Sunday, January 26, 2014

Family Meetings

Several years ago some Adlerians recorded a bunch of family meetings in different families. For two years they looked for the perfect family meeting. Finally they gave up because they couldn't find a perfect family meeting. However, they were delighted with the positive results in families (more effective communication, focusing on solutions, having more fun together) even though their meetings were not perfect.
Keeping in mind that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn, the biggest mistake parents made that kept the meetings from coming closer to perfection was talking too much. Children are not thrilled about family meetings that provide another platform for parents to lecture. Parents need to talk less and listen more. Yes, I know how difficult this is—I’m still working on it. Somehow we parents think we aren’t doing our jobs unless we are talking, talking, talking.

Family meetings are one of the most important tools parents can use to teach children so many valuable social and life skills such as:
  • Listening skills
  • Brainstorming skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Mutual respect
  • The value of cooling off before solving a problem. (Problems are put on the family meeting agenda so a cooling off period takes place before focusing on solutions to the challenge.)
  • Concern for others
  • Cooperation
  • Accountability in a safe environment. (People don’t worry about admitting mistakes when they know they will be supported to find solutions instead of experiencing blame, shame, or pain.)
  • How to choose solutions that are respectful to everyone concerned
  • A sense of belonging and significance
  • Social interest
  • That mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn
  • Having fun together as a family
Family Meetings provide an opportunity for parents to:
  • Avoid power struggles by respectfully sharing control
  • Avoid micromanaging children, so children learn self-discipline
  • Listen in ways that invite children to listen
  • Respectfully share responsibility
  • Create good memories through a family tradition
  • Model all of the skills they want their children to learn
Where else can you get so much for such a small investment in time? Family meetings provide a wonderful family tradition that may carry on for generations.

It is most effective to have family meetings once a week and to stick to the allotted time of 20 to 30 minutes—even if everything on the agenda has not been covered. This will help your children learn "delayed gratification." Also, it gives them time to absorb what was discussed during the meeting, to try the agreed upon solution, and to practice working things out for themselves in between meetings.

My children loved family meetings when they were four to twelve or so. Then they started complaining, as typical teens do, about how stupid family meetings were. I asked them to humor me, and that we could shorten the time from 30 minutes to 15.

One day Mary, one of the complainers, spent the night at a friend’s house. The next day she announced, “That family is so screwed up. They should be having family meetings.” When Mary went off to college, she initiated regular “family meetings” with her roommates and said they would not have survived without them.

If you need help getting your Family Meetings started, consider getting the Family Meeting Album. This download product provides a step-by-step process for starting and organizing family meetings. A family meeting album can be as much fun as a photo album. You and your family will chuckle as you look back at past challenges you solved together. You will enjoy looking at your family mottos, gratitude pages, mistakes you learned from, problems you solved, fun things you did together, and meals you planned. This album is designed so you can insert a photo of YOUR family to create your own Family Meeting Album. You can print out many of the pages over and over to use each week.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Listening Tool Card

From the Positive Discipline Parenting Tool Cards available at and as an App for iPhone and Android.

Many parents complain that their children don’t listen, yet few parents really listen to their children. Parents tend to do the following:
  • React and Correct: Don’t talk to me that way. Why can’t you be more positive, grateful, or respectful? You shouldn’t feel that way. Why can’t you be different—more like your sister or brother?
  • Fix or Rescue: Maybe if you would do this ____, then____.  (Maybe if you would be friendlier, then you would have more friends.) I’ll talk to your teacher (or your friend’s mother). Don’t feel bad.

Tools for Better Listening
  1. Validate feelings: I can see this is very upsetting for you. Sounds like you are really sad, mad, feeling hurt.
  2. Ask Curiosity Questions:  What happened? Want to talk about it?
  3. Invite Deeper Sharing: Anything else? Is there more? Anything else? Anything else?
  4. Listen with your Lips Closed:  Hmmmm. 
  5. Have Faith in Your Child: Know that, in most cases, your child simply needs a supportive, listening ear as part of the process of venting before coming up with his or her solution. Through this process your child learns resiliency (“I can deal with the ups and downs of life.") and capability ("I can survive getting upset and figure out solutions.").
More Sophisticated Listening

There are many levels of listening. When parents complain that toddlers don’t listen, that isn’t exactly true. First of all, parents really mean, “This child doesn’t obey,” or, “This child knows better.” They are right about the former (toddlers and preschoolers seldom obey) but wrong about the latter (children under the age of six do not “know better” at the level parents expect.) They may “know” the family rules at a primitive level, but not at a sophisticated level that requires the kind of morality and judgment and responsibility that does not develop until closer to the age of eight. Thus, too many children are being scolded, and even punished, for not having a level of development for which they are not yet capable.

