Duct Tape for the Relationship: Repairing Family Fractures Is a Solution
Love me when I least deserve it, because that is when I really need it.
Who do you feel like cooperating with? Someone who bosses you around or someone who trusts and respects you?
Relationship strategies are for parents who want to be in sync with, connected to, tuned in to, and loved by their kids, all while maintaining respect, order, and a level of understanding unique to the family’s dynamics. Relationship strategies have the power to solve daily challenges that go along with raising kids, including getting out of the door on time, dealing with sibling squabbles, and having the kids help out without nagging and reminding them. Relationship strategies help parents and kids stay connected during the ups and downs of life in the family zoo and support parents as they learn to let go a bit and trust that their kids are learning to navigate the world in a way that has meaning for them. This is the magic. Once you commit to building a solid relationship with your kids and not micromanaging their behavior, everything shifts.
If that is not reason enough, remember, the next generations are the future leaders of our families, communities, country, and this well-connected planet. If the children of today are to become tomorrow’s leaders, doesn’t it seem reasonable that they spend time in childhood developing the skills necessary to successfully navigate first their own world and then the world at large? If these same kids are going to make decisions about how I will be treated as an incontinent, toothless ninety-year-old, I want them to have fond memories of me. No kidding. The world is a maze of interconnected relationships that have us either working together or against each other. Our children’s introduction to healthy relationships begins at home.
But how exactly does a parent shift from the microcosm of behavior management to the macrocosm of relationship building? Here is one idea I introduce to parents that helps them shift their thinking and open up new possibilities in their parenting.
In every moment, parents are either:
• Interfering with the relationship they have with their child and the child’s ability to grow into an independent, capable, responsible, respectful, resilient adult.
• Enhancing their relationship with their child and the child’s ability to grow into an independent, capable, responsible, respectful, resilient adult.
Even well-intended parents inadvertently interfere on a regular basis. Many parents think that they are enhancing the relationship with their children when they try to drive home values and good habits with their micromanagement, corrections, and quick-fix tactics. Here’s where the obstacle lies. How can we, the adults, change our parenting approach if we think we are doing what we’re supposed to, even if it’s not working? Maybe that’s why you’re still reading this. You know that the relationship matters, but it’s the list of “Yeah, buts” and “This isn’t workings” that keeps getting in the way. You might understand all of this in theory, but in execution, you come up shy of committing to the relationship.
Duct Tape Moment
If you notice you’re drilling your kids with questions and thoughts and useless inquiries or criticisms, tape your mouth until you can curb the rapid-fire. Kids don’t need guidance and information 24-7. They don’t need to walk in the door and be engaged with you and walk you through the minute details of their day. It’s a hovering habit that is ineffective at staying connected to your child. You can be quiet and be connected. You can let them get lost in their own worlds—it does not mean you don’t care or that your child is slipping away from you.
The First Step
It’s time now to shift from your current state of behavior-focused parenting over to a relationship-focused approach to parenting. This move across the hall requires a leap of faith on your part as you put your trust in the idea that letting go and stepping back in certain areas of your parenting will move you to a more satisfying and respectful relationship with your kids (and yes, will still get you out of the house on time without yelling or tears). Accepting that all the interfering strategies actually limit independence and cause more power struggles and discord will also help when it comes time for you to stay quiet, allow life to unravel a bit, and watch quietly while the kids learn to navigate their lives with more confidence and enthusiasm, which is exactly what enhances the relationship and builds independent, capable, responsible, respectful, and resilient kids.
If that sounds inviting, then it’s time to let go of what’s not working and consciously develop a duct-taped, hands-off, and relationship-focused approach to parenting. It’s finally time to toss the interfering junk (ineffective discipline strategies) into the nearest dumpster. In order to do this—to really make a difference in your family—you have to accept that you are in control of what happens next and the changes your family experiences are based on how committed you are to changing. What exactly are you going to change? You are going to change two things, your thinking and your approach.
