Category Archives: Parenting

Bozeman Workshops on Parenting

I’m just about to hit the road to Bozeman to provide a short class and evening presentation for Thrive and the Big Sky Youth Empowerment Program (BYEP). These are two fantastic organizations and I’m honored to make the trip and spend time talking about youth and how parents can move toward being the parents they want to be.

The 1:30pm presentation is titled, “Strategies and Techniques for Influencing and Motivating Children and Teenagers” and the powerpoints are here: Thrive Bozeman Motivation 2019

The 6:00pm workshop is at the Bozeman Public Library and is titled, “Transforming Explosive Tantrums Into Cooperation: Strategies for Helping Children (and Caretakers) Achieve Emotional Regulation.” Yep. . . that’s a mouthful. Here’s the powerpoint: Thrive Bozeman Explosive Solutions 2019

I also have a summary handout for participants here: Thrive Explosive Handout 2019

If you want more information about Thrive and BYEP and the cool and important work they do, you can find Thrive information here: https://allthrive.org/

And BYEP here:  https://www.byep.org/

Okay. Now, on to the important stuff: Go Griz!

Hatches B

 

Talking about “Teen Love” on the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast

Hand holding

The latest Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast just went live. You can listen on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

Or Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

The description of the Teen Love episode is below.

When John mentions the title of this episode of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast, Sara emits the sophisticated professional response of “Eewww gross.” Don’t worry. Things get better from there, because you get to hear a wide range of strategies for teaching children about healthy relationships, including Sara’s super-secret and bizarrely named strategy called “the spinach in the muffins technique.” You also get to hear several inappropriate self-disclosures, unfair accusations (as in when Sara says John just wants to reminisce about his Teen Love experiences), the Romeo and Juliet effect, and how much Sara’s teenage boys look forward to her talking with them about sexuality and intimacy. In the end, we agree that healthy relationships are the number one predictor of happiness and offer fantastic resources like the Dibble Institute https://www.dibbleinstitute.org/ and the CDC’s Teen Dating Violence webpage:  https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teen-dating-violence.html.

The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast (PPPP) is brought to you in part by the Charles Engelhard Foundation and the National Parenting Education Network . . . but you should also be aware that the views expressed on this and every episode of the PPPP do not necessarily reflect the views of our sponsors, our listeners, or anyone other than Sara Polanchek and John Sommers-Flanagan. . . and, of  course, sometimes we’re not even certain that we agree with what we just said.

The PPPP provides general educational information designed to promote positive parenting practices, but this podcast should not be considered a source of professional advice. If you have questions about specific parenting or caretaking scenarios, we recommend that you seek professional services with someone who can help you address the unique situations that you’re facing in your life.

Helping Children Deal with Fear and Anxiety

Shark in Pool

Facing fear and anxiety is no easy task. It’s not easy for children; and it’s not easy for their parents. Here’s a short piece of historical fiction that captures some of the dynamics that can emerge when you’re helping children face their fears.

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“I’m scared.”

My nephew turned his pleading fact toward me. He was standing on the diving board. I was a few feet below. We had waited in line together. Turning back now meant social humiliation. Although I knew enough to know that the scene wasn’t about me, I still felt social pressure mounting. If he stepped down from the diving board, I’d feel the shame right along with him. My own potential embarrassment, along with the belief that he would be better served facing his fears, led me to encourage him to follow through and jump.

“You can do it,” I said.

He started to shake. “But I can’t.”

Parenting or grand-parenting or hanging out with nieces and nephews sometimes requires immense decision-making skill. I’d been through “I’m scared” situations before, with my own children, with grandchildren, with other nephews and nieces. When do you push through the fear? When do you backtrack and risk “other people” labeling you, your son, your daughter, or a child you love as “chicken?”

