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Parenting

Solving Parenting Problems

Sometimes the harder we try to solve a problem with a child, the worse it gets. For example, when we nag children to hurry and get ready, they drag their heels. The more we demand that they eat a certain food, the more they will resist. In both cases the more they resist, the more we nag and demand. The more we nag and demand, the less they cooperate. This is not likely to have a happy ending.

The good news is that there are better ways to solve parenting problems! If you find yourself getting stuck in your interaction with a child, consider the following.

1. Deal with your feelings

When we are upset or angry, we have a hard time seeing clearly. Anger—and its cousin, frustration—narrow our thinking and flatten our compassion.
When you deal with a parenting challenge, if you feel angry, betrayed, impatient, disgusted, devastated or any other strong feeling, your first job is to put out that fire. When your own feelings are in turmoil, you may find it hard to see your child helpfully.

I learned years ago that I don’t have the right to correct anyone I don’t love—and not in some historical and generic way but here and now. If I’m not feeling love for the child, I need to take a break.

It may help to find a quiet place to relax and breathe deeply. It may help to pray or talk to someone who loves the child. As you feel more peaceful, you are ready to move forward.

2. Manage the way you see your child

When we think of the child as a problem, there is no good solution. When we see the child as doing the best he or she knows how, it will be easier to find good solutions.

As we face challenges with our children, it is good to remember that each child is an amazing and heavenly creation. When we remember the child’s greatest qualities, we are better prepared to turn problems into blessings.

Can you see clearly what his or her best qualities are? What do you enjoy about your child? What makes your child sparkle?

Before we can direct or correct a child, we must value that child. Do you feel loving and appreciative of the child? If so, you’re ready to move forward.

3. Understand what the child is trying to accomplish

People do what they do for reasons that make sense to them. When a child’s actions do not make sense to us, it is probably because we don’t fully understand the child’s needs and wants.

Even the most troubling behavior has its own logic. Maybe the child is feeling tired or sick. Maybe the child doesn’t know any better. Maybe the child is feeling afraid or lonely. Maybe the child is stressed. Maybe the child wants our attention.

We often misunderstand the child’s behavior because of what’s happening in our lives. Maybe we’re busy, unhappy, frustrated, or tired. Those feelings can keep us from seeing the child’s earnest motives.

When we set aside our own irritation and look at the child with kindness, we may be able to see what the child is trying to accomplish. Maybe a child is not trying to annoy us but simply engage us in his life.

When we are feeling peaceful, loving, and compassionate, we may be able to understand what our child is trying to accomplish. Then we can help her find a good way to get her needs met.

Step 4. Is there a better way?

As parents, we try to help children get what they want—in ways that make sense. For example, children who fuss for our attention should be able to get our attention—but in ways that don’t make us crazy. We might say to a child who is whining for attention, “I would love to talk with you or play with you, but I need you to tell me what you want in ways I can hear.”

Or, if a child has a hard time getting ready for school on time, we can start by figuring out why the child doesn’t get ready. Does the child need more time to wake up? If so, we might go in earlier and gently talk with and pat the child to help wake her up. Does the child find it hard to decide what to wear? If so, we might have the child decide what to wear the night before and lay out the clothes.

We can set our children up for success. There may also be times when we need to teach our child new skills. There may also be times when the key is your own mood—choosing to be patient, positive, and understanding.

5. Try something new.

The problems that have bothered you in the past will surely happen again.

Start with prevention:

An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of punishment. What can you do to make problems less likely to occur? How can you change the way you approach the situation? Can you modify the family schedule or rules to fit the child while still keeping reasonable expectations? Do you need to help your child find new ways of getting his or her needs met?

Change the way you react:

When you feel yourself being dragged into a familiar battle with your child, stop. Decide to do something new. Try staying relaxed. Try seeing the child as an amazing and delightful person. Instead of saying or doing what you usually say or do, try listening more carefully. Try understanding your child. If you can’t see a good way to react, maybe you will decide to delay a decision until you have had time to think. Since our usual ways of responding to problems don’t work very well, our best hope for better family life is to try new and better ways.

Learn from problems:

After you have tried your new plan, notice the results. Did it help your child act in ways that are better for him or her and the rest of the family? The successful parents are those who keep trying ideas until they find ones that work with their family. What makes an idea a good one? It is a good idea if it works and if it shows respect to all who are involved.

Get input:

Problems arise in all families. When you feel stuck, try talking to the wisest and kindest parents you know. Try reading a good book. Pray for help from your heavenly Parent.

As you learn to help your children act in better ways, not only will they become better people, but you will become wiser, more compassionate, and a happier person.

Invitation: Think of a recent challenge you’ve faces with one of your children. Apply the steps in this article to find better ways of responding.

Recommendations: Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child; H. Wallace Goddard’s The Soft-Spoken Parent

This article adapted from Parent Guide written for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension.