Start Where You Are: What Do You Think about Your Children Today
When I ask parents what their kids do that drives them crazy, they can rattle off an emotionally charged list without hesitation. Remember the list you made way back in chapter 1? “She’s stubborn.” “He’s bossy all the time.” “She talks back.” “He’s messy.”
When I ask the same parents to identify the child’s strengths, silence falls and eyes shift downward as confusion and embarrassment fills the room. I watch it happen over and over as the mood shifts when parents realize they are more comfortable listing what’s wrong than what’s right with their children.
Once they begin to rev up with examples and positive descriptions, I see a list that reflects the upside to stubborn (tenacious), bossy (born leader), and strong-willed (knows what he wants).
Here’s Where We Start the New Thinking
How would life with your child be different if you reframed your ideas about what constitutes a thinking, engaged, fabulously brilliant, responsible, respectful, resilient child?
What if you don’t really want to get rid of all the things that drive you crazy, but rather aim to tweak your child’s “negative behaviors” into a strength-filled, useful skill set?
Negative behaviors come from the same place as brilliance. Your kids are just using their unique talents in the wrong direction! It’s our job to say, Well, I don’t actually want to extinguish that personality trait, I just want to redirect it. Isn’t that closer to the real definition of parenting? Helping to guide and direct your children toward the useful side of life as they develop their unique skills, preferences, and talents?
Think about your child. You may have a label or two. Try to look at the label in a more positive light.
• A sassy child is a future entertainer.
• A bossy child is a future leader.
• A noodler is a future stress-management consultant.
• A defiant child is a future civil rights attorney.
• A hyper child is a future teacher.
• A questioning child is a future innovator.
Developing this mental habit helps us naturally shift our focus from trying to “fix” the kids or get them to stop doing something. We automatically see “bad” behaviors as less of a problem and more of a misfired character trait. We start to care less about what others say because we know we’re working on developing a better outlet for that bossiness or back talk.
Parenting is not about raising kids who make us look good in front of our friends, it’s about preparing kids for their future and teaching them how to take what they have and apply it in useful, respectful, and powerful ways to influence the world around them. How many of us were labeled bossy, sassy, or lazy when we were young? It’s what you do with it that matters, right?
To do this right now, you have to forget about every other child in the world, drop all your expectations, and forget all the mistakes you’ve made. Then you have to commit to:
• Meeting your child where she is today (bossy) and allowing her to grow and change over the course of eighteen years with your guidance (into a leader).
• Worrying less about what everyone else thinks about your child’s behavior (bossy) and accepting that he is doing the best he can in any given moment (he’s five, cut him some slack).
• Ignoring the occasional “hairy eyeball” encountered in the checkout line (she’s bossing you again), because you know that you are raising a thinking child and thinking children can be messy at times. (Hey, it’s not personal, she’s practicing for when she’s CEO, right?)
• Setting aside your concerns about your child’s future “potential” (bossy means no friends) and focusing more on what he’s learning about himself and the world with each new encounter (“Hmmm, the kids on the playground don’t seem all that thrilled with my bossy nature”).
• Recognizing that your child will create the life that supports who she is, what she cares about, and the values she holds sacred. (I like being the boss of my life and allowing others to be the boss of their lives.)
Now that your mind is primed, you are ready to respond differently, to let go a bit in order to focus on and strengthen the relationship you have with your children. After all, if we want to be powerful influences in our children’s lives, and that includes the teen years, then we have to be in communication with them. And if we are micromanaging, lecturing, interfering, and demanding, it’s likely we will hear the slam of a bedroom door before we hear an invitation to sit on the edge of the bed and share the day.
Fifteen Relationship Strategies
The following fifteen relationship strategies are designed to help you parent when you aren’t at critical mass. They will help you shift your parenting approach from a reactive to a proactive, intentional, thoughtful, and hands-off approach that has you handing more and more responsibility over to your children, providing the necessary training to ensure their success in a way that instills confidence in both you and the children.
