Are We Conditioning Selfishness in Our Kids During the Holidays?

christmas woman white backgroundA student of mine recently forwarded this YouTube video to me (thank you Mary Ware!). It is by David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny, New York Times bestselling authors of Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change. In this video the authors report that they invited 50 kids, ages 5 to 8, to a Christmas party. After first dosing them with holiday joy, a man playing Santa interviewed the children; joining them was another child. After the interview one of Santa’s helpers offered the kids a choice. Santa, Santa’s helper and the second child were all assistants of the researchers (i.e., the other child was not a subject in the experiment but someone playing a part). There were two conditions for the interview. In the first condition, Santa asked the child-subjects the traditional questions we tend to ask our kids in November and December; these were all along the lines of, “what do you want to get?” In the second interview condition, Santa asked the kids versions of, “what do you want to give?” (It’s thought provoking to watch the kdis struggle with the latter quesion.) The kids were then shuffled to Santa’s helper to make a decision. The child-subject was offered a choice of two pieces of hanukkahchocolate, with the knowledge that the piece they didn’t chose would go to the other child. One of the pieces of chocolate was much larger than the other. What was interesting is that 70% of the kids who were in the “what do you want?” condition chose the larger piece of candy. However, in the “what do you want to give?” condition, “50% more of the kids acted more generously” and took the smaller piece of candy (I think this means that 45% of the kids took the smaller piece of candy, as opposed to 30% in the other condition).

This YouTube video is not a research study published in a scholarly journal; for this reason we need to be even more cautious than normal in the conclusions we reach. However, I think this video is thought provoking and challenges all of us to wonder if we might do well by our kids to modify some of our holiday procedures (e.g., imagine that the people being interviewed were not cherubic children but fully grown adults). So, in the spirit of that concern, here are six tips:

1. Focus as least half of your questions to your child on what she or he plans to give. This isn’t about depriving you or your child of the traditional holiday “magic.” This is about encouraging you and your child to spend at least equal time on that which better promotes wellness.

2. Collaborate with your child on what she or he might give. This could certainly include purchases, but could also include acts of kindness, productions of art, or offerings of labor.

3. Join in a project of sending holiday cards to loved ones. (Cards personalized with your child’s input are likely to be better received anyway.) Of course, you can prioritize how much your child contributechristmas squirrel with notes based on who the card is going to and your child’s age.

4. If your child needs cash for presents you might allow him or her to do extra chores to earn what you previously would have just forked over.

5. Consider a family kindness project such as giving to a food bank, helping at a soup kitchen, giving away used toys and clothes to charity or giving to a family in need. Be sure to collaborate in choosing a project and discuss what it felt like afterwards.

6. Write gratitude letters to each other. (Enter the term “gratitude letter” in the search bar above for some guidance.)

By the way, this isn’t about aspiring to live on a higher moral road for it’s own sake. This is about trying to live on a higher moral ground because that is what promotes happiness and wellness.

I_Am_documentary_2011_PosterHere’s a 7th tip thrown in for good measure: watch the movies Happy and I Am over the holidays (streaming choices are also available); both of these movies are projects of Tom Shadyac; Mr. Shadyac, IMHO, is a contemporary prophet (i.e., someone who offers initially uncomfortable, but ultimately life giving, counsel that challenges common perspectives that make people sick). In an interesting and engaging manner, both of these movies review aspects of what the field of positive psychology indicates promotes happiness. If your kids are old enough to sit through and appreciate these movies, family discussions about them could serve as a catalyst for life-giving changes in the new year. Otherwise, watch them on your own or with your significant other; I think you’ll be glad you did!

