Raising kids is a lot like riding on a monster roller coaster. Half the time you’re going up the hill, anticipating the drop on the other side.
The other half of the time you spend screaming your head off and wishing you could get the heck off – and whoever said this was fun anyway?
Sometimes trying to figure out what went wrong feels like Mission Impossible.
Sometimes it’s something that’s popped its ugly head out in the space of a day or so, kind of like the time I woke up and found a massive colony of army ants had invaded the girls’ bedroom. Other times it’s something that sort of crept up on you slowly, like mold in the bathroom shower. One day you wake up and decide that behavior has got to go.
Either way, parents are often at a loss when it comes to figuring out how to get their child’s behavior back on a (relatively) even keel.
In order to help you out, I’ve compiled a series of posts that will help you determine why your child is acting out, what to do about it, and more importantly, how to make sure that behavior doesn’t come back.
I've been noticing a disturbing trend among the parenting crowd.
I guess it took me a while to catch on; but it somehow it seems to be seeping up through the fabric of our society like sewer water creeps out from underneath a poorly sealed toilet base.
It's bad enough that we seem to have forgotten that children are not our personal ego machines, prepped and prepared at the tender age of two for Harvard-like preschools. And maybe it's more than the hysteria about our children's imagined inability to take care of themselves.
In Britain, a mother was fined and reprimanded for leaving her 14 year old son to watch her toddler for a half hour. Interesting how teenagers are incapable of watching a toddler but deemed fully capable of having one.
Perhaps I should have caught a whiff when helicopter parenting became the norm, and those parents who dare to treat their children with anything less than kid gloves are not only criticized, but harshly prosecuted.
Do we truly believe our children are so completely incapable? How can it be that parents insist on the importance of raising responsible children, yet deny them any and all opportunity needed to become responsible?
I suspect that there is a deeper issue here.
Although I don't pretend to psyhoanalyze this new breed of parents - that would be like reaching deep down into the infamously convoluted sewer systems of Paris-I have a feeling this is about more than just parents wanting the best for their children.
In fact, I don't think it has anything to do with our children at all. Is it our fears for ourselves in this growing amorphous mass of humanity?
It seems that this new "social connectedness" has in a lot of ways caused us to be more fearful and distrustful of the individual at the same time that we embrace the group.
Parenting teenagers is definitely not a job for the faint of heart. Gone are the days when your little one cradled your chin and gave you butterfly kisses on the nose. Instead, parents are faced with disdain, constant criticism, and even downright hostility: you are the "enemy," the other side, and will probably remain so until your progeny leaves the house in search of waters uncharted.
Until then, learning what not to say to your teenager can make this time period a little more bearable:
1) Don't take what your teenager says to you at face value. Teenagers are really 2- year olds in disguise. Do you remember how your 2- year old would automatically answer "no," even when you knew he really wanted to say yes? That was his way of reveling in the ability to say no: a recognition of his new ability to choose. All of the negativity your toddler showed was necessary in order for him to develop his own sense of self.
Your teenager is undergoing a similar process. He now realizes that he can judge, decide, choose, and evaluate. He is heady with his own sense of power. So heady, in fact, that he might say things he doesn't really mean. Sometimes this is just to get on your nerves, but other times he is afraid, confused, or embarrassed to say outright what he wants to say.
2) Don't belittle your teenager's feelings or opinions. How many times have you said to your teenager, "That's really ugly, " or "that's a real winner of an idea," or better yet, "That's really stupid." These are put-downs, and no self-respecting person, including a teenager, will react well to anyone who speaks this way to them.
Yet for some reason parents forget their teenagers are not only not immune to this kind of speech, but are even more vulnerable than adults. They are fighting to prove they are smart, good-looking, popular people, and your words will only make them fight harder.
3) Don't tell your teenager you absolutely forbid them from being friends with ... This is a controversial one for some parents, because legitimately there are times when your teenager's friends might be negative, perhaps even dangerous influences. You might feel you would be irresponsible if you didn't say anything about the relationship.
However, you need to realize that you will probably end up speaking very negatively about the other party. This will only serve to push your child closer to her friend. After all, you are on the outside.
