Working Harder Than Our Children At Their Happiness… And Why This Will Always Fail!

In working with parents and children of all ages, I have discovered that there is a parental common misunderstanding that presents a lethal threat to our children’s future happiness.

While the source of this erroneous thinking may be unknown, the essence of this faulty thought process is this:  “It’s our job to make sure our children are happy.  So, if they are unhappy… I should fix it.  If they find themselves bored… I should un-bore them.  If they want to complain about their life, I should listen, again and again and again.  And finally, with the 237 toys in their arsenal of entertainment, if they can’t find something to play with…I should always make myself available.”

The ultimate result:  We end up working harder at our children’s happiness and success than they do.

3 Reasons Why This ‘Working Harder Than They Do’ Approach Always Fails!

Life is not set up that way.  Life rewards those who find happiness with what is given.

We see dozens of examples of both children and adults with almost countless “goodies” to play with, and yet there is no real happiness.  When we offer our children a good home, with great toys and a safe place to play…they must then learn to find happiness.

If they keep asking us to help fix “it” in moments of unhappiness, and we do so, we see that our children (rarely) learn to sustain a positive, happy outlook.

We teach our children
that it is OUR job to make them happy.

This always comes to an ugly ending.  For a while, we can keep jumping through hoops, and trying our best to make sure things go well.  We start to get exhausted and frustrated.  We are working so hard…and yet, the kids seem to keep finding misery.  Even in this great home, loving parents, good schools and lots of toys…they seem unable to maintain happiness, and I keep trying to help them.

Eventually, years later, we find that if we keep working harder than they do at their happiness…there is ultimately no amount of effort that I can exert that will make my middle-schooler happy.

And even worse, they now blame me for everything.  IT’s my fault when they aren’t happy or things do go well.

And why shouldn’t they blame me:  I taught them that it was my job.  They are just following in the path I have offered.  And yet, the ultimate catch is this…

We do not prepare them for life’s disappointments, if we keep protecting them from it.

While it certainly seems reasonable, on the surface, to advocate for avoiding disappointment…this approach actually is not helpful.  It is harmful.  Please don’t misunderstand me:  I am not suggesting you set up as much disappointment for your child as possible.

No.  What I am suggesting is that life is naturally going to involve times when you don’t get what you want.  This is reality.

Your children will need to learn how to handle these moments, without mom or dad rushing in to save the day.

Learning to get through disappointment is like building an emotional muscle.  We might even call it the emotional muscle of ‘resilience.’  Resilience is built on experience, at least to a degree.  And the more we protect our children from moments of disappointment, the more we disable them from building this critical emotional muscle.

The Healthy Prescription For Emotional Resilience

Belief in your child’s strength.  Express this as, “I know you can handle it sweetheart.”

And then, rather than fixing it, allow the unhappiness or frustration or disappointment to have its place.  There may be a few tears, a bit of drama and maybe even some ugly words about mom or dad, but this will pass.

  1.  Boredom and other complaints are not your job to fix.

When they say they are bored, look around the room and understand that this is a statement that makes no sense.  There are lots of things for your kids to do in your home, so allow them to find a way to be entertained.  Don’t fix it.  Don’t solve it.  Don’t direct them.  Instead, smile…and walk away.

And understand…it’s their job in this very luck world we live in…to find their happiness.  Give this some time, and you will see that they actually get better at it.  BUT only, if we stop trying so hard!

Coping with disappointments
are a critical life skill to develop.

When there is inevitable disappointment, you can certainly coach them a bit.  But don’t try to fix it.  Listen, and assure them that this too will pass.

As with all positive changes, growth is seen over time.  When you make these adjustments, you will see a turn around that happens within weeks.  Best of luck.

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Mom…Dad:  How Much
Juice Is Wasted?

Let’s imagine something:  Every day upon awakening, your children (and you) have been given a gift.  This gift comes in the form of a brand new daily dose of ‘Results Juice.’

The ‘Results Juice’ is there to allow you and your children to make decisions and choices in order to get ‘results’ from life.  The juice gives you the ability to choose how to use your energy to get more of what you want.

