[FoRK] Parenting advice wanted...

Stephen D. Williams < sdw at lig.net > on > Sat Apr 29 08:54:24 PDT 2006

I've raised a number of children, all with different personalities, 
problems, etc.  My emotional intelligence / experience, seems, to me, to 
be much further along than my teenage geekiness when I became interested 
in psychology.
I'm working through the last child now, with mostly only my influence 
this time, which is a big plus.  She's going to be difficult, but she's 
already further along the path at her age.

The key things you need to have and build on is trust and honesty.  The 
part that adults don't get sometimes is that children need to trust that 
you will be loving, understanding, supportive, and accept mistakes for 
the first time or two without going berzerk.  There's a fuzzy line 
between multiple roles, or modes, where you are their friend in life, 
their teacher, and their therapist to understand and avoid repeating 
errors and only as a last resort their jailer.  If acting like a jailer 
/ authoritarian is the first thing you do, they'll act like prisoners 
with all of the trauma that causes.

To build honesty, you have to never lie to your children and tell them 
what you are not going to tell them when they are old enough (i.e. I'm 
might read your IMs to check that you aren't getting into trouble) and 
make it the worst offense for them to lie to you.  This means that when 
they did something big, if you find out the hard way, the punishment is 
much larger than if within a short period of time they admit what 
happened and talk about it.  It is preferable if they agree to not make 
the same mistake, but even if they don't, that is a separate issue from 
doing it the first time.  If you make a mistake, especially with 
punishment/judgment, admit it right away and apologize.  I was in "Big 
Brothers/Big Sisters" once when I was about 20.  The teenager, 14, who I 
was friends with was a constantly compulsive liar.  I did what I could, 
but I had to walk away because he just couldn't stop and kept crossing 
boundaries.  All defects of teenagers are bad habits of thinking and 
doing; this is one of the worst.

It seems you need to constantly explain that you are looking out for 
their best interests and that you have experience that lets you see 
beyond what they think is important.  You need to always explain that 
punish me is designed to help them make better choices in the future, 
not get back at them.  Somehow this justification always seems to have a 
short half-life and they tend to locally interpret strictness as dislike 
or meanness.  This leads to "I hate my parents" because they vaguely 
remember feeling "My parents hate me".  This generally fades a couple 
years after they are over the hump or have been on their own, especially 
if you haven't been over the top (i.e. abusive) in any way.  When they 
become teenagers, their friends opinions are obviously more true than 
everything else and it's required, and a badge of honor, to have mean, 
controlling, loser parents.  Cool parents, in any way, are embarrassing, 
so they must be disowned and denigrated. 

Emotionality is tricky.  You shouldn't get emotional when they aren't, 
except that you should show worry about dangerous choices, worry about 
emerging habits, worry about how they are going to turn out.  If you are 
loud and mean sounding, make sure you repeatedly tell them that it is 
how you sound when you are scared for them, disappointed, etc.  If they 
are emotional, you should try to be calm and keep asking them to lower 
their voice, calm down, etc., possibly after going away to calm down for 
a while.  In some cases, if they are being abusive, you need to reflect 
it back, possibly with exaggeration, irony, or something clever so they 
feel what it's like to receive, but then follow it up with the "be 
rational" act.  You can also talk about emotional communication, both 
useful, destructive, and superfluous.  A book you should read is: "A 
General Theory of Love" *http://tinyurl.com/oukzm  *Many times children 
(and people) will say reasonable things in an emotionally charged way 
and insist that they did nothing wrong.  Emotions are mostly hidden from 
logical analysis for most people initially; you have to draw attention 
to it before they can control it.
*As for rationality, I would be very active in fixing this.  It doesn't 
seem like it would be too hard if you use the reflection method.  You 
should be happy to encourage imagination, story telling, and random 
thoughts that relate to reality (i.e. "what if we were ...."), but you 
should always make sure that everyone is giving clear cues about fantasy 
talk and reality talk / thinking.  The reflection method would be for 
you to temporarily make statements that mix up reality and fantasy in 
ways that affect him and will get his attention.  "Why are you hungry, I 
fed you dinner 5 minutes ago?"  Many kids, through teenager-hood 
sometimes, don't feel the harshness of reality enough to grasp it 
firmly.  You have to have gradually stronger interactions with reality 
so that it is not "all a game".

