Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Have You Hugged A Kid Today?

Have You Hugged A Kid Today?

Is this truly a problem with gun control or is this more an issue of how we are raising our kids today? We have a generation of hurting teenagers that are trying to get our attention. Are we listening yet? If you are focusing on gun control I might guess you are still missing the point. We have a generation killing themselves and others- why?
Let’s look to the beginning of their young lives, 15 to 20 years ago.  They were the very beginning of the attachment parenting trend in the early 2000’s so they probably got a lot of early contact.  But they were also born into a time when electronic access was a top money maker for corporate America and plenty of marketing was focused on the purchasing habits of this generations parents.  The adults bought in and found the pay off was quiet busy kids, so they could do what they wanted without much guilt.  We go from human contact during infancy, to introduction of electronics at toddlers and preschool, which decreased the human interactions. Human interactions help create self-regulatory capacities - self control among other things. When the smart phone was introduced in 2005,  this generation often received phones from their parents in elementary school or middle school- and they continued their electronic connection. With the development of the adolescent brain the natural weaknesses in the brain stem and limbic system cause emotional over reaction to perceived rejection.  And electronic media became an anonymous platform to cruelty, a means to guarantee they were not the weakest link by creating and focusing on other weaker links.  So we have a generation that is more connected to their electronics than to others, their parents and other safe adults, and don’t have the neurological capacity to realize what they are doing to others or believing about themselves.  All they are really focusing on is what others think of them, what others are saying about them, and how they can change it. And we wonder why we have a problem. 
So we have kids that are physically isolated, with low self regulatory skills, who are perseverated on social image.  Plus they are disconnected from healthy adult and other connection.  Think of the Russian orphanages of the past, infants left in cribs untouched.  What has been the outcome for many of those children? Deep psychological disturbances. Think of nursing care facilities that lack enough man power, what is the outcome of the patients? Physical deterioration. Humans need humans- physically.
I saw an interview by a local news show hosted by Kyle Clark.  He did an interview with a man that was reflecting on his difficult adolescence and his bottom line statement that I came away with was: We Need To Love. So I repeat myself: Have you hugged A kid today? It may be that simple.
Please spread the idea, social media is this generations connection.  If we start hugging them, and they start hugging others, maybe that lonely hurting child that has harmful plans will see they have value and this is just a small period of their life.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Identifiying Your Child's Commodity

Today’s topic was inspired by a father at a recent lecture that asked me: How do I determine what my SWC’s commodity is? Hmm, I have never really thought about the steps necessary to determine a child’s commodity - I just do the brainstorming in my office when it comes up. My response was: “You could ask them what the worst discipline possible is.” (I admit it was a lame response, which indicates I was caught off guard a bit.) Now when I asked my SWC that question he answered “Do you promise not to use it on me in the future?” Typical SWC, they are intrigued by the desire to help, but suspicious – highly suspicious. So here follows a rough outline of the steps to find out what your child’s commodity is.

First a refresher on what a commodity is to start with. According to Webster a commodity is: something that is useful or can be turned to commercial or other advantage; an article of trade or commerce; a quantity of goods. It is that motivator above all other motivators, it is a desired item that has value to your child, and it is the management of this item that will prove to your SWC that you are the parent.

1) Identify what your child’s favorite, or most begged for activity is. This does not include going to a movie and dinner, but rather something in the daily life that your child really enjoys doing. So watch your child’s day and notice what seem to be the most enjoyable activities/items in their day.

2) Identify how much time your child is currently allowed to enjoy the identified activity on a daily basis.

3) Negotiate with your child the amount of time to be allowed daily with the desired object. Then add or subtract time from the item depending on their behavior.

Example of the process:
Your child loves to play on the computer. You are electronically conservative family that believes 30 minutes a day on the computer is healthy; it doesn’t become an obsession or an avoidance of daily activity, but your child is always wanting more computer time (in fact they may even be sneaking it behind your back). This is a good commodity, an object that can be managed for our purposes. So you agree that your child might enjoy more computer time, but what are they willing to do to earn it? Maybe clean the bathroom (extra nasty if there are little males in the house); pick up animal messes in the yard; or fold the underwear on laundry day. (All these are particularly undesirable activities from the typical child’s perspective so good suggestions.) OR maybe they could argue less; say yes when asked to do an expected chore; get their homework done without reminding. Any of the suggested activities could earn them more computer time every day (best to work in increments of 5, or 10 minutes). If they choose to: be difficult and argue; not do their chores; fight with family members; refuse cooperation; or have an angry rage it will cost them computer time (again in the same 5 or 10 minute increments). Now a smart SWC will somehow figure out how to earn tons of time on the computer so you might have to put an upper limit on the commodity say up to 45-60 minutes extra allowed. And be sure that the commodity can be transferred from day to day, for example the commodity is TV time. They have earned an extra 30 minutes for good behavior and they are sitting down to watch their allotted/earned time. At the end of the hour we still have accomplish dinner, homework and getting to bed on time. If my SWC has already earned their reward they will probably not be too motivated to be cooperative on the rest of the night. So my commodity must be transferable to the next day. After they have received that day’s commodity any loss or earning of commodity must transfer to the next day, otherwise I have lost the power of the commodity.

The great thing about commodities is once you figure out how to use them, they really work and they are adjustable. You can negotiate with your child about amounts, items, and outcomes. This gives your SWC the added incentive of having input, and we all know how important that can be to kids.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Wonders of the Strong Willed Personality

I  have recently noticed an error in my SWC blog series, I have failed to cover the most important part of our SWC – their positive traits. So in an effort to correct my error, I dedicate today’s blog to THE WONDERS OF THE STRONG WILLED PERSONALITY.