The friend in question is a bit of an underdog, and becomes more so each time you criticize her. Your child will be forced to defend her friend, because she perceives herself as an underdog also.This only deepens her sense of identification and her need to stick up for her friend, pushing them closer together.
Your teenager is also old enough and smart enough to see her friend despite your disapproval. A better approach would be to say, "sometimes you don't seem so sure about that friendship," and leave it to your teenager to pick up the thread.
4) Don't give your teenager an ultimatum. Ultimatums are usually your response to what you feel is an intolerable behavior or situation. The problem is that usually you won't be able to stick to them. Your child might also call your bluff, and then you'll be left with an empty hand.
Instead, tell your child that his behavior is absolutely unacceptable, and that it had better not occur again. If he pushes you, and asks what you'll do if he does it again, you can answer, "Do I need to tell you what will happen if you do that again? I've already said that I don't want it to happen again, and I expect that it won't. In our home this is completely unacceptable."
The truth is that deep down teenagers really do desire the respect of their parents. If you can find a way to give it to them, on terms you both agree on, your teenager's path to adulthood will be a little less bumpy.
If you’re like most parents, then I bet you think you’re doing everything you can to help your child be successful.
Okay, maybe not everything you should be doing – but a lot.
Between the music lessons, art therapy, private tutors, hyperbaric therapy and special gluten/casein-free diet, there isn’t much more you could fit in – or so you imagine.
But what if I told you about the one thing you might be doing that actually increases your child’s chances of failure?
Success isn’t about having the best teachers or being the smartest kid in the class.
Maybe you think your child is guaranteed to be a success if you follow the magic formula: the most demanding curriculum, taught by the best teachers, at the best schools. Followed up of course, by the latest in educational software and extracurricular “enrichment.”
We tend to think parenting is only about knowing what’s best for our kids.
I mean, how much time do you spend trying to decide what class to put Junior in, how to nurture his interests so he’ll be a well-rounded individual, how to help him overcome his character faults so he’ll be a credit to society…the list goes on and on.
But did you ever stop to think that all of the opportunities you present for your child will fall by the way if you can’t get him to give everything he tries his absolute best? Think of how many times we sabotage our child’s efforts by asking to see a test, only to remark, “Oh, you got an 80? What did the other kids get?”
You know what, it doesn’t matter what the other kids got. What matters is, did your child do the best he could do? Did he give that essay, that math worksheet, that crayon drawing, everything he’s got?
One thing I remember about my mother is that she never really cared if we got good grades. That sounds strange, especially if you consider the fact that I was a top student and young for my grade. But it didn’t really matter what grade I got, as long as I did my best.
If I was only able to do B- work (math, my mortal enemy) then she was okay with that. But if I was able to get an A+, and I got anything less than that, then her deep disappointment was enough to set me straight.
Of course, that puts an incredible burden on a child, to some extent, especially if you confuse perfection with doing your best. But a burden can also be a form of deliverance, giving us the strength we need to go farther than we ever thought we could go.
Although I’m about as far from being a football fan as peaches are to porcupines, I want you to take a look at this clip. It’s a great example of how we as parents can help our kids give their absolute best:
Notice what made him an effective coach:
1) He asked his player to give him his personal best – not someone else’s “best.”
2) He broke the task down into manageable steps (only 40 more steps, only 50 more, etc.)
3) He stayed with his player the whole time to support his efforts.
4) He was quite strong with him – even shouting at him – but it was all positive.
5) He “demystified” the whole process by explaining to him exactly how that smaller success could lead to bigger ones.
A good coach is a perfect example on how to parent from the inside out. A good coach realizes that his job is to help his players do his best. At the same time, his ultimate goal is to put himself out of a job, because ultimately he wants his players to get so good that they go on to the big league.
As a parent, our children will go on to the big league whether they’re ready or not. And, while we’ll always be parents to our children, there’s nothing like the feeling of seeing your child make it to the end zone.
Today I found a small yellow piece of plastic underneath the radiator in the younger boys’ room. It was perfectly round, except for one thin spoke that stuck out from the middle.