Learning is a Developmental Process

How long does it take for a child to learn to talk, and how do they learn? This question is very easy for parents to answer. They know that their children will not learn to talk for at least a year, and that the way they learn is hearing their parents talk to them—the more the better. Then, on that happy day when their child finally says her first word, they don’t start punishing her for not speaking in sentences—at a college level. Yet these same parents punish their preschoolers for “not listening,” for “not sharing,” for “writing on walls” with crayons parents left around where their exploring, experimenting children can find them.

Listening Deeper

At an even deeper level, many parents don’t listen between the lines to the belief behind the behavior. (Perhaps a child is feeling “dethroned” by the birth of a new baby). They don’t listen to hear if their children are feeling powerless or discouraged. They don’t listen from an understanding of developmentally age-appropriateness or brain development (see above).

Example is the best teacher. Learn to be a better listener and someday, when all their developmental growing catches up, so will your children.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Misbehaving Child is a Discouraged Child

Where did we ever get the crazy idea that the way to make a child "do" better is to first make him or her "feel worse"? That is the premise of punishment; and it is truly crazy. Think of the last time you felt scolded and humiliated by another adult. Were you thinking, "This is so helpful. I really appreciate it. I will now do so much better, and I can hardly wait to consult you will all my problems." Unlikely. The truth is that children (and adults) do better when they feel better.

A theme of Adlerian psychology is that a misbehaving child is a discouraged child. The most powerful motivation for change is encouragement. If a child—or adult—misbehaves out of discouragement, it follows that the motive for misbehavior is removed when he or she feels encouraged.

Many years ago I decided to test this theory. My two-year-old son had been whining and I was so annoyed I felt like spanking him. Instead, remembering the concept of encouragement, I knelt down, gave him a hug, and told him how much I loved him. Not only did he stop whining and crying, but my annoyance magically disappeared.

If a child came up to you and innocently said, "I am a child, and I just want to belong," could you get angry and put that child down in any way? Of course not! What most adults don’t realize is that any child who is misbehaving is subconsciously saying, "I just want to belong, and I have some mistaken ideas about how to accomplish belonging." It takes courage from an adult to recognize the discouragement in a child and to respond with encouragement instead of more discouragement. It is much easier to "react" to the misbehavior with more misbehavior of our own.

Much of what takes place in homes and classrooms, though intended to encourage, does not foster courage. Adults attempt to motivate change through punishment and reward. Positive results are temporary and usually involve a heavy dose of discouragement. Children may do better to avoid the punishment or to gain the reward, but the price they pay is the loss of an inner locus of control, the loss of self-confidence, and the loss of opportunities to learn life skills.

Dreikurs emphasized encouragement and taught that it is the most important skill adults can learn in helping children. He said many times, "Children need encouragement, just as plants need water. They cannot survive without it."

The root word of encouragement is, of course, courage. When we strive to encourage others and ourselves, we are actually helping to develop courage to face life’s challenges and difficulties. Encouragement comes in many forms. Each of the many positive discipline tools is designed to help children feel better (encouraged), so they are motivated to do better. Watch for the foundation of encouragement in every Positive Discipline Tool we will be sharing.

For more on encouragement read the blog post by Kelly Bartlett: Encouraging Things to Say to Kids

Monday, January 6, 2014

Connection Before Correction

The one Positive Discipline Tool I wish I had used more consistently is this: Connection before Correction. Of course, I didn't know what this meant as a young mother, and didn't create it as a Positive Discipline tool until about five years ago. Now we know it is just brain science: children learn (grow, feel safe, thrive) best when they feel connection—or as Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs taught us, "a sense of belonging and significance".

Extensive research shows that we cannot influence children in a positive way until we create a connection with them. It is a brain (and heart) thing. Sometimes we have to stop dealing with the misbehavior and first heal the relationship.

Connection creates a sense of safety and openness. Punishment, lecturing, nagging, scolding, blaming or shaming create fight, flight, or freeze.

One of my favorite examples of “connection before correction” is, “I love you; and the answer is no.” This example also illustrates the Positive Discipline concept of Kind and Firm at the same time.

