but are still related to the lesson of cause and effect that you want to teach. As with natural consequences, the goal of logical consequences is not to punish, but to instruct.

To come up with the best logical consequence for your child’s misbehavior, pick a punishment that is related to the “crime.” For instance, a child who doesn’t put away his Lego after playing, loses the privilege to play with Lego the next day. Or, a child who doesn’t get into his pajamas in a timely manner, doesn’t “have time” now for his regular bedtime story. Perhaps a child who takes your car for the evening and leaves the gas on “empty” when he returns it, doesn’t get to borrow it for awhile.

Illogical Consequences
While logical consequences are great, they are only effective if they happen to be “the right priced ticket.” For instance, suppose the youngster who leaves a Lego mess doesn’t particularly care whether or not he gets to play with Lego tomorrow. Suppose he has a hundred other equally interesting toys and will not feel put out by not being able to use the Lego. In that case, removing the Lego is not going to be an effective consequence. When you select a consequence, think of making it equal to “a hundred dollar speeding ticket.” What consequence would annoy your child comparably to how annoyed YOU might feel if you got a hundred dollar speeding ticket? The Lego offender might be sufficiently bothered by losing dessert. Of course, losing dessert has nothing at all to do with not putting away one’s toys, just like losing a hundred dollars has nothing at all to do with driving too fast. However, if losing dessert is highly annoying to the child, then maybe it will help him remember to put away his toys in the future. Illogical consequences are consequences that provide sufficient annoyance that they successfully teach the desired lesson, even though they have nothing to do with the original misbehavior. Parents can choose from a list of possibilities such as:

  • Removal of the child’s favorite possessions (for up to 24 hours only, and as little as 5 min)
  • Removal of privileges (for up to 24 hours only, and as little as 5 min)
  • Time-out (for the number of minutes of the child’s age, plus or minus 2)
  • Removal of snack/junk food treats (only 1 per consequence)
  • Extra work
  • Writing lines/essays
  • Practicing the desired behavior over and over (for a couple of minutes only)

Many examples of negative consequences in each category can be found in the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

How to Discipline without Anger

Parents frequently feel angry at their kids – especially when those kids engage in behavior that is destructive, dangerous, mean, foolish, messy, illegal, immoral, thoughtless, selfish and otherwise… childish.  But given that unrestrained displays of anger can traumatize children, parents have to learn how to discipline without rage, upset or even irritation. While anger is an emotion, it is NOT a parenting tool. Discipline is a parenting tool and it has nothing to do with anger. In fact, discipline is related to the word “disciple” – student. When the parent offers discipline to the child, it is nothing more than a form of teaching. As such, it should have nothing to do with emotions like anger or behaviors like yelling. A good disciplinarian is simply a good teacher.

The following are some tips on how parents can keep the big A in check during discipline:

Don’t Discipline “In the Moment”
There is no reason to discipline the moment some inappropriate behavior occurs. Both you and your child must be in a calm frame of mind in order for discipline to be effective. Therefore, step back and allow YOURSELF to calm down (this also gives your child time to re-boot!). Start thinking about what the child did incorrectly and what you want him or her to do instead in the future. Do some research, if necessary” talk about your child’s behavior to your spouse, a friend or a professional counselor. Take the time to think things through and make a plan to prevent misbehavior in the future. Check out parenting resources on the internet and in books in order to see how others have dealt with similar situations. Taking the time to do your homework will pay off in the long term. Instead of quickly releasing destructive anger, you’ll be able to develop a constructive, effective intervention.

The Teaching Moment
Since discipline is nothing more than teaching, it is important to choose an appropriate time and place for any lesson that you wish to impart. This is called “the teaching moment.” A teaching moment is usually fairly private (never in front of guests). It is a moment in which the child is calm. It is also a moment in which the parent is calm. If these conditions are not met, the parent should wait before attempting to discipline. We have about 20 years to raise a child – there is no “emergency” (unless the child is standing in traffic). In general, wait until you are both calm and you have an appropriate location in which you can speak. If either of you is upset, just wait longer. Hours, days, or in very rare cases – even longer – are fine.

