How can I protect my kid from a bully?

Today’s Question:

“My 9 year old daughter was bullied all year by the same boy. I brought my concerns to the teacher multiple times and told the yard duty to keep an eye on her at recess. On the last day of school he purposely pushed her down while they were standing in line and knee got all banged up. When I came to pick her up, the teacher said she fell and banged her knee but that she was fine. She was NOT FINE! She needed support! And why was he even allowed to stand next to her in line? The teacher knew this punk ass kid had been picking on her all year. I am livid!

I talked to the principal and she was trying to defend him saying he has behavior issues and the counselor was working with him. Um, NO. The teacher knew what was going on and still made her stand next to him in line. I’m so upset. I’m at the school all the time volunteering. My daughter hides behind me whenever she sees him, she’s terrified. I’m trying my best not to go crazy on them but this is not ok.

School is out for summer but I’m worried about this repeating next year. How can I ensure this student is not in her class? I want to help her feel safe but I don’t trust the school to look out for her. How can I protect my daughter from this bully when the school won’t?”    Allison

Parent Educator Answer:

I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with this Allison. When I first started working as a parent educator (18 years ago?) no one talked about bullying. Slowly, people started talking, and boy did it spread like wildfire! Every American Idol contestant has been bullied in school. Educators made efforts to bully-proof their schools. Anti-bullying campaigns raised awareness. This problem is taken much more seriously now than in the past.

Because this term gets used so much, I think it would be helpful to define it. Bullying is the use of coercion and force to abuse and intimidate. In order to be considered bullying the behavior must include:

  • repetition
  • an intentional act to hurt or harm
  • an imbalance of power

It sounds like your daughter has been exposed to some repetitive behaviors this year. We don’t know if the boy’s intention was to hurt your daughter. He could have been mad that she was walking too slow, or annoyed that she was in his way. It could be he was going to push whoever was nearby and your daughter was an easy target.

It seems like this shouldn’t be important because the fact remains your daughter got hurt, she is scared of him, and the teacher hasn’t been able to protect her. It is important because the word bullying is often misused. Sometimes, it’s just mean behavior. For example, in the last podcast, Andria wrote in about how her daughter tells girls she’s not their friend any more and gives them the cold shoulder. It would not be surprising, in this day and age, for this hurt girl to claim “bullying.”

The third criteria, the imbalance of power, is important to take a look at. It sounds like your daughter and this boy are the same age. If your daughter is in a minority race, religion, sexual orientation, then there is an imbalance of social power. If there is a significant size difference or she is disabled in some way, there can be a physical imbalance of power.

If there is no external imbalance of power but just a perceived one, where he thinks he can pick on her because she’s an easy target, then it may just be mean behavior.

Whether it’s real bullying or just mean behavior, finding ways for the victim to feel powerful is the most important thing.

Here are some ways to support your daughter so that you and she feel powerful:

  1. Talk to your daughter about things the teacher or yard duty could do to help her feel safe. We can’t make him “be nice to her” and the teacher can’t be expected to protect her from him all the time. Would she feel better if he switched seats or classrooms? Could she ask friends to stick by her side at recess? Encourage her to problem solve and ask for what she wants.
  2. Teach her to use powerful words with authority figures to get the attention of adults. Words like harassment, abuse, bullying, hostile environment are attention-grabbing and powerful. When kids are scared they tend to shy away, like a turtle pulling into its shell, hoping no one notices them. This makes them appear like an easy target to those looking for one.
  3. Document and share everything. The school’s hands are tied in many ways, but you and your daughter can help get the result you want by focusing on facts, safety, and sharing your documentation.
  4. Write an email to the principal stating how if this aggressive behavior continues next year, you will hold her out of school until they can provide a safe situation for your daughter. Be clear that you are holding the school accountable for her absence and they will need to make arrangements so it doesn’t impact her academics negatively.

Parents really do have a lot more power to affect change in schools than they realize.

What’s most important is for your daughter to feel heard, seen, felt, and protected. We are wired to experience bad things. This is not the issue. She can handle boys being mean, angry, and stupid. She can handle getting physically hurt and feeling scared. That’s just part of being human who is alive on the planet. Our job is not to prevent bad things from happening to our kids.

Our job is to help her feel supported, understood, and powerful.

We want our children to be able to identify an injustice and believe they have the power to change it. In order to create system wide change, we need to have confidence, persistence, and understanding.

Life Coaching Answer:

I’ve been teaching various parenting topics for 18 years: friendship challenges, puberty, money, anxiety, raising a reader, toilet training, you name it, I taught a class on it.

But I will NEVER teach a class on bullying and here’s why.