Four Holiday Stress Busters for Parents

Of course, the holidays are quite stressful, even as they offer us joy. There is less light. The weather is colder. Your life’s circumstances may not be in concert with a “joy to the world” message (e.g., you’ve suffered a recent loss, your child is ill). You may be faced with having to interact more with people with whom you have less than a peaceful relationship. There is a lot of hustling and bustling and, of course, financial pressures often mount. So, I’d like to review a few stress busters. I’m not going to cover obvious ones such as maintaining a good diet (avoiding processed foods and intoxication and eating fruits, veggies, Omega-3, etc.), getting enough sleep (8-9 hours/night) or getting enough physical activity (as one clinician put it, get some physical activity on any day that you eat). Instead I’d like to cover a few that may be less in the front of your mind. I’ll first review a common trap and then suggest one potential antidote.

Trap #1: To overspend

Antidote: Focus on relationships

Discussion: At some point in time it got embedded in our collective parental psyches that acquiring a lot of expensive stuff for our kids is the way to give them a magical holiday experience. And, if we don’t, we guilt ourselves with the notion that we may be depriving our kids. However, our research indicates that shared positive experiences with us is much, much more important to our kids’ happiness. For many years I’ve been asking people, up and down the age spectrum, for their best and worse memories. I can’t remember the last time someone told me that a best memory was the acquisition of some expensive thing. But, I’ve had countless people recount a family ritual or interpersonal moment as a best memory. For some ideas on ways to promote holiday magic, mystery and meaning for your kids, on pocket change, click here.

Trap #2: Act like you don’t have limitations

Antidote: Kind declines

Discussion: We know that our possessions all have their limitations and we are not surprised when our things break if we ignore those limitations. Many of us are also aware of our kids’ limits and likewise try to not exceed them. However, we often act like we are the only humans on the planet who don’t have limits. We work, serve, transport, host, donate, wrap, bake, cheat sleep and pin-ball around creation like frenetic hamsters on crack. On a related note, it is interesting to me that when I suggest to parents that one way to become more fulfilled and happy is to love more effectively many will respond with things like “how can I be expected to give more?!” Or,” My veins are empty doctor so I have no more to give!” However, this may be more of a western, industrialized bias as many other traditions realize that loving and cherishing oneself goes hand-in-hand with loving others. Sometimes one of the most loving things we can do for those around us is to realize our limitations and graciously decline invitations and pleas for us to exceed those limits.

Trap #3: Letting one’s mind or body be tense for extended periods of time

Antidote: Daily calming

Discussion: I don’t know how much the Dali Lama would be willing to participate in the crazy busy lifestyle many of us lead during the holidays. But, if he did, even he’d likely experience a tense body and mind. When our minds and/or bodies remain in a tense state for extended periods of time we become more susceptible to an assortment of physical and psychological symptoms (e.g., headaches, irritability, stomach pain, sadness, worsening of illnesses, anxiety). One way to combat this is to create a daily practice of calming ourselves and focusing just on the moment before us in a non-judgmental way. Some sample ways of doing this include starting a meditation practice (e.g., click here), using biofeedback strategies (e.g., for a device you can purchase click here), doing a pleasing and relaxing activity that limits our focus (e.g., knitting, going for a walk in nature) or just trying to sit still and quiet for a few minutes (e.g., click here). Even 10 minutes a day portends to offer dividends over time.

Trap #4: Maintaining unrealistic expectations

Antidote: Acceptance

Discussion: Despite years of experience that would suggest the value in throttling down our expectations, many of us go into the holidays expecting to engineer heaven on earth for ourselves and others. As the old saying goes “people make plans and God chuckles.” I think its fine to make plans, and even ambitious ones (as long as the previous traps are avoided). However, we do well to accept whatever comes along knowing that obstacles, surprises and changes are woven into the fabric of our lives. (To read more about how this antidote applies to holiday meals with family, click here.)

Here’s wishing for a meaningful holiday season for you and those you love. And, if you have other ideas for holiday stress busters I’m very interested to learn about them.

Using Gratitude Letters to Create Authentic Holiday Joy

black woman pointing to the sideAs reader’s of this blog or my parenting book know, the science of positive psychology has a great deal to offer us regarding how to be happy. One of my all time favorite strategies is to write a gratitude letter. Below are the stops and a link to a brief video where I describe the strategy.

