Good­bye, Pun­ish­ment. Hello, Em­pa­thy.

Strict, in­flex­i­ble par­ent­ing has gone the way of land­lines and VCRS. Th­ese days, ex­perts say the key to rais­ing car­ing, re­spon­si­ble kids is to see the world through their eyes. Use th­ese strate­gies to up­date your ap­proach.

Parents (USA) - - Contents - by KATHER­INE REYNOLDS LEWIS / pho­to­graphs by PRISCILLA GRAGG

Con­sider your kid’s POV when you dis­ci­pline.

LIKE A LOT of 3-year-olds, my daugh­ter Ava hated be­ing buck­led into her car seat, and she’d arch her back to keep me from strap­ping her in. One day, I stopped try­ing to force her. I made her the “safety cap­tain” and said she was charge of en­sur­ing that ev­ery­one was belted in be­fore the car moved—in­clud­ing the grown-ups. Once it felt like a game, and she was the boss, she be­came ea­ger to co­op­er­ate. Talk about a game changer.

When you’re deal­ing with ob­sti­nate tod­dlers, preschool­ers re­fus­ing to get dressed, or kinder­gart­ners ne­go­ti­at­ing rules like an at­tor­ney, the lat­est re­search points to bet­ter op­tions than time-outs or sticker charts. Not only do they work, but you’ll feel good about us­ing them.

I spent the last six years im­mersed in th­ese new sci­en­tific find­ings and ob­serv­ing par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors who are putting them into prac­tice while I wrote my book, The Good News About Bad Be­hav­ior: Why Kids Are Less Dis­ci­plined Than Ever—and What to Do About It. Rather than pun­ish­ing our chil­dren or re­ward­ing them for the be­hav­ior we want, we need to help them de­velop self-con­trol, which ex­perts say is a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge for this gen­er­a­tion. To­day, a star­tling one in two kids will de­velop a mood or be­hav­ior dis­or­der or sub­stance ad­dic­tion by age 18, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health. And ex­perts see a link.

Our over­sched­uled kids, whose lim­ited spare time is typ­i­cally spent with a screen, aren’t learn­ing how to man­age their im­pulses in the nor­mal course of

grow­ing up, ex­plains Peter Gray, PH.D., a psy­chol­ogy re­search pro­fes­sor at Bos­ton Col­lege and au­thor of Free to Learn. “They’re more or less con­stantly di­rected, su­per­vised, and pro­tected by adults.” Re­search has found, for ex­am­ple, that kids who have more unstructured play­time also have bet­ter ex­ec­u­tive func­tion­ing— the abil­ity to con­trol one’s thoughts and be­hav­ior to reach a goal. Un­like soc­cer prac­tice, kid-di­rected play forces friends to work out prob­lems and han­dle their emo­tions in or­der to stay in the game. Th­ese are cru­cial skills for suc­cess in school and life, but it’s hard for kids to de­velop them when there’s al­ways an adult watch­ing, ready to in­ter­vene.

That’s why we need to shift our ap­proach to dis­ci­pline. For decades, psy­chol­o­gists have touted au­thor­i­ta­tive par­ent­ing as the gold stan­dard: Be­ing firm but fair, and choos­ing ap­pro­pri­ate con­se­quences for mis­be­hav­ior. With our stress­ful, busy lives, though, we have to be more creative and em­pa­thetic to help kids be­come re­spon­si­ble, ca­pa­ble adults. Your role should be more like a coach and a men­tor, not a pow­er­ful dis­penser of jus­tice—be­cause ul­ti­mately, the pur­pose of dis­ci­pline is to teach kids to have self-dis­ci­pline. Th­ese five tech­niques have been proven to work won­ders.

First, do no harm.

When your kids are freak­ing out or re­fus­ing to co­op­er­ate, it’s easy to get frus­trated, but that usu­ally makes the sit­u­a­tion worse. When you get worked up, so do they. Fo­cus on stay­ing calm. Stud­ies have shown how our emo­tional and phys­i­o­log­i­cal state in­flu­ences our chil­dren’s. “We have this in­vis­i­ble elas­tic be­tween us,” ex­plains Nim Tot­ten­ham, PH.D., as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Columbia Uni­ver­sity. Re­searchers have found that moth­ers and fa­thers im­pact ev­ery­thing from their chil­dren’s heart rate and fear­ful­ness to test scores, sim­ply by be­ing in the same room.