1. They make INCREDIBLE adults (if they live that long). I am very familiar with this trait because: I married a SWC; raised a SWC; and am a SWC. And my strong willed males are absolutely amazing men! But my men had another important characteristic as children – they were both hyperactive children. Keep in mind hyperactivity as a child may be overwhelming but to utilize that energy as an adult is a blessing. (And all the following traits will also display why SWC make such great adults, so keep reading.)

2. They really can be very helpful. In the classroom I often found I was more successful if I asked my SW students to assist me in a task rather than to order them to complete it. They resist being ordered, directed, or otherwise cajoled, but they are willing to help out. Now you may say, “I ask my kid to vacuum all the time and they are not at least helpful about it. In fact they are darn well resistant.” But I would ask, how was the request made? Did it involve politeness? Did it seem as a truly heartfelt request, or an attempt to manipulate? Because SWC are so skillful in their verbal manipulation, they are quite attuned to it being used against them. To utilize this positive characteristic, we might have to modify our own parental behaviors a bit. “You are such a big kid; do you think you could help me for a second?” If you start with a compliment and make it sound like it won’t take too much effort you might be more successful. Or you could try adding “I would ask your sibling but I don’t know if they will do it as well as you.” Ok, I admit this is a really pretty shameless approach, but to engage their helpfulness as a parent is much more difficult than as their teacher.

3. They are usually some of the best behaved students in the classroom and the most popular with the teacher (thus my plea to be treated like their teacher). Because they tend to be very black and white in their perspective, they often over-generalize in certain areas. They frequently have an all or nothing look on behavioral evaluations. Unfortunately, this does not seem to apply at home, but definitely in the classroom. I have countless parents tell me that their child’s teacher says they are the best in class; that they never misbehave and are always so helpful. If they do get their name on the board it usually only happens once and they are very embarrassed about it. Now as the mother of a SWC, fighting with them 24/7, you debate internally over why this may be true. Why me? I don’t know. As much work and research I have done on the SWC, I have yet to figure out the magical steps to the perfect classroom child, so if you have the answer please write me and impart your knowledge. It would truly be appreciated.

4. They think outside the box. They are not tied down by cultural expectations. They are not limited by the constraints of average society. They have a creative approach to everyday living. Now this can be tiresome if you are the one constantly cleaning up after them. But if you just stand back and observe occasionally, you might enjoy their perspective on problem solving.

5. They don’t like to be singled out for bad behavior in a large group (thus spend time with them in larger groups - they have a better chance of survival). If they do make a poor choice around others, start your correction in private. Chances are if you correct them in front of others, they may devise a way to attain revenge and thus make your life a bit more uncomfortable, keeping you in the discipline mode longer than necessary.

6. They have singular focus (if they put their mind to it they will accomplish it, even if others think it is impossible). This can be a negative trait if the focus is negative like: How do I get my way? But it can be a positive trait if used for positive purposes like: I will be a famous actress or an honest politician. And the more impossible, the stronger the resolve to accomplish the goal. Because of this singular focus they become very good at putting off projects until the very last minute and then completing the project on time with flair. They will complete the project, attain a passing grade, and maybe even get some sleep that same night.

7. They can be very affectionate. They often are the child that MUST hug and kiss you good night. They might be more prone to sit next to you on the couch when watching a movie. They love to snuggle and talk at bedtime. Take advantage of this because it helps us overlook the constant conflict of the SW personality.

8. They are great fun one on one. It is immensely important to spend some one on one time with these kids – regularly. Because of the competitive side of the SW personality, they are more difficult to enjoy around their siblings. This is because of the constant competition. But when you get a SWC alone, then we get to see their energy, helpfulness, expressiveness more positively.

9. They can be very social beings, often times quite entertaining (if we can get past the irritating part of the presentation). These are the kids that seem to be natural entertainers as preschoolers, so if we pay more attention to the positive behaviors they might repeat them just for the attention. This also means they will often choose to get along with siblings if the alternative is isolation. Isolation/time out works because of this social piece- they hate being ignored.

10. They are often strong leaders (I loved herding the dogs when I was young, since they were the only ones I didn’t get in trouble for bossing around). Because of their other people skills they may seem bossy when they are younger but this trait leads into leadership skills later in life.

11. They can be very black and white - so if they accept a rule they will follow it. These kids rarely give into peer pressure; they choose poorly because they want to, not because someone else has pressured them into it. This is why shame or guilt-based parenting rarely works with them - they have to desire to behave. And this is why they are so good in the classroom - they are following the rules.

So when you are having one of those days – when you are asking yourself and God why you had to be blessed with a SWC – look at this list and pick one to focus on. And then remember number one: SWC make great adults. I promise to you, as a survivor of the SWC: The light at the end of the tunnel is not a train.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Strong Willed Parenting III

One day my wonderful SWC came home from school a bit more enthusiastically than normal. When asked “what was the best thing that happened today?” (which was our regular routine) he replied: “I got three kids to change their mind and agree with me, even though I knew I was wrong.” This is a good day for a SWC because it engages one of their most valued strengths: WINNING AN ARGUMENT. SWC use their: tenacity; skills of negotiation; ability to ignore evidence to the contrary (and ability to get others to also ignore evidence); desire to be right no matter the cost; and most importantly their inability to admit personal error. Sometimes these powers are used for saving their own skin – other times just because it is fun. The situation my SWC was referring to was really the last kind – just for fun. He was participating in a reading discussion group, similar to a book club in the fourth grade classroom. The teacher asked the students for predictions of where they thought the story might go. Two possibilities were offered - five students picked option one, and two students picked option two. My SWC picked option two. About half way through the discussion he realized he had chosen poorly, but in true SWC style he would not even consider the possibility of changing his mind - that would be admitting defeat. No, instead he kept at the task to see how many kids he could get to change their mind’s, it became an entertaining challenge of personal strength. And in the end he got three out of the five choice one kids to change to the erroneous choice two, merely with his powers of persuasion. To him this was a good day, a highlight of an otherwise average day.

