Some time ago I decided I was going to read this book. I was stressed out (was haha, still am) as a mom of a rambunctious 2 year old boy and I needed strategies to better cope. I was very tired of yelling and even growing tired of time outs because they didn’t seem to be working anymore. I knew I wanted my son to feel respected and for my home to be the jumping board of his personality, not an inhibitor of it. But I didn’t know how to get to the place I imagined in my head while still dealing head on with the (very real) discipline issues I had to address. Sometime ago I read that your inner critic is the voice of your parents criticism. I know how crippling my self criticism can be at times so I wanted to make sure I was doing all I could to help my son grow up to be confident and respectful of himself and others. So that’s where this book comes in.
The book is broken up into 6 different behaviors parents, caregivers, or anyone who works a considerable amount of time with children (teachers, coaches, etc), can use to help with a variety of situations that arise when interacting with children. The 6 behaviors are listed below:
- Helping Children Deal With Their Feelings
This chapter helped me understand how it’s not helpful to downplay a child’s feelings, no matter how much we think they are overreacting. Children have smaller problems because their world is smaller. So it’s natural for them to feel very upset about a friend who won’t play with them, a scratch they got from falling down the slide, or not being able to play outside when they really wanted to. Sometimes when we hear that a child is upset we want to swoop in and help them feel happy again but do this by distracting them or helping them see that their problem really isn’t so big. Now think of times as an adult when you were upset and a friend said a well meaning “it’ll be alright” “your problems could be worse” or giving advice when you hadn’t asked for it. Did that actually help you feel better? Were you just seeking to vent to someone in the moment but got the sense that your feeling wasn’t valuable? That’s how a child feels when we say “it’s ok now, don’t cry”. So to help children when they are upset the authors direct us to:
- Listen with full attention
- Acknowledge their feelings with a word
- Give their feelings a name
2. Engaging Cooperation
This was the chapter that was the most helpful to me. I don’t like having to pick up after my son, when I know he’s very capable of putting away his own toys and cleaning up his own mess. But my attempts to get him to help cleanup sometimes would be ignored because there was something more exciting to do. This was especially helpful because instead of saying “Why do you always throw your plate on the floor” and then have to punish him with a time out or withholding his favorite yogurt (or something similarly enjoyable) I found ways to get him to help me without tears and frustration from both of us:
- Describe what you see or describe the problem (I see spaghetti on the floor)
- Give information (ei:We need a wet cloth,Milk goes sour if you leave it out, shoes don’t go in the hallway)
- Say it with a word (instead of a long rant, a quick reminder “shoes” is enough)
- Talk about your feelings (it’s ok to tell your kids that repeating yourself makes you frustrated and you don’t want to feel resentful)
- Write a Note (instead of nagging)
3. Alternatives to Punishment
I think this was my favorite chapter. Because I really was starting to resent time outs and I was frustrated and felt like less of a person when I felt I had to raise my voice. I wanted to help my son to feel respected but to know that his actions were not acceptable (if that was the case). I knew there were other ways to discipline children but had no experience in it. The book suggested instead of yelling and time outs to:
- Express your feelings strongly without attacking character (Instead of “you’re being a bully” offer “you really hurt your sister”)
- State your expectations (continuing from the example above “we do not hurt people”)
- Show the child how to make amends (Apologize and play nicely)
- Offer a choice (You can play nicely with your sister here, or you’ll have to sit in the high chair so you don’t hurt anyone or yourself)
- Take action (if action occurs again, remove offending child from area)
- Problem solve (This was in the form of bringing children in to help come up with solutions such as a child that always forgets to bring his homework to school, talking about the problem, brainstorming solutions and then finding ones that both of you agree to).
4. Encouraging Autonomy
We want our children to be self-sufficient and not have be coddled to the point where they can’t make decisions for themselves (at least this is what I want) and it’s helpful that my son is naturally very opinionated and independent. This chapter helps gives you skills so that you don’t clash when that independence comes knocking on your front door. Another aha moment I had from this chapter is that children’s dreams will be shot down by everyone (the world does a very good job of telling you, you can’t do something) but letting your children dream creates an environment where they feel you support them (which is something I hope I always give to my son). And it may turn out that they change their mind a million times ( I know I did) but they’ll know you won’t find them silly for dreaming about running a horse farm one day and wanting to be an astronaut another.
- Let children make choices (do you want your blue or red shirt this morning?)
- Show respect for a child’s struggle (it’s hard learning how to tie your shoes on for the first time, instead of that’s easy!)
- Don’t ask too many questions (How was school, what did you do today, did you eat? A simple, “I’m glad to see your smiling face” is enough)
- Don’t rush to answer questions (When a child asks “Why do you have to go to work everyday?” instead of rushing to answer counter back “what do you think?” You may be surprised that they answer their own question successfully)
- Encourage children to use sources outside the home (You don’t have the answers to everything, it’s ok for your children to know that and seek help from experts (librarians, doctors, etc)
- Don’t take away hope (from my point in the chapter description)
Often times praise feels empty. This chapter talks about how to praise so that the child feels like you really have appreciated their behavior.
- Describe what you see
- Describe what you feel
- Sum up the child’s praiseworthy behavior with a word (especially since children may not know that standing up to a bully took courage, or helping someone carry their groceries is self-less.)
For example when a child comes in with an all “A” report card, instead of “great job”offer,”I see you studied really hard to get those grades, that perseverance really paid off. I’m happy to know you’re doing exceptionally well in school”.
6. Freeing Children From Playing Roles
Have you ever had the thought of “I’m not smart, I’ll never be good at (insert subject)” or “everyone thinks I’m shy so I must be”. We sometimes reinforce behaviors in our children by labeling them. That child is a bully, he’s shy, she’s bossy etc, etc. Sometimes we put children in a box and we don’t allow them to see a different version of themselves, or allow them to break from behavior that’s true to that role. To stop putting children in boxes, the authors suggest to:
- Look for opportunities to show the child a new picture of himself or herself
- Put children in situations where they can see themselves differently
- Let children overhear you say something positive about them
- Model the behavior you’d like to see
- Be a storehouse for your child’s special moments
- When your child behaves according to the old label, state your feelings and/or expectations
I really enjoyed reading this book. There are worksheets in between chapters so you can recognize some of the unhelpful things we say as adults to children. It’s not a book you’ll just breeze through. You’ll want to take it a chapter at a time, write in the margins, bookmark parts you want to go back to remember, etc. But it was worth the time. One thing as a parent reading the book to remind yourself is that your behavior isn’t going to change overnight (as a child’s won’t either). So don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t pick everything up right away. I keep my book next to my bed so I can revisit it frequently.
I hope this overview helped, and if you were hesitant about reading another parenting book but frustrated with your interactions with your children (whether they be yours biologically, adopted or temporary) I REALLY suggest this book. And let me know if you already use any of these techniques and have seen first hand the difference it makes. Thanks and happy parenting!