Parenting Coach Katie Malinski LCSW coaches the parents of two toddlers on what research shows about discipline and punishment, what works effectively…and what should be avoided.
Oh, my. You invite a child in for a sleepover. Things seem to be going just fine. Then this kid starts something you never anticipated. Something you never would allow. What now?
This “something” could be anything from viewing porn on the Internet to running naked down the hallway. It could be swearing like a sailor or singing vulgar songs at the top of her lungs. It could be sneaking out with your child in the middle of the night, egging a neighbor’s home or abusing your cat.
Now that I’ve set your imagination in motion, you realize that you could invite in a child who turns your evening into a bad movie plot, either a can-you-top-this comedy or a tragic drama of a sleepover gone wrong. What now indeed?
To add to your angst, let me point out that you are the responsible party here, even though this bad kid has parents of his own. You, not the kid’s mom and dad, are legally liable for anything that happens on your watch. Hosting a sleepover (or even a play date) is not a casual thing.
So how can you keep a sleepover from turning into a nightmare? Here are some things to think about.
- Know the child or children you’re inviting. A sleepover isn’t something to host when you first move into a new neighborhood. It’s not a way to get to know other kids better. Only invite children you already know well and whose families you’ve had a chance to observe and evaluate.
- Stay home. For goodness sake, don’t leave your child and his friends alone. You might add “stay awake” to this, or at least a plan to get up every few hours (set an alarm, please) to check on the kids. You are responsible whether you’re present physically and mentally or not. So stay home and stay alert.
- Check in often. Stick your head into the family room frequently and see what’s going on. Bring in snacks once in a while. Make it clear to everyone that you’re keeping an eye on things. And, by the way, site the sleepover in a public space, like the family room, not a private space, like a child’s bedroom. Doors should be kept open.
- Intervene swiftly when there’s a problem. Don’t wait to see if something you think might be a problem really is a problem. Instead, speak up immediately. Say, “That’s not okay. I don’t want to see that again. Got it?” Get confirmation that the message was received. A smirk and a shrug don’t count here. Expect respect.
- Shut the sleepover down if things get out of hand. Your ultimate weapon is returning a child to her home no matter what the hour. Phone the child’s parents to let them know what has happened and that you will deliver the child to them right now. Don’t worry about inconveniencing another family and don’t argue with the other parents. Just make certain someone is there to open the door and take the child home.
- Of course, make certain your own child isn’t the instigator. Before the sleepover happens, lay down the ground rules with your own kid. Let him know that you will not look the other way if he acts out, just because there’s company in the house. Realize that your own child and his friends surely will plan out the evening ahead of time, so make it clear to your own kid that he should squash advance talk about adventures you’ll never approve.
Remind your child that hosting a sleepover is a privilege that comes with responsibility for him and for you. It can be great fun and a growth experience for everyone but only if everyone cooperates.
Sometimes parents of older children and teens ask me how to get their child to treat them respectfully. They complain that they don’t get any respect from their kids.
The answer is that we get what we ask for. Frequently we ask for the wrong thing. We ask for obedience when what we want is respect.
So what’s the difference? Obedience is based in a hierarchy. Obedience says, “I am more powerful than you so I get to tell you what to do and you have to do it.” That’s what being obedient means and it can work for a while. It works just as long as a child believes it.
Respect involves no hierarchy. It’s level. Respect says, “I am a human being worthy of being treated humanely and you are too.” As long as you hold up your part of the equation and act in ways that demonstrate your humanity, you deserve respect. This works forever.
Children question obedience the moment they realize you don’t know everything they’re thinking. The four-year-old who declares, “You’re not the boss of me,” understands that she is an independent person in her own right, not a possession of her parents. She recognizes her equality with Mom and Dad, not in skill and ability and understanding, but in humanity. She demands respect because she knows she deserves it. She accords her parents respect because they’ve let her know that they deserve it too.
Organizing a family around the principle of obedience is easy. Mom and Dad lay down the rules, establish a system of rewards and punishments, and just put everything in place. It seems simple. Organizing a family around the principle of mutual respect requires a bit more work.
