Monday, February 28, 2011

How can I get my child to truly be sorry for wrong actions?

Being sorry for one’s actions takes empathy, which generally does not develop in a person until around age 8 and often times later so don’t be surprised if your young child does not seem to care that they hurt someone else. Learning empathy is an important part of developing an emotionally well adjusted child. Empathy should normally develop in a child, but it is always good to teach it too.

Here’s how to do it. Your 5 year old pushes a little boy on the playground. You can immediately go over and remove her from the situation. If you feel you NEED to apologize yourself you can, but MAKING your child say she’s sorry will do nothing to teach her to actually be sorry.

Once removed from the others, ask your child what happened and then listen. She may or may not want to talk. If she doesn’t want to talk, ask her to look at the child that she pushed and tell you what SHE notices. The other child may still be crying or sad from the event and hopefully your child will say something to that effect. If she has no answer you can tell her what YOU see.

Then ask why the other child might be sad. She will most likely say because I pushed her or because she fell down. You can then talk about how people don’t like to get hurt and it is not nice to hurt. You can even talk about the Golden Rule, to treat other people the way that you want them to be treated (that concept is too advanced for a child under 4). Pick ONE topic and don’t lecture too much.

After this BRIEF conversation you ask her if there is something SHE could do to make the other child feel better. She might respond “say sorry.” Remember that using words are only one way to communicate sorrow. Giving the child a hug or sharing a toy with him would also be a really good way to make the situation better and in a lot of ways is a more effective one. Sorry is a word, sharing a toy is an action and generally shows there is an emotional investment in the situation. If she does not respond to your question nor has any ideas, you can give a few suggestions on what might make the child feel better.

Then ask her if she would like to go DO whatever was suggested. If she says yes, go with her to do it. If she says that she does not want to go, tell her that you are going to go make the boy feel better and (with your child by your side) go to him and tell him “I am sorry my daughter hurt you”, share a toy with him or give him a hug (with the parents’ permission.)

As your child witnesses you caring about others, apologizing. when YOU hurt someone and making someone feel better; they will begin to model your actions. You may find an 8 year old (or younger) surprising you by seeming to generally be sorry for hurting someone one day and behaving maliciously the next. This is how children grow. They begin to understand something one day and the next revert to old behavior. Be patient and don’t force them.

One of the big reasons we MAKE our children say “SORRY” is the expectations of others. Our child hurt someone and we feel we are not being good parents if we don’t make them say sorry. The only thing this really teaches them is to LIE. Think about it, you are asking them to say something “I’m sorry”, when they really aren’t sorry. That is lying!

Don’t be afraid to apologize to your child for things you do to them. After all there is no point in their life that they will be paying more attention to you then when you hurt them in some way.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How can I help my children resist peer pressure?

Peer pressure is everywhere. Even young preschoolers want to feel like part of the group. As your child gets older the pressure to fit in becomes more and more dangerous. The world is full of things we want our children to resist. So how do we give our children the strength that it takes to resist doing negative things just to fit in or feel good about themselves?

Over the past 50 years or so, we as a culture have become aware that in order for our children to excel in life they need to feel a sense of accomplishment. They need to feel that they are capable of doing good things and that they should try hard. This has given rise to the term “Self-Esteem” – feeling valuable, capable and willing to try new things. In order to help children feel good about themselves, parents have begun to over-praise their children. Don’t get me wrong, praise is a good thing. But because of this “praise revolution”, I often times find myself giving over the top praise for every small thing. “Way to go, you ate all your lunch!” “That drawing is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!” “You did such a good job cleaning your room!” “I am so proud that you didn’t cry at the store!” These complements become a kind of “drug” to children. Then need the approval of their parents or they don’t even know when they do a good job. They clean their room and are not satisfied until you say they did a good job. As they grow then begin to not care about their parent’s approval and being to need approval from the other kids around them.

If the goal of parenting is to teach your children to feel a sense of accomplishment for themselves, then we need to encourage them to be proud of themselves for the accomplishment, not wait for our complement. What we need to do is change the way we word what we say to them.

Let’s take the example of cleaning your room. If you are excited that your child cleaned her room you could say, “I see that you put all your toys away. Does it feel good to have a clean room? Are you excited to know where all your toys are now.“ If your child draws a picture and you know they worked hard and did their best, you could say “Wow, you worked really hard on that picture. I saw you concentrating on it. Tell me about it. What do you like about it?” Meet your child at the energy level they come to you. If your child is excited that she put away her clean clothes, than be excited with her and say “It is so nice to be able to do things for yourself isn’t it. You are getting so big!”

By re-focusing the child on how THEY feel about their accomplishments, it will give them the taste to satisfy their own needs. They will not be relying on YOU to tell them when they have done a good job and as they grow up they will be less likely to NEED the acceptance of their peers and so less likely to do things they don’t want to or know are wrong just to fit in or feel good about themselves.

I am NOT suggesting that you never complement and praise your child. Quite the contrary. I encourage you to do it all the time but do not base it on things they DO but who they are. So the time to heap praise on them is when they have done nothing special at all. Tell them that you see all the work they do and that they try so hard. Tell them what you see that they are good at. Tell them you think they could do anything they set out to do. Tell them that you love them EVERYDAY.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why does my child refuse to share his toys when he has a friend come over?

