My 11 year old is lying to me!

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“My 11 year old has recently started to lie to me frequently. To make it more frustrating she is mostly lying about what I consider little, insignificant things. I feel that I am usually good at finding consequences that are fitting to the action, but am at a loss on what to do this time. I do not understand why she is constantly breaking rules and taking what could be opportunities to build trust and instead abusing trust. Any suggestions on what to do?”

First of all, how frustrating!  As parents, we strive to teach our children to become upstanding, compassionate citizens, and of all the values we try to instill, honesty is paramount.  When our children exhibit behaviors contrary to our values, it’s hard not to take it personally and feel like we’ve done something wrong ourselves.  Knowing the behavior itself is normal is small, if any, consolation.

Much has been written about why children lie.  The reasons are as plentiful as Imelda Marcos’ fabled shoe collection.  For younger children, it can be as simple as expressing wishes or giving voice to an active imagination.  For older children, lying can be a result of pressure to fulfill expectations of parents, teachers, or peers.  There are many other reasons, as well.  If your child does not have any special needs and is lying about mundane issues that you wouldn’t expect to have any significant ramifications if the truth were told, this behavior can seem especially baffling.

It’s all too common to hear of middle-schoolers who fib and claim their homework is done and their dirty laundry has been picked up when a the opposite is easily determined to be true.  Their logic is plain as day here – they’ve been given a task that is less than enjoyable and are not only seeking to avoid that which they consider unpleasant; they are also seeking to avoid unpleasant consequences and hoping to keep Mom or Dad off their back with a bit of dishonesty.  But when our children tell us they had toast for breakfast, when in fact, they had cereal, or that they washed their own plate after dinner (unasked), when they didn’t, and these things are of no consequence to us, it becomes a challenge to figure out what their motivations are.

Did they use the last of the milk when they ate cereal instead of toast?  Did they want to feel more grown up and make Mom & Dad proud with their toasting skills?  Did they mean to wash the plate before they got distracted by a silly sibling, and think they had when they’d really forgotten? (As an easily distracted mom, I can attest this happens to me daily).  Are there consequences that may seem like no big deal to you, but seem significant to your child?  The only way to find out is to talk to your kiddo, and listen.

The pre-teen years are full of apprehension and uncertainty.  It is during this time that children seek to establish their own identity separate from that of their parents – at the same time, it is the security of the family they crave most, because hormones and adolescent turmoil are wreaking havoc upon their lives.  Much of pre-teen dishonesty can be connected back to this.  Our children desperately want our approval, but they’re not going to tell us this in so many words, because they equally desperately want their own identity and self-approval.  Pre-teens with younger siblings can also feel resentful of the role-model status they are given by virtue of birth order.  The pressure to do well and “be good” because the younger sibling(s) is/are looking up to them can be enough of a drive to misbehave, just to take some of the pressure off.  And sometimes, the truth is, our children don’t know why they did a particular thing, and when we pressure them for an explanation, they’ll tell us what they think we want to hear just to get us off their backs.

Some parents find that creating a relaxed atmosphere can help to melt away the tensions.  They might take a Saturday together at a spa, or have a picnic in the park.  A parent might indulge his daughter’s desire to feel a little more grown up with a coffee (or cocoa) date.  When spirits are high, many parents find it easier to tackle the touchy subjects.  

In this situation, a parent might say to a child, between sips of her beverage of choice, “You know, I’ve noticed a lot of half-truths and fibs being told lately.  I know we’ve taught you that honesty is important to us, and I know you value honesty, too.  There is so much I appreciate about you – the way you helped your brother tie his shoes this morning, for example – that this dishonesty sticks out like a sore thumb, and I can’t help but wonder what it’s about. What do you think is going on?”  And, the door open, this parent might just listen.  When her daughter shrugs and says, “I don’t know,” Mom might just smile and nod, and sip her cocoa in silence for a few moments.

If the silence grew everlong, this mom might chuckle and gently prod with a memory of her own.  “I remember a time when I was about twelve or thirteen.  I once gave myself a haircut – a trim, really, not noticeable, and I didn’t do a bad job of it.  My dad asked me about it, and now, looking back, I think he must have been impressed – but I was mortified.  I couldn’t imagine that he would possibly have reacted well – in my mind, I thought for sure I would get in trouble.”

It’s funny how exposing our soft underbellies via childhood memories of our own can elicit sympathetic and mature responses from our kids.  They can also provoke uproarious (and rather unsympathetic) laughter – in any case, chances are, an approach like this can help uncover the root of the problem at hand, if only we are prepared to listen without judgment.

Once we can get closer to the root (and this likely won’t happen overnight, no matter how awesome the spa treatment or cocoa is), we can develop consequences and strategies.  Many parents find that the most successful consequences are those that their children have an active role in deciding.  Children want to learn and they want to please.  They want to feel like they’re growing up.  When we treat them as capable of learning and pleasing and growing, we are affirming these traits.  Our consequences must do the same – whether we’ve found the root or not.

When we know the root, we can address it.  In the case of the mother who gave herself a haircut, she was exhibiting a desire for independence, as well as the desire to be seen as mature or responsible (the act of cutting her own hair), while actively avoiding her perceived disapproval from her father (the lying).  Had her father, instead of asking whether she’d trimmed her hair, said, “Your hair looks different today, I like it.  I don’t know what it is, but something about it makes you look a little more grown up,” she very likely would have had a different memory altogether, and almost certainly wouldn’t have felt a need to lie to him.  She may even have come clean and announced, “Thanks, Dad!  I just gave myself a little trim.”

