Following is the master plan to helping your child resist negative thinking that Dr. Tamar Chansky presents in her book “Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking.” However, her strategies are just as effective for adults.
Used by permission of Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
Step One: Empathize with Your Children’s (or your own) Experience
As much as the end result of the master plan is to help your child embrace a different point of view on his situation, your first goal is not to lose your audience by coming on too strong with the agenda of change. Instead, start from where he is: Wheat emotion is he expression? Reflect that with your words or a hug, a gesture. Squatting may be all it takes. Thoroughly accepting how he feels doesn’t mean that you agree with him or see the situation the same way, but it does release him from having to show you how bad he feels. So when your child says, “I feel like I’m in jail,” resist the urge to say in so many words, “Are you crazy?” Don’t try to steer him off his course. Go in the direction of his swerve, and you will be able to direct him back to himself. The key is to normalize his experience without minimizing it. If you’re too cheerful, he has no choice but to be grumpy to get his point across. As the popular bumper sticker says, “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.” Introduce the idea of choice: “Your thoughts are making you feel really bad. I wonder if there is something different we could do.” You don’t want to oppressively correct your child or go in with the right answer. Your child will feel bad for feeling the wrong answer so deeply.
Step Two: Relabel
If only our automatic negative thoughts came with a disclaimer–”The message you are about to hear is notoriously unreliable, distorted, and out of proportion”–what anguish we could prevent. Instead of being led down a thorny patch lined with terrible impossibilities, accusations, and more, we might steel ourselves, get some distance, or get ready to take our thoughts with a grain of salt. Relabeling is about noticing the familiar “ring” to children’s thoughts and distress: the everything, always ring tone, or the ding-dong of doom and gloom. Children can learn to recognize it immediately, and just as we prepare ourselves when we look at our phone’s caller ID, when children know that it is Mr. Negative calling, or you suggest it to them, they know where that conversation is going, and they can come into the conversation prepared rather than being taken off guard. Interestingly, even thought hearing a litany of negative thoughts could make anyone feel bad, over time, when we hear that same old story, like a broken recover, and can predict, “Yep, I knew my negative thinking was going to jump to that conclusion,” we can decide not to listen, and that decision leaves us free to choose other interpretations.
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We all know this: what works for one family doesn’t work for another. Such is the case with motivation systems, star charts, and other ways of tracking and rewarding chores.
Kelly Wickham (Mocha Momma) shared her friend’s gorgeous system that solves three problems at the same time.
Be sure to read Kelly’s post detailing this system and why it’s working — there’s much more to this story.
Read the full post at Mocha Momma: Motivating Children to Do Chores
As the movement against excessive homework continues to grow, some parents say they’re drawing a line in the sand between home and school. Schools, in turn, are starting to rethink the role of homework and how it should be assigned.
If homework serves simply as busy work — proof that kids are “learning,” then that time is wasted, some say. Parents are sensitive to pressures on their children and want them to have down time when they get home from seven hours in school. If the work isn’t stimulating, then why do it?
“I just think that schools need to be a little more thoughtful about their policies for homework and work with the teachers to make sure that whatever homework that they do assign are rich, valuable experiences for the kids, and will actually be corrected,” said Jolene Ivey, mother of five boys in a discussion on NPR’s Tell Me More.
“The teachers have my kids for seven hours a day and when my kids get home I like for them to be able to do something else.”
“We’re teaching to the test, so a lot of the instruction that should be going on in the school environment is not there,” said Stephen Jones, an educator and a father. “Giving homework gives them an additional opportunity to give them work.” He doesn’t necessarily think that’s the worst thing, but he said homework should allow different learning styles to flourish so that it’s both more motivating and more fun for kids when they are at home.
Proponents of homework say that the ability to buckle down and focus on homework after a long day is a key skill that young people will need in college and beyond. If high schools don’t assign enough homework, graduates will be unprepared when they confront heavy work loads in college.