That little black leg lent it a sort of importance, and so turning the miniscule glob of plastic around, I tried, with my spatially inept eyes, to figure out exactly what vital piece of equipment it belonged to.
Although I couldn’t for the life of me perceive what its purpose was, I was reluctant to throw it away. I had already had the unfortunate experience of throwing away bits of plastic or metal that looked inconsequential, but were -alas- very important to the functioning of some very expensive (or beloved) mechanical contraption.
So for a while I held onto it, and slowly it made its way throughout the various hidey-holes in our house. You know what those are: the places where you stick the stuff you know you should put away or throw away, but lacking the gumption, just pack it out of sight.
Eventually I came upon it again a month or so later in the bathroom. In a fit of pique (sometimes it’s a good idea to clean house when you’re in a bad mood; everything looks worth throwing away) I threw it into the small plastic bin next to the toilet. I picked up the nylon sack, and headed to the kitchen to throw it away.
I have to say I was pretty proud of myself, pack rat that I am.
As I left the room, I bumped into my 12 year old.
Technically I guess twelve qualifies as pre-teen, but I think his behavior justifies the full appellation of “teen,” with all of its attendant qualities. In other words, he can sometimes be wonderful, but other times, he can argue me out of house and home with the aplomb of a senior statesman.
You know how it is when your kids have this really annoying thing they do that drives you absolutely senseless? Usually there isn’t any logical reason why; it’s often something others would (and do) find perfectly innocuous.
Well, I had just noticed that little thing, and being already on the edge, was ready to blow my stack. Suddenly, I stopped, and looked at the bag in my end with the little plastic piece in it.
I had just thrown away the yellow thingamabob, after having let if float around the house for the last month or so. I had done so because it had no useful place in our house. It served no purpose other than to take up valuable real estate in an otherwise full house of 9.
So why did I persist in holding on to my grudge against that little behavior? Holding on to that bit of righteousness that shouted, “You can’t let him get away with it,” which serves absolutely no worthwhile purpose. Worse, it took up valuable real estate in my heart, interfering with a relationship that didn’t need any more strife.
There and then, I decided to just let it be. As I headed to the garbage,
I mentally pictured myself throwing away that bit if prejudice that I held onto, hopefully not to be seen again.
Here are 3 tips you can use to do the same with those little pockets of irrationality all good parents possess:
1) Look at the big picture.
Step back and try and see where the behavior fits in the scheme of things. If you’ve taken the time to evaluate what your goals for yourself and your family are, things will be a little easier. If not, ask yourself, will this stop him from being a decent human being, and a successful member of society?
If this answer is no, then you have your answer. You should probably just let it go.
2) Consider where your child is holding developmentally.
Often parents get hung up about something that will naturally pass with time. Trying to force it to go before it’s time not only doesn’t work, but can sometimes makes things worse.
If you’re not sure whether this is something normal for kids of your child’s age, ask around. You might be surprised (and relieved) to find out that other kids have been there, and done that, too, and grown up to be otherwise respectable people.
3) Give it a rest anyway.
Sometimes there are behaviors that might warrant concern. However, if the behavior is not harmful to anyone, consider leaving it be for a while.
That means not making a big deal about it, and showing your child that you couldn’t really care about it one way or the other. I know, it can be hard sometimes, but I’m sure you’ve got other stuff to worry about.
You might have to do some inner work on this one, but sometimes letting it go-really letting it go- allows your child the safety to do the same. One day, you might turn around, and realize that they’ve given it up on their own.
Ever find yourself giving your child play by play instructions on doing something that should be as simple and easy as eating apple pie?
You know what I mean - things that you're sure your child knows how to do on their own, yet when it comes down to it, suddenly you find yourself having to tell them exactly what to do - otherwise they melt into a little pile of water just like the Wicked Witch of the West?
I found myself in this position the other day, when my seven and a half year old was in the shower. She'd already bathed and shampooed her hair, and was asking what she should do now.
Of course, this was after I'd gotten a blow-by-blow description of which body part she was washing, and how much the soap had lathered up, and...
Well. I'm sure you get the idea.
