Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bullying on the Bus

Last week I was interviewed by a Los Angeles Times reporter regarding the YouTube video of the bullying of a 68-year-old grandma and bus monitor by four middle school boys. I recommended that the boys should not be punished in traditional ways (bullying by adults) and have since been bullied by many readers of the Times article.

I have been called an idiot, a quack, a sociopath, pathetic, a loser, a libtard, spouting crap, hogwash, nuts, this womans horses$%t, the fool "expert," a joke, etc. And we wonder where kids learn about bullying.

(Hey guys, I’m a 75-year-old grandma with 7 children and 21 grandchildren who love me. )

These readers are ready to crucify me and they haven’t asked one question about how much of the article was a true depiction of what I said in the interview. The reporter didn’t even spell my name correctly.

Actually, I thought that much of the article was excellent—and, much of what I said was left out.

The reporter didn't include what I said about brain research and the importance of connecting before correcting, so kids can learn from their mistakes.  Punishment (which is very different from discipline) simply increases power struggles and revenge cycles (as in wars), or blind obedience out of fear. One purpose of Positive Discipline is to help kids learn to do what is right when no one is looking.

She didn't focus on all the things I said about helping kids explore the consequences of their choices and then focusing on solutions (and making amends). Helping children explore the consequences of their choices is much different from imposing consequences (punishment) on them. When kids explore the consequences of the their choices (in a non-threatening atmosphere) they are often led to true remorse and a desire to make sincere amends—not forced and false apologies.

She didn't mention the importance of creating an atmosphere where all kids feel a sense of belonging and significance and then teaching kids about respect and problem-solving skills in regular class meetings and family meetings.

Most readers of the article assumed that Positive Discipline advocates that nothing would be done to the boys who were involved in the bullying. This is partially true. I don’t think anything should be done “to” the boys, but I think a lot should be done with the boys. This would be an excellent time for curiosity questions with the boys:

  • What happened?
  • What do you think caused that to happen?
  • What were the results of what happened?
  • How did it affect others?
  • How did it affect you?
  • What did you learn from this experience?
  • How can you use what you learned to make amends?

Another possibility would be to invite the boys to create a program that would help other kids learn from their experience. They could be invited to show the video to kids in other classrooms and/or assemblies and share what they learned from the curiosity questions and invited discussion from other kids on how to avoid their mistake. Note I said, “invited,” not forced. Sharing their experience would be most effective if they had the support of adults who would understand (and help them understand) that it would take a lot of courage to use their mistake to help others.

Some people have assumed that the apologies made by the boys were forced and not sincere. I don’t know for sure, but I believe they got caught up in mob mentality and were mortified when they saw what they had done. Positive Discipline teaches that mistakes are opportunities to learn. In this case, the mistake could be an opportunity to learn—and to help others learn.

It is my wish that adults would remember that kids learn what they live, and that we need to look at the bullying model we provide for kids when we bully kids.  As Haim G. Ginot said:

  • When a child hits a child, we call it aggression.
  • When a child hits an adult, we call it hostility. 
  • When an adult hits an adult, we call it assault.
  • When an adult hits a child, we call it discipline.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Don’t Back Talk Back

Mrs. Henderson told her son, Jon, for the third time that evening, “You had better do your homework before it gets too late.

Jon shot back, “If it is so important to you, why don’t you do it!”

Mrs. Henderson was shocked. After all, she was only trying to help. She reacted by saying, “Don’t talk to me that way, young man. I’m your mother.”

Jon reacted right back, “Well, don’t talk to me that way. I’m your son.”

At this point Mrs. Henderson stepped in and shouted; “Go to your room right now. You are grounded until you can learn to be respectful.”

Jon shouted back, “Fine,” as he stomped off to his room and slammed the door.

What creates a scene like this? Was Mom modeling respect as she shouted at her son to be respectful? No. Was Jon being disrespectful to his mother? Yes. Was Mom being disrespectful to Jon? Yes. Let me count the ways.

  1. She nagged.
  2. She took control and gave orders (no matter how pleasantly).
  3. She robbed Jon of learning responsibility by taking over the responsibility of his homework.
  4. She didn’t invite Jon to figure out what he wanted and how to get it.
  5. She is not willing to allow him to experience the consequences of his choices—and to learn from them.

