Archive for Empathy

Top 5 Parenting Challenges & How to Deal with Them

92861969I like this interview with Rebecca Eanes, author of the book Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide (to be released in July 2016). Eanes talks about the top 5 parenting challenges as reported by parents, and how we can tweak our approach to addressing these challenges so we have a “more positive parenting experience.” I personally feel less concerned about my experience of my parenting than I do about my child’s experience of my parenting, but nonetheless this is good stuff. I like that Eanes considers the neuroscience of child development in presenting her advice and she understands the critical role of the parent-child connection when addressing any behavior issue.

Here’s a summary of her insights about the top 5 parenting challenges along with my own 2 cents:

1. Aggression

One minute our little darling is playing sweetly with our best friend’s child; the next minute . . . scratch, pow, bam! Aggression. It’s hard to watch in our own children.

Many parents struggle with their child’s aggression toward other children. Eanes cautions parents about responding to their child’s aggression with aggression, such as spanking. Instead, model self-control. She suggests “time-ins”: your child sits with you while he calms down. If he isn’t calm, his brain remains in a reactive state. When your child is finally calm, you can let him know how his aggression made his friend or sibling feel, and we can help him make amends. This helps him get out of his own head and experience to connect to others emotionally — he’s exercising those empathy muscles.

I’ve always preferred this concept of “time-ins” or “couch time” to time-outs where the child is sent to sit in a corner (or in the dreaded “naughty seat”) because the latter is much more punitive in tone. I also think we can consider not only what our child is doing – hitting, biting – but why he’s doing it. In my experience, that’s the most important thing to remember when looking for solutions to aggressive behavior. Does our child feel safe? Is the hitting and biting happening in preschool but not at home? Does it tend to happen with only particular children or with us? What’s going on in that relationship? If a child doesn’t feel safe and secure with a person, he will become aggressive. Fear is often at the heart of aggressive behavior even if our child looks mighty when he’s slapping the child next to them.

2. Tantrums

As the author points out, there’s a difference between a toddler and preschool-aged child’s tantrum and an older school-aged child’s “fit”. Young children frequently cannot manage their emotions — their big feelings rise up in them and they really are utterly overwhelmed. Once they get amped up to a particular state, they really can’t come down without our help. Yes, we can scare the daylights out of them by screaming at them and maybe they will calm down because they’re scared of us, but that doesn’t help them regulate their emotions in the long run. Eanes says, “Ultimately feelings cannot be punished away; they must be worked through. It comes down to determining why a tantrum is occurring and giving children the knowledge and skills needed to move beyond tantrums.”

With older kids, I recommend setting clear expectations about behavior especially in hot button situations. Eanes points out that sometimes older kids genuinely feel we are not respecting them or listening to them, so we can have compassion for their experience while still requiring respectful communication with us. But sometimes older kids also develop bad habits of manipulation. They figure out that they can get what they want if they ask for it for at the right time. Because we’re less likely to say no to their requests, they know to ask for extra computer time when we’re tired after dinner or to ask for candy in the check-out stand in the grocery store when we’re distracted. Then if we do say no, they realize they can throw a fit and we’ll be too tired or embarrassed to go on. We surrender. These kids aren’t bad; they’re just being resourceful!

Before you enter your hot-button situation, remind your child of your expectations: no candy at the check-out or no computer time after dinner. And then don’t give in. While you are rested and calm, explain to your older child how their behavior is making you feel and why you have set the imposed limitation (not to ruin their lives, but to make their lives better).

3. Whining

Most parents are worn down by constant whining, even the most gentle-minded parents. Eanes cautions against heading the traditional advice to ignore whining; we shouldn’t ignore anybody important to us. So true. She offers 4 approaches to handling whining:

1) Really listen to your child. All human beings have a need to be heard and understood. Kids are no different. Sometimes whining is the natural result of mom or dad being too preoccupied with their own affairs.

2) Look for the reason behind the whining. Sometimes we’re so irritated by the way our child is whining that we forget to ask ourselves why they are doing it. Kids might be hungry, tired, lonely, or bored. Sometimes they just need a snack or help putting on their shoes so they can play in the back yard.

3) Get your child to laugh. Larry Cohen has a whole book on responding to your child’s behavior problems through play and laughter. It’s superb. The great thing about this approach is that it not only interrupts the child’s behavior, but it gives us tools for strengthening our relationship with our child.

4) Ask your child to use a different tone of voice.

4. Not Listening

We want our kids to “listen” to us because we want them to cooperate with our expectations. However, perhaps we can reflect on how we’re communicating with them. “Nagging, lecturing, counting, and demanding do nothing to foster cooperation. Punishment or the threat of punishment may compel the child to act, but this isn’t real cooperation.”

The key to cooperation is a solid connection with a child. If we ensure we’re spending quality with them doing fun, positive activities we are more likely to have a cooperative tone in our relationship with them. How do we spend the majority of our time with our child? Are we lecturing them, telling them to do their homework and chores, reminding them of how they’ve disappointed us? If so, they will tune us out just like we do them when they are whining!

Those times when we are the “rule enforcer” should be far out-balanced by those times when we are building rapport with our child through positive, fun activities. If the majority of our time with our child is spent on things like games night, going for hikes together, cooking together, even just sitting around the dinner table chatting — whatever works for your relationship with your child — then our child is more likely to pay attention to what we’re saying when we need him to do his chores or get ready for bed.

5. Back Talk

What did he just say? Back chat, giving us lip, back talk; it makes us feel like our child doesn’t respect us and we want respect. Eanes recommends that we don’t shut our child down, but that we use the back talk as an opportunity to practice conflict resolution:

We are tempted to shut it down immediately in order to prove our authority, but children learn the valuable skill of conflict resolution by being in conflict with people, and that means firstly by being in conflict with parents. Rather than being quick to shut down back talk, we can use it as an opportunity to teach our children how to respectfully communicate their disagreement and state their case.

She suggests engaging with your child about what they want or need, but to still require respectful communication. You can come up with solutions that will work for everyone. I think this advice seems most applicable to older children. Very young children tend to back talk because they’re asserting their budding sense of independence – they realize at about age 3 that they are their own person. They want to press the boundaries and press our buttons so they can see how far they can go! With little children, I guess we can do some negotiating, but I think back talking at this stage is best handled by coaching in how to speak in a respectful manner while asking for what they want or need. Setting clear rules about respect and reminding our younger kids about those rules is important.