   This is the perfect illustration of one of the more difficult SWC characteristics: They hate to lose an argument. Strong willed adults hate to lose an argument just a much as their SWC. And as you would expect this leads to some very serious difficulties with the job of parenting. So now you must ask yourself a very introspective question: What do I do when I know I am wrong but did not realize it right away? As a strong willed adult I can safely give this answer (confession is good for the soul – right?): I blow smoke; change the subject; or just plain stop talking – really, I must confess I have found it difficult to back down from a fight, especially with my SWC. And when in the midst of a fight with my SWC, or SWTeen, I often found it necessary to re-iterate the point to death - unnecessarily. I must say I really do know what it is like to be a SWC because I was/am one. But somewhere in my adult life, when dealing with other adults (primarily my beloved husband to begin with) I learned the freedom in admitting my mistake, admitting my error, and backing down. AND I felt liberated! Surprisingly I felt a true sense of accomplishment, and found it really did not hurt. Upon this discovery I felt obliged to then later teach this to my SWC. Now I would love to make you think this was a simple task, but as we all know there is little “simple” in parenting. 

POINT THREE: Taking Self Responsibility
   Due to the skill of negotiation that all SWC possess (step over local DA, these kids will give you a run for your money!), and their desire to avoid looking wrong, SWC are the last to admit a wrong decision. Instead their response to personal error looks more like blame and justification – it is not their fault they were only reacting to the environment. And because they are such good verbal manipulators you can debate with them for hours just to get them to admit to their involvement in a bad behavioral decision. Here is a battle worth fighting, a battle that cannot be abandoned for any child because it is necessary for them to identify their own poor behavioral decisions in order to avoid repeating them in the future. So I began phrasing my piece in this endless debate something like this: “Yes, I hear you, but what would you do differently next time? What could you have personally done to avoid this situation?” Notice I avoid the word mistake, or using accusatory statements that blame them. Blame is unproductive, whether it is your child blaming someone else or you blaming them. Blame is the diversionary tactic, the smoke screen that SWC use to effectively avoid personal responsibility. Often I would remind my SWC that we would continue the conversation until they told me what was their problem behavior or bad choice. This began to shorten the conversations to a more bearable time amount (under an hour) as the kids got the hang of it. Be reassured that this scenario happened exactly the same for my compliant child, it just was a lot shorter (like two minutes) due to her overactive guilt complex.
   Keep in mind taking responsibility for our own decisions is a character trait necessary for adult success.  It helps our children realize that they do have some control over their lives, and thus their success or failures.  It would be nice to be able to blame all of my lifes hardships on someone else, but then life would be more about responding and less about being a catalyst.  So the next time your SWC misbehaves help them to take responsibility for their choices so they can avoid the same mistakes in the future.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Strong Willed Parenting Lesson Two

One of the biggest problems with strong willed children is the issue of power or control (as reflected in characteristic 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 12). This is due to their need to know who the boss is – and their subsequent desire to fill the opening if there is any possibility it is not currently occupied by a dominating force. They really do want to be the boss and will fight to obtain the position. (Now I have to admit, I remember thinking it would be so cool to be in charge when I was a child. I actually looked forward to the day I would be an adult and “the boss”. But now I look at the job and cringe. What was I thinking? This isn’t any fun, really.) I often caught myself saying to the SWC in my home “I really don’t want to win. God tells me I have to win because I am your parent. So I can’t give up….” This always gave him a pause, and actually sometimes ended the struggle of the moment because every child knows it is unwise to fight with God.

The fight for control is manifest in many different behaviors and scenarios:
~ Often the SWC will get a charge out of the fight itself, just to see if they can wear you down and get you to give in.
~ Sometimes it is due to their inability to admit they were wrong.
~ It may be seen as the opportunity to make someone else angry or get them to explode.
~ Occasionally it is stubborn refusal to obey.
~ Sometimes it is out of a desire to influence the environment and make a decision of their own choosing.
~ It could be to get attention - negative attention is still attention.
~ Sometimes it is simply to win.
Whatever the motive, the result is the same - parent and child locked into a dispute so intensely that winning and losing becomes the main concern rather than gaining sensible outcomes or meeting the needs of the situation.

The problem is often we as parents do give up and allow our SWC to set the agenda for us. As mentioned earlier, we can fight with our SWC 24-7, so we run the risk of getting worn down. I just knew that if I gave into my SWC and changed my mind, the next time it would be a bigger fight and I might give in again. I often made decisions to do things myself in an effort to avoid the fight (I will placate myself at this point to say I was choosing my battles not giving in). So we need to stop and think before we make a request of our SWC or respond to one of their requests. Think: Am I automatically saying no out of convenience or habit? Is this a point worth dying over? Can we meet in the middle and both be happy? What could I lose if I change my mind?

