Aha! Parenting Moments Weekly 10-18-15

One of the most common questions I hear from parents is: How can I get my kid to LISTEN to me?

Kids have a lot on their minds, from the history test to the soccer tryouts to the newest computer game. Parents can be dismally low on their list. Not to mention that when the brain is rewiring at age six, and again at age twelve, they can feel overwhelmed by outside stimuli and tune you out. Even toddlers are very busy, since their job description is exploring and tearing your house apart.

So kids have other things to think about. They also have different priorities, and they don't understand at all why it's so important to take their bath right this minute!

Of course, the parents who ask me how to get their child to listen aren't really talking about listening. They're talking about how to get their child to take in what they say--and take action! Here's how.

1. Don't start talking until you have your child's attention.

Connect BEFORE you start speaking. That means you can't bark orders from across the room and expect to get through.

Instead, move in close. Get down on your child's level and touch him lightly. Observe what he's doing and connect with him by making a comment about it: "Wow, look at that train go!" Brain research has found that when we feel connected to another person, we're more open to their influence, so you're making it easy for him to listen to you. But you aren't manipulating, you're acknowledging respect for what's important to him.


Wait until he looks up. Look him in the eye. Then start talking. If he doesn't look up, make sure you have his attention by asking "Can I tell you something?" When he looks up, then start talking.

(Don't be surprised when your child begins using this technique to get your attention before he tells you something. And if you want him to keep listening, you'll need to listen back!)

2. Don't repeat yourself.

If you've asked once and not gotten a response, don't just repeat yourself. You don't have your child's attention. Go back to Step One, above.

3. Use fewer words...

Question OF THE WEEK
Dr Laura......When something goes wrong in my 8-year-old’s life (a Lego creation breaks or he loses his temper), he always blames someone else…even when he’s clearly at fault. How can we help him see and accept more responsibility?

"Lashing out” when we’re upset, and “blaming others” for our distress is a completely normal human reaction. Most of us gain the ability to refrain from these almost automatic reactions as we get older, but some people go through their lives with a “chip on their shoulder” blaming others and reacting angrily to imagined slights. What’s this all about, and how can we help our children (and ourselves!) grow out of it? 

All mammals, when they’re in distress, go into fight, flight or freeze. So when your son's lego breaks, it can feel like an emergency to him. He’s plunged into distress, and he goes into “fight.” That means that he feels like attacking. Hopefully, now that he's eight, he doesn't throw the lego. But he's likely to verbally lash out, blaming whoever is closest. Maybe it's all your fault because you said something and distracted him, or you won't buy him the right lego. Or maybe the dog just walked too close to him!

He knows, deep inside, that it's really his "fault" as you say. And that feels terrible to him. So he’s lashing out because he can’t bear his own feelings of upset toward himself. To fend them off, he gets angry. It’s an instant, automatic, response. The best defense is a good offense.

It’s easy to see how universal this is if we look at our own tendency to lash out when we feel fear, disappointment or sadness:

  • We almost run a red light, and yell at our kids for distracting us. 
  • We get a parking ticket and blame it on our spouse for taking so long in the store. 
  • Someone we love dies, and we get angry at the doctor. 

Our blaming others when we’re upset isn’t so different from our child blaming someone when his lego breaks. Hopefully, we’re able to bite our tongue so we don’t go on the attack. Once we’re calm, we often see that our response wasn’t fair. So how can you help your son in these situations?.....

Ages and Stages: Toddlers

Can you manage stay a positive parent as your baby becomes a toddler?

Most children become harder to manage at around fourteen months. That's because they make a huge developmental leap at this point. They're not so easily distracted. They realize that you're a separate person, who can sometimes--but not nearly often enough--be influenced to do things their way. They realize they have some influence in the world, but not a lot of power, and they start experimenting to see how they can get their needs met and their desires fulfilled.

This can be a maddening time for parents, or it can be a wonderful time, watching your child blossom.  How difficult the phase from 15 to 36 months is depends at least partly on the parent's attitude. Your child's rebellion will be inversely proportional to the freedom she’s given to do her developmental work.

How much is he allowed to explore? To set his own pace?  To feel in control of his world?  To discover that he is a competent person?....


"I love your posts, but my husband is afraid that if we allow our kids to get upset as you suggest, they'll never learn to control their emotions. Don't we need to just say No sometimes?" - Rachel

All of us worry about our kids learning to control their emotions. After all, it's emotions that so often get us off track and into trouble.  And of course we need to just say No sometimes. Kids can't run into the street, throw their food at each other, or pee on their baby brother. But setting limits on children's behavior doesn't mean we need to set limits on what they feel.

In fact, you can't actually keep your child from getting upset, whether you "allow" it or not. Telling your child not to cry won't keep him from being upset; it will just give him the message that there's something scary or shameful about his emotions, so he'd better try to stuff them. Unfortunately, when humans repress emotion, those emotions are no longer under conscious control. So they pop out un-regulated, when your child lashes out or acts out.

It's that dysregulation that scares us, when our child seems completely out of control. But kids don't get dysregulated because we "allow" their emotions. They get dysregulated when they need to express an emotion but feel they "can't." So, instead, they "act (it) out."

So denying emotion or making ourselves wrong for having emotions doesn't help us control them. Here's how a child actually learns to control his emotions....

Quotes of the Week

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." -- Mark Twain

"You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” – Jessica, age 8

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." -- Henry Brooks Adam

"A child’s aggression can't be erased by reasoning, Time Out, or enforcing “logical consequences.” The knot of intense feelings inside the child isn’t touched by rewards or punishment. A child’s behavior is out of her control, once she begins to feel disconnected. Step one in helping a child is to stop the aggressive behavior by moving close and offering a warm connection. Then, listening helps heal the hurt. The child will either laugh or cry, and might tremble, perspire, or struggle mightily. The adult provides a safe connection and the time the child needs to release the fear she feels." -- Patty Wipfler

"Once you do the best you can, it is not your business how it turns out in the other person. So you don't get to control or vote, but you do get to contribute." – Naomi Aldort

"We can all be angels to one another. We can choose to obey the still small stirring within, the little whisper that says, Go. Ask. Reach out. Be an answer to someone's plea. You have a part to play. Have faith." -- Joan Wester Anderson

Most parents remember playing outside with friends until twilight and long recesses that were the highlight of their day... today's children will grow up with vastly different memories." -- Christine Gross-Loh

"The girls have been getting into a lot of arguments lately, and I’ve felt at a loss of how to solve that problem. Dr. Laura gave me so many great ideas on how to not only help them get along, but to set them up to be best friends as they get older!...I have even implemented some of her tips already today and holy cow, I wish I would have been able to .... earlier! To see the girls work together and come up with solutions to their problems on their own is amazement right before my eyes. Thank you Dr. Laura!" -- TheJessieK.com
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+