Each of us only gets a certain amount of this daily juice.  Once used up, then there is no more available for today.  Every time we make a decision to create some result, we expend a portion of our ‘Results Juice.’  Just imagine, every decision to do something requires that you or your child pour some juice out of the bottle.  When it’s dry for the day, we have no juice left for creating good results.

Some of us use our ‘Results Juice’ very wisely, and conserve this juice so we can create great results when it counts.  We end up with more of what we want in life.  For others, we waste this juice and it shows up in our daily life and in our children’s lives.

How Do We Waste This Precious ‘Results Juice?’

There are many daily tasks that simply must be completed every day, because we want a healthy, productive and responsible life.  Some examples would be showers, brushing teeth, preparing meals, and homework for the kids.  These are done every day if we want a positive result such as healthy teeth, clean bodies and good grades.

However, many of you see how your children argue every day for a negative result.  They fight to put off their homework, or argue about brushing their teeth and debate endlessly over eating their veggies.  These are great examples of wasting their ‘Results Juice’ seeking a harmful result.

For some, you see this waste of juice begins as the day starts, with arguments over getting up, dressed and out the door.  Every day you end up in these battles, as your child wastes their precious allotment of ‘Results Juice’ to try to get something that is unhealthy, impractical or even impossible (not go to school).

For others, your child wastes their juice fighting for a sloppy room, or to become a homework ‘loser’ or even to stay up till midnight.  Yes, your children are using their good juice, but fighting for a result that will not serve them.   And in response, you also are wasting your good juice in the battle!

How To Use Our Juice Wisely?

There is a simple way to avoid this waste.  We must not debate or argue over the pre-determined ‘results’ we want in our home!   We know the result we want, so we need to stop talking about it or debating it.

Instead, these healthy decisions must be pre-determined and a daily structure put in place that eliminates the debates and arguments.   This is a critical skill to develop, and it begins with understanding that you must STOP the debates and discussions.   Next, you must learn to use leverage to get the results you want, and not expend your own personal ‘Results Juice’ fighting every day to get your kids to do the right thing.

In essence, we set up our home so that the ‘Results Juice’ can only be used on the good stuff, such as figuring out a homework problem or resolving a conflict with a brother or sister.  This is a parenting skill that will transform both the quality of your home life, and also the quality of your child’s life.

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The 4th Grade Question &
The 4th Grade Voice

In my work as a parenting coach, I am often working with families who encounter difficulties with their children over homework issues.  In recent years, there appears to be an increase in the number of children who come home from school, and have no idea of how to complete their homework.

Many parents get sucked into a pattern of responding to children, who really are presenting as helpless and incompetent…when in reality…they’re not!

They’re not helpless.  They’re not incompetent.  Instead, they are capable, intelligent, and simply need to learn how to manage and organize their intellectual and academic skills.

How would you recognize this pattern?

It would sound like this:

  • “I can’t do this!”
  • “I don’t know how to.”
  • “The teacher didn’t show me how to do this.”
  • “I can’t.”
  • “I’m stupid.”
  • “I don’t know what to do.”
  • “I can’t do it.”
  • “I need help….I need help.”

If you notice, each of these questions or comments might appear to have some legitimacy.  And in reality, it does!  Given the level of effort applied to the homework in front of them, these comments make perfectly good sense.  If we’re paying close attention, we notice that your son or daughter glanced at the homework, looked up at the ceiling, rolled their eyes, and then began to cry for help.

There is no resolve.  There is no effort.  There is no pencil moving in an effort to figure out the problem.

Instead, it’s just a pattern of helplessness.

In fact, it’s a pattern of learned helplessness.  It’s learned helplessness because they have learned that being helpless and incapable only serves them.

How does it serve them?  It serves them because three things are happening to promote their continued incompetence and expanding helplessness.  These are:

  • First, Mom or Dad ends up working harder at getting their homework done than they do.  This relieves them of that burden.
  • Secondly, very little real effort is required.  Instead, it’s “pretend effort.”
  • Third, and most importantly, the helplessness is repeatedly and consistently rewarded with parental attention and energy.

When you combine these three factors, it is inevitable that the child becomes more and more helpless and incompetent, when asked to work their intellectual muscle and to expand their skills.

