If I only had a dollar for every time I heard a parent say to their child “now is that a good choice?” after they blantently did something wrong. It is a fairly popular concept now, giving kids choices, that is also fairly new. However, I have found many parents are misunderstanding the concept of choices.
If your child hauls off and hits their sibling or throws a fit in public, you should not respond with “now is that a good choice?” You should respond with a consequence (time out, loss of TV time, etc). The concepts of choices are to help children feel empowered at an age appropriate level. If your child never brushes his teeth, next time you’re at the store give him/her the choice “do you want to the blue kind or the white kind?” If they’re picky about what to drink “do you want the red cup or the blue cup?”
When kids have control over small items such as the above, they feel empowered. As parents, we should let kids have some choices at an age appropriate level and live with the consequences. However, children should not be told they have a choice about how they treat others. Next time your child misbehaves, skip the “choices” and give them a consequence. Next time they won’t get ready for school, give them the choice to pick out their clothes themselves (even if they don’t match) or you to pick it out for them.
Given the horrible tragedy that happened last week, it is only natural for kids to be curious about what happened and ask questions. As a parent, there can be much anxiety about what exactly to tell your child when things like this happen. I’m sure you’ve read many articles online and watched so-called “experts” on TV about how to properly talk to your child about tragedy’s such as a school shooting. You might have heard the same tidbits over and over or you might have heard some conflicting opinions about what to do (this is probably because there is not a particular “right way” to do this). Here are just a few of my opinions on how to discuss such topics with children.
1. Be direct but not specific: When speaking with children about such issues, try to stay away from specific details and be general, but direct, in nature. For example, rather than saying “28 people died,” you could say “people were hurt and they’re families were very sad.” After this, it can be helpful to ask the follow up question “Now, what did you hear me say?” This way you can know your child took your information appropriately and can then rephrase things if he/she didn’t.
2. Turn off the TV: Media and reporters, for the most part, will not give an unbiased and child friendly account of things. Media reports will only increase a child’s anxiety. It can be hard, however, to find a channel that isn’t reporting about such things now. Feel free to use “off” switch on your TV! Play some games, go for a walk, or bake some cookies. By doing this, you’ll not only shield your child from unneeded, incorrect, and anxiety producing information, but you’ll also increase their sense of safety and security by showing them they are caring adults who are always nearby and attentive to their needs.
3. Focus on “the helpers” rather than “the hurters”: In cases like this, a child’s mind (depending on their age and development level) can only comprehend that a person killed a lot of people and nothing more. It’s hard for children (and adults sometimes) to consciously think about all of the people who were there helping- teachers, police officers, EMT’s, parents, and even other children. Children need to know that there are always more people willing to help than wanting to hurt. When your child asks questions about what happened, make a conscious effort to point out all of the caring and brave adults who assisted.
4. Remember how old your child is: As stated above, depending on your child’s age, he/she might not fully comprehend what exactly what happened. NPR reported that one child told his parents “It’s OK, they took the bad man away in handcuffs.” If your child’s version of what happened is less traumatic than what actually took place, just leave it be. If your child’s version is dramatized and anxiety ridden, focus on what makes him/her safe (“the helpers,” locked doors, trusting adults). A child’s brain can not physiologically process information while they’re scared. Help your child feel safe first, then proceed with the rest.
Don’t worry about saying the right words. You more than likely won’t deal with it perfectly- because this is an imperfect situation. As long as you are physically and emotionally available to your child, they are more than likely to be OK in the long run. Children (and adults) who are emotionally isolated during traumas are the ones who see long term negative effects. As I’ve said in previous posts, you’ll say a lot more with your actions than your words to your child.
Normally, we don’t like to get into the spanking debate, but I love this quote nonetheless because it deals with much more than just the typical “to spank or not to spank” question. Using physical force with a child can only take you so far, no matter how you answer that question. There will come a day before you are ready for it when your child gets too big for you to use force upon. And then what?