You will use these strategies as inspiration when you’re out there in the trenches, those times when you want to step in but you decide to wait it out, or when you want to save your child but you opt to let the lesson run its course. This list, paired with mental duct tape (which we’ll get to next) and the courage to have faith, is all you will need to change course and find success that you and your children will notice and enjoy.
1. Mistakes are opportunities to learn. We’ve all heard this before. What you might not be hearing is the subconscious tendency to finish that sentence with, “as long as those mistakes don’t disrupt my life, embarrass me in public, or have the coach giving me the hairy eyeball. If they do, I’m stepping in and tinkering with the opportunity.”
Mistakes are arguably the easiest and most efficient way for kids to learn to cooperate, take personal responsibility, practice time management, develop organizational skills, become resilient, and develop the mental muscle that will come in handy as their lives become more challenging and difficult in the years to come. Parents interfere with the most efficient and effective relationship strategy on the market—mistakes—because of the fear of being judged. I wanted to print up funny little kid t-shirts years ago that said, “Thinking kids are messy. Obviously, I’m a genius.”
Kidding aside, we have to allow for mountains of mistakes and pause before we intervene, not to solve, but to find out what the child is learning from the experience. Once we know where the child is, we can put in place a plan to build on the experience.
Here is a note I received from a parent on the subject of mistakes:
Mistakes, mistakes, and more mistakes. I thought I was a parent who really embraced the whole “mistakes are opportunities to learn” approach. But it didn’t take me more than a few days to realize that every time my kids came even close to making a mistake I was there to redirect them. Of course, in my mind I was thinking, “now that I have told them what will happen if they make that choice, they can avoid making the mistake and learn the lesson.” Disaster averted, right? Wrong. The opposite happened, of course. They were doomed to make the same mistake over and over again because I kept interfering. I had no idea how focused I was on staying away from mistakes. Fast-forward three months and I can’t tell you the difference between where we were and where we are now as a family. My new motto? Bring on the mistakes, kids, life is practice.
2. Take time to train the kids to participate in running the house. This is so crucial to a healthy relationship that I have an entire chapter dedicated to making it happen. In chapter 8 I walk you through a system I have been using for twenty years that will have you throwing down your apron and hitting snooze while your kids get themselves out of bed and jam through their morning routine. They’ll be cleaning their messes and looking out for themselves. You’ll finally be able to walk away or leave the room without hovering, micromanaging, or even caring how spotless the floors are because you know your kids will have plenty of time to practice and improve. Besides having a clean and tidy house, you are raising kids who are independent, organized, helpful, and considerate and who understand that work comes before play. How cool is that?
3. Focus on your child’s strengths and innate talents. As nice as we find the idea of living with a child who is compliant and who obeys, remains quiet, and does as we ask, most parents I talk with would rather raise a thinking, engaged, industrious, curious child who participates in life. Focusing on a child’s strengths and innate talents does several things. First, it’s really hard for a child to fight with a parent who keeps pointing out all his strengths and assets. Second, we know that kids whose strengths are pointed out continue to develop them and, as that happens, some of the peskier behaviors show up less and less. And finally, the message the child hears from the parent is, What you do when you are frustrated (scream) is not who you are. Who you are is determined in the quiet moments when you feel most relaxed, assured, and confident.
Maggie shared the following with me over coffee:
I thought I was a parent who could rattle off her child’s strengths, but when you challenged me to write down twenty strengths my child had, I was hard pressed to come up with even six legitimate ones. I spent a few weeks observing my kids and I realized that I overlook so many of their strengths because they aren’t completely developed. The minute I changed my focus and began to blow on those small embers, they caught fire, and now I can rattle off thirty of my kids’ strengths without missing a beat. The change in the relationship—well, how would you feel being in a relationship with someone who just kept telling you how amazing you were and shining a light on all the things that make you an incredible human being?
4. Create routines (it’s easier than you think). As a family, identify a time of day that has been particularly rough (morning can generally be counted on as one of the most challenging times in any family) and agree to create a routine that supports each member individually and the family as a whole.
• Identify the goal: our goal is to be out of the house by 7:15 A.M. on four out of five mornings a week with no one in tears and no one yelling.