Most parents I work with are aware that their children are bright and capable, and find themselves frustrated as this pattern emerges and worsens year after year.  Yet, they also believe their children, and “buy into” the notion that their son or daughter needs constant help and guidance.

The problem is that all of this parental assistance is like a crutch.  If your child walked on crutches for the rest of their lives, would they ever learn to walk without a crutch?  Of course not!

If the intellectual muscle is not worked, it gets weak.  It’s just the way it is.

Learn the rule of competence!

The rule of competence is simply this.  Regardless of your child’s tested abilities, I encourage you to assume competence and ability to learn.  Assume that they’ll get it, even if they have to work harder than most of the kids in their class.

Notice the key distinction here as I emphasize that “they must work harder” because it is your son or daughter who will have to do the work in order for them to learn the necessary skills.  If it’s a parent, a teacher or a tutor who end up working harder than the child…then the child never gets.  It’s like going to the gym, and having your trainer lift the weights for you.  The muscle will never get stronger if someone else is always doing the work.

So the rule of competence requires that you assume that your children are capable, and respond accordingly.

How do you turn this into a practical strategy?

You follow this very simple rule: Fourth grade question.  Fourth grade voice.

Make sure that you only respond to your children, if they ask a question that is in a voice that is appropriate for a fourth grader, and the question is at a fourth grade level (if your child is in fourth grade).  Of course, if your child is in second grade, the rule would apply as follows: Second grade voice…Second grade question.

In other words, you wouldn’t respond to whining and complaining.  You wouldn’t respond to a general statement such as, “I can’t do it.”

Is has to be a specific question, stated in a voice that is not whining and helpless.  It has to be a question that actually reflects some attention given to the question and the challenge that is in front of your child.

Such questions do not typically come out of children who have adopted a helpless posture.  They refuse to even look at the work, and often push it away while screaming at the top of their lungs that they simply don’t know what to do next.

In this situation, your job is to simply ignore everything that doesn’t meet the rule of competence.  You don’t remind them that they can do the work.  You don’t point them in the right direction to where the answer is found.  You don’t go over the question for the fourth time.  You don’t remind them that they are smart.  You don’t tell them that they are wasting time.  You don’t let them know that they are driving you crazy.

Instead….you ignore all of the drama.  You ignore all of the helplessness.  You ignore all the whining and complaining.

You only respond to…fourth grade question…fourth grade voice.  Notice that when you follow this rule, your child will learn to ask questions that you can actually answer.  The question is actually something you can respond to.

Now granted, it may take several days of completely wasted sessions of incessant whining and drama (which you completely ignore) for your son or daughter to realize that you aren’t going to rescue them any more.  They will actually have to put forth some effort, in order to make some headway.  They’ll actually have to put attention and energy into their homework, in order to develop a question that you could actually help them answer.

As a final note, if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that your son or daughter is now forced to ask a question that not only can use answer…but it’s a question that they could actually answer.  Given that it’s a question that they could answer, they’ll actually begin to be able to answer their own questions.

I hope you can see the magic in how this works.  It’s really an amazing transformation that occurs in a matter of a week or two, if you can stick to your guns on this.

Just remember…fourth grade question…fourth grade voice.  Ignore everything else, and your child’s competence will magically emerge.

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The Dangers of Trying to Nurture Self-Esteem

Okay, let’s get one thing on the table right up front: a healthy self-esteem is a good thing for your child.

This is not an article suggesting that there are problems with the concept of having a healthy self-esteem: instead this is an article about the problems associated with parenting that is focused on the thought that your son or daughter needs to have their self-esteem nurtured or “built up” by you.

First, let me review a couple myths about self-esteem:

Myth number one: your kids will not develop a healthy self-esteem unless you intentionally nurture it.

This simply isn’t true.  A healthy sense of “self-esteem” is based upon how children “esteem” themselves.  In other words it’s something that comes from within….not something that comes from without.  They learn to do this naturally, provided that they’re not exposed to harsh criticisms, overly vigilant parenting, or constant efforts to protect them from every moment of discomfort that they might experience.

Myth number two: You have to protect your kids from negative experiences for them to develop a healthy self-esteem.