Start early. Those parents who ask me about respect when their children are 10 or 12 are coming at the problem late. Children are never too young to understand that you deserve respect and that they deserve respect too. (They’re never too old either but it may take a while to undo old habits.)
Be intentional. Respect isn’t arbitrary. It’s built on values of kindness, care, and fairness. So establishing your family’s values and then living those values – children and parents together – helps you live with the intention of being respectful. Everything makes sense.
Give and then expect respect. According your children respect doesn’t mean you let them do whatever they want. That’s not respectful of you or other members of the family. According respect involves listening and acknowledging the other person’s point-of-view. Expecting respect back is equally important. Parents who let their children run all over them are unhappy. They think they want obedience but what they really want is to be treated with respect.
If you create an atmosphere of mutual respect, you will get obedience. You will get cooperation because your child knows respect is a two-way street. He gives and he gets back.
A preteen recently told me about the restrictions his parents put on his video game play. I remarked that his parents imposed restrictions because they care about him. He replied, “I obey their restrictions because I care about them” (meaning his parents).
That’s respect. That’s what you want.
- © 2103, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.
Do your kids lie to you or hide things from you?
Do they blame others for their mistakes?
Do they look away or fall silent or seem to shrink when you come into the room?
Do your kids cry even before you yell at them?
Do you yell at them? Or hit them? Or make sarcastic remarks?
Too many children are afraid of their parents. Mom and Dad mean well. They’re just trying to get the day accomplished and it seems to them that the kids are getting in the way. So they lose their tempers. But the children are the real losers. If your children are afraid of you – if you see the kind of behavior listed above – then you’ve got to turn things around, and fast.
This turning around is something for you to do. It’s not true that you’d be a better parent if you only had better children. It’s not true that the way to have better children is to destroy them so you can build them into people who are nicer. What is true is that our children were created by us. The problems we see are problems we created.
Which means the problems we have with our kids are problems we can solve.
If you have a short temper, if you get stressed and overreact, if you want everything to be perfect and things are never perfect, then your children are your victims. This is a hard thing to realize. We love our kids and we’d never do anything to hurt them. We only want the best for them. But the demands we make, the blame we assign, and the punishments we mete out take their toll. If your children are afraid of you, you’ve got to begin to back off.
Children who believe the important adults in their lives are dangerous have only two outlets. They can become small and timid, afraid to shine, afraid to try. Or they can become even more dangerous than you are, to their siblings, to other kids they know and, eventually, to you.
If what you’re yearning for is the perfect family, then making your children afraid of you and afraid of your anger and your unhappiness is the wrong way to go. Make a change.
- Give up your electronic devices. The constant pinging is like having an insistent puppy always demanding your attention. Give your children your attention. Put away your phone and your tablet while your children are home. See if you don’t feel calmer.
- When something goes wrong, make your first reaction a smile. See setbacks as opportunities to work together with your child to solve things. Help your child get back on track in a way that is supportive and loving. When you quit assigning blame and quit being angry all the time, your children will become more responsible and happier.
- When anger bubbles up, take a deep breath and strive for self-control. Don’t take things out on your kids. There is nothing, nothing, that matters so much over the long term as your relationship with your children. Whatever just happened is a momentary distraction. Don’t let it become more.
- Speak in a quiet voice. There’s no need to yell. You don’t need to shout to be heard. If your children are used to you fighting to be heard, if your kids are used to being out of control until the moment you scream at them, it will take time for both of you to get back to a more normal interaction pattern. But it has to start with you. You’re the grown up.
When we realize the damage we’ve inflicted, to the point that our children are actually afraid of us, we’re embarrassed. We’re sad and ashamed. We want to hide. But none of that solves anything.
The way to repair the hurt we’ve inflicted is to become the parent we wanted to be all along.
© 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at www.patricianananderson.com.
Finding the right daycare for your child can be like finding the right spouse: sometimes you have to date a few frogs until you find a prince. All daycares talk a good talk and boast about how great they are at your initial walk-through, but not all deliver what they promise.
I had to take my kids to six different daycares and preschools to find the right fit for my family. Hopefully you can learn in 5 minutes what took me 5 years to figure out through trial-and-error what really should be considered a great daycare for your children.