Right now, think the thought, “My daughter is being bullied.” Notice how you feel when you think that thought. Defensive? Tense? Tight? Ready to leap into action? What kind of action do we want to take from this state? We want to fight. We clench our fists and brace ourselves. We want to punch that bully. Or his parents. Or the school. The THOUGHT “My child is being bullied” makes us want to bully right back!

It’s a natural response. We are powerful momma lions wanting to protect our children, heck, ALL CHILDREN from these bullies. We think things like: “He needs to be taught a lesson.” “He can’t go around hurting people.” “The schools can’t allow kids to behave this way.”

None of these thoughts are helpful.

We can teach this boy lessons in kindness but we can’t make him learn. He does go around hurting people so clearly he CAN hurt people. The schools are obligated to educate all children, even ones with behavior issues. They can instruct and provide consequences, but there are protocols they have to follow before they can legally remove a child.

When we hear the word bullying, we jump into fight mode. This makes US feel powerful, but doesn’t help our KID feel powerful. It also doesn’t help us jump through the necessary hoops in order for productive action to be taken. The schools need us to write down the specifics, exactly what FACTS took place, but it’s hard to do this when we have such a strong emotional response. Instead of helping schools take appropriate legal action, we get mad and stay mad.

If you really want to help your daughter, remove the word bullying from YOUR vocabulary, but encourage HER to use it. She feels empowered because she knows bullying is wrong and this isn’t her fault. You can help her stay focused on taking productive action to make her school a better, safer place for everybody.

The best result to come from bullying is the victim learns her words have power, she feels supported, and believes that she has the ability to create social change.

Supermom Kryptonite – Complaining

In episode 16, I mention that getting together with girl friends and venting about frustrations can be very helpful. Venting your emotions into a journal or with a trusted friend, can release the pressure, helping you think more clearly and hear your own wisdom. Complaining is repeating the problem from a place of powerlessness. It implies that nothing is going to change and you are helpless. Every time we repeat the same negative story, we reinforce the synapse in our brain, making it stronger and feel truer. Be careful not repeat anything that you don’t want to grow. Complaining not only makes us feel tired and helpless but negatively impacts the mood of those we are complaining with.

 

Supermom Power Boost – Let off steam

In order to access our calm, logical, and effective part of our brain, Momma Lion needs to let off some steam. We want to honor the anger, it’s an important emotion to have. Anger signals injustice. Don’t suppress it, instead:

  • go to kick boxing class,
  • scream your head off at your daughters swim meet
  • rip up a magazine
  • stomp on a cardboard box

Let your kid see mom process anger in a healthy way so they learn healthy ways to let it out.

Today’s Quote of the Day

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed; it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Managing May craziness without overwhelm

Question of the Day – Feeling Overwhelmed

“I feel so overwhelmed with the “end of school year” craziness.

I’ve got 3 little kids and their 3 teachers are asking so many things of me: bring $5 for a field trip, send brownies for a party, send in a baby picture for kinder-graduation, black pants for the performance, flower and card for teacher appreciation, and on and on.

Not to mention the end-of-year gifts for the teacher, my son’s birthday, my niece’s high school graduation AND requests for my TIME! I’m supposed to volunteer at the festival, watch the end of year performance, and chaperone the field trip?!?!

My brain is ready to explode! This is all fun stuff so I feel guilty complaining, but how the heck do people manage the May crazies without getting overwhelmed?”     – Lindsay

 

Parent Educator Answer: Feeling Overwhelmed

I remember feeling exactly the same way when my kids were little. I was out walking my dog one December feeling totally overwhelmed with trying to remember all the things I had to do.

I ran into my neighbor who had 5 KIDS, was homeschooling 3 of them, and was very involved with church activities. Surely, she could relate to my struggle of feeling overwhelmed trying to manage the details of many lives.

I said, “You must be going crazy, too, trying to remember all the details, celebrations, gifts and events with 5 kids! How are you not overwhelmed?”

A Lot of Lists

She looked at me contemplatively and calmly replied, “Well, I have a lot of lists.

The most common cause of overwhelm during busy months like May and December is trying to hold too many things in your head at one time.

Writing everything down gets it all out of your head so you don’t have to “try to remember.”

If you trust yourself to check your lists and follow through, this (theoretically) frees up your brain so you don’t have to hold too many things in your head at one time.

It’s like having too many browser tabs open on your computer at one time. Sometimes the computer can’t process it all and it slows down and starts taking forever to load. It needs extra time to process everything.

When we have too many thoughts in our head, we also begin to slow down and become less productive. 

Writing things down is like closing some of those browser windows so there are fewer things to think about it.

If you do have a lot of lists and you still feel overwhelmed, take it three steps further:

  1. Break things into categories. Everything you need to buy can be compiled into one list rather than making multiple trips. All phone calls get done at one time.
  2. Write how long you think each task will take. Sometimes we procrastinate on things we really don’t want to do, but when you realize that one email you don’t want to write will only take 5 minutes, it makes it seem less daunting and you get it done with more easily.
  3. Choose a date and time on your calendar to complete it. Putting it on the calendar will help you see your schedule and how much time you actually have.