Parenting

Teaching Our Children to Love and Serve Each Other

Quarreling and bickering among siblings are painfully common in family life. It seems that the natural child is an enemy not only to God but also to brothers and sisters.

While children are declared innocent because of the atonement (D&C 93:38), it is also true that “when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts” (Moses 6:55). Everyone who works with children knows that they can be not only charming, sweet, and delightful, but also selfish, pouty, and demanding. They are not automatically or naturally cooperative and peace loving.

How can parents prevent contention between their children?

The natural parent

There are two popular methods for dealing with sibling conflict. One is parental intrusion. Parents separate the children or punish them for their contention. This method can only work as long as there is a parent available to intervene in the conflict. Even if this method interrupts the conflict it does not solve the problem; children do not learn new ways of dealing with their differences with their siblings.

The second method is lecturing. The main problem with lecturing is that it doesn’t work—and it generally insults and demoralizes children. Children respond to accusation with defensiveness; they blame their siblings and excuse themselves. The result is an increase in the contention in the family.

Parents almost universally will agree that we want loving and helpful relationships between our children. But how can we make this happen?

Helping children find something better than quarreling

Imagine that your 5-year-old daughter wanders into her older brother’s room. He is concentrating on building a Lego structure. Sister picks up some Legos to do some building of her own. He grabs the Legos from her, pushes her toward the door and shouts that she should stay out of his room. Little sister runs to you crying.

You are frustrated and angry. You are tempted to lecture your son about being kind and inclusive with his sister.

But this response does not teach your son to love and serve. What would God have you do? The vast research on moral development together with God’s perfect guidance can help us establish five steps.

1. Engage your son in a gentle way. Harsh approaches arouse anxiety and block learning. When we are upset, we are not able to parent effectively. We may need to take time out to get peaceful. If a situation requires immediate action, we might invite our children to also take a timeout in their rooms to prepare for a productive dialogue. God counsels us to use persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and genuine love. It is important to get his attention without arousing fear: “Son, we need to talk. Your sister is very upset by the way you treated her.”

2. Give your son credit for anything you can: “I’m sure you didn’t intend to hurt your sister’s feelings.” We are often tempted to magnify the misdeeds in order to get our children to take our message seriously. Yet when we “exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved” (D&C 121:37). In contrast, when we see our children through the lens of charity, we set the stage for love and learning. When we appreciate their good intentions and sincere striving, we are more likely to find common ground.

3. Show that you understand your son’s point of view: “You just wanted to build without being distracted or interrupted.” Compassion is the key to connecting. When accusation rather than compassion is in our hearts, we alienate. When, in contrast, I see from the child’s point of view, I am able to guide effectively. Compassion is the heart of the healer’s art.

4. Draw the child’s attention to the distress of the victim: “When you ordered your sister to leave you alone, she felt sad. She felt that you don’t like to have her around. Maybe she even felt that you don’t like her.”

There are really two parts to this step. Just as the Lord teaches us in our minds and in our hearts (See D&C 8:2), so we must inform our children’s minds and hearts. Both are essential for right behavior.

We teach the mind about the law of the harvest. When we are unkind, we damage relationships. Instead we invite the child to learn his sister’s point of view: “I think your sister just wanted to be with you.”

We also train our children’s hearts. We gently invite our children to feel love and compassion for their siblings. “You might not know that your sister looks up to you. She wants to be like you. I hope you can find a way for her to be with you while still accomplishing the things you set out to do.”

The objective in this approach is not for your son to be sunk in guilt but to be stirred to empathy and compassion. When we use harsh approaches with our children, they focus on their own distress and are likely to become stubborn and defensive. That’s not what we want. We want to help our children get outside their provincial view of their own needs and be able to see the needs of others.

We cannot rush this process. When the child protests, “But she is the one who messed up my work!” we do not have to argue. We return to the third step, showing understanding for his point of view: “It’s pretty frustrating, isn’t it!” When the child feels genuinely understood, then he is ready to learn in his mind and in his heart.

Help the child to feel genuine compassion for the one he has hurt. Naturally your child will resist your challenge: “She can’t start grabbing Legos when I’m building something.” If we want our child to show compassion, we must model compassion. Rather than squabbling with the boy, we can show empathy: “It’s hard when you’re in the middle of a project and she interrupts you or starts using your Legos.” When we show him compassion, he is more able to show compassion for his sister. It may take several rounds of expressing understanding and compassion before he is ready to show compassion for his sister.

5. Once the child feels understood and is calm and peaceful, then we can help the child think of a way to make repairs: “How could we help your sister feel loved and welcome without messing up your project?”

When hearts are right creativity can rule. “Maybe I could help her build a house” or “I could provide her with some of the blocks.”

Any parent might reasonably protest that this process takes a lot of time. You’re right! Parenting is not quick, simple, or convenient. Parenting is a large and continuing sacrifice. Yet it is also true that, when we teach children correct principles, they are more likely to govern themselves in righteousness. An hour spent teaching them in their youth can save years of conflict, struggle, and waywardness.