With older kids, we assume they already know how to communicate respectfully if we communicate with them respectfully, but sometimes they lack the practice and they get into the habit of back talking out of frustration. I would not engage with an older child who is back talking; I would tell them that what they have to say is important to me, but I will not engage with somebody who is being rude to me. If the foundation of the relationship is strong — if the connection and rapport are solid — then the child will want to work things out and will figure out that they are not getting accomplishing anything with back talking. If that basic foundation is weak, it doesn’t matter what we think or say — our older child won’t care if they’re hurting us. So the problem is the weak foundation in the relationship and the back talking is a symptom of that.

Let Me Do It

child hand and cookies

 

It’s a desire that is expressed in many ways.  “I want to help.”  “I do it myself.”  “Let me do it.”  When these words come from my three-year-old, I have to admit that I usually feel a sense of dread.  Because these words, if I indulge them, are usually followed by splattered brownie batter, laundry that requires refolding, or a simple task that takes ten times longer to complete than I had anticipated.

But I read something recently that changed my entire perception of these words:

“You may hear Jesus a hundred times a day, saying to you, ‘Let me do it.’  In your difficulties, in your problems, in all those things in your daily life which are sometimes so difficult, so distressing, when you ask yourself, ‘What shall I do? How shall I do it?’  listen to Him saying to you, ‘Let me do it.’  And then answer Him, ‘O Jesus, I thank you for all things.’  And it will be the most beautiful dialogue of love between a soul and the all-powerful and all-loving God.”  –Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbee, I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux 

St. Therese’s theology is so applicable to us mothers!  It’s easy to feel that our lives don’t live up to the worldview of “success.”  Maybe they don’t.  But when we forget what type of success we’re supposed to be striving for, all we have to do is see Jesus in our children, hear Him in their voices, and surrender ourselves to Him through their hearts.

Our days can be overwhelming.  The messes, the piles, the crying, the tantrums, the exclamations of “Look at me!” and the drawn out “Mooooooommy!” that seems to come every 30 seconds.  There are many days when we want to just get everything done, get the kids to bed, and sit down!

But Jesus isn’t calling us to only get the laundry done, do the dishes, and resolve arguments and tantrums.  He’s calling us to grow in patience, kindness, and gentleness.  He’s calling us to greater love and unity with our family and with Him.  He’s calling us to heaven.

So when I start to have thoughts of “What shall I do?  How shall I do it?” as I list off my seemingly insurmountable tasks for the day, I try to hear Jesus when my three-year-old says “Let me do it.”

When I surrender my laundry, my cooking, and my cleaning, it is the first step in surrendering my heart.  When I favor relationships over chores, Jesus steps in and takes over.  He multiplies my time.  He makes little miracles happen within the humble walls of my home.  Like my three-year-old spinning an elaborate story about a dream she had.  Or my eleven-year-old sharing his hopes and dreams for the future.  Or my seven-year-old finally opening up about a worry that has been weighing on her mind.  I build my relationships, and somehow the truly necessary work still gets done.  I let Jesus in, and He does it.

It is when we hear Jesus in the simple conversations of our day that the dialogue between us and our children becomes that beautiful dialogue between us and our all-merciful, all-loving, all-powerful God.  And there is no sweeter success than that.

Photo credit: mccartyv via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

Please Go Home Now (or How to Balance Your Child’s Need for Friendship with Your Own Need for Sanity)

teen friends“I need to get some more friends. I want my friends around all the time but sometimes my friends are too busy doing other stuff.” This remark was made this week by my 10-year-old son about 45 minutes after his and his 12-year-old sister’s five friends left our home to return to their own families. We had hosted them for six hours. I was exasperated and a little annoyed.

How much more can I do to encourage and support your friendships? Why can’t we just be together as a family and it’s enough for you? Why can’t I have a whole day without other people’s children at my house? That’s what I was thinking. Not very charitable.

Don’t get me wrong. For the most part, I love being “that house” where tons of kids come to hang out. I am delighted that my kids’ friends feel comfortable here and that I get to witness the unfolding of these lovely relationships, including the Lego building, Nerf wars, and lemonade stands. But sometimes I just want to lock my door and be alone with my family for a while. I want to put on my old flannel bathrobe, put my feet up on the coffee table, read a good (or even lousy) book, and enjoy the sound of nothing. At least nothing but my 4 kids, 2 chickens, dog, and husband.

My kids are maturing. When I started this blog, I had a new teenager and my other three children were still pretty small. My Lydia was only 2. Now my kids are 6, 10, 12 (almost 13), and 17. I’ve entered a new stage this last year as my older children are pressing to new phases of individuation and independence. My oldest child, Aidan, has friends and he’s always been interested in hanging out with them, but only a few times a week. He never had this impulse for constant contact with them like my two middle children have for their friends. I think Aidan is an introvert like my husband and me.  He says he needs lots of time alone to be happy. So do I, which is why the habits of the two middle kids sometimes challenges me and pushes me beyond my comfort zone.

The Desire for Friendship Is a Sign of God in Our Children

When my children ask to have their friends over for play dates or sleepovers, I nearly always say yes or I tell them when I will be able to say yes. We have kids at our house nearly every day and somebody sleeps over at our home nearly every weekend. Because we homeschool, it’s important to me that my children never feel they were deprived of chances to socialize and make friends. Particularly with the two middle children (my social butterflies), I strive to see their perspective. I know that my need for alone time may be far greater than theirs. I recognize that they may simply have different a temperament from my own, they may genuinely need more time with their friends than I ever did when I was their age.  I want to be open-minded and flexible.

I can see how in so many ways, their desire to be close to their friends is a sign of God in them. The desire to be known, understood, and accepted is uniquely human. Our yearning for friendship is natural because we are not meant to be alone; we can never be whole without communion and love. Our friendships remind us of how God feels about us and how he wants us to feel about him. He doesn’t want us to fear him, to avoid him; he wants us to hang out with him, to let our guard down. He’s the kind of friend who laughs at your bad jokes because he hears the joke the way you meant it, not the way it comes out.

God even uses our friends to reveal to us things we wouldn’t otherwise notice about others, the world, ourselves, and God. Friendships are little sacraments, a sign of God’s special graces and the instrument of some of his best surprises for us. I can use my children’s affection for their human friends to teach them these deeper truths about The Great Friend.

When Friendships Hurt Our Kids

On the other hand, we all know from our own experience that the devil can use our relationships to ensnare us; they can become an instrument of darkness. Wise parents have an awareness of two things when it comes to their kids’ friends: 1) the health of the dynamics between the child and their friends and 2) the balance in their homes between family and outside friends.

What makes for healthy or unhealthy friendships?

