Lynne Kenney is my guest blogger this week. After she found the Brain Highways website and blog, we discovered that we both encourage parents to honor their kids. Here are her thoughts on the subject.
We all wish to grow healthy, happy relationships with our children. We interact, play and talk with our children to enjoy one another and feel connected. In those moments when we are in conflict with our kids at home, we wonder, “What can I do to enhance my relationships with my children?”
One way to improve our relationships is to show that we honor one another. In its simplest terms, honor is the degree of value, worth and importance you place on a relationship. It is granting another person a position of value in your life. You likely model honor in your own home naturally. You are caring, loving and trustworthy. If you are ready to delve deeper, here are some steps to spring you forward in the depth and experience of teaching honor in your own home.
1. You are your children’s finest role model. If you respect your children in your words and behaviors, they learn to do the same with others.
2. Honor is about allegiance. When you teach your children to honor their relationships, they become friends who stand up for one another, support one another and are true to each other.
3. Honoring honesty, hard work and patience builds children who value hard work and completing tasks to their rightful end.
Reflect for a moment: Do you honor your relationships? Is it important to you that people honor and give value to what you say and feel? How do you show your children that you honor them?
Here are some questions to ponder. You might even wish to write them in a journal and note what you do, when and why. This process will bring honor front of mind, help you monitor your tone and change your behavior as needed.
No one is perfect, but when we strive to be mindful about how we honor our family, it builds trust, respect and love.
In relationships where we honor one another, listen to our children’s unique voices and really hear what they need, we improve how we communicate, how we express our love and how we get along across a lifetime. If you are ready to take steps today try this:
1. Be consistent with your children.
2. Be attuned to their individual needs.
3. Respond to your children by getting off the couch, computer or phone and going to them. Proximity matters when you are communicating with your children.
4. Take your child’s concerns seriously. This means acknowledging their feelings. Do not mock or tease your children. Sarcasm is painful and it cuts deeply.
5. Match your child’s exuberance and excitement by sharing whole-heartedly in their joy.
6. Give your children your undivided attention in the moments they need you.
If we wish to raise ethical children in this complicated world, we need to begin with the lessons we teach at home. Being present, modeling respect and showing the meaning of honor is a solid start at any age.
Dr. Lynne Kenney is a mom, pediatric psychologist, international expert on the Parenting Team and the author of The Family Coach Method.
I tell kids that out-of-control behaviors are never-evers. Why? Well, it’s a behavior that never, ever—anywhere on this planet—do people embrace. For example, no one is seeking a friend or spouse or employer who hits, screams, bites, spits, or throws things when upset.
Yet, every time a child is allowed to do a never-ever (and if the child does these, then there is some “permission” in the air), the brain registers such behavior as okay, even helpful, if it results in a reaction from others that is perceived as favorable (e.g. the child receives attention, ruins everyone else’s sense of harmony, no longer has to do whatever, etc.).
But here’s what becomes even more concerning: Parents of kids who do never-evers become desensitized to their kids’ out-of-bounds behavior—and that, itself, makes eliminating it more difficult.
For example, the parents may no longer view it as shocking that an eleven-year-old boy hits his mother or spits or slams doors when something doesn’t go his way—even though others are viewing that same behavior with disbelief.
So how do such parents become desensitized? Well, the brain often kicks in a self-defense mechanism (i.e. becomes desensitized) to a repeated negative experience that does not improve. For example, I recall how my friend was initially sickened by the level of poverty she encountered during her first three weeks in India. But by her last week there, she no longer saw the suffering as when she first arrived. In just a short period of time, she had become desensitized to all the anguish.
How Parents May Be Encouraging Never-Evers (and Not Know It)
Not only do parents become desensitized to extreme, out-of-bounds behavior, but other factors also keep them alive.
1. Parents rationalize the behavior.
At the Brain Highways Center, here are some of the common reasons parents have expressed to explain/justify their child’s never-evers:
• She’s nonverbal, so this is how she communicates.
• He gets tired.
• She gets overstimulated.
• He doesn’t understand what is being asked.
• She does (fill in the blank) because she’s been diagnosed with (fill in the blank).
• He doesn’t really know what he’s doing in that state of mind.
