Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Listening Tool Card

Mary Nelsen Tamborski

Spending quality time and listening to my boys is one of my absolute favorite things to do! Usually I'm very good at it. Then came the holiday's when I've been with them 24-7. It's been an exciting yet challenging couple of weeks with both of my boys (Greyson, 5 and Reid, 3) during their holiday break. In other words, it's been a great opportunity to practice my Positive Discipline Tool Cards.

Recently my mom, Jane Nelsen, and my brother, Brad, approached me with a new project. They invited me to participate in practicing a different tool card each week for 52 weeks and then blog about it. I immediately said "Sure!" I thought to myself, this should be easy considering I practice these tool cards daily...right? Not exactly. You would think that after being raised with Positive Discipline (PD) as well as teaching parenting classes that I would be an expert at this stuff. Not even close! I will be the first person to remind every parent out there that there is no such thing as perfect parenting. In fact, the more mistakes I make, the better parent I become. After all, "Mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn."

For this last week we have been practicing the tool card Listen. Before the week started, I thought this should be easy. I've always considered myself to be a "good listener." Parts of this tool card include; validating feeling, giving choices, and most importantly listening to your children. The tool card reminds us that, "Children will listen to you after they feel listened to." I'm also really good at "Asking vs. Telling" (another tool card) so naturally I thought this would add to my children feeling heard since I would be "listening" to their choices. Wrong again. Yikes! I quickly found out that I am not as good of a listener as I thought I was. I was abruptly reminded every time one of my boys would get louder (yelling), pouting, back talking, whining, or basically any time I felt disrespected. I reacted instead of acting. I flipped by lid.

It seems so obvious now, once I'm writing about it or after I "flipped my lid" and would totally lose control. My boys were mirroring my energy/tone and the problem would escalate...sigh. Oh yeah, it's easy to forget, that we are our children biggest teachers/role-models and that we expect them to keep control of their behavior when we can't even stay in control of our own.

Just a couple of days ago, I was driving with my mom (of course) when Greyson was acting obnoxious or in other words, like a typical 5-year-old. He was demanding that his younger brother Reid share the toy that he was playing with. Back and forth they were yelling and saying mean things. I looked at my mom and said, "I am so annoyed right now, what should I do?" She said, "Stay out of it." Did I listen to her advice? Of course not! It didn't take me long to get into the "flipped lid" response (not thinking rationally at all). Before I could even think about it I "reacted" and I turned around and said, "If you don't share with your brother and give him back his toy I'm going to take it away from both of you and then neither one of you will have it." Naturally, Greyson gave me attitude and started threatening me and was being mean and disrespect. Hmmm...I wonder why? Could it be, that he was modeling/mirroring me and my behavior. Of course he was!  After I dropped my mom off, I got out of the car to take a few deep breaths and confront my mistakes with the "expert." She kindly reminded me that so often parents expect their children to control their own behavior when the parents can't even control theirs. Right then I had my "ah ha" moment when the learning/lesson just clicks. She also went on to say that Greyson is only 5 and that I as expecting more from him at 5 then even I could model at 36.

The good thing about my mom is that she is always supportive and non-judgmental. She is constantly reminding me that everything I am feeling and doing (mistakes and all) she did too. I am continuing to practice listening this week, but when I am not listening the clues that I am getting are loud and clear; it's mostly when my kids are feeling frustrated and therefore shouting or saying hurtful things. (We hurt when we feel hurt) and we don't listen when we too don't feel listened to. My mom reminded me that the times I listen to my children outnumber the times I “lose it.”  Mistakes are my reminder to, STOP, take a deep breath, validate their feelings, ask for their ideas, respectfully give them choices—or just let them have their feelings and faith that they can work through their frustration.