There are solutions that can assist us in the power struggle with our tenacious offspring.
1) Negotiation – I know I covered this in an earlier blog: January 11, 2010.
2) A choice within boundaries – This solution gives our SWC the opportunity to choose. The problem is if you don’t give them some guidelines/choices they may choose something we cannot provide - or allow - leading us into a battle of the wills.
3) Expectations with deadlines – This gives the child the details of the expectation with the freedom to address it in the manner they choose.
It is wiser to focus on what YOU will do, not TELL them what to do. Strong willed individuals bristle under ultimatums. “YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!” literally courses through their brain. It is the backbone of the strong willed personality. But somewhere deep inside is an individual that will often bend over backwards to help someone out. Teachers are often very successful at working with SWC if they simply ask them to help with tasks in the classroom. If we apply this technique in the home we will find there is a softer side to our SWC - that of assisting.

The other piece of control that we must consider is concerning other adults in our child’s life. These are the adults that have to prove they are in charge, typically by being overly harsh, critical, or cruel. These adults regularly risk the relationship with our child in attempts to achieve conformity through any means. Conformity is rarely seen in SWC because they have such creativity, and when an adult attempts to force particular behaviors from the SWC they will always revolt. If you are in charge, a child assumes that it is a given position and there is really no need for you - as an adult - to prove it. But SWC have an uncanny sense for insecure adults; it may be the way they walk, talk, the turn of head, or possibly the way they smell. Regardless, SWC always know when an adult is weak, probably by the adult’s use of ultimatums. These particular adults may eventually crumble under the tenacity of the SWC but in the battle will harm the relationship by continuing to struggle. A SWC thinks something like this: “If you have to prove you are the boss, you must question your own authority and ability to control me. Give me a little while and I will find your weakness, proving that you are ultimately correct and not capable of being the boss.” Let us keep in mind that strong willed children grow up and become strong willed adults. Strong willed adults know they are in charge of the child merely by position - it is a given, so why waste time proving we are in charge? We simply display it. But this is not true for the “I gotta prove I am the adult here” mentality. And these are the individuals that will lock into the battle of wills with a SWC not looking at the bigger picture of healthy development. Because of the possible detrimental effect these adults can have on a SWC I always suggest shielding them as much as possible from extended contact.

Let me conclude this blog with a slightly humorous story (although at the time I did not find it in the least bit funny.) When my family was young we had two dogs that needed cleaning up after in the yard. As the diligent parent I continuously looked for teachable moments in which I could instill responsibility in my offspring. (Ok, maybe I hated doing the “dog-doo-duty” and was really hoping to push it off on my unsuspecting children, but at least it looked like a good lesson to the rest of the world…) At dinner I declared I would pay an increase of allowance to the individual that would assume the weekly responsibility of “dog-doo-duty.” Being a little entrepreneur, my son (around 4 years old at the time) asked the outlines of said duty and the subsequent financial payoff. I really hated the job so I offered $10 for the task, at which my loving spouse declared he would do it for $10 and not pay more than $5 to our aspiring offspring. This began the struggle of the century - one my son remembers to this day - which lasted more than an hour when finally I asked “Son, what are you trying to prove?” At this point he firmly planted his feet, put his little fists on his hips (kind of a Peter Pan stance from the movie “Hook”) and declared full voice “I am darn well gonna win!” I have planted that image indelibly in my mind to help me remember the calling of my little strong willed boy in this great vast world….”I am darn going to win”….may you also remember.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Commodities for the Strong Willed Child

Commodity (noun) 1. Traded item- an item that is bought and sold, especially an unprocessed material; 2. Useful thing- something that people value or find useful. A commodity is a motivator or, to some, a bribe. It is the item I am willing to earn or retain through my behavior. This is a behavior modification concept seen most often in the early childhood and elementary classroom. It is a concept used by the best of our teachers because it works the most effectively in a short period of time. It is a concept we as parents of strong willed children (SWC), must utilize regularly. In my career I have utilized the concept of commodities regularly with great success, so it is well worth mentioning here.

Step 1. Identify your child’s commodity. What one thing does your child value, maybe more than any other thing? When my son was young it was his stuffed dog. He took “Little Puppy” with him EVERYWHERE! They were virtually inseparable. One night I was at a banquet with my parents (Daddy was out of town and I needed a companion). Around 8:00 I receive a cell call from our favorite baby sitter announcing she was having some difficulty with the three year old male in my household. According to the sitter it was time for bed and he boldly announced he was NOT going to bed and she could not make him. I suppose this struggle went on for some time before she finally contacted me. Now I was a bit perturbed being removed from an adult activity by anything smaller than a major catastrophe at home, so I asked to speak with my little man on the phone. (Let me state now, you might question the recall of this conversation based on how my 3 year old is speaking.  But he really did speak like this at three, both of my children spoke very well at an early age - especially my SWC who was trying valiantly to keep up with his older sister.) The conversation went something like this:
   Me: “James it is time to go to bed.”
   J: “I’m not tired.”
   Me: “I don’t care - it is time to go to bed, and Christy is in charge, so get ready for bed.”
   J: “You can’t make me. You aren’t here.” (A valid point, but a bit displaced, because I can’t truly make my SWC go to bed when I am there, I can merely manipulate the environment so he will go to bed.)
   Me: (a bit taken back because he really is correct on this point, and a bit scared because he is only just three years old….) “James, Christy is in charge just like Mommy is. She has told you to get into bed and you will obey her. If you do not get into bed, Little Puppy will be put in time out.”
   J: (knowing that the stakes have been raise, but refusing to admit defeat) “I won’t care ‘cuz I will be asleep by the time you get home so I won’t notice Little Puppy is gone.” (Another valid point, one intended to prove his superiority, or at least stubborn resolve to win.)
   Me: “Oh no sweetie. Little Puppy won’t be in time-out tonight - that would be unfair to not let him sleep in bed tonight. No, Little Puppy will be put in time-out tomorrow morning when you get up.” I finally got what I needed, I found his commodity; there was a long silence and then a burst of repentant crying. No words, just tears.
   Me: “Now go to bed like Christy says, and there will not be any more problems. I will see you in the morning.”
   J: just tears.
A SWC’s commodity can change with time; it can be many different material items throughout their lifetime. It could be a cherished item (like Little Puppy) or it could be a desirable activity. The list might include: toys, books, peers, money, cell phones, computer time, activities, time alone with a parent, a later bed time…. It depends on the child’s interests and their age. The most powerful commodity I have found over the years, as a parent and a counselor, is attention. SWC hate being ignored or isolated. (Just keep that little nugget of information tucked securely in the back of your brain; it will come in handy later I guarantee.)