Why is it that parents think it is their job to see that homework gets done? Oh, I can hear your objections already: “We can’t just let him fail.” Of course parents don’t want their children to fail. All the more reason to teach children self-discipline, self-control, goal setting, and problem-solving skills instead of trying to control them. All the more reason to communicate WITH children instead of TO them, FOR them, or AT them. How to accomplish respectful communication and help children develop a sense of capability and self-discipline is the focus of Positive Discipline.

For now let's discuss “backtalk” and how to stop “back talking back.” The following suggestions are from the book Positive Discipline A-Z by Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott, and H. Stephen Glenn.


  1. In a calm, respectful voice, tell your child, “If I have ever spoken to you that way, I apologize. I don’t want to hurt you or be hurt by you. Can we start over?”
  2. Count to ten or take some other form of positive time-out so you don’t “backtalk” in reaction. Avoid comebacks such as, “You can’t talk to me that way young lady.”
  3. Use the “back talk” as information (it could tell you that something is amiss) and deal with it after you have both calmed down. Look for places you have been turning issues into power struggles with your child.  
  4. Instead of focusing on the disrespect, focus on the feelings. Say something like, “You are obviously very upset right now. I know it upsets me when you talk that way. Let’s both take some time out to calm down. We can talk later when we feel better. I’d like to hear what you are upset about.
  5. Do not use punishment to “get control.” When you have both calmed down you can work on a respectful solution that works for both of you..
  6. Share your feelings, “I feel very hurt when you talk to me that way. Later I want to talk to you about another way you could tell me what you want or how you feel.”  Or you could say, “Whoa, I wonder if I did something to hurt your feelings, because that certainly hurt mine.”
  7. Don’t respond to demands. Decide what you will do instead of what you want to make her do. One possibility is to simply walk away. Instead of trying to control her behavior, control your own. Calmly leave the room without saying a word. If your child follows, go for a walk of get into the shower. After a cooling-off period, ask, “Are you ready to talk with me now?” This is most effective if you let your child know in advance what you will do. “When you talk disrespectfully to me, I will leave the room until we both feel better and can communicate with love and respect.”
  8. Use a sense of humor.  Say, “I must have heard that wrong.  I’m pretty sure you were meaning to say, ‘Mom, would you mind picking up my shoes because I’m too lazy to do it myself right now.’”
  9. If you are not too upset, try hugging your child. Sometimes children are not ready to accept a hug at this time. Other times a hug changes the atmosphere for both of you to one of love and respect.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

  1. Be willing to take a look at how you might be teaching the very thing you abhor in your child by being disrespectful to her. Have you created an atmosphere of power struggles by being too controlling or too permissive? 
  2. Make sure you do not “set your child up” by making disrespectful demands. Instead of giving orders, create routines together during family meetings.
  3. Instead of saying, “Pick up your shoes,” ask, “What about your shoes?” You will be surprised how much more inviting it is to ask than to tell.
  4. Once you have both calmed down, let her know you love her and would like to work on a respectful solution to what happened. Take responsibility for your part and work on a solution together.
  5. Apologize if you have been disrespectful. “I can see that I was disrespectful when I demanded that you pick up your shoes. How can I ask you to be respectful when I’m not?” Let her know that you can’t “make” her be respectful, but that you will work on being respectful yourself.
  6. Have regular family meetings so family members learn respectful ways of communicating and focusing on solutions.

Life Skills Children can Learn

Children can learn that their parents are willing to take responsibility for their part in an interaction. They can learn that back talk isn’t effective, but that they will have another chance to work on respectful communication.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Understand the Brain Using the Palm of Your Hand

In their book, Parenting From the Inside Out (Tarcher/Penguin, 2004) Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell present an elegant and refreshingly (to us non-brain-scientists) understandable explanation of brain processes. In our Positive Discipline classes with both parents and teachers of children, this model remains one of the most useful and remembered tools. It’s called “Brain in the Palm of Your Hand.” What follows is a demonstration of Siegel’s model.

