Got a strong-willed child?

Make your life easier by avoiding these two parenting traps.

Strong-willed kids know what they want and they feel determined to get it. Your opinion is heard, but just doesn’t carry as much weight as it does for a child who loves to please. Strong-willed kids like to learn experientially (just because you TELL them the ground is hot, doesn’t mean they are going to believe you until they try it for themselves). If your child has a strong desire to be in charge of themselves and follow through on their own ideas, this blog is for you. 

Raising a strong-willed preschooler takes a lot of work, patience and parenting savvy. As they grow older, their determination can be directed at things other than defying MOM & DAD. Often, these children will direct their passion towards women’s rights, animal rights, or other causes they feel strongly about. It can be a joy to watch these strong-willed kids make their mark on the world. 

HOWEVER, parenting them when they are little is a big job! We have to try and keep them ALIVE in order for them to change the world and we’ve got to watch out for the dreaded POWER STRUGGLE. Power struggles are a lose-lose situation (click here to read my blog about power struggles) and one of the biggest reasons we get into them is our desire to be a good mom. 

We often don’t even realize that our beliefs about being a good mom have been triggered. We might have subconscious beliefs that sound like this:

A good mom has a kids who get good grades and go to college.

A good mom has kids who eat healthy foods and bathe regularly.

A good mom doesn’t have children with depression or anxiety.

My strong-willed daughter is crispy red right now with a horrible sunburn. This triggers my “I’m a bad Mom” because a “good mom” wouldn’t let this happen.

I tried to put sunscreen on her. I offered, I cajoled, I reminded, but she’s a strong-willed 13 year old and I can only do so much to protect her fair Irish skin. I have learned that if she’s going to make smart choices, it has to be her idea, not mine. If I stay out of it and act like I don’t care, I’m hoping the pain of the sunburn will teach her all she needs to know. (I was hoping her Dad’s skin cancer treatments might send the message but NOT YET!) 

In order to not enter into a power struggle, I have to believe I am still a good Mom, even while she has a terrible sunburn and is damaging her skin.

I have clients who struggle in these areas:

Am I still a good Mom even if my son doesn’t go to college?

Can I be happy and proud of myself as a parent, even if my daughter is depressed?

What if he does break every bone in his body? Can I still think I’ve done my job as his Mom?

Don’t put your ability to believe you’re a good parent, in the hands of your children. It’s a disaster waiting to happen!  It makes us cling with fear and ferocity, to the manner in which our children live their lives. When they sense how invested we are in their behavior, it’s a recipe for rebellion. If you’ve got a strong willed child, notice where your biggest triggers are and consider the idea that you could be a great Mom, no matter what they do. Make room for imperfection in yourself and your children. It will make your life so much easier and your child won’t feel the need to rebel against you.

Believing we are good parents will make parenting a strong-willed child easier, more enjoyable, and pave a quicker path to happiness (and maybe even compliance) for the both of you.

One Habit Happy Parents Have in Common

Do this one thing today to help create more cooperative kids and happier parents.

There is one thing you can do today to have happier, more responsible, self-confident kids. PRAISE THEM. I don’t just mean “You are a great kid” or other general statements. I mean specific, timely, honest praise that gets you more of what you want.  Let’s say you have a 10 year old slob living in your home. He leaves food, shoes, backpacks and smelly socks everywhere. It drives you bonkers. You are constantly bouncing back and forth between frustration, nagging and hopelessness. Turn your attention and try to catch him doing SOMETHING towards your goal of cleanliness. “I noticed that instead of kicking off your shoe so that it would fly and hit the ceiling, you wedged it off and left it in the entry way. Thanks for aiming closer to it’s designated spot, I really appreciate your effort in helping our house stay tidy.”  Even if it’s nearly impossible to find something praise worthy, keep trying and look for the slightest nudge towards what you want. 

