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When Your Kids Push Your Buttons
"There's nothing worse than a parent trying to relieve their regrets through their kids."
My twenty eight-year-old son, who is contemplating fatherhood in the not too distant future, said this when I told him about someone who was sending her child to camp, which the child hated, because she had never had the opportunity. I had briefly sent my son to camp, which he hated, because I had loved it. His poignant words struck me as so simple and so profound.
- Discussion of key points
- Questions and answers
- News of upcoming events or announcements
This newsletter focuses on some of the key points in my book with new thoughts and practical applications. Hopefully it will help the "swimming upstream" struggle we face in changing our parenting from what many of our friends, relatives, teachers and a good deal society expect from us.
What I ask in return is your help in spreading this message. Please forward this to any friends or family you think might benefit, encourage them to subscribe to the newsletter and to buy the book, When Your Kids Push Your Buttons And What You Can Do About It (Warner Books, 2003).
Your questions and stories:
In order for this newsletter to be rich and interesting, I need your questions and stories. You can ask a question from your daily parenting life or you can ask me to elaborate on certain ideas from the book or any previous newsletter. Depending on the number of questions, I may or may not be able to get to all of them in the following newsletter. Your question might be the basis of the discussion of key points or might be in the question and answer section. Please make it as short and succinct as possible and give your children's ages. Many readers assume I have more questions than I can answer, so they don't ask — this is not true unless I tell you otherwise. Ask away!
Discussion of key points - Healthy Boundaries
We all know people whom we might say don't have good boundaries. Many parents speak of boundaries when they mean limits. In my mind limits are only one way to establish good boundaries, but boundaries are a psychosocial separation between one person and another. When boundaries are not clear they become apparent in many different ways — from a person who invades personal, physical space by standing too close, to someone who shares information with you that is more than appropriate for the relationship, to a person who tries to step into a role in your life that you do not want them in. Good boundaries create good relationships or as Robert Frost has said, "Good fences make good neighbors." So how do we teach our children to have good boundaries?
One way to teach them is honoring a child's (no matter how small the child) personal space and things by modeling — always knock on your child's door if it is closed, ask questions like, "May I borrow one of your crayons to write a note?" "I need to change your diaper, shall we do it here or on the changing table?" "Would you mind if I tell your teacher what you just told me?" "I found this piece of paper on the floor. Is it something you want or shall I throw it away?" "No, I don't have time to do that for you right now. I am doing something very important. Ask me again in a little while." Another way is by requiring good boundaries — "Please always ask me before you borrow anything of mine. Asking is the courteous and respectful thing to do," "If my door is closed, please knock before you come in just to let me know," (important to establish these rules between siblings) "I'm talking to someone right now, I'll answer your questions as soon as I'm done."
And the hardest and possibly most important way to teach boundaries is by setting good boundaries. Make sure you do not take care of problems that belong to your child and do not ask your child to take care of problems that belong to you. Don't jump in to fix or rescue your child from a difficult situation she is in before first supporting her through finding a solution that works for her. And watch very carefully for the times that you are demanding certain behavior that is meant to make your life easier or more convenient. Responsible behavior develops from the little daily situations when parents allow their children to handle a problem-not by ignoring them or sending them away with the problem, but by supporting them through it to find their own solution rather than the solution the parent might prefer. It is often easier to "just do it myself" or to tell the child what to do.
I get a lot of questions from parents asking in one way or another, "When do you get to draw the line and just say no? I am so tired at the end of the day. Why can't I just send them to their room when I've had it?" Of course saying "no" is an important limit to set. A well placed "no" will establish a good boundary and uphold yours or another's rights or needs. Children need effective limits to set a structure in which they will feel safe and cared for. Without limits a child does not learn good boundaries and does not learn respect for others. However, the question above-and, it seems, always the question that includes the term drawing a line- indicates that the parent feels it is her right to get the peace and quiet she wants or the cooperation she demands by reprimanding or punishing a child for arguing, being noisy, not answering right away, dawdling-for being a child. This is the tricky one to watch for: It is my problem if I am tired, if the refrigerator is empty, if I am stressed from a long day, if the room is a mess with toys, if I have overextended myself, if I want the trash taken out or the dog fed-not my child's. When it is my problem, it is absolutely appropriate to ask for help with it and to extend appreciation for the help I get. But it is not appropriate to expect and demand that my child take care of my problem and then behave punitively if that demand is not met the way I want. Asking your child to take care of your problems can teach a child to blame others for their problems and not take responsibility for themselves. This is one of the hardest lessons for parents to learn probably because most of us were raised with the expectation of taking care of our parents' problems. It has always been thought to be our inalienable right to expect our children to do our bidding because they owe it to us-it is not.
