Is there any time during the day more important for kids than bedtime? I don’t think so. Actually, it’s not a time, but a process. It’s a one-on-one with a parent and parents can take turns. It’s a special time, with each child in the family having a separate, designated bed time. In family life, it’s a settle down time.
“Okay, sweetheart, at the end of this show, turn off the television and let’s get started going to bed.” Mom prompted 8 year old Bethany, giving her lead time to make the transition.
“But, mama, what about…?” Bethany began to protest, but her mom cut her off. “Uh, uh, uh. Don’t do this, darlin’. You know the rules.”
“Yes, Mama.” Bethany turned her attention back to the t.v. to squeeze every ounce out of her day before going to bed.
Well intentioned parents teach their children early to put themselves to bed. What??? And give up such quality time with your child?
Other parents let their child play, irritate their brother, watch t.v., or game on their iPad or computer until the very last minute. Why allow a child to ramp up right before trying to go to sleep?
Other parents tolerate an abundance of stall tactics from children who don’t want to go to sleep.
Settle down time with your child is a precious gift, both from you to her, but also from her to you. With both my kids as they grew up and now with my grandkids when I’m called to duty, I try to allow up to 30 minutes of settle down time with each child. That’s time for talking about our days, active listening, telling or reading stories, being playful and funny.
As settle down time is closing, especially if I notice my child stalling, I shift to a more proactive focus. With preschoolers, I talk about the snuggle bunny who helps children be still and be silent. Even hyperactive kids will fall asleep within 3 minutes if they are still and silent. My snuggle bunny is a glistening white bunny who likes to snuggle next to the small of your back. However, he will only stay there if you are completely still and silent. You can feel a warmth there that tells you he is there, but if you try to look, he will scoot away and you will never see him. What is settle down time? It’ time for T L C – talking, listening, and cuddling.
Crash! Mom heard to sound coming from her 13 year old daughter’s room. “Now what,” she muttered as she dried her hands before leaving the dishes to make yet another kid rescue.
“Chad, look what you’ve done,” Jenny screamed at her 10 year old little brother. “Get out of my room, you jerk!” Mom hurried her pace, sensing her children coming to blows.
Sibling rivalry is only one of many daily challenges for parents of strong-willed children. It would be common for mom to storm into Jenny’s room and begin barking orders. “Jenny, don’t talk to your brother like that.” “Chad, pick up that mess. What are you doing in your sister’s room anyway?”
Unfortunately, such common occurrences will likely lead to hurt feelings, emotional distance, and continued power struggles. When you are able to trade in divisive “me against you” talk for “we and us” talk, you are on the right track.
First, without comment or criticism, separate your children in the moment. Take time to find out what happened, from each of their perspectives, using your active listening to understand the feelings behind the actions.
Second, when you sense your child’s emotional fever is going down after active listening, ask what they might have said or done differently to have achieved positive outcome.
Third, identify what each child did to add to the difficulty between them, and give each a time-out to formulate an apology to the other. Behaviorally and developmentally, the rule of thumb is to give times-out that are no longer than 2 minutes for every year of your child’s age. For Chad, at age 10, that would be 20 minutes. For Jenny, at age 13, that would be 26 minutes. In reality, such a brief time-out may serve its purpose, but also is an opportunity for you to step away, settle down, and bring reason to the conversation.
Finally, after these times-out, talk to your children together both to structure the apology/forgiveness piece and to jointly address specifics that could help avoid such encounters in the future. For example, Chad could knock before entering his sister’s room, and Jenny could make some time for her brother doing something he likes, like competing on a video game.
I don’t know any parent who can avoid those moments where they say “Uh oh. Here we go again.” However, taking these steps will turn those uh oh moments into teachable moments for your children.
A coin has two sides, heads and tails. Neither is better than the other. They are just different. However, the coin could not be without both sides. The sides make the coin. Such is a parent’s love for their child.
“My little Joey is such a angel…when he is sleeping.” Amanda sipped her coffee before continuing with her friend, Rose. “Don’t get me wrong. I love my little boy so much, but, whew, is he a handful sometimes.” Rose commiserated with her friend.
“Sometimes I just have to jerk a knot in him, you know, give him consequences for his bad choices. I feel so guilty after he gives me those soulful, puppy dog eyes when I put him in the corner.”
Rose chimed in, “Amanda, don’t beat yourself up. You’re a great mom. You listen to Joey when he’s upset and trying to get out of his punishment. But you also help him realize that he has made a bad choice and that there are consequences for his actions.”