• He’s too underdeveloped to internalize any cause-and-effect response to his behavior.
Yet, a never-ever is just that. There are no excuses. Period.
Plus, none of the above reasons even hold up. For example, the nonverbal child still communicates without words when she’s happy, so why would being nonverbal suddenly be an issue when she’s not getting her way?
And kids, regardless of their diagnosis, are not aliens who slip into some bizarre state of mind that triggers never-ever tantrum behavior.
Tired? Overstimulated? Very possible, but why would that justify never-ever behavior?
Too underdeveloped to understand cause-and-effect? Actually, the child proves that he does understand cause–and-effect. After all, he’s learned to pull out the never-ever behavior whenever he doesn’t like something because such behavior often gets him what he wants (see number 2).
One fact is for certain: As long as parents rationalize never-ever behaviors in any way, they will continue.
2. The child’s brain registers others’ response to the never-ever as beneficial.
Suppose we put a screaming child in her room for a “time-out.” Yet, this response may give the child exactly what he wants (i.e. gets out of doing whatever). If that child then decides when to return (to whatever), he’s still controlling the situation. If he gets to merely apologize and waltz back into the family as though no never-ever happened, he’s additionally given a distorted sense of power since he’s the one who is always deciding when and if he’s going to interact nicely with others.
Moreover, if the child can repeat outrageous behavior—but then all is forgiven after he apologizes verbally and is acting pleasant again–why would the child ever stop doing never-evers? In the adult world, out-of-bounds behavior followed by a sweet apology is framed as an abusive relationship. Yet, we don’t often recognize a similar kind of relationship between a child and parent. Granted, it’s pretty chilling to think that our child is abusing us—and we’re allowing it. But that doesn’t make it not so.
Sometimes parents respond to the outrageous behavior by immediately comforting the child, with the idea of trying to calm her down. But how does that kind of response register in a child’s brain? Let’s see: The child screams. Kicks. Throws something–and that results in getting the parent’s undivided attention, complete with full-on comfort. Any surprise that this brain also views never-evers as beneficial?
In some homes, family members (including the parents) have become intimidated by the never-ever behavior. Consequently, they’ll now try to avoid being the recipient of such actions. Yet, the child who does the never-ever behavior knows this. So, once again, her brain believes such behavior is actually in her best interest. For example, she has learned she may get out of doing something or will be required to do less of something simply because others fear her reaction if asked to comply.
3. One or more people in the home need chaos in order to avoid dealing with some other issue.
Yes, never-ever behaviors are a great distraction. After all, when would we have time to think about something in our own life or relationships (that we’d rather not) if we’re so busy dealing with an out-of-control child? In fact, if there is an invitation for pandemonium in the air, another child in the house often steps into the role as soon as the out-of-control child’s behavior starts to improve.
Stopping Never-Evers Today
Any chance never-ever behaviors go away on their own? No. In fact, never-evers always escalate in intensity with time. For example, the child who darts out the door (to run away) at age four grabs the car keys to escape at fourteen. The child who throws toys and books at five throws furniture at fifteen. And so it goes.
So then, how do we stop never-evers if we’ve allowed them in our lives?
1. We look at the behavior as others view it (i.e. appalling, atrocious, etc.) We acknowledge that we have become desensitized to behavior that has and always will be an unacceptable way to respond.
2. We accept that we have played a role in teaching our kids to act this way. But that also means we can teach them something that creates a more useful brain map as soon as we respond differently. So, that’s encouraging!
3. We realize that we have already taught (on some level) our kids about never-evers. For example, while we may have allowed door slamming, kicking, and screaming, our kids know that they can never ever take a knife and slash furniture when they’re upset. So the same “presence” we used to establish that boundary can also transfer to the never-evers we have inadvertently allowed.
4. We pause and ask ourselves questions before deciding how to respond. What kind of brain map will result from my reaction? Will that be useful in my child’s life—or will it actually reinforce behavior that will alienate others and prevent my child from learning a constructive way to respond?
5. We spell out what never-ever behaviors our child does and explain why we would not want the brain to believe such responses are okay. For example, the child who hits and screams while riding in a car first learns that such behavior is unsafe. Simply, we cannot have distracted drivers. It’s not only unsafe for those in the car, but also for others on the road.