In the midst of sibling conflicts, it is common to try to figure out which child is the offender. This is rarely productive. Rather than try to weigh offences, we invite all toward repentance. In the above process, the focus was on the son’s repenting, but a parallel process could operate with the daughter. We could show her compassion and help her understand her brother’s need to be able to concentrate.

Of course this approach is not the perfect one in all circumstances. When a child is in danger, action is needed more than instruction. When a child is so tired or upset that reasoning is not possible, some time for calming is called for. When a child is holding a parent hostage—requiring them to prove their point to the child’s satisfaction—this is not the right approach.

Getting our hearts right

Perhaps the greatest challenge to effectively teaching children is that we simply cannot do it right unless our hearts are right. We cannot teach them the principles of love and goodness while bubbling with anger or annoyed by distractions.

The Christlike parent recognizes our dependence on God, calls out for mercy, continues in prayer, and draws on the power of heaven. In parenting as in all things, He is the way, the truth, and the life.

Invitation: The next time contention arises between your children, rather than add more contention, see if you can bring the peace of compassionate teaching as outlined.

Recommendation: For applied approaches to parenting, see Haim G. Ginott, Between Parent and Child or John Gottman, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

For more about the science of parental control, see Martin L. Hoffman, Empathy and Moral Development: Implications for Caring and Justice; John C. Gibbs, Moral Development and Reality; Wendy S. Grolnick, The Psychology of Parental Control.

This article is a revision of an article previously published at Meridian Magazine. Thanks to Barbara Keil for her excellent editing.

Parenting

Teaching Our Children to Trust God

“Believe in yourself.” “Love yourself.” “Trust yourself.” These messages abound. The very modern and progressive remedy for mortal misery is to build faith in the self. Many of us have tried this formula in our own lives. We have taught it to our children. And by doing so we miss teaching them about the only Power in the universe that can transform us. There is a God and I am not He.

The modern prescription flies in the face of God’s consistent counsel throughout scripture. Nephi’s inspired observation is typical: “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm” (2 Nephi 4:34). Nephi was very clear that his only hope was trusting in God. “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.”

The celebration of ourselves and our powers can keep us from recognizing our utter dependence on God. It can keep us from showing our children how to find the power that can save them.

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do as parents is to teach our children to love, trust, and call on God. We cannot rescue our children from the fall, but we can point them to the power that can. How can we do that?

1. We can have a loving and vital relationship with God. I love how Rebecca Harding Davis has said it:

“For, after all, put it as we may to ourselves, we are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet…. Shall we think of the day as a chance to come nearer to our Host, and to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?”

When our lives are overflowing with gratitude for the God who loves us, guides us, and redeems us, we are building our family foundation on the Rock. We can regularly model that gratitude for our children.

2. We can teach our children to embrace repentance as the path to becoming better people. We will make lots of mistakes as parents and as people. We can show our children that we are thankful for the opportunity to repent and turn to God for forgiveness and help in becoming better.

We can patiently teach our children to repent. And then we show them what mercy and compassion look like by the way we respond to their mistakes.

“All of God’s faculties, all of his inclinations are poised and bent on blessing at the slightest provocation. Oh, how God loves to be merciful and bless his children! Perhaps that is his greatest joy. It is the inherent quality that drives him with tireless vigilance to save his children” (p. 313, Tad R. Callister, Infinite Atonement, 2000, Deseret Book).

We can show the kind of love and goodness to family members that God shows to us. We will do it imperfectly, yet our children will recognize our growing discipleship.

3. We can live our faith in Christ. We will, at times, be unsettled by doubts, bothered by imperfections, or wearied by burdens. This is when our examples can be most valuable to our children. As Fosdick asks:

“Are we to trust for our guidance the testimony of our worse or better hours? . . We have cellars in our houses. But we do not live there; we live upstairs!” (p. 203).

In times of challenge, our lives can be governed by our discontents or they can be guided by the Light and Life of the world. When we feel pressed down, do our children witness us looking up with faith? Even when we are struggling, do our children see us noticing and acknowledging God’s blessings? When our children are struggling, do we invite them to look for His goodness and mercy?

“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26).

We can help our children know that they can never save themselves. We can help them learn to throw themselves on the merits, mercy, and grace of Him who is mighty to save. Our personal examples of humility, repentance, faith, and rejoicing will teach our children the most important lessons of life.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Invitation: As you read this article, what do you feel inspired to do to help your children love and trust God?

Recommendation: My life continues to be blessed by Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ. I recommend it heartily.

Thanks to Barbara Keil and Emily McIntosh for their insightful suggestions for this article.