Human beings have a need to have control of something. It is one of our many emotional needs. Children see their parents with “toys” like cars, jewelry, electronics and a host of other things that the child equates to their “toys.” Then they see that we, the parents, get to choose who gets to play with our “toys.” Sometimes we let them play with the toy and sometimes we don’t. They see that there are some toys that we don’t let anyone else touch.

Because our children want to be like us and act like us, they assume that if a toy belongs to them, they also get to choose who gets to play with it and when. If your child has a friend over and they are told by you that they HAVE to share their toy with another person, this feels wrong to them and they will act out in an attempt to explain this to you.

Imagine if my husband and I were out with another couple of friends and I said to the other woman, “My I like those shoes, can I borrow them.” This might feel a little strange to you. But if my friend’s husband turned to his wife and said, “You need to let her wear them”, you would KNOW something was very wrong. But it’s the same as us MAKING our children share toys that belong them.

If you want your children to learn to share during play dates here is an idea. Separate the toys in your house. Allow there to be toys –a good many- that belong to your child. If you have multiple children you can do this too. Everyone has some toys that belong to THEM. Label or separate them is some way. The rest of the toys in the house are FAMILY TOYS that belong to everyone but mom and dad have ultimate control over the FAMILY TOYS. Mom and Dad also have a box of kid’s toys of their own which they choose to share with everyone all the time. This models the behavior of sharing. When a friend comes over, the friend is welcome to play with all the FAMILY TOYS because YOU get to choose what they play with. You also let them play with Mom and Dad’s toys. Your child is also welcome to share his toys with his friend if HE wants. But don’t force him. During play date, stand up for your child’s choices. Don’t MAKE him share, but you can gently encourage him to.

If you consistently let your child have the control over this, he will begin to loosen the “grip” he has on his toys. He will no longer be afraid that someone is going to come at any moment and “take” what is his. And if you consistently model sharing your belongings with others he will begin to share too.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why do I always end up yelling at my child?

Think about the last time you yelled at your child. Ask yourself how many times you “repeated” yourself before you yelled. Most of the time, we yell at our children because we have asked them to do something 5 times and they have not listened. We yell because we are frustrated that they have not heard or obeyed us. Maybe the problem is that we are asking too many times.

Yelling tends to come from being too patient. Yea, that’s what I said - TOO patient. Here’s an example. Your 10 year old son has the basketball in the house. You have asked him before to play with it outside but he really isn’t “playing” with it, he is just holding it. Then he casually starts lightly throwing it in the air. Little by little it gets higher until it lands on the ground with a thud. You say, “Don’t play with that in the house.” “Yes mom” and he stops. A few minutes later he does the same thing again, not really thinking. You see that he did it without thinking and say, “I told you not to throw that in the house.” And he stops for a while. This continues a few more times and because you are busy cooking dinner you just keep shouting out. Each time you get a little angrier and angrier. Finally you put down what you are doing, go into the living room and scream “I SAID STOP. GO YOU YOUR ROOM no more TV……”

The problem here is that you gave him too many warnings and you never made the consequence for disobeying clear. Here is how that story could have played out.

The first time you hear the basketball hit the ground you walk into the living room and say “It seems that you may have forgotten about the rule that you can’t play with that ball in the house. Maybe you didn’t realize what you were doing. If you can’t stop yourself from playing with it I will need to take it away and turn off the TV. This in itself might stop him from repeating the offense because you stopped what you were doing, were very clear and precise.

Suppose it does happen again. It’s time to take ACTION and follow through on what you said you would do. You take the ball and turn off the TV. No second or third warning. You made clear what the consequence would be and now it is time to do it. Because things have not progressed, you have a greater ability to control your anger and are much less likely to yell.

This example was for a 10 year old but it applies to younger children and some older. Clearly and lovingly state what they are doing wrong and what will happen if they do it again. If they do it again TAKE ACTION.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Why do I have to ask my child 3+ times to stop doing something?

When you say to your child “Stop slamming that door” or “Don’t slam the door” the first (and sometimes only) thing they hear is the word SLAM. Most likely your child was not really intentionally trying to slam the door, but now you have brought it into his mind. The word DON”T or STOP may not have really registered with his memory. So in effect, by telling him to stop slamming the door, you have now made him aware of an action he has made, but not really told him what he should do.

If I were to say to you, “Stop thinking about eating chocolate”. Even as an adult this might pose a problem for you. Chances are you were not really thinking about chocolate beforehand and now that I have brought it up, you are. So in order to stop yourself from thinking about chocolate, you have to concentrate on chocolate and now you can’t get chocolate out of your mind.

Now if I were to say to you, “think about eating a sandwich”. Would chocolate ever enter your mind? Not likely. In the same way, telling your child not to do something is only going to make him think about what he isn’t supposed to do. You are asking him to make the leap from what he isn’t supposed to do to what he is supposed to do. If you have a child that is 10 or over, this might be very easy for them. But ask yourself this, why didn’t YOU just tell him what he SHOULD do.

It is easier in the busyness of life to react to what we see our child doing and verbalize it asking them to stop. It is hard to train our mind to think about what he should do and verbalize that instead. If it is that hard for us, think about how hard it is for him. It seems a little unfair of us to ask our child to make that connection when we are not able or willing to take the time to do it ourselves.

When you talk to your child, tell him WHAT to do instead of what NOT to do. “Don’t slam the door” becomes – “Close the door gently.” “Don’t walk across the carpet with dirty shoes” becomes “Take your shoes off before you walk on the carpet.” And adding a please to the statement isn’t a bad idea either.