If needed, we get creative and use visuals to help our kids really understand why the never-ever has to stop. Here’s an impressive, graphic video a mom made to help her child understand why he cannot hit his face or bang his head when he’s upset.
6. We share, up front, what will happen if the never-ever appears. For example (continuing with the child who hits and screams while riding in the car), if we can’t trust the child to act in a way that ensures everyone’s safety, then we cannot trust her to ride in the car. And yes, guess that means that the child does not go to (fill in the blank) if he has to get there by car. Only after some time (perhaps three or four days—it can’t be a quick turn-around), do we reconsider whether we can trust the child in a car again and give him a chance to prove that.
For some kids, we may actually do a burial service of never-ever behaviors. In such case, we dig a hole in the backyard and bury a list of the child’s specific never-evers. Sometimes, this visual/event helps our kids get that we are absolutely done with those behaviors.
7. We respond to never-evers differently than to general kid-infractions. Forgetting to make the bed or leaving a mess can’t get the same response as punching the wall or ripping a shirt or kicking. We also can’t use the same generic consequence—time out, take away a toy or privilege—for never-ever behavior if we’re going to get the message across that such behavior is way out-of-bounds.
A mere apology is additionally deemed no longer enough to move forward. Instead, we must create an opportunity for our child to experience how such behavior interferes with his life—right now—even though the rest of us are going to (merrily) continue with ours, regardless. The latter is important. We are no longer held hostage by our child’s never-evers.
8. We hold the child accountable for his actions. For example, if he destroys something, he completes a job (e.g. scrubs grout) to earn money to pay for whatever he ruined. If he throws a chair, he now sits on the floor (sitting in a chair is not an automatic “right”).
9. As we do all of the above, our demeanor remains one of indifference. We may now sing a song or flip through a magazine while the child’s having a tantrum. We are no longer angry since that still gives our child a feeling of power (i.e. he likes that he can upset us). We are no longer consoling since that gives our child a confusing message (i.e. his brain registers never-evers as a way to get comforted). In contrast, our indifference negates whatever distorted power the never-ever may have previously generated. After all, never-ever behavior is intended to provoke, throw everyone off-balance. But now it does nothing.
In short, once we understand about never-evers, we no longer participate in ways that enable such behavior. We now realize that doing so actually hurts our child. And that can’t be what any parent wants to do.
Would pioneer parents be baffled by how some modern-day parents “protect” their kids?
After all, doing more of our child’s nightly homework than the child, calling meetings with a teacher or coach or dance instructor the minute our child voices something didn’t make him feel good, or even going further by insisting our child switches to a different class or team . . . is a far cry from the perils that pioneer parents faced to keep their kids safe.
Do today’s parents believe they’re helping their child when they dive in to thwart feeling distressed? Yes.
But in the world I know, not everything is always easy or a perfect fit. So if we teach kids to flee at the first sign of discomfort, we keep reinforcing a brain map that says: Hey, feeling a little uneasy? Then bail!
And with that kind of brain map in place, why would we be surprised, for example, to learn such kids become adults who quit jobs the minute they don’t like their boss’s feedback or end personal relationships as soon as they becomes a little tense?
So, instead of modeling how to flee, we can use such times to teach our kids how to deal with a little distress or discomfort. For example, a child (not the parent) could talk to the teacher to explore whether homework could be modified so that he could do it independently. Similarly, a child could talk to the coach to discover how he might improve in order to get more playing time.
In other words, we teach our kids to first engage in a dialogue to express their concerns and give the other (involved) person a chance to respond. We teach them that they can actually “survive” a little discomfort, which in itself, creates a useful brain map.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we always stay in whatever situation, no matter what. That’s not what we want our kids to learn, either. But there’s a big difference between bailing at the first sign of discomfort and making a decision based on knowledge that various options were truly explored.
Turns out, we’re really no different than pioneer parents. It’s instinctive to want to protect our kids. However, the difference today is in recognizing whether our kids are experiencing a little uneasiness or are truly in danger. It’s that kind of awareness that then helps us know how to best respond.