• Ask family members to describe what their perfect morning would look like. This will provide valuable information (information that is bound to surprise you in the most wonderful ways).
• Write down similarities in stories and look for common threads you can build on (two of the kids like to get up twenty minutes before the bus arrives, you and your middle child need ninety minutes to feel prepared).
• Work out the details that support each of your preferences. You don’t all have to do the morning in exactly the same way. Those who like to eat on the run can now find five options in the lower drawer. Those who like to have a leisurely breakfast can find five options in the top drawer. It’s easy if you are willing to get creative.
• Agree to practice and allow for things to go wrong before you find just the right routine. Practice and improvement is what we are going for here. Remember, you want to be shown the same latitude and flexibility in your life, so extend it to your kids as they learn to identify and implement daily routines.
• Allow the kids to learn by making mistakes like sleeping through the alarm clock, forgetting a backpack, or not leaving time to eat breakfast. This is how kids learn. They do not learn because you are nagging, reminding, lecturing, or bribing them to get themselves moving in the morning. If they did learn that way, you’d already be enjoying a breezy stroll out the front door.
Following is a story from my own life that illustrates the power of routines:
When my youngest daughter was in the second grade, homework became an issue. Her dad is a teacher by profession and I come from a long line of teachers, so doing well in school is important to us. She began to throw quiet, determined, standoffish temper tantrums. In other words, she just plain refused to do the homework. Almost every night she was in tears and her dad and I were lecturing, nagging, micromanaging, scolding, threatening, or bribing her to do her homework. She flat out refused. We would go to bed feeling like complete heels.
To make it worse, I am a professional parent educator and my darn second grader had me completely stumped. Finally, after several conversations with my husband, it clicked. The next morning at breakfast, I asked her the magic question.
“K, in a perfect world, on a perfect day, how would you take care of your homework?” She did not hesitate. She had been waiting for us to listen to her.
“I would get up at 4:30 A.M. and do it. I can’t do it at night. My brain just won’t do it.”
“Okay, I said. How about for the next week, you do your homework whenever you like. Your dad and I will not get in your way. Here is the thing though, we have to leave the house at 7:15 A.M. No exceptions. Can you do that?”
She thought for maybe ten seconds and then said, “YES.”
We were ready for this to flop (because I’ll admit, like most parents, I believed homework was really a nighttime thing, even though everyone was usually wiped out when it came time to get it done, and I had never thought of it otherwise). Still, we went into it with the hope that this might actually work.
The very next morning, my husband got up at his usual 5:15 A.M. and headed out to the kitchen. And who did he find at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and her math book opened up? You guessed it, our second grader.
This second grader is now in college and she has been doing her homework at 4:30 in the morning ever since this lesson unfolded. In fact, she has now established an early bird group with other students who have tendencies like hers, but who didn’t tap into them because their parents fought with them about the appropriate time for doing homework. You can see this one piece of information served our daughter well throughout her educational experience and it continues to serve her. Imagine the fighting and discord that would have been created had we refused to allow her to create a routine that worked for her.
As parents, there are countless little battles that we fight simply because we haven’t stopped to ask our kids if there’s another way and if they’d be willing to try it that way. Once we look around, we find almost everything has a variety of possibilities. We just have to keep it moving and bend when our kids think of something we never dreamed of. Like the kid I know who, at about first grade, decided to get dressed at night (for efficiency’s sake) and hop up, brush his teeth, and bolt out the door in the morning. Off he went through fifth grade, in those jeans he didn’t mind sleeping in every night. Who’d have thought?
5. Include kids in the decision-making process. Yes, I know this sounds scary. You’re probably hesitant to hand over the reins. But think about it this way: your kids are already involved in the decision-making process. Basically, you make all the decisions and they squash them. So, you might as well bring them into the discussion and work toward training them to actually help the family instead of interrupting the flow.