This particular decision wasn’t easy. I wanted my nephew to jump. I was sure he would be okay. But I also knew a little something about emotional invalidation. Sure, we want to encourage and sometimes push our children to get outside their comfort zones and take risks. On the other hand, we also want to respect their emotions. Invalidating children’s emotions tends to produce adults who don’t trust themselves. But making the decision of when to validate and when to push isn’t easy.

I reached out. My nephew took my hand. I said, “Hey. You made it up here this time. I’ll bet you’ll make the jump next time.” We turned to walk back. A kid standing in line said, “That’s okay. I was too scared to jump my first time.”

Later, when the line had shrunk, my nephew wanted to try again. “Sure,” I said. “I’ll walk over with you.”

He made the jump the second time. We celebrated his success with high-fives and an ice-cream sandwich.

Like all words, the words, “I’m scared” have meaning and provoke reactions.

Sometimes when parents hear the words, “I’m scared” they want to push back and say something like, “That’s silly” or “Too bad” or “Buck-up honeycup” or something else that’s reactive and emotionally invalidating.

The point of the story about my nephew isn’t to brag about a particular outcome. Instead, I want to recognize that most of us share in this dilemma: How can we best help children through their fears.

Just yesterday I knelt next to my tearful granddaughter. She was too scared to join into a group activity. She held onto my knee. We were in a public setting, so I instantly felt embarrassment creeping my way. I dealt with it by engaging in chit-chat about all the activity around us, including commentary about clothes, shoes, the color of the gym. Later, when she finally joined in on the activity, I felt relief and I felt proud. I also remembered the old lesson that I’d learned so many times before. In the moment of a child’s fear, my potential emotional pain, although present, pales in comparison to whatever the child is experiencing.

If you’d like to hear more about how to help children cope with their fears, you can listen to Dr. Sara Polanchek and me chatting about this topic on our latest Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast. Here are the links.

On iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

On Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

And follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PracticallyPerfectParenting/

 

 

Why Kids Lie: The Podcast

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I still recall the first chapter of the first statistics textbook I ever read. It was titled, Lying with Statistics. Pretty cool title. At least I think that was the title. Is it still a lie if I think I’m remembering something accurately, but I get a few details wrong? Maybe it’s a partial lie. In psychology, we call that confabulation.

We all know first-hand about lying. Maybe we tried it out ourselves, in the past, of course. Or maybe we still engage in a little dissembling here or there. And, undoubtedly, we’ve likely been on the other end of a lie. Is that called being on the “butt-end” of a lie? If not, it should be, because that’s how it feels.

How about for you? How does it feel to tell a lie? Does it feel different when you get away with it versus when you get caught? How does it feel when someone lies to you? I can answer these questions from my perspective, but this post isn’t about me. It’s about you, your children, your friends, your colleagues at work, and obviously, it’s about American politicians. In particular, it’s about you and your children. If you’re like most parents (and humans), when your children lie to you, you might feel some flashes of anger. Although the anger is natural, in our Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast episode on “Why Kids Lie,” we recommend trying to follow the old Families First Boston motto of, “Get curious, not furious.”

Like everything, lying is developmental. Most of us lied about something, sometime, while growing up. But for most of us (I hope), the usefulness of lying started fading and was replaced by the usefulness and value of being honest. Our hope for you is that, if your children are lying, you can help them grow out of it.

Below is the blurb about this week’s PPPP episode. As usual, you can listen on iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2) or Libsyn (http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/) and you can follow the PPPP on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/PracticallyPerfectParenting/).

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When it comes to boastful lying, there’s no better example than Penelope, one of Kristen Wiig’s characters on SNL. Penelope is incessantly popping up here and there, basically lying her ass off. The purpose of Penelope’s lies appear relatively straightforward. She seems to be insecure on the inside, therefore, she boasts and brags about her amazing accomplishments, constantly “one-upping” anything that anyone else says.

On second thought, maybe there’s another fictional-nonfiction character who does her one better in the lying department, but let’s not go there.

This Practically Perfect Parenting podcast on lying focuses on two key issues: (1) Why children lie . . . and (2) How parents can handle their children’s lying in ways that encourage honesty.