The following day it was Christmas morning and Greyson had the idea of playing Santa Claus where he would bring the presents from under the tree to everyone--since he's learning how to read, he was feeling proud and capable of this task. Before we could agree, his younger brother Reid said, "I want to play Santa Claus." Before we knew it the boys were already arguing and the first present hadn't even been opened yet. Dad immediately chimed in and started giving his two cents, and nobody was being "heard." I said, "Let's listen one at a time until we can all agree." Once we finally let Greyson speak and we listened, he came up with a brilliant solution of letting his brother help by Greyson reading the names, and Reid would deliver them. It's amazing, that when you can actually stop and listen to what your children have to say, they can come up with some great solutions. I believe that as parents, we underestimate our children and their intelligence and logical thinking...even at 5 years old.  After all, we want our children to be critical thinkers, and problem solvers, but so many times we butt in and take away their opportunities. In the end, it's funny to think about how Christmas is suppose to be about the kids but as parents we want it to be "ideal" or "perfect" and then it ends up being more about us then the kids...oops again!
I can honestly say, that when I use PD...it works! Every single time! But, when I slip and fall (which I often do), another lesson will be learned.
Cheers to all the Positive Discipline parents out there and to a Happy New Year...mistakes and all!

On a side note: Greyson asked me earlier this week if he has "sensitive ears?" One of his friends had stayed at our house for a sleepover a few weeks ago, and I had told Reid that when he screams, it especially hurts this friends ears because they're "sensitive." In response to Greyson question was "No, you don't have sensitive ears, your ears are perfectly fine." Greyson says, "But Daddy asked me if my ears are working and if I hear him, because I'm not listening." :-)

Mary Tamborski, MFTI
Roots & Wings Consulting
(858) 254-9378

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Time-Out in Your Room

Recently my husband and I have been at a loss about our two-year-old not listening, and creating for us what seems like unnecessary battles.

My mom, Jane Nelsen, has told me that time outs don’t really work for two- year-olds—that they aren’t old enough to understand. She claims that for children at this age we just need to supervise, supervise, supervise, distract and redirect..Many times I run out of patience and feel hopeless and discouraged and do not have the patience to redirect…so I thought.

One day when Greyson wasn’t listening (my mom says that what I really mean is “not obeying”), I put him in his room and he got very upset, even though he wasn’t there for longer than a few seconds, and decided to do what I wanted him to do. I learned that if I kindly and firmly put him in his room while saying, “You can come out as soon as you are ready to ______,” he often willing changed his behavior and was ready to cooperate.

For example, he didn’t want to put his diaper on, so I put him in his room and told him that when he was ready to put his diaper on he could come out. And as soon as I shut the door he came out and said, “I am ready to put my diaper on.”

Wow, I thought to myself that was easy I can’t believe it actually worked. The next day my husband was trying to get him dressed and Greyson, of course, wasn’t cooperating. So I whispered to my husband, “Tell him he is going to go to his room but can come out as soon as he is ready to get dressed.”

“Sure enough, Greyson opens the door immediately and tells my husband that he’s ready to get dressed. We both look at each other like, “WOW, I can’t believe that worked.” (Secretly, I was praying that it would work—especially since I told Mark to try it and wanted him to think that I already knew what I was doing…ya right!!

The next day we were getting ready to take a bath and Greyson started running around naked as I am sitting on the floor in-between the bathtub and the toilet. I grabbed his hand and said, You can go into your room until you are ready to get into the bath.” Once again, as soon as I shut the door to his room, he opens it and says, “I am ready to get into the bath.” Wow!!!! Is this really working? It seems too easy!

Punitive time out may not be appropriate, but “time in your room until you are ready,” seems to be an adaptation that is respectful to both of us. Greyson can choose to come out as soon as he is ready, and I get cooperation on what needs to be done.

Meltdown at Legoland (Mom and Child)

One of my absolute favorite ways to spend a day is at Legoland with my mom and my two sons Gresyon 4-years-old and Reid 2-years-old. We have been season pass holders since Gresyon was 18-months and it has always been a guaranteed great day!

However, our last trip to Legoland provided the setting for one of our worst moments. We were about an hour into our day when Greyson asked for my phone so that he could play with one of his favorite applications (Tom Cat). Of course, without hesitation, I said “No!” My reasoning was that there were so many other things to look at and do; and, I was already starting to feel resentful that his face is buried into the phone more often than it should be—totally my fault.

Originally, the phone started out as a special treat (my five minutes of quiet time/sanity). However, Greyson found many fun game applications (apps) and lots of entertaining YouTube videos.

I have always been against video games at a young age and limited TV time. I had to ask myself how watching my iPhone, which was beginning to seem like all the time, was any different?