“I know,” Amanda sighed, “but still…”
These moms love their children. They know that the parenting coin has two sides, both empathy and confrontation. With empathy, you teach your child that they have a right to their feelings, and you empower them to make good choices. With confrontation, you teach them that there are consequences to their choices that have impact both on them and on those around them. Both empathy and confrontation are required from us parents to prepare our children for their adult world.
Many children today seem to suffer from false empowerment. That is, they have a sense of entitlement with feeling of impunity. I can do what I want, with no consequences. Parents of these children tend to be permissive, wanting their children to have full and enriching experiences, with few or no limits to their actions. Such permissive parenting can lead to selfishness, lack of empathy, insecurity, and potential bullying.
In Chapter 3 of my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I offer that children will always test the limits. However, they do so to be sure that the limits are there. Being in charge is every child’s worst nightmare, leading to fear and anxiety.
For you, the parent, to be in charge, you need to flip a coin. Both empathy and confrontation, the two sides of your parenting coin, need to be used to help your child find their place in the world.
Amy glared at her mom and announced, “Leave me alone!” Her mom stopped in her tracks, at the edge of the door to Amy’s bedroom. As she looked, stunned, at her 12 year old daughter, she pondered, “Where has my little girl gone?”
Well, mom, your daughter Amy has begun her journey into adolescence. You know, that’s a foreign land where grown-ups are the enemy. German developmental psychologists identify Sturm Und Drang as the hallmark of adolescence. Storm and stress! As parents, we see this storm and stress and ask, “Is that my teen?”
Up until about age 10, parents are mostly the best thing ever. Our children love us and show that love in many ways. In healthy, loving families, they want to grow up to be just like mommy and daddy. Developmentally, ages 10 to 12 are the latency ages. That is, not children, but not teens. A newer term is “tweenager.” However you name it, for the parents, the jury’s out. Like others her age, Amy is beginning to find herself. The first place teens go is to not mom or dad. As children, they want to be just like mom and dad. As teens, they want to be just opposite mom and dad.
All I can encourage parents of teens to do is to just hang on. The ride will be bumpy, but the journey worth it. Be good role models and hold on to your values. Set healthy limits, stick to them, and catch your teen being good. The Sturm Und Drang of adolescence is the furnace of events within which their personal identity is forged.
Amy’s mom was just going to tell her that dinner was ready and to come to the table to eat. With Amy’s abrupt words, mom now has a choice. She could look at her daughter with sadness or anger and just silently turn around and leave her in her room. She could throw her hands up in a time-out gesture and confront her with, “Whoa! Time-out, young lady. You don’t talk to your mother that way. Get your butt downstairs for dinner.” While both of these options are warranted, neither will get to the heart of the matter. Both will just put more distance in the relationship.
Give Amy time to realize her harshness by starting with, “Excuse me?” If that prompt doesn’t generate a recognition of the line crossed, then follow with observation and active listening, such as, “Wow, Amy, this isn’t like you. What’s going on?” If you get silence or a short, curt answer to your essay question, make it a multiple choice question. You know your daughter well enough to come up with some options. She will then likely come to the table with you, even if in silent protest.
Is that my teen? Well, yes, it is, but just for now. Hang on. Keep the communication channels open, and your prickly caterpillar will one day be a beautiful, engaging butterfly.
As parents, we are prone to do more talking than listening with our children. Now, there is a time for both talking and listening. The key is to be timely and to focus on what your child needs in the moment.
Little Chip is having trouble tying his shoes. He’s trying to be a big boy, but he’s not getting it. If mom jumps in there and starts with, “Here, let me get that for you,” the shoes will be tied but a teachable moment will be lost.
First, notice Chip’s emotional fever rising. Does his face carry a frown? Is he throwing his shoe aside? Is he looking at you and about to burst into tears? All signs of his emotional fever rising. Your response? Active listening. “Wow, buddy, you seem frustrated? Can I help?”
This simple comment on your part starts the process of Chip’s fever going down. By asking to help, you can get permission to show him again how to tie his shoes, guide him through doing it himself, or do it yourself, with running commentary to your son.
If Chip simply asks for your help, with no signs of a rising emotional fever, then you can direct him or instruct him in the process. Direction and instruction are two of three healthy forms of communication parents give children who are simply learning. The other, checking in, is a short, touching base talk, such as, “Hey, buddy, how’s that shoelace tying thing going for you?” With these forms of communication, the goal is to help out, as the parent, and not to take the task over.
When active listening, if you err on the side of talking too much, you are probably turning a teachable moment into an unwanted lecture. People can usually identify feelings in 5 words or less. Give your child time to absorb and respond.
When touching base, directing, or instructing, where there is no apparent problem for your child, remember that most children’s attention spans are about 30-60” If your child’s attention wanders, you’ve lost a teachable moment anyway. Either engage his curiosity about the topic or let it go and come back to it later.
