Today I am welcoming Dr. Laura Markham, creator of Aha!Parenting and author of the new book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids to the Blog with answers to questions from our community members. Dr. Laura is talking about how to tackle Discipline Differences Between Parents, Dealing with Defiance, Moving beyond Power Struggles, Telling the Truth About Santa Clause, Sibling Harmony and Sibling Competition and What to do when Tempers Flare! This post is packed full of excellent information and ideas for peaceful, positive minded parents!!
Plus, read to the end to find out how you can enter for a chance
to win your very own copy of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids.
Telling the Truth About Santa Clause
Suggestions on how to talk to my inquisitive ~ 4 yr old about Santa. We always try to be as honest as possible/appropriate with her. I would like her to be able to enjoy the fantasy without lying to her or feeding her inconsistent information. We’ve told her that fairies, witches, giants, etc are all from the land of make believe and live in our imaginations, but thus far we’ve said Santa and the Easter bunny are real. I feel uncomfortable with the dishonesty and am challenged with how to answer all her questions: Is that a costume or is that really Santa, why is Santa in so many places, how does he get all the toys, etc. is there a way to group him with the other make believe characters, yet still allow her the fun and fantasy of Xmas?
I don’t think there is anything wrong with having allowed your daughter to believe in the fantasy of Santa Claus. Now that she is four, however, she is beginning to realize that the story isn’t realistic. So you definitely don’t want to be in the position of lying to her, because when she finds out that you lied – even recently – when she asked you, that will be more of a betrayal to her.
When your daughter asks you these questions, your first answer can always be a question: “What do you think?” Most kids will have an answer, like “Santa can’t be everywhere at once so he has helpers who wear Santa costumes.” As long as your daughter is coming up with those answers, then she doesn’t want to know the truth that an actual Santa does not exist. You can simply nod, and say something like “That makes sense.”
If, on the other hand, your daughter keeps pushing you to tell her whether Santa is “real” then she probably really wants to know. You can say something like this: “Santa Claus was a Saint named Nicholas who lived long ago and helped people in need…Whenever we love and give, we are living the spirit of Santa, and being Santas ourselves…I do believe in Santa, because I believe that his spirit is alive in each of us, and we keep that spirit alive by being generous to others….So the Santas who are in the stores in costume are people who are acting as Santa that day, being loving and generous…. But there is no one Santa, because that is too big a job for any one person.”
If she responds with tears, that’s okay. She’s allowed to grieve. When she’s done crying, you can tell her that now she can be a Santa herself, and help others be joyful by living the spirit of Santa. Would she like to help you find and wrap a present for a child whose family doesn’t have any money for presents this year? Most children love the idea that they, too, can be “Santa” – because it keeps the magic alive for them, if in a different form.
Discipline Differences Between Parents
I need some wisdom on how to handle the differences my husband and I have regarding parenting and discipline. He feels that we are doing them a disservice if there are never any punitive measures taken for their “defiance”. I don’t want to nag him or demand that he see things my way. How do we get on the same page?
You say that you don’t want to nag your husband or demand that he see things your way. I think that’s a good place to start, so your husband can make his own decision. No one likes to feel forced. You can listen to him, ask about his views, and explain yours.
You might start from the premise that both you and your husband adore your kids and want what’s best for them, but you disagree on what kind of parenting will help them thrive and grow up into responsible, considerate, happy people. Then, in a series of discussions, explore with your husband what he thinks will best accomplish that objective.
I imagine your husband thinks that kids should be taught to be respectful, rather than defiant, by punishment if necessary. I imagine you think, as I do, that kids will act respectfully toward others if they’re treated with respect, and that defiance is a symptom that the child feels disconnected from the parent. You don’t have to prove you’re right, nor does your husband. You just have to listen to each other and consider each other’s perspective. You don’t have to agree with him to understand his concerns.
You might ask your husband about his fears, because fear is what drives most of our parenting disagreements. For instance, if your child is defiant, one choice is to punish him. Or, you can realize that your child must be very upset and feel very alone to act that way, and you can use the opportunity to have a real discussion with your child about why he is so upset that he needs to treat you disrespectfully, which of course you would not do to him. If you pose these two approaches to your husband, he will probably think that punishment is the best approach. Share your fear with your husband that this will drive your child further away and make him more defiant. Then ask him about the alternative approach. What is his fear with that approach? That if your child is not punished, he will think he can get away with defiance? Let your husband express his fears. Point out that if your child feels understood, he has no reason to be defiant.
You might also ask your husband about his own childhood. Did he feel heard? Did he feel close to his parents, supported, respected? Did he talk with them growing up, seek their advice? Often, our own childhoods shape our reactions to our children, unless we have the opportunity to realize that we want something different for our kids.