Without advanced warning, I decided that he needs to watch less of my phone and start enjoying more of nature, the world, and simple conversations in the car when it was quiet. So, when Greyson asked to use my phone at Legoland, I told him, “No. We’re at Legoland and there are so many things to look at and do here. You’re not watching my phone.” (I have to admit that I had reached my limit and was being very FIRM, but not very KIND.)

Greyson freaked out (flipped his lid—a full fledged meltdown) and charged at me to hit me. Of course I was totally upset (engaged in my own metldown), and walked away from him (because what I really wanted to do, was hit him back).

Since we were with my mom, Jane Nelsen, the author of Positive Discipline (PD) I was feeling extra pressure not to lose it, so I stormed off trying to calm down and not say or do anything I would regret. As I was storming off in front of both Grandma and Greyson, I was feeling extremely irritated with him and totally frustrated with the entire philosophy PD. Just before walking away, I cried to my mom, “I’m not sure I even believe in PD. It isn’t working. All I want to do is charge back at Greyson and teach him a lesson in a not so PD way.”

My mom stayed back with Greyson, trying to calm him down with a hug because this almost always works…after all she’s the one that taught me “when we feel better we do better,” and, “a misbehaving child is a discouraged child”…right? Instead he wasn’t ready for his hug, he was ready to scream at the top of his lungs and run away from her.

By the time Greyson got to me, he found me sitting on a bench with my hands over my face crying. Thank goodness he felt so bad for me he gave me a big hug where we then both just melted into each other’s arms. Once we were calm we were able to talk about what made us both so angry and frustrated. Thank goodness!

It was only seconds before that I was thinking to myself, “Why in the world was I so darn excited to be a mom?” Being a mother is by far the hardest and most frustrating thing I’ve ever done—and the most wonderful!

When we all sat down for lunch, my mom listened to my frustration and heard me complain that it’s so discouraging to think that I am out there teaching Positive Discipline when I cannot keep it together and practice it myself. The rational side of me knows that I could’ve used several PD tools such as:

Prepared him by talking to him before about my “new rule” of having the phone only for special or (desperate) situations.
Distracted and or redirected him with any idea or activity of what we were going to do next.
Used sense of humor with him when he hit me, by knowing that he was upset and then talking to him later about how it hurt my feelings (and ego) when he hit me.
My mom asked, “Mary what would you say is the percentage of time that you use PD?” I immediately responded with 98%. She started laughing. Naturally I was still fragile from the previous situation and was totally confused by her response. She said, “Oh Mary, you need to call your Dad and ask him what my response was to the same question when I felt so discouraged that I wasn’t practicing what I teach. My answer was that I probably used it 80% of the time…and I wrote the book.”

Mama followed by saying, “Mary, you are the best mother I’ve ever seen, and there’s no such thing as a perfect parent.” There were reminders of that all day from other parents who were dealing with their kids that were “having meltdowns,” and vice versa. I know that I need to quit being so hard on myself, but when I’m in the middle of “that moment” and we’ve both “flipped our lids,” it’s so difficult to remember.

It wasn’t that much later that I was watching my two most adorable boys eating their lunch, feeding the birds, smiling and laughing. Mom smiled and asked, “Would you trade any of this?” Without hesitation my response was, “Absolutely not.”

Once again I learned that Positive Discipline almost always works, but I don’t always work Positive Discipline—am I’m not the only one. We forget that we often expect our children to control their behavior when we don’t control our own. We also forget that it is not normal to be perfect, and that it is normal to “lose it” sometimes—adults and children. I was again reminded to quit expecting perfection of my children, and myself, to have the courage to be imperfect, and to keep learning from my mistakes.

I truly believe that our children are our biggest teachers and if there is one thing I have learned in the last four years is that how “my children” are acting is not about them. It’s about my attitude and me, and how well I control my behavior—and that sometimes I will “lose it.”

My boys fuel me and enrich my life on a daily basis and at almost the same time they test me and teach me. In the end, it brings us all closer together and makes me a better mom who is still learning from her mistakes.

Two days later Greyson got frustrated with me again and wanted to hit me. This time I used my sense of humor (PD Tool No. 3 above) and made a game of it until we were both laughing. Parenting can be so much fun.

Saying What You Mean and Meaning What you Say

I recently realized how important it is to follow through on what I say I am going to do.  It doesn’t work to threaten something I’m not willing to follow through on, and most of the time this means inconveniencing myself.