  • In healthy friendships, our child is able to be himself, and he’s able to grow and change as he matures. In unhealthy friendships, our child is fearful of being himself, and the other friend feels threatened by our child’s new interests or developing abilities.
  • In healthy friendships, our child is free to have other friends. In unhealthy friendships, our child doesn’t nourish new friendships because her current friend becomes jealous.
  • In unhealthy friendships, our child is free to form her own opinions. In unhealthy friendships, one friend sets the standards for acceptable opinions and the other friend feels compelled to agree with those opinions for fear of rejection.
  • In healthy friendships, our child feels nourished and enlivened by the relationship. In unhealthy friendships, our child feels drained and exhausted after being with the friend.
  • In healthy friendships, friends can trust each other and count on one another. In unhealthy friendships, one of the friends may betray confidential conversations, frequently let the other friend down, or lie and manipulate.

I’ll continue to watch for these things, but I think my kids have pretty healthy friendships in terms of the dynamics between them and their friends. I don’t see any big issues with boundaries, trust, or physical and emotional safety.  However, I think their attitude toward their friendships may need some adjusting and that we need to find a better balance between friend-time and alone-time.

Find Your BFF (Balanced Family First)

Kids need space and time to think, to grow, to settle back into themselves after being with others, particularly their peers. You can get the impression from watching t.v. or reading magazines that it is normal for kids to spend every waking hour with their friends, or to talk to them on the phone, text with them, or think about them every minute that they are not physically with them. If children really can’t tolerate being alone, if they become uncomfortable without peers around, there is a problem with that child’s self-perception, emotional adjustment, or relationship with her parents.

Some kids rely on their peers for their sense of identity and meaning, and this is unhealthy. Even though it’s normal for kids to want to be with friends, emotionally healthy children still trust their parents more than anyone else; their parents are their “secure base” even though they enjoy and cherish their friends. They hang out with friends, but they have a natural tendency to return to their parents’ company in order to “check in” emotionally. I need to remind myself that, while I am responsible for helping my kids nourish their friendships, I’m also responsible for helping them build habits that allow for a good balance between friend time and alone time.

I want to remember, too, that in healthy, family-centered homes, the needs of all family members are taken into account. Naturally I prioritize the needs of my children to my own, because they are younger and more vulnerable than me. But my needs count, too. My kids have a legitimate need for friendship but I also have a legitimate need for down time, for refueling. I hope I can do a better job at balancing these conflicting needs. And there is a difference between a legitimate need and a mere desire. I need to facilitate my children’s friendships because this is a real need, but I can meet that need without consenting to all their desires for play dates.

So, when the two middle kids ask to have friends over, I simply have to say no more often. They will not break open and dissolve into a vapor. I need to remind them that the “other stuff” their friends are doing is usually spending time with their families, visiting relatives, doing chores, practicing their musical instruments, working on history projects, figuring out a computer programming conundrum, “stuff” like that.  Their friends possess many opportunities and gifts apart from my children, and my children, the wonderful friends that they are, really want that for their friends. I’m sure their friends want that for them, too.

Image credit: nenetus (freedigitalphotos.com)

Jesus Is a Baby Whisperer

Let the Children Come to Me, Fritz von Uhde (1884)

Let the Children Come to Me, Fritz von Uhde, 1884

The best way to communicate with preverbal little people is to connect with their inner spirits, in with, and through the Holy Spirit because Jesus was an infant Himself.  However, unlike human adults, I do not think Jesus has forgotten what it was like to be a preverbal little being. In this sense, God could be called the perfect baby whisperer because He is in tune with how baby’s think and feel.

If an adult wants to learn how to become a baby whisperer, it is a good idea to approach infants and toddlers in the presence of the Trinity.  Our heavenly Father is not only our Father, He is a Father to our infant’s as well; He has a real and vital relationship with them.  Jesus and His gentle Spirit will teach us if we stop and listen by approaching our baby in a spirit of prayer, yes, but most of all with a spirit of mutual respect because we are in the presence of a fellow sister or brother in Christ. If a mere horse whisperer can learn how to read a horse’s cues and respond in a way a horse can understand, using body language and voice tones, how much more can humans learn how to relate to an infant’s mind, emotions but also to their inner spirits. In fact, we can become holy baby whisperers who actually nurture our infants inner spirit.

Infants are complex little people who see, hear, touch, communicate, receive information and who above all, remember. Of course, we can readily see babies react to loud, sharp or deep voices but a newborn will even turn to look at a voice he remembers hearing in the womb. It was amazing to watch my first granddaughter turn towards her mom and dad’s voices in recognition. When her parents cuddled her, she calmed down immediately because she was constantly reassured of their love and devotion while she was still in the womb. Now out in the world, she knew she is safe and protected especially in their arms. This is why all babies are sensitive to the approach of a stranger.

The most obvious personal example of a stranger /infant situation  I can recall is my six-month-old daughter. I was holding her when a tall, slender, older priest, dressed all in black, gently reached out to hold her. He smiled and patiently waited while Mary tensed her little body, drew back and looked him up and down very suspiciously. She drew back a second time, even further, and once again glanced from his head to his feet and slowly looked back at his face again. A third time Mary repeated the process. Suddenly she relaxed, broke out into a wonderful smile and reached her own arms out to lean forward so Father could pick her up.

My baby was receiving unspoken messages from Father’s facial expression, his tone of voice, body language and emotional and spiritual ‘vibes’ which radiated from his inner spirit. In short, even though Mary was not talking yet, she was not an idiot. We tend to forget.

Michael and I were lucky because we somehow understood, right from the start, that we were relating to another human being when we communicated with our babies. I stopped and listened when they cooed and then I answered them when they finished cooing. It might sound foolish but I believe this attitude instilled respect for themselves and others. I tried to treat them as people, albeit little people.

Sometimes family and friends were critical of my inefficient way of mothering. I just couldn’t make myself mother my babies any other way. Perhaps it was because I was not used to children. Basically, I just included the kids into our life as intelligent little people with feelings, opinions, tastes and preferences. If we respected each child’s preferences, they cooperated and worked alongside us better. In the end, this impractical, slow way of doing things made our home life run smoother. It was a way of relating which began on the baby’s first day in our family.

Some people are intimidated by babies and little children. Just remember, babies are not idiots but smart little people who just can’t talk yet. However, babies are in tune with the Holy Spirit. Babies spirits are alive in god. So, the best way to communicate with preverbal little people is to connect with their inner spirits, in with and through God.

