Giving Trust the Conscious Parenting Way

Tonight my husband and I genuinely shocked our 5-year-old son (and ourselves).  He announced he was done eating mid-meal because he was ready for dessert.   He hadn’t touched a bit of his brisket –which he loves — but was excited to eat Nana’s double chocolate layer cake which had been staring him square in the eyes since we arrived yesterday.  We were in the middle of  a proclamation about how he had to eat 4 bites more if he wanted to eat dessert.  This has been the typical pattern for us–ordering x bites more to get x reward–and truly we thought this was out of love and concern.  My kid would have whined, stuffed himself by our conditions to eat more than his body wanted and been unconsciously reminded that he is not trusted to make decisions about his body. Conscious-parenting-fail.

“Conscious Parenting means you spot the gap between the lesson you intend to teach and the lesson your kids are learning. Then you adjust your technique and improve messaging”

Instead, we tried a different approach tonight and adjusted our message: “you are going to get dessert whether or not you eat more dinner, but you do need to be reminded of couple things before you make that decision.  First, besides from dessert, this is the last food you will have until breakfast tomorrow.  We will not entertain whining or begging later if you tell us you are hungry.  And two, you are getting one small serving of dessert so don’t depend on that to fill you up significantly.”

We are desperate for him to learn how to be aware of his body’s hunger (and emotional) signals–so why would we not get be him the chance to practice just that?  Why would we interject our worries about his fullness with a really quite random number of bites?  To satiate his hunger or our fear?  Well we’re human and parenting is a muscle.  Conscious parenting takes intention and practice until it becomes automatic because of the neural pathways (muscle memory) that gets created in the brain.  The fate of the firstborn is that he is our guinea pig–we are learning to step back from our egos’ fears and allow him to unfold with the gift of allowing him practice to learn new skills and that means sometimes learning the hard consequences. It also means that we have to try out new approaches in our parenting and adjust as necessary.

With our egos aside, he ate some more bites of pepper. A couple bites of challah. And then a small piece of cake. He left the table with his dignity intact and with an affirmation of trust from the people who love him most.  It will be a good new year.

1. For more read: http://itsnotaboutnutrition.com/2016/09/20/improve-messaging/

Parenting with Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation

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Behavior.  Ah. There is so much noise out there on the internet about how to get your children to behave better.  The commonly accepted way of getting your children to do something usually comes back to what social scientists refer to as Behaviorism.  Behaviorism means conditioning someone to alter certain behavior patterns in spite of thought or feeling.  There is an entire branch of social science devoted to exactly how this can be done called Applied Behavior Analysis.  It is fascinating because used specifically and scientifically, you actually can get your child–or dog, for that matter–to complete any task you want.  But it is not a perfect answer for parenting a child (with average non-pathological behaviors) for a number of reasons.

A part of behaviorism that parenting literature is ripe with is the idea of positive reinforcement.  A simple explanation is: “Do this and get that“.  This can be very valuable to use as a parent but should not be the model of shaping behavior for one to use in the long-term.  I will explain further but first lets look at how is this different that a bribe.

Bribes are when you give the reward before the behavior is completed.  (ex.  Your child asks for a new toy when you are walking through the store.  You oblige and give them the toy but tell them that you expect they are going to clean their room when you get home).

Positive reinforcement is when you complete the behavior and then get the reward.  (ex. Your child asks for a new toy when you are walking through the store.  You oblige and tell them that AFTER they clean their room, they can have the toy).

Bribes are ineffective because the child has no motivation to complete the desired task because they already have the reward.  Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, gets the behavior completed and is therefore considered effective.