Step 2. Identify how the commodity can be manipulated for your advantage. For example, we had  several commodities at our house during the early years. There was Little Puppy, there was isolation, and there were bedtime books. Our children were guaranteed two books a piece every night before bed if they had a good day. My daughter always got two books (she was the compliant child) so my SWC knew there would always be a bed time story. But being the keeper of “fairness”, he wanted to be sure there were two books of his choosing also. Every morning at breakfast I would make the passing comment: “I wonder if this will be a four book night. I sure hope so, I love to read bed time stories” in hopes that my positive comment would set a good tone for the rest of the day. If the statement was not enough, and the evil powers of The Will overtook my beloved child, my SWC might choose to lose a book. But never fear, there was always the possibility of self redemption, and extra good behavior the rest of the day might earn back that lost book. It is very important to plan redemption into the management plan of your home. If you err and forget the possibility of redemption, your SWC will have no reason to improve their behaviors. If I have lost the thing I want the most, and there is no way of earning it back, I can guarantee I will want a bit of revenge. I will then have no motivation to improve my poor decisions and I will make you suffer!
     Another example of the use of commodities was with one high spirited child (this title is given to the more than extremely strong willed kids - I have only met a few high spirited children in my life). She had been the recipient of several psychological evaluations from well-meaning professionals, and she had not been able to learn to control her instincts. After some study we determined her commodity was computer time. So every day she started with 30 minutes of computer time. She would lose five minutes for specified behaviors of defiance, and she would earn five minutes for specified behaviors of compliance. It was completely under her own power, and reliant only upon her choices. After only two weeks she had earned more time than she desired on the computer daily and her compliant behaviors were more habitual.

Step 3. Institute what you have learned and teach it to your SWC. No explanation necessary, so I won’t.

Remember your SWC may be missing the skills necessary to be successful. Or maybe this wonderful configuration of the childhood brain is necessary to be the strong leader they were born to be. Regardless, the SWC in your house is a blessing of many kinds, just keep watching - you will see it if you are patient.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Strong Willed Parenting Point One

POINT ONE : Pick Your Battles Carefully

A strong willed child (SWC) seems to get a sort of adrenaline buzz from fighting with others, be it parents, siblings, peers, the pets….whatever will fight back. Often a SWC will start off their day with a disagreement, a kind of caffeine kick for a kid. My child, starting in preschool, began the day asking for clothing advice. The two choices were presented with his anticipation held in check, A or B. I quickly learned that no matter what I picked he would disagree and begin a mini-argument. If I refused to participate, he would head into his sisters room, with the same battle plan in-tact.
Thus I developed a set of guidelines- simple, to the point, and easily remembered. It went like this:   Did you get it out of the school drawer? (I labeled it school - good pre-reading skill to boot)    Does it have holes in it?    Is it clean?    Did you wear it yesterday? (All important criteria for a boy - because they really love sleeping in their clothes - it saves time in the morning.)
Now most parents would assume that question number one would be enough, and for an average tempered child this might be true, but not with an SWC. This is due to their inability to infer information (characteristic 13 previous blog). With SWC we must be as specific as possible since we, the adult, might not consider all the possibilities involved. As with the clothing debate if I had simply stopped with the first question I would be assuming that the clothes in the school drawer were the ones I put there the last time I did laundry. But this may not actually be the case because many of our SWC are creative (characteristic 6). This creativity can mean many things: the possibility that my SWC decided to store other things in their school drawer; that they rearranged their living area without re-labeling; that they did not stuff all the dirty clothes in this drawer when in a hurry cleaning up the bed room. So as a parent of a SWC I cannot assume that things are in any particular order unless I have checked right before I make the statement. Thus the need to be specific is established. (SUB POINT – Be specific when giving directions or expectations)

SO knowing that our SWC are often times very literal we must regularly check to see if we are being direct enough in our interactions with our children. It is never enough to say “go brush your teeth” but more important to indicated all the necessary details “go to the bathroom, brush your teeth with your toothbrush, and toothpaste please.” ( I always try to be polite in my parenting because it sets the standard and is a good example.)Such detail is necessary because SWC are creative and will fill in the blanks with whatever they find interesting - or easiest - in times of instruction.