Sara and John review many different motivations for lying. These include, but are not limited to Penelope’s ego-boosting motivation. For parents, it can be helpful to understand the goals of your children’s lies. Obviously (or maybe not so obviously), if your children lie because they’re afraid to admit they did something wrong, then using harsh punishment with your children may make them even more afraid to tell you the truth and more inclined to lie and more likely to become even better liars.

Not surprisingly, in this episode, John tells a few lies. You’ll have to listen to see how Sara handles him.

Why Kids Lie and What to Do About It

Lucy in BedLying is in the news again today, as it was yesterday, and will be tomorrow.

The latest count (by the Washington Post) has Donald Trump at over 5,000 false or misleading statements on only his 601st day as president. This past September 7 was DJT’s new one-day high, at an astounding 125 false or misleading claims.

But today’s blog post isn’t about the president, it’s about parenting. Truth be told (and I’m not lying about this), children tell lies sometimes; lying, among children and teens (and adults), is a natural and normal act. However, even though lying is a normal childhood behavior, you probably don’t like it when your children lie—especially when they lie to you.

Relationships between parents and children are complex and multidimensional. You could probably say the same thing about any relationships that involve love and living together. One particularly complex dimension of parent-child relationships involves how selective children are when they watch, listen, comment, and copy their parents’ behavior.

On the one hand, parents often feel like their children aren’t listening to them (“that darn kid doesn’t listen”). On the other hand and ironically, children’s observational powers seem to be at their peak during those moments when parents engage in less positive behaviors, including the parental exaggeration, fib, or outright lie. Then, and especially then, children’s ears perk up and, no big surprise, they catch you in your lie!

In addition to the irony of your children’s selective attention to your moral and ethical missteps, having a president like Donald Trump makes preaching the virtues of honesty all the more challenging. After all, he’s publicly telling many lies every day, and he’s attained his success, in part, because of his self-professed philosophy of lying, never admitting he’s wrong, and never apologizing. He shapes reality around what he thinks, which I would guess, is exactly the opposite of what parents want to teach their children.

Consider this excerpt from an essay titled “Fathers” by Alice Walker.

I recall a scene when I was only three or so in which my father questioned me about a fruit jar I had accidentally broken.  I felt he knew I had broken it, at the same time I couldn’t be sure.  Apparently, breaking it was, in any event, the wrong thing to have done.  I could say, Yes, I broke the jar, and risk a whipping for breaking something valuable, or No, I did not break it, and perhaps bluff my way through.

I’ve never forgotten my feeling that he really wanted me to tell the truth.  And because he seemed to desire it and the moments during which he waited for my reply seemed quite out of time, so much so I can still feel them, and, as I said, I was only three I confessed.  I broke the jar, I said.  I think he hugged me.  He probably didn’t, but I still feel as if he did, so embraced did I feel by the happy relief I noted on his face and by the fact that he didn’t punish me at all, but seemed, instead, pleased with me.  I think it was at that moment that I resolved to take my chances with the truth, although as the years rolled on I was to break more serious things in his scheme of things than fruit jars (you can find this essay in Alice Walker’s book of essays titled, “Living by the word,” p. 12; see, https://www.amazon.com/Living-Word-Selected-Writings-1973-1987/dp/0156528657/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1541802856&sr=1-2&keywords=alice+walker+essays).

Alice Walker sensed, at a very young age, that her father wanted the truth, she gave it to him, and he provided her with positive reinforcement (and no punishment) in response to her honesty. That’s a powerful sequence, and one way that parents teach children to value honesty.

Just yesterday, Sara Polanchek and I recorded a Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast episode on “Why Kids Lie and What to Do about It.” The podcast isn’t available yet, but it will be soon. In the meantime, here are some highlights.