If your kids keep rebelling and you keep nagging them to do a chore, why not ask them how they think it should be done. You never know! Maybe they think trash night is inconvenient because after dinner they’re warm and cozy inside. But in the morning, they’ve already got shoes on, so it would be better to do it then, which sounds agreeable. (And—as a bonus—they’re more likely to show up when they’ve had a part in creating the flow of the family schedule.)
You don’t have to include them in every decision, but my experience with kids shows that the more involved they are, the more investment they have in maintaining the health and well-being of the family. Start small, show some faith, and watch as your kids become expert decision makers. That’s a skill that might pay off when they leave home at eighteen.
Arthur, a father of three, shared this in a group I was facilitating for recently single parents:
It doesn’t seem like such a big thing when they are young. They can help make decisions about family time and meals and where they will keep their stuff. But here is the thing. Because we invited the kids into the process when they were young, it spilled out into the other areas of their life. They became skillful decision makers when it came to managing their money, their time, their friendships, and their schoolwork. Each time they stepped up and took ownership of their decisions, we witnessed their confidence grow and their decision-making skills improve.
6. Hold regular family meetings. ATTENTION: “Family meetings” are not held in response to problems. They are proactive communication meetings. They are not designed for kids to sit at the table as the parents list off all the ways the kids are screwing up and how the kids must change in order for the family to function properly. (Seriously, don’t even waste your time if this is how you think the meetings should be run! You will get the FAMILY MEETING FAIL experience and it won’t put anyone in a better place.)
Family meeting basics:
• Commit to one evening a week and stick to it.
• Put fifteen to twenty minutes on the timer.
• Everyone is invited, no one is required to attend.
• Have each family member share something they appreciate about every other member of the family. If you want to raise kids who are kind to each other and show appreciation for you, this is where it starts.
• Use the time to schedule activities, special times, school events, etc.
• Hand out allowances at the end (general guide = $1/year of age, $5 for a five-year-old). If you want to avoid fighting every time you enter a store and teach your kids how to manage their money, pass the cash and watch the magic unfold.
• Repeat each week. (Note: because family meetings are sequential and roles build over time, visit our website www.parentingontrack.com for additional information.)
• Start here. You’ll see magic.
7. Create a family roadmap. I’ve been asking parents for more than fifteen years if they have a “parenting roadmap” (parenting is a journey, after all) to guide them through the task of raising an infant into adulthood. I ask them if they have a map for where they are today (I scream at my kids and my kids scream back), where they want to be in a week (one less day of screaming on both our parts), where they want to be in six months (no screaming by anyone in the family), where they want to be when their child turns eighteen (mutually respectful conversation), and a plan for how they are going to get there? Right. No one has one. The hours that parents spend on picking out names and colors for the baby’s room is disproportionate to how many hours they spend creating an intentional, thoughtful, and reasonable plan for raising their kids. In chapter 10 I will show you how to create a roadmap for you and your family.
8. Be a role model. Actually, you already are a role model. What I mean is, if you expect your child to act like a rational, thoughtful, respectful, patient human being after she has been trying to zip her coat up for ten minutes, she will have had to see her parent model rational, thoughtful, respectful, patient behavior in times of frustration, stress, disappointment, and so on after a particularly lousy day at the office.
Parents have no right to expect more from their children than they expect from themselves. When a parent has personal permission to throw temper tantrums, lash out, yell, belittle, or disrespect, it is reasonable to extend that same courtesy to the children. I have a little secret to share—your children are not picking up their pesky behaviors and attitudes from the other children in class, or from video games, television, music, or the “naughty” cousin they see on holidays. They are mimicking you.
Use this thinking the next time you find yourself yelling or about to lash out at your child for being mean or talking rudely to a sibling. Are you, in fact, sounding the exact same way? Freeze, and think before you act. Role modeling is happening 24/7, so if you just change your tone, delivery, and response to model what you want to see from your kids, you’ll find you will get the same from them.