The "I know" thing sounds like a competitive or defensive thing.  I've 
seen that and avoided it, but I'm not sure I can explain how.  It seems 
that if you ask in a friendly way with only curiosity and "this is neat" 
style, you might be able to get some honest curiosity and humility.  My 
daughter, 14, used to be very curious, and she and her friends still 
sometimes ask questions and actually listen to my response, but for the 
most part she doesn't want to hear me explaining things much anymore.  
She also has had enough of museums, period, for a while, unless she has 
a friend visiting who is interested.  I dragged them through too many 
for too long and now she has no interest.

The best thing to do for tantrums or any anti-social behavior is 
timeout, away from other people, generally with little to do (maybe 
reading).  Anything else just feeds into the emotional cycle.

Good luck,

Corinna wrote:
> from those of you who have been around the hill...
> My son is 8. He recently broke some rules big time. He knows that I know 
> what happened, I talked with him about it, he's been given consequences. But 
> he will not tell me in a straightforward manner any real details about what 
> he did. What I know I have gathered through seeing the results of what he 
> did and talking to his sister (who was an accomplice).
> When I say "tell me what you did when you left your room" he just clams up. 
> He has a history of "lying" about doing stuff (he won't tell the whole 
> truth, or he tells just enough to sound plausible, or he looks shocked when 
> he's accused of something), and he tells small "fantasy-type" stories (like 
> how he did something or saw something that sounds remarkably like something 
> he's read about recently) on a regular basis. When you explain something, 
> his usual response is "I know" (though of course he didn't) and if you ask 
> "do you know what this is for" (about some strange object at the store) 
> he'll say "yes" even though he doesn't. Sometimes, I shake my head and 
> wonder if he's got split personality...
> I know much of this is normal behavior for a kid his age. He's intelligent, 
> active, and somewhat emotionally immature, and rather socially isolated (he 
> occasionally plays with kids in the neighborhood). He's probably got a 
> slight neural defect like autism, adhd, or something in that constellation, 
> judging from his overall behavior pattern.
> There have been some discipline issues too, where we have perhaps reacted 
> too harshly, and I know he probably has a subconscious desire to put on a 
> strong front as a result. (We're not perfect parents, though we're trying!) 
> He's one of those kids who, at any stage, exhibits normal behavior, but to 
> an extreme - finger biting, tantrums, noisiness, social cluelessness, messy 
> handwriting, etc. This has made us tend to be harsher than we really should 
> be.
> My concern is that for an infraction this large, that it's important for him 
> to verbalize what happened, to make the violation concrete and conscious, 
> instead of allowing him to be evasive.  However, I'm not sure whether I 
> should push the issue -- for example -- you are going to be restricted in 
> your room until you talk to me and tell me what happened.  I'm leery of a 
> battle of wills. I'm concerned that if we don't talk about it, he'll think 
> the punishment is arbitrary, and he'll convince himself that we're being 
> unfair, and he won't learn from this situation.
> In the meantime, I'm trying to spend as much time as I can with him. He's 
> probably distressed that I'm going to be leaving soon (in about 8 days), and 
> he's always had a strong attachment to me (I probably weaned him too soon, 
> and he had a hard time adjusting when I started working full time when he 
> was 4). (He asked me to take him with me, and I explained why I couldn't, 
> and why he wouldn't be happy if I did.)
> So I guess the question is should I push him to talk about what he did, so 
> we can clarify the details, and why what he did was a violation, and why the 
> consequences make sense in this situation?
> -Corinna
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swilliams at hpti.com http://www.hpti.com Per: sdw at lig.net http://sdw.st
Stephen D. Williams 703-724-0118W 703-995-0407Fax 20147-4622 AIM: sdw

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