Monthly Archives: February 2012

Minimizing Anger with Mental Gymnastics (Self-Talk)

Minimizing Anger with Mental Gymnastics (Self-Talk)

Anger in the family is the source of all interpersonal conflict, hate, and violence. And parents are the ones who teach children how to handle those powerful feelings. Almost all anger responses to a trigger event are caused by one and the same thing: a perceived threat to one’s ego.

See my “Anger = Expectation + Interpretation,” version 1 and version 2.

See my “Anger in Relationships” Hand Out set, 80+ pages of detailed description of the anger response cycle, including 1) how our Threat Thoughts create our own anger feelings (rather than someone else “making” us angry); and 2) how we must use our Decision Throughts to respond behaviorally with words  that can defuse any anger situation and transform confrontation into agreement.

And almost all forms of getting control over one’s angry feelings in a way that actually reduces, minimizes, or even eliminates angry feelings in a wide variety of everyday situations is the same: namely, self-talk, or what I call “mental gymnastics.” Since 99.9% of all anger responses are caused by our own ego, or our “little self,” our “oh so important self”) taking something personally, our personal battle with anger and hurt feelings takes place within our own head. It’s never really a battle between me and you. It’s always me. My ego vs. my Higher Self, the part of me that observes me, that knows what’s right, that knows what it means to love and to respect.

Here is how we can minimize (and even eliminate) the vast majority of our anger feelings that are a defensive response to the pain of our bruised egos.

My Time-Out

When we feel anger our Higher Self can step back and observe our ego, our “little me,” and put this observation into words. Our Higher Self might do some self-talk such as:

“Oh, here it comes again. My “little me” (the part that puts myself first, must win, and must be better than) must be feeling threatened by something it perceives as not me. Hmmm, that’s interesting. I wonder what it is that makes my “little me” feel threatened.

We might then say to the other person something like, “I need a timeout, I’m feeling angry. I’ll be back.” Then we might physically leave the situation and take a break while we ponder three things.

1) The other. What is it in this person right now that my “little self” is feeling so threatened by? What does my “little self” feel is so unacceptable that it feels threatened by it?
– Could it be my child’s angry defiance?
– Could it be this person’s disrespect for me?
– Could it be this person’s need to assert his/her personal power?
– Could it be his/her ability to resist my influence?
– Hmmm, that’s interesting…maybe that’s it.

2) Myself. Okay, so how is it that my “little self” feels so threatened by that? Is it possible that my “little self” does not recognize that aspect of the other person in me, too? Does my “little self” not see that I, too, have that same quality or need? Furthermore, is it possible that my “little self” might dimly recognize it in me, but refuses to accept it as something that I share? If my little self doesn’t want to accept it as a legitimate part of me, then why would my “little self” accept it as a legitimate part of the other? Hmmm, that’s interesting.

3) Acceptance. Well, maybe with a little more time I can talk my “little self” into accepting that same quality as part of me, too. And if I can deal with it adequately in me, them maybe my “little self” does not really need to be so afraid of it, and can accept it in the other.

The Dialogue

Then, having identified and consciously accepted the objectionable quality as something that’s part of me too, and not really all that bad, different, or threatening, my Higher Self has begun a very fruitful dialogue of acceptance with my “little me.” Then I might go back to the other person and re-engage with him/her, too, in a way that is more accepting and not so fearful, angry, and defensive. In other words, I could re-engage with that person in a way that is really much more compassionate, understanding, and accepting of him/her because I am more compassionate, understanding, and accepting of me.

At this moment my Higher Self might say to the other person something like, “Okay, Joan, let’s talk about what just happened.” Or, “Okay, John, do we need to talk about this? “ Or, “Okay, Michelle, do you have any more to say about what just happened?” Or, “Okay, Michael, I’d like to hear more of what you were saying.”

Now my Higher Self is in control–in control of my “little self” that is. And my Higher Self has begun a peaceful dialogue with the other person rather than an angry argument directed by my ego. Acceptance of that undesirable trait as part of me allows me to accept him/her as well as myself.

