Sunday, September 15, 2013

The power of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting Skill #2: Preparing for Success

Yesterday we had a big win with music practice.  I was with my son when he was doing his cello practice, and in his new piece there was a particularly tricky sequence that required him to think about several things at one time in order to play it correctly.

Before he played it, I did a mini think-through with him, asking him what he needed to do with his bow when he got to this part. He said, “push it down toward the bridge”. I said, “That’s exactly right.” You have to push it down as soon as your other hand is shifting up into 7th position. He nodded. 

Then he started to play that section. When he got to that part where he had to shift into 7th position, I could see that he was thinking about it because he hesitated slightly, but then sure enough, his arm pushed his bow down toward the bridge and he got this beautiful sound. When he finished, I said, “You remembered what to do with your bow during that tricky 7th position part! You pushed it down and the tone was beautiful.” He smiled and then played it correctly three more times. 

Preparing for Success requires us to be proactive, thinking about what’s gone wrong before and then doing something different to get a better result. Think-throughs work. They are the best way to help kids know what they need to do, remember what they need to do and then to do it without reminders. 

Laura Runnels Fleming (see details below)
Pasadena, CA

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

When Things Are Out of Control

Things are out of control at my house when I can no longer see the floor in my daughter’s room. “I don’t have any clean clothes!” she claims, though it is her responsibility to maintain and to wash her clothes. Things are out of control in my world when I find myself biting my tongue far too many times to accommodate a brief bit of teenage irritation “I don’t know, Mom.” “I don’t care, Mom,” she says with an eye roll, though the rule is to be respectful to one another. When I find myself frustrated, tired and working just a little too hard to stay calm and carry on, I know I am losing control. 

I am ashamed when things are out of control. After all, I am an officially trained, Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting Practitioner. Having an out of control home is like a dentist with cavities or a doctor who smokes.  (Reality check - good dentists get cavities and some doctors have poor health habits. Hence, good parents have trying times.) However, like diet and exercise, knowledge only works if you apply it. So, when things are out of control, I take a step back and look at what I am not doing. Nine times out of ten I am not Preparing for Success.

It is easy for me to drop Preparing for Success from the maintenance plan of a calmer, easier, happier home. Preparing for success seems almost redundant, unnecessary, and slightly annoying once you have cooperation and consistency on a roll. It is not as if I completely check out when things are running smoothly. I liberally support good habits with Descriptive Praise and Reflective Listening. These two skills are natural for me as I am a touchy feely person. Preparing for Success, however, takes planning, leadership, organization and hardest of all, being on time! Taking charge and providing structure is not particularly intuitive for we more laid back, spontaneous parents. We pay for that free flowing gift.  

When things are out of control it is time to bring out those dusty Preparing for Success skills and polish them up. I begin by looking at our family schedule. Often we are over booked. I am so busy with work, household responsibilities, or personal tasks that I fail to monitor or structure my children’s time management. Of course by nature, children fall off task choosing TV or internet over cleaning or walking the dogs. Once I have identified when and where things are going wrong, I make time to manage, and I make time for them to accomplish the task. I refresh the rule.

The first step with the children is doing "think-throughs".  I begin by asking something like “What is the rule about cleaning your room?” Often, when getting things back under control, I get a quizzical look so I might ask a hinting question, “When should your room be clean by?” I begin asking this on Wednesday, because the answer is Saturday noon.  Slowly, sometimes begrudgingly, we mentally get back on track. We begin to prepare for success. Then, as the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting program , I ask this question again a few times on Thursday and Friday.  Saturday comes around and usually things start happening without my asking. If not, a little follow on support with the first two steps of the Never ask Twice method usually finishes the job.

Preparing for Success sets the whole strategic plan in motion. If you don’t have a plan, if you don’t communicate the plan, you are guaranteed to go in all directions.  You will be out of control.  So when things are awry at my home, it is usually because people have forgotten to pay attention to the master plan - especially me.  

Amanda Deverich (see profile below)
Williamsburg, VA

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Story about Self-reliance with a Teen

My 19 year old son just recently returned home after living in residence his first year at University.

He expressed interest in coming to some exercise classes with me in the mornings. I told him what time I would be leaving the house, if he wanted to come with me. He asked if I could wake him up in the mornings. I refused as I felt it was his responsibility to get himself up if he wanted to come, and he said "Why can't you? I don't mind."

Then I realized I did not want our relationship to be one of dependency. One of Noël Janis-Norton's key strategies that she teaches is for parents to teach and train their children to be self-reliant. This means not doing anything for your children that they can do for themselves. If you do things for them that they can do, we can end up becoming a servant to our children which actually makes them lose respect for us.

So, going back to my son.... I wanted to preserve our relationship as adult to adult and not one of dependent child. It would have been so easy to give in, to think "What's the problem?" It would be a nice thing to do. However, there are plenty of other ways that I can show that I care and love my son, rather than falling into the trap of doing things for him that he can do for himself. So now if he wants to come with me, he knows what time I leave the house and he can choose for himself whether he gets up in time to join me.

Suzanne Ferera
Certified Calmer, easier, Happier Parenting Practitioner
Vancouver, BC

Sunday, March 24, 2013

To Apologize or Not to Apologize?

The other day a mom was telling me about how her little girl hit another girl at a birthday party. The mom was frustrated because it took a long time to get her daughter to apologize, and then when she finally did, her apology wasn't sincere at all. She wanted to know how to get her daughter to really feel sorry.

This happens all the time, where a child does something wrong and parents make their child apologize. Of course we want our children to feel remorse when they've done something wrong, but asking our child to apologize actually doesn't achieve that.  In fact, when we ask our child to apologize, most of the time we're asking her to lie. That's because she's probably not feeling sorry at that moment. She's still angry about whatever caused her to hit. So it's actually best not to ask her to apologize at that moment. If you feel like an apology is necessary because you're feeling embarrassed about the behavior, then you can do it, and that will set a good example.

The best way to teach empathy is with the consequence we call an 'action replay'. Wait until she's calmed down and then have her do the scenario over again, where she practices responding in a more positive way. The more you have her practice doing it right instead of making her apologize, the sooner she'll be willing to apologize because she actually feels sorry!

Laura Runnels Fleming  (see profile below)
Pasadena, CA

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Swearing At School

Continuing with the consequences theme...

A parent asked me what she should do because her 11 year old son had sworn at school. He was not the only one, but he was the only one to get caught. The mother asked how I thought she should punish him or what consequence he should face.

My reply to her was that it is easy to get upset when our children do the wrong thing, and we get even more upset when they get into trouble at school. The first thing we want to do is tell off or punish. What I recommended that she do instead was to have a Think Through with her son, which is one of the Calmer, Easier, Happier strategies that we teach.

'Think Through' comes under the Foundation Skill of Preparing For Success. The Think Through would go something like this - parent to child:

"When your friends are swearing in class, what can you do instead?"

Children often know what they should not do, but they can be unsure of what they should do instead. You can also ask the child:

" How might it feel to do something different from your fellow class mates? Do you think that will be difficult? What might make it easier?"