My Kid Is a Special Snowflake . . . and So Is Yours

ID-10023106I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you’ve almost certainly encountered the following attitude, whether it’s a post on Facebook, a self-righteous HuffPost article, or even in conversation on the sidelines at your kid’s soccer game: The world would not be such a screwed up place if everyone stopped telling their kids that’s they’re such unique, special little snowflakes.  Basically, the world would be nicer if we just told our kids they’re just the same as everybody else — no better, no worse — and that they can’t actually do whatever they want with their lives just because they want it.

It’s true; there does seem to be an upcoming generation of children and young people (ok, and plenty of adults) who think that the world revolves around their desires and worldviews.  And I completely agree that it’s a disturbing trend. However, is the answer to stop singing our children’s praises?  To stop telling them that they are unique and *gasp* special? I just don’t think so.  Not for any studied or developmental reason, but simply because it wouldn’t be true.

My kids are special.  So are yours.  So are the kids down the block. But here’s the key: we can’t stop there.  I think we should be telling our kids ceaselessly about the beauty that is each person’s uniqueness – not just theirs’.  We have to go on to tell them about how people are special in other ways- that each person has been given beautiful gifts, talents, flaws, and quirks by God.  Special doesn’t mean better- it means being wonderfully, terrifyingly, challengingly, and beautifully who you were made to be.

I know what you’re thinking: This is all just a nicer way of saying your kid is a special snowflake, worthy of being protected from the big, bad world.  Not at all.  In fact, it’s the opposite. If we are teaching our children that each person has their own special dignity and unique purpose on earth, we will raise children who recognize this dignity in all of the people around them and who will be willing to put their own comfort aside to protect the dignity of others.

From the time they are babies, children are able to make assumptions about the world around them based on their own experiences.  When a child is made to understand that they are special, they are loved, they are a beautiful part of a larger plan for this world, just as each person living is special, loved, and part of a bigger plan, they will grow up with a more outward-looking, compassionate, and selfless view of the world.

Having an understanding of their gifts should go hand-in-hand of the responsibility they have to use these gifts in the service of God’s plan. Because that’s the point.  On the other hand, if a child doesn’t have this understanding, they will look to the world for things to set them apart, like money, prestige, or material possessions.  And we’ve all seen where that’s gotten us.

Of course, as with everything we try to teach our children, we have to live it. We have to honor the human dignity of the people around us, as well as the people in the world who are “hidden” in our society. We cannot tell our kids about all the wonderful ways in which God crafted their souls to be unique and special and then avert our eyes from the homeless man standing on the street corner.  Or the handicapped child playing next to them at the library.  Or the relative who we just have such a hard time getting along with.  Our children need to see us loving these people in concrete ways, and hear us talking about the ways in which they are unique and vital to God’s plan for the world.

Some would have us believe that we are creating a generation of spoiled, self-indulgent children because of the way we talk to them about their gifts and talents.  This might even be true in some cases.  What it really comes down to is the way we show them what we value in them and in others.  It’s up to us as our children’s caretakers to show the next generation that everyone is deserving of the dignity of being uniquely, specially created by God.

The Mom and the Sacristan: A Lesson in Mercy

year-of-mercyI’m in the narthex of the church again, trying to pay attention to Mass while G stumbles around stacking and unstacking the brochures on the display table. Pretty much the same place I am every Sunday, at one point or another. I’m cool with it.

But this Sunday, about 20 minutes into Mass (yeah, we didn’t make it that long in the pew this week. Sigh.), I glanced out the window to see a woman crossing the street, holding the hands of two small children, pulling them along, looking determined and in a rush. She made her way across the street and into the church. But she camped out in the back with me and a few of the other parents of young kids. I gave her a quick, sympathetic smile. I tried to imagine the circumstances that culminated in her pulling her two boys into church 20 minutes late, the hustling and frustration and finding shoes and making sure everyone had breakfast. I noticed her boys, the younger probably around 2 or 3, and the older boy, who was 4 or 5, who had Downs’ Syndrome. She gently took off their coats, found a spot against the wall, and then started to attempt to calm the boys down.

They were being very . . . how shall I say? Well, very much like YOUNG BOYS. They were running back and forth, hand-in-hand at times, but not being so loud that they could be heard within the church. She was doing her best to get them to behave, be still, pay attention. I could see her frustration mounting. She was having one of those days. But she was trying. She was there! In that moment, I prayed for her and her boys, thanking God for wonderful moms like her that showed up on Sundays despite all the reasons it would be so much easier to stay home. I prayed for graces for her, who so clearly had her hands full, but was soldiering on valiantly.

No sooner had I finished this prayer than a female sacristan, intent on some task that brought her across the narthex, gave this poor woman a withering look, shaking her head in disapproval. I saw this mother’s face fall, and she looked like she might burst into tears. And then, I heard her say, “You guys, if you can’t behave yourself, we’re leaving.” She quickly gathered up their coats, bundled them up, and walked out the door.

I’ll admit, my first reaction was anger. Anger that this unkind sacristan had driven this woman out of our church. That when faced with an opportunity to welcome or to chasten, she chose the latter. How unkind! How very unlike Christ! This mom, who had dragged her kids to church on this cold, windy day, was “turned away” before being able to receive communion. “Is this how we welcome people to our family of faith?!” I fumed.

As I sat and prayed through the rest of the Mass, I realized that being angry at that sacristan was not only pointless, but it was also as unkind as what she did to that mother. I don’t know what pain or anger or frustration was in her heart. Who knows what she overcame to be there today. Maybe it was more than any of us. That’s between her and God.

But I did keep thinking about it, and the more I reflected, the more I questioned where in my life I had been the sacristan in that situation. Where had I met an annoyance with condescension or impatience? When had I put myself at the center of the proverbial room, caring little for the hearts of others? When I thought about it this way, I realized we are all guilty of this. We all fail in charity at one time or another. And while this experience today was so poignant because this women literally walked out the doors of the church, we do this all the time on a broader level. When we demonstrate a lack of gentleness, kindess, or peace, while professing to be Christians, we are indeed driving people away from the Church. Maybe not literally, but certainly just as effectively.

Instead of judging ourselves or others harshly when we fall short, let’s call on God to give us the grace to fill in the gaps for us. Where we are impatient, He is forbearing. Where we are quick to anger, He is tranquil. Where we are unkind, He is merciful.

I wish I knew this woman’s name and had her phone number. I wish I could tell her, “Hey, great job today! I could see you were really trying to do something important for your boys. Come back next week and our kids can trash the children’s chapel together? Yeah?” I know I can’t do that. But I can be more mindful of where in my life I’m drawing people into God’s love, and where I’m driving them away.

