Stealing, sneaking and lying about it

Question of the Day:

“Thanks so much for the podcast! I am really enjoying you approach and using it with my kids has helped a lot. 

My almost 8 year old has been sneaking and lying for a couple of years now. I used to keep candy around the house but stopped because she would steal it and keep it under her pillow or bring it to school. She steals little toys from school, toys from her sister and friends, and I even found $40 in her nightstand that she stole from my wallet. A couple of months ago she took our house keys without asking and lost them–she lied about it at first and then confessed. Nothing I do seems to help. 

When I confront her, I tell her to just ask for what she wants. She apologizes and seems remorseful — or maybe worried/scared because she is “in trouble”. I tell her that she’s down a bad path with this habit that could end up with shoplifting and juvenile hall (catastrophizing?). 

We have a bit of a personality clash because I am such a rule-follower. She is doing fantastic in school, her teachers rave about her but she does break rules sometimes. I am worried she will steal my jewelry next. She does have a lot of jealousy over her younger sister and sometimes explodes if she feels that her sister is getting more attention. Please help!    Esther

Parent Education Answer:

I want you to take a look at the things your daughter is sneaking: candy, toys, money, keys. She is taking treasures. Things that other people VALUE. Kids steal things that others value as a way to feel that value inside themselves. For whatever reason, your daughter doesn’t feel treasured and thinks that taking other treasures will help her get this emotion. 

The jealousy she has over her sister and the perception that she gets more attention all point to a feeling of unworthiness. 

When adults feel unworthy, they often find external ways to feel more valuable. We might go shopping for nice things, shrink ourselves down to conform to society’s definition of beauty, or try to make people like us.

Think about it like this: It’s the end of a rough day, you are just settling in to watch your Netflix show. The thought, “I have ice cream in the freezer” comes to mind. You promised yourself you wouldn’t snack at night. You don’t like what the scale tells you. You want to eat healthy food. Most of the time you resist the urge but sometimes, you cave. You say to yourself, “I deserve it” “I earned it” and you indulge. 

It’s similar to what your daughter is doing. Most of the time, she resists the urge. Occasionally, especially when it’s been a particularly rough day, she gives in to the impulse. 

Your daughter is showing you that she doesn’t feel good enough as she is. It’s easy to treat lying, stealing and sneaking as a moral issue but this feels like an emotional issue to me. 

If it was a moral issue, she wouldn’t show remorse or try to hide it from you. She knows it’s wrong but she’s still looking for a solution to an internal problem. 

 

Life Coaching Answer:

I love that you caught yourself catastrophizing and futurizing and yes, in a case like this it is SO EASY to do. What makes it hard to address this as an emotional issue and try to fill our daughter up with love, is  because of what you are making it mean about her and you. Especially as a self described “rule follower” I can only imagine how awful this must be for you! 

Embarrassment is “I did something wrong”. Shame is “I am wrong. I’m a bad person.”

It sounds like you are making your daughters stealing mean something that is causing you shame. Nobody likes feeling shame so we do our best to run away from it. The funny thing about it is as soon as you shine a compassionate light on it, it goes away. It can only live in the dark, when we aren’t acknowledging it’s there. 

It’s easy to think: “My daughter is stealing & lying, she’s doing something wrong. She must be a bad person, therefore I must be a bad mother.” 

When we believe we aren’t doing it right, and feeling ashamed, we want to stay hidden. We don’t want to ask for help.

The only way to get her to stop, is to address the root cause. We need to fill up her love tank so it overflows with self worth and value. She needs to know what a treasure she really is. 

I would start by taking her to a family therapist who works with children. For whatever reason, the love you’ve been giving her isn’t getting through. She can’t receive it. This is not a reflection on you, just a personality trait. If she had an allergy, you would take her to an allergist. If she’s showing signs of poor emotional health, she needs a mental health counselor. Kids are unique when they come into this world with their own paths. She isn’t a bad kid, but she is showing you that she needs inside help. 

The second thing I would do is to understand her love language. There are a handful of books written about this concept that people give and receive love in different ways. The 5 love languages are: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, affection. You might be giving your daughter words of affirmation, telling her how much you love her, but it’s not getting through because it isn’t her love language. Perhaps hers is gifts? Or quality time if she complains about sister getting more attention? Read the book and determine her top two love languages so you can fill up her love tank in ways that she is more likely to receive. 

The third thing I suggest is an urge jar. My life coaching teacher Brooke Castillo came up with this concept for her weight loss clients who were learning to resist an urge to overeat. I think this could work with your 8 year old.

Many teachers keep a marble jar on their desk and when kids behave, they put marbles in the jar. This works similarly only every time you resist an urge, you put a marble in a jar. There is something so satisfying about the clanking sound and watching it slowly fill up. 

My hunch is that there are many times when your daughter feels bad about herself and DOESN’T steal, sneak or lie. Let’s reward those times by putting a marble in the jar every time she resists the urge to take something! You can tell her that the marbles are symbolic of how much love you have for her. When she fills up her marble jar, she gets a reward of some kind. 

 

Supermom Kryptonite – Motivation for Misbehavior

Not understanding a child’s MOTIVATION for misbehavior keeps us focused on the behavior. This is frustrating because nothing we try works because we aren’t addressing the root of the problem. 

When we can’t understand our child’s behavior, we start catastrophizing, futurizing, making it mean we aren’t doing enough or they are bad kids. 

The main motivations for misbehavior are:

  1. Excitement
  2. Revenge
  3. Display of Inadequacy
  4. Superiority
  5. Power
  6. Attention
  7. Peer Acceptance

When we know our child’s motivation, we can find ways to give them what they want, but on our own terms.

 

Supermom Power Boost: Finding shades of gray

Many of us think in black and white terms. Stealing is bad, Giving is good. Lying is bad, truth telling is good. I’m either a rule follower or a rule breaker. Often, this black & white thinking ends up biting us in the butt. Try and make room, in your mind and in your vocabulary, for shades of gray. 

We are all good moms, who occasionally say things we regret.

We all follow rules we like, and ignore ones we don’t. 

We all can be generous at times, and selfish at other times. 

We are all kind people, who sometimes say mean things. 

Finding the shades of gray, gives you room to be an imperfect human who is also wonderful. 

Quote of the Day:

“Inside every child is an ’emotional tank’, waiting to be filled with love. When a child really feels loved, he will develop normally but when the love tank is empty, he will misbehave. Much of the misbehavior in children is motivated by the cravings of an empty ‘love tank'”.  Gary Chapman

Worried about starting middle school

Question of the Day: Middle School Worries

Today’s question is from a mom worried about her son starting middle school.

“My son is starting middle school and I worry about all the things he’s going to be exposed to. Vaping, drugs, girls, social media, bullies, online porn, you name it, I worry about it.

He is such a happy, sweet boy and I don’t want his peers to ruin his innocence. Part of me thinks I should talk to him about some of the things he’ll be exposed to. But the other part of me thinks I should keep quiet and let it unfold as he experiences it.

How can I prepare him for the big, bad world of middle school without scaring him or giving him more information than he is ready to handle?”    Catalina

middle school worries

Parent Education Answer:

I think there are many parents who share the same middle school worries and apprehension. I heard this a lot from the parents who came to my classes on “How to Talk to Kids about Sex”.