While positive reinforcement does get the behavior completed, the problem lies in giving rewards for completing behavior.  Implicit in positive reinforcement is a power dynamic that tells kids that they are less than the adults.  The problem with having this belief is that you are trying to raise individuals with thoughts, feelings, and hearts and a controlling paradigm does not teach kids to act responsibility, it only elicits compliance. Simply stated by Alfie Kohn in his book “Punished By Rewards” he asks: “Do rewards motivate? Yes, they motivate to get more rewards”.  So yes, you will get the behavior completed, but only because their was a reward.  There have been scientific experiments that actually prove that “children whose parents believe in using rewards to motivate them are LESS COOPERATIVE AND GENEROUS than their peers” (Kohn, p.174)

So what about punishment? How does that fit into this equation?  Punishment reinforces the power dynamic between parent and child to an even greater extent and this can be detrimental to a positive parent-child relationship where your child sees you as someone to be turned to and trusted with the good and the bad that they need help sorting through as they mature.   While a parents ego might feel good for having power, a child will feel unimportant, incompetent, impaired, weak, and unable which are exactly the traits you do not want someone who is learning about how to function as an individual in the world to have.   Your relationship with your baby might be a matter of providing for mostly physiological needs but as children develop they need parents to guide them through the higher level needs as shown below on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

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So the question becomes, if we are not supposed to use rewards to get our children to behave in a certain way, how can we elicit compliance when we want something to get done?  It is time to talk about intrinsic motivation.

“There is a difference between forgiving ourselves an occasional blunder and refusing to admit that certain approaches are blunders” (Kohn, p.233)

Instead of using your power to exert control or manipulation over your child, try tap into their innate desire to solve problems positively.  Think about the content, collaboration, and choice.  Content refers to whether the behavior you are trying to elicit is necessary and developmentally appropriate.  Then, work with your child to collaborate on possible ways to get the behavior done.  This problem-solving technique views the child as a parter who has equal power in coming up with solutions, not merely a droid who will do as we say.  Give your child practice in problem solving and they will learn how to solve problems.  Tell your child what to do all the time and they will always be looking for direction to follow.  And finally, the final part in how to improve our child’s intrinsic motivation will be to give them choice.  Let the kids be a part of choosing how the desired action will be done.  Empowerment for a child does not have to mean disempowerment for a parent–it means you are doing your child (and yourself) a favor to unfold this human into their full potential instead of forcing your will on them.

I encourage you to process this information and come back to me with questions and comments. I am available to meet privately or speak publicly on this topic.   Please contact me for further information.

Sources:

Kohn, Alfie. Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. Print.

Tsabary, Shefali. The Awakened Family: A Revolution in Parenting. New York: Viking, 2016. Print.

(c) 2016, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance

Rotate the Blame

Even if your children are the best of friends they will inevitably argue fight and blame each other at times.  Even the best parent doesn’t always know who is telling the truth and who did what.  So what do you do in this situation?  Blame the oldest?  Blame the youngest? You can probably justify each.  According to Marriage and Family Therapist David Gaesser of Pittsford, NY, you have five choices: blame both, blame neither, blame one or the other, or, quite simply, you rotate the blame.

Assuming you don’t know what happened and are not sure if your child is telling the truth than if you blame both you are probably going to get a lot of anger from the one who did not do said behavior.   If you choose to blame neither then one (or more) is getting away with whatever was done.  If you have no idea who did what and you always choose the side of one child and the other will eventually start to notice the unfairness. Realistically it probably won’t take long for resentment to stew and it will become a destructive cycle.

By rotating the blame, you choose which one is going to get in trouble for this time and the next time you have no idea who did what, choose the other.  This will teach the children that when they create commotion, the caregiver is not going to make assumptions or judgements or take sides.  Instead, the caregiver is going to do the best he/she can to find facts and whey they can’t–and sometimes you won’t– rotate the blame.

*If you are having problems with sibling rivalry-we can help through private coaching sessions.  We also highly recommend the book: Siblings Without Rivalry: How to help your children live together so you can live too By: Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

 

 

 

3 Foundational Parenting Principles

The Parenting Philosophy of Rochester Parenting Coach can be summed up in 3 basic foundational parenting principles: KISS, set yourself up for success, and there is hope.  Essential to these principles is my mission is to empower parents with reflection, intention, and improved communication.  While my hope that your family dynamic improves, my intention is that is comes from the parents trying new approaches as a result of our work together not the kids simply learning new behaviors.  This will create confidence in parents and lasting change in their family.

The first principle is KISS–keep it simple, stupid!

