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Chapter 1- First, Build a Home

DSC_0248Discipline does not work in a vacuum.  Before you can shape and guide your child’s behavior you must first build a home where the child feels safe and you must establish a good parent-child relationship.  There is a basic principle in discipline that states that you cannot effectively discipline a child who does not know you.

As a teacher I spend time each day for the first few weeks of school getting to know and building a relationship with my students.  I teach them my goals for them and my expectations for their behavior.  I also give them a glimpse of my personal life and personality.  By the end of the school year the majority of my students, even ones with severe behavior problems in other classes, genuinely want to behave in my class and please me.  They may not always behave appropriately, but when I need to reprimand them or correct their behavior they understand the consequence and learn from the encounter.

The same cannot be said for the average student I meet on campus who does not know me.  Even if I use the same techniques with a student that I see crossing campus and not obeying the rules, my actions are usually much less effective and short lived.  The same problem occurs when I have a substitute in my class.  The class who is normally polite and productive for me is often rude and non-productive for my sub.  Discipline cannot truly be effective unless there is a long established relationship between the child and the disciplinarian; hence it is essential that you build a good relationship with your child in order to effectively discipline him or her.

Start when your child is young to build a relationship by reading to her, playing games with him and going on family outings together.  Have conversations about what is going on in your life, and encourage your child to tell you about his or her day.  One of the best places to build positive relationships is at the family dinner table.  Don’t let outside activities or the TV set infringe on this valuable time.  Plan your week so the entire family sits down together at least a few times each week and lingers over dinner.  For every negative exchange that you have with your child you should have many more positive exchanges.  These exchanges should be fun and genuine, not stiff, contrived or scheduled.  Be yourself, and don’t be afraid to let your kids really get to know you.

One of the most important principles in building a home is to be sure that your child feels loved.  “But of course I love my child!” you may say.  But does your child know that he is loved?  Even the parent who neglects or abuses their child may loves him, so what you feel is not relevant.  What is relevant is how your child feels.  A child who does not feel loved will not feel safe and secure at home.  But if your feelings and thoughts are not relevant, then how can you know how your child feels?  You can never really be sure of how your child feels, but the following important steps will show your child that you love him or her and build the kind of relationship that will show love and build security.

 

Give Hugs and Kisses- Most parents hug and kiss their little children.  But as children grow and become less cute and huggable parents become less affectionate.  As a normal part of growing and separating from parents children in turn are also less affectionate.  They may also rebuff parents who try to show their love.  Paradoxically, at about this same point in time children may need more affection, yet they are getting less.  As children begin to grapple with peer pressure, increased stress in school, building more mature relationships outside of the family, and physical changes inherent with growing up, their self-image and security are challenged.  If your child balks at your attempts to show affection, don’t give up.  Be creative and more subtle, but do show affection.  Give your child a peck on the check or top of the head as he passes by, as she sits watching TV or is playing on the computer.  Don’t be afraid to add an, “I love you,” and do be careful around friends.  The goal should be to convey love to your child, not to grandstand in front of the friends or to embarrass.

 

Plan Fun Together- As children get older and start to develop outside interests and participate in more activities with their friends, parents often have less time to spend with their children just having fun.  Sometimes with older children and teenagers it seems that all of your time with them is spent in giving instruction and reprimands.  It is therefore important to plan time to have fun together, and it becomes even more important as children grow.  Eat dinners as a family at least a few nights a week and make a rule that conversations are to be kept to light topics.  Plan one evening a week for a family activity.  Plan dates with your kids one-on-one and let him or her pick the place to go.  Use this time to let your child talk, and ask open-ended questions to get the conversation going.  Listen more than you talk.  Take family vacations, even if the trip is just a campout in the backyard with no phones or video games allowed.