They wanted to be the ones to tell their kids about how babies are made but they get nervous about taking away their innocence. Rather than saying the wrong thing or giving too much information, they end up saying nothing at all.

In a way, your instincts are correct in not talking to him from your worrying energy. Emotions are contagious and you telling him about your fears and all the middle school worries could do one of two things:

– Scare him. He might mirror you and become equally worried and stressed.
– Reject you. Kids don’t like the energy of worry. He may disregard your helpful information and not want to listen to you, be around you, or confide in you later, if he thinks it will worry you.

I believe knowledge is power.  This could be a great opportunity to inform him of things he will be encounter. But keep in mind that only if you are in a calm confident energy.

Benefits of  Information

When parents inform their kids about vaping, sex, drugs, etc. before they are exposed to it, there are many benefits:

  • Kids learn they can talk to their parents about anything that comes up.
  • When your middle schooler hears something taboo, he doesn’t need to rely on peers or youtube to answer questions because they already received information at home.
  • Talking about personal, important things builds trust and brings you closer.
  • Middle schoolers are surrounded by peers willing to give their opinions and judgments easily. When they also have the voice of their parent in their head, it helps them make an informed decision.
  • Kids tend to rise to our expectations. If we expect them to do drugs and get bad grades, they probably will. If we expect them to encounter such, but not partake in unhealthy activities, they probably will do that.

Format of Discussion

Think about this format when talking to your kid about difficult subjects: information, consequences, opinions, choice.

Let’s take online porn as an example.

Information: Porn is short for pornography. It refers to visual materials (mostly digital these days) containing explicit display of sexual organs and/or activity intended to stimulate erotic feelings (as opposed to aesthetic or emotional). Showing pornography to children is considered illegal and obscene.

Consequences: Some people experience it as harmless and healthy. Others experience it as addictive, exploitative and damaging to relationships.

 

Opinions: Your Dad and I don’t want you watching it because it’s going to give you an unrealistic picture of what sex is like in a real relationship. When you are in a real relationship someday, we want you to experience the best of it.  This includes emotional intimacy, companionship, friendship and love, not just the physical aspects of sex.

 

Choice: We realize we can’t control what you view on the internet but we hope you choose will things that uplift your spirit and not watch things you feel you should hide. We also want you to know, you can come to us if you ever have concerns or you encounter something that feels weird or icky online.

 

Life Coaching Answer: Handling Middle School Worries

What gets in our way from being this calm confident parent discussing these middle school worries and informing our child of unhealthy risks of middle school? FEAR.

Fear of what could happen, fear of letting go, fear of how other kids will behave, fear of losing the child you have known, fear of him getting hurt, fear of watching our baby suffer, fear of not being able to help him solve his problems, fear dressed up in multiple outfits.

When we feel fear in the absence of immediate threat, we struggle because there is no productive action step to take.

It helps to know that fear is an instinct to keep us (and our loved ones) out of harm’s way. We are hiking, we see a snake ready to strike, we freeze. Some crazy person running towards us yelling, we run away.

Hence, our brain’s fear response is brilliantly designed to keep us safe, except for when there is no clear reason for our fear.

When we feel fear, yet everything around us appears safe, we go into our heads and try to figure out why we are scared. We look for an explanation for our fears: school shootings, bad guys, drugs.

The news will give us plenty of logical reasons why we have this fear. It makes our worries seem valid and important.

Fears and Worries

Worry pretends to be helpful. It makes us feel like we are DOING something productive but we aren’t. All we are doing is making it harder to help our children navigate a fear-filled culture with confidence and ease.

In order to prepare your child for some of the negative things he might be exposed to in middle school, you’ll want to release these middle school worries and process the fear.

Fear is just an emotion. It is energy in motion and it shows up as a vibration in the body.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath and notice what fear feels like and where in your body you feel it. The more you stay with this feeling, without having the need to run away from it, the easier it will move through you.

Our brain thinks we’re going to die but if you look around you, and all is well in this moment, it’s safe to process this feeling so that you can return to a state of calm.

From the sound of things, it looks like your son is healthy, happy and safe. He is going to school in one of the safest countries in the world, in one of the safest times in history. He’ll be with other kids who have been raised in a safe environment, having all their basic needs met.

Worrying gives you the illusion of safety, but it really doesn’t help.

Once you’ve allowed yourself to feel the feeling of fear without reacting to it, you’ll notice you feel calmer.

Your Mindset

This is when you want to engage the brain and ask, “What do I need to think and believe in order to talk to my middle schooler calmly?”

“I want him to have knowledge so he can make his own decisions.
“This is good information to know” might be a helpful thought.
“I trust him to make good choices.
“I’m earning my good parenting sticker today”
“I want to be the kind of mom who can handle tough subjects.”

Once you are feeling calm and ready to give your child “Information, Consequence, Opinion, Choice”, you may need some additional resources.

Middle school is a great time to shift from being the person with all the answers, to learning things together with your child. Which is handy because a lot of us don’t know about the dangers of vaping, social media, or today’s potent marijuana options.

Marlene Mahurin from Nevada County’s Tobacco Use Prevention and Education program, recommended a great video to watch with your kids. I will post a few of my favorites but I encourage you to look through Google on your own. Find a few to watch that you think will resonate with your child’s personality. Just be mindful of who is publishing the video.

Recommended Resources

Common Sense Media has GREAT videos and is a resource you should know about from school shootings to sexting https://www.commonsensemedia.org/
The Nevada County TUPE video on vaping http://nevco.org/programs-services/tupe/

Sex Education (for 9-12 year olds) http://TimeforTheTalk.com

Marijuana https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvszaF4vcNYConsent https://youtu.be/pZwvrxVavnQ

Gender Fluidity https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udI-Go8KK2Q&feature=youtu.be

Sex Education (for parents and high schoolers) https://youtu.be/L0jQz6jqQS0

How to ADHD https://howtoadhd.com/videos/

 

Today’s Supermom Kryptonite – Your media diet.

Just like the food we eat impacts us, even if we don’t notice it immediately, the media we take in affects us, too.

If your media diet consists of Fox News, Criminal Minds and CSI, it’s no wonder you feel a lot of fear. If your media diet consists of Queer Eye, romance novels, this podcast and video chatting with friends, you probably feel a lot of peace. In order to stop worrying, try changing your media diet.

I remember going to bed one night and noticing I felt gross. It felt like I had just eaten a bunch of junk food but I hadn’t. I realized the “junk food feeling” was because I just watched 20 minutes of “Housewives of Whatever County” before I went to bed.

This show might be just what you need at the end of the day to lift your spirits. That was what I thought, but it wasn’t healthy for me.

Especially before bed, I have to be very careful about what I take into my brain.

It’s amazing how easy it is to keep up with current events without ever watching a single newscast. Thus, I limit my social media exposure and seek media that uplifts me. That way, I can maintain peaceful energy for my clients, and kids, to come home to.