You can then Reflectively Listen to how your child might be feeling about this situation. You could say:

" It must be very tempting to want to fit in? It would probably feel hard to do something different. There can be a lot of pressure to do the same things as everyone else, even if you know it is wrong."

I would not suggest giving a punishment, as you would not want your child to be worried about coming and talking to you about any mistakes he makes for fear that he will get into trouble. Also, punishments never teach children what they should do, and certainly don't motivate them to do something better.

As a consequence, I suggested this child could write a note of apology or apologize in person to the teacher. Part of a Think Through would also include a question such as, "If you do make a mistake and swear what will be the consequence?" So the child has a clear understanding of the consequences of his behavior. This is far more effective than just reacting to a mistake with a  a punishment.

Suzanne Ferera (see profile below)
Vancouver, CA

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Why Consequences Often Don't Work

Last month Noel Janis-Norton, creator of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, wrote a helpful article about what to do "When Consequences Don't Seem to Work".

As I read the article, it reminded me of a story a parent told Noel and me about a consequence that backfired when her feisty daughter, Susanna, was five. It was Hanukkah. On each night of this holiday, Susannah would receive a gift. On day four, when the mom picked Susanna up from school, Susanna had a tantrum, screaming that she wanted a playdate that afternoon. Her mom explained that it wasn't possible, and Susanna got more and more angry, kicking the back of her mother's seat in the car. The mom finally lost her cool and told Susanna that she would not get her Hanukkah present that night. She followed through and didn't give her the present, and Susanna was furious. The mom thought Susanna would be motivated to behave better so she could get her present the next day, but Susanna only became angrier and misbehaved even more.

This is a pretty common scenario in families. When we get upset enough, we look for some privilege we can claw back from our kids - often it's TV or computer time. In this story, the problem was that Susanna hadn't been told that her Hanukkah gifts were in any way linked to her behavior. The gifts hadn't been set up as something she had to earn, so she believed she had a right to the gifts. So really, she was right to be furious. When we take away things that our kids didn't know could be taken away, it makes them very resentful. The good news is that when we shift our focus to having our kids earn privileges for positive behavior vs. taking them away for poor behavior, they are far more motivated to behave well.

Laura Runnels Fleming (see profile below)

Pasadena, CA

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting - Not Just for “Kids"”

My two daughters were guinea pigs during my training under Noël Janis-Norton to become a Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting practitioner. I was practicing the skills in my own home and reporting to Noël how it went.  Things were going well with the younger, but the elder teenager was resistant. “Don’t use your therapy on me!” she would say. She would roll her eyes at Descriptive Praise, Reflective Listening, and think-throughs. Noël advised me to persevere.

I was beginning to doubt Noël. Her program had been developed at the elementary level.  It didn’t seem to be translating to my teen. Things were becoming calmer and easier, but my older daughter was begrudging the techniques. I had been using the five skills to help make my household run more smoothly. One of the routines we were establishing was keeping the kitchen clean. One day I walked through the kitchen and noticed it was sparkling. I knew my older daughter had done it (without being asked!), but since she had been so resistant to Descriptive Praise, I decided not to say anything.  Later, when we got into the car to go out, she flopped in the front seat, folded her arms, and said, “You didn’t even notice I cleaned the kitchen!”

Noël was right! I was wrong.  Despite their outward reaction, children and teens need Descriptive Praise. It is food for their soul. She was also right in her encouragement to persevere. Too often we respond to the reactions of the moment. We withdraw. We give up without that immediate positive feedback to our efforts. Of course we know we should not, but we do. I try to remember the kitchen experience with my daughter when I am ignored, rebuffed or dismissed.

Noël was also right when she encouraged me to “tuck in” my older daughter just as I was doing for my younger. I had decided not to go through the ritual with my teen because she was prickly and I thought she wanted me out of her space. But I was in training, so I wanted to do what Noël recommended. Tucking in my teen was a stilted experience at first. I was sincere, but my daughter seemed to be enduring the moment. I persisted. I would say sweet things and resisted the urge to review the day, bring up “helpful” criticisms or remind her of things she had to do. I would then say a prayer out loud even though it may have seemed a little hokey to her and then I would give her a little kiss. After awhile she warmed just a little and our relationship strengthened.

The five Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting skills may have been born in an elementary classroom, but they are foundational to all ages. They have even been known to work on spouses! Descriptive Praise is used by the best managers and, once you become proficient in this skill, you'll also probably notice Reflective Listening being used by the best customer service representatives.  Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting skills work with everyone, kids teens and adults.

Amanda Deverich (see profile below)
Williamsburg, VA

Monday, September 17, 2012

Homework Routines Not Just for Kids

The other night was a great reminder that getting back into good homework routines is not just about what our kids do, it's about what we do too.

After his second day of school, my 6th grader was diligently working on his homework and had spent 1 1/2 hours on it when I came into the room. I figured he was probably finishing up. When I looked at the math assignment he had been working on (the whole time!), I could see that this project would actually take a few more hours to complete and he still had three other subjects requiring homework to be turned in the next day.

I reacted with concern and irritation, telling him he had to move on, and that if he was concerned about not finishing it, he could email the teacher. I was also annoyed that the teacher could have possibly expected the kids to turn this in the next day. The guideline for homework was supposed to be 20 minutes for this class!

My mistake was neglecting to do the first step of the Calmer, Easier, Happier Homework program and to "Prepare for Success". Noël Janis-Norton always recommends to start homework by sitting down with your child and asking him to tell you about his homework. Look at the assignments for every subject, asking questions about each one to make sure he knows what he needs to do and how to do it. If I had done this, I could have anticipated that this math project was unreasonable for him to complete and limited the amount of time he spent on it. Instead I reacted in a negative way - certainly not fair to my child who was just doing what he was supposed to do.

Preparing for Success is so important. It's all about being proactive and taking steps to help your child succeed. When we don't prepare, we react, and our reactions are often negative and rarely helpful.

Lesson learned though. Now each night my husband or I take five minutes to do step one, reviewing the assignments and putting a time limit on each one when necessary.

Laura Runnels Fleming (see profile below)
Pasadena, CA

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Reminder About Descriptive Praise

The other day in a parenting session with a couple and their two toddlers, I noticed that the parents were both very good at descriptively praising their children when they were doing the right thing. But when they told their toddler to stop doing something wrong, and the child did stop straight away, the parents said nothing.

This is an easy mistake parents often make. In the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting approach, cooperation is the key to making family life calmer, easier, and happier, so we must make a point of mentioning whenever our children do what we've asked them to do - or stop doing what we've asked them to stop doing!

So when your child does what you want them to do (whether it's starting to do something or stopping doing something), make sure you notice and mention it by giving them Descriptive Praise. This is a sure way of motivating your child to cooperate. "I asked you to stop banging your spoon and you did what I asked straight away. Thank you."

Suzanne Ferera (see profile below)
Vancouver, Canada

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Calmer Parenting skills - not just for "kids"!