 

Communicate When your children are tiny it is hard to imagine that you will ever not feel close to them.  But somehow, between babyhood and the teen years, communication is often hampered and that little girl who told you every thought and feeling that she had refuses to speak.  Planning family fun can go a long way to help keep the lines of communication open.  Often a child who will not speak to you at home or under a stressful situation will open up and be himself at his favorite restaurant.  Be sure that you continue to communicate openly with your child, even if he or she shuts down.  Talk about your goals and aspirations and everyday happenings.  Just as you plan a time to have fun, plan a time to talk.  Talk over dinner, or plan a time just for communication.  Some families have regular parent child interviews.  The main goal of the interview should be for your child to share and look at goals.  Try writing down important things during the interview such as a list of your child’s friends, teachers names, interests, dreams and future goals.  You can write important facts about your child in a journal or notebook kept specifically for this purpose.  You can use some of the interview time to share ideas or concerns with your child, but this should not be the focus.  Be sure that your child is able to fully communicate their thoughts and feelings, and give your child time to air grievances or complaints about you.  Listen openly, not defensibly, and talk about possible solutions to problems.

 

Show increased love after discipline- No matter the age of the child it is sometimes hard for them to separate the discipline from the person administering the consequence.  It is important that children realize that parents discipline because they love their children, not because of a lack of love.  After you discipline a child always show an increase of love.  Not only do they need the extra attention to shape their proper behavior, they also need to know that you are not the enemy.

What is discipline?

DSC_0039When we think of discipline we usually think of punishment.  How many of our parents or grandparents exclusively used a “whipping” as a way to punish their children?  Child care experts now advise that physical punishment is not the best mode of discipline, but few of us have really been trained to use effective alternative methods.  Although punishment is often used in disciplining children, it is actually a very small part.  Good discipline will not just offer rewards and punishments for behavior, it will actually shape behavior.

There are many books available that talk about discipline and behavior modification techniques.  This book is not meant to replace any of those books, methods or theories.  This book is meant to be a companion piece to whatever method you choose to adopt.  I found as I read books and articles on parenting and discipline methods they advised over and over to set down ground rules, be firm and consistent, yet loving.  But with each book and article I was left with developing the actual, “how to” implement them with my family.  There were a lot of wonderful ideas out there, but none of them that I could just pull off the shelf and use.  I also found that there were charts and guides that had been developed and offered for sale, but none of them quite fit my needs.  This book, and the forms available to readers at the website www.dontgetmadgetbusy.com, put at your disposal a large array of useful, tested practices that are easily adapted to your family and their needs.

Please note that I have done several things in the wording of this book simply to make my job as author easier.  First of all, you will notice that I have used gender words interchangeably.  I may use him one time, her the next and his or hers the time after that.  This is simply to ease the flow of the book and to add variety.  I am well aware that children and parents come in two genders, so please be aware that these methods will work for both genders, regardless of the wording in each particular part.

Next, I have written this book as if each child were being parented by a traditional two parent married couple.  Once again, this has been done only for ease of writing.  I am well aware that many children grow up quite successfully in a variety of different family configurations.  If your family is not headed by a traditional two parent married couple, please be aware that these methods will be just as effective.  Some of the recommendations may need to be adjusted to fit your particular situation; however all should be applicable for all who want to parent a child.

Raising kids is a lot of work!

Book cover FinalRaising kids was going to be a piece of cake.  I was the oldest of 4 children and spent most of my older childhood and teen years helping with my siblings and babysitting all of the neighborhood children.  My sister and I would watch several families of children at one time and take them on fun outings to the park or the ice cream store.  I studied child development in both high school and college and spent 5 years working as a preschool and kindergarten teacher.  I was also in charge of the after school childcare program at the school where I worked and was viewed by my co-workers as the best at handling the children that no one else could.  Yes, after handling a classroom full of children raising a family would be easy for me.  My husband, who loved kids and was the oldest of a large family, and I determined that we would have 12.  Well, maybe not 12, but at least as many as we could afford and handle.  We would be great parents!

Then my oldest son was born.  He was anything but your typical child.  From the day he was born Baby #1 seemed unhappy with being a baby and wanted to go out and see the world.  He was alert and bright and did everything early.  He rolled over at 3 weeks old, stood in his crib at 5 months and began walking at 6 months, skipping crawling altogether.  By two he had taught himself all of the letters in the alphabet and the sounds they make by watching Sesame Street and by 4 he taught himself to read.  Of course this bright mind and eager body was quite a trial for parents, even parents that were well prepared.  He had endless energy, was always getting into something and seemed to never sleep.  It is a real problem when your child needs less sleep than you do, especially when the child is so busy and energetic that you dare not leave him unattended.  Bedtime was a big problem.  On the average it took our son two hours past when we put him to bed for him to go to sleep.  And this was not a quiet two hours of patiently waiting for sleep to come, this was two hours of getting out of bed, getting into things, running through the house followed by pleadings and threats by my husband and myself for him to stay in bed.

