The Arc of the Tantrum video has been hugely popular, so I’ve made another one. This one is on a topic I speak about in various ways all the time: Behavior is Communication. Click below for 2 minutes and 38 seconds’ worth of coaching on understanding your child’s misbehavior. (and see directly below for a rudimentary transcript.)
Behavior is Communication, notes from the video:
- Imagine that your child’s misbehavior is a misguided attempt at fulfilling an unmet need.
- A few examples of typical unmet needs: power, attention, overwhelm, intense engagement. (Intense engagement: that extra level of attention children need from us, and they can get it from us in positive or negative ways, ie: “OH! I’m SO proud of you!” versus “WHAT are you DOING!?”) They want the positive intensity, and of course it’s healthier, but they will settle for the negative because kids desperately need doses of that intensity from their parents.
- We can learn to translate our kids’ misbehavior—translate what you see them doing, and see if you can identify what the unmet need is that drives that behavior—what’s underneath it, behind it, driving that misbehavior. This frees you up to respond to the need behind the misbehavior, instead of simply reacting to that behavior.
- When parents can identify the unmet need, we can (a) help them get their needs met better, and (b) minimize the unwanted behavior without having to resort to control or punishment techniques, which makes the parent-child relationship a little easier, smoother, and better.
- So that’s that: behavior as communication: learn to translate your child’s behaviors, identify potential unmet needs, and respond to those needs instead of the (symptomatic) behavior.
There are several articles, and one video, on this blog created specifically to help parents whose children are (or may soon be) dealing with grief and loss. They are collected below for easy reading.
- Children and Funerals
- Helping Children Grieve
- Book recs on grief/loss for kids
- Talking with children about tragedies in the news
- Video: Talking with young children about death
Please feel free to contact me with questions or to set up an appointment for parent coaching around grief and loss, or however you think I can help.
There are several articles on this blog written specifically to help parents through the divorce process. They are collected below for easy reading.
- How to tell the kids
- When to tell the kids
- 7 Things kids want parents to remember
- Book recs about divorce for kids
- Book recs about divorce for parents
- When parents start dating again
- Parenting Well Through Divorce Workshop
Please feel free to email me with questions or to set up an appointment for parent coaching around divorce, co-parenting, or however you think I can help.
I don’t spend much time advising parents on how to punish more effectively. In fact, I tend to tell parents that I am not a big fan of punishment at all. So, a parent rightfully asked me the other day: “Well then, if not punishment, what DO we do?
What a good question! Most parents punish because they believe that’s how to get kids to behave appropriately. (But actually research has proven that more punishments do NOT equal long-term improved behaviors, and can sometimes make things worse.) So here are 3 things that help achieve the goal of cooperative, positive, appropriate behavior more effectively, while helping to maintain a positive and long-lasting parent-child relationship.
- Show kids what you DO want them to do, and support them, encourage them, catch them doing it, praise them. Give them positive options!
- Change the child’s environment so that it supports positive behaviors. Simple example: don’t keep the jar of cookies where your 3 year old can reach them. More complex example: figure out how long of a playdate your kid can handle before falling apart. Keep playdates within that time frame until you’re both ready to experiment with incremental increases.
- Figure out what’s behind the unwanted/negative behaviors. Behavior is a communication, I like to say… what is your child’s behavior saying to you? Hint: it’s usually something along the lines of: “I’m tired and over stimulated” or “I can’t handle this much freedom,” or “I really need more time with you/attention from you,” or “Something’s not right with me,” or “I am not getting enough opportunities to feel powerful and in charge of my life.” When parents understand what the child’s behavior is communicating, they can better meet the underlying need… which generally has a positive effect on the unwanted behavior!
There are many, many more ways of shaping behavior, but these are some favorites, especially the last one. A little understanding goes a long way. :^)
I talk about icebergs at work a lot.
Did you know that the part of an iceberg you can see above the surface of the water is only 1/9th of the total mass? This is where the phrase “tip of the iceberg” comes from. So, I talk about icebergs because the image is a very helpful metaphor. Basically, it all boils down to:
What you can see about another person/relationship isn’t the whole picture.