In the case of the toast vs cereal predicament, when her son tells her he had toast for breakfast, and she sees a bowl in the sink with a ring of milk in the bottom, and the milk jug empty in the trash can, Mom can say, “You must have been really hungry – toast AND cereal!  Next time, when you use the last of the milk, please write it on the shopping list on the fridge so I know right away.”

Her son might reply bashfully, “Sorry, Mom.  I didn’t actually have toast.  I thought I’d get in trouble for using the last of the milk.”  To which, Mom could reply, “You’ll get in more trouble for dishonesty than you will for emptying the milk carton.  When you lie to me, you give me reasons not to trust you.” Mom might then invoke a consequence that relates – a consequence that focuses on rebuilding trust or understanding why trust is important.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What are some natural and logical consequences of dishonesty, appropriate for an older child?

Natural Consequences: 

  • When a child is dishonest about completing a task, allow the naturally following events to run their course.  Ie: If the litterbox in their bathroom was not scooped, let them see what it smells like in two or three days.  If the dishes were not done, serve the food directly on the table, without silverware (at least, for the offending child).
  • When a child is dishonest an action or words, prevention is the best course.  Avoid giving the opportunity for dishonesty in the first place, by describing observation, as illustrated in the examples above.
  • Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts to set them up to tell the truth, they’ll still lie.  In the case of the breakfast scenario, the boy’s lie had the potential to complicate Mom’s routine – if she hadn’t noticed that the milk was gone and he was dishonest, she may not have been able to make dinner that evening.  After having this pointed out to him, she could put him in charge of figuring out what to make for dinner, and being active in dinner preparations.  This is actually a combination of natural and logical consequences.

Logical Consequences:

  • As mentioned previously, having your child carry out a task that relates to the original offense, like planning and making dinner after using all the milk, can help to connect the dots.  When the homework hasn’t been done because she would rather play on the computer, the logical consequence would be no computer time until homework as been verified to be complete.
  • Dishonesty is stressful.  We want to trust our children.  Our lives are so much easier when we can trust our children.  When our children break our trust, we have the right to say, “This is upsetting.  I’m stressed out.  I have way too much on my plate to deal with dishonesty.  You need to make this up to me somehow.  I’m not doing any special favors until you do.  Remember that actions speak louder than words.”  One mom who tried this recently was pleasantly startled when her 9 year old son volunteered to clean up after dinner and wash the dishes every night for two weeks as a result of his dishonesty.

When we talk about the consequences of dishonesty, it is important to consider the relevance of the consequence to the undesirable behavior.  It’s also important to consider whether our consequences might deter otherwise desirable behavior.  In the case of the mom who cut her own hair – her father might have been thrilled to see her take responsibility for herself.  If he had punished her for lying to him without recognizing her independence and budding maturity, he would have, in essence, been acting to discourage those traits.  Fewer and fewer teachers, these days, have their wayward students write them sentences (a la Bart in the opening credits of The Simpsons).  Why is this?  Because writing sentences (in this manner) is unenjoyable, and the last thing they want to do is give students a reason to hate learning, particularly students who might be struggling.

This isn’t to say that tasks like writing sentences don’t have their place – they do. But we have to connect the dots in a way that our kids can see the big picture.  If we want our kids to “write sentences,” we can have them do a research project, like one mom instructed her son to do – he was to look up the definition of lying and write about what he’d read.  She could have taken it a step further and asked him to write about a significant historical event in which dishonesty had disastrous results, and explore the possibilities that might have ensued had honesty been used instead.  This would have engaged his critical thinking skills and given a real-life application for him to refer to.  Another option could be to concoct a short story or art piece – useful for our more abstract thinkers.

Dishonesty takes imagination to execute, and likewise, as parents dealing with dishonesty, we are required to utilize our imagination to combat it and encourage the behavior we do want to see.  Modeling honesty in all situations, respecting our children’s sensitivity to pressure, keeping the lines of communication open, providing more opportunities for honesty than dishonesty, and keeping the consequences connected – these are all valuable tools for a parent who wishes to raise a truthful child.

For more insights regarding older children and dishonesty, visit these links:

Advertisements

What is non-coercive parenting?

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dear Anti-SuperNanny,
I’ve heard a lot of talk about “non-coercive parenting” lately.  I don’t really understand it, but I’m curious to know more.  My child won’t do what he’s told unless I get loud or physically move him to where he needs to be.  Needless to say, that’s incredibly frustrating for both of us, and I can’t help but feel there’s a better way.  We’ve tried limiting his privileges and even threatening spanking (but I can’t bring myself to do it).  But I have some friends who swear by this non-coercive principle and, I’ll admit, their kids are really well-behaved.  But I just don’t get how it works – so kids just do what they want, when they want, on their own terms?  Isn’t that just a recipe for disaster?  Don’t they need some kind of routine and expectations? -Looking For a Better Way

 ASN: LFBW, you are absolutely correct that children need routine and expectations.  As humans, we are typically creatures of habit, even the most spontaneous of us.  We each have our own little habits and rituals that we find comforting.  Routine and expectation does just that – it comforts children.  When a child knows what to expect next, she or he can move forward confidently.