With two flipped lids face to face (yours and your child’s), how much helpful problem solving do you think is happening? Who is listening? When you and your child are in a “flipped lid” state, is this the time to teach or try to solve the conflict?

Many parents and teachers try to deal with a behavior problem with a child when they are in the “flipped lid” state of brain functioning. When you understand the brain you realize that this is useless. Children cannot learn anything positive when they feel threatened. They are capable only of fight or flight—even though their fight or flight may be emotional withdrawal or thoughts of avoiding rebellion. Lectures are useless at best and damaging at worst because children in a flipped lid state tune out lectures or take them into their decision making process through the amygdala where they may be deciding to get even, to avoid getting caught in the future, or deciding, “I am a bad person.”

Monday, June 11, 2012

Act Without Words - A Positive Discipline Tool Card

Diane promised she would never be like her friend, Sara, who was always yelling (often screaming) at her kids, “Don’t do that! Do this! I’m sick and tired or telling you!” On and on! It was difficult for Diane to be around Sara, and she felt so sorry for the kids.

One day Diane found herself telling three-year-old Seth, “Don’t do that! Come here right now! Pick up your toys! Get dressed!” And on and on! Fortunately she heard herself and said to her husband, “Oh my; I sound like just like Sara. Gently he said, “I didn’t want to say anything, but yes you do.”

Diane remembered what she had read in Positive Discipline Birth to Three about acting without words and decided to try it for one whole day. When Diane wanted Seth to stop doing something, she walked over to him, took him by the hand, and removed him. When she wanted him to come to her, she got off the couch and went to him to show him what needed to be done. When he started hitting his little brother, Diane gently separated them without saying a word.

During a calm time, Diane sat down with Seth and said, “Let’s play a game. When I want you to do something, I’ll keep my lips closed tight and will point to what needs to be done and you can see if you know what I want without me saying a word. Okay?” Seth smiled and agreed.

When it was time to pick up his toys, Diane went to him, grinned and pointed to the toys while making a sign with her hands for him to pick them up—and then helped him, knowing that it is encouraging and effective to help children with tasks until they are at least six-years-old and can “graduate” to doing tasks by themselves. When it was time for him to get dressed, she took him by the hand, made a zipping her lips sign, and pointed to his clothes. Seth grinned and let Diane help him get dressed without a struggle—doing most of it by himself.

Later Diane shared with her husband how much more peaceful her day had been, and how much more she enjoyed her interactions with Seth. Diane added, “I know actions without words won’t work all the time, but this day sure helped me realize how important it is to at least get close enough to see the white in his eyes before I talk—and then to use more action and fewer words.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Wheel of Choice

A primary theme of Positive Discipline is to focus on solutions. The wheel of choice provides an excellent way to focus on solutions, especially when kids are involved in creating the Wheel of Choice.  Some parents and teachers have their kids make the wheel of choice from scratch. This Wheel of Choice was created by 3-year-old Jake with the help of his mom, Laura Beth. Jake chose the clip art he wanted to represent some choices. His Mom, shared the following success story.

Jake used his Wheel of Choice today. Jake and his sister (17 months old) were sitting on the sofa sharing a book. His sister, took the book and Jake immediately flipped his lid. He yelled at her, grabbed the book, made her cry. She grabbed it back and I slowly walked in. I asked Jake if he’d like to use his Wheel Of Choice to help—and he actually said YES!  He chose to “share his toys.” He got his sister her own book that was more appropriate for her and she gladly gave him his book back. They sat there for a while and then traded!

The Wheel of Choice below is from a program created by Lynn Lott and Jane Nelsen (illustrations by Paula Gray). It includes 14 lessons to teach the skills for using the Wheel of Choice. Click Here to get a more complete description and to order your own Wheel of Choice: A Problem Solving Program.

After teaching all the lessons to her students, and having them color their individual slices of the wheel after each lesson, one teacher asked her students to choose their four favorite solutions from the their wheel of choice. They then cut them out and made mobiles to hang above their desks so they could look up and remember their favorite solutions to conflict. Kids are great at focusing on solutions when we teach them problem-solving skills.