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How to Respond if Your Child Messes Up

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How we react to mistakes may dictate whether our kids come to us with a problem.

Suppose you discover your child deliberately kept you in the dark about a bad test grade or a concerning note from the teacher.  Before concluding that your child is untrustworthy, here’s an important question to consider:  How are mistakes handled in your home? In other words, what reaction has your child come to expect if he had shared that grade or note?

For example, did your child anticipate (correctly) that he’d get a speech laced with disappointment, exasperation, and irritation, followed by some kind of punishment? If so, maybe your child’ reaction was more about self-preservation that dishonesty.

Ironically, we may be concerned about our child’s trustworthiness because he no longer trusts us to respond in a way that’s helpful when he’s messed up.  So here’s how we may avoid that from happening.

1. Reassure your child that everyone makes mistakes.

Tell your child that you’re glad he makes mistakes—otherwise, that would mean he’s not human . . . and then that would mean he’s an alien from another planet!

2. Tell your child that you’ll stay calm whenever he approaches you with a problem.

Since that may not have always been the case, establish that if you do not stay composed, your child gets something that he likes.  That helps ensure you don’t revert to old reactions. And if you do, then your child figures at least he’s still going to get something good by coming to you.

3. Ask questions that prompt reflection and positive action for the future.

In lieu of giving a speech, ask questions such as: Why do you think you reacted that way? What other options could you have explored? What will you do differently to avoid this from happening again?

If there was another person involved, you might ask: How would (name of that person) describe what happened? That open-ended question then becomes a non-threatening way to hear a different perspective of what happened without anyone confirming that the other person’s account is correct.

4. Avoid “prosecutor-type” questions.

You’ll get immediate feedback if you start doing this because your child will become defensive, rather than reflective. Note that our tone often dictates whether we’re coming across as a prosecutor drilling a witness or a concerned parent who wants to prompt some insightful thinking.

5. Ask your child how he’ll accept responsibility for whatever happened.

With a generic knee-jerk reaction (“You’re grounded for a week!), there’s little chance that our child reflects and learns from any particular mistake. So it’s important that we also ask our kids what they think might be a good “natural cause and effect” for whatever transpired.  For example, a child may conclude, all on his own, that he’s spending too much time playing video games instead of studying. If so, it’s going to carry a lot more weight if he decides to limit video games to the weekends until his grades improve.

So yes, we all mess up.  That in itself is not newsworthy.  But how we deal with our mistakes may actually define us.

Five Signs a Parent Needs a Break

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We are actually helping our kids
when we take time for ourselves.

The airlines get it. For emergency situations, fight attendants always instruct parent passengers to put oxygen masks on themselves before helping their kids. Yet making sure parents are fully functional “on land” is good advice, too.

Here are some tell-tale signs that we have too much going on or that we’re so involved in our kids’ lives, we’ve forgotten we have one of our own.

1) We’re still singing our kids’ CD songs even though he’s not playing them (or even around).

2) We’re waiting to see what grade “we” got on the project “we” worked on.

3) We find ourselves cutting our own meat into tiny pieces.

4) We rushed our child out the door for soccer practice—only to discover that practice was yesterday.

5) We wish we could vote for homecoming king and queen.

If you’re a parent in need of a break, you can easily modify or add to the list above. But the point
is . . .sometimes we think we’re being a good parent by trying to juggle everything or by parenting 24/7. Yet the truth is, we’re better parents when we take some time for ourselves.

So book a massage. Go play tennis. Read that magazine that’s been sitting on the table for three weeks.

Our families will be just fine without us for a few hours.

Parenting Tips from an Unlikely Expert

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Some of the best parenting advice comes from none other than . . . Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer.

I’m serious. No, I’m not inferring that your child is a pit bull or Rottweiler.  But listen to what he says, substituting the word “dog” with “child,” and you may be amazed at how his advice also applies to parents.

Cesar Milan has great advice for dog owners . . . and parents.

Here are some of the main points he makes on his site and during his weekly television show:

  • A dog’s behavior will change only after the owner’s behavior changes.
  • Owners must establish themselves as the   pack leader.
  • If the pack leader is not clearly established, the dog will try to fill the vacant role (but with disastrous results).
  • There are no part-time pack leaders; in fact, inconsistency triggers confusion and anxiety.
  • Pack leaders gain control of a situation before it escalates.
  • Pack leaders remain consistent in their body language and signals.
  • Pack leaders know what they want from their dog, and they set  clear goals.
  • Dogs thrive on structure and boundaries or they feel lost and confused about their role in the pack.
  • Pack leaders help their dogs learn to problem-solve on their own since doing so keeps their mind busy and builds confidence
  • Dogs respond to a calm-assertive demeanor—not emotional arguments or negotiations.
  • Pack leaders always end a training session with success.
  • Dogs cannot survive on love alone.
  • Pleading, cajoling, and offering treats have no lasting effect on changing the dog’s unwanted behavior.
  • Unwanted behavior is viewed as an opportunity for change, growth, and learning.

On Cesar’s show, the dogs and personal stories change weekly, but the ending is always the same.   Lo and behold, the owners discover that once they change their behavior, the dog’s behavior also changes.

In other words, the dog is never the variable. While viewers watch various owners go through a process before they arrive at this “amazing” realization, Cesar and his fans always know how it’s going to go right from the start.

We’ve been working with families for over 11 years at the Brain Highways program, and we, too, find that once the parents change their behavior, their kids’ behavior also changes.  While we use more people-friendly terms (we talk about parents reclaiming their castle since they’re the kings and queens who rule it), we have the same philosophy for kids as Cesar does for dogs.

So, if you’re not sure that you always rule your own castle, try watching The Dog Whisperer.  Often, it’s easier to take information in and reflect when examples are a few steps removed from our own personal situation. If you find yourself sighing and shaking your head since you know the poodle’s owner is contributing to or even causing the existing problem, ask yourself if anything in the show might apply to your own home.  Sometimes, the answer is very humbling.

Responding to Relatives’ Criticism

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The cortex parent responds to<br /> relatives’ criticism with questions.

The cortex parent responds to relatives’ criticism with questions.

Sometimes in the midst of a nice family gathering, a relative drops a comment that sounds like criticism of our parenting skills. So what do we do?

If we ignore such a remark, there’s a possibility the others will hear the comment as fact. We also risk harboring some long-term, not-so-nice thoughts about that relative. Yet if we become defensive, then we’re responding as though we really do have something to explain.

That’s why the cortex parent takes a different approach. Such parents hear critical remarks as being 100% about the person who said it—and never about their child or themselves. With that perspective, the parent’s response becomes a question that immediately shifts the focus right back to the commentator. Sometimes, such questions can even include a little humor.

Here are example responses to some stinging comments.

Comment: I can’t believe you’re still nursing him.
Response: Are you concerned I’ll be nursing your grandson when he’s at college?

Comment: She’s so skinny. She has zero meat on her.
Response: Are you afraid I don’t feed Lindsey three meals a day?

Comment: She’s such a messy eater.
Response: Are you feeling anxious that Kristen might stain your tablecloth or carpet?

Comment: He has no table manners.
Response: Are you worried people will think you didn’t teach me manners to pass onto Jake?

Comment: He’s such a loud child.
Response: Is Shane’s volume louder than what you’re accustomed to?

Admittedly, the perfect reply doesn’t always come to us when we need to say it. So, until the above become natural, it’s also helpful to have a standby response. Here’s one that works for all occasions (and is especially appropriate at Thanksgiving). At any time, the cortex parent can proudly proclaim to all: I’m so grateful to have my child in my life.

And that truth overrides anything else a relative may have to say.

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