Here are 5 key signs of a good daycare:
- A low teacher/child ratio – The most important aspect when considering child care for your infant or toddler is that age 0-3 are the absolute most important developmental years of your child’s life. These are the “make it or break it” years. If your child receives adequate nurturing, physical touch, healthy nutrition, exercise, love and respect during these years, she will avoid a plethora of physical, mental and emotional obstacles for the years to come. Unfortunately, the majority of daycares for infants and toddlers have such an unbalanced teacher/child ratio that it is impossible for them to give any child the nurturing that they need to thrive. Before your child is walking, try to find a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio (possibly a nanny or family member). Once they are walking, look for a maximum of a 1:6 ratio.
- Healthy meals and snacks – What your child eats is just as important as them receiving proper nurturing and love. One daycare my daughter attended was a “big name” daycare, but they served French toast covered in butter and syrup for breakfast, steak fingers for lunch and cookies for snacks. The nail in the coffin was the fact that they prohibited parents from packing healthy lunches for their kids. Either my kids ate the junk food they served or they didn’t eat at all. You should always be able to bring your own meals, snacks and drinks for your child.
- Is your daycare truly a school where your children are learning, or is it merely a “storage unit”? Just because the word “school” is in the name of your daycare, doesn’t mean squat these days. Ask the teachers daily what was taught to your kids, what books were read, worksheets completed, artwork, etc…
- Adequate daily exercise – the best daycares know that adequate exercise in children results in more attentive, better behaved and less hyper children. The best schools will provide outdoor physical activities morning, noon and afternoon (3 times per day).
- Positive discipline – Every school has their own individual philosophy on how they handle kids who misbehave. The best schools will discipline out of love and respect and will never use corporal punishment or inappropriate language with your child.
You might be thinking “Finding a school with a low teacher/student ratio, healthy food options, adequate exercise, very educational and that practices positive discipline is too good to be true. This school cannot exist!” Well, it took me six tries, a lot of shopping around and a lot of frustration, but I did find a lovely preschool for my children that has met these requirements.
Important questions to ask any child care provider before you enroll your child:
- Are you licensed?
- Do you have insurance for accidents?
- What do you serve for meals, snacks and drinks?
- Can I bring outside food for my child?
- How often do the kids play outside?
- What is the teacher/child ratio?
- How do you discipline misbehavior?
- Can you show me some of the class work some of the current students have completed?
- Can my child come for 2 hours this Friday to check out your school?
- Can I drop in any time to observe the class?
Here are 4 traps to avoid when daycare shopping:
- Don’t take another parent’s word on how good a school is. What works (and is important) to your family may not be the same standards for your dearest neighbor next door.
- Just because a daycare center is accredited, that doesn’t always mean it has good leadership, good teachers or has high standards for nutrition or daily exercise.
- Just because a daycare center is a “household name” or nationwide chain, doesn’t mean it’s good.
- Just because a daycare center is new or has fancy decor, doesn’t mean it’s better than the older schools with more modest trimmings.
A few more tips:
- Use your gut instinct. If your gut says “There is something about this place I just don’t like” then listen to this instinct and take action.
- Pop in at random times to see what your daycare is really doing when parents aren’t around. Most schools turn on the charm at key drop-off and pick-up times, but if you swing by after your lunch break you might see a different picture (same rule of thumb is for nannies and babysitters).
- Avoid schools who have pricey “enrollment fees” (no more than $150). The reason schools sometimes have high enrollment fees is so three months into your stay at this school when you realize the school has over-promised and under-delivered, you will say to yourself, “I can’t change schools because I just paid that hefty non-refundable fee.” This is the school’s way of keeping you around.
Keep in mind that your child may spend more time at daycare than any other place in the world during the most important developmental times of his life. Choose wisely. Be willing to pay a bit more if the care is substantially better. And don’t hesitate for a second if you see or sense that your child is not receiving the proper care she needs and deserves.
A couple of college football coaches have asked their athletes this question over the last 30 years: “What is your worst memory from playing youth and high school sports?”
You might be surprised by the answer: “The ride home from games with my parents.”
Stuck in the car with a parent still mulling over the game, a child cannot escape. He gets asked why he missed that play. He gets asked what he can do to play better next time. He gets asked why the coach put so-and-so in or what he thinks about that call by the ref. Most kids are focused on just getting home. Many parents are not.