I think the vast majority of folks who employ spanking would prefer not to do it. So what is a better way? Build the relationship by establishing clear guidelines and boundaries, setting logical consequences, and then letting those consequences, not your size or your hand do the talking. That way, you can position yourself beside your child as you walk with them through their choices. Instead of instilling fear, we like to see parents inspire respect. And that is something that no matter how large your child may get, he will never outgrow.
-Hal Runkel, LMFT
I love to read outside of my own field. As a clinicial social worker, I find it interesting and helpful to see how various other providers view and treat mental illness- psychology, marriage and family therapists, and counselors. Lately I’ve spend a lot of time on the American Academy of Pediatrics to learn more about the medical piece of children. I was disheartened to see the title of an article “Children with Mental Health Disorders More Often Identified as Bullies.” If your child has been diagnosed with a mental illness- whether it be Asperger’s/Autistic Disoder, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, or ADHD, take some time to read this article. If you find your child is actually bullying others, ask yourself why are they doing this? Kids don’t bully no reason. Are they being teased, stressed, dysregulated? Listen to their story and help them as they ask for it.
While my wife and I were driving last week in Nashville, we were stuck on a bridge. As we sat still on this bridge for several minutes, my wife anxiously leans over and says, “are we swaying back and forth?” I explained to her (with my non-engineering mind and vocabulary) that bridges and buildings actually sway a bit. If they were completely rigid, they would collapse, or at minimum, be unsafe to occupy. However, they consistenly sway in certain conditions.
If you’ve read a parenting book or have your child in counseling, then you are more than likely bombarded with the word “consistent.” Consistency in parenting is so important. There is however a difference in being rigid and consistent. Consistent means that your child knows what to expect if he/she does or does not do something. Rigid means that you are unwilling to bend or move your position at all. How many times have you become upset with your child and told them “no TV for a year!” Are you, really, going to put up and monitor your child for an entire year without watching TV? Probably not- and you shouldn’t. In some cases (such as the previous example) you need to tell your child that you have changed your mind, why, and apologize for any mistakes you made in that decision. If we are rigid in our rules then our homes, much like bridges and buildings, can be unsafe to occupy (metaphorically speaking of course). Recognize your mistakes and have a plan to change them. However, be aware of how often you do this. Nothing is more confusing to a child than to constantly have his/her parents tell them how wrong they are. Remember- being consistent but don’t be rigid.
If you’re an adult that’s ever been to a public school, I can pretty much guarantee that you have called one of your peers a retard. If you have a child that’s old enough to be in school, more than likely they’ve called someone a retard. Not because that person’s IQ is at 70 or below and meets the diagnositic criteria of having mental retardation, but because we were being mean, cruel, and intentionally wanted to put another person down so that we would momentarily feel better about ourselves in the moment.
I realize that I am posting more articles on here than having original writings of my own. But, here’s another article. While it is somewhat long, I want you to read this- the entire thing. After that, take some time to reflect and consider the words that come out of your mouth about others this very day. Then, have your child read this. Encourage them to be “that kid” who always seems to be nice to others, is friends to those who had none, and made others feel good about themselves. Discuss what it will take to become that person and what changes need to be made in your household and in yourself as a parent for your child to become that person.
In many of my posts I have made statements about showing your child you them as opposed to just telling them.However, keep in mind the importance of telling your child – whether they are 3 or 23 – that you love them.Verbally telling your child that you love them is important for their self-confidence, self-esteem, and overall growth.If a child does not feel they are loved at home, they’ll seek it elsewhere- whether that be in girl/boyfriend, drugs, or a poor choice of friends.If you grew up in a household where you did not hear these three words often, think about how hearing those words from your parents would make you feel.Pretty good, huh?Every child needs to know that - regardless of their behavior, grades, their choice of friends, sexual orientation, or how they dress – that their parents love them unconditionally.Make a habit of saying this daily.Not doing this in passing as your rushing out the door; but stand in front of your child, give them a hug, and say the words “I love you.”Avoid saying “love ya.”That can be a cheap way to do this that requires no emotional connection with your child.“I – love - you.”