Think about how absurd this.  Discomfort and unpleasant experiences will be an evitable part of your child’s future.  However possible learning to deal with these as an adult, if they don’t have opportunities to work through these as a child?

It’s just like any other muscle.  They have to be able to work the muscle of getting through their upsets, in order to know that they can handle future upsets.

You strip away their sense of self-confidence, when you keep trying to protect them from these moments.  You rob them of the opportunity to build an emotional muscle, when you rescue them from their childhood pains.

Myth number three:  You can build self-esteem with your words.

Let’s get real about this one for a moment.  If parents could actually build a child’s self-esteem with using words, it’s very unlikely that there would even be a book on parenting, or that a self help product on parenting ever sold a single copy.

Most well intentioned parents offer their kids all sorts of positive statements, and try to support their self-esteem.  Yet, it rarely has its intended affect.  For kids who are struggling with self-esteem issues, it often has the negative affect, as kids become more and more dependent on the feedback of their parents, rather than turning to their own sense of self confidence that comes from within.

Just remember it’s called “self confidence” not “parent confidence.”

Myth number four: Harsh or critical parenting is not a factor in self-esteem development.

I have worked with dozens of parents who come to me to help their child gain a greater sense of self-confidence.  Yet, many of these parents are harsh, critical, and constantly controlling and directing their kids.  They simply can’t allow their children to have a moment to make a choice, and experience the consequences of the choice.  This overly controlling, or critical parenting style represents a constant threat to your child’s self-esteem.  This is perhaps the most important factor to focus on, if you want to ensure your child’s healthy development.  Make a commitment to abolish your negative attitude and perspective, and your kids will have the opportunity to realize what an amazing, magical experience life can be and how wonderful it is to be their unique self.

Myth number five: If you don’t do something, their self-esteem will suffer.

Let’s just check this for a moment.  Do you have any data to support this?  Is there any real research that would suggest that this conclusion is true?

I would suggest to you that there is very little data to support that that’s true.

Now don’t get me wrong.  What you do will make a difference.  It’s just that the way that you’re doing it will likely make things worse.  When you approach the thought of your child’s self-esteem from a totally different angle, you’ll see that you can nurture healthy self-confidence but in a natural, relaxed and trusting manner.

So where does this lead you?  It could lead you to the following place.

Consider dropping your story about your child’s self-esteem, and particularly dropping the idea that they should be this or they should be that.  Celebrate who they are.  Teach them to celebrate their uniqueness.

Rather than artificially trying to pump up their self-esteem, offer comments of an occasional nature that are authentic and real.  Search your heart, and speak from your heart in a way that conveys your deepest truth.  These will have much more of an impact.

Finally, make certain that you don’t rescue your kids from their discomforts and struggles.  Step back, and allow them to get through those moments.  Remember: This is the emotional muscle that will serve them in the future.  If you don’t allow them to develop that muscle, they will find themselves in struggle after struggle, turning to others for input rather than trusting themselves.

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How To Break The Exhausting
Habit Of Repeating Requests With Your Children

 In last week’s article on Spring Cleaning your parenting toolbox, I discussed four ways we can detect parenting tools that need to be updated.  In this article, we explore how to improve on a commonly used, but exhausting approach to getting children to listen.

How often do you hear yourself
saying these things?

  • Hey guys, please pick up your toys for me.
  • Why do I have to keep reminding you to pick up your stuff?
  • PLEASE clean up your toys for me.  I am asking nicely.
  • Didn’t I ask you to pick up your toys?  Why do I have to keep doing this?
  • How many times do I have to ask you to pick up?
  • Why haven’t you picked up those toys?  I am not going to repeat myself.
  • Look! I am tired of asking you to pick up?  DO IT NOW!
  • I am NOT going to ask you again!  PICK UP YOUR STUFF!
  • IF YOU DON”T PICK UP YOUR TOYS, I WILL GIVE THEM AWAY!
  • YOU ARE MAKING ME ANGRY.  PICK UP YOUR STUFF NOW!

If this sounds like your home, then an easier, more cooperative future is just a brave step away!