Non-coercive parenting does not do away with routine and expectations.  It does not give children a “free pass” to idle their time away or be careless with their things.  It must not be mixed up with permissive parenting.  Rather, non-coercive parenting is about setting and respecting boundaries, about teaching the concept of consent.

It takes practice, and some parents find themselves in the midst of a pendulum swing while they try to figure it out.  In attempting to communicate without coercion, they may find themselves relaxing almost too much, and then revert to their former habits of yelling to be heard.  For those of us who were raised to be ever-obedient and not to question authority, it can be particularly challenging – we’re sailing uncharted waters, here.

It is my opinion that, if we are raising our children to be caring, compassionate, and involved community members as adults, we must always treat them as caring, compassionate, and involved community members.  We must always expect them to be responsible and accountable for themselves. So of course, we must enforce our values and uphold our rules (values before rules, folks – rules were made to be bent and broken); of course we must have expectations and say “no” from time to time.  Of course we must utilize consequences.  But we do not need to resorts to threats and punishment, or wheedling and cajoling.

When we look at our household as an organization, we can see ourselves as parents in the role of coordinator.  Notice, I didn’t say, “boss.”  There’s a reason for this.  A coordinator is one who streamlines functions, who organizes activities and details, who makes the organization run smoothly by way of delegation.  A boss is one who oversees, who gives commands, and the word “boss” connotes a person who is somehow removed from the actual tasks that must be done, carries a mental visual of someone sitting in a chair behind a desk.  The word “coordinator” brings to mind someone who has their hands in the dirt with everyone else, who communicates and listens, and – well – coordinates.

You are a coordinator.  And your children are not your employees or underlings, they are the people who need your help to streamline things.

Just shifting your thinking this way can change the way you approach conflicts with your children.  Instead of finding yourself in the midst of a power struggle, you can use the advantage of perspective to lay it all out for your children. Take Sally, for example.

Sally has a 6 year old daughter, Madi, who, after seeing “Tangled” decided she would grow her hair out just as long as Rapunzel. After about a week, though, Madi stopped brushing her hair. Sally would find herself swinging back and forth – she would ask Madi to brush her hair, with no follow up, until Madi’s hair grew knotty in the back. Then Sally, aghast at what she called her daughter’s “rat’s nest” would sit the child down and brush her hair out for her, to her daughter’s tearful protests.

Sally had her own issues with forced hair maintenance: When she was a child, her mother brushed her hair roughly until one day, when she was 9, she was handed a brush and told she was on her own. Sally was overwhelmed because she didn’t know the first thing about styling her own hair, but she tried, and just when she felt she was getting good at it, her mother took her to get her long curls cut off, because she wasn’t taking good enough care of it. Sally swore Madi would never have to go through the same experience, but now, looking at her daughter’s messy hair and thinking of the power struggles, she was ready to throw in the towel.

Sally talked to a friend, who happened to mention that she was having similar issues with her own daughter. Her friend had another idea that hadn’t occurred to Sally, though. She said, “My daughter is in charge of her body at all times. I want her to know that. Just like I don’t want anyone forcing themselves on her, I won’t force hair-grooming.” A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, these words really resonated with Sally. She decided her friend was absolutely right about children needing to have total control over their bodies, but she struggled. “If I don’t brush my daughter’s hair, I’m afraid the school will call the authorities and report neglect,” she bemoaned. “And she has a performance coming up in a couple of weeks, and she can’t look like a wild-woman for that!”

Her friend had a novel idea. “Talk to her,” she said. “Tell her what you’re worried about, see what she says.” Sally was flabbergasted. Talk to my 6 year old?? Nevertheless, as skeptical as she was, she tried it. And she was surprised.

Sally told Madi her worries about the school being concerned about neglect, and about looking nice for the performance. Offhand, she mentioned something about a “dreadlock” in the back of her head, which got Madi’s attention. They looked at pictures of people with dreadlocks, and Madi fell in love. She asked if she could try it. Sally remembered how much work it took to start dreads from her own experiment with them in college, and shared those memories with her daughter. Madi decided to wait until after the performance, and then she would try it out. In the meantime, she would brush her hair everyday except on the weekends, if Mom bought plenty of detangler. Still a week later, Madi decided she wanted a hair cut on her own (which, Sally admitted, was a relief – she wasn’t sure how she’d feel about a dready-headed 6 year old!).

Cards on the table, now: It’s not always this easy.  Sometimes you’ll have to try different angles, and sometimes you’ll have to let the consequences unfold for themselves.  Sometimes you’ll have to get creative.  One mother asked her son to set the table.  He was watching TV and couldn’t pull himself away.  As a result, when dinner was ready, there were no dishes on the table – so mom served the food directly on the table.  The family had a good laugh, and her son sheepishly apologized – and after dinner, he cleaned up the mess all by himself.  And he learned to set the table when Mom asked.