Hmmm, isn’t that interesting?

You can purchase, for only $4.99, my 80+ pages of Hand Outs from my course “Anger in Relationships” by clicking on Buy Now.
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3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the nine key relationships skills that can transform any stressed relationship between adults, or between parent and child.

3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is for adult relationships as well as parent-child relationships. It describes differences between the Old School Parenting model (power, control, and punishments) and the New School Parenting model (dialogue, agreements, and accountability). The ideas contained here represent a change from parenting harder to parenting smarter. They can transform a stressed adult-adult or parent-child relationship from conflict and arguments to one of cooperation and harmony. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.
     Learn more.    Buy Now.   Table of Contents & Intro

Old and New School Parenting

Old and New School Parenting

In this category I have posted numerous articles describing the differences between my Old School model of how to be a parent, and my New School model of parenting.

The Old School model is not necessarily bad or wrong, but it is often ineffective, especially with strong-willed, resistant, out-of-control children. The Old School methods don’t seem to work well at all with these children, regardless of their age. The New School model offers an excellent alternative to the Old School model, and it is effective with all children, not just stubborn or defiant ones.

You will find a difference in the four basic operational principles of each model, as well as a wide variety of “new” techniques to use (see the category “9 Key Parenting Skills”). Parent-child dialogue is the heart and soul of the New School approach to parenting, and this can be very effective with all children, even as young as two years.

Finally, the category “New School Discipline” presents a totally different approach to discipline from the one almost all of us were raised with. Before exploring those posts, I recommend that you become familiar with the posts in this category, “Old and New School Parenting.” You’ll see that it contains a lot of significant differences from the way your parents raised you, and the way you may have been trying to raise your own kids.
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3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model (based on power, control, and punishments) and the New School Parenting model (based on dialogue, agreements, and accountability). The ideas contained here can transform a stressed parent-child relationship from conflict and arguments to one of cooperation and harmony. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.
     Learn more.    Buy Now.   Table of Contents & Intro

I-Messages

I-Messages

How to Talk Respectfully
(And Invite Respectful Responses)
Illustrating Skill #3 

An I-message is a message in which I tell you something about myself, like “I thought it was best for me to leave when I did.” Or, “I left when I did because I didn’t want to be late for my appointment.” Or, “I left when I did because I was feeling uncomfortable.” It amounts to a bit of self-disclosure. The subject of the sentence is always “I.”

Continue reading

Managing Child Behavior

Managing Child Behavior

 The MANAGING CHILD BEHAVIOR section of this website contains posts on that most challenging aspect of parenting, dealing with children’s misbehaviors, or children who are “out of control.”

My New School approach to parenting is based on the idea that almost all parents believe they should be able to control their children’s behavior, when in fact that is totally impossible. And it’s a big mistake to try. Because it leads to power struggles and invites child defiance.

The Volcano Theory explains why parental control of child behavior is impossible, the responses children have to parental attempts at control, a rating system for assessing the severity of your child’s unacceptable behaviors, how you unwittingly encourage precisely the behaviors you DO NOT WANT, and the role of empathy, or the ability to relate to the child on an emotional level.

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3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my ebook  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model (based on power, control, and punishments) and the New School Parenting model (based on dialogue, agreements, and accountability). The ideas contained here represent a shift from parenting harder to parenting smarter. They can transform a stressed parent-child relationship from conflict and arguments to one of cooperation and harmony. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

     Learn more.    Buy Now.   Table of Contents & Intro 

Dialogue: The Heart of New School Parenting

Dialogue: The Heart of New School Parenting

Parent-child dialogue is the heart and soul of my New School approach to how to be a parent. The love a parent has for a child is expressed and embodied in how the parent communicates with the child, even when the child is a newborn. Obviously, dialogue entails listening as well as talking, and it includes all non-verbal communication as well. There are many skills involved in having a good dialogue, and as parents we are illustrating and teaching them to our children in everything we say and do.