 

Supermom Powerboost – Allowing your kid to experience negative emotion

  • It is common in today’s perfectionistic parenting culture to believe that it’s our job to protect our children from having any negative emotion ever. We genuinely want our children to be happy and successful, every second of every day, forever. First, because this is what we think a good mom would want. Second because we don’t know what to do with ourselves when they have a negative emotion.
    When we understand that allowing children to “feel all the feels” is IMPORTANT and NECESSARY, then we focus on what we want to feel WHILE they are feeling sad, disappointed, angry or scared. You can:
  • allow your child to feel a feeling without taking it on as your own.
  • feel proud of yourself for letting your child have a negative experience.
  • feel satisfied knowing that this negative experience is teaching him lessons he could never learn on his own.

Trying to ensure that your child only has positive experiences and emotions is exhausting. In contrast, allowing your child to experience negative emotions, (without making it mean anything has gone wrong), will free you and boost your energy.

 

Quote of the Day:

 “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” Leo Buscaglia

perfectionistic teen

Perfectionistic Teen

Question of the Day: Perfectionistic Teen

This is about Jenny and her perfectionistic teen:

“Hi Torie, I recently started listening to your podcasts after finding Brooke Castillo from a friend.” 

(If you haven’t heard Brooke Castillo’s podcast, I highly recommend it. She is one of my life coaching teachers and her podcast is called The Life Coach School Podcast. If you’re looking for a new podcast to listen to check her out for sure.)

Jenny says, “I’m fairly new to this life coaching stuff, but I’ve seen huge changes in myself since listening and applying the principles you and Brooke teach. I find that I’m not sure how to help my children discover these amazing liberating principles. 

My oldest, who’s 13, is a lot like me (or who I was). He’s a total people-pleaser and major perfectionist. This sweet boy does everything he can to try and control everyone else’s happiness to his own detriment. I think he thinks that, if he’s perfect, I (or his teachers) will be happy.

When I try to give him suggestions or point this out he calls himself “dumb” and a “failure”. In fact, he is calling himself these things almost daily! Just today he said, “I’m so dumb why can’t everyone else see that?!” This is a constant issue for him. He would rather get a worse grade or not perform to his full ability, than to talk to his teachers or coaches and admit he doesn’t understand how to do something. How do I help this well-intentioned but out of control boy? He is literally destroying and hindering himself to make everyone else happy.”

perfectionistic teen

Parent Education Answer: Handling Your Perfectionistic Teen

Here are some parenting tips that you can implement to help your perfectionistic teen (or child no matter what age). 

  1. Celebrate mistakes – It’s a tricky one to do when you are a recovering perfectionist yourself, but it’s worthwhile. Go around the dinner table and ask everyone to share their biggest mistake. Whoever made the biggest faux pas gets the biggest dessert. Talk about your “failures” or embarrassing mistakes you made when you were his age. We can mess with his mind by viewing mistakes as a good thing. We make mistakes when we take a risk, push outside our comfort zone, and live life to the fullest and live as a human.

Right now, your son feels shame, when he even contemplates making a mistake. Shame can only live in the dark. When you bring it out into the light, laugh at it, own up to it, and celebrate it, it loses its power.


2. Two magic words
– Incorporate these magical two words into your vocabulary. “Oh Well” Using these words on a daily basis is one of the greatest ways you can help your child learn to go with the flow. “We’re late again. Oh well!” “I didn’t get my homework assignment in on time. Oh well!” “I was too scared to talk to the coach about getting more play time. Oh well!” “I’m trying to make everyone happy except for myself, Oh well.” Try it and notice how your muscles relax and the tension melts away. 

  1. Personality Puppet Show –  I like to tell kids that they have a personality puppet show going on in their brains. When your child is calm, grab a piece of paper, sit down with him, and draw pictures of your inner perfectionists. Together, create characters out of the voices in your heads that say, “You aren’t good enough.”

Does it sound like a male or female voice? Is it more of an animal or cartoon character? What kind of clothes does it wear? What kind of movements and facial expressions can you imagine? Really create a clear visual of this inner perfectionist. Draw a speech bubble over its head with the things it likes to say: “I’m dumb” “I’m stupid” “Whatever I do is never enough.” 

Ask Yourself

To begin with, ask yourselves: “Would I want to be friends with somebody who spoke to me that way?”  “Would I ever talk to somebody else like that?” If not, thank your inner perfectionists for trying to keep you safe, tell her, “Your opinion is noted, but not welcome.”  Feed her a snack and send her out for a walk. She or he will be back anytime you do something outside your comfort zone. Talking to authority figures sounds like a trigger for your son, so expect this inner perfectionist to show up every time he admits his imperfection. 

Perfectionistic Teen

As you write and talk about your inner perfectionists, you will remove the shame of it. When you can separate out this character from the other parts of you, it creates breathing space. You realize, “I am not my inner perfectionist.” “I am the one who can observe it.” 

Also, encourage your son (when he’s calm) to think of a time when he made a mistake and he didn’t beat himself up for it. I guarantee there was a time! Maybe he spilled some milk or forgot his jacket at a friend’s house. It can be very simple like he forgot to put the toilet seat down. Have him notice the voice that didn’t make a big deal about it. What did it say? It was probably something very easy going like, “Oh well!” or “No big deal”. Show him that he already has this voice in his head. Ask him which voice he would rather be friends with? Which voice does he respect more? 

Life Coaching Answer:

What gets in the way of being able to implement these strategies? Well, I’m sure you realize that your own in her perfectionist is going to get into the way. 

When you have a situation like Jenny has here with her perfectionistic teen, it’s not unusual for a mom to type into the search bar “How to help a perfectionistic teen”. What comes up, is a lot of articles that make you feel so bad about yourself that you are unable to help your son. 

You read an article with well-meaning advice like “It’s crucial to teach this to your children.” Your children are watching how you react to every situation.”  “Make sure you are modeling good behavior.” “Children need to know blah blah blah so don’t dismiss it because you need to demonstrate these skills….” 

It’s easy for a perfectionistic mom, worried about doing everything right, will read this and think, “I suck. His anxiety is all my fault. I totally screwed him up and I’m doing it all wrong.”

ARTICLES LIKE THIS IS WHY I STARTED THIS PODCAST

It’s true, that there are at least 20 different things that mom can do to help her son’s perfectionism. But listing 20 ways MOM needs to change, overnight, or else SHE is causing her son to be unhappy and stressed. Umm…NOT HELPFUL!

So what keeps us from helping our kids deal with their perfectionism? Our own perfectionism and a culture that feeds right into it. 

The best way for Jenny to help her son is to pay attention to her own emotions and keep doing what she’s doing, to tame her own inner perfectionist. Focusing on herself and her own growth, while staying away from media that make her feel like she isn’t already perfect as she is.

Working on Yourself

Work on yourself, in front of your son, in these 3 ways:

  1. Talk out loud about what your inner perfectionist saying. “I can hear my inner perfectionist getting mad about my being late. She is saying, ‘I should have left earlier.’ ‘I should have allowed more time.’ ‘I’m such an idiot.’ ‘They are going to be mad at me.’ I would never talk that way to anyone else. It’s super mean! So, I’m going to send my inner perfectionist to Starbucks and just say, ‘Oh well!'”
  2. Talk out loud about your emotions. Because your son is 13, I would start by modeling this yourself. Say, “I’m feeling embarrassed because I didn’t do everything perfectly. My cheeks are hot and I feel like crawling into a ball and hiding.”  Or, “I’m mad at myself because I said something dumb. I wish I could take it back. I feel tension in my shoulders and my fists are clenched.”