Those same college coaches asked their athletes a second question: “What did your parents say that made you feel great about being involved in sports?”
The answer here was simple: parents said, “I love to watch you play.”
Saying “I love to watch you….” is a 5-word statement without any strings attached. It doesn’t suggest how a child can make us happier by being even better. It doesn’t imply we’re not so happy right now as a child could make us if she just worked harder and earned more acclaim.
Saying “I love to watch you…” can’t be said without a warm smile. It’s a sentence that feels good to say and feels good to hear. It’s a gift.
So try it. After the next game look your child in the eye and say, “I love to watch you play.” Just that. See if he doesn’t light up.
After your child practices the piano, helps his little sister, or just sits in a corner reading a book – whenever you see something you want to encourage, something you want your child to do more of – don’t make any comment or give any advice. Just say “I love to watch you…” do whatever you saw. Just that.
Then spread the love around. Tell your partner, “I love to watch you play with the kids.” Tell your mother, “I love to see you and the baby having such a good time.” Stop and appreciate the wonderful people and talents around you. There’s no need to tell people how to do things better. They’re doing just fine on their own right now.
Once we appreciate our children and tell them how much we love to see them in action, we really will appreciate them more. We’ll fell less inclined to judge and correct and happier to just let them be. We’ll be able to see how wonderful our children are.
And our kids will be happier to let us watch. Our kids won’t be afraid of the ride home.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.
Diana Baumrind, a Berkeley California developmental psychologist working in the 1960s, developed parenting categories based on parental responsiveness and “demandingness.” She posited – and much research since has confirmed – that there must be a balance between supporting children and controlling them. Baumrind came up with three categories or styles of parenting that reflect different levels of support and control: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative.
In a Three Bears sort of way, authoritarian parents are too hard – too controlling and offering too little support for children’s personalities. In a situation where a child is making a scene in the toy aisle at Target, the authoritarian parent might growl, “Get over here now! Be quiet! You’re acting like a baby!”
Permissive parents are too soft – bending over backwards to give children what they desire and making too few demands. In the same toy aisle situation, the permissive parent might buy the toy to shut the child up or bargain with the child, buying something smaller or offering extra dessert tonight if she will only come away now please…
But authoritative parents – those who balance control and support – are “just right.” And their children tend to be “just right” too. Study after study has demonstrated that American kids do best with authoritative parenting. They do well in school, get along nicely with other children and adults, mostly stay out of trouble, and are well-adjusted and self-disciplined. The authoritative parent in the Target toy aisle might admire the toy the child desires, letting her point out its cool features, and agree with her that, yes, it would be fun to have that someday. “But right now, we’re not buying toys. We came here to get some paper towels. Do you know where to find them in this store?”
So why don’t all parents use an authoritative parenting style? Why is this so hard?
First, it’s hard because “authoritative” – the good sort of parenting – and “authoritarian” – the less good sort – sound a lot alike. The words are very similar. Some authors clear up the confusion by renaming the good “authoritative parenting” as “respectful parenting.” Let’s do that here. I like it because respect is the key element in effective parenting.
But mostly parents struggle to use respectful parenting with their children for two reasons: they misunderstand the parenting role and they too often want a quick fix.
Raising bright, responsible kids takes a long while – at least 18 years. But our lives are lived in the moment… and right this moment we want things to go smoothly. So, depending on our own inclinations and our child’s temperament, we smooth things out at any given time by caving in to the whining and the tantruming or by screaming for it to stop. We buy a moment’s peace by being a tyrant or a pushover but we also set ourselves up for another round of the same behavior later. The respectful parent takes the time to listen to a child’s point-of-view and then explains her own position and why that is the position that will stick. Treated this way, the child learns to express his ideas civilly and to accept mom or dad’s decision with grace. The parent doesn’t just control behavior or ignore it, he teaches the behavior he wants to see.
But many of us think it’s our job to control behavior. We’ve got the parenting thing wrong. So if control comes easily to us, we try to order our kids around. We try to parent by enforcing rules with punishment and by manipulating good behavior. We’re in charge and our children are not. That’s how we act if we mistakenly think that the parent’s role is all about control.
