Pre-teen Amy comes home from school and bursts through the kitchen door. “The other girls are being mean to me. I hate them,” she cries as she melts into her mama’s arms. You hug and console her, using your best active listening to help her through her hurt feelings. Amy feels better but concludes, “I’m never going back to school.” Your continued active listening brings her emotional fever down. She soon feels better and loses interest in talking any further.
Tweenager is the term for children who are no longer children but not yet teenagers. Tweenage drama is universal. You did your best in helping Amy with her immediate upset, but there’s more talking to be done.
Later that night, during the bedtime routine, you speak up. “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry those mean girls got to you today. Let’s pray that tomorrow will be better.” Afterward, you lead with, “You know, Amy, I have some thoughts. Do you want to hear them?” Whatever your child’s age, asking permission to talk to them perks up their ears and almost always leads to a yes answer.
Generally, drama comes from two sources, either worry or sadness. Worry starts with the question, “What if…?” What if they stay mean to me? What if I can’t get over it? And so forth. Sadness usually starts with the statement, “If only…” If only I had walked down the clear hallway. If only Kathy would have stood up to them for me.
Being a mindful parent involves helping your child understand their feelings in the moment by active listening. Then, help them stay in the moment as they interact with you and others. Consider my stretched out arms to be the ends of a straight time line that stretches from way in the past, on my left, through the present, to way into the future on my right. Take the midpoint and sweep your left hand out. Sadness is regretting the past. Take the midpoint and sweep your right hand out. Worry is fearing what lies in the future. By bringing both of your hands from the outstretched ends together at the midpoint, you are being mindful and staying in the moment.
Mom’s explanation to her daughter Amy was a profound teachable moment that helped Amy take care of her own problems, and not let stuff get to her, by being mindful and staying in the moment. Help your children be centered in their lives.
Life is full, and that’s a better option than life being empty. But sometimes a full life falls under the category of, be careful what you pray for because you just might get it.
In the Bower family, mornings can be chaos central. The alarm goes off but nobody gets out of bed. Mom drags herself up, rousts the two kids, and heads for the kitchen to find the cereal box. Dad grumbles as he gets into the shower. Mom hears her middle school daughter scream, “Mooooom! I can’t find the blouse I want to wear today.” Her high school son wanders sleepily into the kitchen wearing the same clothes he slept in last night. She starts to tell him to go change into clean clothes. Then remembers that she was too tired to do laundry last night. Her daughter screams again, startling her. She drops the box of cereal onto the floor and cereal scatters everywhere. Chaos central? Yep. Can this scene be avoided in your house? By all means. Three steps can get you on your way to a more cooperative, less chaotic morning routine. Join forces by using a family meeting to Prepare, Instruct, and Reward.
Prepare by planning ahead. Anything that can be done the night before, should be. That includes showers, children putting out their clothes to wear the next day, homework, strategically locating bookbags and electronics, getting the load of clothes done, and reviewing breakfast plans.
Next, instruct each family member on their role and responsibilities. Nobody gets off the hook, especially Dad if both parents work outside the home. Be detailed. Write down each person’s expectations and give a copy to each family member.
Finally, reward jobs well done. When you see the plan working, make a big deal out of it. It’s true that the carrot works better than the stick. Where there are issues, use your active listening to understand the frustrations and to encourage cooperation. Schedule a follow-up family meeting to re-tool the system and plan a family reward for the weekend after a successful week.
Because each of us has so much to do each and every day, your home can be chaos central at times. If you prepare, instruct, and reward the troops through family meetings and with active listening, with consistency over time, it doesn’t have to be.
“Why do I have to use behavior management, when I can just whip him and he’ll do what I want to avoid another whipping?” “Aren’t you just bribing your child to do good, with all that fancy psycho-babble?” Oh, the things I put up with as a practicing child psychologist. Don’t get me wrong. I know that you folks are well intentioned and that you have your child’s best interests at heart. Nonetheless, when you notice concerning behavior from your child, whipping it out of him may lead to compliance, but out of fear and at the cost of any meaningful, emotionally intimate relationship with that child.
One form of behavior management is simply defining reward and consequence for your child. “Andy, play nice with your sister and you both get a treat. Be mean to her and you will spend the rest of the day in your room.” This may encourage compliance, and reinforces your absolute authority, but does not bring you closer together.
When little Janey is involved in the process, then behavior management becomes a teachable moment, your authority is secure, and you are working on the “Good Kid” project together. In chapter 2 of my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, where I answer the question, “Who’s In Charge,” I lay out use of The Good Kid Chart. This is your go-to for using behavior management as a teachable moment. First, you define the target behaviors in positive terms. “No hitting your sister” becomes “Play nicely together.” These target behaviors are tracked daily through the week, with both daily and weekly reward for your child showing the behavior. Reviewing her progress as a part of her bedtime routine encourages the joint effort.