Before sharing more ways to create a connection with children, I want to point out that it is a mistake to think that giving children whatever they want is effective. Rescuing, fixing, and over-protecting are not good ways to create a connection. Effective connections are made when both child and adult feel belonging and significance. Most of the Positive Discipline parenting tools provide skills for creating a connection.

They will all be discussed in more detail as we choose a card each week. Following is a preview:
  • Spend special time with children. What could create a greater connection for your child than to know your enjoy spending time with him or her.
  • Listen. Really listen. Stop doing whatever you are doing and give your child your full attention
  • Validate your child’s feelings. Don’t we all feel connected when we feel understood?
  • Share your feelings and thoughts when appropriate. Remember that children will listen to you AFTER they feel listened to. Children feel a connection when you respectfully share something about yourself. Respectfully, means no stories about walking miles in the snow.
  • Focus on solutions WITH children after a cooling off period. There is that word "with" again–because it is a golden bridge to connection.
  • Ask curiosity questions to help children explore the consequences of their choices instead of imposing consequences on them. Sincere questions open the heart and the rational brain—equaling connection.
  • Hugs. There are times when all of us need nothing more than a hug.
Once the connection is made, children are then open to respectful correction.

It is important to understand that "Correction" in the Positive Discipline way is very different from conventional correction. The biggest difference is that conventional correction usually involves punishment (punitive time-out, grounding, and taking away privileges being the most common). In other words, conventional correction consists of adults doing something TO children. Positive Discipline correction respectfully involves children whenever possible, finding solutions WITH them.

Two great methods for finding solutions are family or class meetings and joint problem solving. These are powerful tools that respectfully involve children to learn and use their personal power in contributing ways. Connection is created as part of the process.

When children feel a connection, they feel belonging and significance. Often that is enough for misbehavior to stop. As you learn about the many Positive Discipline tools, notice that they are all designed to create a connection before respectful correction.

To learn more about Connection Before Correction, listen the following excerpt from the Building Self-Esteem Through Positive Discipline lecture.

Connection Before Correction

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

52 Positive Discipline Parenting Tools in 52 Weeks

Take the 52 Parenting Tools in 52 Weeks Challenge. This is a fun way to stay focused on Positive Discipline all year long.

We hope you will participate and post comments about your own experiences. You can get a copy of the Positive Discipline Parenting Tool Cards on the Positive Discipline Website and/or download the App for iPhone and Android. It would also be helpful to read a Positive Discipline Book during the year.

The great thing about this challenge is that you can start at any time. It doesn't matter which week you start with, so jump on in and join the fun! Together we can all improve our parenting skills and improve our relationships with our children. Click on the links below to read more about the individual Positive Discipline Tools.

Week 1 - Connection Before Correction
Week 2 - Encouragement
Week 3 - Listen
Week 4 - Family Meetings
Week 5 - Compliments
Week 6 - Routines
Week 7 - Special Time
Week 8 - Take Time for Training
Week 9 - Validate Feelings
Week 10 - Positive Time Out
Week 11 - Jobs
Week 12 - Mistakes
Week 13 - 3 R's of Recovery
Week 14 - Problem Solving
Week 15 - Follow Through
Week 16 - Agreements
Week 17 - Limit Screen Time
Week 18 - Focus On Solutions
Week 19 - Logical Consequences
Week 20 - Natural Consequences
Week 21 - Teach Children What to Do
Week 22 - Put Kids in the Same  Boat
Week 23 - Allowances
Week 24 - Hugs
Week 25 - Wheel of Choice
Week 26 - Act Without Words
Week 27 - Understand the Brain
Week 28 - Back Talk
Week 29 - Winning Cooperation
Week 30 - Distract & Redirect
Week 31 - Decide What You Will Do
Week 32 - Practice
Week 33 - Empower Your Kids
Week 34 - Motivation
Week 35 - Kind and Firm
Week 36 - Pay Attention
Week 37 - Small Steps
Week 38 - Control Your Behavior
Week 39 - Sense of Humor
Week 40 - Silent Signals
Week 41 - Letting Go
Week 42 - Eye to Eye
Week 43 - Closet Listening
Week 44 - One Word
Week 45 - Show Faith
Week 46 - Break the Code
Week 47 - Avoid Pampering
Week 48 - Anger Wheel of Choice
Week 49 - Encouragement vs Praise
Week 50 - Limited Choices
Week 51 - Curiosity Questions
Week 52 - I Notice