Or, perhaps we think the parent’s role is all about control but we reject control and do everything we can to avoid being controlling. But when we deny control we leave a hole in our relationship with our kids. We have little to say. So children, without the guidance of adult control, run amok. Four- and six-year-olds are now running the family. The parent and child roles are reversed.
As Baumrind pointed out, parenting is not just about control and control is not always a bad thing. But control must always be tempered with support and respect that guide children in the ways they should go. The true role of the parent is one of teacher. To teach, one must listen, explain, and maybe even agree. Teaching is a process. It’s not a quick fix.
Effective parents have high standards for their children, standards that are appropriate to each child’s age and abilities and temperament. They have rules. But they also understand that their children are individual people with individual needs and wishes. Each child must be treated with respect. It’s not easy. But over the course of 18 years, being an effective parent pays off.
© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.
The scene: your 4 year old is upset because you have brought her the pink shoes instead of the purple ones. (How could you?!) She is whining, crying, and maybe both of you are starting to raise your voices.
Yes! Experiment with this next time you have a child who is upset over something you don’t mind compromising about:
- Take a deep breath yourself. Keep your body and mind as peaceful as possible.
- Tell your daughter to take her own deep breath and then to use her words to ask for what she wants.
- The (deep) breath is important, don’t let either of you skip that part… and you might need more than one!
- Say something like: “Wow, honey, you are really mad! But remember, we can use our words to solve this problem.” (or, “YOU can use your words to get what you want here.”)
- When she does take a deep breath and ask for what she wants (even if it’s not perfectly done), praise her for using her words SO WELL! and immediately bring her the purple shoes.
- Talk about it afterwards with her, in order to review the experience & strengthen the teachable moment… this might sound something like “You were so upset when I brought the pink shoes. I was so proud of you that you took a deep breath and used your words to ask for what you really wanted. And it worked! You got exactly what you wanted and we could go back to playing right away. I’m so proud of you!”
It may take dozens of repetitions (or more,) but eventually you’ll start seeing the time between (a) the beginnings of upset and (b) greater self-regulation and calmly talking through problems, begin to decline. This is huge! Give yourself and your kid a pat on the back and a lot of credit.
Note: Remember, this is for small stuff where she really can have whatever she wants–not situations where what she wants is a pony or to skip school, etc.
It’s the week before Christmas and things may be falling apart at your house. The noise level may seem several decibels higher than usual. The children’s ability to pay attention and follow directions may seem at an all-time low. And they may seem to be annoying each other, melting down into tears, and getting on your nerves like never before.
No surprise: it’s the Christmas Jitters!
Once you realize that your children are wound up in anticipation of the big holiday and all that goes with it, it’s easier to cut them some slack. Here are some tips to help you do just that.
Filter behavior this week through the lens of the Jitters. Lower your standards just a bit. Increase your patience and sweetness. On December 26th things will be back to nearly normal.
Support behavior by keeping things as simple and stress-free as possible. Imagine that your children are each a year or two younger than their actual ages. Assume that none of them is able to cope with complexity right now or manage tasks without supervision.
Notice what you want to see and comment positively on it. It’s easy, when you have so much to do yourself right now, to harp on your children’s disappointing behavior and nag about their shortcomings. Try instead to tell them what they’re doing right. Remember that we always get what we focus on from our kids, so focus on what they’re doing right and you’ll see more of it.
Give kids things to do that will support feelings of being “grown up.” Give your children easy tasks to do that make them feel like contributors to the holiday fixings. Let them help wrap gifts, replace ornaments the cat knocks off, read to a younger sibling, or help with cooking and cleaning. Feeling responsible and useful will help your children behave better all day long.
Recognize that you also have the Christmas Jitters. The holiday time is exciting and stressful for adults too. You’ve got a lot going on, there’s a lot to check off the to-do list, and you’re a bit anxious, maybe, about how some of the things you’ve planned will go over. You also will feel better once the holiday is behind you, but right now work in some time to relax each day.
Keep the holiday merry and bright by smiling at the Christmas Jitters whenever you see them bounce around your house. Excitement is part of the fun!
© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.