Ray Do­gan, of Col­lege Park, Mary­land, dis­cov­ered the power of this con­nec­tion when her 2-year-old daugh­ter, Emma, had a tantrum while they were stuck in traf­fic with dis­ap­prov­ing rel­a­tives. No dis­trac­tion worked: toys, count­ing red cars, or sing­ing ex­cit­edly. By fran­ti­cally try­ing one thing af­ter an­other, Do­gan made Emma even more ag­i­tated. But when Do­gan fi­nally set­tled her­self down and ad­mit­ted she felt like scream­ing, as well, Emma’s be­hav­ior sud­denly changed. “It was like magic,” Do­gan says. “I started talk­ing to her like I was talk­ing to an adult, and I re­al­ized that if I can con­trol my own emo­tions, she’ll calm down too.”

This can be as sim­ple as tak­ing three deep breaths be­fore han­dling your tod­dler’s an­tics. With an older child, you can say, “I’m too up­set to ad­dress this right now. I’m go­ing to take a five-minute break to cool off.” That also gives your child an ex­am­ple of how to calm down.

Make it fun.

Kyle Ken­ney, of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., used to bark or­ders at his chil­dren, Elisa, 10, and Ma­teo, 7, to get ready for bed, per­haps be­cause of his back­ground in the mil­i­tary. That just revved them up or in­spired re­bel­lion. When he stum­bled upon the power of play, ev­ery­thing got eas­ier.

Now, the kids pre­tend to be robots. Ken­ney “pro­grams” them by typ­ing in­struc­tions on their back, such as “brush teeth” or “get in pa­ja­mas.” Then he sets their “mode,” which in­cludes op­tions like gig­gle, jump, fast, or slow. The chil­dren do ev­ery­thing while fol­low­ing the des­ig­nated mode. They love the game and zip through the evening rou­tine.

“When kids are play­ing, they’re de­vel­op­ing skills such as self-con­trol, lan­guage, prob­lem solv­ing, so­cial co­op­er­a­tion, and even ab­stract thought,” says Kathy Hirsh-pasek, PH.D., pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Tem­ple Uni­ver­sity and coau­thor of Be­com­ing Bril­liant. The

clas­sic game “Si­mon says,” for ex­am­ple, strength­ens im­pulse con­trol and lis­ten­ing. Bang­ing drums in a cir­cle teaches kids to co­op­er­ate. Make-be­lieve lets you imag­ine some­one else’s per­spec­tive. Rus­sian sci­en­tists showed that chil­dren could stand per­fectly still three times as long when they were told to pre­tend they were on duty as a guard than when an adult in­structed them to stand still with­out any con­text.

The more chil­dren prac­tice con­trol­ling their be­hav­ior—even when it seems fun—the stronger those path­ways in their brains grow. That’s why any­time you use games or silli­ness to tackle a dis­ci­pline prob­lem, ev­ery­one wins. You’re not just be­ing a softie. When you want to get out the door quickly in the morn­ing, you could play­act that you can’t carry your “heavy” purse and ask your preschooler to help. Or pre­tend with your school-age chil­dren that your din­ing room is a fancy restau­rant and they are well-trained wait­ers or el­e­gant pa­trons who have the most ex­quis­ite man­ners at break­fast.

Use your ears, hands, and words.

We’re bet­ter able to han­dle strong emo­tions when we feel un­der­stood, and a lov­ing touch can help. In one clas­sic study at the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin-madi­son in which women thought they might get an elec­tric shock, those who held their spouse’s hand showed less fight-or­flight brain ac­tiv­ity than those who were alone or hold­ing a stranger’s hand. Greg Siegle, PH.D., as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try at the Uni­ver­sity of Pitts­burgh School of Medicine, built on this re­search by show­ing that the brain of a child with anx­i­ety looks typ­i­cal when his mother is in the room.

Chil­dren learn about feel­ings from their par­ents be­gin­ning in in­fancy, and tod­dlers turn to their par­ents for cues about whether a new sit­u­a­tion or ob­ject is safe. When they fall down, they look to you to gauge your re­ac­tion. Should they be up­set? Or is this a nor­mal part of learn­ing to walk? If you give them an en­cour­ag­ing word or smile, they re­turn to what they were do­ing. If you rush over and look wor­ried, they’ll be fright­ened.