Parenting

Effective Parenting is More than Limits and Consequences

Imagine that your 5-year-old is playing with his toys when a neighbor child comes to the door asking your child to come out and play. Let’s imagine that you had established earlier in the day that you expected your son to put away his toys before he went out to play. So, you ask your son to put away his toys. The boy begs: “Mom! I promise I will put them away later. Please! Let me go out and play!”

What should a wise and balanced parent do?

1. You might say, “Do you promise? I will hold you to it! Okay then. You may go out to play.” That parent is so anxious for good will that he or she sacrifices responsibility.

2. You might say, “You may not go out until you have put everything away.” As the parent you send the neighbor child away with the words: “He will be out if he gets his cleaning done.” This approach emphasizes rules over relationship.

3. You might hesitate. Your child begins to cry, “Oh, please, Mommy. I really want to go out and play.” Tears and begging. Mom, wanting to be kind, lets the child go. And the child learns that emotional displays can undermine parental resolve.

4. You might say: “Son, I can see that you really want to go out and play! I will go get your jacket while you put away your toys. Maybe your friend would like to help you.” This approach honors the child’s feelings while still honoring the earlier agreement about putting toys away. The parent is neither a pushover nor a prison guard but a facilitator and encourager.

The very best parenting shows profound compassion and love for the child while still honoring responsibility and accountability. This is the balancing act in parenting. There are certainly times when rules and agreements may be adapted. Children may stay up late for special occasions, etc.

Each parent has a different natural inclination between guidance and nurture. You may be a great nurturer who does not adequately set and enforce limits. Or you may be a person who is focused on enforcing limits even if it interferes with your relationships with your children. Or you may be so anxious for peace that you surrender your good sense when your child becomes upset in the face of consequences. Or you may be some other combination.

All of us need to honor both core principles with our children. “And, ye [parents], provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

It can be remarkably difficult for frustrated parents to discern among effective consequences, resentment-creating punishments, and unhelpful manipulation.

Sometimes we justify harsh consequences because “children must learn the lesson.” I absolutely believe in the law of the harvest and that children who do not learn to be responsible for their behavior are likely to become irresponsible adults who have painful lives.

However, I also believe that many books and discussions are so completely focused on consequences, that parents forget about nurturing the relationship of love. We must not lose a sense of balance that respects both appropriate consequences and the loving relationship with our children that will promote their best development.

One of the core truths of research and the gospel, is that people grow, learn, and flourish best when their development is governed by someone who loves them dearly.

God also gives the law of love priority.

The profound statement by Urie Bronfenbrenner is foundational: “Every child should spend a substantial amount of time with somebody who’s crazy about him or her. There has to be at least one person who has an irrational involvement with that child, someone who thinks that kid is more important than other people’s kids, someone who’s in love with him or her and whom he or she loves in return.”

Research teaches that no control techniques work in the absence of a loving relationship. A person may use the most effective control techniques on the planet, but they will have limited effectiveness if the child does not feel loved.

What are the markings of proper consequences? Parents don’t overreact to misdeeds. They stay calm and helpful. Parents retain a spirit of good will and helpfulness. They ensure that the child takes on reasonable, developmentally-appropriate responsibility for keeping commitments and making repairs related to their behavior.

The real-world challenges often require the wisdom of Solomon; yet they are solved with a commitment to both essential processes: nurture and guidance.

Invitation: See if you can determine what your personal balance is between nurturing and guiding. Think about ways you can honor both processes in your parenting.

Recommendation: Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child provides excellent examples of nurturing while setting limits. Books by his students Faber and Mazlish also do this well.

Parenting

Better Ways of Disciplining

I was chatting with a friend in the entrance to his garage one Saturday morning. As we spoke, his young son rode into the garage on his bike and parked it in front of the old family station wagon. Apparently, the family had a rule about the proper place to park bikes and the boy had violated that rule.

What should a father do to be sure his son learns that he must not park his bike in front of the car? Dad has several options.

He could punish the boy. But can we punish children into submission? Perhaps. We certainly can punish them into bitterness and resentment. Punishment creates resistance.

The father could remove privileges. “I am going to lock up your bike until you learn a lesson.” That consequence might make the boy take the rule more seriously. Yet instead of teaching better thinking, this assumes that the only way to learn is through the threat of unpleasant consequences.

Let’s talk about what the father did do. The father interrupted our conversation to stomp over to his son, grab him, hold him up in the air and start yelling the Standard Parental Lecture. “Why do you always…Why can’t you ever…Won’t you ever learn…What is it going to take…”

Such expression of strong emotion may help the father feel that he has made his point. But let’s leave our parental perspective and see the situation from the child’s view. What do you think the son was thinking as he was suspended in mid-air with his father’s angry face yelling at him? Do you think he was saying, “I am so glad that dad is bringing these things to my attention. He has a valid point. This will really help me remember.”

I don’t think so. I don’t think the boy was doing any quiet reflecting. I suspect that he was flooded with emotion. Fear. Anger. Humiliation. Hurt. If my discernment is correct, the boy was overwhelmed and forlorn.