Sometimes the consequences happen on their own and do the work for you.  Another parent, a father this time, spent an entire night searching for his 15 year old daughter on the eve of her birthday.  She’d snuck out to be with friends.  Expecting the worst, he found her at her best friend’s house at 4:30 in the morning.  He was relieved to find she was sober, and just hanging out in her friend’s basement talking, but deeply concerned at the implications of the choices she’d been making.  He and her mother had found evidence of other questionable decisions she’d made, and so, instead of sending her to bed for a two hour nap when he brought her home, they stayed up talking.  At 6:30, it was time to get ready for school – which, he pointed out, she was still expected to go to and do well in, despite her lack of sleep, because it was her choice to forego rest.  He bought her a cappuccino and took her to school.   Typically, the family would celebrate a birthday by going out and eating dinner and coming home for games or movies – but the entire family was so tired, after school they had a quick dinner and everyone went to bed early.  It wasn’t a perfect solution – in spite of the fact that they had nailed the windows shut, she did sneak out one more time.  But the allure was lost for her.  The night-time world had somehow lost its magical feeling and she just didn’t care to go out at night anymore.

Granted, the windows being nailed shut isn’t exactly non-coercive parenting, but the above example illustrates nicely how consequences can be effortlessly used to uphold a family’s values and expectations.

Good luck!  I hope this helps you find that better way you were looking for!

-A.S.N.

Media Monday

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

So, did you do it?  Did you think about the questions I asked you on Saturday?  What if you had a bit too much to drink, and your partner put you in “time out”?  What if you didn’t know what you’d done to upset your significant other?  How did you respond and feel?

The exercise really wasn’t all that cleverly disguised, was it?  The responses and feelings you had were just the grown-up versions to the way children feel in similar situations.  They’ve had too much of something (overstimulated, let’s say – certainly not alcohol!), they’re having trouble reining themselves in, not sure what it is they’re doing wrong and only wanting to please you.

So what would be some other ways to handle such a scenario?  How would you prefer your partner to communicate with you in that first situation?  Let’s hear it, guys, I want to hear from you.  I will keep dogging at you until I get some answers!

Every Monday, I will put up some media resources for topics that we discussed in the week prior.  Last week, we talked about dealing with sleep, assertion, and anger.

  • For sleep issues, I really love the book, No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.  There is even an interactive website with advice of its own!  The book is useful for everyone, from parents of tiny babies to older children.  And the format is such that it’s easy to take what inspires you and leave the rest.
  • With regard to general issues of gentle parenting and challenging situations, I really love Dr. Laura Markham.  Her website, “Aha! Parenting,” has given me personally a lot to think about, and the direct link I’ve given here takes you straight to her “Discipline” page, where she discusses how to handle your own anger and why children behave the way they do.
  • Finally, as a teacher and a parent, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with Dr. Becky Bailey’s book, Conscious Discipline.  Her approach is all about reinforcing what the child is doing right, even when it seems they keep doing it wrong; getting down on the level with the child and engaging them, and giving their feelings a voice.  She has an engaging internet presence at her Conscious Discipline website, where she links to YouTube videos, information on upcoming workshops, various resources, and so on.  Dr. Bailey’s program is more geared toward the educational setting, but I was first introduced to her material well before my children were in school, and while I was staying home with them, and I am fairly certain I photocopied 93% of the book because it was all so relevant and made so much sense to me.

Good luck parents, and here’s to a fantastic week!

A.S.N.

Weekend thoughts, and Happy Mother’s Day!

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Weekends are tough, because, well they’re weekends, and children consume them.    I don’t get a whole lot of time to sit at the computer and play, much less write something meaningful.  However, I still want to put something useful out there.  I want this blog to be a resource for gentle parenting and wisdom, and I don’t want to just rehash what everyone else is said.

I got to thinking about it, and I had the idea of posting “How would you…?” questions; questions to get parents thinking about what they would do in different situations and conversing amongst one another.  I think I really like this idea; the more I think about it, the more it appeals to me.

On the other hand, there is something more practical that should be mentioned, if not discussed.  In two weeks, I will be moving out of state.  My internet access will be considerably less, and I will be quite busy coping with real-life changes.  This means that I, myself, may not be able to post as reliably.  And since this is a new blog, I don’t exactly have a great wealth of archives to dig into for the purpose of revisiting old, familiar issues.

So I would like to pose the question to you, dear readers – what would you have me do during that transition period of mine?  How can I keep you all engaged from post to post and provide the resource that I want this to be?

Or, if you prefer my original idea, I’ll just pose a few simple scenarios:

  • Imagine you’re out at the bar, and you’ve had a few too many.  In this state, you inadvertently embarrass your significant other, who then turns and tells you if you don’t stop this behavior RIGHT NOW, you will not only have to leave early, but you will also have to sit in a chair for approximately half an hour (or whatever number corresponds to your age) to think about what you’ve done.  You’re not totally sure what “this behavior” means.  How do you respond?
  • Imagine, not knowing what the behavior was in the first place, you continued to embarrass your partner.  As a result, you leave the bar about an hour earlier than intended and find yourself sitting in a chair away from everything comforting to you, with no explanation other than, “You were told if you didn’t stop, you’d be sitting here.  You didn’t stop.”  How do you feel?

One more quick thought before I burn my dinner:  Tomorrow is Mother’s Day!  Lest anyone have any guilt about their parenting choices, I want to reiterate loudly and vehemently, We do the best we can with what we have!  You love your children.  Drop the guilt, and do it – LOVE THOSE BABIES OF YOURS!  Spoil them rotten, indulge them with hugs and kisses and as many treats as you can bear.  You can never love a child too much.

I will be doing just that.  Tomorrow, you’ll likely not see a post from me.  Enjoy the day off, and good luck mamas! (And papas, too – how could we forget you?)

-A.S.N.