But Kenneth Goldberg, psychologist and author of “The Homework Trap,” argues that success in college is due more to self-confidence. He argues that homework highlights “under the radar” learning disabilities in children that make it much harder for some to finish work at home. One of his children struggles with homework on a nightly basis, leading Goldberg to conclude that homework batters the struggling child with negativity, challenging his self-confidence instead of nurturing it.
Goldberg has a few simple solutions to offer parents and teachers about how to avoid the homework trap and increase productivity. He promotes the idea of designating specific amounts of time to homework, regardless of whether the project gets done and then discussing a different set of expectations with the school.
He points them out in a Wall Street Journal article:
1. Time-bound homework. Just like school starts and stops by the clock, define homework as a fixed period of time. See what the child can do in a reasonable amount of time and work with that child on using the time well.
2. Reduced penalties. Zeros factored in 25 percent of the grade is too harsh of a penalty to alter behavior. Lesser consequences will prove more effective in both mobilizing the child and allowing the parent to approach the issue calmly.
3. Respect lines of authority. Teachers are in charge of their classrooms. Parents should tread lightly when it comes to telling them what to do. Parents are the people in charge of their homes; teachers should not tell parents how to organize their homes. Ultimately, when decisions are to be made about behaviors in the home (i.e. homework), the parent needs to be the one with the final say.
“Teachers should recognize that parents are the head of the home, teachers are the head of the classroom, and that homework is given with the permission of the parents,” Goldberg said.
For parents like Ivey, who want their kids to succeed in school, the homework conundrum has become inescapable.
“Homework is such a miserable experience in my life,” Ivey said. “The teachers have my kids for seven hours a day and when my kids get home I like for them to be able to do something else.”
How much homework does your child have and how do you get them motivated to get it all done?
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What are your family’s sleep requirements?
Even the experts don’t know for sure.
The most surprising thing about sleep requirements is how little we know about them (Hunt 2003).
The official-looking charts we see published everywhere—-the ones telling us that adults need 7 hours of sleep, or that grade schoolers need 10 hours of sleep—-are based on how much time the average individual spends in bed.
The charts don’t tell us how much of this time is actually spent sleeping.
They don’t tell us how much variation there is between individuals.
And, because the averages are based on specific populations—-typically, middle-class European or American populations (e.g., Iglowstein et al 2003; Armstrong et al 1994; Roffwarg et al 1966)—-the sleep charts don’t tell us how sleep time varies across cultures.
Nor do sleep charts tell us how sleep has changed across historical periods.
Most importantly, the charts can’t tell us what your specific sleep requirements are.
Knowing how much time people spend in bed is somewhat helpful, but it doesn’t tell us if these people are getting the right amount of sleep.
As the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research has noted, we need new, large-scale, controlled studies that measure both sleep and biological outcomes (Hunt 2003). Unfortunately, such studies are uncommon.
Notable exceptions are recent studies focusing on behavior problems and obesity.
For example, a study of 297 Finnish families with children aged 5-6 years, researchers found that kids who slept less than 9 hours each day had 3-5 times the odds of developing attention problems, behavior problems, and other psychiatric symptoms (Paavonen et al 2009).
Another recent study tracked the development of obesity in young children.
In that study, researchers recorded the body weights and sleep habits of kids under five years of age. Then, five years later, they measured the kids again.
The study revealed a link between sleep loss and obesity. Kids who’d gotten less than 10 hours of nighttime sleep at the beginning of the study were twice as likely to become overweight or obese later on (Bell and Zimmerman 2010).
Moreover, researchers found that the timing of sleep mattered. When it came to reducing the risk of obesity, daytime naps didn’t help. For young children, the crucial factor was getting more than 10 hours of sleep at night.
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Holidays are by their nature, challenging for divorced and separated parents. The family-focused activities present dilemmas: Which parent will host which activity; which parent will chaperone which event; which parent will have Santa visit? This month can end up feeling anything but festive.