Step #1: Identify a person towards whom you feel a significant amount of unexpressed gratitude. This might be a person who knows about some of the gratitude you feel but not all of it. This gratitude can be recent or ancient. You can also rotate writing a gratitude letter within a family: week #1 is moms turn, then eldest son’s, then dad’s, etc. Then everyone writes a gratitude letter for the person whose turn it is.

house with arrow upwardStep #2: Hand write a legible letter of about 300 words. Don’t worry about a precise word count, just land somewhere in that ballpark. (The handwritten nature of the letter produces a more personal feel and indicates more effort on your part.)

Step #3: Schedule a meeting with the person, but don’t tell her or him about your letter. The surprise tends to make the experience more powerful.

Step #4: Read your letter to the person. Don’t chicken out and hand it over for the person to read as that stands to significantly weaken the experience. Don’t worry if you get misty or cry as such usually adds meaning for the other person; plus you probably won’t be the only one.

Step #5: Give your letter to the person.

Here is a video  where I briefly describe gratitude Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 10.43.31 AMletters (click on the image):

I’ve done this myself, had families do it in my office and asked my students to do it. I find that just about everyone (myself included) is surprised by how powerful of an emotional experience it proves to be. The research also suggests that the writer of the letter can experience a bump in happiness for a few weeks afterwards. So, give it a try it and see how much power you have to manufacture happiness in your life and the life of another.

Parenting a Depressed Teen During the Holidays

depressedThe holiday season can be harder than other times of the year for people who are depressed. When someone is struggling with depression he feels estranged from himself and the world around him as a baseline position. Then, when that world temporarily gets even more unlike him (i.e., emphasizing cheer), his sense of estrangement can worsen. For this and other reasons, parenting a teen who is depressed during the holiday season can quite challenging.

Before I offer some tips, let me offer a very important proviso. Imagine you had a kid with significant dental pain and you wondered, “what meals should I prepare that best accommodate her condition?” That seems like a useful question, but only if your daughter is receiving, or is about to receive, professional dental care. Without the dental care, cooking interventions would probably be like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It is the same thing with depression in a teenager. The tips below are best considered and rendered within a context of a kid already getting good mental health care (e.g., an evidence based talking therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy).

All that said, here are seven tips to consider:

• Collaborate with your teen, and ideally your teen’s treatment provider, regarding a holiday plan (e.g., which activities to do and which to set aside). Your teen’s depression would have him bail out on most, if not all, activities and that is usually a mistake. Likewise, you may be tempted to insist on 100% participation, and that can be a mistake as well. Your expert’s assistance can increase the odds that you’ll find the adaptive middle ground.

• Do what you do for your teen without the expectation that such will cheer her african woman's half faceup. We parent-lunatics hurt when our kid hurts, and often worse. So, it’s very natural for us to try to cheer up our depressed teen. However, if we set up the expectation that our intervention will result in our teen showing us a better mood we risk becoming frustrated and adding to the stress on our teen.

• Accept your teen’s moods as they come. These moods can be like the weather. Sure, you’ve laid out a nice picnic and here comes a rainstorm, and that sucks. You can rage at the weather (and that can take many, many forms) or pitch a tent, realizing that the weather is outside your control, and enjoy what is possible to enjoy.

• Resist trying to reassure your teen out of a negative thought. While such encouragement can often help someone who is not depressed, to a depressed person reassurances can sound like, “you don’t have anything to feel sad about so stop it,” which can then cause the depressed person to become even more adamant about his negative thinking. This is another instance where your teen’s therapist can be very helpful in coaching you how to respond (e.g., “I think that’s your depression convincing you of a painful lie. I believe the reality isn’t nearly as painful as your depression’s lie); the technique of thought testing can also be very helpful here (e.g., see my parenting book or a future edition of this blog).