The time for talking is when there is no emotional fever and when you’ve captured your child’s attention. The time for listening is when your child is hurting. Listening heals the hurt far more than talking.
Charlie came stomping in the back door from outside, grumbling to himself. His brother, Pete, followed him and mumbled, “Sore loser.” Charlie turned on his heel and started yelling at his brother. Their mom heard the commotion from the kitchen, sighed, wiped her hands on the dish towel and turned toward them at the back door.
“Charlie, that’s enough,” she started. “We don’t talk like that around here.” “But…but, he broke the rules,” he pleaded with his mom. “I said, enough,” mom barked. She then sighed and directed, “Go to your room to calm down.” Charlie stomped off and complained under his breath, “Sure. Take his side, again.” Pete smiled to himself as he found his iPad and cued up a game.
Mom went back to the kitchen thinking, “Well, that didn’t go well.” As she went back to drying dishes, she made a decision, “I need to go to Pete, apologize for snapping at him, and let him talk it out. I need to pull out my active listening.”
This is a snapshot of the journey parents travel from surviving to thriving in a healthy family. For all of us, stuff happens. It’s what you do with the stuff that makes for teachable moments. The journey has 4 parts. First, we tend to do what’s familiar, even if it’s not working. Then, when we learn something and decide it’s a better path, we try it. With repeated effort, and lots of missteps, we get used to the new path. Finally, the new path becomes second nature to us.
For Charlie’s mom, she caught herself on a familiar path, using her power to solve the immediate problem. That works well…for the moment. However, Charlie has lots of unexpressed feelings and sees Pete as her mom’s favorite. That makes for longer term issues.
How cool was it for mom to catch herself in old, unhealthy habits that were familiar, and then to venture out on a new path, active listening? She started with an apology to her son. With her apology, and then active listening, Charlie’s feelings went from angry and frustrated, to confused, to heard, to hopeful. She could see his emotional fever come down. He’s not off the hook for his behavior, but the process has gone from power to relationship.
After her conversation with Charlie in his bedroom, mom asked how he felt and then what he thought about how his mom handled the situation. Afterward, she told him that she was trying out active listening as a way to understand him and his needs and feelings better. Charlie said he liked it and told her to keep doing it. Such is a parent’s journey to thriving, and to many more teachable moments.
“You know, Joe and I have a great relationship,” started Marilyn in the first counseling session. “We do things together,” she continued, “and our love life is good. We share common interests. The problem is, though, we never talk. You know, just sit down and talk. So that’s why I thought marital counseling might be helpful. You know, just to learn to talk more with each other.”
As their therapist, I let Marilyn continue for a while. Joe sat on his end of the couch, staring at his hands. Occasionally, he sighed, or nodded in agreement with his wife. Once, he started to say something, but Marilyn shushed him and directed him to let her finish.
Finally, I put my hand up in a stop motion to Marilyn and, after she stopped talking, then I turned to Joe. “So, Joe,” I started, “why do you think that you and your wife don’t, just, you know, ever talk much?”
“Well, I,” Joe started to respond, but Marilyn tried to cut him off and answer for him. “He just…” I stopped her again, gently put my index finger to my lips, and took a deep breath. Marilyn hushed and looked expectantly to her husband.
“You see, Doc, I can’t get a word in edgewise,” he said, continuing, “She talks for the both of us, so I just nod in agreement and go about my business.”
A lot of parents also feel shut out of their children’s lives. Especially teens tend to keep their own company, until given time and space to talk. The cure for such family dynamics is for parents to listen in general and to active listen in particular. Listening to hear your child’s feelings will open them up to want to share more with you.
Also, when time and circumstances allow, ask about their day, their schoolwork, their activities, their friends. These things are their world and you can enter it with permission when you ask. Don’t settle for one-word responses from your child. Be playful but persistent in drawing them into a conversation with you. And remember, the conversation is about them, not about you. So, keep in mind that you will get farther doing more listening than talking.
Do you wonder if your child has a weight issue? Overweight? Underweight? If you wonder at all, don’t wait to help them do something about it.
Nine year old Jenny never liked it when the teacher told the class to line up for the two captains to choose sides. Not only was she never selected to be a team captain, she was always chosen last, whomever of the captains was stuck with the last pick. Jenny had battled overeating as far back as she could remember. She just couldn’t help giving herself heaping portions and asking for seconds. Munchies? Forget about it. It seemed like there was always something sweet-tasting close by. Because of her weight and being uncoordinated, she was always chosen last.