When the father had finished his harangue, he paused, still panting from the angry lecture. Then he bellowed: “I love you.” He set his son down and returned to pick up the conversation with me.

Again, let’s take the child’s perspective. Do you think the boy left the conversation feeling loved? I don’t think so. I think he felt humiliated! The person who should have been his friend, protector, teacher, and advocate had acted in total disregard for his feelings. He could have taught him, encouraged him, and helped him. Instead he demeaned him.

In an earlier post I recommended the use of parental induction in which we minimize the use of power, we reason with children and help them understand the effects of their behavior on others.

This agrees with the Lord’s instruction: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of [parenthood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121:41-42).

Imagine that the dad, upon seeing the son’s parking violation, called out to his son, “Ethan.” Maybe simply calling his name would spark the son’s remembrance of previous discussions about bikes and parking.

Maybe not. If not, the father could invite: “Let’s talk!” The son trots to his father who kneels to face him. “Do you remember what we’ve said about parking your bike?” Almost surely the son will remember. “I would like you to park your bike on the side of the garage. Are you willing to do that?” If Ethan has any hesitation, Dad might teach the reason for the rule. Then he might suggest, “I know it may be hard to remember. What can we do to help you remember?”

This approach assumes that the son will respond to reasonable guidance but may need reminders. So the focus is on helping him remember.

How might the son respond to this approach? He is likely to feel that his father is on his side, that they can work together in peace and love. He is likely to learn that rules are reasonable guides that help us live together. This is in perfect harmony with the research on induction which shows that children guided by parental induction are likely to become mature, caring, and conscientious adults.

There are innumerable challenges in family life. Kids forget their chores. They are unkind to each other. They do things on impulse. They sneak Twinkies. Induction is a process that can be customized to the behavior of each child. It helps parents go beyond simply enforcing obedience through discipline. Instead, the parent enters the mental and emotional world of the child in order to teach effectively. With an understanding of the child’s world, the parent teaches responsible behavior while preserving a positive relationship.

I recommend teaching as the key to guidance.

“For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own” D&C 88:44

Invitation: Sometime soon your children will do something that irritates you. Be prepared to help them learn through the use of gentle and patient instruction.

Recommendation: I heartily recommend Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child. For ways to guide children without anger, I recommend my Soft-Spoken Parent.

The bike story used in this article is adapted from my book, Finding Joy in Family Life.

Parenting

Good Control and Bad Control in Parenting

Imagine that you find a policeman at your door one Saturday morning. You’re surprised. You ask how you can help him. “Apparently your teenage son was out with his friends last night and they blew up Mrs. Jones’ mailbox. She is very upset. I need to take your son to the station for questioning.”

Let’s use this situation as an example as we consider three categories of control described by parenting scholars. The first is power assertion in which the parent approaches non-compliance with force: “If you don’t do as I say, you will suffer,” said ominously. Or: “You’ll do it because I say so!” with an assumed threat of violence. You won’t be surprised to learn that power assertion is associated with bad parenting outcomes. Children tend to become either passive or rebellious. They tend to be less socially competent and have less conscience.

A parent who uses power assertion might respond to the news from the officer by marching to his son and shouting threats. “You are grounded until you are 65! I hope you enjoy prison!”

The second category of control is love withdrawal which sends children the message: “I don’t want anything to do with you if you act that way.” The parent may walk away from the child leaving him feeling unlovable. Love withdrawal has not been shown to work successfully in controlling children. And it creates children who feel guilty.

A parent who uses love withdrawal might approach the son and express disappointment. “I thought you were becoming a good boy. I was wrong.” You can see that this is likely to create guilt without helping your son learn better ways.

Fortunately, there is a third child control technique which is effective. Scholars call it induction and it is defined as parental behavior that minimizes the use of power, uses reasoning, and helps the child understand the effect of his behavior on others. This kind of parenting sounds remarkably similar to what the Lord recommends:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of [parenthood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— (D&C 121:41-2)

As we should have expected, the Lord has always understood principles of effective influence. Parental use of induction is associated with many positive outcomes for children including greater success, social competence, and moral development. Induction is powerful parenting.

We should note that induction can only be done correctly by a parent who feels peaceful and appreciative of the child. Your heart must be right.

What would effective induction look like in the situation described above? The parent might ask the officer if she could have some time with her son and then bring him by the station later. A good parent is worth 100 police officers when it comes to moral development in children.

The initial approach to the son is vitally important. An angry, screaming parent creates a child who is worried about safety more than goodness. A parent who expresses disappointment does not teach the child anything. The best approach engages the boy’s mind and heart without overwhelming him. We want to educate his soul. The parent might calmly say: “A policeman was just here to see you.”

That should get his attention.

It is almost always unproductive to ask a question for which you already have the answer. Rather than ask, “Did you do anything stupid or illegal last night?” you might say: “Apparently you and your friends used your newly-acquired fireworks to blow up Mrs. Jones’ mailbox last night.”