Perhaps you live with a surly, private 13 year old whose moods change on a dime. If you want to reinforce more steady, polite behavior, find a moment to praise it. “I notice when your friend came to the door, you were polite and sociable. That must have been hard since you were so grumpy a minute earlier. Being able to manage your emotions is a wonderful life skill and I’m impressed you are learning it at such a young age.”

You don’t want to lie or be sarcastic. Just find one small, incremental movement that demonstrates effort in the direction you want to see. Notice my title says “One thing happy PARENTS have in common”.  Sure, this will help your children be happy, but so will happier parents!  It’s just too easy to see the shortcomings in our kids, especially during adolescence. When we only see the negative in our kids it feels heavy and yucky to us, and to them. Focusing on what our kids are doing well will make everyone feel happier and more at peace. Try it today. Pick a behavior that bugs you and then find something to praise about it. “You brought your dish to the sink!” “Sharing space on your plate with a vegetable takes courage and that zucchini sat there the whole time!”  “I noticed how when you got angry with your sister, you went to your room to cool off instead of letting it escalate.” “You remembered you have a test tomorrow!” “You still brush your teeth every night even though I stopped reminding you!  You are so responsible!”

Avoid “You are so smart” or “Great Job” or anything fixed like intelligence, appearance, talent or skill. The key is to praise their EFFORT, something they have power over changing. Find something every day to praise, you will never regret it!

Is too much technology stressing out our kids?

Kids, Stress, Technology and BUFFERING? 

Our bodies are designed to live outside, moving constantly, with very little noise and external input distracting our brain. Once a year MAYBE a stampede of animals would go by and cause a ruckus or a group of travelers might come through. The thought of living in one place with only familiar faces, eating the exact same food, and doing the same activities day after day, seems immensely boring to me. But it always helps me to remember that our brains and bodies were not designed to handle the level of excitement and external stimulation we get today. What is the cost to our kids of this extreme level of input coming at us 24/7  video games, TV’s, social media alerts and advertisers, all promising MORE EXCITEMENT for a slice of our attention?

Kids show us how they are feeling through their behavior. Parents, noticing their kids stress levels rising, are wondering what is causing so much stress and how they can help?

Modern life creates an unnatural environment for kids. Asking them to sit on hard chairs inside four walls with people they don’t have intimate connections with, is an automatic stress. We want them to listen to someone else’s ideas the majority of the day, keeping an eye on the clock, always looking for the next blast of input. The absence of down time, time to connect with other people time, time to create and get lost in the imagination, time to explore nature and be in the body is unnatural for kids. Time to be inside our own heads without external input allows kids to process the stress of the day and feel refreshed and ready to learn.

We can help our kids by encouraging buffering, to prevent buffering. (WHAT? One word – two meanings – too much fun!)

Just like the spinning wheel on your computer, kids need time to “buffer” or process all the input they’ve taken in during their day. If you have too many windows open on your computer, things get bogged down and overwhelmed. Rather than yelling, crying or melting down, your computer takes a pause, refuses to do more work, until it has processed all that is happening. Kids can “buffer” or process their day by talking, walking, riding bikes, skateboarding, staring into space, creating something, any quiet, repetitive, physical activity. Today’s kids might CLAIM that video games and netflix help them relax but actually it creates a different kind of buffering.

The other “buffering” is what we do to protect us from a stressful world. Like padding on the walls, we buffer ourselves from our own emotions and our own bodies so that we can’t notice how stressed we are. This kind of buffering PREVENTS us from processing and keeps us stuck in a loop that’s hard to get out of. If you’ve ever gone on vacation but took a few days to relax into vacation mode, your constant work load or input addictions were creating a kind of buffering for you. Adults use work, alcohol, food, worrying, clutter, busy-ness, any number of things to buffer ourselves from our genuine emotions. Kids, more and more, are using electronic input to buffer themselves from an overwhelming world.

What can you do to help? 