So much of modern-day parenting is a bunch of stuff that gives parents anxiety that they aren’t (insert verb here) for their children.  While kids can be confusing for adults, they aren’t really too complex if you understand their emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development.  All kids (really, all people!) want attention, love, and to be cherished.  Yes, obviously you need some ‘stuff’ to raise a child but don’t be confused by what you want to give your child and what they actually need.  Needs are: a place to sleep, healthy food to eat, toys to keep them stimulated, a safe environment, a good sleep schedule, medical attention when necessary.  Wants are: lots of toys, vacations, added sugar, new almost-anything.

Behaviorally, your kids–no matter their age–need boundaries and love.  They need to know what is allowed of them and what is not tolerated (like violence of any sort, for example).  Boundaries give them comfort because it lets them know your expectations and what they need to do to fulfill those expectations.  Love is a nonnegotiable need for all people.  Different kids accept love in different ways.  Some may want quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch (See 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman).   Give your kids lots of positive reinforcement when they do something you want them to do and give them love unconditionally–no matter what they do.

A simple environment will more likely translate in to a home of more emotional calmness.  When your child is quietly engaged in an activity allow them the peace and quiet to focus on what has captured their attention, no matter how trivial it may seem to you.  Too many toys in a playroom usually results in the kids playing with none of them.  Little children (5 and under) don’t care about expensive experiences–they care about attention from their parents.  If you do take them on an expensive experience (ex. far-away vacation, live theatre, fancy dinner) be honest with yourself that it is more about fulfilling your needs than theirs.   Overstimulation–in activities or environment–will cause anxiety for you and/or your young children–so try hard to keep it simple and have developmentally appropriate expectations!  And remember: the best things in life aren’t things.

It is important to understand your childs cognitive development so that your keep your expectations relative to their abilities.  Cognitive development refers to how they think, problem solve, and learn.  You want to push them just enough so they are interested to learn but not too much that they are overwhelmed and give up.  You want to clarify and simplify your expectations relative to your child’s development and try hard not to compare them to other kids.  Carol Dweck, well celebrated researcher on mindset, reminds us to celebrate the process of learning (which includes mistakes), not just focus on the outcome.  Being labeled “good” or “bad” (fixed mindset) can have detrimental effects on your child’s self-efficacy but being positively reinforced for their growth, hard work, and effort (growth mindset) will give them the encouragement and knowledge that continually learning is the optimal outcome whether they are 2 or 22.

The second principle is: Set yourself up for success.  Parenting is already a hard job–don’t make it harder by bringing your child into a situation that you know will not work out well for them (or you) and expect a miracle.  By adjusting your expectations–making them more realistic and honest with what their needs are–you will make your child and yourself happier, saner, and more relaxed.  Now, obviously there are times when we know we are bringing them into a situation that will be tough for them.  If this is the case, allow them to feel those feelings and recognize your needs versus their needs.  Are they/you upset because they/you are tired/bored/hungry? Are they/you upset because your plans changed? Are they/you angry because you are missing out on a fun time? Are they/you sad that you didn’t get to do what you wanted?  Do you have unreasonably high expectations for yourself?  When I had my first child, my only goal for the first 6 weeks of his life was to keep him alive and to shower everyday.  Seriously those were my life’s goals and some days, that was really hard.  As kids get older, you grow with them and learn to anticipate their needs.  Listen to that voice inside of you–it is the cultivation of a parental instinct and is gets better with the more experience you have as a parent.    

There is hope is the final foundational parenting principle of the Rochester Parenting Coach.  It simply refers to the fact that no matter how poorly behaved your kids are, how challenging they may be, how stressful parenting is, it can get better.  Ask for help early and often.  Don’t wait for little problems (my cute little 2-year-old won’t listen, ha ha!) turn into big problems (why won’t my teenager listen?!!?!).  I started this business after finding that my son was remarkably responsive to a well planned behavioral intervention and thought that everyone deserves to have some experienced eyes on their children and thus their parenting.  Be honest with yourself if you need help–this is a journey and even a slight adjustment can have wide-reaching positive or negative consequences.  You decide.