And here is a vital element of induction: We give the child the benefit of the doubt. “I know how much fun it is to use fireworks. And I know that you and your friends like to have fun. I’m sure that you intended Mrs. Jones no harm.”

Your son may sputter: “Why is that such a big deal? It was just an old mailbox!”

“It might seem like an old mailbox isn’t that big of a deal. But just as your property is important to you and you wouldn’t want someone destroying it, that mailbox was important to her. And it’s against the law to destroy someone else’s property.”

Obviously, this discussion requires wisdom, diplomacy, and sensitivity. The objective is to activate your son’s mind and heart without causing distracting anxiety or resistance.

Son: “That’s crazy! It’s not like we are criminals!”

Mom: “I think we can work this out. If you would like, I will go with you to the police station. We can offer to buy Mrs. Jones a new mailbox and install it with the appropriate apologies. Does that sound okay to you?”

It is possible that processing the situation may be upsetting to your son. A break or pause may be necessary: “Should we take a break so you have time to settle down?”

When he is ready to sustain a calm conversation, he might say: “You’re right. We should buy her a new mailbox.”

“Thanks, Son. I’m glad you are willing to take responsibility.” The process of educating your son’s mind is well begun. Now comes the educating of his heart.

“May I share a part of the situation that would be easy for you to miss? You might not know that Mrs. Jones is a widow and has lived alone since her husband died some years ago. I wonder what it was like for her to be awakened in the middle of the night last night with the sounds of stomping on her porch and then explosions. I know she was already uncomfortable living alone. She felt very vulnerable. I wonder if she is now overwhelmed and panicked.”

The objective is not to fill your son with guilt but with compassion. He might respond: “Oh, Mom! I didn’t think of that. I am so sorry! We did not want to frighten her. We were just having fun with fireworks.”

“Yes. I know you would never want to hurt her or frighten her. I’m glad you are compassionate. Do you have any ideas how you can help her feel safe again?”

“The guys and I could apologize to her and offer to mow her lawn this summer. Do you think that would help?”

“Son, I am so glad that you want to help her. May I go with you when you go? Together we can help Mrs. Jones feel safer.”

No parent-child conversation follows a tidy script. But we can apply eternal principles. The induction process is intended to educate your child’s mind and heart. It helps children anticipate how their behavior will affect others. It involves appropriate consequences. Wisely used, induction results in the heart and soul of moral development: an internalized concern for others.

While power assertion and love withdrawal may or may not control behavior, induction invites the child to think about other people and their needs. It changes children into ever-better people. It helps them to begin the important process of regulating their own behavior.

This is “persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned.” It is the best kind of parenting. It is the same kind Heavenly Father uses with His children.

Invitation: Think how you might have applied induction in a parenting challenge you recently faced. See if you can be prepared to use these principles the next time you face a need to redirect your child.

Recommendations: Martin Hoffman has written scholarly works on the uses of induction. The more practical approach to parenting is given by Haim Ginott who combined compassion with limits. I heartily recommend his Between Parent and Child. (Disclosure: I helped update his work for the current edition.)

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful suggestions for this article.

Parenting

Reading Children’s Instruction Manuals

I have heard the saying “children don’t come with instruction manuals” hundreds of times. The saying has always annoyed me; I don’t believe it.

Children do come with manuals. They are the manuals! In everything they say and do they are giving us instructions. The problem is that we don’t use the manuals they give us. We don’t understand their instructions, or we don’t take them seriously. But the instructions are there. Clear as day. If we read them.

An amazingly sensitive and insightful mama called me this week. She told me about her son in kindergarten who has started misbehaving. Rather than his usual happy and docile self, he has been angry and contrary. He has picked on his sister and has rebelled against his mother’s influence. None of the usual family systems are working for him. He seems to have become a rebel.

The natural response is to punish the child into submission. “You will not act that way in this family.” There is an enticing logic to such a response. We love to set limits and ladle out consequences. And we try to convince ourselves that they are necessary for children. Yet unwisely done, our usual punishments are like pouring gasoline on a fire. They make things worse. They make life more confusing and lonely for children without teaching them how to manage themselves. And they damage the relationship of trust that should exist between parent and child.

I don’t believe that the rebel boy was just letting his badness take over. I think he was trying to tell his mother something important.

So that sweet mom and I talked. I asked her what was different in her son’s life. What was he trying to tell her about his experience? Could kindergarten be upsetting to him? Could the addition of the baby to the family make him feel less noticed and appreciated? Had a friend moved away or turned against him?

Mom thought. “Actually his just-younger sister has recently become the star of the family. She has been cheerful and loving and may have crowded him out of his starring role in the family.” Mom thought some more. “And his dad uses too much sarcasm with him. I’m sure it feels like criticism and maybe even mocking to our son.”

There it is! Mom is reading her son’s manual! Using her natural compassion and great insight, she is getting vital instructions for helping him.