My 9 year old’s anger scares me!

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dear Anti-SuperNanny: My issue is my almost-9-yr-old daughter getting mouthy. She has some serious anger issues. We’re actually just started seeing a therapist who is AMAZING! Just wondering if you have any pointers on how I can chill the eff out when she is flipping out on me. She can be so mean & hateful sometimes, it breaks my freaking heart! She treats me the way my mother treated me growing up. It’s scary!

Anti-SuperNanny: That does sound scary, and painful, too. Therapists love to tell parents, “Itll get worse before it gets better,” but that’s really not a whole lot of consolation, is it?

Without knowing any backstory, it’s hard to say much. As parents, though, it’s almost like it’s built in for us to take everything our kids say and do personally, either as a reflection of our personal wins and failures, or as a direct attack on us as individuals.  Really, if we want to lend the strength to our children that they need in finding their own identities (because isn’t that what this is all about?), we can’t afford to do that. Somehow, we have to find a way to emotionally remove ourselves from their attacks (real or perceived), and respond appropriately.

This is especially challenging when we have psychological and emotional wounds from our own childhoods that are still healing.  Many parents find themselves stopped in their tracks when something their child does sends them traveling back in time to a similar or related incident from their own childhood.  It’s important for us all to remember:  We (and our children) are not our parents, and furthermore, we are not the same people we were in childhood.  Most of us have developed more refined coping strategies to deal with stressful situations, and if we haven’t, as adults, we’re equipped to learn.  One advantage you have in your situation is that your daughter is a child – she can be taught more appropriate ways of self-expression.  It is much harder to teach your parent.

Here are some ideas other parents have found helpful:

  • Visualize yourself dealing with an irate customer:  Keep calm, work to find ways to de-escalate and defuse the conflict, and know when to step out and call for reinforcement, or say, “I see we’re not getting anywhere with this now. Let’s schedule a time to sit down with this tomorrow.”
  • Prayers and mantras: Repeat the mantra, “This too, shall pass,” like a prayer. Some find comfort in the Serenity Prayer (even the non-religious): “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
  • Always and consistently enforce your family’s values. Values trump rules. Rules are made to be broken, but values are unbending. If a value, for example, is “In this house, we do not hurt one another with words or bodies,” then that must be upheld. Even at the age of 9, modeling is a most effective tool. Modeling alternate approaches to hurting words and bodies is extremely effective.

Good luck, Mama.  I hope you find peace and healing from your own past, for your sake and your daughter’s.  The therapy sounds like it is helping your daughter, and you seem to be excited about that.  Hang on to those small successes.  Eventually, they all add up!

-A.S.N.

Thoughtful Thursdays: Gender and sibling rivalry

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cover of "Siblings Without Rivalry: How t...

Cover via Amazon

It’s fitting that I’ve been asked to write a post on squabbling sibs.  That’s how this whole thing started, after all – my children were fighting with each other, so I turned to my personal heroes, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, and pulled out their book, Siblings Without Rivalry, and made a cocky joke to a group of friends that soon put me in my humble place.  And now, forced to put my money where my mouth is, I have to write on the very subject I turned to help for in the first place.  Ha, Universe.  Ha, ha!

I think that’s an important thing for parents to know, though.  No one else, not even the parenting gurus who give all the answers (you know, like me… evidently), actually has all the answers.  But you, knowing your family the way you do, ultimately, you do.  Sometimes you just need help finding them.

And with sibling rivalry, sometimes you really need help.  Because the sound of your precious little angel’s voice shrieking, “Mooooooom, he’s TOUCHING me again!” can do unspeakable things to your mental and spiritual well-being.  And in the thick of things, objectivity is a lovely goal to have, but a heck of a lot easier said than done.

There are so many things I could write about sibling rivalry.  Alas, this small treatise is already becoming TL;DR (that’s “Too Long; Didn’t Read), and as parents, we’re probably not granted more than 5 minutes alone on the computer before being called off to tend to our little ones.

So what to write?  A reader commented that her two boys squabble constantly, and sometimes violently.  Her support system tells her, “It’s ok – they’re boys!  That’s how they play, they need to find out who’s in charge!”  I got to thinking about how my two younger brothers played and fought, and how I played and fought with them… and I realized, that is just the thing I want to write about:  sibling rivalry with regard to gender.

hate the “boys will be boys” mentality towards play and fighting.  Especially when it comes to, “They have to figure out who’s in charge!”  Like they’re wolf cubs in the wild.

Really, people?  Is this how we want to raise our boys?  By teaching them that they have to constantly vie for “Top Dog” status?  Really?  And what kind of message does that send?  The older one won this time, but the younger one doesn’t want to settle for being “beta dog” (this analogy is just making me madder and madder.  I’m going to have to stop.), so he challenges his big brother again, out of feelings of inferiority and resentment.  Or the younger one won this time, so big brother not only feels those same feelings, but also a sense of not measuring up, because as the older one, isn’t he “supposed” to be on top all the time?

Do we really want to teach our children that life is a competition?  I will not even get into the sociological ramifications of such a mentality.  Just think about how happy people are who view life as a competition – how truly joyous they are to be alive.  Think about it.

And then the girls – I’ll be honest.  I fought hard with my brothers – especially the older of the two.  I was vicious.  Beyond catty – oh hey, look at that, there’s that animal analogy being thrown out there again.  Boys are “Top Dog” and girls are “catty.”