• Don’t allow extended family to hassle your teen regarding his depression. Loved ones can say some pretty hurtful things sometimes in their authentic desire to be helpful. Your teen’s therapist can help you to figure out your methods for doing this in a way that respects your teen’s privacy and independence.

teen diinterested face• Regularly let your teen know, without overdoing it, that you love her, that she is not alone and you understand that it sucks to be feeling what she is feeling.

• If your teen is or could be suicidal, get him in front of an expert ASAP and don’t leave him alone until you do. Consider this to be a life-or-death emergency as you certainly don’t want your baby to be one of the two million U.S. teens who attempt suicide each year.

Geez. Tough stuff huh? Sorry to be such a downer. But, hopefully there’s a helpful tip or two here for you. Regardless, I hope you and your have a wonderful holiday season!


Dos and Don’ts Regarding Self-Esteem Development

parents kissing kidThe promotion of health self-esteem is an agenda on many parents’ short list. The research suggests that there are two components to self-esteem: a sense of worthiness and a sense of competence. Below I will review how to facilitate both as well as how to avoid promoting self-entitlement.

Promoting worthiness

This seems to come from experiencing quality attachments in which a child feels inherently loved and valued. Readers of this blog and my parenting book know I advocate a weekly exercise called special time (this link offers a free download on how to do this exercise). Special time involves providing one hour a week of one-on-one positive attention to each child. In my years of introducing parents to special time, I find two common reactions: an initial thought that “this won’t be hard to do,” followed up with the subsequent insight that it is very, very hard to do weekly and happens only when a parent makes it a top priority.

I think we naturally think of our relationships as things we’ll invest in child hand cuts out adult hand skyonce life’s obligations have been met. Relationships are for tomorrow, duty is for today. However, life’s obligations are rarely sated, so we end up treating our relationships like cacti instead of the orchids that they are. Special time not only combats this common trap but it also goes a long way towards promoting a child’s sense of worthiness.

Promoting competence

Another theme in my writings has been sharing how to identify and promote a child’s strengths in the world (e.g., enter the word “strengths” in the search bar above or see Chapter Two in my parenting book). One of the top jobs that we have as parents is to help our child to discover his or her top strengths. Once we then know the strengths, we do well to both promote them and to put them on display. The inherent sense of competence that a child can subsequently develop goes a long way to promoting both self-esteem and resilience.

paint on handsThis reflection is also germane when guiding high school students in vocational planning. Instead of the common: “what career would allow me to make the most amount of money, given how much I’m willing to sacrifice to my education, so that I can do what I really want to do on the weekends and vacations?,” we might ask: “in what career might I best use my top strengths to make the most meaningful impact in this world?” Clearly, practical questions are important. But, I worry about what happens when they are front loaded in the deliberation or, worse yet, they are the only consideration.

Avoiding the promotion of self-entitlement

The following are some common parental behaviors that can promote self-entitlement. Note that no parent that I’ve ever met has tried to turn  his or her child into a narcissist. Hence, these behaviors are usually done with good intentions. It’s just that they tend to have the exact opposite intended effect when they are practiced habitually.

• Praising or complementing a kid for poor or pedestrian performance. what's your planAttend most little league games and you’ll hear compliments rendered for grounding out or making a bad throw. In these instances, we may be compromising our credibility (e.g., when someone has told you that 2 + 2 = 5 do you go to that person for math help?) or promoting self-entitlement.

• Praising in the abstract. “You’re smart” or “you’re kind” or any other praise that is not anchored in appropriate context, if offered as a pattern, can foster a poor outcome.

• Overpraising our child. We do well to try to keep the dosing of our praise commensurate with our child’s performance. Throwing a parade, when a behavior isn’t parade worthy, if done routinely, promotes a sense of unrealistic specialness.

discussion with teen• Being afraid to let a child know that she or he is wrong or has made a mistake. Timing and wording are key, as is avoiding becoming overly negative and critical, of course. That said, blocking our kid from knowing that she or he has erred may compromise our work to ready our child to be effective in the world.