Most of what goes wrong during discipline happens because the parent did not choose a “teaching moment.” Instead, the parent felt upset and punished the child while still angry. This causes the parent to use emotion instead of appropriate negative consequences, to try to teach the lesson. Since the parent is upset, his or her ability to choose an appropriate negative consequence is severely compromised. In anger, the parent might choose something too harsh, too long or otherwise too unreasonable. Moreover, the chances of the parent being able to explain what he or she wants and doesn’t want from the child are fairly slim, due to the parent’s intense upset. Instead of communicating in such a way that the child would be able to hear or want to hear, the parent communicates in a way that infuriates the child or shuts him down. The parent may use escalatory language and say hurtful things. This, of course, makes the child very upset and he may then lash out in kind or more so. When the parent “loses it” the child is much more inclined to lose it as well. Now we have a shouting match instead of “discipline.”

Follow a Structure for Discipline
No matter how rude, wild or out-of-control the child is, the parent must stay calm, collected and adult throughout any communication. The parent can use the Two Times Rule – 2X Rule – to carry out discipline (see details in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). The parent says something once, says it again with a warning of a consequence, and then gives the consequence if necessary. The parent stays calm and quiet throughout. The consequence has been chosen earlier, when the parent was thinking about the child’s behavioral lapses. If the child argues, a similar structure of communication is used to stop it: the parent follows the “I-Do-Not-Argue-With-You” rule as described in the book.

Speak Softly and Slowly
A simple way to reduce anger during discipline is to force ourselves to speak in a low, quiet, even tone. Use non-inflammatory language: talk about the behavior but NOT about your child’s character traits! Refrain from using any negative label, even if the label fits perfectly (i.e. don’t call your child a “liar” even if he clearly is one!). Instead, just talk about the fact that he sometimes lies. If speaking in a normal tone of voice is too difficult at the moment, then it’s time to take a break. Rule of thumb: it’s better to say nothing at all than to say something hurtful.

Provide a Model of Self-Control
When children see that their parents can actually stay perfectly calm, respectful, caring and reasonable during moments of intense stress, they will use the model as one of the valuable tools they’ll have for learning how it is done. Moreover, parents can use discipline itself to help teach children that it is fine to feel anger, but it is not fine to just express it any old way, without regard to people’s feelings. The Relationship Rule is a step-by-step process for teaching kids how to express themselves politely, even when feeling upset (like in a moment of discipline!). The consistent parental model is very, very important in making lessons stick!

Take Specific Steps to Calm Yourself Down
If you notice that you are feeling very angry at any point in the discipline process, take specific steps to calm down your nervous system. For instance, take a break – tell the child that you are feeling too upset to continue and that you’re going to go calm yourself down. The child will have a chance to SEE how a person is supposed to manage angry feelings. Take some space. SIT DOWN and DRINK WATER SLOWLY. Or, like Grandma said, take 10 slow, deep breaths. This will help you turn off adrenaline. Learn EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique – a form of acupressure that can turn your anger off in a couple of minutes. Try Rescue Remedy (a Bach Flower Remedy used to help turn off adrenaline, panic and rage – available online and at health food stores everywhere) – put a few drops in water or drop it straight on your pulse points.

Discipline YOURSELF for Losing Control
Wanting to not use anger is a good beginning, but not enough. Follow up your good intentions with actual negative consequences for “losing it.” For instance, if you express anger, send a certain amount of money to charity (make it large enough to discourage future blow-ups). Or, discipline yourself by having to write out an essay after an explosion, outlining the extremely destructive effects of parental rage. Or, make yourself do a large number of push-ups or other physically taxing exercise. Ask a family member to video you in the midst of your rage and then sit down and watch it over and over again – you’re not going to like what you see. If these measures don’t completely cure your tendency to express anger in the home after a three month period, get professional help. Your children deserve it. Plus, you’ll be happier as well!

Use Stress Management Tools Regularly
Parenting is hard and frustrating work. Most parents experience plenty of stress, anger and rage along the way. However, when parents have a good support system, a stress-reduction routine, a balanced lifestyle and a terrific sense of humor, they survive it all in good health. Do what you can to stress-proof your life. Be nice to yourself every single day. Try to get the right amount of sleep, exercise, quality nutrition, fun and other mood-boosters that can help you take parenting in stride. Consider giving yourself little breaks throughout the day.

Use Anger-Management Strategies
If you’re a person who is prone to anger, whether at home or at work, perhaps it’s best to look inwards first. Your children aren’t the cause of your anger; they simply trigger the anger that is always close to the surface. Use self-help and/or professional help to reduce your own build up of stress and anger. Techniques and interventions like psychotherapy, EFT (emotional freedom technique), Bach Flower Remedies, anger management courses, psychotropic (antidepressant) medication and bi-lateral stimulation tapes are all effective ways to help reduce chronic irritability, negativity and rage.