But girls who fight with their siblings aren’t said to be competing for any sort of status, they’re said to be “catty.”  Or maybe they’re overly emotional.  But there’s no rhyme or reason given to their actions.  Just shocked reactions.

I’ve heard this is because girls are more socially inclined than boys, and when they fight, they’re better at using their words.  They’ll cut you with their tongue faster than you can cry, “Mercy!” and you’ll never see it coming. Or so it goes.

But is that true?  It sure wasn’t for me, not until I was older.  I’m good with words, sure – when they’re on paper (or electronic media).  I am not an eloquent speaker.  I can only think of two times as a child where I was actually able to use my words as effective weapons, and I was a teenager in both instances; I was standing up for someone else, and felt very strongly.  Very strongly.  In those situations, physical actions would have accomplished nothing.  But at home, in the day-to-day with my brothers, my words failed miserably.  So I took advantage of my size and age and scared the poo out of them when I felt I needed to.

My parents were smart.  They only intervened if someone’s well-being was truly endangered.  Body or mind – they watched from a distance, but like hawks, to make sure we didn’t take it too far.  I can remember one time in particular, being shocked at my dad’s sudden arrival out of nowhere, his calm demeanor separating me from my brother and judging no one, and the incredible guilt followed by relief that he was there.  “I could have killed him,” I thought.  I hope, if my children ever fight the way my brother and I were that day, I am as graceful as my father was.

I was never brought up to think that I couldn’t fight like the boys.  In fact, I was taught certain skills for self-defense.  The only remotely gender-biased message I ever received about boys and fighting was the statement, “Boys don’t talk much.  When they pick on you and start fights with you, they’re secretly saying ‘I love you.'”

And you know what?  I think, particularly for the older of my younger brothers, that really was (and is) true.  And I think it’s true for a lot of boys, maybe even the majority.  The more physical they are, the more they’re trying to communicate, whereas girls are maybe more likely to spit it out: “I love you.  Quit being a jerk.”

I don’t think only boys fight to convey affection, though.  And I don’t think girls are the only ones to communicate in words how they feel.  And that the two are mutually exclusive.  This lines up with my feelings on gender in the first place – I don’t believe in the gender binary (boy vs girl); I believe gender is much more fluid.  I once read (and I so wish I could cite the source, it was a fantastic book!) there are three factors that influence gender expression, and accordingly, several ways to express it, where the result could be that a child would end up identifying male, presenting female, and biologically female, or any other variation on the theme.

But before I digress any further, let’s bring it back to point: while I do believe gender expression or identity does factor into how a child interacts with his or her siblings, I’m not totally sure if this is a biological or psychological construct, or if it’s a result of socialization.  I have much more reading to do, and first-hand knowledge to gain!

Regardless of a child’s gender, is it ever ok for them to work out their differences with physical fighting?  That’s really up to you as the parent, your children’s personalities and needs, your family’s values, and what you can personally take.

Some children need rough interaction.  They need to roughhouse – it releases tension, and they get along better.  Others have a large personal bubble and need to shout it out.  When you have one (or more) of each, the fireworks really start.  As parents, we have the added pleasure of figuring out how to help each child meet their own personal needs to resolve their conflicts appropriately.  In my house, my son goes to his room to center himself while playing basketball, punching his bag, or playing his guitar.  My daughter, on the other hand, needs to be out in the middle of everything and yell and cry it out, so I often find myself sitting outdoors with her while she unloads.  When they’re ready, they come back together and talk it out on their own, frequently surprising me with their results.

But it’s not always perfect like that.  Remember?  I had to pick up a book just recently on this very subject!  More often than not, their squabbles are minor enough not to call for my intervention, but frequent or loud enough to really annoy me.  That’s the funny thing, though … because it’s not about me.  It’s about them – they’re learning to communicate, respect boundaries, enforce boundaries.  Why should I get in the way of their learning?

Lately I’ve been trying a trick.  If I can’t walk away and let them resolve it on their own (within earshot, of course), I state the obvious.  “My kids are fighting over the TV when there are two TV’s in the house and several hours before bedtime, and plenty of activities to do.”  Or, if it’s gone beyond that, “I hear one person asking nicely and trying to negotiate terms, and I hear another person shouting and saying ‘No!’ to everything.  I’m starting to get a headache.”

It’s strange, I wouldn’t necessarily have thought it would, but it works more often than it doesn’t.  It works best in the car.  No one wants Mom to get a headache in the car, she’s already a questionable driver in the first place.

I don’t believe in siblings without fights.  Siblings without competition? Well, if we buy Freud’s explanation, kids are competing for their mother’s love (or father’s), and that’s supposed to be some sort of evolutionary concept to further a child’s chances of survival.  I call horse-hockey.  I think fighting is another way of learning what is acceptable socially.  Sibling spats (and all-out brawls) are great practice for learning how to deal with conflict in the real world.

If we begin to consider sibling rivalry as social learning experiments, without regard to gender, we teach our children the necessary skills for communication, as well as enforcement and respect of personal boundaries. We set our children up for but a healthier, safer life.  Because children who learn from the start that a sibling’s “NO!” means it’s time to stop, are more likely to grow into adults who understand that other people’s bodies are not their own.  Children who understand that their boundaries are respected from the start, will be likely to be more confident, and less at-risk for abuse and harm later in their lives.  Furthermore, children who are taught these lessons will grow into adults with powerful tools to navigate this tough world we all live in.