Most parents interested in Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting have younger children ages three to twelve.  Some smart parents of adolescents pick up the tools. More and more in my counseling practice I am meeting parents struggling with the frustration of teens who fail to launch.  These parents have exhausted the nagging, complaining, and punishing routes to motivate their children.  Mom and Dad find themselves at their wits end. The good news is, it is never too late!  The Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting methods do apply.

A few weeks ago a parent shared with me her frustration about her recent high school graduate's inability to get a job - any job.  She had come to the end of her rope and was adopting the strategy of some parenting experts who rely on consequences as the ultimate motivator. She had given her daughter the final ultimatum that if she did not have a job at the local day care by the end of the week she would have to move out of the house and in with her father. (The job had been found through a friend of the family and was guaranteed. The daughter's responsibility was only to download some forms, complete them, and submit them to the center by the end of the week. The obstacle to this was finding a working computer by either getting it back from the sister, borrowing one, or going to a public location.)

Mom was very frustrated. She was sure her daughter would not accomplish this small task.  A long history of lack of motivation and follow-through were damning and crippling.  We discussed the probable scenario:  Mom would call home to see if the daughter had submitted the papers.  Most likely the daughter wouldn't have done it, then mom and daughter would get in a fight and mom would have to force her daughter to live with her father who perhaps could do better.  The daughter would feel worse about herself and angry with her mother. Nobody felt good in this situation, and worse, there was little hope that Dad would be more successful. The only hope was relief of constant conflict and also that maybe something would possibly change in a new environment.  Not very encouraging.

I told mom about Descriptive Praise.  Descriptive praise is the most powerful and effective motivator there is. It is simple, but not always easy.  Descriptive praise is noticing good, just "OK" behavior or even small steps in the right direction and describing exactly what you see.  We reviewed the most probable outcome of the upcoming phone call with her daughter.  Most likely her daughter would not have submitted the papers to the daycare. Mom would feel angry, hurt, sad, and frustrated.  However, there was the possibility that she had taken some small step.  I suggested that mom set her feelings aside and look for whatever small step there was and to descriptively praise that step - no matter how small it was.

The next day mom came back to me with a big smile and upbeat attitude.  "You were right!  She had not completed the forms, but she had downloaded them.  I descriptively praised her, saying 'Alright, honey, that's a good step forward; you got the computer from your sister and already downloaded the forms.' I think my daughter was surprised to get the praise instead of the irritated reprimand and it completely changed the dynamic. She said that she would try to complete the forms and get them in tomorrow.  She even sounded a bit upbeat."  Mom was so happy.  This was entirely different from the expected destiny:  a hostile phone call ending in a hang up, a sullen daughter with no real energy to finish the task, and a disappointed, frustrated mother.

Mom may still have to follow through with the consequence, but with continued support using descriptive praise this daughter may secure the job and make further progress toward self-reliance in other areas of her life.  As parents we can spend our energies with negative methods that sometimes work, but most often only frustrate us when we do not get results. Or we can invest in positive methods that leave us and our children feeling happy as we move forward.

Amanda Deverich (see profile below)
Williamsburg, VA

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My 3 yr old refuses to walk down the stairs!

A few days ago I ran into a parent who had attended Noël Janis-Norton's  Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting seminar a few years ago. We reminisced and laughed about a memorable question she had asked Noël during the seminar. The issue she was having at that time was that she and her husband always had to carry their 3 year old son down the stairs because he refused to do it on his own.  Whenever they encouraged him to hold the railing and to try taking steps, he sat down and cried until they picked him up and carried him.

In Noël's kind and common sense style, she said,

"Why do you think he won't go down the stairs by himself?"

The mother thought about it for several seconds, shook her head and then sheepishly answered,

"Because we're carrying him?"

As she said it, she and her husband laughed and all the parents in the room laughed as well because everyone there could relate to this scenario. Here's what Noël said:

"Exactly. Whenever parents say something like 'My child refuses to....' or 'My child will only eat....' or 'My child won't....' all it means is that your child is in the habit of those things. He's in the habit of being picked up and carried down the stairs, or he might be in the habit of only eating chicken tenders or maybe he's in the habit of you staying next to him until he falls asleep. And habits can be changed pretty quickly. So instead of thinking of it as something he won't do or can't do, think of it as it's just something he's in the habit of doing at the moment, and you can change it. The most effective way to change habits is by using the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting strategies we teach, especially think-throughs, Descriptive Praise and Reflective Listening."

The parents got united and decided to make a new rule that they would no longer carry their son down the stairs but would walk next to him and hold one hand while he held onto the railing with the other. So at a completely neutral time, not right before he was about to go downstairs, the parents told him the new rule and did a think-through with him, asking him to tell them what the new rule was and then having him answer a few questions about what he should do to go down the stairs safely.  They also "Prepared for Success" by anticipating that he would be upset by the new rule and then using Reflective Listening to acknowledge and validate his feelings and to help him move through the upset feelings faster, such as "You might wish we would still carry you since we've been doing that for awhile." 

After doing a few think-throughs about the new rule, he started going down the stairs on his own, and his parents were right there nearby to give him lots of Descriptive Praise for being brave and self-reliant!

Laura Runnels Fleming (see profile below)
Pasadena, CA

Friday, April 27, 2012

Sharing toys or snatching toys?

I often get asked by families what they can do to help their children share their toys and not fight or snatch from each other, or what to do when they are with friends and similar sharing problems occur.
A simple and very useful rule that will soon eliminate most hassles over who gets to play with what, is this: any toy left out is shared. In order for this rule to work, each child needs a sacred space where they can leave their belongings undisturbed and where they can play undisturbed whenever they choose to.

If your children have their own rooms, that can be their sacred space. If your children share a room, then the sacred space for the special belongings they don't want to share can be a closet or shelf in the bedroom. In addition, wherever in the house your children are playing, a temporary, movable sacred space can be created with a mat or a towel or a folded blanket. The other child cannot even touch the towel or step on the towel. But if the child leaves a toy on the floor, even by mistake, even if it's only a few inches away from the towel, then it's fair game for the other sibling or friend.

You may assume that a toddler could not possibly learn to leave another child's toy or construction or drawing alone just because it's on a special towel. In Montessori nurseries even two-year olds are trained not to touch anything on another child's mat.

Suzanne Ferera (see profile below)
Vancouver, BC

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Connect for better relationships and improved behavior

Children crave focused attention from their parent. It is the deepest way to experience connection, love, and support. At Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, we call this type of one-on-one time "Special Time". Some parents naturally enjoy the activities of a child - playing with blocks, throwing a ball, reading books or just being silly. So this is easy. Others of us have a harder time pulling our focus out of work or the task at hand and when we have time, we just want to enjoy some adult activity. Regardless of our natural temperament, our children need special time with us for their healthy development.

Special time encourages attachment, soothes anxiety, and provides a firm foundation for growth. It is about engaged calm communication and presence. And your child especially needs special time with you if he or she is is acting out and seeking your attention in negative ways.