What Adolescents Want (and How Attachment Parenting Gives It to Them)

teensMy 11-year-old always seems to be hanging around lately. Peering over my shoulder as I pay the bills, following me around as I search for a quiet room to sneak in a few minutes of prayer, and shuffling around the corner with a bored, middle school expression on his face right in the middle of a good conversation with my husband.

This is a kid who loves spending time with his friends. And there are times when I wish he was around a little more. But when he is home, I can’t seem to get rid of him. Most of the time, I love this. I want to spend time with him. I miss him when he’s gone. And I can’t help but feel a little worried that, one of these days, he’ll suddenly turn into the stereotypical teen and retreat into his bedroom or head out with his friends, never to be seen again.

So during those times that I really need to get bills paid, or I’m trying to concentrate on a Skype meeting with some fellow writers, I don’t put up too much of a fuss. I let him look over my shoulder. I let him sit next to me and invade my personal space. Because I’m not raising him to be a stereotypical teen.

I’m raising my son to look to my husband and me first as he figures out who he is in this world. When he was little, I taught him that he could trust me by responding promptly to his needs and always being there for him. He believed that I cared, and he believed that I understood him. I gave him a lap that was always ready to hold him, a bed that was always open to his presence, and a home where faith and love welcomed him with open arms. He knew he had a place where he belonged. By showing empathy towards his needs and responding to his cries, he learned that I am someone with whom he can always share his feelings. I am someone with whom he can be himself without fear of judgement or criticism. And, as a baby and toddler, he usually tagged along on most of my grocery shopping trips, social outings, and church activities. He learned to enjoy and absorb the world, while following my guidance as he learned how to live in it. These were all needs that my young son had, and they were fulfilled through intentional parenting. And as he grows up into a young man, I’m realizing that those needs haven’t changed.

The YDisciple parish youth group program outlines the five driving needs of adolescents in this way:

1. THE NEED TO BE UNDERSTOOD

The need to be understood is a great psychological need for us as human beings. Unfortunately, the majority of teenagers do not believe that adults understand them. When an adult takes a genuine interest in a teenager and seeks first to understand, that adult earns the right to be heard. If adults want to hand on the faith to teenagers, they must seek first to understand what is going on in their minds and hearts. Teenagers don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.

2. THE NEED TO BELONG

Teenagers are driven to meet the “need to belong” before higher growth needs like understanding and living the Christian faith. In fact, it is often the case that teenagers will compromise the morals in which they have been raised in order to belong somewhere. If adults don’t help teenagers build healthy, life-giving relationships with one another, then teens will find a way to meet that need themselves. On the other hand, if adults create an environment where teens are known, loved, and cared for, they create an ideal environment for discipleship.

3. THE NEED TO BE TRANSPARENT

Teenagers rarely have the freedom to be transparent today, especially with one another. It is too dangerous to be vulnerable in a peer-dominated world focused on image and popularity. Teens long for the opportunity to be transparent about their doubts, concerns, fears, insecurities, hopes, and dreams, and to have the confidence of knowing they will not be judged, but loved and supported. In fact, this is necessary in order for them to grow in self-awareness and self-esteem.

4. THE NEED TO ENGAGE IN CRITICAL THINKING ABOUT FAITH AND LIFE

Teens are transitioning from concrete thinking to abstract thinking and are able to conceptualize ideas such as love, justice, fairness, and truth. They are also capable of pondering the big questions in life such as: Is there a God? Do I need religion? Can I know God’s plan for my life? In addition, they are in the process of establishing independence and becoming their own person. Deep down they desire to be treated as adults and no longer want to be told what to do or what to believe. They are critically evaluating what they have been raised to believe and are not that interested in answers to questions they are not asking. Thought-provoking questions, lively discussion, dialogue, and freedom of expression engage teenagers in critical thinking.

5. THE NEED FOR GUIDANCE

Teenagers need dialogue, collaboration, and friendship with adults in order to become adults themselves. Relationships with adults help them answer deep fundamental questions like: Am I lovable? Am I capable? What difference does my life make? They are naturally idealistic and desire to be challenged to greatness through the direction, encouragement, and support of caring adults. It is a well-known educational principle that young people will rise to the level of our expectations of them. Teenagers will give their lives to Jesus through the witness and encouragement of loving, faith-filled adults.

While the YDisciple program is designed for parish youth groups to carry out in small group settings, the five driving needs of our adolescents are still there when they return home from their church activities. In fact, adolescents especially depend on their parents to fulfill these needs in the home and help them create peer groups that do the same. Meg Meeker points out in her book Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets To Raising Healthy Boys that “in one survey, 21 percent of kids said that they needed more time with their parents. But when the parents of these kids were polled, only 8 percent responded that they needed more time with their children. We become so absorbed with keeping up with our daily lives that we miss seeing what our [kids] really need, which is simply more of us: our time and our attention.”

When we spend more time with our kids, whether that be by taking them out for ice cream, playing a game with them, going on a bike ride together, or simply working side by side on a household project, we send the message that we understand them, they belong somewhere, they can be who God created them to be around us, we’re willing to converse with them about whatever is on their mind, and we care enough to guide them through our Christian witness.

And so I allow my son to breathe down my neck while I sort the mail. I answer his questions while I balance the checkbook. And my husband and I continue our in-depth conversation about our faith even after he walks into the room.

Because he’s growing up, but he’s still learning. He knows that my husband is the one who can teach him how to be a man, and that I’m the one who can teach him what to look for in a wife. His parents are still the people who he trusts to answer his questions and help him navigate the world, and this trust is what keeps us honest and shapes us into better people.

Our son depends on us to grow into the person God created him to be, and we depend on him to do the same for us. This is the beauty of family, of relationship, and of a firm foundation of trust and love.

Who Mothers Mommy?

Maternal Kiss (Mary Cassatt)Motherhood is a profound blessing and should be deep source of meaning for women, but a mom also faces sleepless nights, strained schedules, and the competing needs of her kids, her spouse, her extended family, her community, and finally HERSELF! What allows some moms to thrive and to find deep satisfaction in motherhood despite the inevitable challenges while others do not thrive emotionally?

Two researchers at Arizona State University asked this question and in a newly-released study they cite 4 key factors that protect mom’s well-being and sense of satisfaction:

1.  Unconditional Acceptance

Moms who can say, “I feel seen and loved for the person I am at my core” do better in motherhood than moms who feel their value depends on their performance or appearance.  Every mom needs people who will allow them to be honest about their failures, make amends, find new hope and direction, and still be cherished for the unique, unrepeatable persons they are. And this happens to be the model of the love, mercy, and reconciliation that Christ offers us.