The list looks like this:

  1. Buy 13 toys for the preschool summer fun basket. (40 min. Tuesday @ 7:00pm)
  2. Have Sophie make a card for her teacher. (10 min. Sunday @ 2:00pm)
  3. Buy fruit and make a fruit platter for end of year party. (60 min. Thursday @ 8:00pm)

All you need to do is check your calendar and obey it. If someone asks, “Can you drive kids to the park for field day?” You will know if you can or cannot by looking at your calendar.

Life Coaching answer: What To Do When Overwhelmed

What gets in the way from implementing this tried and true method for reducing overwhelm? Perfectionism.

I have not encountered an overwhelmed mom yet who did not have some sort of perfectionism (myself included). Inside our heads, it sounds something like this:

  1. “I have to do everything right.”
  2. “I should do everything they are asking me to do.”
  3. “I need to contribute and do my part.”
  4. “I need to be there for my kids.”
  5. “I can’t forget anything.”

Everything that makes us such reliable, responsible Supermoms overwhelms us when too many external expectations are put upon us. It all seems equally urgent and important!

Why can’t we be one of those moms who just “phones it in” and doesn’t stress?

Because we are not kind to ourselves if we drop the ball.

“Oh my gosh, I’m such an idiot, I can’t believe I forgot the coach’s gift!”

“Every other kid had their baby picture. I’m such a terrible mother!”

“What is wrong with me? How could I forget the baseball banquet? I’m such a loser.”

Other moms can drop the ball occasionally because they are quick to forgive themselves when they do.

What keeps us feeling crazy and overwhelmed? The fear of WHAT we are going to say to OURSELVES, about ourselves, when we screw up.

To feel more calm and more in control, you’ve got to commit to being nice to yourself no matter what. Practice saying things like this:

  • “Oh well, no big deal.”
  • “I’ve contributed plenty this year already.”
  • “I give myself permission to drop the ball”

 

Not only will you feel calmer and more clear headed, but you will be modeling for your kids how to let go of perfectionism and forgive yourself for being an ordinary human.

No doubt about it, you are a Supermom; but trying to be perfect in May and December can be too much. Sometimes you just need to hang up the cape.

 

Supermom Kryptonite: 

Trying not to drop any balls. Picture a juggler with 5 balls in the air. He focuses; whole body tense.

He might smile and talk, but he can’t really relax. Most of his attention has to stay on juggling those 5 balls. Now imagine he is juggling these balls for 12 hours a day. EXHAUSTING.

Give yourself permission to drop some balls. Decide ahead of time which balls to drop or just commit to being kind to yourself when the inevitable ball drops.

You are not perfect, you are human, and human beings forget things, flake, and make mistakes.

Supermom Powerboost: 

When we are exhausted, overwhelmed, and crazy, we just need to be with people who understand us.

The Holderness Family does a great job of laughing at the craziness that comes with modern-day parenting.

They are famous YouTubers who make funny videos that make us crazy Supermoms feel seen, heard, and felt.

Their recent Maycember video is today’s Supermom Powerboost. Watch the video, have a laugh, and know that you are not alone. I’ll include a link in the show notes and my Facebook Page, Life Coaching for Parents.

Quote of the Day:

“Imperfections are not inadequacies. They are a reminder that we are all in this together.” Brene Brown

What’s the best way to spend Mother’s Day?


Join me for the 7-day Supermom Challenge and reconnect with yourself and your essence!

I feel so silly asking this but it’s really weighing on my mind! What should I do for mother’s day? I know it’s MY DAY to do whatever I want to do, but I can’t figure it out. Every idea I have feels exhausting. I thought I would invite both grandma’s over for a family celebration but I can’t seem to commit to it. Going out to a restaurant with my kids and long wait times sounds terrible. I’m afraid to lose my one day a year where I have permission to be selfish if I don’t pick something soon! -Erin

I don’t think this is a silly question AT ALL. I actually think it’s a very important one and one that will show up every birthday and mother’s day. The big milestone birthdays can be especially difficult because there is extra pressure to make it spectacular.

 

Life Coaching Answer:

As I read your question, I’m wondering if you feel like you lost yourself in parenting?

Our wants and desires are key to the essence of who we are. It’s difficult to answer the question, “What do I want?” when we have disconnected from spirit.

Here are some signs that you have disconnected from your spirit:

You feel tired a lot.

You go through the motions of the day, without feeling fully engaged and alive.

You feel lonely and confused.

You’ve tried to solve your problems but it doesn’t change how you feel.

You can tell me what your kids want, your husband wants, your mother in law wants, but struggle to answer the question, “What do I want?”