So how much one-on-one time do children need each day? The ideal amount of time is thirty minutes per child. Thirty minutes! Most likely you are wondering how any parent today can find thirty minutes to spend focused on just one child. And, what if there are siblings? A family of four might require two hours in which no laundry, grocery shopping, or work would get done. This is not possible. Correct. Few moms or dads have two hours each day in which they are doing absolutely nothing. However, special time doesn't have to mean doing “absolutely nothing.” If your child is misbehaving, thirty minutes is an investment in a solution. If it seems impossible, start with just 10 minutes. What we find is that parents quickly see how doable it is and the many benefits - their child gets the focused attention he needs and feels better and behaves better, and the parent enjoys the time and the connection and feels like a better parent. 

Special time doesn't require forsaking everything for kid focused activities. It is not limited to coloring, book reading, exploring in the park or throwing a ball. Though these are great play activities, they are often a destructive parent trap I frequently see in my counseling office. Problems arise when family life is dominated by children’s activities. Little time or energy is left over for adult relationships or self. Special time can be integrated into the pattern of a normal day- whatever your “normal” may be. Normal life involves work and play.

One of the best ways to get special time with your child in a busy schedule is to be present in the moment. This concept is most easily understood if you think of the difference between “being at the grocery store with your kids” and “being with your kids at the grocery store.” The first perspective, being at the grocery store with your kids, focuses on shopping. The focus is on getting through the store quickly, keeping the kids near the cart, and trying not to forget anything. The second perspective, being with your kids at the grocery store, involves listening to their requests, training them to understand “no”, empowering them to get the can of beans off the shelf, and learning to read labels. Being with your family is the primary focus, the task is secondary. Grocery shopping is work. It is not kid focused play, but it can be an opportunity for powerful quality time in which children share experiences with you and learn about life. Certainly, grocery shopping or any other chore may take longer, but the payoff is much greater.

The concept of being present with your child can be applied to nearly any task such as folding laundry, doing the dishes, cleaning the garage, preparing a meal, driving to pick up the dry cleaning, etc… Most often we don’t engage our children in these chores because it is quicker and easier to do them on our own. Sometimes the children would rather not. However, special time is important and when we are lax about spending time with the people we care about, our relationships wither from distance.

Special time is one the most precious gifts we can bring to any relationship. The power of peaceful presence and focus is deeply nurturing. It may be the most difficult to offer considering the schedule, stress, and how often parents themselves may feel under-nourished. Thirty minutes per day is a lot. It will take practice to get that in. It is also a recommendation, not a requirement. Good parenting does not mean perfection. Be sure to label the time you spend with your child. Framing special time as it happens in your busy day may make it easier to provide and enrich your life. Most likely you already are spending at least thirty minutes with each of your children, but you may be multi-tasking so are not necessarily "present". Take the opportunity to connect.

Amanda Deverich (see profile below)
Willamsburg, VA

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Power of Descriptive Praise: how to reduce impulsive behavior

A friend who recently began volunteering in her five year old son's classroom told me this success story about using Descriptive Praise in the classroom.

She was helping with an art project with a small group of kids. She had noticed that one of the boys in the class had poor impulse control and always seemed to find himself in trouble. Before they could begin the art project, the children had to wait until she finished giving them the instructions. She could see how fidgety this little boy was, and as he reached out to grab the paint brush she said to him, "You really wanted to start painting, but you're waiting patiently while I finish giving you the instructions. You're remembering the rule. It's so hard to wait, and that took a lot of self-control." He slowly drew his hand back, looked at her and smiled. At the end of the class, this little boy came up to her and actually gave her a hug.

My friend was shocked by the power of Descriptive Praise, but this is a result we often see when this technique is used consistently at home and at school.

Laura Runnels Fleming (view profile below)
Pasadena, CA

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What to do when your child is upset

I was in the car with my girlfriend and she was late picking up her 13 year old son from school. She had phoned him to say she was going to be late, and he was already anxious about being the only one left outside the school.

When she arrived he was angry and upset. She immediately launched into an explanation about why she was late, and he got more angry and upset. I intervened and said, "Think of his feelings rather than your own." I then coached her to do a skill we call Reflective Listening. I explained that he doesn't want to hear your reasons or excuses--that he is upset and wants you to listen to his feelings. She then said to him, "I'm usually on time, and maybe you were worried about being left alone." He replied, "What kind of mother would be late for her child?" Instead of getting into another round of explanations and reasoning, she said, "I am sorry I was late; that must have been really upsetting." He then replied, "I don't like this, I am used to getting my mum all riled up and having an argument."

In the Calmer, Easier, Happier parenting approach, Reflective Listening is one of the five core strategies we teach parents. This skill teaches parents how to stay calm and deal with their child or teenagers uncomfortable feelings without getting upset, angry, denying, reasoning, justifying or explaining. With Reflective Listening parents learn an effective way to communicate that all feelings are valid no matter how unpleasant, although some actions are not allowed no matter how they feel. This strategy also gives us a way to stay calm!

Reflective Listening steps:

1. Listen to your child or teen, nod and make encouraging comments like "Mmmm, I see, Oh, Ahh"

2. Temporarily put your own feelings on the shelf (when our kids get upset, it often make us upset!). 
    Resist the urge to justify, reason or explain.

3. Step inside your child or teen's shoes and try and guess how he may be feeling

4. Reflect back in words what you think he may be feeling--be tentative. Use phrases like "Maybe you're angry that..." or "You might wish our rule were different about...", etc.

You will see that once your child or teen feels heard and understood, he'll be able to get over strong feelings more quickly and will be in a better position to listen to what you have to say or to problem solve for himself.

Suzanne Ferera (view profile below)
Vancouver, BC

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Homework: How much is too much?

Recently my little sister contacted me for some big sisterly (and professional) advice. My nephew, a bright and active nine year old was battling homework every night. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do it, but the volume and variance of tasks was overwhelming to manage. A worksheet in math, a project in science, a list of spelling words, and a paragraph to write seem simple to prioritize, but so does getting the kids off to school, getting the groceries, paying the bills, delivering dinner, and supervising homework. The reality of doing is more difficult than drafting the list.

My sister wanted to know how much was too much. Are her instincts correct that the homework load is too much to expect, or is she off the norm and is not demanding enough from her child? Her first stop was the teacher and then the school. Both were willing to discuss but neither appeared willing or able to reduce the homework demand. To my sister, this appeared to be a sacred cow issue despite the two hours it took for the family to accomplish the task. She had to make a decision, continue with the culture’s current demand or stand alone at risk.

My sister chose to adopt the recommendations given by the Department of Education, National Education Association and National Parent Teacher Association of ten minutes of homework per grade level. She felt, as the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting program promotes, that the time limit would be a strong motivator for her son and not make homework a punishment. She and her husband decided to shift their efforts from pressuring him to get the work done to: focusing on positive feedback and goals, reinforcing he do his best, increasing personal meaning and a sense of autonomy by providing choices, and reinforcing the feeling of accomplishment and responsibility.