When we see SuperMom go sailing by, perfectly put together, with her perfect children behaving perfectly… we sometimes judge ourselves, and come up lacking. But this isn’t fair. Even Supermom has her insecurities, her imperfections, her failings… maybe even her own secrets.
You can’t help but learn this lesson as a therapist. Every day, I see people, who, if I only saw them on the street, would probably strike me as so put together, so stylish, so successful. But because of the nature of our work together, they sit on my sofa and speak honestly about some sort of problem or another. It’s a real gift to me, one that I would love to share with every one of you:
You are not alone! It’s not just you! Everyone has something that challenges them, that they struggle with, that they regret! You just can’t see it in them because we all keep our inner lives (8/9th of us, at least!) hidden inside.
So, beware the icebergs ahead… Remember that everyone has more going on than is outwardly visible, and be kind to yourself (and them), since we never really know what’s going on for another.
PS. A related, great phrase–not mine but I don’t know who said it originally: “Don’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides.”
I occasionally attend trainings put on by a local professional organization for therapists and social workers who specialize in infant mental health. Their meetings occur on days when I’m home with my infant daughter, and since they are a very baby-friendly group, I bring her along. One of the leaders of the group sent me a email the other day, and made a bit of an assessment of my daughter at the end.
Her comment–a positive one, thankfully, and one that I assume she meant somewhat casually, rolled around in my head for days. I found myself coming back to it, and coming back to it, and coming back to it. Every time, I felt relief and reassurance.
I should clarify right now that I have no significant, obvious reasons to be concerned about the baby. In my head, I can clearly see that everything is fine and good with her. I am incredibly fortunate in that my work has given me so many opportunities to educate MYSELF about how to parent better, and I believe that my kids are beneficiaries of my learning. And yet, I felt relief to hear a professional label my baby positively.
What’s up with that? I’m a professional, too– a child therapist and parenting coach, and yet I apparently needed someone else to tell me that my kids are all right? Yeah, I did. I do. I think we all do at times. Here’s why:
- We love our children with a red hot fiery passion.
- Doing right by these children that we love so much is incredibly important to us.
- Parenting is crazy hard and Everyone makes mistakes.
- This leaves a (sometimes hidden, even from ourselves) layer of insecurity in our hearts–with its roots in the most passionate of emotions.
- Other people, especially professionals, hold power–whether they mean to or not–to support or undermine us. When people judge our children–positive or negative–it goes to a deep, vulnerable, tender place.
- I understand this… I “get” it. With every resource and training and support that I have in my life, I still make plenty of mistakes and feel plenty of relief when positive feedback comes my way.
- This vulnerability doesn’t surface every day, but it’s still there. (Cause we love ’em. We really, really love ’em.)
So, since today is Feb 14th, I’ll finish this with a Valentine’s message for you all. See that child of yours? Those pieces of your heart walking around outside of your body? Thank you for what you have done for that child. Thank you for your parenting. Thank you for your hard work, your humor, your flexibility, your showing up, your dedication, your sacrifices, your love. All the ways that your child is wonderful–you’ve helped that to come into the world.
The kids are all right.
I often receive phone calls and emails from parents who want my services, but for a variety of reasons, can’t come in. A mom wrote recently asking if I knew of a way she could receive parent coaching for free. Unfortunately, my favorite parenting resource in Austin (Family Connections) has recently shut down, so I didn’t really have a referral for her. Instead, I offered to create a list of books and other resources that offer information and guidance that I think is reliably good.
So, this is the second of a couple of posts that are intended to be a resource for anyone who would like to learn & focus on their parenting. (Read #1 here.) Future posts will include information on where/how to start if you are looking for help for/about your child’s behaviors–in any town. Stay tuned!
I read a few parenting blogs, some funny, some subjective, some informative. Here are two of my favorites of the informative ones:
On Parenting: “Parenting may be an art, but there’s a lot of science behind raising healthy, thriving children. Contributing Editor Nancy Shute explores the latest discoveries and developments affecting children’s health and parenting.”