Reconnecting with your essence is easier than you might think but it helps to understand how you lost the connection in the first place.

How often do your kids ask, “What do you want to do today, mom?” “What do you feel like eating?” “What outfit would you like to wear?” “What did you learn today, Mom?” “Did you have fun at the grocery store?”

The people you are with the most, stopped asking you what you want. So you stopped asking yourself that question.

I love that Erin is asking the question “What do I want to do for mother’s day?”

Unfortunately, it’s tied in with pressure and scarcity so she feels like she has to pick the perfect thing for her, her family, and suck it up for the rest of the year.

You deserve more than ONE day of the year to think about what you want!

When we aren’t giving enough attention to our spirit, we may inadvertently put unrealistically high expectations on this ONE-day event.

It’s easy to slip into thinking this one needs to be perfectly rejuvenating, inexpensive, make everyone happy and bring me back to feeling like myself again.

Let’s throw the perfectionism out the window!

I suggest you declare another day just for you to remove this scarcity around mother’s day.

I always tried to switch father’s day with mother’s day in my family. The golf courses are packed on father’s day but empty on mother’s day so we go against the tide and swap them. We’ll hit a day spa on father’s day and enjoy the absence of crowds, but you have to be careful.

Moms that are good at self-sacrificing and putting everyone else’s needs first, need to watch out for the temptation to skip over their day altogether. If you hear your brain saying, “I can skip it” or “I don’t really need it”, don’t believe it! 

Claim your day, set aside some money, know that resistance might come up but don’t allow it to take over. Then start fantasizing about what you really, really want.

Look around you. Everything you see around you began in someone’s imagination. Your job is to let go of rules, fears, and just dwell in your imagination.

What would you do if you could not care what people thought?

What would you do if you had a day to yourself and nobody knew it?

What if you had no fears and endless cash?Celebrating Mother's Day for Supermoms

If you hear your brain saying “That could never happen” or “I can’t afford that”, tell it to relax, you are just dreaming as a way to reconnect with your essence.

Children are constantly in transition, which means that our needs as parents are constantly in transition, too.

When they are babies, we just want sleep.

When they are pre-school age, we just want our own attention.

When they are angsty teens we might crave more joy and peace. What do you crave? order? calm? nature? adventure?

One year for mother’s day I was craving productivity and quiet time by myself. So much of my life was spent in circular tasks that never gave me a sense of actual accomplishment.

I sent my family away from the house for 5 hours and painted the dining room. It was so fun. Just me, my thoughts, my music, my aesthetic with a very tangible result I could look at every day.

Write out your fantasy mother’s day in your journal and give yourself permission to want whatever the heck you want. No judgment. No expectation. 

Supermom Kryptonite: Maximising

In 1956, prize-winning economist, Herbert A. Simon wrote a paper about the different ways people make buying decisions. He coined the terms “Maximiser” and “Satisficer”.

Maximisers expect themselves to make the most informed, intelligent decisions with the most long lasting benefits.

Most of us would expect that “maximizing” one’s decision making would lead to superior and more satisfying results. Psychologists, however, have discovered no difference in the quality of decision but a big difference in one’s ability to be content with their decisions.

Maximisers are more likely to struggle with making a decision and then beat themselves up afterward if it proves to be less than ideal.

Putting pressure on themselves to make perfect decisions with the most long lasting benefits, drains their energy by making us avoiding decision making altogether.

In Erin’s scenario, she may be trying to “maximise” her mother’s day experience by putting too many expectations on one day.

She wants to tap into her essential self and use this day to reconnect with what she wants, but she also wants to make the grandmas happy, and not be perceived as “selfish”.

Supermom Powerboost: Satisficing

Simon combined the words “satisfy” with “sufficing” to coin the term satisficing. A “satisficer” is one who looks at what they want to gain (or maintain) and chooses based on modest criteria.

They don’t feel pressured to make a perfect decision with long lasting benefits, they just want it to be good enough for right now.

“Satisficers” find contentment with what they have and don’t worry that there might be something else better out there.

What researchers have found is that “satificers” are generally happier than “maximisers”.

They have an easier time making decisions, don’t beat themselves up afterward for making “bad” decisions, (they don’t even label decisions as good or bad!) and don’t dwell in negative emotions like buyer’s remorse.

They make decisions based on what they want at the time, and allow their wants to change over time.

Becoming more of a satificer will boost your energy, your happiness and your decision making abilities.

Making decisions based on what is good enough for you right now, requires you to KNOW what it is you WANT.

This is an easy thing to lose when you are a busy mama, but that’s why it’s the first step towards claiming a day just for you.

Quote of the Day

“Knowing that you’ve made a choice that you will not reverse allows you to pour your energy into improving the relationship that you have rather than constantly second-guessing it.”

Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

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

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