When Baby #1 was two we welcomed Baby #2, a sweet daughter, into our home. Right on her heels Baby #3 came along, when #2 was just 15 months old.  Baby #2 was so different from older brother as a little baby.  She was petite and she actually slept at night and took naps.  She was content to sit in the playpen for part of the day, unlike older brother who wanted to be held constantly.  Not to be outdone by her big brother #2 soon showed that she was not going to be any less of a handful.  She was very busy and had a mind of her own at a very early age.  She seemed to hit the terrible twos at 15 months, just as her sister was born, and she continued to assert her independence and argue with me throughout her life.

After #3’s birth I had to admit I had no idea what parenthood would be like before I actually experienced it.  I thought I could handle it all, but I had no idea what a difference it was to be responsible for your children 24 hours a day, rather than just a few hours.  I couldn’t send these children home to their parents when I had had it; my husband and I were it.  On top of that I had to take care of all the tasks of running a home.  As a teacher I had been responsible for teaching the children.  Here at home I had to cook, clean and do laundry.  In addition to all of that, I had to help my husband support the family financially.  I felt it important to give my children as much of me as possible so I managed to find jobs I could do at home for most of my children’s young years.  With all of the demands on my time the strategies that I had used as a teacher did not apply here because my children were not my only responsibility.

So here I was with a very busy three year old who wanted my attention, a 15 month old who wanted nothing to do with me but wanted to go out and take on the world on her own and a newborn with colic.  Add to that mix three children that I watched to keep my family finances afloat and you can see that to say my life was hectic was an understatement.  I did what anyone would do in a similar situation, I lost my mind.

I knew I was at the breaking point one day when older brother and little sister wanted to play hide-and-go-seek.  The baby was asleep, and I had no extra children at my home, so I decided to take my turn to hide, and I hid in the closet behind the clothes.  It was a really good hiding place and they couldn’t find me.  After sitting there for a while I found I loved the cool, quiet solitude of being in the closet behind those clothes.  I knew the kids were okay because I could hear them looking for me, but they weren’t demanding anything of me.  I was congratulating myself on finding a way to get some peace when they started to cry.  “Where’s Mommy?” they sobbed.  It was then that I realized that parenthood was so much more than enduring our children’s lives, or controlling their behavior.  Parenthood is about loving and nurturing our children into adults.  Sure, this was a whole lot different and more demanding than teaching, but it was also so much more rewarding.  I wasn’t going to get a new class next year, my husband and I were responsible for these children into adulthood, and we would be their parents forever.  I needed to find a way to shape and mold these strong personalities into responsible adults.

When children don’t behave our first reaction is to get mad.  But getting mad doesn’t help.  Years ago parents knew how to handle their children.  The prevailing wisdom was that if you spare the rod you would spoil the child.  So when many of today’s grandparents were children they felt the swift and firm consequence of their behavior with physical punishment.  Most experts now agree that strong physical punishment is neither advisable nor effective.  The problem is that today’s parents have not been given tools that are as swift, firm, speedy and as easy to execute, as a whipping was.  We have been told to use time out or to ground our children, but many parents have found time-out to be less than effective and have found that when they ground their child they ground themselves as well.

After that day in the closet I set out to come up with concrete systems that I could use to shape my children’s behavior with love, but firmness.  I used my experience as a teacher and knowledge of child development and human behavior, as well as trial and error, to develop positive and negative reward systems and record keeping charts to help and guide me.  Many of the systems I developed were developed with the needs of a specific child in mind, but I found that they often worked for everyone.