Re­searchers be­lieve this is a rea­son that anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, and mood dis­or­ders are so of­ten passed down from par­ent to child—not just ge­net­i­cally. When a par­ent can’t ef­fec­tively reg­u­late her own emo­tions or her sense of fear, her chil­dren find it harder to do so.

Tara Swords, of Chicago, took this knowl­edge to heart when her daugh­ter Sasha, 7, had a melt­down af­ter a hard day at school. Sasha had been dis­rupt­ing her lit­tle sis­ter’s bed­time and threw her­self onto her own bed in tears. But when Swords started rub­bing Sasha’s back, the girl just melted. She put her head onto her mom’s lap and they dis­cussed the tough day. “The thing that helped me the most to change the way I par­ent was un­der­stand­ing that kids are not giv­ing you a hard time; they’re hav­ing a hard time,” Swords says. “I re­al­ized Sasha was feel­ing mis­un­der­stood and hold­ing in a lot of frus­tra­tion. I let her know that I un­der­stood and that she wouldn’t have to work through her feel­ings on her own.” Even­tu­ally, she’ll be able to calm her­self with­out hav­ing her mom there, which is a skill that im­proves life in ev­ery con­ceiv­able sit­u­a­tion.

Of­fer choices your child ac­tu­ally wants.

You’ve cer­tainly heard the ad­vice to give kids choices. Ham sand­wich or peanut but­ter? Shower or bath? Whether we are 6 or 60, hav­ing au­ton­omy can help us thrive. In psy­chol­ogy, what’s known as self-de­ter­mi­na­tion the­ory tells us that we’re mo­ti­vated by three things: con­trol over our en­vi­ron­ment, a sense of com­pe­tence, and con­nec­tion to a group big­ger than our­selves. When chil­dren feel like they have all three, they’re much more likely to co­op­er­ate in the fam­ily rou­tine in­stead of push­ing lim­its.

When kids are young, they’re typ­i­cally con­tent to choose be­tween the op­tions you give them. Be­fore you know it, they want to in­tro­duce their own ideas. Ge­or­gia Lieber, of Madi­son, Wis­con­sin, dis­cov­ered that with her son Theo. “I’d al­ways given him a choice be­tween some­thing I wanted him to do and some­thing I knew he didn’t want to do—so I’d al­ways get my way,” Lieber re­calls. “But af­ter he turned 4, he started get­ting re­ally frus­trated be­cause he wanted more in­de­pen­dence.” Now Lieber takes ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to em­power Theo by giv­ing him choices he’ll like, such as which out­fit to wear—even if he picks mis­matched clothes that risk ridicule at school.

Keep steer­ing the ship.

Al­though all th­ese tac­tics might sound like cater­ing to your chil­dren’s whims, they’re ac­tu­ally strate­gic par­ent­ing. Be­ing em­pa­thetic doesn’t mean that you’re let­ting your kids off the hook sim­ply be­cause you un­der­stand why they mis­be­haved. In fact, you don’t have to give up on the idea that fac­ing con­se­quences for un­wanted be­hav­ior helps kids learn to im­prove their ways—but Mother Na­ture is the best teacher, says par­ent­ing ed­u­ca­tor Vicki Hoe­fle, au­thor of Duct Tape Par­ent­ing. “When our chil­dren get to ex­pe­ri­ence the nat­u­ral out­comes of their choices, they’re not dis­tracted by be­ing an­gry with a par­ent who’s try­ing to pun­ish them. They’re much more in­clined to learn from the ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause they don’t feel bad.”

We do laun­dry on the week­ends in my house, and I’ll never for­get when my 10-year-old re­fused to gather her dirty clothes and put them in the ma­chine. I said noth­ing, but sure enough, she came to me in de­spair on Mon­day morn­ing be­cause her fa­vorite turquoise hoodie wasn’t clean. I em­pathized, but I let her deal with the dis­com­fort of wear­ing a too-small sweat­shirt with a dreaded zip­per in the front. From then on, she sorted and washed her own clothes with­out need­ing to be re­minded—and even kept them off her bed­room f loor.

RE­MEM­BER: YOUR CHIL­DREN ARE NOT GIV­ING YOU A HARD TIME; THEY’RE HAV­ING A HARD TIME.

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