I suggested that she take one-on-ones with her son and ask him what he is loving about his life and what is bothering him. There is nothing quite like listening attentively and lovingly to learn what’s happening in a child’s life. She reported later that she spent a day with her dear boy and learned many things about his life, worries, and joys.

A great deal of misbehavior in normally-pleasant children is a plea for help. “I feel lost! I feel unimportant and worthless! Do I have a place in this world?” I suggested that her dear boy might need more mama time and more opportunities to work through his worries and burdens.

Will extra love teach him to misbehave in order to get extra attention? It can. But usually only when children think that is the only way to get some attention. When their misbehavior gets them needed help, they learn that their world is a safe place.

The child’s manual will also help a parent know when a child needs firm limits and appropriate consequences. I definitely don’t believe in smiling benignly while children destroy the world around them. But our actions should match their needs rather than our mood. Sometimes they need someone to clearly state that certain words and actions are not acceptable in our families. They often need teaching. There is a place for consequences. Yet, more than anything else, they will need parents to reassure them that we will help make the world a safe place for them.

Haim Ginott tells of a boy who visited his prospective kindergarten with his mother. As the teacher provided a tour, the boy gruffly asked, “Who made the ugly pictures on the wall?” Mom was embarrassed: “Those are lovely pictures.” But the teacher recognized what was written in that boy’s manual. He wondered if only children who were good artists would be appreciated in this classroom. The teacher wisely responded: “We are glad for all kinds of pictures in this class.” The boy was pleased.

Of course new chapters are always being added to each child’s instruction manual; we must keep reading carefully. And mastery of one child’s manual does not make us masters of another child’s; we must study each child as a unique creation.

It’s not true that children don’t come with instruction manuals. I hope we will all become fluent in reading the manuals we have been given: Our children, their moods, their words, and their actions.

Invitation: Do you have a child who is particularly hard to understand? Pay close attention. Can you find sensible, adaptive reasons why the child does what he/she does? How can you read that child’s manual?

Recommendation: John Gottman, the world’s leading relationship scholar, recommended Ginott’s Between Parent and Child in strong terms: “This is the most important book ever written on parenting and the emotional world of children. It is a must that every parent and teacher master the skills taught in these pages. Written by Dr. Haim Ginott, renowned child psychologist—and in my opinion, a true genius—Between Parent and Child goes far beyond telling us how to discipline and control our kids, and explains how to raise children who are not only well behaved, but are also emotionally strong, independent thinkers, and compassionate toward others. This newly revised edition is better than ever. Take my advice—buy this book! Read this book! You and your children will be forever grateful.”—Dr. John M. Gottman, author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

Parenting

The Perils of Praise

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What’s your reaction if I tell you that you are the sweetest, finest, brightest, most talented and beautiful person I have ever known?

You will probably have several reactions:

1. It’s nice to be appreciated. It feels good.

2. I’m not sure you know me very well. Or you don’t know the real me. I have lots of faults and limitations.

3. I’ll be a little anxious when I’m around you for fear you will find evidence that your high appraisal of me was mistaken. Or I will choose easy tasks so I can appear to be successful.

This last reaction is just what Carol Dweck found in her research with children. When we tell kids how amazing they are, we make them uncomfortable. They don’t want to appear as failures so, in the future, they choose easier tasks. Praise can be disabling.

This discovery fits well with the gospel. When Jesus commanded us not to judge, He did not say, “Do not judge negatively.” He said, “Do not judge.” Apparently it can be damaging to hang heavy labels on people—either positive or negative ones.

But here is the key point: Positivity is extremely important! It is vital for feeling valued. It is wonderfully encouraging and motivating. But we can encourage people without hanging heavy labels on them. What should we do instead of praising and judging them?

1. We can describe our reaction to them. “I love your laughter.” “I am amazed at the way you concentrate.” “It is a joy to be with you.”

2. We can describe our reaction to their doings. “Your picture made me feel the warmth of the sun.” “Your story made your characters so real!” “I can’t believe that you could get your room so organized!”

As the brilliant psychologist Haim Ginott observed, our words should “deal only with children’s efforts and accomplishments, not with their character and personality” (2003, p. 32).

I want to be balanced in discussing the problems of praise. Every child will survive an enthusiastic aunt or grandpa gushing: “You are the sweetest thing on the planet! You are the best!” In fact we are all glad for such an explosion of appreciation from people in our lives. Positivity is absolutely vital for all of us. It is only as we feel the burden of unrealistic expectations that positivity becomes immobilizing. It is better to appreciate effort than evaluate character.

So show appreciation and affection to the children in your life. Children need a steady stream of encouragement. But try to describe your reaction to their efforts rather than hang a heavy label on them.

Invitation:
For most of us the challenge is that we correct our children too much. We may not be consistently positive and encouraging. Watch your children—especially the child who is difficult—and look for opportunities to be more positive. Make special efforts to notice and appreciate their efforts.