Remember that neighborhood park you took them to in preschool?  Go there (or let kids go by themselves?) Hang out. It might take a while for them to remember how to entertain themselves.  It’s different than going to “practice” where someone is telling you what to do. Celebrate boredom. Let them see you relaxing. it’s painful to step off the grid but keep at it. Just like you on vacation, it might take a few days but eventually you settle in and it feels delightful.

Fake a blackout. Pretend the power went out, light candles and let yourselves be bored together. Tell stories, play charades, or just do nothing. It was eye opening to see how early my family got sleepy without TV entertainment and artificial lights!

Go camping or visit state parks. There is something about being around water, trees, and fire that connects with our primal brain and tells it to relax. I’m always amused to see kids who have trouble paying attention in class, spend five straight hours burning stuff at a campfire pit.

Music calms the savage beast. If you can’t live without electronics, choose relaxing music or audiobooks. It connects with a different and more relaxing part of the brain. Try www.gonoodle.com or simple habits app to use your electronic devices to encourage downtime.

If you see your kids staring into space, don’t interrupt them. That is very valuable time that is becoming more and more rare. Some kids like to process out loud, others need to process quietly inside their own heads. Be open and supportive to either one.

 

Sign up for my free webinar, Trust Your Gut, Not Your Snapchat Feed.

Does your child lack confidence?

Kids display a lack of confidence in many ways. Stressing themselves out/panicking, going above and beyond what is necessary to prove one’s worth, requiring peer approval before taking action, overly-apologizing with soft voice and meek posture, and, of course, avoiding activities they would like to do. Some kids will even act overly confident to hide their doubts and fears. If you ask your kid to share their strengths and weaknesses, and they say “I’m awesome and a genius” and cannot claim any weaknesses, they are hiding a lack of confidence.

Sensitive kids seem to be born with a general lack of confidence, others seem to grow more self-conscious and fearful once puberty kicks in. Either way, it can be hard for parents to watch their kids hold themselves back, stress themselves out, and avoid doing things they would really enjoy. Parents, too, lack confidence in certain areas so watching kids struggle can often bring their own insecurities up the the surface.

According to the brilliant Russ Harris in my favorite book on the subject, The Confidence Gap, people lack confidence for the following five reasons:

  1. Excessive expectations
  2. Harsh self-judgement
  3. Preoccupation with fear
  4. Lack of experience
  5. Lack of skill

I was one of those sensitive kids who seemed to be born lacking confidence. At a very young age, I picked up the belief “I have to say everything perfectly” (#1). Avoidance seemed like a better option than stress so I simply didn’t speak until I was about 12 when my extroverted personality couldn’t take the silence any more. Then I just started beating myself up for all the mistakes I made while speaking (#2) and combined that with my generally fearful demeanor (#3). All this first hand experience helps me move clients past the first three obstacles easily until they feel ready to take action. 

We all lack confidence because we all lack experience and skill in some area. If your kid was born naturally athletic, and has spent many hours cultivating her athletic skills, she probably feels confident in this arena. But getting in front of the class to give an oral report might be an area she has yet to cultivate this confidence.

If you’d like to help your child, and yourself, with confidence, here are a few things to remember.

  1. We all lack confidence in some areas and have it in others. Kids like to know they are normal and it’s ok. Think about things that used to scare you (roller coasters, swimming lessons) but are no longer scary. Overcoming fears comes with time and experience.
  2. You do not need to FEEL confident, in order to ACT confident. This is one area where “fake it till you make it” can be very helpful. Watch this TED Talk about body posture for inspiration.
  3. Facing fears is a part of life and courage doesn’t feel good. But the more you feel the fear and do it any way, the easier it will get.
  4. Commit to having your own back. Promise yourself you will say encouraging things no matter what the result. Be your own cheerleader and reward yourself for taking risks.
  5. Recognize perfectionistic thinking. “If I don’t succeed, I’m a failure”, “If I’m not the best, I’m the worst” “Nobody likes me”. Look out for black & white thinking and start creating shades of gray. “I’ll be proud of myself for trying”, “A B- in a class I hate is a victory”, “I’m learning how to make friends with all kinds of people”.
  6. Make friends with fear. It’s going to be with you your whole life. Make room in your body for it. Learn to recognize what it feels like, looks like, sounds like. Allow it to coexist with you and your life will be a great adventure. You get to choose the relationship you want to have with it.
  7. Parents can use their child’s doubts and fears, as an opportunity to recognize their own. What area would you like to have more confidence in?  How would it change things for you? If you’d like to feel more confident in your parenting, try scheduling an appointment today. 