In my work with families, I often ask parents to hide the video camera and record a “typical” afternoon or evening at home.  I do this when parents are reporting lots of frustration and making little progress, when they should be making more headway with the negative behaviors in their home.

Here’s what is often revealed.  When mom or dad report that they have to remind the kids a few times, the video reveals that many instructions are repeated five to ten times!  And, as you would expect, each repetition comes with an increase in parent frustration, and increase in volume, and an increase in threatening language.

LIFE RULE #1:  If mom or dad repeat, children keep repeating their behavior.

Let me explain.  When your only parenting tool is to keep repeating the same (or similar) words over and over, you are destined to keep getting the same result over and over.

If you keep repeating requests that have no consequence attached, then you will find that your children often learn that your words simply mean MORE WORDS ARE COMING!

You might be thinking that your children should listen to your words.  Yet, you find that they don’t.

So instead of clinging to a ‘should’ that has no basis in the reality you live at home, why not notice that your strategy is not working.  It’s a losing strategy…IF your desire is respectful, cooperation at home.  This repeating and repeating and repeating not only leads to frustration on your part, but an even more painful future awaits you (More about this next week).

For now, please remember this:  If you want your words to be heard by your children, for many children this will require a shift in your behavior.  Many of us ‘lead’ our parenting with words– rather than action.  This is a mistake, and one commonly ‘sold’ to you on talk shows and magazines.

Just test what it’s like turning things around.  Instead, lead with your actions, and let words follow.  When you do this, your words will then take on meaning with your children.  You won’t have to keep repeating yourself over and over.  Let’s quickly make this concrete, using the example above.

Updated Parenting Tool #1: 

“I will ask once, and give you a few minutes to pick up.  If you don’t pick up, I will pick up for you without complaint- but you lose all of it for 2 days.  No second chances.”

Okay, when you do this, you must follow with consistent action.  And, you must ignore the drama that unfolds after you put the toys (remote, video, etc) into a bag for two days.

Also, you take this action with no anger or frustration.  You have explained the new rule, and now you simply honor it with quiet resolve.

Then watch what happens over the next few weeks.  You will find your words begin to have meaning, and your repetition drops dramatically.  More ease and peace will follow.

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“THOUGHT-LESS” ROUTINES

Summary: Why wouldn’t you want to make life as struggle free as possible?

While there will certainly be struggles, why not establish a structure and routine that makes life easier?  It can be done!

This is best achieved through creating a world where chores and responsibilities are completed without the need for constant decision making, without the need for nagging or prodding, and without the need for continued monitoring.

Thought-Full Routines:  How to make
life a struggle!

First, lets talk about how not to do it.

Here’s how you can make life difficult and create a constant struggle.  This approach generally requires that you also get to “have” incessant nagging, prodding, negotiating, pushing…and sometimes even a bit of yelling, screaming, and threatening of consequences.

Make day-to-day routines flexible…make decisions based upon moment-to-moment fluctuations…and day-to-day routines will be a struggle!

That’s the rule!  You can fight it.  You can argue with it. You can disagree with it. But that’s the rule!

You make these daily routines flexible and changeable, and then you’ll always have a struggle as things go on.

Can I really say “always”?  Well perhaps there are a few exceptions, but I rarely see them.

Why is this the case?

1.  Children thrive with structure.

Children thrive in an environment where there’s predictability.  Behaviorally, academically, and emotionally, children thrive when there are consistent, clear routines that remain relatively unchanging.

2.  Children thrive on predictability.

There is comfort and security in knowing when things will happen.  While children involved in chaotic and out of control family systems often rebel at the initial signs of structure and routine, they quickly adjust and their behavior calms.

With this, adjustment also comes an emotional calming.  Children will often report a sense that life is easier after experiencing a consistent structure and routine.

3.  Consistent routines remove decision-making.

This is the true source of the magic.  Daily decision-making on all routine stuff is removed, and thus there is no wasted energy.  The energy is reserved for what’s really important!

How many of us actually have to make a decision to brush our teeth in the morning. Very few, I hope!  And as such it presents no emotional stress or challenge.  It’s not really a chore!

For those of you who buckle your seatbelts on a daily basis, it becomes routine and there is no stress to this.