Finally, you might explore with your husband his view of his kids. I am sure they aren’t perfect, but I am also sure they are not bad kids. If you can explain your child’s point of view to him, your husband might realize for the first time that his child’s “bad” behavior is actually a cry for help (as is true for all kids.) You can point out that punishment would not give his child the necessary help, and would further drive his child away, thus provoking more bad behavior. I think parents only begin to understand this once they really see things from their child’s perspective.
While it is not ideal, you and your husband can parent your children somewhat differently. But as you continue to set limits with empathy, I suspect that your husband will see the difference and will be won over. I have heard from many mothers that their husband watches them handle some explosive situation with their child with empathy, which defuses the situation, and their husband says some version of “Okay, I’m sold; Show me how to do that.” I hope at some point your husband will watch you parenting and realize it works a lot better than yelling and punishing. Good luck!
Sibling Harmony and Sibling Competition
Hello! I have a 6 year old daughter and a 5.5 year old son, and a 20 mo toddler. Even though the two older kids are only eight months apart, they enjoy each other much of the time and can play well together. They have a really tough time playing games, though. Card games, board games, tag, softball, whatever competitive effort we try ends in someone crying and melting down under the stress of losing, or even the potential for losing. We’ve done all we can to ease the stress, focused on mostly community games, talked about team work, and exhausted our parenting repertoire. Do you have any suggestions? I’m wishing that we could navigate this with more dignity and grace as a family. I remember playing “Mother May I” as a kid and loving it. I want my kids to be able to as well!
Competition is tough on kids. ALL kids have a hard time learning to deal with losing. I think a certain amount of upset about losing is to be expected, and honored. As long as you empathize, and as long as a particular child isn’t always losing, the experience of losing, and learning that life goes on and the sun comes out again, is actually a good one for kids. It builds resilience. One helpful rule is that the winner always has to clean up the game, which is at least some consolation prize for loser. And of course you want to emphasize that the fun is in the playing, not in the winning.
However, there is a way to help kids with these feelings. Be playful with them about competition and winning and losing. So when you play a game with them, moan every time you roll the dice and don’t get the number you want. Moan when someone else does well. Moan when you lose the game. (Make sure you always lose the game.) Be sure you do this in a way that gets your kids laughing, not feeling guilty that you lost. This will let your kids giggle a lot about someone else losing, which helps them vent their own anxiety and fears about losing. It is also good for them to have the experience of winning, since so often in their lives, they feel like they’re losing. You’ll find lots of specific ideas about playful games to address this specific issue in Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting.
I should add that kids are more competitive in general when they feel more rivalry for their parents. If you can spend one-on-one time with each child on a regular basis, just pouring your love into them, you’ll find it will diminish their competitiveness.
Differences Between Parents & What to do when Tempers Flare
My question is more about how spouses can work together to help each other be a peaceful parent. We both agree with gentle discipline and peaceful, attachment-type parenting so that is not the problem. We also want to help each other stay on track and not fall into the authoritarian-type upbringing that we both had. But we have had a few situations when, in the height of a disagreement with our daughter, the spouse has taken over the situation, undermined the other parent.
Here is an example:
One DD (3) is pulling on the new hat of her younger sister (1.5) and the younger sister is yelling for her to stop and about to be pulled down. Mom steps in and calmly asks DD to stop and states why. DD does not. Mother asks again for her to stop. DD does not. So, after a long day and many similar situations throughout the day and because sister is now howling and has fallen to her knees, mom snatches DD’s (also new) hat off her head and takes it away and puts it up on a high shelf. Mom lost her cool. She states DD can’t have the hat until they talk. DD lets go of sister’s hat and follows mom, howling that she wants her hat. Husband comes in, takes the hat off the shelf, says “we” will give it back to her and then we will talk. Gets in between mom and DD and takes over talking to DD. DD takes her hat, walks away, doesn’t listen or talk.
In this situation, I understand that mom was wrong to take the hat. Dad sees that mom is wrong. But how should he have handled the situation? How could he have supported mom in calming down without undermining her?
Great question! Some general guidelines:
1. When tempers flare, one spouse can say “Let’s everybody stay calm now and listen to each other.” Then the spouse who is losing it (or has lost it) can receive the reminder to stay calm without feeling attacked.
2. When one spouse is handling a situation, the other spouse can make observations before taking action. So, in this situation, Dad might have observed “DD, you are very upset that mom put your hat up high, aren’t you?……I guess mom was pretty upset, too, to put your hat up there.” This just acknowledges everyone’s feelings. It is that moment of pause, before rushing in to take action. This is a critical role for the not-involved spouse to play – Being the calm voice of reason. Just “observing” will help both the other spouse and the child begin to calm down.