In addition to the Good Kid Chart, put together three, brightly decorated posters. With her help and participation, list daily rewards, weekly rewards, and consequences on one poster each. Be creative in what goes on each list. Encourage her involvement, but only include items that are within your time and expense restrictions. Once all is in place, try it for a week and see how it goes. As she succeeds at certain items, celebrate, and talk about what else she might work on. Remove and add items as she progresses. The beauty is that this is a fluid and continual chart that gives you opportunity to be an involved parent, work and grow together, and create teachable moments in your Christian parenting.
When my wife, Maggie, and I go out to eat, I frequently take notice of how many patrons are on their cell phones in the restaurant. Guess. Give up? Try as many as 70% of the tables in the restaurant have at least one person on their cell phone. I’ve seen whole families at a table, each on a cell phone! Whoa! Actually, I should be glad the family is eating together. Back in the day, families ate on average 17 of 21 meals together per week. Now? Try 3-4 shared meals together. Verbally, we may talk about having a meal together, but nonverbally? Not so much.
In relationship building, verbal communication gets all the press. Nonverbal communication is often seen merely as the backdrop for verbal communication. However, each is vital and instrumental in creating emotionally healthy relationships. To be on the same page with your child, what you say and what you do should match.
Missy comes up to her dad in his home office, where he is paying bills. “Daddy, got a sec?” she asks. “Sure, hon. What’s on your mind?” he responds without moving or looking toward her. “Oh, never mind,” Missy sighs. “I’ll see if Mama can help me,” she looks down, sighs, and shuffles away. “Uh huh, okay, dear, you do that,” Dad absent-mindedly comments without his eyes or attention moving from the bills. Then he adds insult to injury by stating, “Glad I could help.” Missy would be heartbroken, but she never really expected her dad to help her.
Ouch! Dad’s verbals were inviting, engaging, anticipating. His nonverbals were distracting, distancing, and demeaning. Missy has learned not to go to her dad with needs, but she desperately wants his attention, so she keeps hoping, maybe this time…
Mom is putting the finishing touches on supper and sees her son, Jake, playing with neighborhood kids outside. “Time to come in, Jake, and get ready for supper,” she calls out the kitchen window. “Okay, Mom,” Jake dutifully responds. Mom gets busy with the meal. Jake’s not inside after ten minutes and she looks out again, but he is nowhere in sight. She swallows a frustrated, “that boy…” and then calls the mother of Jake’s best friend. After locating, scolding and threatening him, she hangs up the phone. When Jake gets home ten minutes later, she gives him his meal to eat in his bedroom as punishment for blowing her off. He half-heartedly protests, but takes his meal to his room. While eating, he turns on his TV, pulls out his phone, and texts his friends about the show on TV.
Jake's words and actions are same ol’ same ol’ for him. They don’t match. Words and actions need to match for a relationship to be healthy. Do yours?
After my grandparents passed, we inherited their fireside bench. It was nice, cushioned, about 4-ft long, comfortable. We put it in our living room. However, in short order, it became the location for time-out punishment for our kids. “Son, really?? Go to the bench!!” After a while in use, THE BENCH became our hallmark of time-out. Our kids would just see my look, without words, and acknowledge, “I know, Dad. Go to the bench.” With the required sigh of consternation.
I actually studied the impact of time-out on troubled kids as a part of my doctoral research. I compared 5-minute and 30-minute time-outs in a classroom setting where the students were all troubled kids. I measured self-esteem, understanding of the consequence, and relationship with the teacher. With the longer time-out, the student’s self-esteem went down, they were clueless about why they were in time-out, and the teacher was the enemy.
A general rule of thumb is to give a length of time-out no longer than twice your child’s age. So, a 10 year old boy would top out at a 20-minute time-out. Be sure, however, to check on your child every 5 minutes or so, using your active listening to help lower his emotional fever during the time-out.
Finally, before a time-out is completed, ask your child these questions. “So, son, what did you specifically do that got you this time out? How did that work out for you? What could you have done to have avoided this time-out? In the event that you have these feelings or circumstances again, what are you going to do differently, so that we don’t have to have this conversation again?”
Given the severity of the behavior, your child could have both a time-out and a consequence. Time-out is simply designed to give him space to think about what just happened, cool his jets, and come back to the family with a calmer head. A natural consequence following a time-out provides a choice point for your child. “Is it worth it to me to act out again, or can I handle it better?” Such natural consequence might be giving apology, verbal or written, returning the item, writing definitions related to the behavior, or other behavior to help the problem be a learning experience for your child.
How much time-out works best? The shorter the better, but make sure it’s strategic, so it will be another teachable moment.