If he was younger, I would ask him where in his body he feels the emotion, what color is it, what it feels like, etc. Perfectionism is a kind of anxiety and anxiety is an avoidance of emotions. When you can learn to process emotions, there is no need for anxiety. 

  1. Love more, care less. This is something I work on in my Leading Your Teen Masterclass. 

First of all, love the person your kid is today, with flaws and imperfections, and care less about how he shows up in the world. Care less about his grades, whether he talks to coaches or teachers, but love him more, as the perfectly imperfect 13 year old he is.

It helps to know that, care, unchecked, can feel controlling. Love is expansive, compassionate and is just what a stressed out perfectionistic teen needs. Take the pressure off by accepting him just as he is today. 

Supermom Kryptonite – Suppressing our inner perfectionist. 

When we first realize we’ve got this voice in our heads that is mean and not helpful, our first instinct is to kick it to the curb and get rid of it. When we hear our kids saying, “I’m dumb” we want to jump in and shut that awful voice down! We tell them that of course they aren’t dumb and as you’ve learned, that doesn’t work. He gets annoyed that you don’t agree with his mean and limiting beliefs! 

The same is true for us. When we deny or suppress our inner critic, it creates tension, resistance, and “exploding doormat syndrome” where we explode at minor problems.

Instead, try turning the volume up on this mean, critical voice. When we turn the volume up and, create a character and personality associated with this voice, there is no resistance. It allows us to see it separately and not believe that everything this voice says is true. It also teaches us that if we can turn a voice up, we may also be able to turn it down. 

Supermom Power Boost – Queer Eye Netflix Show

If you are going to have a harsh inner critic, you’ll want to have a powerful inner cheerleader, too. We can be this for our children, but sometimes we need inspiration. I find the Fab 5 from the Queer Eye show on Netflix to be a great source of inspiration.

These 5 men help someone change without making them feel bad for being the way they are. The show offers life makeovers, but also love, kindness, and compassion. Watch this feel-good show for inspiration and ideas on how to support yourself and your kids, while being perfectly imperfect.

Whenever I’m feeling embarrassed or inadequate, I like to pretend the Fab 5 are talking to about me. “We love Torie, she’s gorgeous, look at her fabulous self, she’s so great”. It makes me smile every time. We all need our own cheerleading squad to help us cope with being imperfect in a perfectionistic world. 

Quote of the Day 

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.” 

Carol S. Dweck www.mindsetonline.com 

How can I encourage independence in my clingy kiddo?

How can I encourage independence? episode #16

Question – “My daughter constantly follows me around the house always wanting my attention. I give her A LOT of attention! I’m a stay-home Mom and we are together all the time. She even follows me into the bathroom. I’ve tried “filling up her tank” just to see if she ever gets enough but I found the answer is NO. When my husband gets home and I try to leave for the gym, she clings and whimpers, begging me not to go. In fact, she does this any time I try to leave her with anyone. Sometimes the guilt and hassle isn’t worth it, and I cave in and stay home. Sometimes I feel imprisoned by a cute and loving jail warden. How can I teach my daughter to be more independent?” – Allison

Parent Educator answer –

I love how this question is worded. This shows such keen awareness that the situation is a pattern of her DAUGHTER’S. When kids behave this way, it can really lock moms in without them even realizing it, so I’m glad Allison is aware and wanting to change. I don’t hear mom beating herself up thinking she should do more, be better, etc. I love that she experimented with “filling up her daughter’s tank” and can feel confident that not having enough mom time is not the issue. My favorite part is her final question, “How can I TEACH my daughter to be more independent?”

Teaching is a process. It takes time, patience, and clear explanations and repetition. You teach your children how to treat you. This doesn’t mean they are going to do it perfectly right away, just that you are committed to doing your part as teacher.

When we see clingy behavior in children, it’s a sign of anxiety. It’s great that your child feels comforted by you, it’s also important that your child feel comfortable away from you. Anxiety can be caused by many things: modern society, a genetic predisposition, even a stressful birth; so we’re not going to waste our time arguing that your child shouldn’t feel anxious.

3 things NOT to do are…

  1. Don’t sneak out without telling them. 
  2. Don’t have long goodbyes or wait for your child to give you permission to leave.
  3. Don’t avoid anxiety provoking activities.

4 ways to increase your child’s comfort and stability, which will increase their independence and (eventually) decrease their clinginess.

  1. Predictable Routine – All kids benefit from structured routine but, anxious kids especially can  benefit. They might even ask every morning, “What are the plans for the day?” Have a chart with pictures so they can predict “cuddle and read with mom time” “play independently time” “screen time”. You can also have routines for each day, Monday is library. Tuesday is gym. Wednesday is playgroup.
  2. Encourage deep relationships with other adults and children. Invite your child’s friend over after school every Friday. Go to the park with Dad Sunday morning or play games with Grandma Sunday night.
  3. Transitional objects – If your child doesn’t have a transitional object, give them one. Tell them it will make them feel safe. A beautiful stone to slip into his pocket or a soft feather. Whenever he feels anxious, they hold onto the object. When he is clinging to you at the door, remind him of this special object and its’ special powers.
  4. Reduce narrow focused attention – When we are nervous, our eyes lock into an object like a lion stalking it’s prey. School and screen time encourage narrow focus attention. A lion spends 95% of its day in diffused attention, this is important for humans, too. Diffused attention is a recuperative state that helps our brains calm down and feel at peace. Staring into space and daydreaming shift the brain into diffused attention. Try hard not to interrupt your child when in this state. You can encourage this diffused mental attention with music, art, and nature based movements. Experiment with turning off electricity, watering the garden, and classical music and see what calms your child the most.

Life Coaching answer – When your child is clinging and pleading for you to stay home, it is SO HARD to leave!  They pull out all the stops, filling us up with love, making us feel wanted and needed. Instead of reciprocating with love and devotion, we break their hearts, causing them suffering, tears, and misery!

Many moms fall into this trap because they think, “I am the only one that can help them feel better.” This belief keeps kids locked in anxiety, believing they are only safe when mom is around. Mom feels so needed and valuable that she forgoes her dreams and passions, trapping her in a limited existence.

The best thing Allison can do is to manage her own anxiety and set up a regular, predictable routine around leaving her daughter. The thoughts that will keep her stuck are “She needs me” “I can make her feel better” and “It’s not right to let her suffer”

We have this idea that our kids shouldn’t suffer- that they should always be happy and if they aren’t we are doing something wrong.

This is our primitive brain talking. Our higher brain knows that sometimes we need to make parenting decisions that our children aren’t going to like- that we can forgo that temporary ‘false joy’ for long term well being.

Of course we want to avoid negative emotions unnecessarily, but being willing to choose discomfort for long term well being is a really important life skill.

We endure discomfort for a high intensity exercise class for the long term gain of fitness.

We endure boring subjects in school so that we can pursue a major that interests us.

We tolerate uncomfortable dental appointments for the long term benefit of healthy teeth and gums.

The buddhists say life is suffering. So, trying to keep your child from suffering is trying to protect them from life. Believing you can protect your kids from emotional discomfort is believing you are more powerful than God.