2.  Feeling Comforted When Needed

Moms need to be able to say, “When I am deeply distressed, I feel comforted in the way I need it.”  When you are a mom and you feel distressed it is very scary. You have these little people in your care and their very lives depend on you. We all need somebody who will really listen to us and then comfort us in the way WE need when we are struggling so we can get a little perspective on the problem. Sometimes that means somebody will just listen to us without trying to fix the problem — we just need emotional comfort.  At other times we need them to fix it in some way – perhaps through physical relief (a nap, a chance to get out of the house for an hour to clear our head).  Only somebody with some level of empathy will be capable of tuning into a mother’s real need. Without this capacity for attunement, the other person will tend to do what they think we need or what they would want themselves.

3.  Authenticity in Relationships

Feeling like you have to put on a show all the time is really depressing — literally. All mothers will have moments when her ideal for herself as a mom does not match up with what’s on her mind. You love your children but at some point you will probably feel depleted or desperate or even downright irrational. When mothers feel like they have to be perfect around their friends and family, when they can’t be honest with anyone about what they are feeling and thinking, they are at a much higher risk for depression. When you can’t be authentic, you cannot thrive.

Once when my third child was a newborn and my two older kids were still very young, my husband went on an extended work trip. At one point I was talking to him on the phone and I had not slept in two days because my older kids would not go to bed and the baby was still waking every 2 to 3 hours. I felt desperate and helpless! Well, I told him how I was really feeling not what I thought he wanted to hear. I was starting to feel a little kooky and I was not coping well. I was at the if-these-kids-don’t-go-to-sleep-I’m-going-to-smack-them point. When I shared with my husband how I felt, he cut his meeting short, got on an airplane, and came home. He didn’t shame me or say “what the heck is wrong with you?” or pat me on the head with a “you are so strong you can handle anything.”  He came home and I went to bed and then I felt better. I am grateful that I could be honest with him about my REAL feelings even though they fell short of what I hoped for myself as a mom. Because I had that freedom, it allowed him to comfort me in the way I most needed — physical relief (see number 2 above).

4. Friendship Satisfaction

Moms do better emotionally in motherhood when they have a few friends in their lives who can give and receive love.  I think particularly for women, the quality of our friendships has a deep impact on our well-being.

The bottom line: nurturing adult relationships keeps a mom “happy, healthy, and able to give or herself.” And you will notice that all four factors are essential for a child’s flourishing as well!  Children need unconditional acceptance, they need to know they will be comforted when distressed, they need to know they can be authentic in their relationship with their parents, and they need people in their lives who are emotionally free enough to give and receive love. In many ways, we cannot give to our children what we don’t have. So, if our adults relationships are impoverished, we need to find a way to build up the love and support we need in order to love and support our children.

Not the Whole Story . . .

I think this research is very important and reminds us that God created us for community. I would add, though, that clearly we can identity other factors that set satisfied mothers apart from those who suffer.  In particular, many times our perception of ourselves as mothers impacts our ability to experience joy and satisfaction. Our culture doesn’t value mothering in the way it deserves. If we feel we need to live up to the world’s definition of success, we can struggle with our identity and sense of meaning. If we perceive motherhood as a drudgery, a drag, then we will bring that perception with us into the inevitable demands of motherhood. The first factor in the study sort of hints at this – we need unconditional acceptance. But I think we need people in our lives who value us not only as unique, unrepeatable persons, but also as mothers in particular — who recognize the unique gifts that mothers bring to their families that nobody else can give.

Bully-Proof Your Child: What Every Parent Needs to Know

bullying

Image credit: Stuart Miles (freedigitalphotos.com)

When some of us were growing up, bullying was considered a normal part of childhood; kids were left to sort things out themselves. Now we know that repeated bullying is damaging to a child’s psychological well-being and can have long-term effects on the brain. You probably can’t completely bully-proof your child, but I talked with Greg and Lisa Popcak on their radio program More2Life yesterday about how we can at least make our child a less appealing target for a bully.  In case you missed the show, I offered these tips:

1.  Teach your child an assertive communication style.

Bullies prey on kids who are vulnerable, so ensure your child feels confident in communicating assertively. Children develop a passive communication style when they are afraid of confrontation, have some kind of fear or anxiety about saying what they really want or need, and feel like they need to please everyone.  Teach your child that is okay to be assertive when confronted by a difficult person. This means we say what we need and that we set clear boundaries. “Don’t call me that name. Please use my real name.” “I don’t allow people to touch me.”

There is a difference between being aggressive and being assertive; teach your child the difference.  Aggressive communicators assume their opinion is the only one that matters and they tend to be intimidating.  Being assertive is different: we can be clear and firm without being dominating or loud. Make sure your child knows that it’s okay with you if he sticks up for himself when somebody is being aggressive or nasty toward him.

2.  Avoid harsh discipline approaches.

Many children become passive or submissive in response to overly harsh parenting. It’s a basic survival response. Not only will he not develop assertive communication skills, but when a child hears a lot of criticism at home or is physically punished for making mistakes, he may on some level think he deserves a bully’s poor treatment. The behavior of some parents, in fact, rises to the level of bullying and normalizes maltreatment in the minds of their children.

Choose a discipline approach that protects your connection with your child and encourages respectful communication. Even when he makes a mistake, he will know he is valuable and deserves respect. Then when a bully is violating his space or rights, he will have a deep sense that something is wrong. More empathic discipline approaches also protect your rapport with your child so that he is more likely to ask for your help in dealing with a bully.

3.  Teach your child the art of friendship.

Lonely, isolated kids are favorite victims of bullies. Teach your child from a young age how to be a good friend so that he builds up a circle of good friends. Sharing, listening, giving. These are lessons that can begin at a young age. As she matures, help your child develop perspective taking – how another child feels, or how that child’s experience may differ from your child’s.

These tips are all about teaching your child to invite mutual self-donation into her relationships which is what God wants for her. The ability to both give and receive within friendships is a powerful gift. No bully wants to mess around with that.

More for You

I’ve posted some great links about bullying over on our sister site for you:

  • bullying basics (what counts as bullying anyway?)
  • cyber-bullying (oy, there’s a whole new mean in town)
  • sibling bullying (something none of us wants to think about it, but it happens)

If you’d like to listen to my segment with the Popcak’s here you go. I come in at about 24 minutes. The Popcaks’ insights are always fantastic. In fact, the whole show was great: the topic was assertiveness training. Assertiveness is the healthiest communication style, but the fewest number of people possess it.