Because all children lie and lying is a natural part of child development, we encourage parents to “be curious and not furious” about children’s lies. That doesn’t mean you should accept their lies; it does mean you should try to understand your child’s motivations for lying, before reacting (or overreacting). Here are some of the most common reasons why children lie and ideas about how to respond.

  • Young children (typically 2 and under) will lie because they don’t understand the differences between fantasy and reality and/or because they’re experimenting with fantasy and reality. This might involve, “the monster broke my toy” or “that’s my doll!” If you think your young child can’t quite make the distinction between reality (what happened) and fantasy (what the child wishes or thinks might have happened), a little empathy, mutual exploration, and limit-setting might be in order: “Darn. It’s upsetting when toys get broken. How can we make sure the monster doesn’t break any more? And, I hope it doesn’t happen again, because we only have so many toys.”
  • For children and adults, many lies are a product of self-defense or self-protection. As in the Alice Walker essay, children may be scared of or be avoiding negative consequences. One way to help your children through their fears of telling the truth is to do what Alice Walker’s father did: Communicate how much you value honesty, and sometimes, when your child is honest, let them out of the natural consequences.
  • Ego-boosting is another reason why kids (and adult) lie. Most people want to look better than they are or to have more than they have, and that can result in bragging or boasting. One way of dealing with this motivation is to focus on the real and true things that you value about your children. Additionally, it’s important to let children know that you love them—even when they’re imperfect.
  • As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Your children will notice when you lie and when you tell the truth. If you really want to instill values of honesty—that means making a commitment to being honest yourself—at least in front of the children. One powerful way of modeling honesty is to honestly share with your children times when you wanted to lie about something, but chose to tell the truth instead. Children can benefit from understanding (and seeing) that telling the truth isn’t always easy and that it’s natural to feel the temptation to deceive others for protection, gain, or self-promotion.

There are many more motivations for lying that Sara and I discuss on the upcoming podcast. We also discuss some additional ideas for promoting honesty. Here are a few quick points:

  1. Gently inquire with your kids about what’s wrong with lying (or cheating or stealing, etc.).
  2. Keep your ears tuned for signs of your kid taking personal responsibility, having empathy for others, and principles such as trust . . . and celebrate those when you notice them.
  3. Whatever your child says, accept it, note that it’s interesting, then share your perspective.
  4. Avoid preaching.
  5. Avoid extra harsh punishment because it can promote the use of lying out of fear.
  6. Make a practice of being truthful yourself. As a parent, you set the standard.
  7. Don’t play detective. Keep in mind the old saying, “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.” Apply natural and unpleasant consequences when there’s available evidence, but don’t set your child up to tell a lie.  Instead, tell your child what you know and let your child expand on it.  Schaefer (1995) uses the following example: If you know your child did poorly on a test at school, don’t ask, “Did you pass your exam?”  Instead, make a statement: “Your teacher called and told us that you failed the test.  We are worried.  We wonder how to be of help?”
  8. Let your children know that if they’re honest about misbehavior you’ll do what you can to be helpful. On the other hand, if they lie about misbehavior, the natural penalty will be double (one consequence for the misbehavior and one consequence for the lie).
  9. Use books and stories to teach moral values.
  10. Let your child know, repeatedly, how much you appreciate honesty and openness. And be prepared for times when you will be disappointed.  When appropriate, share your disappointment rather than your anger.
  11. If, after using the previously mentioned suggestions, the lying persists, family counseling or counseling for your child might be a good idea.

No doubt, lying will continue to be in the news. It appears that there’s not much we can do about that in the short term. However, as a supportive, limit-setting, and positive role model, you can reduce the amount of lying that happens in your own home. And when it comes to building a truth-telling society, promoting honesty in your home is a great place to start.

 

 

 

Sibling Rivalry: Episode 26 of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast

This is Captain America, fighting with his younger sibling.

Sibling Rivalry II

Yesterday, morning my phone pinged me about a new episode of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast (PPPP). At first I ignored it, realizing of course, that this ping was about my very own podcast, so why pay attention. But then I thought, I should pretend I’m not the podcaster and just click into the podcast and start listening. So I did.