Kryptonite – “I’m tired”

This is a sneaky one. Thinking the thought or saying the sentence “I’m tired” seems like you are just stating the facts. But try it out for a minute, how do you feel when you think the thought “I’m tired”? TIRED!! When you feel tired, you act lethargic, and don’t seek out energy inducing activities! It’s not like you rest, take a nap and the feel energized. It seems so legit that we don’t even argue it.

Energy is something we create more of, through exercise, rest, sleep, food, etc. Many Supermoms use the thought “I’m tired” as a way to avoid doing hard things and taking action towards their goals.

Supermom Power Boost schedule a vent session

Sometimes all you need is a good vent session. It’s tempting to turn to our husbands at the end of the day to complain about everything that went awry. Most men are wired to fix problems so when unload our challenging day onto them, they try to tell us what to do. This is not what we want to hear! We just want them to say, “Oh honey, I don’t know how you do it all day, that sounds really rough.” Instead they say, “Did you try putting her in time out?” “Just tell your boss no.” or “You shouldn’t let her get to you like that.” This makes us aggravated and frustrated because all we need is a little compassion.

To get a power boost, try scheduling a “vent session” with a girlfriend. Most women naturally commiserate. We vent, we get our frustrations off our chest. They tell us about their challenges, we feel better. Venting with other moms gives you just the fuel you need to make it through another day. We don’t want to be told what to do to fix our problems, we just want to feel seen, heard, and supported. You can try telling your husband, “I just want you to listen and not fix.” but girlfriends are the best power boost I know of.

Quote of the day – 

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Disrespectful Child

What’s the right way to handle a disrespectful child?

My son is 8, is a great kid all around, but he’s mean to me. He can be sweet and loving one minute, but a rude and disrespectful child the next. He talks back, ignores me when I’m talking, and “accidentally” bumps me with his backpack when we’re walking into school. The teachers have no complaints, he behaves perfectly at school, it’s only at home with me that his disrespectful behavior comes out. What am I doing that makes him treat me so poorly?    -Ava

Thank you for this question, Ava.

I’ll never forget when the speaker’s bureau I worked for asked me, “Could you teach a class on raising gracious children?”

I thought they were joking. They knew my daughter. They had been around her since she was a baby. Every time I brought her in, they would say “Hi, how are you?” “look at your cute shoes?” “How old are you?” She NEVER answered.

She would stare and glare but never smile and never respond, so I thought they were being sarcastic: making a joke about ME teaching a class on gracious children based on my very ungracious daughter!

The “people-pleaser” in me was embarrassed by her behavior, but my co-workers weren’t as bothered by her as I was.

They were serious.

I figured this would be a good challenge for me, so I took it on.

Here’s what I learned in my research and preparation for teaching this class on raising gracious children:  Children learn by imitation. If you are kind and polite, chances are they will be too. EVENTUALLY. When they are little, their personality, emotions, and other motivations come before social niceties.

So the real question I set out to answer is: “How do I act graciously, no matter how my child is behaving?”

I’ll dive into this in the life coaching answer, but first, we’ll start with the parent education answer.

Parent Education answer

We want to take a look at what might be motivating Ava’s son to be polite at school and be a  rude and disrespectful child at home.

Based on your scenario, I’m going to guess it’s one of two things:

1. He feels yucky on the inside and wants you to know it.

It’s possible he doesn’t know how to express his negative emotion in a constructive way, and/or he doesn’t feel like it’s ok to have negative emotions like anger or sadness.

If this is the case, helping him develop some emotional vocabulary is very helpful. You can do this by talking about your own emotions, “I feel so mad I want to hit something” (you could even find something to hit like a couch cushion or kick an empty cardboard box).

If you were feeling low, you could say, “I feel sad so I’m going outside to be by myself.” or “I’m disappointed that my friend canceled plans so I’m going to draw a picture of what I’m feeling.”

Showing him that everyone has negative emotions sometimes, and modeling how to cope in healthy and appropriate ways would boost his emotional intelligence.

You can also help him pay attention to his emotions when you notice he’s starting to misbehave by saying things like “You feel disappointed” or “You feel frustrated.”

Print out a page of different emotion faces and put it on your fridge to help him identify and understand the nuances of his different emotions.

When we are having strong emotions, they can feel really overwhelming. By naming them, we contain them; it makes them feel manageable.

I learned this when I was 14 and tried out for cheerleading. I worked hard and did my best but didn’t make the squad.

When I walked in the house after the tryouts, my dad said, “I thought you said you wouldn’t be disappointed if you didn’t make the squad?” I burst into tears, yelled, “I said I WOULD be disappointed!” I ran into the bathroom and slammed the door.

I remember looking in the mirror as the tears flowed down my face and said to myself, “I’m disappointed. Is that what this is? I’ve been disappointed before. I can handle this.”

Then I felt fine. I was totally over it. Even the following year when I tried out again and didn’t make it, I allowed myself to be disappointed without any drama.

Humans aren’t meant to be happy all the time. We want to make sure our kids have access to the wide range of human emotions, and we can do this by modeling it for them in a healthy way.

2. He wants you to discipline him.

Discipline comes from the root word discipulus- the Latin word for student. Kids like rules and structure when it comes to their behavior, even if they don’t show it.

When kids know what to expect, it calms them down. Sometimes they may choose to ignore our expectations, but it’s our job to lay it out there and tell them the behavior we want to see.

I struggled with parenting a rebellious child who was always fighting for power. I would try and offer her choices: “Do you want to wear the red or the blue?” She would NEVER choose one of my options. She’d always go for whatever I didn’t want her to wear, just to defy me.

I would offer mac ‘n cheese or peanut butter sandwich and she would declare that she will only eat red foods. As soon as my fridge was full of red food, she would switch to green. It drove me crazy because I wanted life to be easy and for us to get along. She just wanted to assert her power.

After much debate, I decided to put my strong-willed daughter in Catholic school. I was nervous. It was a great kindergarten program with the most fabulous teacher, but it was old-school strict.

These kids were taught to BEHAVE. I thought, “It’s either going to be great, or really terrible.” My plan was to switch her to a Montessori school for first grade, assuming Kindergarten was going to be a nightmare.

Her teacher was so savvy. My daughter tested her for the first four months. How much can I get away with? Do you really mean what you say? What if I do it this way? You draw the line here, what about here?

As soon as my daughter realized that she couldn’t outsmart her teacher, she relaxed. It’s like all that energy and attention she was putting into trying to control everyone and everything, could shift into learning and being a kid.

Some kids are strong willed and will fight for power, but it’s too much responsibility for them to be in charge. No five year old, or eight year old, should be in charge.

When kids know there is a strong authority figure present, they get to be a kid. They get to relax and play, knowing someone else will steer them back on track if they wander.

Could it be, Ava, that your son is asking for more discipline?

Life Coaching Answer: 

Based on your question, Ava, I’m going to guess that you bounce back and forth between anger “he shouldn’t be treating me this way” to helplessness “Why can’t he be nice to me?” This does not feel good.

It’s kind of like you’ve got this powerless, abandoned kitten on one shoulder whispering “please be nice to me” and a ferocious tiger on the other saying “you better be nice to me.” Bouncing back and forth between these two keeps you out of your power.