Nearly 20 years have passed since that day in the closet, and a lot has taken place.  Baby #1 grew into a wonderful boy and young man, and is now a father himself, with an outstanding mind, but with many obstacles to overcome.  He was diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder, dysgraphia (a writing handicap) and a visual processing disorder, which brought many years of struggle through school.  One daughter was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (which I describe as acting like a teenage for life, and yes, it is a real disorder) and being at risk for depression.  As she grew she was a master at making trouble with her best friend and sister and really had trouble being successful in school.  But now she is a beautiful college graduate with many talents and a knack for doing anything she puts her mind to.  Baby #3’s colic lasted for 6 months, even though all the baby books claimed it only lasted for 4, but when she quit crying we found that she was a happy, delightful, bright little girl.  She is, however, extremely demanding and driven.  She is the princess and I often thought she would have made a good only child, but somehow she was placed in the middle of 5 kids.  She seemed to resent all the extra time I had to spend helping her older siblings get through school and raising her little brother and sister, but she continues to be bright and bubbly and is an outstanding, driven and successful teacher and college student.

After 3 kids in 3 ½ years we took a four year break before bringing #4 and #5 into the world.  They proved to be surprisingly “normal”, although they, as do all children, have had their trials.  I found that many of the strategies that I had developed for my difficult children worked very well with them.  I also have had an opportunity to further use and refine many of the techniques in my job as a middle school teacher.  As I raised my children I had several opportunities to continue my work as a preschool teacher both through a home child care program and employed at various schools that allowed me to bring one or more of my children with me.  When my youngest went to school full time I was able to continue my education and seek employment in public education.  I now work as a Resource Specialist and work with middle school-aged children with disabilities of all types and severities.  Many of the techniques and charts I developed for my own children I have been able to adapt for use in the classroom and I have shared with parents.  These techniques have proven to be useful to help children with various disabilities control their behavior both in the classroom and in their homes.

Some people say my husband and I are nuts to have 5 children.  We may be because it is the hardest thing I have ever done, but raising them has brought me more joy and satisfaction than anything else.  Whether you have one child or ten it is a lot of work to raise children.  Kids may do things that will make you feel extremely mad, but getting mad will not shape and guide your children correctly.  Good hard work, a plan on how to proceed and some good tools will.  So look through the suggestions and guidelines in this book then try out some of the tools and choose the ones that will work for you.  Then, don’t get mad, get busy!

Using FAB and reflective listening to communicate more effectively

FAB stands for Feel About Because.

Obviously immediate safety may preclude using this tool.

Children (and even adults) don’t always articulate their emotions correctly. The purpose of FAB is provide a consistent framework that is easy for kids to understand and use. The way that FAB works is that your offended child says I FEEL (Insert emotion) ABOUT (insert the reason or action) BECAUSE (insert WHY it upsets you). An example might sound like, “I feel angry about you taking Thomas the Train because I was setting up the track and was going to play with it.” In this manner your child has clearly expressed their emotion and defined the cause.

It is important to understand that as long as the child (or adult is following) uses this format that their feeling are valid. You cannot argue with how a person feels or their emotions.

Reflective Listening

At this point the offending child needs to respond. They cannot verbally attack or demean. They should reply in a way that acknowledges their sibling. Such as, “I understand you are angry because I took Thomas.” By doing this your second child is acknowledging that the first child is feeling angry because of their action and showing that they understand the problem.

The first child should then express what they want to happen, in a polite manner. An example might be, “I’d like to have Thomas back so I can play with him.”

The second child now has an opportunity to respond to the request. They can agree to give the toy back, play with it for an agreed upon duration, play together or ignore the first child.

If the offended child has not been satisfied it may become necessary to for the parent to get involved and play referee. The purpose is not to decide the fate of Thomas but to decide how the conflict can be resolved equitably. It is also your responsibility to verify that all steps have been taken. Often a child will come to me with a complaint and the first thing I ask is, “Did you use FAB?” The child returns to their squabble and they resolve the problem without further intervention.

The goal is to give your children a lifelong tool to communicate.

When this concept was first presented to my husband and me several years ago he thought it was silly. So one night he decided to show me how silly it was. I used FAB on a disagreement we had. He reflectively responded to me. I was blown away! He understood what I was upset about! He was even more flabbergasted when he saw how I responded and he was surprised that he understood my feelings better. The conflict was quickly resolved with no hurt feelings. We try to use this pattern to this day, and even as adults using this tool for 30+ years, we still slip-up.