In the New School approach to parenting, we recognize and accept the fact that control of children’s behavior is a delusion. We cannot control our children’s behavior. (See my “Volcano Theory.”) They have free will. We do not have a remote control to their brain. They are not robots or slaves. They talk to us when they want to talk, not necessarily when we want them to talk.

Consequently we are convinced that we are better off not even trying to control their behavior through the Old School use of power and control tactics, like our parents used (yelling, ordering, bossing, threatening, punishing, spanking, hitting, grounding, etc). We recognize these as invitations to trouble. We acknowledge that the best we can get from our children, and what we really want from them, is their cooperation, based on dialogue and agreements, rather than their obedience to rules that we impose. If they don’t want to talk, we realize we cannot force them to.

Influence Does Not Equal Control

In the New School approach to parenting, we acknowledge that while we have absolutely no control over our children’s behavior, but only over our own, we also acknowledge that we have tremendous influence on our children’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. We acknowledge that influence does not equal control. Continue reading

Feel Good, Do Good; Feel Bad, Do Bad

Feel Good, Do Good;
Feel Bad, Do Bad

We sometimes hear about people doing “random acts of kindness.” Like holding the door for strangers, plugging a stranger’s parking meter, etc. What motivates random acts of kindness?

On one hand, it might be a thought, such as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” On the other hand, it might be that at the moment the person is just feeling good. Or it might be both. It could also be pre-meditated, or simply spontaneous, reflecting the person’s internal disposition or state of mind at the moment.

By the same token, if a person if feeling grumpy, or full of anger or self-pity, they are much less likely to do the random act of kindness. When we feel bad–impatient, angry, depressed, and the like–we are not only less inclined to do the good thing, but we are more inclined to do the bad thing, like barking at someone, criticizing someone, or ignoring an attention-getter.

This applies to children, too, of course, and perhaps even more so. They are so much more likely than we adults to spontaneously act their feeling state out and express their feeling verbally or non-verbally. Children are much less likely to be “reserved” or “controlled” in how they express their feeling of the moment. They are more primitive than adults in that way, but also genuine or authentic than a more self-conscious adult is likely to be.

So it is critically important for us as adults, and as parents, to be able and willing to quickly size up a situation in which our child is “acting out” (expressing) some negative feeling they might be having at the moment. When the four-year-old hits his little brother, or the ten-year-old steals $20 from his mother’s purse, or the teenager threatens to (or actually does) run away, it is important for the parent to assess and respond to what is motivating the behavior, and not just fly off the handle in reaction to the behavior itself. A knee-jerk reaction to bad behavior by a parent is not just missing the mark, it is also (and much worse) an invitation to the child to do more bad behavior. Why? Because the parent is ignoring or blowing off the pain and frustration the child is experiencing. Ironically, the parent now creates another problem, and more bad feelings, for the child by criticizing or attacking. In this way, showing the child a lack of empathy (i.e., not communicating some understanding of the child’s feeling or thinking state) is in a sense a rejection of the child. It’s not just the bad behavior the parent is rejecting (which is to be expected), but it’s also a rejection of the deeper, more important aspect of what makes us persons: the thoughts and feelings that motivate our behavior.

When children feel good, they are likely to do good. When they feel bad, they are more likely to do bad things. Conversely, when we see them doing something good, we can surmise that they may be feeling good, and when they do something bad, we can surmise that they may be feeling bad.

Understanding another person’s plight is called empathy. A loving, empathic response by the parent that expresses that understanding can make all the difference. For example, “Okay, honey, you must be feeling bad–angry, sad, afraid, jealous, etc.–right now. Is that right?” It communicates that the parent accepts the child’s internal distress. It invites the child to talk about what made them act badly. It’s the perfect way to start a dialogue that leads to a common understanding (and maybe even the child’s agreement) about how to handle those thoughts and feelings next time. It communicates respect and love, without approving unacceptable behavior. It shows the child that the parent cares and is willing to listen, and this strengthens the parent-child relationship.
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3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my ebook  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model (power, control, and punishments) and the New School Parenting model (dialogue, agreements, and accountability). The ideas contained here represent a shift from parenting harder to parenting smarter. They can transform a stressed parent-child relationship from conflict and arguments to one of cooperation and harmony. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.
     Learn more.    Buy Now.   Table of Contents & Intro   