I want you to listen to the energy embedded in the last sentence of your question: “What am I doing that makes him act so poorly?”

Can you feel the emotion in that sentence? Self-blame? Guilt, maybe? It’s coming from weak energy.

Your first sentence felt the opposite: “What’s the right way to handle a disrespectful child?” Can you hear this one is a bit more annoyed?

It implies there is a right way and wrong way, and because you label the behavior as disrespectful, I’m guessing you are in anger.

Most people think that angry, ferocious tiger energy is you being powerful, but studies show the most powerful energy is calm, assertive energy.

In order to TEACH your child how to treat you, you’ve first got to find your calm, confident energy. Which means stepping out of blame and accepting reality without argument.

You aren’t a bad mom because your child misbehaves or is rude to you. Can you imagine a child that NEVER talks back? That ALWAYS says the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, since the day they learned to talk?  That would be weird, right?

Like a little Stepford robot child. If that happened you’d still probably be writing into me, concerned that your child is behaving too well. Something must be wrong with them if they never misbehave, right?

Our thoughts create our emotional energy. Notice how you feel when you think, “He’s disrespectful.” It makes you angry and annoyed. You want to snap back, yell, give him the silent treatment, basically mirror how he is treating you.

Notice how you feel when you think, “What am I doing wrong?” “Why won’t he be nice to me?” “I should have this figured out by now”.  Those thoughts make you feel weak. You give in, letting him have the power to treat you poorly.

You want to find a thought that gives you the feeling of calm confidence. The word that helped me was “teach.” I can teach her to be kind by my actions. I will teach her how to treat me.

Every time my daughter did something I didn’t like, I would treat it as a lesson. “When you ignore me, I feel unimportant. What I’d like to hear you say, is ‘Ok, Mom.'”Most kids don’t like learning the same lesson every day (especially strong-willed ones). This “instruction” motivated her to adopt the behavior I was looking for because being told the same thing every day became annoying.

When she talked back, I would remind myself, “She is asking me for more guidance”.In order to curb your son’s behavior, Ava, find a thought that gives you the feeling of calm, confidence. “I know what to do here” is a good one. Think it often and see if it helps YOU change YOUR behavior, giving you the change in your son’s behavior that you are looking for.

Supermom Kryptonite – The Dictator and The Wild Child

I learned about this concept from my first life coach teacher, Martha Beck. I obsessively read every book she wrote and learned about “the dictator and the wild child” in her book, The Four Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace.

When people are dieting to lose weight, they very often create two opposing characters she calls The Dictator and The Wild Child. The dictator is the voice in our heads that only allows us to eat spinach and quinoa. We must do everything right, eat everything right, and never falter.

Most people can’t keep up with this perfectionistic discipline, nor do they want to. So they then create this wild child who rebels against the dictator and says, “Screw you! I can do what I want, eat what I want, anytime I want.”

Bouncing back and forth between these two extremes is exhausting and a huge energy drain. You decide you want to eat healthily, but then you rebel against yourself to the point where it feels like you are eating behind your own back.

These two extremes can play out in parenting as well as weight loss.  We develop this idealized version of ourselves; the perfectly balanced mom who does everything right.

Naturally, we can’t keep up with these perfectionistic expectations. We yell, we say things we regret, we snap at our kids, never understanding it’s because our expectations for ourselves aren’t allowing for imperfection.

If this sounds familiar, the fix isn’t more will power and discipline nor is it to beat yourself up. We want to LISTEN to the wild child. What does it need more of? What would feel joyful and playful to the wild child?

This isn’t an “angel and devil on the shoulders” scenario. Maintaining perfection isn’t part of being human so that goal will always create rebellion. Find some middle ground by asking “What emotion do I want to feel, no matter how my kid behaves?”

Supermom Power Boost – Becoming the watcher

A friend of mine described it best. She was in a hospital bed, having a severe allergic reaction to a medication. Her body was in anaphylactic shock and her brain was in psychosis.

As she lay there, she became aware of her body shutting down and her brain was spinning in crazy directions. Very calmly, she had the thought, “There’s a third thing”. My body is freaking out. My brain is in crazy town. But there’s a third thing. This part of me that can OBSERVE the other two things without attachment is very calm.

You don’t have to be in a life-threatening situation to become the watcher of your brain, we do it on every life coaching call.

When you become the watcher of your mind, you detach from the wild child and the dictator. You aren’t either one of those. You are the person who can observe them, watch them talk, argue, and fight but with detachment. It’s like being a scientist, just observing with curiosity, not buying into any story.

Learning to become the watcher of your brain and body is key to a peaceful, engaged life.

This is what meditation is all about. From the watcher position, you get to choose how to react when your kid talks back, what goals you want to pursue, whether you want to eat that candy or not.

Everything you want in life begins with becoming the watcher. Meditation, journal writing, life coaching, mindfulness all help develop this skill.

Quote of the day “Stepping back from the Dictator and the Wild Child and becoming the Watcher is like thinking you’ve been stuck on a railroad track, able to move only backward and forward, and discovering that you had the capacity to fly all along.”  Martha Beck

Fighting kids – How to get my kids to stop hating each other

Episode #14

Today’s Question:

My middle school kids are constantly fighting. They are close in age (12 and 13) and used to be the best of friends, always playing happily together. Lately, however, it’s been awful. They bicker and are constantly picking on each other, trying to bring the other down. I really want my boys to be friends again! How can I get my kids to stop hating each other? Sheila

Parent Educator Answer:

If your children used to get along very well, that tells me you did a great job of staying out of their conflicts. Children who are at each other from a young age have figured out how to bring mom into the argument and triangulate the issue. When mom is involved, kids can use siblings to fight for power, control, attention, superiority, etc. (If this sounds like you, or you have other issues with fighting siblings, go to www.lifecoachingforparents.com/record-my-question and tell me about your situation).

There is a lot to talk about with sibling rivalry, and we’ll need more than one podcast to cover all the topics. 

For this one, I’m going to assume that Sheila is not getting involved, but is just bothered by having to listen to her two precious babies go at each other.

There are many reasons why pre-teens might start picking on their sibling when they didn’t before. I want to focus on the two most common and developmentally appropriate reasons for this sudden change.

  1. Adolescent angst. Puberty does a number on kids. The hormones cause stronger emotional responses and mood swings, making ‘walking on eggshells’ an everyday situation. Puberty also usually involves hanging out with people who constantly scrutinize and criticize each other’s appearances, performance, speech, and food choices. You name it, some adolescent is judging it. When kids are soaking up everyone else’s negative, insecure emotions like a sponge all day long, they ring it out when they get home. Who is the easiest person to target? Their sibling.

The question I would want to ask my kid is, “Does it work?” If they feel yucky when they get in the car, do they feel better after putting their sibling down and pointing out all their flaws? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, either way, teaching your child to reflect on their own words and actions is super powerful. 

Whether the answer to the question is yes or no, I would then ask, “Is there another way you can purge the yucky-ness of your day and feel better, that doesn’t involve picking on your sibling?”

Some kids purge verbally, by venting and getting it all off their chest. Some purge physically by hopping on their bike or shooting hoops. Spending time alone, taking a shower, writing in a journal, hanging out with friends, reading a book, are all ways pre-teens have found to feel better after being surrounded by negative people all day.