“You couldn’t agree on things when you were married. Now you’ve got to agree to them when you are divorced,” said Edward Farber, a clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor at George Washington University School of Medicine.
Farber has been practicing for more than 30 years and his new book, “Raising the Kid You Love with the Ex You Hate,” (Greenleaf) is poised to be published next month. He said the key for ex-couples navigating the treacherous holidays is to keep focus not on each other, but on the child.
“Divorced parents sometimes think that having their child with them over the holidays is winning. The holidays are for the child, not for scoring points on your ex. Be flexible and responsive to the needs of your child.
“The holiday schedule your child needed when you separated may not be the same holiday schedule that works for her five years later when she is 13.”
In an interview this week, Farber went on to explain in more depth how divorced or separated parents might follow that advice. He also discussed what we have learned culturally about kids and divorce in the years he’s been in practice.
Excerpts of our interview are below:
BETHESDA, Md. - 2011: Marsha Lopez, who is Jewish, is divorced from her Catholic husband but the two agreed to make the holidays an interfaith experience with Jewish ornaments on the Christmas tree, for example, so their two children would be comfortable with both religions (Dayna Smith - For the Washington Post)
JD: What are some of the biggest traps divorced and separated parents can fall into during the holidays and how can they be avoided?
EF: Frankly, it’s just hard for your child not to see both of his parents to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanza. Spending Christmas with dad because your agreement says that’s what supposed to happen in even numbered years may work for the parents, but it can ignore the needs of your child.
Not seeing a parent at all over the holidays because of an agreement just leaves the child feeling empty and hollow. A pre-scheduled call to mom on the holidays and getting her boatload of presents is great, but spending the holiday away from mom entirely because it’s dad’s year to have the child simply underscores the split in the family.
If both parents are in town, let your child spend some holiday time with each parent. Develop new traditions. Christmas gifts can be opened in the morning in one house and late Christmas day in the other. Hanukkah candles can be lit right after school in one house and before bedtime in the other. Be flexible when it comes to family gatherings. Often when dealing with your ex around the holidays, what goes around one year comes around the next.
JD: What about faith — if the parents are of different faiths, how can conflict be avoided?
EF: Co-parenting means you are not always going to get what you want. But you need to remember this isn’t about you, it’s about your child. You no longer control the values and religious upbringing of your child all of the time. You share this control with your ex, someone you once loved, but now do not.
Create for your child as stable, harmonious and conflict free world as you can. If you practiced two faiths previously, allow that to continue. You have to respect the parenting decisions and values of your ex, even if that includes a religious belief different than yours. The differences in religious beliefs and practices will not create behavioral and emotional difficulties in your child, but conflicts between parents over those differences will cause distress. Tell your child, “Many people practice different religions. Your dad grew up celebrating Hanukkah. Your mom grew up celebrating Christmas. Both are important and all of your family want you to enjoy and celebrate the meaning and traditions of both holidays.”
The bottom line is that when adults fight — whether about Christmas or Kwanza or about organic or non-organic — and when they cannot together set consistent expectations that allow meaningful relationships with both parents, the child suffers.
JD: You have been in practice for more than 30 years. How do you think parents have gotten better at co-parenting? Are there areas where they’ve, in general, gotten worse?
EF: Real co-parenting as the cultural norm is a relatively new practice. Thirty years ago, children generally stayed with their moms and saw their dads on some weekends. Moms did most of the heavy lifting of child rearing and dads were often “Disney Dads” involved in mostly the fun and games activities. Moms made decisions about education, religion, extracurricular activities and social and moral development with dads having input on financial matters or major health issues. Dads often didn’t want or have the day-to-day responsibilities and decision-making roles, especially with young children.
Well, all that has changed. Joint legal custody — where both parents have to agree on major decisions in the child’s life, is the norm. Some forms of joint legal custody — where the child spends significant time living with each parent, are also far more common. But with more joint legal and physical custodial relationships can come more problems.
JD: If a divorced or separated parent were to take away one message from your book, what would you hope it would be?