• Over subscribing responsibility for poor outcomes to others besides our child. When our kid hurts we hurt worse. For this reason it’s easier to think that someone else has treated or evaluated our child unfairly than it is to look within our child or our family for responsibility. If used as a general copying style, this pattern can inculcate within our child the intuition that others are at fault when she or he fails.

• Protecting our child from the consequences of his or her choices. See other articles on this blog site for some possible exceptions to this guideline (e.g., a given consequence would break our child). Generally speaking though, routinely protecting our child from such consequences promotes a sense of unhealthy specialness, as well as compromising our child’s opportunity to improve. If done habitually, it can leave our child expecting others to protect him or her from the consequences of his or her choices. It’s remarkable to me, as a college professor, how many young adults want me to excuse them from an outcome because he or she is a good person who tried hard or mehappy hispanic family3ant well.

As always, if your child is struggling with self-esteem, or you want tailored advice for your parenting, consider seeking out the services of a qualified child psychologist. For a referral, click here. Finally, I’m going to be participating in a live Google Hangout on this topic on 11/25/14 at 3:30 EST. If you’d like to log on, for free, click here:


What Can I Do If My Kid is Being Socially Excluded?

bullying3If your child is being socially excluded it can happen for so, so many reasons. This entry offers some questions to consider.

  • Is this long standing or a newer problem? If the problem is longstanding, please consider taking it to a good child psychologist. You can get a referral here. Several of the questions in this entry might not be useful to you without such assistance. If it’s a newer problem it may be one you can come to understand and remediate on your own.
  • Do you know how your child might be contributing to the problem? To ask this question is to not blame your child or to suggest that it’s his or her fault. For example, a kid might be experiencing social rejection because she has been overwhelmed by the volume of school work and has cried in class. There is usually some manner in which a child collaborates with this problem. So figuring that out can go a long way to developing a plan for remediation.
  • Is this problem worth discussing with either the school or other adults? This comes down to the severity of the exclusion. A kid not getting invited to a birthday party would probably not typically trigger involving other adults, as doing so could risk making the problem worse. However, a kid being excluded from a class activity or being physically bullied would usually be worth consulting over.
  • Does your child have at least one significant competency that she or competencehe is showing to the world? If yes, great. If no, your child might be projecting insecurity to the social world, which is like having a target on his or her chest. (Enter the word “strengths” in the search bar above to learn more.)
  • Is your child manifesting any symptom within his or her social world? Crying, being overly self-critical, being aggressive and hyperkinesis are examples of the sorts of behaviors–albeit unfairly–that can get a kid rejected. In these instances it may be very helpful to seek out a referral for an evaluation.
  • Has your child been letting others know that the rejection bothers him or her? It’s usually not a good idea to let the social world at large know that a given rejection is painful as that can provide fodder for the gossip mill.

bullying4• Has there been a dust up with one or more kids recently? These simple misfires are common, especially among girls (how you adult women survived the middle school years is beyond me). Rather than trying to get to the bottom of who said or did what to whom and why, you might arrange for a sleep over or another fun social event (e.g., a trip to an amusement or water park) with at least the other kid or kids in question. You put enough fun in front of these kids and minor skirmishes may die out on their own, assuming that’s all they were.

A few things to avoid:

√ Discussing any of these matters with any of the other kids. It’s possible to walk through such a minefield unscathed but there are just way too many ways for you or your child to get blown up.

√ Doing an intervention plan that your child strongly objects to. The only general exception to this, that I can think of right now, would be in instances when your child is being physically or seriously bullied.

√ Encouraging your child to try to fight fire-with-fire. This is different peacefrom training your kid to engage in effective social banter (e.g., how to tease back when being teased). This involves not encouraging your kid to try to out ostracize another kid or to encourage retaliation. This is like giving your kid ice cream in an effort to improve his or her physical fitness.

√ Supporting your child trying to solve this problem through social media. Yikes. Talking about a potentially explosive solution.