There.  Now, I’ve done it.  I’ve made it TL;DR.  Sorry, parents!  I’m still learning the art of brevity.

Good luck, Mamas & Papas! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

-A.S.N.

 

My five-year-old makes me see red!

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Q: I need some gentle parenting advice from you, lady: My five-year-old daughter is willful, needs to test boundaries and be snotty. How do I react to bad behaviour (i.e. snotty faces, mean words, lashing out at sissy or folks) and create consequences? I react, get mad, doesn’t work.  I am working on “Rewind. What’s a better choice right here?” This is having modestly better results. Oh, Anti-SuperNanny, what is another path I could take here???
Yours Truly,
Lady Mama With a Temper.

A:  This is a fascinating subject for me!  I’ve heard, so many times, that five-year-old girls are among the most challenging children to be around.  It seems that around the age of 5, they find their voices, but lack a filter, tact, and decorum!  I’ve often wondered why people don’t make similar observations about boys at any age.  Is it because girls are perceived to be more socially hardwired?  Or is there a gender-stereotype covertly at work here?

Regardless, there is a right way to treat people and a wrong way.  And it is absolutely possible to express your wishes in a way that doesn’t alienate the people around you, and that is what we must teach our children – of all genders.

Your “rewinding” technique is a great way to validate her desire for control and expression, while enforcing your own boundaries!  Some other techniques that parents have found useful in coping with their fiercely independent children:

  • Describe the behavior (not the child): “Oh.  My daughter just walked in and demanded I give her a popsicle.”  It’s funny how often a child will self-correct and sheepishly say, “I’m sorry, Mom.  Um, I meant, may I please have a popsicle?”
  • State expectations:  “In this family, we treat one another with respect.  When you are talking to me, I do not roll my eyes at you because it is disrespectful.  I expect the same treatment from you.”
  • Use “I feel” messages: “I feel angry and saddened when I am yelled at, especially by someone I love so very much.  I feel like yelling back and slamming doors!”  Most effective when expressed with the emotion actually being felt.
  • Relinquish power: End the power struggle by choosing not to engage.  Either “give in” (yes, that’s ok, it’s actually important to “give in” once in a while), or table the conversation for another time when emotions are less heated.
  • Natural consequences: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction,” is not just Newtonian Physics.  It’s real life.  And many parents use it to their child’s long-term advantage.  For example, your child spends time arguing with you about what she wants to do and how she wants to do it.  You try several different approaches, but she is adamant that her way is The Only Way.  Guess what?  Time’s run out.  She no longer has the option to pursue the activity after all, because you have to go pick Daddy up from an appointment.  How unfortunate.
  • Logical consequences: “This stick is not a weapon.  If you are choosing to hit someone with this stick, you will have to go inside (where there are no sticks) and leave the stick out here.”  Logical consequences are always related.  “You hit your sister, no TV!” is not a logical consequence – to a child, there is no connection.  “You hit your sister! You need to leave the room now!” is.  (Side note: preferably, one would remove the sister and give her the attention, leaving the consequence implied, but sometimes, that’s just not practical).
  • Chill out: Naughty chairs are for SuperNanny.  When is the last time you told your adult friend, “I really didn’t like what you said to me last night.  You need to go sit in the naughty chair and think about what you’ve done!”  Ridiculous, right?  It’s doubly ridiculous for young children, who don’t even develop the capacity for inner monologue until between the ages of 6-8 years old – meaning they psychologically cannot “think about what they’ve done.”  They just can’t.  Instead, you’ll often find them play-acting, sorting out their problems in the most unexpected places, trying out different solutions and different scenarios.  It is for this reason that I cannot stress the utmost importance of play in a child’s life.  Play is one of a parent’s most effective tools.  So when the going gets rough, some parents will remove the struggling child from the situation, and send them to a safe place – their room, a quiet spot outdoors, etc.  The child is then given a moment or two alone, just to break that cycle of negative feedback, and the parent joins them, offering up an observation and invitation to chat.  “I sense that you seem irritable.  Want to talk about it?”  Maybe the child doesn’t talk – maybe she’ll want to climb something instead.  This is where that play thing we just talked about comes in.  Go with it.  Let her play – maybe something hidden will surface.

Again, these are just a few of the tools other parents have used.  You’ll likely find something else that works for your family.  And if you do, I hope you’ll come back here and share, so other readers can benefit from your experience.

Good luck mama, to you and your beautiful family!

-A.S.N.

Why won’t my two-year-old stay in bed??

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

As parents, many of us can relate to Mercer Mayer’s book, “Just Go To Bed”.  And in the midst of it all, our own little critters don’t seem half as cute as Mayer’s Little Critter.  We’re filled with feelings of frustration, doubt, and even sometimes failure.  How do we cope? Here is one mom’s question.