EF: Co-parenting can promote positive growth and development in your child, even if co-parenting with an ex you hate. After divorce your child needs a meaningful relationship with both parents. She needs to see you and your ex parenting without conflict and together making important decisions in her life. You can effectively parent the child you love with an ex you hate.
Are you coordinating the holidays with an ex this year? What are your strategies?
Can parenting be detrimental to our well-being? According to a new study, the answer is: It depends. Over the years, many studies have evaluated the relationship between parenting and mental health. Admittedly, this topic is complex and the findings have been mixed. Some researchers report that raising children contributes to our happiness and well-being. Others suggest the opposite may be true. A recent study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies suggests that it’s not whether we’re parents - but how we parent - that may be an important factor to consider. According to researchers at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, women who engage in “intensive parenting” are likely to experience negative mental health outcomes like stress and depression. The authors focused on women because they tend to be much more likely to engage in this type of parenting style.
So, what is intensive parenting?
In a nutshell, it’s an underlying belief held by parents (typically moms) that parents should always sacrifice their needs for the needs of their children. These parents also tend to seek their own happiness primarily through their kids. And they always strive to offer stimulating activities to their children without giving kids much down-time or opportunities to entertain themselves. What’s more, these parents often view themselves as more capable than their partners and, as a result, tend to take on too many parenting tasks throughout the day. This may ultimately lead to burnout and resentment.
In an online questionnaire of 181 mothers of young children, the authors of this study found that mothers who believed that the woman is the essential parent were less satisfied with their lives. In addition, women who believed that parenting is especially challenging were more stressed and depressed. Approximately 23 percent of this sample had symptoms of depression – a number much higher than the estimated rate of depression among adults in the United States (around 10 percent).
If parenting with this level of intensity can lead to such negative feelings, why are plenty of moms engaging in it? The answer is complex. Most likely, women believe that putting their own needs and well-being aside will make them better mothers and, ultimately, benefit their children. Of course, the irony is that this type of parenting may contribute to more negative outcomes for all involved.
Certainly, children are more likely to thrive when their parents are happy and emotionally healthy. And parents are more likely to enjoy the parenting journey when they strike a balance that involves caring for their children and caring for themselves.
In two parent homes, experts suggest that sharing the parenting responsibilities can enhance each parent’s well-being and feelings of competence. Also, it can be helpful to seek childcare help from trusted family members and friends. Even small breaks like taking a walk, going out for a cup of coffee, or reading a magazine can go a long way in helping parents recharge and feel less stressed.
So how do you find a healthy balance so you can care for your children and yourself? Or is this a difficult challenge?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
The Cure for Whining
Should they get what they want by whining? Absolutely not. Should they learn that they can get their way by marshaling good arguments and making them in a reasonable, humorous, charming way that meets your needs as well as theirs? Absolutely, if you want them to get anywhere in life. But how to help them make that transition?
Whining is common with toddlers and preschoolers. Parents are usually advised to tell their kids to ask in a nice voice, because they can’t hear the whiny voice. But whining is a symptom of a deeper issue. So if you want to eliminate whining, you have to address what’s underneath. If your child’s whining is driving you crazy, here are six parent-proven secrets to stop your child from whining. Which secret you use depends on why he’s whining.
1. Whining because he doesn’t have the internal resources to cope with what’s being asked of him:
When humans feel overwhelmed, they get whiny. (As a toddler, he would have thrown himself howling to the ground, but by three or four he can often whine instead.) Meet his basic needs for food, rest, down time, run-around time, and connection with you, or you can count on whining. He may not tantrum as much as he used to, but he will certainly whine if you force him to endure that shopping trip while he’s hungry and tired. Why create a negative situation from which he’ll learn and repeat?