9. Start an appreciation board. When my daughter was fifteen years old, she came home one day in a particularly foul mood. She marched past the appreciation board and up to her room. Everyone in the family gave one another knowing looks. It could prove to be an exceptionally long night. My oldest son walked over to the appreciation board and wrote something on it about his older sister. Her other three siblings followed suit and so did her dad and I. When she next graced us with her presence, I walked her over to the board and asked her if she would read aloud all the appreciations written down that applied to her.
“I appreciate H for finding the courage last week to stay away from a party where there would be booze and drugs.”
“I appreciate H for helping me do my hair yesterday, even though it made her have to put hers in a sloppy bun.”
“I appreciate H for letting me come sit on her bed at night when I can’t sleep and talk to me until I can fall asleep—and sometimes she lets me sleep with her.”
There were nine of those messages on the board. When she came to number five, she turned around, looked at all of us, and declared,
“Do you know how hard it is to be a teenager in this house?”
And then she smiled, thanked all of us, and said she was feeling much better and that she must be the luckiest sister in the world. It’s easy to turn a potentially negative situation into a positive one if you don’t try to talk your kid out of or solve whatever it is that is upsetting her. Just be willing to extend to your teenager the same courtesies you would extend to a friend who was having a crummy day. It’s not so easy if you think a kid who is rude has to be punished, controlled, and lectured. I know that’s the tricky part; once our kids are rude, we think that gives us license to be.
10. Become your child’s mentor not corrector. You can decide to wear any parenting hat you want. There are no fast and hard rules. Who wants to be in relationship with a constant corrector? Not me, and I bet you don’t either. Why do we even entertain the notion that our kids will find any pleasure from being corrected each time they attempt to make a choice? Honor their feelings (no matter what they are) when they try something new (which they don’t do to perfection the first thirty-six times). Mentoring allows us to look for ways to inspire, guide, teach, train, and support our kids as they grow and learn. Try putting on this new and powerful hat and watch the response you start to see in your kids.
11. Focus on effort, improvement, and progress and forget all about perfection. Unless you yourself have arrived at a state of perfection—stash it. Would you want me walking into your homes and making judgments about your commitment to parenting based on how “perfectly” you followed a set of instructions with outcomes that included perfectly behaved kids? Of course you wouldn’t. Focus on the progress. Accept that people are doing the best they can. Verbalize the improvement and growth in your kids and you are bound to get more of it.
This is from Nancy, a self-proclaimed reformed perfectionist:
I was one of those moms who took pride in saying I was a perfectionist until I saw what the impact was on the kids. I had created a home where my kids were afraid to try anything new because I refused to celebrate with them until they achieved—yup—perfection. There wasn’t much celebrating going on in my house. They were also becoming master criticizers and were avoiding trying new things. I can’t believe it took me so long to see this. Today, we celebrate our lives. We celebrate the small successes and the improvement we are making. The atmosphere in the house is completely different. We are all more relaxed and excited about what life has to offer and about supporting each other.
12. Ignore it, and by it , I mean everything (unless it’s morally or physically dangerous). Why do I consider this a relationship strategy? Because, in truth, if we could just shut our mouths (duct tape is really good for this) and allow a stressful moment to pass with no snarky comment or a follow-up dig, it will, in fact, go away on its own. Yes, even the squabble over the remote or the lost toy meltdown will lift. If you can stay out of it, I guarantee the lifespan of the situation will be reduced and diminished. If it keeps happening, try ignoring it longer, because the kids might really just be trying to engage you with their antics and get you to go back to your old ways! If the behavior continues and seems to escalate, then you know it’s a bigger relationship problem, and will take some of these other relationship strategies to mend. But if you focus on mending the relationship, the behavior will diminish as the relationship is rejuvenated.
Ignoring doesn’t mean that you won’t address a situation, but doing it when everyone is heated never ends well. Give yourself time to cool down, to observe what’s really going on, and to give the situation a chance to end on its own, and then find a reasonable time to talk about the bigger issue.
13. Encourage! Encourage! Encourage! Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs said, “Encouragement is more important than any other aspect of child-raising. It is so important that the lack of it can be considered the basic cause for misbehavior. A misbehaving child is a discouraged child.”