BUT I digress, (thus the need to make this a series because one topic so easily leads to several sub-points) back to Picking your Battles….because SWC are not afraid to battle (characteristics 3, 4, 7, and 12 ) and desire to make themselves heard, we can battle more often with them. I have actually witnessed strong willed children pulling their parents into unnecessary battles on unrelated topics (and being extremely successful) through the smoke screen technique. This is when they blow smoke - an unrelated or unnecessary piece of information -into the communication in an attempt to change the focus of the conversation. It is a pretty successful approach considering how many adults actually fall for it. Many of these conversations begin with “yeah but…” which is simply a means of excusing said behavior. Another technique is to get you completely off the topic and pick at the nuances of detail. All simply put, a ploy to avoid personal responsibility in said situation and get away with the disagreeable behavior. (SUB POINT – Watch for diversionary tactics/ smoke screens. Always remember what was the real point of the problem not necessarily the details.)

Picking your battles carefully involves one primary question: What is it I am willing to give my life defending? (For most parents the response I get is RESPECT.) These are the battles we refuse to give ground on; these are the battles we will die before we lose. It is important to identify what is non-negotiable in advance, because these are the battles our SWC will most consistently pick. All other battles may be negotiable.

PARENTING APPROACH – Learning to Negotiate
Learning to negotiate is a very effective method for working with your SWC. To negotiate simply means: I get some of what I want, and you get some of what you want. Neither of us loses, and both of us win - a little. Because SWC want control this is a good way to teach it to them. For example my 4 year old knows it is time to go to bed but they are busy playing with their blocks. Now noticing the Characteristics list from the previous blog, it is good to note that SWC like completion of tasks - it is part of the routine approach to life -so interrupting an activity without closure can lead to a battle of the wills. So I give a five minute warning that it will soon be time to get ready for bed and my preschooler goes right to the fight. I calmly ask (very important to stay calm when negotiating with your SWC) if they want to negotiate, and teach the skill along the way. I ask how long they want to continue to play (keep in mind that time is abstract to a child of this age so you can win every time - they just don’t know it), they say “forever”, I say "how about half of forever – ten minutes". They say "more!", and I say "ten minutes is what I can give but if you brush your teeth fast and get on the pj's quick I will go two extra minutes, it is up to you." If they fight I say “Oh well you just wasted your five minutes arguing so go get ready for bed.” Now many adults would tell you that children are not capable of negotiation, but they are, what they are not so good at is seeing the adult starts out with an unreasonable request and moves to the reasonable request, really getting their way in the end.

Another form of negotiation is the concept of commodities (a topic I will save for later.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Strong Willed Parenting

All parents begin the real parenting journey with the terrible two’s, but parents of strong willed children don’t just get the terrible two’s. No they progress to the threatening threes, frightening fours, fearsome fives, sickening six’s………until elated at eighteen. Let’s learn a little about the strong willed child, mainly for those that are new at this - or just need someone to point out what you have already become familiar with…
Common Characteristics of Strong Willed Children: (taken from a list I was given once, but with a few modifications)
1.  They lust for power and independence. (This often becomes the main issue when conflicting with a strong willed child. The need for power/control.)
2.  They consider rules to be more like guidelines.
3.  They don’t do things just because “you’re supposed to”-it needs to matter personally.
4.  They refuse to obey - they seem to always have a few terms of negotiation before complying.
5.  They almost never accept words like “impossible” or phrases like ‘it can’t be done.”
6.  They can turn what seems to be the smallest issue into a grand crusade or a raging controversy.
7.  When they are bored, they would rather create a crisis than have a day go by without incident.
8.  They can move with lightning speed from a warm loving presence, to a cold immovable force.
9.  They show great creativity and resourcefulness - seems to always find a way to accomplish a goal.
10. They may argue the point into the ground, sometimes just to see how far into the ground the point will go.
11. They are not afraid to try the unknown; to conquer the unfamiliar; to take what was meant to be the       simplest request and interpret it as an offensive ultimatum.
12.They may not actually apologize, but almost always makes things right. (This characteristic causes many parents to fear they have some sort of psycho-path on their hands. The real question becomes how long does it take for a strong willed child to take personal responsibility for their bad behavioral choices? In my experience 10 minutes to a few days depending on how tenacious everyone involved is.)
13.They often miss the point of discipline and encouragement due to lacking the skill of informational inference.
14.These kids make INCREDIBLE adults, very self motivated and less influenced by outside pressure. So hold on, the light at the end of the tunnel is NOT a train.

It is important to remember these are common characteristics of the strong willed child - they are really not out to get you, and they sometimes cannot control their innate response due to these characteristics. A strong willed child’s primary goal is determining who has the power, not to make you feel like an unloved parent.

So who can we blame?
As much as I believe this is the grandmother curse, (you know the one “I hope you have a kid just like yourself”,) we might want to look at the statistics: There are nearly three times as many strong willed children as compliant, so nearly every family with more than one child has a strong willed child; and males outnumber females by 5%. So if you don’t have a strong willed child yet stop having kids as your probability increases with off spring. In my experience strong-willed parents have a higher chance of having strong-willed kids, possibly due to God having a sense of humor (but that is unproven at this point). There is also a high correlation between SWC and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Also unproven is the strong suspicion I have that there is a brain/behavior connection here. Unfortunately I have yet to find the neurological link between brain function and personality traits, but keep in mind neuroscience is still a pretty young field. Do be encouraged that I am searching the research fiercely and will share my knowledge as soon as it is reported.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Racism in the Home