2. Whining because she needs more connection:
Be pre-emptive. Make sure that your child gets enough of your positive attention, unprovoked. Pre-empt whining by giving attention BEFORE she gets demanding. Anyone who’s had to ask a romantic partner “Do you love me?” knows that attention given after you ask can never really fill the need. The secret is to take the initiative and give attention the child hasn’t asked for, often, so she feels your support and connection. And of course it’s particularly important to give attention when she shows the first sign of needing your emotional support, before that quick downhill slide. (No, you’re not rewarding “bad” behavior by giving her attention when she’s whining. If she were whining from hunger, would you think you were rewarding that by feeding her? It’s our job to meet kids’ needs so they have the internal resources to cope. That includes giving them our loving presence so they feel safe and loved.)
3. Whining because she doesn’t like what’s happening but feels powerless to get her way:
Lawrence Cohen says, “When children whine they are feeling powerless. If we scold them for whining or refuse to listen to them we increase their feelings of powerlessness. If we give in so they will stop whining, we reward that powerlessness. But if we relaxedly, playfully, invite them to use a strong voice, we increase their sense of confidence and competence. And we find a bridge back to close connection.”
Start by letting her know that you hear what she wants, and you see her point of view: “You really want to go to the playground, and you keep telling me that, and here I keep stopping at all these stores that you aren’t expecting, and you’re disappointed, right?” Sometimes just feeling heard is enough to stop whining in its tracks.
Then, if she keeps whining, you can say playfully “You don’t sound like yourself. I wonder where your usual strong voice went?”
Express confidence that your child can use her “strong” voice and offer your assistance to help her find it, by making it into a game: “Hey, where did your strong voice go? It was here a minute ago. I LOVE your strong voice! I’ll help you find it. Help me look. Is it under the chair? No…In the toy box? No…. HEY! You found it!! That was your strong voice!! Yay! I love your strong voice! Now, tell me again what you need, in your strong voice.”
Finally, give her alternate tools by teaching her how to ask appropriately for something and negotiate with you. Since whining is so often a function of powerlessness, helping your child to feel that she can get what she wants through reasonable measures will carry over into the rest of her life.
In other words, you don’t want her to learn that she gets her way in life by whining or tantrumming, but you do want her to learn that she can get what she wants through managing her emotions, seeing things from the other person’s point of view and setting up win/win situations. (And of course, that’s what you always try to model.)
So if you simply don’t have time to go to the playground today, then don’t. Be empathic about his desire, and nurture him through the meltdown, as described in #4 below. But if your objection is to his whining, rather than his request, and he manages to pull himself together and ask in a reasonable way for what he wants, then you’ll be able to engage in the kind of conflict resolution that finds a win/win solution.
“Ok, you want to go to the playground, and I need to stop at the hardware store. Let’s do this: If we’re really quick at the hardware store, we’ll have time to stop at the playground on the way home. Think you can help me be quick? And if you are really fast about getting in and out of your car seat, we can stay even longer at the playground.”
Are you “rewarding” whining? No, you’re empowering him by demonstrating that finding solutions that work for both of you is the way to get what he wants in life.
4. Whining because he needs to cry:
He has a lot of pent-up emotions about things that are stressing him — the new babysitter you left him with on Friday night, that kid who grabbed the truck away in the sandbox, potty training, the new baby — there’s no end of stressful developmental challenges! Toddlers let off stress by simply having a meltdown, but as they get older they gain more self-control, and begin to whine instead. Be kind in response to his whining until you get home and have a few minutes to spend with him. Then draw him onto your lap, look him in the eye and say “I notice you were feeling so whiny and sad, Sweetie. Do you just need to cuddle and maybe cry a bit? Everybody needs to cry sometimes. I’m right here to hold you.”
5. Whining because it works:
Don’t reward whining. Don’t give in and buy the candy. But there is never a reason to be less than kind about it. Responding to his desire with empathy (“You wish you could have that candy”) helps him feel less alone with his disappointment. And there’s nothing wrong with finding something else that will make him happy, like a shiny red apple or a trip to the playground. That teaches him to look for win/win solutions. If, by contrast, he feels like he only gets what he wants by whining, he’ll become an expert whiner.