Questions from readers:
Q. My ten and a half year old son got into a yelling match with two teachers at school this week. He was walking up the handicap ramp and was to turn around and take the stairs. His response was, "Why can't I walk on the ramp, I am almost to the top. In my opinion I should be able to walk where ever I want." He also made a comment about the stupid school and its rules. My son said that he was yelled at and picked on by the teachers who forced him to go all the way back down the ramp. He spent the afternoon crying, generally upset but also feeling that he had been treated unfairly. I told him he can't speak to anyone that way and should have just done what he was asked to do. But I think the teacher was unreasonable since he was at the top and was forced to go back down — on principle. I feel that at school no matter what the child says or feels, the teacher is always right. My son has a strong sense of self-determination and acted out not to disobey the rule exactly, but to push his independence and autonomy. He is a bright and enjoyable child and a straight A student. I think he is bored and is acting out because he is bursting at the seams. How do I get him to control himself and not interpret these situations as personal challenges that he needs to defend?
A. A boy with a strong sense of self-determination, who wants independence and autonomy, who is a bright, straight A student will not just do what he is told to do if he is confronted with attitude and if sees injustice in the demand. Some will; he won't. Schools have rules that must be upheld. I'm sure he understands the rule. But from his point of view, it is ridiculous of the teacher to ask him to go back down the ramp and start again. To remind him of the rule and ask him how he can remember it in the future is reasonable, and he would answer reasonably when spoken to with respect. If he sees the illogic of it, he will get more confrontive. Certainly let him know that you understand his point of view and acknowledge how humiliating it must have felt especially when a second teacher entered the scene. When you acknowledge him, he will be more likely to acknowledge another point of view other than his own. Then ask him if he had it to do over, what could he have said to the teacher that would explain his point of view yet still be respectful so that he didn't get yelled at. You're right, he can't speak to anyone like he did, but to get him to be respectful next time, he needs to feel that his opinion and point of view are respected too.
Q. I separated from my wife last year and have shared care of our boys 4 and 8. I have a fantastic relationship with both of them and life is good. I recently met someone, I have introduced the boys, and they all get along really well. I spend a lot of time talking to the 8 year old about everything and anything, and I believe he is fine. My new partner tragically lost her husband when their son was 6 weeks old. He is now a beautiful 2 and a half year old boy but is really pushing her buttons. She tells me his father was a larger than life person, always full steam ahead and very opinionated and she sees this in her son, who is very strong willed and at times gets her very upset. She has a supportive family with good male role models and over the last 6 months he has established a strong bond with me. I am interested in your views of where I fit in, as I am very mindful of my relationship with him. At times when she obviously needs to step back and gather her thoughts there is no one to help. When I am there I often give her the time she needs to come back and deal with the issue but I wonder what things she can do as a single parent to help manage these situations on her own.
A. Since the child is only 2, you can afford to be an authority figure if you are with him a lot and if his mother wants you to be. Her wishes take precedence. An older child would likely resent you acting like a parent. Be cognizant of that but it may be easier for him. If your partner wants your back-up and authority, agree on something you can say to her when she is on overload that will let her know you can step in but that does not push her button further or undermine her authority. Single parenting is very hard. It is good news that she has male models in her life. She should call on them as much as possible. Lots of "uncles" will be great for him. If there is an agency or program for parent support and/or education in the area, she should take advantage. She should also be careful of projecting her perception of her late husband onto her son. He is his own person with a will of his own-and it sounds like a strong one. He needs to learn to honor his temperament and not force him into compliance but respect his determination. As in the Q and A above, he will need logic and reason along with respect and then he can be very cooperative. But she should not expect him to do what she says just because she has said it.