 2. The other reason why you might see an increase in sibling rivalry during puberty is your child (usually the older one) is wanting to create a bigger separation between himself and his sibling. This desire to be seen as older, wiser, different, and more mature grows really strong between 12-15. (This can be seen with twins as well). Adolescence is all about figuring out who you are and who you want to be? When kids are trying to figure out what their interests and skills are or which friend group they feel most comfortable with, they need to wiggle out of their child self like a snake shedding it’s skin. It can be hard for a pre-teen to know who they are if they maintain the tight relationship they’ve always had with their siblings, parents, or close friends. The pre-teen years are a time of rapid and massive growth and they need space to figure it all out.

It’s pretty common for kids to “cocoon” as they transform themselves from a kid into an adult. Cocooning can look like being in the bedroom or bathroom for long periods of time with the door closed, wanting more alone time, or cocooning with a best friend and excluding others. The sibling relationship connects to who they were as a child, some kids need to separate from it in order to become the adult they are meant to be. Fighting and constantly putting down a sibling is an effective way to separate.

It’s nice to know why things happen, but what the heck is Mama supposed to DO about it?

Parent Educator Tips for Sibling Rivalry 

  1. Stay out of it. As much as we would like to, we don’t get to decide what kind of relationship our kids are going to have with each other. Their relationship is their’s to figure out and we need to let go of any preconceived idea of what it’s supposed to look like. If your sister is your best friend, you might have expectations for your girls having the same close relationship and get really bothered when they “hate on each other”. 
  2. Protect their SAFETY. Wrestling and “horse-play” are great ways for kids to learn boundaries. When kids grow up “rough-housing” they learn about remorse, apologizing, inflicting pain, boundaries, and saying no like you mean it. Generally kids will stop on their own, right at the point where their sibling might get hurt. But, if they have triangulated a parent into it, or are using sibling rivalry to serve themselves in an unhealthy way, they may harm their sibling. Then, it is absolutely the parent’s job to protect the sibling.
  3. Treat your children as fairly as possible. If they sense favoritism, they may take it out on their sibling. Don’t compare: “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” Don’t label: “She’s the aggressive one, he’s the smart one,” and spend quality time with both.
  4. Let them see you resolving conflicts in a calm way with other adults.
  5. Establish house rules like “no hitting or hurting” or “no name calling”. Post them where everyone can see and have consistent consequences when those rules are not followed.

Life Coaching Answer –

Learn all you can about how to responsibly manage sibling rivalry but when it’s not working for you, life coaching comes in handy.

Kids fighting with each other is a circumstance. As much as she would like to, Sheila can’t make them change without the kids wanting to change. Wishing they would stop is like going outside everyday and yelling at the weather, telling it that it needs to be different. It might be true. You might be sick of the cold or rain, but feeling annoyed everyday because the weather isn’t they way you’d like it is fruitless and only causes suffering for YOU.

Sheila wants them to stop because she doesn’t like how she feels when they are fighting.

She’s probably thinking thoughts like…

“I want them to get along like they used to.” (arguing with reality)

or “They shouldn’t be so mean and hateful with each other” (too much negative emotion)

or “I don’t know what to do” (causes confusion).

These thoughts or similar ones cause negative emotions for MOM. It’s time to figure out what you have control over and focus on that.

How do YOU want to feel WHEN your kids are fighting?

You get to choose!

Do you want to feel confident? Think the thought “I know what to do here”.

Do you want to feel calm? Then think “I can trust them to work it out”.

Do you want to feel content? Think “This behavior is normal and temporary”.

When you are feeling a positive emotion, you will be more likely to implement the recommendations parent educators have to offer.

Before you are in the situation of your kids arguing, play it out in your imagination. Picture them fighting with each other, and imagine you are staying calm. Imagine evaluating the situation peacefully and objectively, “Do I need to keep him safe?” “Is he just purging the “yuck” he picked up during the day?” “Is he trying to separate himself from the family?” Observe the fighting with a scientific mind, then practice feeling calm/confident or whatever emotion you want to feel. Picture yourself taking action from that place. Imaging making comments appropriate to the situation like, “You guys sure like to fight” or “You must have had a pretty awful day today to be picking on your sister so much” or “Let me know when you are done fighting so I can make us a snack”.

You cannot control your children’s relationship but you can decide how you want to feel about it. When you stay calm, and model how to resolve conflicts peacefully, you are showing them another way.

Supermom Kryptonite – Mirror Neurons

We have mirror neurons in our brain that help us connect with the other people in the room. Mirror neurons are what make us smile when a baby smiles at us, or cry in a powerful “This Is Us” episode. When kids are “hating on each other” our default is to “hate on them” or “hate the situation.” We default to matching or mirroring the emotions of the people around us unless we do something deliberately different. We think,”You need to stop being so mean to your sister because it’s driving me crazy.” We think our argumentative teens are making us feel annoyed and frustrated, but our emotions are coming from our brain. Taking time to notice how we are feeling and deliberately overriding these mirror neurons is completely possible and a great thing to model to our adolescents. 

Try asking them, “How do you hang out with critical, insecure middle schoolers all day and not let it affect you?” They may not believe you if you tell them how mirror neurons work but this might plant a seed in your teen’s brain. When YOU learn to separate your emotions from your kid’s emotions, you will be modeling for them, how to separate from other people’s negative emotions. 

Supermom Powerboost – little ones

Even though you can override other people’s negative emotions by setting a clear intention for the feeling you WANT to feel, most of us don’t want to work that hard. If you are surrounded by cranky adolescents, go hang out with some little ones. Babies, pre-schoolers or any pre-pubescent kiddo is a joy to be around (especially when you aren’t responsible for their well being). When adolescent angst hit my home, I got myself a part-time job at an elementary school. It’s much easier to deal with argumentative teens when I spent the day with happy children who write me love notes and get so excited when “Mrs. Henderson” walks by. Do you have nieces or nephews to play with? Could you volunteer once a week or invite the neighbor kids over for a holiday craft? You don’t want to ride the emotional roller coaster of adolescence along with your kiddos. Find ways, like hanging out with small children, to keep you separate and balanced so you can be your best self for your teens and pre-teens.

Quote “Siblings: children of the same parents, each of whom is perfectly normal until they get together.” — Sam Levenson

Yell less by saying no more

Today’s Question:

My kids are constantly pressuring me for sweets. They ask for sugary cereal when they get up in the morning, cookies after school, and dessert before they go to bed at night.

My daughter tells me other kids tease her when she brings healthy food to school. She wants to bring processed junk food like everyone else.

Everywhere we go, people are offering junk to my kids. Lollipops at the bank, donuts after a soccer game, birthday celebrations at school, it’s everywhere!

My kids spot it, start begging for it and keep pressuring me until I give in or yell. It’s been happening more lately where I get so sick of their constant asking and begging that I scream, yell, and throw a frickin’ tantrum.

How can I find peace while living with sugar-crazed kids in a sugar-crazed culture? Lisa

Parent Educator Response:

You teach your kids how to treat you. Intermittent reinforcement is a conditioning schedule in which a reward (or punishment) is handed out in random intervals.

Gambling is an example of intermittent reinforcement. You never know when you are going to win, and that anticipation keeps you coming up back for more.