So when it came down to the last request, I must admit, I was feeling rushed, and a teensy bit annoyed. I mean, wasn't it obvious what you should do? Did I really have to tell her? Couldn't she figure it out on her own? Like, after you finish washing off everything there is to wash off, you just get out of the bath.
It doesn't seem like rocket science. I mean, she's only been taking a bath on her own for the last year and a half. I knew she was physically capable of everything she needed to be a successful bather.
Blame it on my own mule-headedness, blame it on scientific curiosity, but I refused to tell her what to do. I figured, how long would she stay there until she finally gave up and came out? She couldn't stay in there forever, right? 8 people, one bathtub -you do the math.
Let's just say it wasn't pretty.
Little Miss refused - or was completely unable, I haven't figured out which- to get out until I walked her through the whole decision making process:
Me: What do you do when you finish washing off all of your body?
Little Miss: I don't know! Tell me!!!
Me: Do you stay in the bathtub until it's time for school the next day? Do you sleep there? Should I bring you a pillow? (hoping humor would work - I wasn't feeling very humorous at all)
Little Miss: (Meltdown. Doesn't bear repeating).
So I did some thinking about choices, and what it means to be independent, and came to this conclusion: it doesn't matter one hoot if you give your child choices as long as those choices have no real consequences.
Typical parenting advice tells you "give your child lots of choices. Let them, for example, choose between two outifts and pick out what the want to wear the next day."
The problem with that is it's pretty much a non-choice. What difference does it make if they wear the red or the blue shirt? The blue jeans or the corduroy? The only time it really matters is if in a fit of pique your preschooler decides to wear pajamas to school.
Anyway, no mom in her right mind is going to let her child wear pajamas to school. In my house, that's a threat: "If you don't get dressed this minute you will go to school in your pajamas." So it's not like you could just let them experience the natural consequences of their choices. What would the teacher say?
I think for a lot of kids, making choices isn't always about knowing what to do, it's about having the courage to make the right choice - despite the consequences. And that goes right back to what I've been talking about lately: making sure your child understands that it's okay to fail.
Because if we want our child to be successful, to make the choices that will help them be successful, they've got to be willing to take that flying leap into nothingness. Sure, you can flinch a little - we all do - but that's just part of the process of doing what you need to do so you can get to the finish line.
Well, we're not at the finish line yet, my daughter and I. But we're on our way, somehow or another.
Parenting solutions for special needs children are not always easy to come by. Raising a child with Asperger’s, sensory integration disorder, ADD, or another disorder often resembles a topographical map: a lot of hills and valleys, a few grassy plains, and a riot of beautiful colors spread haphazardly throughout. But just when you think you’ve found your way through the therapy maze and begun to understand your child, they up and turn into a teenager!
How do you explain to a teenager with Asperger’s that his inability to see things from the other’s point of view is turning off his friends? Or how do you reason with your teenage SID daughter who refuses to bathe frequently because she hates the feel of a shower and loathes getting undressed for a bath? And when your 14 year old ADD ‘er crashes the party with his special brand of impulsivity, you may feel more embarrassed than he does.
The first thing to do is remain calm. Even though it may seem as though your teenager’s behavior is unbearable or intolerable (and what parent of a teenager doesn’t feel like that at some point in their teenager’s life!) generally it isn’t. It may be very difficult, it may even be downright unpleasant, but it’s unlikely to be fatal, or you probably would have been flat on your back, feet up in the air a long time ago.
Maintaining perspective will help you view the situation as an opportunity to teach your child the right way to behave. By looking at these challenging behaviors as opportunities to help your child achieve further independence, you will be less likely to instigate a battle or begin an ineffective campaign doomed to failure.
Some other important things to consider:
Respect your teenager’s desire to be independent. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the child that we advocated, argued, struggled, and cried for is no longer willing to take the back seat. This is a child who despite his weaknesses, still insists on sitting in the driver’s chair. It’s crucial to remember that even if your child has disabilities, he still desires and needs to struggle for independence as much- maybe even more so- than a typically developing teenager.