My sister is making a brave move stepping outside the cultural norm of pressuring her child to achieve at school no matter the cost. I believe her risk will be rewarded in her son and her family’s mental health. The moving film, The Race to Nowhere,, documents the increase in risk of suicide, depression, and stress related illness in young children today that is directly related to the pressure to achieve. Additionally, not a focus of a film, but a poignant experience in my counseling experience, is the life crisis of the students who have mastered the pressure but do not know where to go once they are out of school. They do not know where to go in life or how to create opportunity despite their exceptional skills. There has to be a better way to achieve growth and success. Setting a time limit on homework is one concrete measure to keep parents and their children from being pulled into the never ending, accelerating competition in the race to nowhere.

Amanda Deverich (view profile below) 
Williamsburg, VA

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Praise that works

Last week, my 11 year old was studying for a math test and had just finished a practice exam. As I was looking it over, I noticed that he got every problem right. This wasn't usually the case. Often his numbers don't line up very well, so that can throw off his answer. He also tends to do a lot in his head and then doesn't check his work by writing out the equation.

My first instinct was to go tell him what an awesome job he did on the practice test, but then I realized how vague that praise was and took a second to really think about what was so "awesome". So I just described what he had done differently. I said,

"I looked at your practice test, and I noticed that all your numbers lined up and that you even took the time to check your answers by writing out the equation. You might have solved the problems right anyway by just doing them in your head, but you went that extra step to make sure you got the right answer. That was very thorough work!"

He was looking at me, taking in every word, and he gave me a big smile.

It's ever so tempting to just throw out the "Amazing" or "Great job" kind of praise. The problem is that it's too vague to be meaningful to children, and truthfully, it's also exaggerated. The second type of praise we're often tempted to give in this situation is the "You're so smart" type of praise. Our goal is to build our child's confidence, but current research in educational psychology by investigators such as Carol Dweck, strongly suggest that praising performance or intelligence actually backfires and diminishes motivation as well as children's performance. What is effective for increasing motivation and the willingness to take on challenging work is focusing praise on your child's effort. If you haven't read the fascinating article in the NY Times about the inverse power of praise, it's worth your time.

My son ended up with a high score on the test. The Descriptive Praise he received about the practice test gave him very specific information about what he had done to achieve that score. One of the wonderful things about Descriptive Praise is that it is not only effective at improving a child's habits, which in this case was improving my son's attention to detail, but it also made both of us feel so good. It boosted my son's confidence, and it made me feel good as a parent that I was influencing him in a positive way by praising his effort.

Laura Runnels Fleming (see profile below)
Pasadena, CA

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Stop Hitting Me."

On occasions when I have gone into a family's home, I have seen a child hit his parent or family member. This is always very upsetting for the family. The parent usually responds by demanding that the child stops the behavior but this if often only a temporary patch for the aggressive behavior.

In these situations I teach the parent to hold the child's arm so that he can no longer hit, and then to say, "You have stopped hitting, that is the right thing to do." or "Now you're controlling yourself. Your hands are staying down." Usually if the parent is calm and continues to do this, the child calms down and stops.

In the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting approach, Descriptive Praise is the most effective motivator we know that helps children want to cooperate. Descriptive Praise means noticing and mentioning everything your child does that is right, heading in the right direction or not wrong, and saying this all day long like a running commentary.

We teach parents to descriptively praise their child when he is misbehaving for two reasons. Firstly, telling off does not work, it just gives the misbehavior more attention and does not teach the child what he should be doing. Secondly, we need to understand that learning to behave properly is a long process, so if we descriptively praise little steps in the right direction - for example shouting not hitting - more little steps will follow.

Suzanne Ferera (see profile below)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Want to smack? Don't Smack!

If you have not seen the sickening YouTube video of Judge William Adams beating his 16 year old daughter - don't! It is a classic example of abuse in the guise of discipline. In preparing for this post, I decided to watch the original video that drew several million views and made national headlines.

Within sixty seconds of beginning the clip my 17 year old called from the other room, "What are you watching?" I paused the video and shut the door. This was not something I wanted my kids to see or hear.

In 2004 the Texas family law judge punished his daughter, Hillari, for illegally downloading software on the computer. Hillari is disabled with cerebral palsy. In the video he begins the attack by turning out the lights in the room so as not to be seen through the windows. He then begins swearing and lashing his daughter with a belt. He threatens her, tells her "you caused this" and "this is what it has come to."

This abhorrent episode is an extreme example of how "smacking" does not teach a lesson, rather it teaches fear, distrust, and self-protective strategies. Most people seem to agree that Judge Adams' actions were indefensible, and way beyond the bounds of effective parenting. However, this incident has triggered a national discussion: "Is corporal punishment ever OK?"

Noël Janis-Norton wrote a book, Can't Smack, Won't Smack, to offer parents alternatives to physical punishment. In the book, she rebuts many of the common arguments in favor of "smacking."  Some of these have been aired recently on talk shows and in opinion pages. One favorite is the idea that a child who might ignore a talking parent cannot ignore physical punishment. Or, that a child may not understand reasoning - but they do understand avoiding pain, and a physical "lesson" can be administered far more quickly than a time-out or other non-spanking punishment. We often hear that cultures across the world use various forms of corporal punishment, so who are we to judge? Or, that children can certainly be exasperating and many parents will occasionally lose their temper and resort to a "smack."

Noël responds to these arguments by acknowledging that it is understandable that an overly stressed parent might resort to spanking, but that most parents would rather not spank their children if there were a better choice.

There are obvious negative outcomes when parents use corporal punishment. Spanking a child can create distrust of the parent. When we spank, we teach our children that force is an acceptable solution to problems. The consequences of this "lesson" are often seen on the play ground or among siblings.  Some children are spanked repeatedly for the same behavior - clearly spanking is not working.  Importantly, Noel notes in her book that schools no longer use corporal punishment because it breeds resentment without improving behavior.

Judge Adams' beating of his daughter, Hillari, did not improve her obedience to her father. It seems it ended in a power struggle that is being played out on a national level. On the local level, in our own homes, spanking risks similar resentment and does not strengthen the parent-child bond, as more positive parenting strategies do.

There is an alternative to spanking, and parents who have chosen to use the Calmer, Easier, Happier parenting skills have quickly and effectively solved serious behavior problems - without physically punishing their children.

Amanda Deverich (see profile below)
Williamsburg, VA

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"What's The Magic Word?"

I was recently doing a presentation for parents at a preschool and was asked by several of the parents how to help their children learn to remember to say please and thank you. What does not work, in the long term, is to prompt your child when he forgets by saying, for example, "Say that nicely, please" or "What's the magic word?" These prompts don't help your child's long term memory to get the message that polite requests are important. In fact, the prompts just mean that your child has got you into the habit of reminding him. A more useful response is:

"You didn't say 'please' so the answer is no. You can ask me again after dinner (or in five minutes), and I'm sure you'll remember to say 'please'."

" That wasn't your friendly voice (or polite or respectful, or whatever term you use in your family) so the answer is no. In a few minutes you can try again. Probably you won't whinge the next time."