Racism and prejudice starts at home.  It is inbred not instinctual. It is the comments and editorials we make at home around our children. It is statements on how someone else is inferior, un-valuable, undesirabls.  It is body language, verbal comments, and more blatant than we realize.  Children are designed to learn unconsciously by watching the adults around them.  If you are walking through a forest and notice a bear you will respond, a child may not be directly frightened by a bear but will instinctually respond to your response because you are there to protect them.  You provide their needs, and you provide subconscious information about the environment.  So even though you may not be saying you don’t trust or like a certain individual, your body is screaming that information to your children.  And it may not be people of different colors or cultures that you are responding to.  It could be income, body size, education, handicaps, accents, lifestyles, or other characteristics.  And through that response, or belief, we are teaching our children about what we believe. Then your child watches the world around them and integrates the whole picture into a belief system about themselves and others, and begins to live it out. To beat racism and prejudices we must start by looking at ourselves and then teach our children.
Typically, inaccurate beliefs begin out of ignorance, a lack of understanding or education about the cultures of others.  It is safe to say that identifying as an American tells us little about who we are.  This country is full of different cultures and habits that are based on location, income, religion, education, so I have a very small chance of understanding you based on any of these influences alone.  I need to get to know you, even a little to get any idea of who you are.  And to truly judge someone we must know them at least a little bit.
Another influence on racism is the beliefs individuals hold on the value of others.  I believe in innate value.  In my mind anything that is alive is valuable period.   It is impact that we can measure, or evaluate.  You will have either positive or negative impact on your environment, rarely do we have neutral impact.  We can control our impact, and we do have power over it to some extent.  We may not be able to influence another person’s interpretations but we can pretty well decide whether to have positive or negative impact.  So, if every living thing has value, then the difference between those living things is irrelevant.  I need to treat a tree as though it has as much value as a person. One person has the same amount of value as another, however they may have a different impact.  If everyone saw all people as valuable regardless of our differences it would impact how we treat others.  But superiority seems to be an innate need.  And that causes problems.  I must survive, and the weakest gazelle is eaten by the lion.  My reptilian brain is designed to keep me alive, and if I perceive a threat I will instinctually respond to survive. But are different cultures truly a threat to our survival, or an over-reaction from the brain that we need to control?
Neurology does play a role from the perspective of survival.  But our brain is known to over-react in many ways.  We as evolved humans should be able to apply our lobes and recognize true threats verses perceived threats.  And perceived threats rarely kill us. To stop prejudice and racism we must realize that we are all created equal, regardless of all the influences that change us.  Then we need to act as though we are all equal, all valuable in our own ways.  Finally, we need to teach our kids to love and accept all others as they already naturally do.  When I was little my parents hosted foreign students from Denver University.  On a regular basis our house would be visited by people from exotic places, with wonderful languages, and beautiful appearances.  And occasionally, to my delight, they would bring children with them.  I did not care that we could not understand each other, we still played perfectly together.  And when they moved back to their foreign homes, I was sad and missed them.  Then in elementary school Denver Public Schools decided that our school was too white and we boarded buses for the other side of town.  To us this was a treat, we got new friends, and missed part of our classroom time because we had to ride the bus.  In middle school I was the minority both at school and church.  By high school my brothers and I dated and made friends based on personality with little concern of appearance.  So I was lucky, I was raised to see value in all, and know that differences were exciting not scary.  And for me it started in childhood, modeled by my parents and lived out by their lives.  But to say to you I am not prejudice is to lie.  I found out in grad school I truly struggle with stupid people, ignorant individuals that want to come to a quick conclusion.  Whether they are judging a handicapped child, a fat adult, or a baggy panted teenager.  I struggle with judgers, so I am not prejudice free as much as I would like to believe I am.  And did I pass that prejudice on to my own children, probably- I will have to ask them to see.  But ignorance is a choice, being judgmental is a choice, to feel superior is a choice.  Culture, color, size, upbringing are not choices.  If we want to stop racism and prejudice, we MUST start at home, with our children. And if it is too late for that, get to know someone very different than yourself and see what happens to your judgements.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Adolescent Suicide Today