In Lisa’s case, she is unknowingly reinforcing her kids’ begging and pleading behavior, by intermittently giving in and saying yes. If she said yes, right away, every time, there would be no need for begging. If she said no every time they asked for sweets, they would get bored and stop asking.

Without realizing it, Lisa has created a scenario where her kids are randomly rewarded for their begging and pleading. Not only because intermittent reinforcement can be addictive, but because the reward is sugar, which releases dopamine, the reward chemical in the child’s brain.

This floods the brain with feel-good chemicals making the “sugar high” a fabulous reward and worth the occasional “no” response or mommy temper tantrum.

For Lisa to get her kids to stop begging for sugar, and for her to stop yelling, she needs to pick a rule (any rule) and stay consistent with reinforcing it. When she creates a boring situation for the kids where they don’t get rewarded for asking Mom for sweets, they will stop asking. She can yell less, by saying no more.

Life Coaching Answer: (or….why is this so hard to do)

It sounds like Lisa is battling something many moms struggle with: balancing “doing the right thing” with “making our kids happy.”

Sugar is a highly inflammatory food. Inflammation is the root of disease. Since we care about our children’s health, the “right thing to do” is to limit sugar intake.

Purchase, prepare, pack and serve healthy foods so our kids will be healthy. Whatever everyone else wants to do, is their business. If other kid’s parents have different values, so be it. If banks and dry cleaners want to offer candy to your kids, you can let your kid decide, or practice saying a polite “no thank you.” Consistency and conviction are key to making this become a non-issue.

Make sure not to be too restrictive, or too indulgent, or your efforts may backfire.

Those two things are hard to come by because although we care about our child’s health, we also really like making our kids happy.

We love it when their faces light up with joy and excitement! They look at us like every one of their dreams came true in the form of a frosted cookie.

When WE grant permission for a sugary sweet, then we are the givers of joy and happiness and they know it. Then, WE get a little hit of dopamine! The reward center in our brain goes off saying, “more of this please!”

We get hooked on being the source and provider of joy. This makes us want to hang on to all decision making power so that we can bathe in mutual happiness and dopamine with our sugar eating kids.

When you’ve got two competing beliefs like this, it’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of frustration. Leading to what I like to call, “the exploding doormat.” You get so tired of the begging and pleading not only from your kids, but also from the back and forth negotiations of these two competing voices, that you end up exploding and yelling out of frustration.

You just want your kids to STOP ASKING so you don’t have to listen to the negotiations going on inside your head. But because of the random reinforcement, your kids have been trained to keep asking, so it’s much easier to change mama’s behavior.

In order to quiet these voices, mama needs to make a decision ahead of time. Ever wonder why some moms don’t struggle with this problem at all? It’s because they have made a decision.

Here are some examples of decisions moms have communicated to their children to stop the sugar battle once and for all.

  1. You can have ONE treat per day. If you want that first thing in the morning, fine. If someone offers you candy later, you can accept it, but you have to save it for the next day. Or you can collect treats all day long then at night, choose one.
  2. I am not going to monitor your sugar intake anymore. If you eat so much that you feel sick and throw up, then maybe you will learn. This is your opportunity to learn which foods make your body feel the best. If, however, you are so full of junk that you stop eating the healthy food I am providing for you, then I will take the responsibility back.
  3. No treats during the week, we save that for weekends.
  4. You’ve got to earn your desserts. Score a goal, win a donut. Let your brother choose the TV show, earn some fruit snacks. Clean the bathroom, we’ll bake cookies. Eat your vegetables, get some ice cream. Do something you are scared to do like an oral report or trying out for the school play, win a trip to Starbucks.

The specifics of the rule you make aren’t as important as sticking to it with self pride, conviction and consistency. Think about 20 years from now, what are the results you will get from the two voices? The “I want my kids to be healthy” voice will result in healthier kids, with them respecting your authority and POSSIBLY having good boundaries with themselves and their eating.

The “I want to make my kids to be happy” voice will struggle when adolescence hits and they are grumpy and cranky. All the sugar in the world won’t turn that around, but you’ll bend yourself backward trying to get that feel-good dopamine hit from seeing them happy. Will you let them drink alcohol and smoke pot if it makes them happy? Will you buy them their dream car?  Trying to make kids happy all the time will exhaust you and make you, and them, miserable.

The best thing to do is to focus on making YOU happy, not your kids. If you are tired of yelling and being an “exploding doormat,” then focus on making decisions YOU feel good about.

When you have a very clear NO, there’s no need for yelling, no matter how much kids beg and plead. You get to be a mom you admire, today and 20 years down the road. Make decisions based on what will make you happy and proud of yourself in the long term.

Supermom Kryptonite: “False Joy”

“False Joy” is anything that brings you joy and happiness in the short term, but leaves you feeling yucky in the long term.

Eating sugar can give you a boost of energy and happiness, but in the long term can give you weight gain, increase the chance of disease, and make you sluggish and have low energy.

Be aware of the “false joy” hangover. You have fun shopping and splurging on things you don’t need, but the next day you hide your packages in your trunk feeling regretful and shameful. You stay up late binge-watching an entire season on Netflix, then wake up the next morning feeling exhausted.

When something brings you joy, how do you know if it’s real, long-lasting happiness, or a “false joy” that will leave you feeling hungover? You can tell by imagining how are you going to feel afterward.

Should you splurge on a vacation to Disney World? Of course it will be joyful, it’s the happiest place on Earth! But how will you feel AFTER you get back? Will you be glad you went and spent, or will you be so stressed and in debt that it will leave you feeling hungover? Only you know the answer.

Are you too tired to go to the gym? Would taking a nap bring you more joy than exercise? You’ll know by what you regret later. If you have a cold coming on, and you work out, you’ll feel worse after the gym and wish you hadn’t gone. If, however, you feel more energized after exercise, and are glad you went, then this is you following real, authentic, long-lasting joy.

 

Supermom Powerboost: Green Smoothies

Drinking your vegetables makes it way easier to get the recommended dietary amount. “Green smoothies” can improve your energy, your mental clarity, boost your immune system, improve digestion, hydrate your skin (making you look younger), and help you lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight.

Without the weird textures and smells, vegetable drinks are often more palatable for many kids. The look of them, however, turns people off. There are many varieties that taste quite sweet, so don’t assume they taste bad because they look bad. In order to get kids to drink “green smoothies,” mom needs to drink them without turning up her nose at them.

To get over the look of them, try bringing your ego on board. Chances are, your favorite Hollywood celebrity drinks them (you don’t get that thin by eating french fries) so imagine you are hanging out with your favorite celebrity, sitting on a patio in the sunshine, being admired by passersby and photographed by the paparazzi.

Think about how cool you look drinking your green juice, nibbling on raw carrots and hummus, just like the celebrities do. Imagine that people in your home town are impressed by you, “How does she drink something that looks so gross?”, “She’s must be so strong to not indulge in junk food”, “Her skin is glowing and she looks so young, it must be those green smoothies!”

Our ego is pretty powerful, why not use it to help us get the long term happiness we crave?

Today’s Quote:

“The most important thing is to ENJOY your life. To be happy –  it’s all that matters.” Audrey Hepburn