Much to my surprise, I didn’t hate it. Maybe that sounds weird. If you’ve ever listened to an audio recording of yourself, you probably know what I mean. Typically, I feel uncomfortable and dislike the way I sound (on audio) and look (on video). But I actually sort of liked the opening sounds of the PPPP. I thought both Sara and I sounded pretty darn good. Then I realized, of course, that all the credit goes to Mike Matthews, our sound guy and his fancy microphones. Thanks Mike, for making us sound far more sophisticated and smart than we actually are!

I should also say thanks to Joey Moore, because he reviews the audio recordings, deletes some of our “Ums” and other verbal problems, and then posts the podcasts on Libsyn and iTunes. Thanks Joey!

But now I’m worried. I wonder if Mike and Joey might feel competitive with one another. Maybe they feel like siblings (even though they’ve never met). Maybe I should have said thanks to Joey first? Could I be stoking a sibling rivalry?

Speaking of sibling rivalry, that’s the topic of this, the latest episode of the PPPP. And here’s the blurb Sara wrote about this episode (Episode #26, just in case you’re counting).

Two brothers, ages 7 and 9, were arguing over an imaginary cookie.  In a dramatic turn of events, the older brother brought the invisible cookie to his lips, and took an imaginary bite. Immediately, the younger brother fell to his knees, crying and wailing over the loss of this imagined—yet highly coveted and presumably scrumptious—cookie.  In this Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast episode, Dr. John and Dr. Sara attempt to unravel the mysteries of sibling rivalry and discuss how it can serve an important purpose.  They remind listeners that, although an understandable fantasy, eliminating conflict is not a reasonable goal.  Instead, by accepting a certain amount of sibling rivalry, parents can help children adopt life-long conflict management skills.

If you want to listen to the PPPP click on whatever link below that fits your needs.

The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast is a bimonthly podcast by Department of Counselor Education Professor John Sommers-Flanagan and Clinical Director Sara Polanchek. The PPPP is sponsored by the Engelhard Foundation, the National Parenting Education Network, the Department of Counselor Education, and listeners like you. The 26th episode, titled, “Sibling Rivalry and Relationships” was released last Wednesday. Subscribe or listen on: iTunes, or Libsyn and follow on Facebook.

 

Feeling Anxious? Learn the One and Only Method for Self-Regulation

Back in 1980, one of my supervisors at Woodside Hospital in Vancouver, WA, gave me a big compliment. At the time, I was a recreational therapist in a 22-bed psychiatric hospital. In a letter of recommendation, the supervisor described me as having a special knack for translating complex psychological phenomena into concrete activities from which patients could learn. To be honest, I really had no idea what I was doing.

But I think he was onto something about me and my personality. I like to integrate, summarize, and boil down information into digestible bits. Sometimes I have to get the facts to play Twister to get otherwise incompatible perspectives to fit together. This tendency is probably why I’ve written textbooks on clinical interviewing and counseling theories.

Today, I’m tackling anxiety, anxiety reduction, and self-regulation. This feels more personal than usual, mostly because I’ve been dysregulated, more or less, since November 9, 2016.

After reading and thinking about anxiety and anxiety reduction for 30+ years, I’m strongly leaning toward the position that there’s only one, single, universal method to achieve self-regulation. The method is Mary Cover Jones’s counterconditioning. You probably already know that I think Mary Cover Jones is fabulous.

As a means of exploring this unifying method, I recently did a podcast on it with Sara Polanchek. I’ll write more later, but for now, if you’re interested, check out the podcast. It’s the latest episode (7/19/18 release date). You can listen on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

Or Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

If you do listen, please let me know what you think. That way I can continue with integration and synthesis by incorporating your thoughts into my thoughts. I’ll bet you can find many different ways to communicate with me.

If you don’t listen, no worries, I’ll just keep hanging out here in my personal echo chamber.