And if your child does not yet know how long it takes for a certain number of minutes to elapse, using a timer is really helpful.

As for "thank you", two strategies are effective. One is to hang on to whatever you are handing your child until he says "thank you", and then Descriptively Praise him for remembering to say it. The other strategy is to reply to a request with, "No, because the last time I said yes (or the last time I gave you a cookie, etc) you didn't say "thank you ". This response will definitely motivate him to take you seriously.

Suzanne Ferera (see profile below)
Vancouver, Canada

Monday, October 17, 2011

"I can't sleep without you, Daddy!"

As a programs coordinator for Noel Janis-Norton, one of my job benefits is to be able to attend her Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting seminars in Southern California.

At a talk for a Montessori school yesterday, a Dad raised his hand and said, "My 4 year old can't go to sleep if I'm not lying next to him. And then when he wakes up in the night, he can't get back to sleep unless I come back in his room and stay next to him. I feel stuck."

This is a scenario that is quite common, where parents feel helpless about this situation and are afraid of their child's reaction if they change the rules or routines. Here's how the conversation went:

Noel: It's not true that he "can't" fall asleep, he's just in the habit of you being there. Just think of it as a habit that can be changed. It's important to remember that kids are born knowing how to sleep. It is a natural human function. What we as parents do can often get in the way of them learning how to fall asleep on their own.

Dad: But he'll cry and tell us he's scared if I don't lie next to him.

Noel: He might be sad because he's used to you doing it, but here's what I recommend. Start by taking small steps. If you usually lie down with him, put a chair next to the bed and sit in it. You can do that for several days and then move the chair closer to the door. Then the next step is moving the chair outside the door.

Dad: But he'll still put up a huge fuss.

Noel: He might, but if you follow the advice I'm about to give you, it will be much less of a fuss than you may think. Start by talking with your wife about what you want the new bedtime rules to be. Then find a "neutral" time to talk with your son. By neutral, I mean not when anyone is annoyed with anyone and nobody is in a hurry. You can say to him, "Daniel, there's going to be a new rule about bedtime starting this Friday. The new rule is that after story time, I'm not going to lie next to you until you fall asleep. I'm going to sit in a chair near your bed, and you'll need to stay in your bed, lying down with your eyes closed. And you might feel sad because you like having me lie next to you. So what's the new rule?"

Now at this point he might get upset or he might not. Remember that you're not talking about this at bedtime, it's a neutral time, so he's less likely to be upset. If he does, just empathize, but don't reason or negotiate. When he's calm, have him tell you the new rule back in his own words. Once he does, ask him a number of questions, such as "What will you do if you want to get up?" and "What should you do if you wake up during the night?"

Dad: Will talking through this one time be all we'll need to do?

Noel: No, this isn't a magic wand that will solve the problem in one conversation. You'll need to do this little "talk-through" about the new rule several times before the day you plan to start the new rule. The more your son tells you what the new bedtime rules and routines are, the less likely he will resist them. The important thing is to make a rule that you can follow through with because it's a rule for you just as much as it's a rule for your son. The more consistent you are and follow through on what you say, the more your son will believe what you say and also respect you even more.

Learning how to fall asleep on their own is an important life skill that we want our children to have, and using these strategies, you will be helping him learn how to do that. This will help him develop confidence and in turn lead to more self-reliance. These are skills all parents want for their children.

Laura Fleming (see profile below)
Pasadena, CA

Monday, October 10, 2011

Getting Past the Candy with Your Kids

Halloween is fast approaching. Candy displays are crawling out of the woodwork like a swarm of spiders! If you find yourself out shopping with your children trying to deflect creeping candy temptation, take heart.

A mother who recently attended one of my presentations gave Reflective Listening a try to prevent a familiar scary “scene” at the grocery store. She was so pleased with the result she shared this inspirational story:

“My children and I were in the grocery store after a birthday party and my son (age 2) saw the M&M’s stand with hundreds of packets inside. He immediately started to ask for some and I thought 'He’s already had cake today… let’s try the new technique.'

I said, ‘I bet you wish you could eat a thousand of those. They would be so yummy!'

My daughter (age 5) said, ‘That wouldn’t be very healthy.’

He then said, ‘Yes, Yummy candy. Bye yummy candy.’

And that was that.

The lady observing us about fell out on the floor and walked up to me and said, ‘I am so impressed. Usually kids just throw a huge fit.’

That made my day."

This mother Reflectively Listened to her son's emotional desire for the M&Ms by giving him his wishes and fantasy, "I bet you wish you could eat a thousand of those." If she had used logic and said, “You’ve had cake already today,” that would have made very little difference to her son’s 2 year old mind. If she had tried to distract her son and said, “Let’s see what’s in the next aisle,” he most likely would not have been dissuaded. If she had said, “We are not buying candy today,” she would have ignored his emotion and a battle of the wills may have followed. Any of these types of responses often result in an escalation of emotion. Reflective Listening proved to be the most efficient, solution-focused technique to getting out of the store without the candy and without the fuss.

Using logic to resolve emotions teaches our children the emotion is wrong to have. Distracting teaches children emotions are to be avoided. Ignoring emotion leaves a child either to suppress or act out emotions in unhealthy ways. Children who do not learn how to appropriately release their feelings grow into husbands, wives, or partners who ignore, suppress or cannot control emotions.

Use Reflective Listening to strengthen parent/child bonds, to diffuse intense emotions, and to engage with emotions in a healthy way. Family life can be Calmer, Easier, and Happier.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Power Of Questions

One of the cooperation strategies in the Calmer, Easier, Happier parenting approach is to ask your child questions. Why is this?

Well, we all know that children, and adults for that matter, don't like being told what to do. But why are questions so helpful? There is actually brain science to explain this. When you ask a question and your child or teen answers, she then sees a vivid mental picture of herself doing the activity and is therefore much more likely to take responsibility to do the action.

It's so easy for our kids to tune us out when we're lecturing and telling them what to do. It's not surprising then that they don't follow our instructions and may make the excuse that they didn't hear what we said. This is another reason why asking questions is so powerful. When you ask questions and require her to respond, it means that she has definitely heard you and the expectations are clear. So the next time you are about to go and tell your child what to do, take a minute to phrase your instruction as a question and ask something like, "What do you need to do before coming down for breakfast?"

Suzanne Ferera (see profile below)
Vancouver, BC

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bridging the Troubled Waters

I was recently on a jet boat ride with Billy, a very bright 5 year old boy who also has an intense, sensitive and impulsive temperament. This boat ride required all passengers to remain seated with snug fitting life jackets for the entire two hour trip, as the boat did spins and twists, splashing the tourists on a hot summer day.

For good reason, Billy's mom was anxious about how he would behave on the trip and did a lot of Preparing for Success, talking through the rules of the boat and asking him lots of questions about the plan for the day, how long they would have to stand in line, where they might sit, whether the life jackets would be loose or tight. These kinds of "think-through" questions helped Billy prepare for the outing--he knew what to expect and how the trip would go. To her relief, the trip started out very smoothly.