In the early stages of an exercise program, the daily commitment often involves a decision and, at times, a struggle to make the decision. If you have exercised regularly for years however, there is no decision to be made.  It is a given that you will exercise.  It gets easier…when there is no decision to be made.

In essence, these events have been “pre-decided.”  A level of automaticity then evolves that eliminates the stress of making a decision.  The result: reduced anxiety, and reduced stress and greater harmony.

“Thought-LESS” Routines

By “Thought-LESS” routines, I am referring to a way of parenting that does not involve constant thinking and evaluating about what kids need to do next.

By “Thought-LESS”, I mean that both children and parents fall into a structure and pattern that allows for the basic responsibilities to be addressed without a lot of struggle.  Instead, these occur effortlessly.

By “Thought-LESS” routines, I mean that that you nurture “habits” that eliminate the need to constantly figure out what’s next.  It’s been pre-decided.

What happens when you establish a home with “thought-LESS” routines:  Lots of time is available to discuss things that are of real importance to the family. Little time is put into managing homework behavior, and instead discussion actually occurs about what is being learned.

Little time is spent getting the children to the table to eat, and instead meaningful discussion occurs about life events.  Little time is spent arguing over homework or bedtime routines, and greater opportunity is available for simply spending quality time with children.

Do you have a sense how this works?

When routines become consistent and predictable, there is relatively little discussion and dialogue that goes into the completion of these fundamental responsibilities that we all have to take care of.  If children learn to do this, their minds are freed from the struggle with what’s important to do in life.  They don’t end up wasting their life doing battle with the fact that they have to do homework, even though they may not like to do it. They simply get it done.

This is a formula for success.  This is a formula for making life easy.  This is a formula for staying healthy, emotionally strong, and focused on what’s really important.  Make this the way you do things at home, and watch how much easier day-to-day life becomes.

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Mom…Dad…Is It Time To Drop A Losing Strategy?

One of many interesting aspects of being human lies in our tendency to repeat life strategies that clearly are not working.  For example, in your world of parenting, how often do you repeat the same frustrating strategy…day in and day out?

For some, this may not be the case.  But for most of us, we tend to make this mistake:  We simply increase our intensity.  We do it MORE…not LESS!

If I tried to hit a baseball with a golf club, I would quickly see it doesn’t work very well.  However, insanity would be practicing hours upon hours, using the ‘wrong tool’ to try to hit the baseball.

Yet, this type of ‘insanity’ occurs over and over in our daily lives.  Let’s review a couple of simple examples, where we tend to get pulled into repeating a losing strategy over and over.

  • We ask once, and the kids don’t listen.  We ask again, a bit louder.  Then, we get even louder.  Ultimately, most days…we end up yelling just to get their attention.  Losing strategy.  This will produce misery, and just more yelling.
  • Or, our daughter complains every time she does her homework.  Either the homework is too hard, she is too ‘stupid’ or the teacher is ‘dumb.’  Over and over, we argue with her.  We tell her she is smart.  We tell her that she has to do her homework, and ask her why she fights it every single day.  We refuse to agree with her that the teacher is ‘dumb.’
  • Or, our son is a drama king.  For every small thing that happens, we get BIG drama.  Every little thing that he doesn’t like, we hear the whining, the complaining, the crying…and the ultimate meltdown.  After a while, it’s exhausting not to mention quite frustrating.  Yet, our approach has not changed over the years.  We keep calming, soothing, arguing with him.  While it’s exhausting, we just keep repeating this losing strategy.

How To Know If You Have
A Losing Strategy?

It is essential to see the error of our ways.  To do so, we must recognize losing strategies. This is quite easy.

Losing strategies are not working to make life easy.  Losing strategies keep making life hard.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Learning to manage behavior is a skill you can acquire.  And, there is a predictable response by your children.  They will learn to listen after you ask.  They will stop complaining about homework, and the drama can disappear.

These require a winning strategy, in order to your life and their lives better.

But My Child Is Different!

Yes, children do vary in temperament.  Some are more challenging.  They vary in abilities, and some have true disabilities.  This is not deniable.  Yet, the opposite is also true.  All share critically important similarities, and this is the basis for winning strategies.