Plan for small successes. True growth does not happen in a day, a week, or even a month. Lasting change takes time to implement, time to foster, and more time until the change is no longer a “change” but the way things are. Plan goals that are small, yet successive, and make sure your child is at least 80% successful while you are working with them. It’s hard for anyone to fail, but teenagers are especially sensitive to failure. They are often unable to see the big picture, and will feel that if they have failed once then they are doomed to failure forevermore.
Focus on your child’s strengths as well, not just on their weaknesses. It’s easy to see so many things to fix that your forget this is not about fixing what is broken, but about building what has yet to be completed. Your child is more than the sum of her differences- it is exactly these differences that make her who she is. Try and find a way to use her differences in a positive way. The same child who would rather be alone because she is uncomfortable with people could make a great web designer or computer programmer. Maybe your 16 year old likes to cook, and sometimes helps you out by cooking dinner occasionally. Can you find a chef or a caterer who would be willing to teach her once a week? Could you nurture a future business by allowing her to help cook for family events and get-togethers?
Develop goals in a variety of areas. Your child may need a lot of guidance with social skills, but you would be wise to include a variety of areas for him to work on. A well-rounded goal plan is more interesting, more effective, and easier to plan for. You can even try and integrate several goals in one activity, though this is not always necessary or possible. Some possible areas to work on:
self-care skills (grooming and hygiene, appropriate dress for the weather or occasion)
medication management (your teenager needs to be aware and responsible of what medications she takes, their side-effects, and how they help her)
social skills (this also includes understanding society’s rules and your rules about dealing with the opposite sex)
symptom management (this includes understanding his disability, as well as being able to advocate for himself)
educational and career training (what educational or career goals does your child have? All of us desire to be contributing members of society, and your teenager is probably no different. Help her identify what she likes and/or is good at doing. Then brainstorm with a career counselor or look online for possible careers or occupations.
5. Allow for immaturity too. Like most teenagers, your teenager might switch between a desire to do everything - or nothing- on his own. Even though it’s frustrating, it is normal. Build in some special one-on-one times where he is allowed to choose the activity and just be himself. Include reasonable rewards which show you recognize how hard he is working. And even though they may act like they don’t need it, don’t forget to show him how much you still love him. Write notes, pack a favorite lunch, do him a favor and drive him when he normally walks. He may not gush with effusive thanks, but he will definitely appreciate it- and probably thank you for it when you least expect it.
It’s frustrating dealing with a child who can’t follow directions.
You know what that looks like: you tell your 8 year old to take out the garbage, get into pajamas, and feed the dog, thinking it should take about twenty minutes until liftoff.
A half hour later, you see your son standing in the kitchen in his underwear giving the dog a good back scratch.
You’d be annoyed if you could – but you know he’s not misbehaving intentionally. But this isn’t the first time he’s gotten directions mixed up, sometimes with permanent consequences.
You’ve tried numerous workbooks for grade-schoolers that claim to teach your child to follow directions, but they didn’t help at all.
Is there anything you can do, or is your child doomed to be one of the hopelessly confused?
Why having trouble following directions is just the beginning.
Having trouble following directions is just the tip of the iceberg for most kids.
That’s because being able to follow directions means being proficient at perceiving and remembering the order of things, otherwise known as sequencing. Tying shoes, reciting the alphabet in order, understanding the difference between “before” and “after” or “yesterday” and “tomorrow,” all require good sequencing skills.
Some kinds of information are meant to be processed as one whole. Remembering what your great-aunt Matilda looks like is one example. Other kinds of information are purely sequential, such as phone numbers, the order of the months of the year, or keeping track of a story plot.
These are meant to be taken in one at a time, bit by bit, in order to be understood and remembered. A child who has trouble with sequencing (and their parents) will find themselves stymied in numerous areas – despite average (or better) intelligence.
Fortunately, sequencing is a skill that can be learned. Here are some things you can do to help the child who has sequencing issues:
When it comes to recognizing intelligence as more than doing well in school, well - we’ve come a long way baby.
No longer is the kid who sits in the front of the class answering all the questions considered the smartest in the bunch.
At last, Howard Gardner and his theory of multiple intelligences has finally penetrated the masses. Teachers now know that the world’s future dancers, artists, architects – even politicians- are just as smart as the teacher’s pet.