After an hour or so of being on the boat, Billy got pretty tired of his tight life jacket and began whining and complaining about it and asking to take it off. His mom listened and nodded and then tried a technique from the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting (CEHP) skill called "Reflective Listening". Instead of reasoning about why he had to keep it on or pleading and reminding about how he only had to wear it for 20 more minutes, she stayed calm, acknowledged his feelings and gave him his wishes in fantasy.

Billy:    "Mom - take off my life jacket! When can I take it off? I don't like it!"

Mom:   Shaking her head empathetically - "You don't like wearing it. It probably feels too tight and uncomfortable. Smiling - Wouldn't it be great if there weren't any boat rules and you could take it off right now?!"

Billy:     Nods with a sad look but stops whining and complaining

Reflective Listening is far more effective than arguing and negotiating. It not only reassures our children that their feelings are understood, it enables us to grant their wishes in fantasy ("Wouldn't it be great if...") and defuse intense emotional moments.

Laura Runnels Fleming (see profile below)
Pasadena, CA

Saturday, September 17, 2011

How Much Should You Give to "Please?"

A mother I know posed the following to her fellow Facebooking mommies:

3 year old son: I wanna watch da monkey.

Dada: We’re eating lunch, Buba. We’ll watch it later.

3 year old son: I wanna watch it now, please.

Dada: After we eat breakfast.

3 year old son: I said “please”...

You: Should he get to watch it (NOW!) or not?

The replying mommies spotted the potential power play right away and offered great advice. These wise women advised against popping in the video lest mom and dad be held hostage by every please ever uttered – from “One more cookie, please!” to “Three more cups of water before bedtime, please!”

Still, if you’ve been working on saying "please" in your home, it is hard to pass up the opportunity to reward the deliberate use of the word. The supportive mommies were hot on that trail, too. They advised thanking the child for saying please, but to following through with what was said the first time. No monkey until after breakfast.

Thanking a child for using the word "please" is certainly an appropriate response and may encourage him to do it again. However, if parents are really interested in motivating their children, a response using Descriptive Praise is the most effective encouragement. Descriptive Praise explains why saying the word is delightful and necessary.

Some parents feel Descriptive Praise is over the top or unnecessary. Children should simply do what is right because they are told. However, those of us who make Descriptive Praise a practice know it is a powerful tool in encouraging good behavior and is significantly less draining than demanding, enforcing, and reminding our children to cooperate.

A Descriptive Praise response in this scenario from Dada to his three year old son might be: “I noticed you said "please". You remembered!” This would be affirming the child for remembering the family is working on saying "please". Or, Dada could say, “Saying 'please' is very polite when you ask for something. You did the right thing.” In this case, this Descriptive Praise encourages polite manners without making "please" the child's all powerful key to getting what they want. There is no need to repeat the fact that there will be no monkey before its time.

Amanda Deverich (see profile below)
Williamsburg, VA

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Thoughts On Gordon Neufeld's book, "Hold On To Your Kids" Part One.

Gordon Neufeld is a revered parenting expert and clinical psychologist in Vancouver. His book, "Hold On To Your Kids" has been very influential.

One of Neufeld's main themes is that it is important for parents to work on their relationship with their children/teens in order for them to be more influential than their children's or teen's peers.

It is absolutely critical to work on your relationship with your children/teens, but what's the most effective way to go about it? In the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting approach, we have very specific strategies for parents to help them establish and maintain a positive relationship with their children/teens, and ways of helping parents restore a relationship that has perhaps become not as positive as they would like.

As parents, most of us are in the habit of taking good behavior for granted or even ignoring it most of the time. Many parents also think that pointing out what their children/teens do wrong will help them to stop doing what was wrong and do the right thing instead.

Unfortunately, this does not work as no one likes to have their mistakes regularly pointed out, and when children/teens (or adults for that matter) are criticized, it does not motivate them to want to do the right thing. In fact, it mostly backfires and we end up with an angry or resentful child, teen or adult.

In order to develop a positive relationship with a child/teen or adult, first we need to notice and show that we are pleased when they do the right thing. This technique is what we call Descriptive Praise. It teaches parents to stop and notice when their child/teen has done something that is right or even OK-ish and say this in words, such as, "I noticed you put your dirty plate in the sink--thanks--", or, "You did what I asked you to do the first time with no arguments--", or, "Thanks for speaking to me in a pleasant tone of voice."

Descriptive praise gives children and teens what they crave and need--appreciation and approval. Children and teens need to see that we like them as well as love them. Descriptive praise is also good for the parents because even when home life has become a bit grim, it forces parents to notice and mention the times when the child/teen has done something right (or at least not wrong), as even a very annoying child/teen does many okay things every day.

The technique of Descriptive Praise is easy to describe and makes sense, but some parents find it difficult to put into practice. This is because we are far more familiar and comfortable with pointing out the problems than descriptively praising the good or OK things.

Make this a 30 day challenge and descriptively praise each member of your household 10 times a day. What have you got to lose!

Suzanne Ferera (see profile below)
Vancouver, Canada

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I loved reading Laura's post about "talk-throughs", one of the ways to Prepare for Success using the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting methods.

There are so many positive, pro-active ways to Prepare for Success, to stop things from going wrong before they have a chance to go wrong.

These days Noël sometimes calls a "talk-through" a "think-through", in order to really make the point that the child is doing some thinking here, not just talking. Children can get quite good at talking without thinking!

In one of these - whatever you choose to call it - our questions, asked at a neutral time before the event, prompt the child to think about and visualize and verbalize themselves doing the correct behavior. It's an extremely useful tool that gets children thinking about the right thing to do, before they've done it, while they still actually have a chance to influence their own behavior for the best. This is in contrast to what often happens between parents and children: the kids get criticism and reprimands after they do the wrong thing.

Adding to the concept of a "think-through" is something my kids and I came to call a "think-after". The boys came up with that name years ago, after they had heard me say a number of times, after some challenging event (that we had prepared for): "I think that went really well, and I'll tell you why..."

A "think-after" is a mini "think-through" that happens AFTER the event. Think of it as a debrief that focuses on the positive. A "think-after" is the perfect opportunity for Descriptive Praise. In fact, your "think after" should consist primarily of Descriptive Praise sentences. For example, instead of saying, "You did such a great job getting ready for school", instead try, "You remembered to put everything you need for school in your backpack--your homework, your supplies and your lunchbox." Just describe exactly what they did right.

If it was worth doing a "think-through" about in the first place, then it is worth doing a "think-after" about afterwards. This is yet another positive way to instill in our children the values we want them to have.

Jill Janis (see profile below)
Tucson, AZ

Friday, July 29, 2011

Got eye-contact? "Greet Expectations"

One of my favorite pearls of wisdom from Noël Janis-Norton's CEHP seminars is this: "If there is something your child is regularly doing that is bothering you, you probably don't have a rule for it."