Q:  My two year old refuses to stay in bed!  I end up staying up with him sometimes until 11:00 at night, and have no time for myself.  To make matters worse, he wakes up with the sun!  We’re all suffering and no one’s sleeping well.  I have asked friends and family for help, and they mean well, but their answers only make me feel worse.  Someone even suggested that he’s trying to manipulate me and pull my heart-strings!  I find that hard to believe, but what if they’re right?  I’ve taken drastic measures just to try and get some peace for all of us, but they’ve only made me feel like a rotten mom.  I’m at my wit’s end!  How do I bring sanity back to my home? –Guilty Mom

Anti-SuperNanny’s Answer:  What would SuperNanny do?  Why, she’d have you march that little guy right back to bed as many times as he got up!  The first time, you’d say, “I love you, goodnight!”  Every time after that, you’d say nothing at all and just tuck him back in silently and walk away.  This may work for some families, but most families I know are not made up of parents with the seemingly never-ending patience and energy to keep up with such a routine.

Let’s look at the reality of the situation.  Your little one is two years old.  This means huge things are happening developmentally – synapses rewiring, awareness growing.  The world is a scary place!

He is not trying to manipulate you. He is just developmentally not capable of such a thing. Manipulation requires an acute awareness of Other- something that, at two, he’s only just begun to discover. To him, the two of you are still, in a sense, the same person. He is learning right now that is not true, and that awareness is scary. Suddenly, the world is so much bigger than mama and daddy.

He’s also begun to develop the awareness of power and control.  He can control what happens to him – but he hasn’t isolated when he can exercise that control.  (This is why “NO!” is such a favorite word with two-year-olds). The sense of having all this power but not knowing how to use it leaves him feeling powerless. And of course, you being so attached to your little one’s well being, you start to feel that powerlessness, too.

We want our children to feel secure and safe. And we want to feel like we’re doing something right, and somehow, seeing that sweet face sleeping is just the validation we seek. Each of us in our own individual families and situations must look within ourselves and identify what gives *us* that sense of security and safety, and somehow translate that into our relationship with our children.

So how can you and your little bug work together? How can he have more control over bedtime? How can you have more control over your time?

Some suggestions that have worked for other families:

Bedtime routine:

  • Split the bedtime routine with another adult.  Have another adult give the bath, read a story, or do other relaxing activities, while you find a way to center and relax yourself; then take over the act of putting the child to bed.  Alternately, do this the other way around, where you relax with your child, and the other adult puts the child to bed.
  • Stay in the room with your child, singing lullabyes, telling stories, and/or talking until they are ready for sleep.
  • Have a nightly “recap session” so your child can process the day’s events.  “What made you smile, today?  What made you sad?  What made you thankful?”
  • Offer choices to give a sense of control.  “Do you want the pink pajamas or the racecar pajamas?”  “Do you plan to brush your teeth before or after your bath?”  Remember to only offer choices you can live with, regardless of the outcome.

Other bedtime concerns:

  • When your child gets up, allow them to cuddle up for a little while before putting her back to bed.
  • Along the same lines, when your child gets up, go about your usual evening post-bedtime activities, and allow your child to stay up while you do so, explaining, “After you go to bed, it’s my time to do what I need for myself.  You can stay up, but you have to be quiet, and I will do the things I like to do.”  Meanwhile, busy yourself with a project, or watch TV (HGTV would be a good choice right about now, rather than “Once Upon a Time”!)
  • Forgo bedtime altogether.  Let your child decide when she is sleepy and adjust accordingly.

Obviously, these solutions are not for everyone. Your family is a unique and strange animal. There is no other family like it. The decisions you make are for your family alone – no one else can replicate the experience because you are all so unique!  You have to do what is right for your family.

I would highly encourage you to talk with your kiddo about bedtime when you’re both feeling calm and peaceful, during the day. Even with a limited vocabulary, he can tell you so much about what he needs or wants. Start with an observation. “Sweetie, I notice that at bedtime, it’s hard for you to stay in bed. What can you tell me about that?” Let him go with it and follow his lead. He may not say anything directly, but ask to play a game instead – and your answer may come there. And if doesn’t work, wait a day, and try again.

Finally – with regard to feeling guilty, I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it over and over again. We do the best with what we have. This is my cardinal rule of parenting. As parents, we are constantly growing, and it does no good to compare our actions today with our actions in the past – we didn’t have the tools and skillset then that we do now. We didn’t have the perspective then that we do now. There’s no place for judgment in the world of parenting – of yourself, or anyone else.

Good luck, Mama.

-A.S.N.

I don’t have all the answers. But you do.

Tags

, , , , , ,

It started as a joke.  A cocky joke, at that.  I’d been re-reading my collection of books by Elaine Mazlish and Adele Faber, and feeling pretty good about things with my own kiddos, so I quipped to friends, “Sometimes, I see what’s going on around me, and I want to put myself out there as the Anti-SuperNanny and preach Gentle Discipline and the Innate Wisdom of Children.”

I didn’t expect people to take me seriously.

The next morning, however, my inbox was full of questions.  I realized, “Wow, this is a real thing.  Parents out there want gentle guidance, just like children do.”

The next thing I realized was that I don’t know everything.  I can’t fix everyone’s problems.  It’s a darn good thing that isn’t how I was trained.

I offer guidance, not advice.  Sometimes I will share suggestions that have worked for other parents.  Mostly, I ask questions about what works for you.  Just like when helping children solve their own problems, I will often restate the scenario presented to me in such a way that parents can have their own lightbulb moments.  Learning is so much more effective when it’s something we achieve ourselves.

Stay tuned.  More to come. 🙂  In the meantime, hang in there.  YOU know your kids best, you already have the answers.

Love,

J.B.

Email the Anti-SuperNanny your parenting questions:  anti.supernanny@gmail.com