Transitioning Your Co-Sleeping Child to Her Own Bed (It IS Possible!)

transition bed

It happened so suddenly. We’d been talking about it for awhile, but yesterday, my husband took action. He emptied our older daughter’s bedroom. We organized, we tossed, we scrubbed, and we mopped. And, then, there it was. A sparkling clean bedroom with two twin beds with coordinating pink and purple comforters. Two beds just close enough for late-night sisterly confidences, yet far enough apart to air out the inevitable future disagreements. At two-and-a-half years old, our youngest daughter, our baby, was ready to move in to her sister’s room and move out of ours.

We’ve co-slept with all of our children. It took some getting used to at first, but after 11-plus years, I’ve grown to love it. Of course, there are rough nights. There are nights when I feel like a punching bag and nights when a king-size bed just isn’t big enough. But those nights are no match for the smell of a freshly shampooed head lying next to mine on the pillow, or the feel of a snuggly little body warming mine while the dead of winter yields its worst outside, or the opportunity to gaze at my precious child’s face in the glow of the night light while time disappears into irrelevance. I’ve loved these co-sleeping years, and my heart feels sad as we transition my baby into her own bed with no promise of another little one coming anytime soon.

But, it’s time. We’ve done this before, and here are some approaches that have helped us make this time of change go as smoothly as possible.

1. Plant the idea.

We started talking to my daughter about sharing a room with her sister and having her own bed several weeks before actually doing anything. When the time came, she was excited and looking forward to it.

2.  Let them choose something special for their bed.

It might be new sheets, a comforter, or just a fun pillow or stuffed animal. Letting our children make their bed their own helped them to want to sleep there.

3.  Give them some company.

My five children have two bedrooms. And they still often all end up piled into the same room by morning. Sleeping bags, pillows on the floor, three bodies in one twin bed. As one of my friends puts it, “As long as everyone sleeps, it doesn’t matter where.” We’ve found that siblings who share rooms are much happier together, day and night.

4.  Take it slow.

 Some of our children started sleeping in their own bed for naps only at first. With all of them, I kept the same bedtime routine of nursing them to sleep, then I just put them down in their bed instead of ours. The first time they fussed, I moved them into our bed for the rest of the night. Go with the flow. Don’t force. Over time, they will gradually sleep for longer periods of time in their own bed.

5.  Remember, it’s a “conversation.”

I love this description that Dr. Greg Popcak gives to dealing with children’s sleep issues. It truly is a conversation, unique to every child. One child might show interest in their own bed at 12 months, while another might not be ready until age three. Follow your child’s cues. The process will ebb and flow. Even my elementary school-aged children experience times when they need more parental comfort at night. But I’m finding that, by middle school-age, it takes a pretty ferocious thunderstorm for them to seek us out in the dark — and my 11-year-old now says nearly every night, “I’m so tired. I’m going right to sleep.” And he crawls into his own bed and goes to sleep all by himself. No problem.

And I can’t help but sigh wistfully and remember a time when a certain downy, sweet-smelling head wouldn’t sleep anywhere but next to mine.

Helping Your Child Gain Emotional Control

distress

image credit: Stuart Miles courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

Every parent at some point grapples with a child who “loses it”:  she uses negative behavior like tantrums, hitting, spitting, etc. in order to deal with her overwhelming feelings of anger or frustration. But every child also has the potential to attain emotional control over time as they mature. How does that happen though? Is there anything we can do to help her along?  Sometimes we can feel helpless and frustrated.

I talked about this recently with Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak on their radio program More2Life.   Here are 3 things to keep in mind as you make this journey toward emotional control with your child:

1.  Have reasonable expectations

Sometimes we expect too much emotional control in children too early (or we expect them to be fully in control all the time without reminders).  Some parents may punish for their child for not “keeping it together”. But emotional control is something that emerges over time; it can’t be ordered into a child.

Remember that babies have zero ability to control their emotions.  It’s normal to feel frustrated or worried when your baby cries or seems angry, but the best thing we can do is support them through their meltdowns.  When parents are responsive and warm toward infants when they are distressed, over time they will gain more emotional control.

Toddlers have big feelings, but immature verbal skills – they just can’t find a way to say what they need to say fast enough, so they become overwhelmed. This results in tantrums, crying, or acting out some way. As preschoolers and young children develop their communication skills, they develop an increased ability to handle their feelings.  When the do have a tantrum, it is rarely due to manipulation:  they are probably in true distress and they need help coming back to emotional peace.

Older children and teenagers still have a hard time controlling their emotions in certain circumstances. When they act out badly, though, it may be the result of manipulation and not cognitive immaturity. On the other hand, I try to remind myself that everyone has bad days and everyone has a decreased ability to cope with stress when they are hungry, tired, or hurt. I know I do!  I don’t excuse the bad behavior, but I try to understand WHY they are doing these things and explain to them how their choices are not effective in dealing with the stress.

I think kids of all ages need tips and strategies for handling their emotions before going into a hot button situation. Rehearse potentially difficult scenarios while your child is calm and happy.

2.  Respect your child’s emotions even if she expresses them inappropriately

Children experience anger, frustration, fear, and irritability just like we do. These feelings are not bad – they are actually gifts given to our children from God to help them discover him, to help them come to equilibrium and peace.  The problem we parents are dealing with is rarely the actual emotion our child is experiencing, but rather her clumsy attempt at expressing or managing the emotion.

Affirm your child’s feelings, but give her tips or direction in how to manage them better. “I can see how angry you are that your brother broke your toy. I feel angry, too, when somebody harms something I care about. However, we must never hit or scratch somebody when we are angry. Instead, use your words.”

Hopefully our older kids and teenagers have benefited from our support and coaching in early childhood.  In my home, if my older kids display inappropriate outbursts, I try to show them that I understand where they’re coming from, but I make it clear in no uncertain terms that hurtful or destructive choices are an unacceptable way to express these feelings.

3.  Model emotional control, but it’s okay to be honest about your feelings

It goes without saying that if we hit or scream when we are experiencing big feelings, our kids will do the same thing. I imagine every parent at some point has blown her stack, and at these times we need to apologize and explain that we didn’t handle our feelings very well.  But, again, this doesn’t mean that our anger, frustration, or hurt feelings are BAD. I think learning how to express to my children how I am honestly feeling without invading their boundaries or going overboard has done two things: 1) God has used these interactions with my kids to help me grow up (the relational skills I have learned as a mother have come in handy in my grown up friendships!) and 2) my children are witnessing an adult feeling upset while remaining in control of her actions. That is a more powerful lesson than any lecture will communicate!