The early years are crucial for setting the standard for your child.  If you start by being a push over then it will be hard, in the long run, to convince your child that all of a sudden you’re fed up and serious, and that now you really mean it. Or that if you keep threatening it and say it enough times then they will finally listen (obey)—not likely.

For me it started with naps. My 2-year-old has never been good at taking naps; but after my second child was born I knew I had to switch him into his big boy bed and yet again change our naptime routine, Arrggh.  I was dreading the transition from crib to big boy bed because I knew he would be able to get out whenever he wanted.

The first time that we were all laying in his bed, quieting down for our nap, he was restless and disturbing both his baby brother and me. I told him that if he didn’t lay quietly with his brother and me that he would have to take his nap in his crib.

I don’t think he really understood. He was just barely two, so he was more like a parrot at this age and would just repeat what I would say.  He said something like, “My nap in crib” I repeated, “Okay, Greyson, you want to nap in your crib?”

Yah, so I put him in his crib, and naturally he cried for what I think was half of my 30 minutes nap. But when I woke up he was sleeping.  The next day when he was restless and disturbing us I asked him if he wanted to sleep in his crib and he immediately said NO, put his head on the pillow and closed his eyes.  Since then, naps have been easy—with the exception of a few threats and following through.  Following through, by letting him cry it out and having him sleep in his crib, helped him understand I was serious, meant what I said, and would do what I said. I hope that he continues to believe so—and that I can keep following through.

Notes on Following Through from Jane Nelsen

Why is it so difficult for most parents to follow through—to say what they mean and mean what they say? Let’s count the ways:

  1. Wishful thinking: Parents keep hoping their children will listen to their lectures (which really means “hear and obey”).
  2. Fear that children will be traumatized: Parents are afraid their children might suffer in ways that will affect them for life—for example if they have to cry it out. I believe that parents should not cause suffering (through punishment, blame, and shame), however children can benefit from being allowed to suffer from the choices they make so they can learn resiliency and a sense of capability by learning they can survive disappointment and upset.
  3. Fear that children won’t feel loved: This is related to the above. Of course it is true, that some children may not feel loved, but in most cases I hear about, children are almost “over” loved. Parents over love when they pamper and over-protect—which is not the most loving way to help children develop self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation, and problem-solving skills.
  4. Mary is an example of the many parents I know who love their children so much that it would be very difficult for their children to adopt the belief that they aren’t loved just because they lose patience once in awhile, or when they kindly and firmly follow through and allow their children to have their feelings and work it through.
  5. Lack of confidence: Hopefully, understanding the above concepts will help parents have more faith in themselves. There are two main benefits of confidence:
    • Confidence creates positive energy.
    • It is easier to be both kind and firm when you have confidence that what you are doing has long-term positive benefits for your children.
Notice I use the terms kind and firm over and over. This is the foundation that determines that children are treated with dignity and respect—even when they aren’t getting their own way. Following through is effective when you are kind and firm at the same time.

Hugs During a Temper Tantrum…easier said then done.

My two boys (Greyson, three-years-old, and Reid, one-year-old) took one of our late night strolls around the block. We came upon a neighbor’s house where there were all kinds of kids playing. Greyson was fascinated by all the different activities going on. There were kids from all different age groups playing basketball, catch, riding on a scooter etc. So we stopped for about 5 minutes talking and watching them.

It started getting dark and cold, Reid started getting fussy, and I started to feel a little awkward just standing in front of this neighbor’s house while Greyson watched the “people.” When I told Greyson that it was time to go, he was not ready. He wanted to stay and watch the people.

I logically explained to him all the reasons of why we needed to go. After asking him the second time and him still refusing, I told him that he had a choice. He could either walk with me or hold my hand, or I would pick him up and carry him away…either way we were leaving.

Of course he did not want to hold my hand, but his brother was in the Bjorn so I firmly grabbed his had and said it was time to go. What I wanted to do was drag him like a rag doll; especially because I felt like e was ignoring me and not listening…and I was going to show him who was boss and how annoyed I was.

So as I was firmly holding his hand, he started crying/screaming at the top of his lungs. (Greyson has always had the loudest most ear piercing cry of any other child I or anyone else has ever encountered). Of course one of my neighbors was walking her dog and looking at me as if I just beat him…and from the sound of his cry it sounded like I had.