Q. I am having difficulty with one of my 3 year old twins. It is very difficult to get her to cooperate with any number of things throughout the day, from putting on shoes to helping pick up, to putting on pajamas, etc. She loves to run away giggling and generally treats these confrontations as though they were a game. I definitely have some issues with my control button so this sort of thing is particularly aggravating to me. When I resort to what I call "mean mommy" and use a loud, stern tone she generally will comply but I see the light extinguish from her little face and it breaks my heart. I would like to encourage cooperation without having to be stern and harsh.
A. Your twins most likely have very different temperaments from one another. So I'm guessing when one is exhibiting her strong will, you worry that you are doing something wrong because the other is more compliant and seemingly more respectful/obedient/cooperative. I highly encourage you to read Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's book, Raising Your Spirited Child. It will be your bible. Also look into Raising Your Three Year Old by Ilg and Ames of the Gesell Institute for normal development issues. If your control button leads you to the assumptions and expectations that she should do what you say when you say it, then you are in for a long haul with her. She is showing you her unique qualities of individuality, strong will, desire to do it her way, tenacity — all those wonderful qualities that will help her be a fabulous, creative adult who will not be run over by anyone. If you honor these qualities in her and learn now to stop fighting them, she will also be well able to stand on her own two feet as a teen and not be sucked into a direction you would hate just to gain friends and get away from her nagging controlling mother! It is good news that she treats these confrontations as if they were a game, because so far to her they are a game. If you reprimand and punish she will turn them into a battle. Let them be a game. She is playing with being a separate individual, experimenting with what she is finding she is capable of, and seeing whether she is okay or not. If you send her the message across the Gap that she is bad, she will learn to believe that about herself and her strong temperament will fight back. When you see that light extinguish use that as your cue to back off, lighten up and not take her behavior personally. The more you cooperate with her agenda (that doesn't mean letting her do whatever she wants but simply acknowledging it and understanding) with something like "You really don't want to put your pajamas on right now. What if you put your pants on your head? Can you stand on your head to put them on?" and play the game with her being respectful of where she's coming from, the sooner she will be cooperative with you — but she's pretty young, so be patient. She's being a typical three-year-old. She of course needs your "no" when she is doing something unsafe so she learns her limits. But the more neutral the "no" can be the more she can hear it. If she doesn't like it, that's okay. Your job is not to make her happy, but to keep her safe and give her limits and structure to help her feel cared for. She doesn't have to like them!
Please let us know if the answers to your questions are helpful. If not, ask again and send me more information. We'd all like to hear how things turn out!
Setting: We've just sat down for dinner and we're just starting to talk to each other, when my 11 year-old son says (in a very irritated and accusatory tone) "I don't want this for dinner. Can't I have something else? COME ON!!!! Can't I have some soup or something else? Can't someone get it for me? COME ON!!!!"
Me: (in a very calm voice) (knowing that he has been having some anxiety about food lately) "Michael, talk to me a little about what you were feeling when you sat down. It looked to me that you were a little irritated?"
Michael: No, more like frustrated.
Me: And then when it seemed that no one was listening, were you mad?
Michael: No, irritated.
Me: Well, I get it. We don't have to go through that with each other. You could have calmly sat down and after seeing what was on your plate you could have said something like "Do you mind if I get something else?" I really don't think that that is too much to ask.
Michael: (very quiet and matter of factly) Well, you would if you've had the day I've had.
After hearing this there really was not much else to do but feel for him and for what his day must have been like. Things were fine after that. I see this as the gift that I have gotten from you and am now passing on to my children.
This Friday night, October 27th, I will be presenting When Your Kids Push Your Buttons for the Annual Parenting Conference at Nashua High North in Nashua, NH from 7:00-9:00 pm. Contact Linda Brown at Lbrown@sjh-nh.org for details. Fee is $5 Walk-ins are welcome.
I am at work on a new book tentatively titled Raising Kids You Love to Live With. It will be published in spring or summer of '08.
October 30th I will be presenting a workshop at the Practical Parent Conference in Dallas. November 2nd and 3rd I will be at the Solution-Focused Practices Conference in Denver. For details, check my website.
A 6-CD set of When Your Kids Push Your Buttons And What You Can Do About It (read by me) are available by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or by sending $29.95 plus $2.30 postage to Bonnie Harris Core Parenting, 152 Windy Row Peterborough, NH 03458. Includes a 7th bonus disk with printable pdf files of the exercises from the book.
If anyone is so inclined, I would love more reviews of my book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
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Email Bonnie with questions or comments at email@example.com.
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