Recommendations:
Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child is the classic parenting book. [Disclosure: I helped revise the original book to create the new edition.] Many agree; this is one of the most important books ever written on understanding the emotional world of children. I think it is the best parenting book in print.
If you want to know more about Carol Dweck’s research, her book, Mindset, is a readable and sensible book.

Parenting

Crazy About You!

When 3 year-old Ian comes to visit his adoring Papa, we fall easily and naturally into joyous companionship. We play with wind-up toys. We “cook” meals with play dough. We pop popcorn and watch Robots yet again. Loving him is easy.

But what about the child who is harder—who is too loud, too negative, too demanding, or too hyper—the child who grates on our nerves? How in the world do parents get a loving perspective on difficult children?

That is where God invites us to grow. As I regularly say, irritation is an invitation. We can stay stuck in our this-child-is-a-mess view or we can choose to open our hearts to the child. We can see all the muck in a fallen child or we can see the glory just barely concealed by mortality. We can see past dirty hands and abundant mistakes to see one of God’s cherished children who comes trailing clouds of glory, who will learn and grow, will face discouragement and pain but will choose God and goodness. We can shout for him to stay out of the cookies or we can provide a glass of milk. We can see her grumpiness or recognize the difficulties of being a child.

A brilliant psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner, taught: “Every child should spend a substantial amount of time with somebody who’s crazy about him or her. There has to be at least one person who has an irrational involvement with that child, someone who thinks that kid is more important than other people’s kids, someone who’s in love with him or her and whom he or she loves in return.”

Research is clear: The single most important factor in the way a child develops is nurturance. Does each child feel loved, valued, cherished, and supported? Nothing matters more for healthy development.

But how do we change from irritation to appreciation? The answer is surprisingly simple: we can choose to see with compassion.

We all make sense of what we see. And, quite unnoticed by us, we all have default settings for our evaluation switches. We stand ready to be irritated by certain behaviors or certain personalities. But we can throw those switches from irritation toward appreciation. When a child splashes in mud, we can interpret it as stubborn disobedience or joyous exploration. When a teen asks a prickly question we can see impertinence or exploration. We can focus on the inexperience and fallenness or on the goodness and earnestness.

When little Vivi scribbled in my scriptures, the natural man wanted to slap her hand. But we love Vivi! So, when she finished her creation, I put a small notation at the bottom of the page acknowledging the artist and noting the date.

I must confess. I continue to pray for an outpouring of charity toward some children. Some children and some actions are especially difficult for each of us. They challenge us to think differently.

It will be much easier for us to offer the loving view to our children if we grew up feeling understood and cherished. Unfortunately most of us did not get nearly enough love. There is one great remedy: We can let the immense and perfect love of God heal our wounds and fill our empty places. When we are filled with God’s love, it is natural for us to be patient and loving with our children.

Just gritting our teeth with the child who irritates us will never lead to effective parenting. We need an outpouring of the heavenly gift: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:48).

But the gift of charity is not simply imposed on us by heaven. We must cooperate. We must work with all the energy of our souls to see the goodness that God sees. We must give children the benefit of the doubt. We must be willing to understand their world and their needs. We must spend time building a relationship with them. We may need to lovingly counsel with them about how they can best manage their strengths.

In addition to loving wholeheartedly, a good parent must also set limits and impose consequences. But when these are done by a parent who is striving to parent with unstinting love, the result will be gloriously redemptive.

Invitation:

Notice irritation. As it arises with a specific child, ask God how you can build a positive relationship with that child. Based on His direction, make deliberate efforts to build a connection and strengthen the relationship.

Recommendations:

I wrote Bringing Up Our Children in Light and Truth to provide a gospel overview of parenting. You will find balanced answers for the challenges of parenting in that book.

Parenting

Don’t Discount Your Children’s Feelings

Here’s a great idea …

In his book, Between Parent and Child, Haim Ginott says, “Most discipline problems consist of two parts: angry feelings and angry acts. Each part has to be handled differently. Feelings have to be identified and processed; acts may have to be limited and directed.” (p. 118)

In other words …

Sometimes as parents we try to put restrictions on what our children feel. All children are bound to feel frustrated and angry from time to time. We should not try to discount or squash these feelings. Instead, we should try to help our children find appropriate ways to deal with and express these feelings. In some cases, simply talking through what they are feeling may be enough. Other times we may need to help them find appropriate ways to act out their feelings, such as drawing a picture or running around the house.

How you can use this idea to have a better life …

The next time your child is upset, talk with them and help them process and identify their emotions. Then work with your child to come up with acceptable ways to release their emotional energy.

To find out more …

about parenting, check out The Parenting Journey or See the World Through My Eyes programs at arfamilies.org, follow us at facebook.com/navigatinglife or contact your local county Extension agent. You can also read Between Parent and Child.