Our purpose is to support and mentor our children when their feelings are overwhelming, so that eventually our compassion becomes part of their natural response to emotional stress.

If you’d like to hear my whole interview with the Popcaks, here you go.  I come in about 20 minutes into the show.  But the whole show was great.  The topic was “You Did WHAT???!  Handling the Crazy Things that Kids Do”.

 

What’s Your Communication Style?

communicationI heard Bill Sandoval on his Catholic radio show last week describe The Five Communication Styles, a concept explored through the work of psychologist Claire Newton.  Recognizing these styles and how we tend to communicate can help us become more effective communicators with our spouse and kids, and help us guide own kids in developing more effective communication skills, especially when dealing with difficult people.

Here are the 5 styles of communication:

1.  Aggressive

The aggressive communicator is demanding, abrasive, intimidating, and explosive. They tend to be very sarcastic or they threaten, blame, and insult the other person. “You are crazy.” “Don’t be stupid.” “You make me sick.” “That’s about enough out of you.” “Stop OR ELSE.” These are things an aggressive communicator might say.

Newton says, “This style is about winning – often at someone else’s expense. An aggressive person behaves as if their needs are the most important, as though they have more rights, and have more to contribute than other people. It is an ineffective communication style as the content of the message may get lost because people are too busy reacting to the way it’s delivered.”

People on the other end tend to become aggressive in return or they avoid any kind of confrontation with the aggressive person out of fear. So clearly this communication style is ineffective, because the other person actually avoids us or they want to attack us back.

Hollywood promotes aggressive communication too much and parents should be aware of it. Pay attention to the discourse in movies and popular television shows: the “hero” often has an aggressive communication style and this is portrayed as cool or admirable in some way. I’ve even seen some children’s cable television programs that portray families communicating with one another sarcastically and rudely, and too often the writers try to make it seem normal or funny.

I think many of us are drawn to empathic, gentle parenting partly because we experienced aggressive communication in our childhood and we know it is scary. Children in the long run absorb our message better if we speak to them respectfully and without threats. Teenagers often rebel against aggressive communicators.

2. Passive Aggressive

I have to say that this communication style scares me the most.  Newton explains: “This is a style in which people appear passive on the surface, but are actually acting out their anger in indirect or behind-the-scenes ways. Prisoners of War often act in passive-aggressive ways in order to deal with an overwhelming lack of power. People who behave in this manner usually feel powerless and resentful, and express their feelings by subtly undermining the object (real or imagined) of their resentments – even if this ends up sabotaging themselves. The expression “Cut off your nose to spite your face” is a perfect description of passive-aggressive behaviour.”

Passive-aggressive types can be very sugary sweet on the surface, even touching the person’s arm to communicate warmth, but they are manipulative, tend to gossip, and are two faced – they are nice to your face but spread rumors behind your back or they sabotage your efforts without you knowing it. (This sounds eerily like some behaviour in my dorm at an all-women’s college!)

I suspect that some children of aggressive parents become passive aggressive as they mature. They have to find some way to protect their sense of dignity, but they are too fearful to confront the parent or speak their mind. But when this coping strategy becomes a habit, the child is harmed even more because it affects their other relationships which could have been a source of healing and love.

3. Submissive

Newton explains: “This style is about pleasing other people and avoiding conflict. A submissive person behaves as if other peoples’ needs are more important, and other people have more rights and more to contribute.”

What Newton is talking about here is different from the self-giving love that we frequently talk about on this blog. As the heads of our domestic church, parents have to consider the vulnerability of family members in determining whose needs are met first. A young baby’s needs are more urgent than a teenager’s, because the teenager has the emotional ability to postpone getting his need met in order to meet a higher good. A baby is not cognitively capable of adjusting their own expectations or conceptualizing when their need might be met, so they become legitimately distressed when they are hungry, tired, or even bored.

Newton is talking about a person who puts the needs of another person before their own out of fear of rejection. They apologize any time they are asking for what they need, they always do what others want to do and act like what they want to do doesn’t matter, they brush off compliments, and avoid conflict at all costs. People on the other end actually end up feeling frustrated and distant from the submissive person. You can’t have true friendship with a submissive communicator.

4. Manipulative

A manipulative communicator tries to control you, but they don’t do it directly. Instead, they say things that leave you feeling guilty or sorry for them. One of my relatives had a mother-in-law who would say things like “Oh, you two go off camping. Don’t worry about me. If I have a stroke I’m sure somebody could find you to let you know . . .” This is a classic manipulative communication style.  Newton explains: “This style is scheming, calculating and shrewd. Manipulative communicators are skilled at influencing or controlling others to their own advantage. Their spoken words hide an underlying message, of which the other person may be totally unaware.” Of course my relative felt badly for her mother-in-law and guilty for wanting to camp with her husband, but if she canceled her trip she would in the end feel resentful toward her mother-in-law.

While toddlers rarely have tantrums that are motivated by manipulation, older children can sometimes develop manipulative tantrums. In fact, if this communication style can become a bad habit for them. They may cry in the middle of a store when asking for a treat because they know you’ll be embarrassed and give in. It’s important to guide older children in expressing their needs and desires honestly, assertively, and respectfully. We should never “give in” to manipulative tantrums.

5. Assertive

The most effective communication style is assertive. Newton says that when we communicate assertively, “[w]e have the confidence to communicate without resorting to games or manipulation. We know our limits and don’t allow ourselves to be pushed beyond them just because someone else wants or needs something from us. Surprisingly, however, assertive is the style most people use least.”

Assertive communicators have a high self-esteem and are capable of perceiving the experiences and feelings of others. They protect their own rights and recognize that they, too, have needs, but they also consider the rights and needs of others. They ask for what they need, but they do it respectfully. For example, they would ask, “Could you please turn down the volume on the television? I am having a hard time studying” rather than screaming and cursing at the t.v. watcher (this is aggressive communication) or accidentally-on-purpose unplugging the t.v. (passive aggressive) or walking around pouting because they can’t study well (manipulative). They just ask for what they need, but they do it with a respectful tone. When you are dealing with an assertive communicator, you feel like you can trust their word and you can offer your own opinion without being attacked.

It’s interesting to note that the attributes of the assertive communicator are shared by folks who possess a secure attachment disposition. Securely-attached children and adults have self-confidence, recognize the needs and experience of others, and expect to be treated with respect. But even our securely-attached children need guidance in communicating assertively. We can give them lots of practice during conflicts with siblings and friends, and by providing a good example ourselves!

Image credit: artur84, freedigitalphotos.net