As I always do, let me bring out my dead horse and say: get a pro on the job if your kid is hurting over this in a serious way or if the problem is persisting. A good child psychologist can be amazingly helpful!

Seven Tips for Coping with Homework Hell

So, the first quarter report cards have come home. If you’re fortunate your progeny has done well. Otherwise, you may be wondering if the homework hell you’re experiencing has anything to do with the lower than expected grades. Here ere are seven tips to help.

• Tip #1: incentivize effective homework completion. First define what effective homework completion means (e.g., a certain amount of time legitimately exerted without hassling anyone). Then establish what reward your child will earn by effectively completing the homework. The more problematic the behavior the bigger the incentive and the more it should follow immediately upon homework completion. For instance, if Aiden lives for his X-box One, that might be earned by completing homework effectively each night. Be careful to put this as a reward, instead of a punishment. Xbox is earned, or not earned, not taken away. After so many days of effective homework completion Aiden might be allowed to earn a bonus (e.g., a new X-box game).

• Tip #2: Consider an excessive violation of the 10-minute guideline to be potentially problematic. Research suggests that there is often a diminishing academic return when students spend more than 10 minutes a night on homework times their grade in school (i.e., a 5th grader spending 50 minutes, a 7th grader, 70, and so forth). If your child is spending much more time than this consider tips #3 and #7. (NB: if your child is a high school student taking honors and/or advanced placement classes, this guideline will probably not apply. However, if the report card is suggesting that there are problems, perhaps take this question to an expert–see tip #7)

• Tip #3: Consult with your child’s teachers when homework is problematic. For instance, your child’s teacher(s) may not realize that your child is spending an excessive amount of time completing homework, especially in the middle school years and onward (i.e., teachers may not be coordinating their expectations). For example, asking your child’s teacher(s) what he/she/they believe is a reasonable amount of time to spend on homework each night can begin a productive dialogue.

• Tip #4: Try to avoid getting hung up on methods if the goal is being reached. Sometimes we parents try to over control how our child does his or her homework without considering whether or not he or she might get it done well using his or her preferred method(s). Some kids like music on, or to do homework on a bed, etc. As long as the homework gets completed, that’s okay.

• Tip #5: If your child isn’t being truthful about what the homework is, see if the teachers put the homework online. If the homework isn’t online, or a given teacher is spotty about compliance, add a communication system from school to home. This daily communication should include the grades that were returned that day (if any), the homework for the night and any long term assignments that are due; you might also add a report on any behaviors that might be of concern (e.g., treating peers with respect). Compliance with this system should also be incentivized. (This can be a complicated system, so see my parenting book for a step-by-step break down of the how-tos.)

• Tip #6:If you can afford this, and your child needs it, consider hiring a tutor to help with homework (not to do the homework, but to help with it). There are many well trained educators looking to do such work; you might also get names for tutors from your child’s school or PTA.

Tip #7: If your child is working at it, but floundering, consult with a child psychologist. It may be that your child has a learning disability or a psychological obstacle that is at play (e.g., a mood problem that s/he has been keeping from you). A skilled child psychologist can get to the bottom of things and suggest an effective remedial plan. For a referral, click here.


Start Early with Citizen Training

family pointingTuesday is Election Day. What a great opportunity to engage children in the precious responsibility we all share as citizens: selecting our government officials. Here are 9 tips to help (please note that some of these are ongoing and would follow this particular Election Day):

• Take your kid(s) with you to vote. Observing you taking part in the political process creates a deeper impression than lectures. Make the morning even more special by taking your kid(s) out to breakfast before hand and discussing what will happen.

• Pick a few issues that are in dispute among those you will be voting for. Objectively review the position of both sides, keeping your position a secret. Then, ask your child what s/he thinks. Try to avoid influencing your child, instead encourage him or her to think as deeply about the issue(s) as s/he may. You might follow up by investigating the issue(s) further online or otherwise.