As with any new tool it can seem more painful at first try but in the long run the time investment is more than paid back.

What experiences have you had with FAB?

What is your parenting style?

One thing that I think is really important for parents to do is to reflect on their views, values and personality to find out why they do what they do.  Research has shown that parents parent the way their parents did, unless a conscious effort is made for change (and it can be done.)  These tendencies are mixed with your individual personality traits and life experiences to make up your individual parenting style.  So, I came across a parenting style quiz on line at this site http://quiz.ivillage.com/parenting/tests/parent.htm .  It is not the most user friendly site as every time you move to a new page you get a pop up, but it does allow you to take the quiz on-line, it isn’t very long and it will give you your results immediately.  So, here is what I got:

Your Parenting Style:
Authoritative

This parenting style is often described as the “no-nonsense workaholic” who is best at “emergency-mode parenting” and providing discipline where it is needed. Too often, however, strong-willed children eventually rebel against this parenting style if the parent doesn’t learn to balance expressive warmth with the authoritative discipline.

Your parenting style is highly driven and task oriented, as opposed to relationship-centered. Relationship-centered people tend to focus on nurturing and caring for others; authoritative people tend to be more focused on “getting things done.” Although your authoritative parenting style may not be the most popular style, it typically produces respect and obedience from your children, at least until they become teenagers. At that point, there is a good chance that they will find ways to avoid your control. As long as you are consistent in the way you discipline your children and as long as you maintain strong personal values, your children will model your self-discipline and persistence, thus benefiting from this rather rigid parenting style. This style might not produce the results you hope it will, however, if you do not find ways to outwardly express your loving and caring emotions. Remember that your children’s self-esteem comes not only from their self-discipline but also from feelings of significance, love and acceptance they receive from their parents.

I know my kids would not be real surprised about this revelation.  They often accused me of being a control freak.  The thing that is important here, is that knowing this about myself I have been able to, as a parent, try to use the strengths of this parenting style to my advantage, while trying to make up for my weaknesses.  I had to learn to show more love and compassion for my kids, and learn to be a bit more flexible and spontaneous.  I can’t say I was always successful in this, but knowing my particular style has helped. I used this strength to help develop the organizational methods that I outline in my book.

To offset my tendencies my husband and I used a different mindset about our children’s activities. While many parents have the mindset that they do not allow their children to do anything ‘unless it helps them’ we had the mindset that unless it hurt them, and was a reasonable, safe and supervised activity, we let them participate. as a result our children had a wide range of experiences while learning to thrive under an organized system. The organization gave them a sense of security because they knew our expectations and limits.

Token Economies for your kids

A token economy is a reward system. The idea is that you have some physical item that can be handed to your child that has some value. The child can see something tangible as a reward for their behavior. There are several key components to using a token economy. It must be physical. If they can’t touch it they are being asked to understand an abstract concept that they might not be ready to understand. It should be interesting. Visual or physical appeal increases the apparent value. They must be responsible for safeguarding it. They must be able to spend it for items they want.

Some items that we have used as tokens are raffle tickets (available at office supply or craft stores), juice can lids decorated, printed currency and even old unused car and house keys. Change them up once in a while to keep them fresh.

Help each child to establish a safe place (or bank) to keep their earnings. On a periodic basis, maybe once a month, allow them to purchase little prizes with their earnings. This teaches them rewards of work, saving and even thrift.

Feel free to post your ideas on what to use for tokens for your kids!

Why another book on raising children?

Many people think there are enough books on raising children. Many of them focus on pop-psychology and use all sorts of buzzwords to define how to raise children. While raising my children I became quite frustrated with the lack of how-to books with practical applications. The books all contained, as my husband says, “all the nouns with none of the verbs.” My purpose in writing this book is to create a tangible plan, based on sound research (the nouns), and tried and proven methods (the verbs) to raise good children. By using the methods in my book you will be more organized and your children will be more secure because they will understand your goals and methods.

The methods I outline and used are not intended to be THE definition. Merely a starting point to give you a foundation on which to build your parenting plan.

Book

I would love to hear what works for you!