And thus, if not careful, what happens here is that we start to mentally fight and argue for the losing strategies…the ones that are making our life harder.  Before we ever try something new, we get entrenched in ‘fighting’ for the way we do things, despite the drama, the frustration and the failed results.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Consider adopting a new approach.  If it’s correct in a foundation of solid behavioral principles, you will quickly know that life can get easier for everyone.

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When Less is More: The Secret To Better
Parent-Child Relationships

There is a tremendous societal trend toward pouring more and more energy into children’s lives, without pausing to consider the consequence to such ongoing efforts, or to notice how well this approach is working.  Before I continue, let me clarify:  This is not meant to imply that I endorse the old school philosophy that “children should be seen, not heard.”  Instead, this is about how we are teaching our children false lessons about relationships and about life.

Too Much Asking …With Little Positive Response

One of the frequent complaints I hear from my clients takes form like this:  “My son gets in the van, and I ask him about his day…and all he does is grunt.  His attitude is bad.  He only likes to complain.  I try to be nice, and ask about other parts of his day.  But getting a positive answer is like pulling teeth!”   This continues day in and day out, as mom and dad keep working harder and harder at having a healthy conversation while their child is offering less and less.

For other families, the response takes an even more negative tone, with disrespect coming back at mom whenever she inquires about their day.   Pre-adolescents might offer, “None of your business” and hide in their IPod.   Yet, mom continues to be kind and keeps inquiring nicely, trying to dance around the bad attitude.   If mom doesn’t change, this will not get better.

The Rule of Reciprocity:  Give and Take Makes the World Go Round

From a very early stage, it is important for children to learn about this rule.  It helps because it means that if you share your toy, I will share mine.  It also means that if we play my game first, then I will play your game next.  You listen to me, and I will listen to you.  Basic stuff…but critically important.

Reciprocity is taught in many ways to our children, and if they learn this lesson well, they will end up with many healthy relationships—at home, at school and on the playground.

Teaching Reciprocity The Easy Way

Model What You Want


The first way we teach is by modeling how to do relationships.  If we pour all of our energy into our children by asking, asking and more asking, then we model that the child is the center of the universe and all that is required of them is a ‘grunt.’  The more we model this, the more we can expect more grunts and negativity, despite our hard work at engaging our children.

We also need them to hear us talk about our day, and how we focus on the good in our lives…rather than just complaining.  This is how we teach what we want!

Meet Your Child Where They Are At

This is a crucial lesson for parents.  When you get this, you will experience a relatively rapid change in the quality of your relationship with your child.

Here’s how it works:  If your children are giving little effort to have a conversation, don’t push.  Pull back…and meet them at the same level they are at.  If they are disrespectful when you inquire about their day, stop inquiring.  If there are constant complaints, stop being interested in this perspective.

Instead, pull back …and wait…NOT with anger or frustration, but with peace of mind.  You will be ready to engage with them, when they begin to show initiative, and can be more positive and offer more.  They will come around.  Just be patient, and watch for the transformation.

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How To Feed Seeds of Happiness
Success & Responsibility


Last time, I discussed the importance of understanding that must not feed the weeds in our home.  This simply means that we must understand how strong the tendency is to get ‘pulled’ into the negative behaviors (i.e., weeds).  If we repeatedly get caught in this trap, then we are feeding the weeds.  And this is bad.   Why?  Because the weeds will get big and strong.  None of us want that.

Today, we shift to the good ‘seeds’ we want to nurture in our homes.  This includes all the moments you see in your children that you value and want to expand, such as a moment of kindness, cooperation, follow-through or even just laughter and joy.    Any moment that you want to see more of…is the moments we are talking about today.

The 30 Day Plan to Grow
the Good Seeds

Last week, I encouraged you to imagine that your energy, or your attention, is just like water.  And that attention is either watering a weed, or nurturing a seed.  Today, it’s about how to grow seeds in a very precise way.  Here’s how you do it:

  • Seeds grow slowly, not instantly.  So, like planting a new lawn, we must be patient, as the results of your effort will not begin to sprout for usually a week to 10 days.

