Alyson Schafer came by to talk about her book, "Honey, I Wrecked the Kids" - a book for parents who have exhausted all of their parenting methods and still have a child they can't get to co-operate. Alyson describes her philosophy of "democratic parenting" - it's neither autocratic nor permissive, it treats everyone in the family the same, each to their age and ability - the children learn by logical consequences.
Honey I Wrecked the Kids. That's quite a title - what does it mean?
It is my title. My publishers asked me, "when parents come to you what's their big complaint?" Usually it's that they've got a kid that they think is misbehaving and they've exhausted all of their parenting methods trying to deal with them. They say that nothing's worked, that they feel guilty, think they've failed as parents and wrecked their kids.
Generally what parenting methods do parents use?
The basic two. Archie Bunker style, autocratic parenting where you basically lay down the law and expect kids to do as they're told, or permissive parenting where the kids pretty much get to do as they want.
The pendulum's gone back and forth - parents decided that being autocrats was a bad idea so they decided to go the permissive route. But that doesn't work either and we went. Parent's reaction has been, "Look at these self indulgent little tyrants." That's why programs such as Nanny 911 have become so popular again - we've become too autocratic again.
So what's your method?
My method is called the Democratic method, which is often confused with permissive parenting but it's very different. I say be respectful with your children but don't let them walk over you. Treat your family like a democratic country where every person deserves to be represented, everyone gets a word but it's to their ability and to matters that affect them. You don't ask your toddler if you should I go for a fixed rate on my mortgage. The Parent can be the leader, the boss of family but not bossy and not act in a demeaning way. When we share power we get more productivity down in the ranks. Kids are the same - we get more cooperation from them when we're democratic.
My book is about how you guide and discipline your child in a way that's not demeaning. We're used to parenting by using punishment and awards so kids will be obedient. My book argues against obedience. Who wants a kid who is always doing what they're told. When I ask parents what kind a child they want they say, "a free thinker." Well this has to start in the home but parents lack knowledge about how to pull that off.
Parents get caught up in a misbehaviour dance with their kids. It helps us to change the language to see what's going on. Rather than calling it "misbehaviour" we should call it "a mistaken approach." They've done it in a way that we don't like. They've just found a solution to a problem but they're not trying to hurt us so we have to stop seeing it that way and taking it personally. We have to own that we're co-creating a problem - what fuels it is how we're reacting.
What are the main areas of misbehaviour?
The two biggies are attention seeking behaviour and power struggles.
Can you give some classic examples of attention seeking and how to handle it?
A huge one is interrupting a parent when they're on the phone. You can be with your child all afternoon but the minute you get on the phone they start bothering you.
The way to handle it is to ignore the behaviour but not the child. You don't say shhh I'm on the phone and nag them to leave you alone. Instead you don't make eye contact with them, you keep on talking, but you can rub their back to show them that you're not angry with them, you just don't want to be interrupted. For certain, their behaviour will get worst - things will accelerate so you might want to plan with friend to call you so you can practice this. After 3-4 times kids will learn that it's not worth the energy to interrupt.
Your child needs to believe that they don't need to have your attention all of the time or they're not important to you.
Sibling fighting in the car. Calmly pull the car over, get out and tell your kids that when everyone is calm we'll get going again. Parents will say, "I don't have time, I have to get them to school." So leave early, do it 3 or 4 times and then you won't have to do it for the next 15 years.
What about power struggles?
These typically happen around eating, sleeping and potty training. These are early situations where kids find they can have power over their parents.
Child refuses to eat meal. Parents should take the attitude that it's my job to buy healthy food and your job to eat it. The child needs to make good decisions. When the meal is over you take their plate off table. If they haven't eaten they're going to be hungry later. Eventually they're going to figure out that "I'd better eat because I'm hungry."
As parents we need to avoid that "One more bite" scenario. We need to keep those comments to ourselves - we're putting ourselves in that self-serving elevated parent position - it's not helping the situation.
The idea is that food is put away until the next scheduled meal --- snacks are to tied you over, so you can either offer the left over lunch offerings, or stick with some small snack (same amount served at the same time. The idea is NOT to give a HUGE snack EARLIER to compensate for their small lunch consumption)
Another power struggle centers around children staying at the table. You go for logical consequence here. When you get down from table that says you're done. So you wrap up their meal in saran and pop it into the fridge. You need to pull this one off by being firm and establishing a boundary but you should be kind. Most parents say "don't come to me when you're hungry." That moralizing overtone has nothing to do with the teaching it's simply satisfying the parents need to be morally superior.
How can a parent stop blaming the child they think is the "trouble maker" and get their relationship with them back on track?
It's harder to change parent's expectations and attitudes about kids. Discouraged kids get more discouraged. If you're the kid whose known as the explosive one you're going to be watched more. Wiggle at the table? You'll get nailed for it - "well you were the one wiggling." Every infraction is noticed and parents are become heavy handed. This feels unfair to the child, makes them angry and they get into revenge - drawing on walls, swearing. We get hurtful with these kids and make drastic punishments. We have this idea that in order for these kids to do better they have to feel worse and it's absolutely they opposite. Degrading discipline techniques bring on worse behaviour.
Often it's the middle child that's the most discouraged. They don't get the respect of child #1 or the babying of the last child. They're concerned with fairness. Their perception is that another child is preferred.
The parent should look for ways where they show favoritism. Parents should never compare - Billy got an A why not you. Don't get into competing - "the first one to get into their snow suit gets a prize." When there's conflict like fighting in the car put both kids in the same boat - what befalls one befalls the other - take the toy they're fighting about away - don't go into details. This will decrease the hostility.
In our society we don't practice co-operation. We wait for the underling to rise up and overthrow the ruling party. If you operate your family that way you get same thing.
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