3. Again, before taking action, spouses should always confer. The non-involved spouse always needs to begin with empathy. Dad can give mom a hug and say “Fed up, huh? Want some backup?” If mom agrees, Dad can say softly to her “I think we’ll get more traction if we give her the hat back first.” Mom might disagree, of course, in which case Dad should certainly not get the hat down. Or she might say ok, knowing that she went further than she wanted to.
4. The spouse who is stepping in to lend a hand needs to inform the child about what both parents have decided, rather than pre-empting the other partner. So Dad might say, “DD, your mom and I see how upset you are, and that you want your hat. And, we need to talk about what happened. Come sit on my lap and tell me about it, and Mom will get your hat for you.” So he is less the knight in shining armor riding in to save DD from Mom, than the mediator who is setting up the conversation so both sides can be heard. And he lets Mom restore the hat, instead of taking over and giving it to DD himself, which undermines Mom.
I want to add that in the case where DD walks away with the hat and doesn’t listen or talk, I would move into her space in a friendly way – both parents – and insist, kindly but firmly, on a discussion about what happened. If that is not possible at that moment, then it needs to happen soon after. Otherwise, DD is getting the message that as long as she howls, she gets what she wants, and doesn’t have to listen to her parents’ guidance about it.
Dealing with Defiance
My son (turns 4 in february) has started expressing a more forceful nature with my husband and I over the past few weeks. He will point his finger in our face, and tell us what he is/not going to do, etc. I feel it’s in response to us setting more limits, but perhaps we are not going about it in the best way, i.e. not connecting first. Any tips on how to get back on track? It’s stressful for me, trying to help my son and keep my husband on board with peaceful parenting.
First, you and your husband should know that this is completely normal behavior for a four year old, and there is no need to take dramatic action to teach your son a lesson. Four year olds often hit a difficult stretch where they want more control and get angry when they are treated in what they feel is a less than respectful manner. They also test the limits, so that if they are allowed to treat others disrespectfully, they do. That doesn’t mean they’ll grow up to be axe-murderers, it means they’re four, and they need us to teach them how to manage their feelings responsibly. The key with kids this age is teaching them that while humans may disagree with each other, we can work things out respectfully.
You should also know that four year olds are experimenting with power. In other words, one of their jobs, developmentally speaking, is to figure out how to get what they want from the world (and other people). Our job is to guide them to use their power constructively, rather than to bully.
So here’s the thing you and your husband need to talk about. Every time you use power over your son you are teaching him the exact behavior you’re trying to eliminate. That doesn’t mean you don’t set limits. Of course you must. But you set those limits with empathy. Any punishment — including timeouts — will backfire, by teaching him that more powerful people can push smaller people around. And of course that will make him want to be like the powerful people, which means shaking his finger in your face.
So what should you do when your son shakes his finger in your face? Keep your sense of humor. Remind yourself that he is four. Say, lightly, “I don’t think I want that finger in my face….You must be telling me something important. Please take your finger out of my face and tell me in words. I promise I will listen hard.”
What about when he tells you what he is/is not going to do? Again, don’t take it personally and keep a light touch. (Breathe!) Say “I hear that you aren’t going to take a bath because you want to keep playing, Sweetie. That would be great, wouldn’t it? I see that you’ve built a whole zoo for your tigers, that’s so cool. You could play all night, I bet….And right now is still bathtime, so I do need you to come along to the tub, now….Would you like to be a roaring tiger and chase me up the stairs to the bath?”
1. Acknowledged his statement that he is not taking a bath. He feels heard.
2. Not made him wrong or put him on the defensive, as you would have if you had told him not to tell you what he was going to do/not do.
3. Connected, or “joined” with him by admiring his tiger zoo, so he feels like you’re on his side.
4. Given him his desire via “wish fulfillment.”
5. Refused his offer of a power struggle. (You don’t have to attend every power struggle to which you’re invited!)
6. Set your limit calmly, kindly, clearly, firmly. It’s clear you’re immovable, like the wall. No point in pushing against the wall.
7. Given him a fun way out so he doesn’t feel like he is “giving in.”
8. Given him a chance to be more powerful, even to scare Mommy by being a tiger.
9. Made it more likely that your son will want to cooperate with you, both now and in general.
10. Made it more likely that you’ll all have a peaceful evening.
That’s what I call positive parenting!
Win a copy of Dr. Laura’s new book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids! Please leave a comment below saying which answer was most helpful to you, or simply why you wish to be the lucky winner! Be sure to join the Positive Parenting Connection facebook community page and subscribe to the blog to receive positive & peaceful parenting information right in your inbox! Comments will close December 7th, 2012 at 2pm US/Eastern Time. The Giveaway is now CLOSED – Thank you for participating!! ONE winner will be randomly selected on Friday, December 7th, 2012 and announced on the Positive Parenting Connection Facebook page, and via e-mail. You can also check out the Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids Book Tour Page for more information about the book.