• If there is a candidate you strongly support, call that person’s local campaign office and ask if you can help, and if your child can tag along. If ever there is such a thing as an educational field trip, this would be it.

• Invite your child to follow the election results with you, cheering for anyone that you are both rooting for.girl writing learning

• See if your child’s teacher, or one of your child’s teachers, might be interested in doing a class discussion on some of the political issues at hand. Again, the emphasis here would not be on proselytizing a perspective (which could get a teacher in deep trouble) but on helping kids learn how to think through an issue and the value of engaging the political process. Perhaps the class, or the school at large, might hold a mock election.

• Consider asking a given politician’s campaign office, at other times during the campaign cycle, if it would be helpful for you to go door-to-door or make calls on the candidates behalf, inviting your child to join you.

• Consgo the extra mileider, together with your child, whether it would be a good idea to join one or more political associations. If your child is old enough perhaps s/he might obtain his or her own membership.

• Consider, together with your child, whether you might want to donate money to a political cause.

• Consider taking your child to a rally of a candidate you both support.

I won’t finish with platitudes that you already know regarding why voting is important, and what was sacrificed by so many others so that we might have this right. Instead, I’ll close with a self-disclosure. My wife, Lia, has done a great job with this with our kids. I’ve seen how deeply impactful this has been on all three of them, with my eldest writing about these experiences in her college application essays and joyfully actualizing her own right to vote at the very first possible moment; for Morgan, not exercising an opportunity to vote falls just short of a crime. Moreover, all three of my kids think and argue about a wide assortment of political issues, with great passion. So, I’ve seen, first hand, how effective these strategies can be for molding and igniting responsible and engaged citizens.

We Disagree. Now what?! (Part 2)

alienation, long termIn last week’s entry I discussed how parents who live together might handle parenting disputes. This week I’ll tackle the same issue for parents who live apart.

As I discussed last week, when parents who live together argue frequently about parenting it can be a sign that the relationship’s maintenance is poor. In the case of parents who don’t live together, frequent conflict with the other parent can be a sign that a peaceful co-existence, post separation or divorce, has not been established, or has been undone. For tips on how to establish this peace, please enter the search term “parenting through divorce” in the search bar above. Moreover, all of the tips from last week’s blog (i.e., Part 1) would be useful in this context as well.

Here are 10 additional suggestions:

  • Agree that when kids are at each residence, and assuming that significant risk of harm has been ruled out, each parent at that residence is in charge. It’s often best for the non-residential birth parent to just stay out of it.
  • Try to have a regular meeting with the other parent (e.g., coffee, lunch) where you review what’s going on with your kid(s). Open communication can stave off many kinds of problems.
  • Do everything you can to stay out of court. In my clinical experience, divorce graphic2everyone loses something when a gavel settles a parental dispute. (I’ve seen many instances when one parent was the official “winner” in court but didn’t factor in the ongoing costs of the other parent feeling resentful, anger or hurt secondary to the outcome.)
  • When asking for the other parent to contribute financially to something, and referencing matters that aren’t a part of the initial divorce decree, try to make it a request that isn’t, and doesn’t sound even remotely like, a demand or a manipulation. (And, even when it’s in the decree, niceness goes a long way.)
  • Try avoid getting into the “s/he was a jerk to me so I’m not going to be nice” spiral. High road life is hard enough without making residence embattled young couplethere dependent on someone else’s choices.
  • Avoid communicating when you are suffering from transient brain dysfunction (e.g., you’re angry, have consumed alcohol, are highly stressed). Moreover, avoid name-calling or bringing up old business. If in doubt about this, ask yourself how well these strategies have worked in the past.
  • Point out what you’re grateful for and suggest that your kids do the same.
  • Avoid letting your current significant other get into the mix, unless you’re very confident that s/he will only have a calming effect.
  • Unless you have a fabulously cooperative relationship with the other parent, try to avoid using the other parent as a messenger of some third party’s important communication regarding your child. When teachers, physicians, coaches and so forth have something important yes i canto share regarding your child, try to be a part of the original communication; if you can’t be, ask if that third party would be willing to speak with you also. Triangles tend to be fertile soil for misunderstandings and conflict.
  • Avoid texting when a communication has a chance of being misunderstood or causing tension. Pick up the phone or wait until the aforementioned coffee or lunch.