Encouragement is an observation. To encourage, you notice: you are hurt, you are angry, you tied your shoe, you got an A, or you flunked the test. There is no judgment attached to the observation. It is a way to open up a conversation and allow children to share their experience and their feelings with someone they trust.
Encouragement is acknowledging. To encourage, you tell someone: your help made the job easier, your sense of humor had me giggling instead of crying, or you helped your brother even though you wanted to watch your show. To acknowledge how someone made a difference in a situation or in your day or in your life sends the message to the person that she is valuable and that you appreciate who she is.
Encouragement focuses on effort and improvement, and it can be given anytime. Encouragement sounds like: you are tying your shoe faster than you were last week, you are passing the ball more on the field, or you are walking away more often. As a child, knowing that someone is noticing the fact that you are getting better at difficult tasks inspires you to keep going. For many parents, to encourage just requires leaving the and I’m so proud of you off the end of the statement.
Encouragement is meant to inspire children to take risks, make choices, and assume responsibility for those choices and actions.
Encouragement teaches kids to rely on themselves for self-evaluation instead of looking for outside validation, which builds healthy, strong, fortified self-esteem and helps kids feel satisfied and grounded in their own lives.
Encouragement instills an attitude of resiliency, awareness, kindness, empathy, forgiveness, and patience.
Encouragement focuses on the process, not on the end result.
Here’s an example. Let’s say your seven-year-old child wants to carry the twenty dollars he’s been saving in his wallet and you say, “Okay, sure, how do you think you want to take care of the wallet?” And he gives a good response but you’re not convinced he’ll be able to keep track of the wallet. He wants to carry it because he feels quite grown up opening and closing that thing at every counter, showing off the bills.
You sit by (as hard as it is) and watch as he, sure enough, accidentally loses the wallet at the movies. Here’s where you could (but you don’t) come in and say, “I told you so” as he’s crying and feeling the pain of this. He just learned the value of taking care of the money. It’ll only take once. This is the moment to say, “I can see how upset losing the wallet is to you. What could you do differently next time?” With a little support and a bit of brainstorming, an upset child suddenly shifts into problem-solving master and a new confidence is established.
Encouragement is the confirmation that those natural lessons are necessary and that it’s okay when things don’t go according to the plan. What’s important is the knowledge that you can overcome any obstacle, solve any problem, and recover from any situation. When you create an encouraging environment for your children, two things happen right away. The first is a decrease in pesky, negative behaviors and the second is a more resilient, flexible, and relaxed child. That sounds like a winning combination to me.
14. Get curious. Ask questions and look for clues your child gives you about the ways she interprets the world around her. Stop assuming you know what is happening in your child’s mind. I tell parents in all of my classes that if they can remember this image, quoted from psychotherapist Alfred Adler, they will go a long way to fortifying a solid relationship with the kids: “Hear with their ears, see with their eyes, and feel with their heart.”
Each night, your children go to bed having made the most of their day. They have gathered information, analyzed situations, and made course corrections. When they wake up in the morning and walk into the kitchen, you are greeting entirely new people. Get to know these people again. Parents have a tendency to summarize their kids and create labels for them and forget that the kids are in the process of growing and changing every single day. They also tend to treat their nine-year-olds as if they are still three. Being curious about your kids keeps you up to date with who they are becoming, and you are in a better position to support their budding independence, which ultimately leads to fewer power struggles.
15. Show faith. Trust that these strategies will work. Trust that your children are capable of more than you imagine and that they will learn through your guidance and the natural consequences the world will provide. Have faith in yourself, your children, and the world at large, and life with kids will become a source of joy, satisfaction, and deep connection. In chapters 11, 12, and 13 I share stories from kids and families to illustrate just how powerful a little faith can be in bringing out the best in each of us.
Incorporating even one of these strategies into your daily life with kids will make a difference in the quality of the relationship you have with them. Start slow and allow yourself time to make mistakes as well as experience progress and improvement. Have fun and give the strategies time to work. If you need a little help in developing patience, go ahead, grab the duct tape.