6. Whining because you’ll do anything to stop it:
Change your attitude. Why do parents hate whining so much? Because whining is your little one’s more mature form of crying. She’s letting you know she needs your attention. And human grownups are programmed to react to whining as much as to crying, so the needs of tiny humans get met. So the minute you hear that whine, you react with anxiety. You’ll do anything to stop it.
But if you can take a deep breath and remind yourself that there’s no crisis, you’ll feel a lot better, and you’ll parent better. Don’t let your automatic crisis mode of fight or flight kick in. Don’t feel like you have to do anything at all except love your child. Just smile at your child and give her a big hug. Most of the time, the whining will stop.
Have you ever had one of those moments when something comes out of your mouth that doesn’t sound anything like you? You snap at your partner or scold your child, using words you never use or threats you’d never see through. Afterwards, you stand there stumped for a few seconds wondering, “Where did that come from?” Then, it hits you — you sound just like your mother or father.
For better or worse, many of our parents’ traits live on in us. This can be a good thing; positive identifications with qualities we liked in our parents help us to take on characteristics we respect and admire. Unfortunately, on the flip side, negative traits in our parents, especially those that caused us misery, fear and frustration, can also linger in our psyche and impact our behavior. This is especially the case in present moments of stress in our life today that somehow remind us of our past and manage to set off old triggers in us.
As you may imagine, scenarios that are reminiscent of our childhood are increasingly likely to arise when we ourselves become parents. We may not really remember how our dad used to snap on long car trips until our own kids start bickering in the backseat. We may not recall our mom teasing us when we whined cried until we find ourselves making a sarcastic comment to our own child when he or she gets fussy.
The good news is, by noticing these traits inside ourselves, by identifying where they come from, and by altering our behavior to match our own standards and principles, we can differentiate from negative programming from our past. We can become more and more like the parent we want to be, not necessarily the one we were raised by.
There are several important steps in the process of differentiation. First, you have to become observers of your own reactions. You should try to notice interactions between you and your children that seem out of character or don’t represent a way you want to be. Do certain behaviors or situations trigger you? For example, does helping your daughter with homework spark an unusual amount of frustration or impatience? Do your son’s tantrums make you lose your temper? Think of the scenes and scenarios that lead to negative interactions between you and your child. Is there a pattern?
The second step to this process involves asking yourself the question, “Could I be projecting characteristics or dynamics from my own childhood, reliving or reenacting aspects of my own childhood with my kids?” To figure this out means becoming aware of how you yourself were parented. Were your parents impatient with you when it came to helping you with school work? Were they overly pressuring, complacent or unsupportive? Did your parents ever “lose it” with you when you were having an emotional meltdown?
As you start to piece together memories, you might start begin to see the value of making a coherent narrative about your past. Telling your story, even to yourself, can help you to understand your actions in the present and consciously decide how to move into your future.
Reflecting on and putting together your story can be painful. Sad memories are sure to arise. The realization that your parents were human, and therefore, imperfect, can be tough to accept. We have a natural tendency to want to protect our parents. We even unconsciously identify with their critical attitudes toward us and often take on their disparaging points of view as our own. This internalized parent is what we refer to as one’s “critical inner voice.” It can feel threatening to separate from the people who we once relied on for care and safety. Yet, by having compassion for our child selves, we can extend this feeling to our children. We can differentiate from our parents’ less desirable attitudes and traits, while maintaining qualities that we admired in them.
Once we make the connection between past events and our present behavior, and once we have feeling for ourselves and the struggles we endured, we become much stronger in our effort to challenge the negative traits we have as parents. We can question critical or indulgent attitudes and behaviors toward our children that don’t seem to fit the situation. We can recognize that, just as we are not our parents, our children are not our child selves. Thus, we can become more attuned to what’s really going on in our kids. We can start to separate from the parents we don’t want to be and become the people we’d like our kids to one day imitate.
To read more from Dr. Lisa Firestone, visit PsychAlive.org