So it's been bothering me for awhile that my pre-teen needs a "manners upgrade" when it comes to greeting people. The usual scenario is that as soon as he shakes anyone's hand, his body makes an abrupt turn away to the left and his eyes quickly dart away. Now I grew up in Kansas, which I think might be the friendly capital of the world. Whether I was introduced to strangers or greeted guests or was an invited guest, we were expected to smile, look people in the eye and answer politely while continuing eye-contact.

We've certainly talked about "greeting expectations" with our son before, but what we weren't doing was "Preparing for Success", which is one of the core skills of CEHP. In this case, Preparing for Success is about being proactive and talking through the expectations before any greeting situations. It's so easy to wait until things go wrong and then to react with criticism, but unfortunately it's not effective at changing behavior.

So today I had to take my son with me to meet a client. Before we left, we prepared for success and did the CEHP "talk-through" strategy, where I asked him questions about what he should do when he met my client. He said "Look him in the eye and shake hands." I praised him and said, "That's right, and how many seconds should you hold eye-contact?" He said, "Five seconds". We both agreed that might be too long, but that it was definitely more polite than half a second. We decided that three seconds was about right. I also asked him what he would do if he was asked another question about his age or interests, and he said, "look at him". I agreed, "Yeah, and you might want to look at me when you answer because it's more comfortable, but who will you need to look at?" He replied, "At your client."

Here's what happened. My son shook my client's hand, smiled and maintained eye-contact for three seconds, and he even answered questions politely while looking at him. When we got home, I descriptively praised him and said, "Even though you might have felt uncomfortable, you looked my client in the eye and were very polite. I was proud of your manners." He smiled.

Now the key thing for us to do is to keep preparing for success with"talk-throughs" about greeting expectations and rehearsing these situations. Pretty soon he'll be ready for Kansas.

Laura Runnels Fleming (see profile below)
Pasadena, CA

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to get teens to cooperate

In Anthony E. Wolf's article in the Globe and Mail: "How do I get my grumbling, lazy teen to help around the house?", he introduces the article with the statement: "Austin would you please take your dirty dishes out of the TV room and into the kitchen." There then ensues a back and forth debate between parent and teen, which I am sure is common in a lot of households. His suggestion is that, "If you simply stand there, what happens in the vast majority of times is that they will comply."

In the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting (CEHP) approach we have a few extra skills to add that will help a teen want to cooperate. The first is called Descriptive Praise. Parents are often in the habit of taking cooperation for granted or ignoring it. In order to help a teen want to cooperate we must show him that we are pleased with everything he is doing that is right, or heading in the right direction or nor wrong. For example, "Thanks for washing up your dirty dishes without me having to remind you."

The problem with teens, as with all of us, is that no one likes being told what to do. In the CEHP approach we also teach a skill called Preparing For Success. Preparing For Success is a group of strategies that helps parents teach and train their teens to cooperate. One of the strategies is to introduce rules, routines and consequences. In order to introduce a rule, you simply say, "The new rule is that from now on when you have finished eating, you wash up your dishes." You need to introduce this rule at a time when you are not stressed, angry or in a rush. You can then revisit this rule at various times and ask questions about the rule for example, "When you have finished eating what do you need to do with the dishes?" The fact that your teen replies makes it clear that you know he has heard you and the expectations are clear. You will also have to think about consequences, because a rule without a consequence is nothing more than a nag. One of the essential principles of the CEHP approach is that everything has to be earned apart from love, food and shelter - this includes rides, allowance and even screen time. So if your teen does not do the rule, instead of criticizing, nagging, getting angry and upset just wait until he comes to you and wants something. Then calmly say, "I am happy to drive you to your friends house - what do you need to do first?"

Suzanne Ferera
Vancouver, BC

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Calming the Storm

The first word in Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting (CEHP) is calmer. Calmness is something most harried parents can't even imagine, let alone bring to bear in everyday life. How is it possible to stay calm in the storm of a temper tantrum, tirade or turmoil of a tumultuous schedule? Parents are pressured by daily chores, expectations, adult concerns and the ongoing needs of their children. Yet, calm is the foundation and gift of CEHP.

Calmness comes from vision and having strategies that you know are effective. For example, I was having difficulty with yelling and talking back in my home. My teenage daughter and I were both under a lot of stress having just lost my husband, her father, to cancer. She and I would find ourselves in screaming matches. It was emotionally and physically draining and not productive at all. I was not in control of myself or my child. The cycle of yelling had to stop.

First I stopped yelling and remained calm--at least externally in the beginning. I followed the CEHP strategies. I established a new rule: no more yelling. Second, I took advantage of the eye of the storm and used descriptive praise with my daughter the minute she paused in screaming. "You've stopped yelling. Now we can talk.", I said. It took a few times for my daughter to believe that I wasn't going to yell back at her, but perseverance paid off. Yelling is a rarity in our home now. Once I had a successful experience with the CEHP skills, it was easier to remain calm and generate many more positive outcomes. Now I had strategies that work.

Having a parenting vision and the tools to achieve it makes all the difference in the world. The calm and ease result in a happier home life. I ran into a mother in a store the other day. She had attended one of my CEHP presentations a week or so prior. "Amanda,", she said, "You changed my life. I have been practicing those skills and things have been going so much smoother in the mornings. No more power struggles. No more fighting and screaming to get out the door."

"That's great!", I said.

"My children started saying "I love you, Mommy", she said.

I smiled at her happiness.

"But no!" She interrupted my response. With a touch to my arm, she leaned in a little closer and softly said, "Then they started saying, "We like you, Mommy."

She had calmed her storm.

Amanda Deverich (see profile below)
Williamsburg, VA

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ahhh, summer. Oh, no--summer!

During the school year, we've got our routines down, but when summer comes, routines can quickly go to pot. On one hand, it's nice to get up a little later and to have more unscheduled time. On the other hand, the things that are usually done by 8 am can now easily drag out until noon.

Take music practice, for instance. Our 12 and 10 year old boys both play instruments, and we've found that the best time of day for them to practice is in the morning before school. And no, I'm not a "Tiger Mom", but that's another important topic for a blog post, so we'll get there. Trying to fit in practicing the violin and cello after school when there's homework and other after school activities has never appealed to us, as I know it would likely create a lot of negotiating and reminding and nagging and result in our boys hating practicing their instruments. Whereas in the morning, they get up, get dressed, make their beds and do their practice. They are in the routine of it, so there's no resistance and practice is done and out of the way early.

So summer. Because we didn't want to negotiate and nag our boys about music practice, we took a tip straight from one of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting's core skills, "Preparing for Success" and rejiggered the rule about when it happens. So our new summer rule is that we moved practices back 45 minutes so everyone feels like they're benefiting from summer vacation by sleeping in a bit, but we stick with our morning routine and practice early, whenever possible. Though they moaned when we first told them the new summer rule, the next morning after they practiced, both boys mentioned how much they liked practicing early and knowing they had more free time later. When the rules are clear, our kids don't resist and everyone is calmer and happier knowing the plan.

Laura Runnels Fleming (see profile below)
Pasadena, CA