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Behavior is Communication–Video

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.

Children and Funerals

A few basic suggestions for helping your child with death and funerals.

  • You are the best person to talk with your child about what has happened.  You don’t need a professional to break bad news–your child would rather hear it from his parents.  (although YOU might feel better if YOU talk to someone first–practicing what you’re going to say is a great idea.)
  • Don’t hide the truth, and don’t delay too long before telling your child pertinent details.  
  • Regarding funerals, there are a lot of good reasons to allow your child to attend the funeral, including:
      • Funerals are a ritual for closure and healing.  Kids need this as much as adults do!
      • Funerals honor the deceased.  If your child was close enough to the deceased to attend the funeral, it will likely do them good to hear people speaking with love, honor and respect about their life.  
      • Funerals are gatherings of friends and family.  Kids are a part of this group.
      • The presence of children at a funeral generally serves to remind us of the circle of life, can add some breathing room to the grief–or even occasionally levity–and that’s a healthy balance.
      • At funerals, adults generally feel as though they have permission to express their feelings of loss.  It’s healthy for your child to witness this–it’s good role modeling–we want our kids to express their feelings, too.
      • I encourage you to ask your child if they want to go, and let that be your primary deciding factor.  
  • A child attending a funeral needs a supportive adult nearby to answer questions, hold their hand, give them a hug, etc.  A younger child attending a funeral needs an adult who can take them out of the room to run around if they need that break.
  • The person who is supporting the child needs to be someone who isn’t themselves completely grief-stricken by the loss. 
  • If you yourself are deeply mourning, seek out support for yourself during this time of double-difficulty (your grief leaves you with fewer resources than normal, at a time when your children’s needs are greater than normal.) 
  • Open caskets can sometimes be an uncomfortable or strange experience for children. Again, an older child can tell you whether they want to look.  Whatever their choice, support them and be prepared for questions.
  • Familiarize yourself with the grief process, and remember to offer support to your child for longer than you think is probably necessary.

If you’d like to read more about children & funerals, visit this short article written by a Massachusetts psychologist.

News Flash: Marriage + Kids = Stress

Well, of course we all know this already, but it’s nice having one’s own experiences validated by research anyway.  ;^)  Click over to Nancy Shute’s “On Parenting” blog for the full story. 

And then in response, I’ll paste in Kirk Martin of Celebrate Calm‘s response which came via his email newsletter today.  He says that yeah, duh, we all know that’s true, but:

“The purpose of marriage, of all relationships, is not happiness. What has possessed us to believe that cramming 2, 3, 4 or 5 imperfect people under one roof is somehow going to result in bliss?!”

He continues, saying:

The purpose of relationships is transformation. Relationships cause friction. Relationships force us to grow up. That friction can either result in us being worn down, resentful and irritated; or the friction can strip the crusty, gritty exterior off of us and leave us shinier and better than we were before.

Well said!

Book Review: Always and Forever

Always and Forever by Alan Durant is a child’s picture book about death, grief, and moving on.  It’s very much the sort of book that I like to review here.  But this review came about completely accidentally, and the surprise ultimately made me like it even more.

I sometimes check out kids’ books from the library with a minimum of attention to the content of the book.  If the cover looks good, I open to the middle.  If those pages don’t have too many words, and the illustrations are decent, the book goes in to my stack.  My librarian readers are probably cringing now.  :^)

So, due to my neglectful vetting, I sat down to read this book to my daughter today without a clue of what it was about.  I figured it out as soon as I looked at the inside dust jacket, and had a moment’s pause.  Our family dog died a month ago, and we talked about death and grief a lot then, but a story about death and grief seemed out of place today.

But I believe that one of the shortcomings of our modern culture is that we fool ourselves into thinking that death is rare and predictable.  It is neither, and I want my daughter to know the vocabulary, and the concepts (especially that things get better!) about death before she has to experience death with an emotional component (there’s a big difference in the emotional impact of reading a book about death and having someone you love die.)  So I read the book.  And then I wrote this blog entry.  ;^)

I’ve heard many parents of young kids say that they want to protect their children from the ills of the world.  Actually, I’ve probably said it myself–it’s a pretty common and reasonable parenting belief.  But, death isn’t really an “ill” of the world.  Death is a normal part of life, and I was reminded that it’s the surprise of death that can sometimes be most painful.

When I teach parents about how to talk with their kids about sex (see my other blog) I talk a lot about the importance of giving the youngest kids the vocabulary to identify their body parts and functions.  I remembered this as I was reading Always and Forever earlier today.  I felt like I was giving the structure/framework of the “concept of death” to my daughter.  Not as fun as some of our favorite books, but I was glad I did anyway.  Check it out from your local public library or click below to look at it on amazon.

(note: I originally wrote this several months ago but it somehow didn’t get published, so I’m putting it up now.)

Kids + Sugar = ?

Ask 10 moms what you get when you mix their kids with a big dose of sugar, and I bet you’ll get 10 responses on the same theme: hyperactivity. It’s a parenting theory on par with gravity!
So imagine my surprise when I read this article in the British Medical Journal, which says that sugar does NOT cause hyperactivity in children. To say it another way: sugar didn’t cause behavioral changes in kids. Rather, the studies they cite instead found that it is the parents whose behavior changed. They found that when they told a parent that their child was eating sugar, the parent would then begin to rate their child as more hyperactive (regardless of the actual sugar content of the food.) Oops.
Anyway, Happy Holidays, I’m off to go bake cookies. ;^)
(Hat tip to the Working Parents Blog for this info.)

What kids really want for the holidays

I originally posted this last year, but it’s such good info, I wanted to post it again this year…


In their book Unplug the Christmas Machine, authors Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli say that kids want the following 4 things for Christmas:

  1. A relaxed and loving time with their family.
  2. Realistic expectations about gifts
  3. An evenly paced holiday season
  4. Reliable family traditions

Notice it doesn’t say a ‘Wii’, or a trampoline, or Thomas the Tank Engine, or or or…  Sure, they do want the specific toys they are asking for, but deep down they also want and need the 4 items above even more. 

Coping Skills for Kids, part 1

Today’s post is a basic description of coping skills.  You probably already know all of this, but sometimes we all need a refresher.  (or is that just me?)  ;^)

A coping skill is any trick, technique, or habit that you use to “deal with” something.  For example:

  • When you feel anxious, you might say to yourself: “I’m okay, I can handle this, it’s
    going to be okay.”  That’s called “positive self-talk. 
  • Going for a walk is a positive and healthy coping skill.  A fast walk uses physical
    exercise to moderate/expend the excess energy and brain chemicals that strong emotions produce. 
  • Asking for a hug from someone you love.  That hug helps us cope in many ways: it reminds of of our connection to another; it produces oxytocin–a ‘feel good’ brain chemical; and it provides physical grounding.  Plus, it just feels good.  :^)
  • Other examples of grown-up coping skills: scrubbing the tub, mountain biking, talking to your best friend, journaling, drawing/making art, cooking, singing, playing guitar, gardening, meditation/praying, playing, deep breathing.

There is also such a thing as a negative coping skill.  For example, alcohol/drugs, withdrawing from social contacts, or even veg-ing out in front of the TV can each be negative coping skills.  A little of any of these coping skills is fine and normal.  However, using them too often, too much, or exclusively causes side effects that make things worse.

As adults, we take for granted how many coping skills we’ve developed over the years.   But  trust me–you do know a lot!  It’s just that your coping skills are so familiar to you now that they are invisible.  ;^)

Come back tomorrow for more details on how to help your child improve their coping skills.