 

Staying optimistic in a negative world

After spending time at my vision board party last weekend, and the march for human rights this weekend, I am filled with positivity and optimism for the future. But just like anytime you feel really joyful and happy, that little doubt-filled, scary feeling shortly follows. As I was walking the streets with a crowd oozing with love and support for all people, I couldn’t help but think, “Why couldn’t we have done this sooner? Why didn’t I show my support before the election?”

Staying in positive emotions is hard for many of us. Brene Brown calls it “foreboding joy”, the immense love and joy we feel with our precious newborn baby, followed quickly by the fear that our baby could stop breathing and that love could be taken away at any moment. Happiness and love makes us feel vulnerable. Appreciating what we have and dreaming about a positive future makes us feel naive or ignorant. We worry about being blindsided by something bad happening. The fear of “getting the rug pulled out from underneath us” keeps us on alert. Instead of enjoying all the wonderful things we currently have, we “wait for the other shoe to drop” so we can at least say we saw it coming. Or, if you are like me, you go to feeling guilty for not doing enough.

But here’s the thing, foreboding joy DOES NOT WORK! Worrying about something does not keep it from happening. Feeling guilty does not motivate positive action. Getting mad at yourself or others only creates more anger and an avoidance of love and positivity.

Sometimes we use negative emotion to motivate like calling oneself fat and lazy to get ourselves to the gym. If you get stuck in negative emotion try asking yourself “What immediate action step can I take today?”  If you are angry about the steps our new President is taking, call a Senator, join an organization, or donate to support your cause. If you feel guilty, forgive yourself. If you are worried about your health, make a dr. appt. If there isn’t a clear action step to take, then it’s not helpful and it’s time to let it go.

Love casts out fear, but it also motivates you to take positive action. What motivated you to play with your adorable one year old? LOVE! What motivates our young athletes to sweat in a stinky gym and get beat up by their peers? Love of the game! What motivates us to throw cutely themed birthday parties for our toddlers who won’t even notice or remember? Love! Who would you rather hire to babysit your kids: A worried, stressed out perfectionist who feels guilty if she does something wrong, or a joyful, loving person who adores your cute kid?

Love gets you hired. Love draws other positive people to you like a magnet. When you raise the bar on how much joy you can tolerate in your life, country, and planet, it shows other people how to do the same. My clients and children need me to stay in joy and optimism, but not denial. I don’t watch the news or listen to our new president talk, because it’s not helpful or productive and it makes it too easy to fall into fear. I maintain a positive Facebook feed and surround myself with kids and uplifting adults. This optimistic state allows me to coach my clients, inspire my children, support organizations I believe in and create a vision of a positive future.  When I slip into “not doing enough” guilt, or fear and anger, I catch it and coach myself on it, so I don’t have to go into my bubble and hide. Listen to your body and let it show you what actions are healthy for you, and which are toxic. If all you can think is what you DON’T want, it’s time for a negativity detox.

If there are certain topics or people you can’t listen to or tolerate, or if you are stuck in negative emotion, it’s worth taking the time to “clean it up”. Our country is going through quite the evolution and we need as many carriers of “love and light” as we can get. Schedule a life coaching session with me today, www.LifeCoachingforParents.com/work-with-me

This video helped me focus on creating a vision for our country I’d like to see. Someday, I’d like to see an advertisement like this for the United States. Enjoy!