Six year old Bobby didn’t have Jenny’s problem. He was athletic, slim, and had an abundance of energy. In fact, too much energy. The doctor had told his mom that he was hyper, whatever that meant. Now he takes pills to help him slow down. But he likes going fast. He just doesn’t like getting into trouble and forgetting to slow down enough to do his schoolwork. He hates it when he hears the boys calling him “stupid.”
These children have weight issues that both need to be addressed by their parents and by their pediatrician. Physicians encourage parents of all children to get them regular check-ups monthly after birth, every 6 months sometime later, and at least annually up to age 10. There are medical charts that indicate average weight for children according to age and height. There’s also an average range for body mass index. If these numbers are in the average range, but your child has body image issues anyway, use your active listening to help her understand her feelings and plan activities and encourage positive self-worth and social interaction. If your child is getting medicine for being hyper, watch his weight carefully. This kind of medicine can have a side effect of children losing their appetite. Keep your child healthy with a high protein, high caloric diet to encourage weight maintenance.
Stay on top of any weight issues your child may have. Include them in your discussions, at an age appropriate level. Don’t wait. You may just help them avoid both physical health and mental health concerns in the long run.
We’ve all been through the “Hormone Wars,” both our own and our children’s. Some of us have been through the wars more than once. It’s true that hormones will wreak havoc with our bodies, our families, and our relationships. Because these wars are a given, it’s important to identify, own, and plan for them.
Mandy is 13. She’s been having menstrual periods regularly for a couple of months now and she is perpetually annoyed by them. Her mom had prepared her, but going through it and talking about it seem to be two different things.
“Mama, this is gross. Yuck. Can I just do something to stop my period?” Mandy pleaded with disgust. “Aw, baby, I know it’s unpleasant, but you know, it’s just part of being an adult woman.” Mandy protested, “But I’m only 13. It’s not fair. I don’t like it.”
Her mama had given her the Biblical reasoning for women’s periods, the Adam & Eve story. She had also given her the medical reasons. They hadn’t, however, really talked about the mood and attitude changes with having her period. Now was the time for that talk.
Mandy’s mom agreed to be aware of the time of the month for her daughter. She would give her discreet prompts and encourage preparations. Medical research concludes that the emotional impact of menstruation can be improved when teens and women increase their physical activity and use a hypoglycemic diet, which is low sugar/low caffeine intake the week before menstrual flow begins. Mom suggested her daughter jog, walk the dog daily, or get into sport or workout as regular health conditioning. She also agreed to have healthy low sugar/low caffeine snacks and meals for that preceding week.
For issues of mood and attitude, mom offered to cut her daughter some slack, as long as Mandy did not cross the disrespect line and corrected her slip-ups. As with all emotional fevers, active listening is your go-to response when your child has mood or attitude issues. Mandy did not like the bottom line. It is what it is. She did, however, appreciate her mom’s efforts to understand and to adjust.
Do you like surprises? Some people do. Some do not. Most who don’t like surprises have some difficulty with self-consciousness, being the center of attention, or losing control. Others have had a bad experience with surprises and the memory lingers.
Transitions are not necessarily surprises. In fact, most transitions are very normal. However, we can even be thrown off our game by normal, expected transitions.
For school children, normal daily transitions include from asleep to awake, from home to school, from classroom to connections or lunch, from school to home, and from awake back to asleep. Sounds like normal stuff, but the issues most children will find often occur around or because of these and other, unexpected changes.
Eight year old Joey was a bear to get up in the morning. Every day mom felt like she was wrestling an alligator. She started being pleasant and low-key. “Hey, fella. It’s another glorious day. The sun is shining and your friends are waiting to say ‘hi’ to you at the bus stop. Let’s get some good breakfast and you can be on your way.”
Every morning, mom started out being pleasant, but Joey will have none of it. “Awww, ma. Just a few more minutes. I promise I will get up then.” And the battle begins. Some days Joey complies. Other day’s mom resorts to yelling and threatening.
For mornings and other transitions for your children, consider giving them a 5 to 10 minute heads up. First, in a quiet time away from transitions, talk to your child about how transitions are going. Active listen his feelings about change and share your frustrations with helping him adapt. Conclude with, “Sooo, looks like we have a problem and neither one of us likes how this has been going. Any suggestions?”
The “heads up” rule is a universal starting point. Adjust bed time and awakening time to account for the extra 5 to 10 minutes transition. Minimize conflict by pre-planning. For example, help him get school clothes and book bag ready the night before. Make decisions about breakfast with input the night before. Smooth out other potential wrinkles ahead of time to allow for an easy transition. Finally, mark out a trial period for all of the changes and identify reward and consequence based on your child’s efforts and response.
Transitions can be tough, but the “heads up” rule can help them go better for all of you.