I was desperately trying to be calm and to ignore his crying and to let him have his feelings, but we were both just getting more upset. I knew what to do, but did NOT want to do it. However, at the risk of embarrassing myself with the rest of the neighbors, I got down to his level and told him I needed a hug.

Naturally he immediately fell into my arms—willing and loving to give me a hug back. Instantly we both felt better and the crying stopped. I explained to him that we needed to go and he explained to me that he wanted to watch the people. Then we all walked home together.

The moral of this story is that as much as I knew it would work to give him a hug when we were both feeling upset, I didn’t feel like giving him a hug. I too was mad for not getting my way.

Giving a hug in the middle of a temper tantrum, once again is easier said than done. However, after hugging, we both felt better—and behaved better.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Car Seat Hassles, 1 – 2 – 3, and Choices

Recently I overheard a parent counting to a child 1 2 3 and by three the child stopped what he was doing and came to his mother. I then wondered what would’ve happened at three if the child hadn’t come to his mother. So I came up with my own 1-2-3 method.

Before I start counting I say to Greyson, “I am going to count to three and on three you are going to get into your car seat. You can either climb in all by yourself or I am going to put you in it, but either way, on three you are going in your seat. He tested me only twice to see what would happen. Unfortunately we both ended up upset and I tried to tell him (as if he’s listening) that if he would have just done as I asked him to do that we both wouldn’t have ended up being upset and he wouldn’t have “given mommy a hard time.”

Once again on the third attempt and so far every attempt after he does anything I ask him to do by the count of three. YEAY!!! I believe this method has been working because he is given the choice to make a decision and then he is doing it by himself, which at this age (and I am sure every age) is a big deal.

No Longer in the Trenches “Expert” Mom

I am learning a lot from Mary and Greyson. Their experiences are inviting me to rethink and change my mind about some ideas I once felt strongly about. For example, I once thought it was ridiculous to count to three because of my belief that this simply taught children that parents don’t mean what they say until they reach three. What I have learned from Mary and Greyson:

  1. Counting to three gives them both time to process change—something they both need.
  2. It is true that Greyson may not do what he is supposed to do until Mary reaches three, but at least he has had some time to get used to the idea. He also has time to choose how to use his personal power—to choose to do something by himself, or to fight to the end while Mary does it for him. For now, he is choosing to use his power to do it himself.
  3. Mary needs the count to three to give her the courage to follow through on what she says. Some parents may not need time to process change. They can say something once, mean it, and follow through. However, most parents are more like Mary and need some time. This works just as well—so long as she does follow through on the count of three.

Tips for more effective use of the 1-2-3 count

Be aware of what you want for your children. Bottom line—do you want your children to learn to use their personal power in useful, cooperative ways? Do you want them to feel capable, resilient, and respectful of themselves and others? When you keep the bottom line in mind, the following tips will help you achieve your goals for you and your children.

  1. Understand development issues. At some level Mary knows that Greyson doesn’t “listen” to her “lectures.” It is all about power and power-struggles. Mary wants Greyson to “cooperate.” To her, “listen” means “obey.” Greyson wants to be a typical 2 1/2-year-old and dawdle, explore, experiment—and not obey.
  2. Avoid win/lose power struggles. Power is a very subtle thing for young children. They are just discovering what their personal power is all about and they love it. They don’t want to lose their power by “giving in.” Parents interpret this to mean “defiance” or “not listening.” When you think about it, if Mary wins, that makes Greyson the loser. If Greyson wins, Mary feels like a loser.
  3. Give limited choices. Whenever possible, giving your children a limited choice provides them with a sense of power, but not tyrannical power. When this is successful, you have created win/win. When it doesn’t work, see the next tip.
  4. Be kind and firm at the same time. Sometimes the “needs of the situation” (such as the law requiring that children be in car seats) requires that you do what is necessary even if your children won’t participate in a win/win scenario. During these times you may need to use the Positive Discipline tool of “deciding what you will do.” In other words, you may need to force your child to sit in his car seat. The key is to do this kindly and firmly at the same time. Sometimes the best way to do the kind part is to skip the lectures and the anger and keep your mouth shut while kindly following through on what you have to do. This will be easier to do if you remember the developmental issues. Your child isn’t trying to be defiant “against” you. He is trying to keep his personal power in tact “for” himself.