We may not like how our child responds. In such case, we may find ourselves defending our prior actions. After all, don’t we have our children’s best interest at heart when we push them to go further, challenge them to perfect something, or expect them to start all over?
But is there a price for pushing and keeping the focus on what wasn’t accomplished?
I think so. When I was a child, my sisters and I were assigned kitchen clean-up after dinner. But when it was my turn, I inevitably forgot to clean a fork or I left crumbs on part of the counter—something small when compared to all the pots and dishes and scrubbing I had done.
Yet, I’d still get a speech on whatever I “forgot” to do. Well, it didn’t take me long to figure that I might as well forego trying to do a good job since I was still going to get the speech. In other words, who cared if the lecture now included a few more items that I had neglected? After all, everything I had cleaned was still going to be overshadowed by what I had missed.
To this day, I still don’t view myself very highly when it comes to cleaning up—and consequently, I still don’t even bother to try and do an excellent job.
Luckily, my parents only applied this never-seemed-to-be-enough scenario to my cleaning skills—and not to my academics, sports performance, or other aspects of my life. Scary to think who I might be today if they had.
Truth be known, harping to do better for whatever (and that’s how it’s processed from a child’s viewpoint) has a high probability of backfiring in the long-term. Low self-esteem, lack of motivation, and encouragement to lie (to avoid punishment for not doing something as expected) are just a few likely outcomes when kids don’t think they live up to “the standard.”
But here’s what we know about human nature . . .experiencing success—not failure—is what actually motivates us to do more. So how can we take that approach with our kids?
• We emphasize effort over final results, keeping in mind that effort is a variable that kids can control.
• We inch towards the desired result gradually. That means we may initially expect less of the desired behavior or we expect it for less time or less often.
So maybe my parents could have started by asking me to wash just the dinner plates, progressively working towards doing the rest of the dishes, the pots, the countertops, the floor.
And who knows? With that approach, I may have become someone who loves to clean, let alone a person who actually makes a place shine after doing so.
But when looking at the bigger picture, such behavior suggests something different. Namely, the child does not trust her parent.
What? How can that be when the child is crying because she doesn’t want the parent to leave or because she wants her parent to comfort her when frightened?
Well, if the child trusted the parent, she would know—with 100% certainty—that the parent would never leave her somewhere or have her venture somewhere that wasn’t safe. All the parent would have to say is, “You can trust me”—and the child’s angst would be soothed.
Without that trust, it doesn’t matter how much reassurance the parent offers. Plus, the child learns that by crying or resisting, she not only avoids whatever distorted fear she’s facing, but she also gets a lot of attention. Such concerning behavior then registers in the brain as helpful—even though such response is viewed quite differently by others.
So how do we change all that? We start by believing such kids are yearning to trust their parents 24/7 so that they can feel safe. With that perception in place, we then do the following:
• We use a simple phrase, “You can trust me” for such situations. We say this with a strong presence and conviction as that (initially) will give more assurance than the actual words.
• We establish that no one on this entire planet loves our kids more than us, so we would never leave them with someone we didn’t trust.
• We tell them that we never ask them to do something we didn’t know was safe.
• We believe and tell our child that they’re losing a huge piece of their childhood if they can’t trust when we say something or somewhere is safe. The best part of childhood is that we get to trust others to make those decisions for us.
• We now view comforting our kids when demonstrating separation anxiety or a distorted fear as hurting them—as actually not meeting their emotional need since such response reinforces there really is something to fear, and we (as their parents) can’t be trusted.
• We set up really, really short experiences to allow the brain to register it can trust us. For example, if our child is afraid to be near dogs, we create an opportunity where we stand next to our child while across the street from a dog on a leash—for 60 seconds. That’s it. The next time, we may do this for 90 seconds. From there, we may get closer to the dog—but, again, for only a very short time. In other words, we don’t just “throw our kids into the swimming pool.” We teach them to trust us by showing (not telling) they can.
• We thank our kids for trusting us when they were hesitant, pointing out that such faith also gives them new confidence that makes them feel safe and assured for future situations.
Best of all, when kids trust their parents, the brain registers that the distorted projected fear did not happen—just like the parents said. And that—rather than reassuring speeches, lots of hugging, or finding ways for the child to avoid the distorted fear–is what truly comforts them.