  • Obsess, for 30 days only, on ‘catching’ as many possible seed moments as you can.  Just give a VERY SMALL dose of your attention or energy to that positive moment.  Here’s how to give your attention:
    • Smile
    • Thumbs up
    • Touch on shoulder
    • Wink. Nod.
    • Kiss on top of head.
    • More and more smiles

  • You do NOT give words, or lots of smothering warm praise for these moments.  This is NOT about dramatic big doses of attention, love or verbal praise.  Instead, this is a strategic 30 day plan to nurture healthy behavior and emotions.  Remember:  Catch as many positive moments as you possibly can, offering a tiny dose of your attention.  It’s high frequency, trying to look for seeds every 5 to 10 minutes.

  • Your motto:  If something I value is happening right NOW, I want to ‘catch it.’

  • To help you stay on track, make a list of the top 12 behaviors, emotions and ‘child moments’ you most want to nurture in your home.  This is your seed list.  Then, put it somewhere that you can review every night and every morning for 30 days (Don’t let the kids see it and don’t discuss the seeds at all with your children.)

Warning:  This will be a bit exhausting.  So be prepared.  But what you invest in this will reap benefits that last a lifetime.

Finally, it’s important to emphasize that the real secret here is to combine the concepts from last week (starving weeds), with now starting to feed seeds.  The two together will show you how to unlock the hidden power you have as a parent.  You will experience more influence, see positive behaviors expand and build a better, happier relationship with your children.

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You Can’t Grow Seeds…
By Feeding Weeds!

Let’s imagine for a moment, that your children’s behavior and emotions can be divided into two categories.  “Seeds” is one category, and represents the seeds of happiness, kindness, diligence, openness, responsibility and so on.  In other words…the good stuff…that we want to nurture and grow in our homes.

“Weeds” is the second category, and represents whining, disrespect, complaints, negativity, ugliness and so on.  In other words….the bad stuff.  The behavior and emotions we DON’T want to see in our homes.

You Either Feed Weeds
or Feed Seeds!

As you move through your day at home, whether interacting with toddler or teen, you are often just moving with life.  In doing so, we give little thought to the role and power of our attention.

Yet, your attention is like water.  You are feeding either the weeds…or you are watering the seeds (with your attention to them).

When we consistently give our attention to weeds, (unfortunately) the weeds must grow.  The ‘weed’ has no choice but to respond to our watering of it.  The weed will not respond to a threat or a consequence, IF we keep feeding the weed with our attention.

This is critical to understand.  If you child complains repeatedly about your cooking, their teacher, their homework or even their brother…notice what usually happens.  If you are like most of us, you instinctively react, and likely provide some feedback.

This is no big deal…UNLESS you notice that this has started to become a negative habit.  They repeat similar complaints, and you react with similar comments.

  • They say, “I hate peas.”  Mom says, “They are good for you.  Eat them.”
  • They say, “Homework is stupid.”  You say, “You have to do it.  Stop complaining.”
  • They say, “I can’t.”  Dad says, “Of course you can.”

Each child comment is a weed.  Why?  Because we don’t want them in our homes.

If We Keep Reacting To Weeds
We Keep Feeding Weeds

We must see that our repeated comments are not working to change these negative patterns.  Instead, if we step back from life, we can see that we are feeding into and strengthening the very behavior we DON’T want.  Our efforts are taking us in the opposite direction from what we really want to nurture.

To Starve Weeds:  Walk Away!

The first and most important step here is to see that weeds cannot be removed with a casual, reactive approach.  We must see weeds as a threat to the peace and beauty we want in our homes, and have a clear action plan.

The action play:  Starve weeds by repeatedly walking away.  You can even inform the kids that you are now going to simply ignore their whining, complaining and ugliness.

When you start to walk away, please note:  The ‘weeds’ are not happy.  The ‘weeds’ may get very ugly.  The ‘weeds’ increase their efforts to pull you in.  Why?  Because the ‘weeds’ are hungry for your attention!

Stay strong.  Keep walking.  After a week, you will see how things take a dramatic turn for the better IF you consistently starve these negative weeds!

Next week, we will talk about the formula for feeding seeds, instead of weeds.

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