Mamas On Call: “A place where two professional mamas–one a pediatrician, one a family therapist–serve up timely, reliable parenting advice with humor and compassion.”
Sites on special topics/needs:
A blog written by a therapist who specializes in adoption is here.
Kirk Martin writes a regular free parenting newsletter (and sells CDs and summer camp programs). I really enjoy his newsletter, it’s often filled with helpful tips, and he’s a good writer who makes complex concepts easier to understand. You can sign up for his newsletter here.
I have a Pinterest board with a collection of (mostly my own) articles on SWParents.org.
Another Pinterest board with relevant research abstracts (parenting topics, of course.)
So how about you? What are your favorites?
Update: The folks at this website suggested my readers might be interested in their information about grants for single mothers.
I often receive phone calls and emails from parents who want my services, but for a variety of reasons, can’t come in. A mom wrote recently asking if I knew of a way she could receive parent coaching for free. Unfortunately, my favorite parenting resource in Austin (Family Connections) has recently shut down, so I didn’t really have a referral for her. Instead, I offered to create a list of books and other resources that offer information and guidance that I think is reliably good. So, this is the first of a couple of posts that are intended to be a resource for anyone who would like to learn & focus on their parenting–and today’s can all be free, if you visit your local library. Future posts will include information on where/how to start if you are looking for help for/about your child’s behaviors–in any town. Stay tuned!
If you want to learn for free, your local public library is the best place to start. Parenting books are GREAT sources of information, you need only invest your time. These links below will take you to the books on Amazon, but you can also search for them on your public libary’s online catalog. Click here for the Austin Public Library Online Catalog.
So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite books on parenting:
(Updated to include my now favorite parenting book:) Dan Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson’s “The Whole Brain Child“. This books is GREAT! My first recommendation to any parent who wants to understand and better respond to unwanted behavior.
For improving relationships between siblings: Faber/Mazlish’s “Siblings without Rivalry.”
For improving your communication with your children: Faber/Mazlish’s “How to Talk so Kids will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk”
Alan Kazdin’s “Parenting the Defiant Child.” My favorite part of this book is the first 65 pages–he dispels major myths about parenting, discipline, and behavior. Plus, it’s easy to read and evidenced-based! The second part of the book is about creating a behavior modification plan (ie, sticker chart.) Sticker charts aren’t for everyone, but if you’re thinking about using one, this is the very best place to educate yourself on how to do one the right way! I’ve written about this book before, click here to read.
For a general, positive, refreshing take on the overall parenting relationship: “Playful Parenting.” We parents can’t use a playful response to every problem or challenge, but I often advise parents to start with playfulness. It’s a great tool for keeping things positive, and for avoiding putting your own upset into the situation (which pretty much always makes a situation worse, you know?)
For detailed guidelines on determining whether your child’s behaviors are “normal” and age-appropriate, the Gesell Series–one for each age. I really love these books–they are small and easy to read and very validating. Sometimes things that look like problems to adults are just typical child development. (“Oh, that’s just the way a 3 year old IS!.)
For classic, solid, reliable, nurturing and positive information about child development: anything by T. Berry Brazelton. I especially like his “Touchpoints” series.
For guidance about childhood sexual development and how to talk to your kids about sex (make sure you visit my other blog on this topic, btw): I like Deborah Haffner’s book” “From Diapers to Dating.”
If you suspect that your child may have sensory integration issues: “The Out of Sync Child.”
For beginning conversations with your child about sexual development, I recommend these books. (These recommendations are from my workshop called “Beyond Birds and Bees.” )
BTW, please share YOUR favorite parenting books with me in the comments! It’s a great way for me to add to my list, too!
Stay tuned for the next posts, including online resources and information about finding/choosing & working with a therapist.
Note: the book links are affiliate links, which means that if you click & buy, I get a tiny little percentage of the purchase price, at no additional cost to you. So, if you do, thanks!