Empathy: Understanding the Child’s Point of View

Empathy:
Understanding the Child’s Point of View

Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s plight, including his or her behavior and the motivations for a given act. It means being able to comprehend the circumstances in which a person acts, and both the intellectual reasons and the feelings (emotions) that help motivate a particular act. Parental empathy means that the parent is “tuned in” to the way a child thinks and feels in a given circumstance, and that the parent accepts those thoughts and feelings as legitimate age-appropriate motivations for behavior, even if the parent disagrees with those reasons or doesn’t like the way the child feels. This empathic understanding can have a profound effect on how the parent reacts to the child. Let’s consider some examples. I’ll come back to them later.

Some Examples

Example #1. Let’s say a daughter misses her mother who is away on a business trip, and throws more tantrums than usual, and tells Dad she doesn’t like him, or that he never lets her do what she wants. It’s possible that the child’s crying and tantrums might be related to the fact that her mother is not around and she misses her. Empathy means that, if this is so, Dad will pick up on it and be inclined to let her know that he understands how much she misses mama instead of just blowing up at her.

Example #2. Children of separated or divorced parents often present many difficult behaviors that appear to have no obvious rational basis. Continue reading

3 Illustrating (Speaking) Skills

3 Illustrating (Speaking) Skills

“Illustrating” means “communicating” in the sense of speaking. It is done both verbally and non-verbally. Illustrating is the living space of Harmony House (my analogy for any relationship), because this is where you, the parent, live out your values and communicate to your child what’s important to you and what you want from him/her. The parent’s commitment should be: I will not invite what I don’t want. Instead, I will teach what I want by modeling it and by communicating verbally in a respectful manner.

The Three Illustrating Skills/Techniques

The following three techniques for communicating your ideas and values, your expectations and desires, become skills with practice.

1. Model desired behavior. If you are doing something disrespectful, illegal, or immoral, stop it. In other words, do what you want to see your children doing. Be the change you want to see.

2. Use honest, open communication. Children need to be able to trust their parents above everyone else. Parents must earn that trust by always being completely honest with them, and being as open with them as possible. There is no place for lying to children, not even using “little white lies.”

3. Use I-messages.”I-messages” are things I say about myself. “You-messages” are things I say about you, and they can often be disrespectful or insulting. When parents start a sentence with “I,” they communicate what they want or don’t want in a respectful manner. “I don’t like the way you are acting. I’m willing to listen to when you settle down.” The I-message that stops arguing is “I don’t do it.” “I will not argue with you.”
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The ideas presented here are discussed in more detail in my book 3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony. In it I describe in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model (power, control, and punishments) and the New School Parenting model (dialogue, agreements, and accountability). These ideas represent a shift from parenting harder to parenting smarter. They can transform a stressed parent-child relationship from conflict and arguments to one of cooperation and harmony. Please see these links if you are interested in more information about the book, which is available in downloadable pdf format or in printed soft-cover format.
     Learn more.    Buy Now.   Table of Contents & Intro  

3 Listening Skills

3 Listening Skills

There are many goals for listening to a child, including: 1) to understand the child’s motivating thoughts and feelings; 2) to convey your empathy (understanding); 3) To create trust by creating a safe space; 4) to invite the child to say more; 5) to teach the child how to listen by modeling it; 6) to initiate and encourage dialogue.

These techniques, practiced as often as your child speaks, will become skills after a while. They are the most important relationship skills you can use with your child–or anyone. Listening cannot be done when you are talking, so it goes without saying that in order to listen while your child speaks, you must keep your mouth shut and pay full attention. The three listening skills (techniques) are as follows.