If that’s so, then why do we find so few children that are highly creative?
Maybe it’s because we parents are engaging in some bad habits that literally crush our children’s creativity, almost from the moment they are born. If we want our children to truly be creative-even the therapists, landscapers, and animal whisperers-then here are 8 habits that we need to avoid like the plague:
Creating and evaluating at the same time.
You can’t build a bike and ride it at the same time. They’re two completely different activities. Likewise, creating and evaluating are activities that take place literally on opposite sides of the brain. So whether your child is in the process of creating a new dance move or a new recipe, save the critique for later.
In the same vein, you can encourage your child not to worry about what other people will think while they are in the throes of inspiration. Reassure them that there will be plenty of time to check out their work when they are ready.
The expert syndrome.
So your child has thought of something that goes against all the rules? Get over it. Throughout history some of our greatest inventors have bucked the norm, and in doing so, given the world some of our most important discoveries.
Let your child work it out on his own, and if his theory doesn’t work out, he’ll find out soon enough.
Fear of failure.
There’s really no way around it: at first, you’ll suck. There’s no question about it because everyone when they first start out sucks. Mozart, Picasso, John Steinbeck: everyone starts out a long ways away from where they end up.
So help your child get over the idea of not succeeding every time. Hold a red-letter failure party, if you have too. Just make sure they understand that failure is crucial to success. Not only does it force your child to reconsider the problem from a different (possibly better) angle, but without failure there would be no success.
Fear of ambiguity.
Most people like to remain in the comfort zone. They naturally shy away from anything that is unfamiliar, or doesn’t make sense. Sometimes, though, the act of creation involves quite a mess: think of finger paint, for example, a product that many mothers wish were illegal.
However, in order for your child to create, he (and you) need to learn how to tolerate a little mess and confusion. Order out of chaos, construction out of destruction; sometimes the process is more important than the product. So get out those aprons, and let the games begin.
Lack of confidence.
In children, lack of confidence is often tied to a need for perfection. I remember my daughter as a young child, refusing to draw pictures of people. I began to worry if maybe there was some deep psychological reason for this, and so I dug out a picture of a child’s drawing to show her.
I was floored when she looked at the stick figure and literally laughed out loud. “Mommy, that doesn’t look ANYTHING like a real person!” she stated, indignant. “That’s a ridiculous picture.”
Occasionally lack of confidence in children may also be due to a need for approval. Some children fear rocking the boat, lest they be asked to dock at the next shore. Reassure them it’s okay to make mistakes, and make sure they know you love them because of who they are-not for what they produce.
Discouragement from other people.
Okay, it’s true: sometimes other people can be real downers. Whether they intend to or not, some people have a tendency to pick on the negative and ignore the positive.
Be your child’s rock: help her weather the storm of people who feel threatened by your child’s willingness to tackle the unknown. If necessary, keep things under wrap until you have to.
If your child does end up hearing a bit of negative sludge from the black hole society, help them write a list of all the good things about their creation. Then take an ad out in the New York Times Sunday paper. Well, maybe putting it on the fridge is good enough.
Being trapped by false limits.
I once spoke to a friend who was has a disabled child. Searching for a diagnosis, she noticed that every professional gave a diagnosis consistent with their specialty.
Sometimes we can only see what we are used to seeing. It takes a lot of effort to break out of the mold and do a little bit of “lateral thinking,” but with practice, it can be done. You can help your child think out of the box by encouraging them to imagine they are someone else. Make up a name, a city where they live, and a fake history. Then help them to put themselves in that person’s shoes through role-play.
Next, present a particular problem or issue, and guide them in imagining how their character would respond. Not only will your child learn how to step out of their self-made corrals, but they will also gain a valuable interpersonal skill.
Feeling overwhelmed because you have a few of these bad habits? Don’t sweat it. Try tackle a new problem each week, rotating back to the first one after the last habit.
After all, you never know if your child is the next Columbus, Einstein, or Ignaz Semmelweis.
Hi! I’m a parent of 8 children, 3 of whom have learning disabilities. I have over 20 years experience working with kids and adults of all ages. My specialty is disabilities on the autistic spectrum, and language delays.