Jennifer refuses to take the stage with her classmates in Chula Vista for Kindergarten graduation. She clings to her parents. Jennifer’s mother planned a big family party. Alice is so angry she sends Jennifer to her room as soon as they get home.
“My hands were tied at that moment, that’s all I could think to do,” says Alice.
Jennifer’s father Albert says, “It was frustrating. It would turn a simple situation into a circus.”
Sally, 13, leaves the house late at night. Her parents, Gary and Deidre, of Clairemont, are afraid. Sally is failing some classes. Her I-Pod and laptop are broken in a tussle with Gary.
“It was very negative. We didn’t have much fun together. I think every day was stressful,” says Deidre.
It is easy to call it a “stage”, until it becomes disruptive or unsafe. These parents began answering four questions.
WHAT DOES THE BEHAVIOR SAY?
Sometimes parents have to be detectives with their children.
“We noticed there was a fear inside of her for new things and for being away from her parents,” says Albert.
Sending Jennifer to her room alone made it worse.
“I realized she was born with these issues,” says Alice, “And that helped me understand her better, putting myself in her shoes.”
Sally’s parents could not set limits and defined her as the problem.
Gary says, “We weren’t able to correct behavior and what we needed to have happen was lost in this big emotional mess.”
WHAT DOES THE BEHAVIOR MEAN TO ME?
Parents check in with themselves. Alice is able to see the graduation as her own agenda.
“We had expectations for our other children, and we needed to learn to treat her as an individual,” says Albert of Jennifer.
Gary was left to raise himself and fears his home falling apart.
“I felt like we were losing control. We had this girl with lots of potential, and we were spirally, pretty scary actually.”
WHAT ARE MY EXPECATIONS?
Parents have a lot of expectations. For their children. In their heads. They come out as commands, sometimes in anger, most times in constant reminders that teach children not to listen.
“We had them but we didn’t spell them out, and especially having family meetings. And having consequences that match, that are relevant, that teach and don’t go overboard,” says Deidre.
Greg and Deidre learned their teenager needed to have a say, to be heard.
Jennifer needed a few minutes with Alice after school, then she could move on to her list of chores.
“I’ve been trying to avoid saying no, I’ve been trying to say yes, but not now,” says Alice.
WHAT IS MY ULTIMATE GOAL?
Parents say, “Just once, let the thing I’m asking be done without debate.” Yes, we take parenting a day at a time, but it also helps to take the long view. Children do a lot of silly messy unacceptable things. They need to make mistakes to learn.
They need parents who are in control… of themselves. When you “lose it” with your kid, you’ve lost your power.
“The biggest thing for me was dropping the rope and not extending the argument beyond her understanding and my ability,” says Gary.
“We also learned that we didn’t have to consequence right then. We could come back when everyone was calm and logical,” says Deidre.
Alice and Albert want a confident daughter. Baby steps. Jennifer no longer hides at the pizza place.
“My mother took the girls to Chuck E. Cheese and she’s hugging Chuck E. and she’s not afraid of him and she’s smiling and having fun. She was able to stand up in front of the whole class and sing and dance,” says Albert, and play soccer, too, after a kiss from Mom.
Fix your mistakes in front of your child. Focusing on relationship before behavior lays a foundation for the future.
You Can’t Fly a Kite Without a String
The string between parent and child is the relationship. Parents make this connection through their commitment and daily care. A parent lets out more string to allow for growth, pulls back to protect from danger. Like the roots of a plant, it takes nurturing to grow. It takes play.
· Make silly faces with young children. Plan a coffee date or workout with an older child.
· Patty cake and massage for young children. A back rub or manicure for an older child.
· Read to young children. Tell old family stories or childhood memories to an older child.
· Play a board game without rules with a young child. Do crafts or cook with an older child.
For best results, focus on eye contact, touch, being with, not teaching. Minutes matter. And, it’s free.
Facilitating Developmental Attachment
Daniel A. Hughes, Ph.D., 2004, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Parenting from the Inside Out
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Mary Hartzell, M.Ed., 2004, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penquin
The Five Love Languages of Children
Gary Chapman, Ph.D. and Ross Campbell, M.D., 2005, Northfield Publishing