1. Acknowledging.

Acknowledging validates the child’s ideas or feelings as legitimate, even though these might be different from your own. It means you are listening without judging or criticizing. Thus, it encourages them to say more, which is what you want, since you are listening to understand. This is a great way to lay groundwork for offering support, help, or a suggestion. Acknowledging does NOT mean you agree with what they said, but rather you heard what they said, and you accept it as their own truth for them at the moment.

Examples: “Oh.” “Uh-huh.” “I see.” “Wow!” “Really!” “Holy smokes!” “Hmm.” “Okay.” Also non-verbal acknowledging: eye contact, nodding, and silence.

2. Questions.

This listening technique is completely natural. We ask questions all the time. The real challenge to asking our child questions as a means of inviting her to talk more is that, in-between the questions, we listen intently to what the child is saying, and think of another question to ask her that addresses what her response to the first question was, instead of coming out with our own response or asking a pre-planned question that has nothing to do with what she said. The only purpose here is to better understand where our child is coming from, and we are trying to encourage her to say more.

The “5-Question Technique”: ASK FIVE QUESTIONS IN A ROW–without expressing a single idea of your own. No objections, no explanations, no criticisms. If you don’t understand what was said, ask “What do you mean?” All this will help you know what to say when you finally do offer the child your ideas. If you can’t do five questions, do three. If you can’t do three, do two. Practice building up to five.For more detail on how to ask questions, please see my book 3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony.

3. Reflecting (This is called “Active Listening” by Thomas Gordon in Parent Effectiveness Training and in Discipline That Works).

Reflecting is the most unusual technique and therefore perhaps the most difficult of the listening skills. At first, it seems like a very UN-natural way to respond to somebody, but the effect it often has is to encourage the child to say more about what they just said. These are always statements, not questions.

Reflecting statements always mirror, or reflect, back to the child what they said or seem to be communicating non-verbally. Reflecting statements are not opinions of your own. They are you, mirroring what you think the child is communicating, verbally or non-verbally. They do not mean you agree with what the child said! They only mirror back what you think the child communicated.

Examples of Reflecting

Level 1: Parroting. You say what the child said, using the same words. He says, “I hate you!” You parrot back, “You hate me.” Your intention is to encourage the child to say more so you can learn what is making him angry.
Level 2: Paraphrasing. You summarize what the child said, in your own words after a long winded statement. “Oh, so you hate me because I don’t let you do what you want, and I treat your sister better than you.”
Level 3: Interpreting. You interpret the child’s emotions or the meaning of their words. “So I take it you are really angry at me.” “Gee, you look sad, honey.” “It sounds like you mean you want to run away.”

Remember, you are condoning or agreeing with the child’s ideas here. You are simply mirroring back what he said. This has the effect of inviting him to say more.

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Ideas presented in  this article are expanded in greater detail in my book 3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony: A New-School Approach to Relationship Skills for Parents. The book is available for purchase in downloadable pdf format or in printed soft-cover. You can check it out with the following links:
     Learn more.         Buy Now.        Table of Contents & Intro

Accountability: the “You-and-Me” Dialogue (Discipline Skill #2)

Accountability:
The “You-and-Me” Dialogue (Discipline Skill #2)

I refer to the “Accountability Dialogue” also as the “You-and-Me Dialogue” because this is where I (parent) talk to you (child) about how we are treating each other — especially after you break an agreement you have made with me.

Unacceptable child behaviors (UCBs), such as temper tantrums, arguments, angry and disrespectful insults, lying, stealing, physical or violent attacks on others, etc., can be distressing events for parents. How to handle them can often be a confusing disciplinary challenge.

In my New School approach to how to be a parent, I advocate reaching an agreement with the child (even as young as two years old) about how they will handle the particular UCB in the future. The best the parent can expect to get at that point is an agreement from the child that she will do something different next time. It is understood that the child will break her agreement (at least sometimes). This approach rejects punishments for the misbehavior because punishments are meaningless, ineffective, and counterproductive–they invite the child’s anger and “payback.”

After a Broken Agreement
Continue reading