Because of the recent increase of teen suicide and suicidal attempts I have begun to question clients, (ok let’s be honest I ALWAYS question clients, its what I am paid for) but this time it was with a specific purpose in mind- prevention.  I began asking my teen clients why so many kids are suicidal these days. And they were happy to talk about it, so in summary this is what I got: Too many pressures and expectations for success/perfection; No one seems to truly care, instead interactions are based out of self-centered motives; Bored; Directionless.  I even had one teen say that parents needed to get into their teenagers’ life, “the kid is going to act like they don’t like it, but they truly want it, so parents can’t give up no matter how much they complain.” Looking at the list, many of these things are outside the teenagers influence and full control so, we as adults may have to intervene. But I have found any problem in a teenager’s life is more effectively solved if the teenager is a piece of the solution.   So maybe if we look at the ideas and problem solve together we might prevent the problem.
First, I want to take the wise 15-year old’s statement about getting in to our kids lives.  We as adults often think we know how hard it is to be a teenager, but do we actually know how hard it is to be a teenager TODAY? I knew people were talking about me in high school but I really did not have solid proof, it was all suspicion and fear, not facts that would hold up in court.  Today kids have proof, all of it electronically based, but solid proof of how others think about them -because so many people seem to think it is important to advertise their thoughts and opinions (which can be helpful in an educational blog let’s say, but not in jealous gossip). Not only are their blunders, fears, and failures public, but they see how everyone else is doing life so perfectly.  Perfect clothes, perfect faces, perfect bodies, perfect grades, perfect plans, perfect vacations…..and they believe they are the only ones falling short.  Now some of this is neurological development and some of this is an illusion, but it is difficult for the teenage brain to register the true significance and truth in relationship to themselves. So ask your kids what it is like in their world, maybe even give them what it was like when you were a teenager, they love stories of the olden days.
Second, we may have to be okay with less than perfect performance academically with our kids.  There are more important life lessons and character traits than getting straight A’s.  And some kids are just not capable of getting A’s no matter how hard they work.  But it breaks my heart when a good kid tells me that their parents don’t think a 95% is good enough because it could have been higher.  What they are hearing is no matter how hard they work it will never be good enough.  It was recently proven that the brain works better when encouraged, not surprising to any of us, but some parents still believe telling others it wasn’t good enough will inspire them to work harder.  Historically I cannot verify this as fact, instead I will tell you many teens will give up, or start to rebel, which is much worse than a low grade. This sense of failure can be so great to an adolescent that they will take drastic action to relieve themselves of the pain and stop disappointing you- frankly a child’s life is far more important than their academic achievements. Along this same point, kids talked about the pressure that teachers put on them in their assignments.  One teen relayed that teachers will give them an extensive assignment with an unreasonable deadline, and because of all the extracurricular activities they stay up into morning hours completing the assignment.  Lack of sleep creates bad neurological connections and impulsive behaviors, so suicidal ideation can rise.  This is where we might have to intervene – it was not unheard of for me to contact the teacher myself and explain the constraints on my child’s time with an apology that I told my child to go to bed instead of finishing their homework.  I asked the teacher to give me the bad grade -  I am okay failing as an academic Hitler if it kept my kid alive.  No job is worth losing a life over, and if I can do things to keep my kid alive I am going to do so regardless of how the teacher views me. When it comes to achievement’s, our kids and our own, we need to keep them in big picture perspective.  You can have straight A’s but no character, you can have a high paying job and no life. If your kid gets into an Ivy League school congratulation, but if they are unhappy and suicidal in that school what good is it? Learning healthy life balance starts in high school so decide with your teen what healthy expectations academically look like, and how to achieve them without harming themselves.
Third point: no one cares.  Well we are the generation of selfies, so what more do I need to say? Honestly all kids want to know that others believe in, and care about them.  I guess you could look at all my rantings on the negative effects of electronics in our lives to get more ideas of what may really be going on- or I could once again state how important it is to the developing brain to see relational engagement.  I think everyone wants to be someone else’s top priority, just once, or maybe even regularly.  My son once said, “if your parent isn’t there for you, what’s the use?” So, get into their lives and show them you truly care by being engaged and present, for their sake alone.  Ask them how you can best support them and then do it.  Give them ideas on how they can support others inside and outside the home.
Finally, I will take the last two together because that is how they were first presented to me, “I wanted to kill myself because I am bored and directionless”. Wow. Is this a statement of activity levels or a sense of overall purpose/value?  Let’s look at it from a practical perspective first.  I know the bored part is a surprise because of all the activities available to us, and very few of today’s kids actually experience boredom. Instead boredom is being solved by surrounding adults, with packed schedules and pre-planned activities.  It is difficult to develop a skill if we don’t get a chance to practice it.  So we have a generation of teenagers that were so busy doing planned activities, or adults supplied all their needs, that they never learned to resolve boredom.
Add in the ingredient of “directionless”, the feeling of having no idea what I want to do in the present or future.  If I have no idea what direction I want to go, things in front of me might be meaningless, so I don’t engage in them.  This can cause feelings of hopelessness, and hopelessness is a common denominator of suicidal ideation. Direction can be both specific and broad.  In a specific sense direction can be based on daily schedule and routine, or pre-planned activities.  In a broad sense direction can be life or career goals, or simply a sense of purpose.  In truth we have led our kids to believe that they need to have their life figured out by their junior year of high school, and this is terribly overwhelming.  We start looking at colleges, degrees, and careers.  But if we were truly honest we would acknowledge that very few adults use their degree, and change careers several times in their adult life.  So why all the pressure to declare our degree in the junior of high school?
Directionless can also be a symptom of not feeling like my life has value or purpose.  Humans have an innate need to feel like we have a purpose, but if my purpose is narrowly focused I may have a more difficult time finding value in it.  The adolescent brain is not developed enough to take on big picture perspectives, to think outside the immediate emotion, but more stuck in the negative present. So finding value today in relationship to the future is difficult for them. Also teenagers that don’t have an adult in their life pointing out their talents and what their interior strengths are, will be more directionless.
As a parent how do we solve these problems with our teens?  Simple conversations about your teens likes, dislikes, interests, or talents can make a huge difference in their sense of purpose and direction.  I work with teens on their passions, things they have done that they love, or that gives them energy. In my mind having a job you love makes life more fulfilling and a far healthier life.  But discovering what that job may be might start by watching personality trends in childhood and adolescence, and getting input from people around us.  If we look at parenting like a business plan we might be more successful.  Good corporations have business goals, and all their decisions lead to the achievement of the goal.  If I make a goal as a parent, to develop character, healthy decision making, creativity, or whatever I deem a good goal, all my interactions and decisions with my child need to lead to accomplishing that goal.  Then I can effectively measure my success and redirect as necessary.  But this does not involve indulging, or giving into our child’s every desire.  Learning to live with disappointment is a necessary skill. And knowing I am loved even when I don’t get me way starts early in life. The bottom line is our kids are under tremendous pressure to be perfect in all ways, and they measure their value on the responses they get from other people. If their only input is from other kids and the culture, their perspective will be skewed and they will feel they do not measure up.  We need to be paying attention, listening, encouraging, correcting, directing them, and loving them unconditionally. Showing them that they are a priority of our heart.