There are a bunch of experts available to help if this gets challenging. For a referral, click here.

We Disagree. Now What?! (Part 1)

couple alienatedIt can be fairly stressful when parents disagree about a parenting issue. This week I will address strategies for parents who are still living together. Next week, I will address families  in which the parenting occurs across two households.

The first thing to assess is how often these disagreements are occurring. If they seem to be occurring on a regular basis, I’d wonder whether this is a symptom of a poor maintenance schedule in your relationship. Couples who practice good maintenance regularly (1) have fun together, (2) have mutually enjoyed sex, (3) share what’s going on and (4) avoid going toxic in disputes. If one or more of those are off with in your relationship, consider addressing that less you continue to put out bush fires while the house is on fire.

Here are eight tips for managing the discussion once you sit down to resolve the parenting conflict:

  • Try to avoid having this discussion in front of your child or letting family stressyour child triangulate you (i.e., playing you off of each other).
  • Start out by recognizing the good goals that you both have for your child. No matter the context of the conflict, most parents want good things (e.g., for him to be sociable, for her to be physically fit, for him to be safe). It’s disagreement over the methods that causes the conflict. Starting out recognizing you’re on the same page regarding your goals can soften the tension and help you to understand each other better.
  • happy latino coupleTry stating your partner’s position back to him or her. You should do this from your partner’s perspective, not yours. Don’t include qualifiers, or breakdowns in your partner’s reasoning. Simply say back to your partner what you hear his or her position as being, in as kind and empathic as a form as you can. Letting your partner know that s/he is heard can promote functional next steps.
  • Acknowledge any mistakes you may have made up until this point in time. Try to do this in as open and non-defensive of a way as you can. This also can facilitate openness in your partner.
  • Endeavor to communicate well even if your partner doesn’t. So often when couples break down, it’s because of the tallying or counting that goes on (ie.g., “I admitted to my faults but all she did was agree without owning any of her faults”). It’s good for you and for the relationship if you can be empathic with your partner, and own your mistakes, even if your partner doesn’t reciprocate.problemsolving
  • Consider getting outside consultation when there is some expertise that might resolve the matter (e.g., what side effects are commonly found when a kid takes a medication, how a college might value a kid having attended a debate camp).
  • If you cannot get on the same page, and barring that significant neglect or abuse would occur or continue if you did nothing, a change from the current would not normal be made unless you both agree. Said another way, changes shouldn’t normally occur unless you are both on the same page. This can make it seem like the one who doesn’t want the change has more power. But, it’s more about respecting that you both should agree before the status quo can be modified.

blocking a processSix things I would usually suggest avoid doing.

  • Being secretive. Secret parenting suggests that there is a larger problem in the relationship.
  • Deciding what to do based only on what other parents are doing; this is a source of information, yes. But, the herd sometimes strolls through minefields.
  • Letting your kid beat you down from your agreed upon strategy with pestering. Want to experience more pestering? Just follow this strategy. (Note: this is different from when your child forwards new data that you and your partner hadn’t considered. In these instances, you might decide to reconvene and reconsider.)
  • Not stating what you think is advisable because you’re concerned about upsetting your partner. This also suggests that there is a larger problem in the relationship (e.g., codependency).
  • Bullying your partner into seeing it your way. This often comes with a long term price tag that can be most unpleasant and drastic.
  • Failing to get your kid’s full perspective before making the decision. This doesn’t mean that your kid is in the room when you and your spouse hash it out. But, knowing what your kid thinks about the issues can help you to empower him or her when it’s appropriate to do so.hope sign

Bogged down? Broken down on the highway of your family life? Well, call 9-1-1.




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